The finest weather of the season so far drew 71 riders to an action-packed meet, with a total of 23 races taking place in balmy conditions at the Sussex track. In charge tonight was Daniel Gerrey, at age 19 one of the country’s youngest commissaires. The consensus was that he did a great job, indeed he introduced the Under 10/Under 8 age-group to the devil-take-the-hindmost discipline, prompting the excited under-10 rider Bethany Lewis to say after the meet: “We did something really exciting tonight, like the grown-ups!”
For the second week in a row, three of the top league riders were away on other racing duties. Felix English, Jean Spies and Lee Povey’s absence opened the door to some of the other competitors, and it was young Charlie Heffernan who took most advantage of this situation with a brilliant display of racing.
Tim Hill, Martin O’Brien, Brock Duncumb-Rogers, Adam Gent and Jason Salter were the first to show at the head of affairs in the curtain-raising 8-lapper. Two laps into the race, Phil Burnett and Mark Burgess had a useful gap on the bunch, which was being led at this stage by Preston Park newcomer Trace Harris as well as Heffernan. Gent, Salter and Driss Jones were soon also prominent at the front of the race, but with only two to go it was all together once more and a judges’ nightmare finish was on the cards. On the penultimate lap, Andy Edwards leapt from the peloton with a promising move and instantly created daylight. The top riders in the bunch had no intention of letting victory slip away, though, and after Edwards had been brought back it was Heffernan who sprinted home first ahead of Gent, Richard Bailey, Burgess, Ben Miller and Jones.
The sprint competition heat winners were Phil Smith, Burgess, Duncumb-Rogers, Heffernan and Gent. Jones won the minor final for sixth place in the competition, then it was down to the serious business of the final. With his runner-up placing in the recent Preston Park sprint championship, the hot favourite was Burgess, and he lived up to expectation with a powerful gallop to beat Heffernan to the finish, with Duncumb-Rogers, Smith and Gent next over the line.
The all-up devil-take-the-hindmost brought the usual mix of skirmishes to avoid elimination. At mid-race, Andy Edwards made a bid for freedom, but alas this was doomed after around two laps. Duncumb-Rogers, Burgess, Miller and Bailey all made top-10 placings, but in the end it all came down to a 6-up sprint, with Heffernan taking a great win ahead of Jones, Salter, Gent, Harris and B-league leader Andy Parle.
Only four riders came to the line for the B2 3-lap dash, but James McCarron hoped to spring a surprise with a blast away from the gun. With a stylish ride, McCarron’s initiative paid off bigtime, as he came home alone, then Charlie Booth celebrated his birthday by winning the bunch sprint for second place ahead of Ian Craig and Ben Gerrey.
The B-league title was at stake in the B1 dash, as a win for either Andy Parle or Richard Bailey would bring them overall victory. However, it was not to be, as Nick Smith rocketed away from the rest at the start and stayed away for a fine solo win. Trace Harris was runner-up and third place went to comeback king Nigel Burrows, who exactly 30 years ago won the Sussex Junior Points Championship at this track. Next came Bailey and Parle, with Morgan Lewis sixth.
The A-riders dash race began very slowly and gradually wound up speed. Jason Salter gave it everything with 500 metres to go, but he couldn’t get away and it was yet again Heffernan who took the win, ahead of Gent, Burgess, Jones, Edwards and Phil Smith.
The final race, an unknown distance contest, turned out to last 15 laps. Charlie Heffernan, Elliot Tabraham-Dowers, Ian Craig and Sam Cheesman were the early escapees, and Heffernan won the first prime just before it all came back together. Lewis put in some long turns at the front without getting away, then at the sound of the commissaire’s prime whistle, off went Heffernan again to take the cash, with Trace Harris in his wake. Two laps later, Jason Salter was away on his own, trying to repeat his epic lone win of one month ago. His advantage reached a mere 70 metres, however, as powerful bursts by Anthony Rogers, Richard Bailey, Ben Miller, Nigel Foskett and others ensured that the bunch was still shadowing the fugitive.
Again, as the whistle blew, Heffernan emerged like lightning from the bunch to steal the fiver from the luckless Salter just before the line to bring his total spoils to £15. There was still quite a lot of daylight available for racing, but the riders could sense the end coming as the pace gradually increased. Bailey was hovering ominously near the front of the leading bunch at this point, perhaps poised to steal the B-league crown in the final event of the meet. Gent and Burnett were well up there too, then suddenly the bell sounded and the usual hell was let loose. The charging pack was led in by – you guessed it! – Heffernan for his fourth win on the night, followed by Jones, Burgess, Bailey, Miller and Gent.
Tonight, there was almost no stopping 15-year-old Heffernan. His recent great win in the National Youth Circuit Race in the West Midlands against the country’s top young riders has no doubt given his confidence a great fillip and he has moved up the Preston Park league into fourth spot.
No fewer than 44 youths lined up in the various age-group races and, thanks to commissaire Daniel Gerrey, the Under 10/Under 8 category enjoyed a devil-take-the-hindmost for the very first time at Preston Park. Amy Smith rode very well all evening and was the deserving winner of the weekly £5 youth prize. She improved her overall placings and impressed with her efforts to continue trying hard all the way to the line in all events. New riders Under 10 Zak Watson and U8 Hannah Burnett both enjoyed their first-ever evening of track-racing. Hannah’s bright yellow bike was equipped with a sparkling red basket – though this accessory was removed after her first race in the quest for speed.
Under 16/Under 14
Under 16 Elliot Tabraham-Dowers tried to get away early on in the 4-l
ap race, but Under 14 Ashley Dennis was alert to the danger and others including Kim English, Sara Gent and Amy Jacobs maintained the bunch’s high tempo. Despite Elliot’s efforts, at the bell it was all together, but the strong Under 16 rider succeeded in winning the final sprint in front of Ashley and Amy.
The joint handicap race was won by Imogen Farlie with a great ride, just beating Jack Hoyle and Michael Dixon to the line. With nearly all the Under 16/Under 14 riders at a high standard, it was a compact bunch which began the final lap of the devil-take-the-hindmost. Elliot won the last sprint ahead of Under 14 Ashley, then came Jack Oliver-Blaney, Kim, Amy and Sara.
Elliot leads the Under 16 table ahead of Jack, with Milo Burdeau third. Top U14 is Ashley, Amy is lying second and Emily Barnes is third.
The 4-lap scratch race was dominated by the trio comprising Amy Barnes, Spencer Thomas and Megan Lewis, and indeed they finished in that order, with Ben O’Brien leading home the bunch in fourth place. Harris Redgrove won the handicap race, Ben O’Brien came second and, coming up at full speed from the scratch position, Amy Barnes managed third place. Spencer rode strongly to win the devil, and he was followed in by Amy Barnes and Megan Lewis, with this week’s youth prize winner Amy Smith notching up a very commendable fourth place. Amy Barnes leads the league overall, Spencer is second and Megan is third.
Under 10/Under 8
Dominic Kazlauskas came home first in the Under 8 1-lapper, just ahead of Evelyn Parle and Miranda Wright. The equivalent Under 10 contest saw league leader Douglas McCauley take victory in front of Joe Hill and Bethany Lewis.
Oliver Brooker rode very well to take the handicap victory, beating Dominic and Miranda to the line. Douglas won the Under 10 devil, Joe was second and Thomas Burnett came third, and the parallel Under 8 race featured the same result as the scratch race, with Dominic, Evelyn and Miranda finishing in that order.
League Under 10 leader remains Dominic, Joe is second and Thomas is in third place. Among the Under 8s, Dominic is very slightly ahead of Evelyn, while Oliver has moved up to third place.