David Christie is a familiar feature at Stratford’s annual Hunters finale, this year on June 2. A string of top flight hunter chasers have been sent over to win the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter, including Vaucelet and Winged Leader, second in the John Corbett Cup 4 years ago.
No surprise then to see the same Winged Leader emerge as favourite for this year’s Randox Foxhunter Chase at Aintree last Thursday. Yet of the 27 to face the starter, it was a West Country trained horse that defined the race, putting another Barber name on the trophy.
Whilst Winged Leader drew to the front 3 out, he wasn’t able to assert for long as others swept by, not least final winner Famous Clermont, ridden by Will Biddick, and trained by a name all too familiar to Pointing fans in Chris Barber, son of the legendary Richard, who had won this race himself 14 years previously with Trust Fund.
There were hard luck stories from Fier Jaguen, from the Bradley Gibbs stable, who set off to lead the field, pecked on landing at the seventh and jettisoned his rider at that point. Until then, he was attacking the Aintree fences with relish, so expect more from him.
Eventual second Bennys King ran on well without troubling the winner, and given he is trained 10 miles away at Alcester, it might be assumed we might see him in our own Foxhunter. The third horse, Lough Derg Spirit, was the first of the five Irish challengers and ran on well to finish 1/2l behind the second, 5 1/4l behind Famous Clermont.
Last year’s winner Latenightpass also ran prominently, reaching the front 3 out just as several others were also making their play. However, there was to be no repeat of last year for the Ellis & Andrews partnership.
Just over 5l separated the first three, but in truth, the winner had something in hand over the other placed horses over this shorter distance than the Cheltenham equivalent, where he had faded to finish 6th to Premier Magic. The sharper track that is Stratford might yet be expedient in ensuring he gets the three miles for the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter.
Multiple point-to-point champion Biddick was thrilled to finally break his Foxhunters’ duck, and told the Racing Post, “I’ve been around for 20 seasons now and I think my first ride round here was Le Duc in 2009. I’ve had a few seconds and I’ve been knocking on the door. It’s a big thing for the amateurs to win this race – here and Cheltenham are our Gold Cups. To do it is massive.”
Aintree and Stratford are two very different tracks, but there are only three Foxhunter chases in the calendar, and several here with points to prove. Let’s hope they still have appetite to renew rivalry on June 2.