Kings set for Mildenhall challenge
Kings set for Mildenhall challenge

Kent SLYDE Kings open their 2017 National Trophy [NT] campaign with a trip to four-times winners of the competition, Mildenhall Fen Tigers on Sunday (14/5).

Last season the Central Park-based Kings reached the final of the competition (their first domestic cup final) losing to Birmingham and if they want to go one better this campaign they first need successfully to negotiate an extremely tough ‘south-east/eastern’ group which features the side from Suffolk that they face on Sunday and Kent’s perennial local rivals, Eastbourne.

Kings’ team boss Chris Hunt makes two changes to the septet which rode at West Row last month in the Easter Chase and which got the Travel Plus National League [TPNL] campaign underway so successfully with a thumping home win over Buxton.

Promising youngster Anders Rowe had to miss out on the ‘pre-season’ warm-ups and the TPNL encounter with the Buxton Hitmen, as he hadn’t then reached the minimum age for senior racing of 15 years.

That important landmark was achieved this week though and so just five days after his 15th. birthday, Anders becomes the youngest rider ever to represent the SLYDE-backed Kings when he faces the not insignificant challenge of taking on both the Fen Tigers and their tricky West Row circuit. Rowe replaces Alex Spooner (who represented Kent extremely ably in the early weeks of the season) in one of the two reserve berths.

The other change is enforced upon Hunt by the news yesterday (9/5) that Newcastle Diamonds have moved to replace the injured Danny Phillips (who ironically received his serious injuries racing for Kent’s next visitors, King’s Lynn Young Stars at Mildenhall last Sunday) in their SGB Championship [SGBC] side with Kent’s Ben Hopwood.

The 26-year-old Hopwood has made a dazzling start to the 2017 campaign , yet to dip below double figures in the five matches in all competitions he has ridden for his new TPNL side; and it was no real surprise that a higher division side would come calling for him. The rider from Salford will ‘double’ between the two divisions, but despite Newcastle coming onto the scene later in terms of adding Hopwood to their side, it is – under the league rules – the SGBC team who take precedence in the event of meeting clashes.

So Diamonds are trumps on Sunday as far as Hopwood’s availability is concerned, meaning that Ben will be up at Brough Park, Newcastle on Sunday and the Kent management have something of a headache in terms of how to cover his absence in this NT match.

Hopwood’s TPNL starting average for this season of under six was always a selling point but now after a ‘real’ but not yet established in the official stats, average pushing the 10 points mark being achieved out on track it means that until Hopwood rides the mandatory four TPNL matches, the facility to cover for his absence when away on SGBC duties will not reflect his real points scoring value and is instead frozen at the lower limit.

For young Spooner, the disappointment of losing his starting berth with the SLYDE Kings is tempered somewhat by a call-up from elsewhere in the TPNL – and ironically it’s Kent’s opposition on Sunday who have made that call!
Mildenhall’s hugely talented young reserve Jordan Jenkins is unavailable for a few weeks now due to impending GCSE exams and so Spooner, who is not declared in any current TPNL one to seven, is eligible to stand in at reserve for the Fen Tigers on Sunday, staking Jenkins’ place in their side.

They are big boots to fill and it’s certain that the home side will miss the prolific scoring of the teenager Jenkins – who in matches at West Row so far this year has returned scores of paid 12 (in that Easter Chase match against Kent), nine and a full maximum 15 last Sunday.

Without their youngest star, the hosts were facing the possibility as well of being without the team’s elder statesman, Jon Armstrong too. But showing great dedication to the cause the 42-year-old is ‘flying back’ from a family holiday to take his position as lynch-pin of the Fen Tigers’ side – a true captain’s act by one of the TPNL’s most respected riders.

Mildenhall, other than the addition of Spooner, will field the same side that beat Kent narrowly on aggregate in the Easter Chase in April.

The NT action gets underway at 3pm on Sunday 15th. May at Mildenhall Stadium, Hayland Drove, West Row (near Mildenhall), Suffolk IP28 8QU

Picture supplied by Elizabeth Leslie.