Coming to the boil: West Country trainers prevalent in Taunton’s aperitif to the weekend

Taunton Racecourse has facilities that add enormously to the actual racing to create a memorable day’s entertainment. Chief amongst them are the Orchard and Paddock restaurants which have uninterrupted views of the entire course and the unrivalled backdrop of the Blackdown Hills.

More important than the location of the restaurants however, is the outstanding quality of the food. The menus, which change from raceday to raceday, are created by Head Chef Eric Mannel with fresh ingredients all locally sourced. Not for Taunton the corporate caterer, wheeling in centrally prepared food to be served in the racecourse restaurant, but all food prepared “in house”. The supreme standard of the food owes a great deal to Liverpool born Eric, who as a small child returned to his parents’ homeland, Germany. A Director of the Taunton Racecourse company, Paul Barber, is the eminence grise of the eponymous cheesemaker, the oldest and largest farmhouse cheddar cheese maker in the world. At about the same time that Barber recruited Paul Nicholls to his racing operation, Eric Mannel was recruited by the Racecourse company. Two brilliant and inspired appointments.

Eric’s training as a chef began in West Berlin and continued in Lugano, Switzerland. His first important posting was at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver Canada, where Eric had the honour of cooking at the State banquet given for Her Majesty the Queen, Prince Phillip and Prince Charles. His company sent Eric to their luxury hotel in Antigua where his cooking received high accolades resulting in him being summoned to The Regency Hyatt on Central Park West in New York City. From there he was head-hunted by The Ritz Carlton in Atlanta, Georgia, where he worked with Willie Harbor. This worldwide experience has served Eric well, as those who have experienced the on course cuisine at Taunton over the last 28 years will testify.

The web page lists the menus and the various options available. The value offered is remarkable, whether for the £70  package which includes entrance fee, racecard, lunch, afternoon tea, all served to you sitting in the best seat in the house, or fish and chips in The Saddle Room, for which you will get change from a tenner.  The experience is not bettered at Cheltenham or Ascot where prices sometimes ten times those of Taunton are charged for festival events.

Any racing fan will be aware the single biggest issue facing the sport in the immediate future is the lack of rain. However, the going has improved since the last meeting with only small patches still good to firm; in consequence, we have been rewarded with larger fields.

In the two-mile Short Run Press Printers & Bookbinders Novices Hurdle, the first race on the card, six of the seven runners represented the elite of the training ranks, the field with the exception of Jimmy Frost’s 125-1 outsider,  exclusively comprised of entries from the yards of Skelton, Twiston-Davies, Nicholls, Henderson and Hobbs. It was the Phillip Hobbs’s horse, Earth Company, that won with consummate ease for a debut victory under any rules of racing. Gorcombe Moonshine, the long odds outsider, who had a heavy fall last time out, skied the flights, was soon tailed off and pulled up. Key to the Moon was another who was soon under pressure and a long way off the pace. The other five all look worth another look.

Race Winner, Earth Company ridden by Sean Houlihan (R) jumps alongside Gala De Corton ridden by Harry Cobden (L). PHOTO: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

 

The second, a three-mile handicap hurdle seemed a competitive affair with Just a Whim seemingly the only one of the six guaranteed to stay. In the event, it was a magnificent race to watch with all six runners in with a chance at the last. To the delight of favourite backers, Nelson’s Rock, making his handicap debut for Colin Tizzard, prevailed as an even money favourite under seven pound claimer, Harry Kimber. Kimber too may be one to watch. He is enjoying what may be a breakthrough season, with 8 winners from 66 rides, only 20 short of his entire season’s quota last year. Nothing breeds success quite like success.

The third, over fences this time, was the 2m 7f Short Run Press – Your Local Printers Novices Handicap won by Roque It for Paul Nicholls under Harry Cobden. This favourite, making his chasing debut, may well have been helped by only three fences on each circuit having to be jumped because of the sun. It was a brave effort as Roque It was the only one off the bridle and being pumped along at halfway.

The 2mile 3f handicap hurdle attracted seven runners. On paper this seemed to be the race of the day, and so it proved. The favourite Guernesey, a highly progressive horse, looked to be the likely winner until bungling the last leaving three others in with a chance. Four in line with half a furlong to the post, it was An Tailleur for the Jonjo O’Neill father and son combination that prevailed. Breath taking stuff.

Taunton Races
Race Winner, An Tailliur ridden by Jonjo OÕNeill Jr (R) jumps alongside Guernesey ridden by Sean Houlihan (L). – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

 

O’Neill Jnr is fresh back from a shoulder injury, and is showing some of the iron man qualities of his father; a torn shoulder ligament from the stable’s Morning Spirit at Aintree on October 24 reckoned to see him sidelined for six weeks. It’s taken just 25 days to be back  race-riding. Imagine yourself in the same position and appreciate the urgency which our jockeys apply to recovery from falls and injury, which is nothing short of remarkable.

The penultimate race, a 2m 5f Memorial Handicap Chase for former clerk of course Mike Trickey and Geoff White and  was reduced to five runners by the withdrawal of Duc Kauto and Marylin Monroe. Robaddan, a strong chasing type was going very well when he hit the fourth last at the roots and faded quickly to see the finish fought out between the winning mare Kiera Royale lose out to Mister Robbo, whose career had been very in and out in recent times, win well for trainer Deborah Faulkner, her second winner of the season.

Trickey was Clerk at Taunton for nearly 20 years until his death in 2013. Like many clerks, he earned the respect of the prevailing crop of riders having ridden under Rules, in Point-to-Points and eventing from a teenager into his forties.

The last, a 2m 3f handicap hurdle, was contested by 14 runners, the largest field of the day, and won by Kendelu for Devon trainer Nigel Hawke and jockey Kieren Buckley, prevailing by just a half length.

And so ended a wonderful afternoon, that was blessed by bright sunshine. Punters departed in a good mood; especially if they had sampled Eric Mannel’s cuisine!