And so the season was brought to a close in miserable November rain as Storm Cieran made its presence felt in the Midlands. Stratford ground staff, hoping for a good ground finale, were left ruing the impact of a healthy 70 runners leaving their mark on the rain-softened turf.
Changes in going often precipitate long-priced winners, but with two notable exceptions, there were no great surprises in this seven race card to see Stratford into its winter hibernation.
Olly Murphy got the best of early exchanges, initiating a double, courtesy of Iddergem in the seller and What A Johnny in the second division of the EBF National Hunt Novices qualifier. Sean Bowen sought out better ground on the outer on What A Johnny, and looked outpaced two out, but the 8/11 favourite found more in the final stages to outrun Havock from the Skelton yard by a neck at the line.
Iddergem was one of just 4 runners in the seller, sponsored by trainer Claire Dyson, who didn’t field a runner to win back her own investment. There wasn’t much between three of the four two out, but the home turn saw Iddergem assert under 3lb claimer Lewis Stones to win by 3l. There was no bid for the winner, perhaps not entirely surprising in the small field and miserable weather.
Murphy’s horses are running well, with a winner at Cheltenham’s opening Showcase fixture last weekend, this double bringing his tally to 30.
Bowenspark made a winning debut over the smaller obstacles in division one of the EBF qualifier for Henry Daly. Two bumper wins at Uttoxeter and Warwick were enough to persuade the likeable Shropshire trainer to pitch the five year old into a Grade II bumper at the Grand National meeting in the Spring, where a 2 1/2l fourth was more than creditable. Bowenspark, in the Hemmings colours made famous by a series of Aintree legends, was an impressive 11l winner in this 9 runner field, and looks set to return to graded company.
Another debutante with a future may be Getaway Theatre, winner of a Rathcannon point-to-point in April, who shaped up well in a middle distance maiden mares hurdle . She and 3l runner-up Coco Mademoiselle put distance between them and anything else, the rest of the field out with the washing. Trainer Stuart Edmunds has enjoyed his two best seasons these past two years. Ciaran Gethings was in the plate this time around.
Newmarket handler Sarah Humphrey has something to look forward to with dual winner Nickle Back, so far unbeaten over fences following a win at Warwick, then yesterday, by a comprehensive 19l in the Charlie Longsdon sponsored handicap chase. the 2m 3f contest, in which 2 fences were omitted, turned into a war of attrition, with just 3 of the six finishing. Sarah’s small yard achieved 10 winners from just 53 runs last season, and whilst an unfamiliar visitor to Saturday fixtures, she overperforms around the country courses. James Best took the mount.
The slightly longer 2m6f handicap chase later in the card celebrates Jim Rowe’s involvement in the ownership of Stratford Racecourse, manifested now by son Michael, as Chairman. A stronger field of 11 met the starter, where Guguss Collonges took advantage of weaker opposition to notch a second chase victory for Lambourn handler Roger Teal and jockey Lilly Pinchin.
The Collonges bloodline is well known now in British racing, where a number of horses have reached the highest level. Guguss Collonges may never be one of the better known members of this distinguished thoroughbred family, but is a dual winner nevertheless.
The biggest field of the day faced the starter in the Jim & Rita Feeney Handicap Hurdle over 2m 2f. The fact that this was never going to be one of Stratford’s best quality races won’t have worried Edgcote trainer David Dennis, forced to field two runners in the same race after not making the cut in other contests. The wellbeing of his string manifested itself in a one-two led by 50/1 winner Harthill, ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies, with the Tom Bellamy – ridden Libor Lad 1 1/2l behind.
The weather put a downer on a sparse crowd waiting to see the season finale, when Jamie Snowden produced 3 year old La Marquise to win the bumper on debut, thus making his 11th individual winner to date in the season now getting into top gear.