Thrilling battle between Aaron Summers and Paco Castagna Image Credit: Jamie Kenny

Top two win the day once more

REPORT Friday 24th June 2022, 11:58pm

by Mike Hunter

Oxford led by six points at two separate stages of tonight's match, but the Monarchs fought back to take the three points courtesy of stunning 5-1 advantages in heats 13 and 15. Oxford certainly deserved the point they earned with a very solid performance, especially as track specialist Scott Nicholls was missing.

Captain Sam Masters admitted that Oxford had put up an excellent performance. "It was a good meeting, good for the fans and we were happy to take the win. I've got to admit that Oxford had a bit of bad luck with two minute exclusions, but that's part of it."

On a most memorable heat 13 he said "I missed the start big time and my only option was to hug the kerb." Partner Josh Pickering added "I've been riding with Sam long enough, I know where he rides and he knows where I ride. I reckoned I could draw Batchelor away from the inside because I knew he'd try to block me. That meant Sam got through on the inside as I came round the outside".

No doubt Sam Masters and Josh Pickering are asked to do too much at times, but they very rarely fail, and in heat 13 especially they pulled off one of the most spectacular 5-1 victories we've ever seen at Armadale.

All the Cheetahs were scoring well other than young Kileen at no. 7 (who nevertheless displayed a good style). Aaron Summers was riding like he'd never been away and American Ruml, again showing his liking for Armadale, scoring in all of his seven rides.

The circuit was drier than usual as there were threatening clouds overhead alongside a pretty negative forecast, and yet no rain arrived. It did mean riders trying to pass on the outside line had to work very hard, and it took a while for racing to warm up.

Masters and Pickering were winning their heats from the off, obviously, but the home middle pairing had one of its patchy nights conceding a 2-4 and a 1-5 in their first two rides. In spite of the six-point gap, Monarchs passed up the opportunity to use a tac sub in heat 6, leaving Jacob Hook alongside Masters (rather than say Pickering). Another opportunity in heat 9 was also spurned but in this case, Monarchs took a 5-1 anyway with Batchelor incurring the ref's displeasure by moving at the tapes after an earlier warning.

Monarchs took 6 of the first 8 last places and at that stage it did look as if Cheetahs' solidity would win the day. Guest Lee Complin prefers grippier conditions and in spite of plenty of effort, he struggled.

Heat 8 was the first standout heat of the night as Paco Castagna battled on the wide line at every bend, getting ever closer to the team riding Heeps and Ruml, and with a cutback and dash for the line on the final corner he got past Ruml and narrowly missed catching Heeps.

Batchelor's starting misdemeanour cost Oxford dear and allowed Monarchs to cut the gap to 2 points. Heat 10 was shared with Summers and Ruml following Masters home, and Monarchs levelled up when Pickering won again backed by a good third place from Jacob Hook.

Then came a bizarre heat 12. Aaron Summers took a rider replacement ride but suffered a machine failure on the back straight. He wheeled his bike back to the pits and the Oxford pits crew were slow to react, resulting in a two-minute exclusion. The obvious move then would have been for Summers to go off 15 metres, and Flint was offering a bike, but it was Kileen who eventually came on to the track – too late, he was excluded on 2 minutes.

Tough on Oxford but Monarchs took advantage with Thomson winning from the hard-working Ruml, meaning the home team led by two going in to heat 13. And what a heat this was.

This time Flint and Batchelor were clear from the tapes and led down the back straight. Pickering surged into the third corner on the outside of Flint, with Masters on the line, and as they completed lap one Flint was relegated to the back. Pickering then set out after Batchelor and got alongside him, riding neck and neck for a lap with Masters also looking for a chance on the inside. Eventually the home men moved into first and second for the final lap, gaining a rapturous reception.

Still the match wasn't all over though, because the pairing of Summers and Ruml took an easy 5-1 in heat 14 leaving Monarchs just two up.

Heat 15 was an easier 5-1 for the two Monarchs' main men, with just a hint of movement at the tapes from Sam Masters. Josh Pickering didn't gate but burst between Summers and Batchelor to join his partner and ensure a 48-42 win.