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Kent Royals 44-46 Mildenhall Fen Tigers
Kent Royals 44-46 Mildenhall Fen Tigers

It was the start of a new season at The Old Gun Site, but some things remained the same, there was a last heat decider and a maximum from Alfie Bowtell in a match winning ride.

Sadly, this time for the Kent Royals and their faithful fans, Bowtell was in the opposition colours. It was the Mildenhall Fen Tigers who ran out 46-44 winners this afternoon and take a two-point lead into the second leg, which will be staged at West Row next Sunday (16/4).

The hosts produced a battling display with only four points separating their top five, Ben Morley top scoring with 10, however it was a lack of race wins with the home side producing just five heat winners to Mildenhall’s ten, amongst the positive moments were Rhys Naylor notching his first paid win.

Captain Tom Woolley bookending his afternoon with two tapes to flags wins, and a paid win and a race win for returnee Joe Alcock in an 8+1 return.

There was an unfortunate delay to proceedings as the weather of the past few weeks causing parking issues and a tailback, and with the grounds of the track standing on marshland it wasn’t an ideal start to the day.

However, there was a more pressing issue that a paramedic had cancelled at short notice and a replacement needed to be sourced. The nearest was in Crowborough and the club’s thanks go to Tyler who came to save the day elected to extend her already long shift so that teams could go racing when she could have had a relaxing Easter Sunday!

Relaxing was never going to be on the agenda for either side, as the racing was fast and occasionally furious with never more than two points separating the two sides throughout the meeting. It was visiting Bowtell who took the first of his five wins in the opening race in the quickest time of the afternoon, just half a second outside of his own track record.

The first break in the scoring came in the third race, after an initial stoppage for Ben Trigger moving at the start. The re-run saw former Royal Josh Warren gate but make a slight error exiting the second bend, which allowed the Royals duo of Tom Woolley and Joe Alcock through to take a maximum heat advantage.

It was a lead that was short lived as Mildenhall hit straight back with a maximum heat advantage of their own through guest Luke Harrison and Arran Butcher. Butcher capitalised on an error by home debutant Nathan Ablitt to sneak through for the second place.

The visitors went ahead in the fifth race with a successive maximum heat advantage this time from partnership of Bowtell and Congreve.

The sixth race again got off to a false start when Harrison took a jump at the start and hit the tapes, in the restart with Harrison off a 15-metre handicap the Royals duo of Morley and Naylor gated on a maximum heat advantage and rode well to once again level scores at 18-18.

The visitors had taken a four-point lead by the end of the ninth race, before the hosts once again ate into the deficit with another Morley race win and Rhys Naylor getting by Ben Trigger to pick up the third place point.

Bowtell and Congreve then matched the hosts 4-2 heat advantage with one of their own to re-establish their four-point lead.

An incident packed 13th heat proved crucial in the scores remaining close, Bowtell gated and led from tapes to flag, the incidents were all behind him.

Harrison was initially involved in a terrific scrap for third with Nathan Ablitt then off the final bend he made a move inside Ben Morley, the two made contact, with Morley clipping the fence over the finish line and coming off.

The referee’s decision was to award the race with Harrison disqualified for dangerous riding thus gifting a shared race and keeping the gap at four points.

A little bit of finger pointing followed between camps to get the crowd going, and the excitement continued in Heat 14. Alcock made the start and was well away, when young William Richardson did a pirouette and fell at the back, he got up to remount, then the hard charging Warren was all over Alcock, until he himself nearly spun on the second bend of the third lap which allowed Sam Woolley through.

Warren tried everything to get back past Woolley and crashed out hard on the third bend of the final lap at frightening speed. The race was awarded as a 5-1 to the home side which meant the scores were level at 42-42 going into the last heat decider.

That final race, saw Bowtell complete his maximum and with Luke Harrison taking the third place point it was enough to see the visitors snatch a two-point win in the first leg of the Knockout Cup Semi Final.

Speaking after the meeting manager Jamie Willis said “We would’ve liked to have won but unfortunately it didn’t happen. As a team we aren’t firing on all cylinders at the moment but that will come with more bike time.”

And reflecting on the tie as it stands Willis commented “A 2-point deficit isn’t ideal, but we haven’t given up, a lot can happen in 15 heats.”

That second leg is at West Row next Sunday with a 4pm start time for all those fans who wish to get behind the boys.