Warm Spring sunshine beckoned a healthy crowd to Luddington Road yesterday where good ground greeted the 56 runners in our seven race card, considerably better ground than faced the Irish challengers in Paris for Auteuil’s last hurrah and the highest value Jumps racing we’ll see until mid-summer. As if to prove the point, the French remain firmly in change of their best races, despite the strongest raiding party yet in recent years.
This time last year, trainers were tearing their hair out as dry conditions prevented many horses from running a Spring campaign. The wet Spring this time around has enabled plenty of horses to remain in training, making for more competitive fields all round, rewarding sponsors and racecourse betting shop operator William Hill.
It was a day for an old stager to shine. Steel Wave is the winner of 9 of his 68 starts, the latest being a 1 1/2l victory over Herewegohoney in the William Hill Keep Your Raceday Positive Handicap Chase over 2m6f. Gary Hanmer’s 13 year old was giving at least 3 years to most of his rivals but doesn’t know how to run a bad race, especially under Tabitha Worsely; he’s not finished out of the frame in 8 of his last nine starts. He might be deemed lucky to have added this scalp given that Micheal Nolan and Sheldon parted company at the last when leading, but fortune favours the brave. Hanmer has enjoyed an excellent few recent seasons and is always one to follow around the tight Stratford track. One in four of his runners here have been winners over the past 5 years.
In a card where novice races dominated, it was another older horse that prevailed in the 3f shorter Mares handicap chase. The 10 year old Admiral’s Sunset is trained by the banks of the Kennet just outside Marlborough by David Weston. This assured 3 3/4l victory was her first since a mid-summer double at Worcester and Stratford in August ’21. Coming alongside Princess Midnight at the last and going on after, she showed her liking for Stratford isn’t diminished by the time since she last got her head in front. James Davies took the mount, although previous wins had been under Page Fuller, now retired.
The 9 runner field in the third of three chases included the rare market of three 4/1 co-favourites in First Angel, Copper Fox and Henri Le Bon. The market proved spot-on in this instance, as they finished in that order, separated by a total of 5 1/2l all told. First Angel took the race by the scruff of the neck from 2 out, and maintained a lead of 3-5l around the bend and to the line, under Adam Wedge, to produce a first winner of the new term for Martin Keighley.
Astroman can consider himself a fortunate winner of the opening William Hill Lengthen Your Odds Maiden Hurdle after leader Globalfameandglory tipped up at the last, hindering second-placed Shandancer. This allowed Astroman and Nick Scolfield to sneak up the inner and claim an advantage. Shandancer ran on again to reduce the advantage to just a neck at the line, and deserves to lose his maiden tag soon. Syd Hosie’s 6 year old is no star in the making however; this breaking of his duck was at the 18th attempt.
The mares programme has been much enhanced over recent years, but one mare who may not be running for a while is Maid of the Night, winner of the William Hill Pick Your Places Mares Handicap Hurdle. Not fluent three out, she led from two out under pressure and finished lame 3/4l ahead of Nora The Xplorer. Henry Daly’s charge has provided her owners great entertainment this Spring with three wins, but rider Richard Patrick was quick to dismount. Runner-up Nora The Xplorer finished like a train and will be one to follow in similar company.
Nick Scholfield notched a double in the seller when producing Nevendon to reel in long time leader Book of Secrets at the last. The six year old impeccably bred son of Nathaniel will not be doing his sire’s reputation much good for running in selling company, but secured a maiden winner since moving to Alexandra Dunn from John McConnell’s in Ireland. There was no bid for the winner.
Parade Away showed a clean pair of heels to 9 rivals in the concluding bumper, winning in a procession for Milton Harris and rider Bradley Harris.