Why Did the Fences at Stratford Change from Orange to White?

In 2022, racing at Stratford Upon Avon underwent an important change. As part of a new initiative, the fence take off boards were changed from orange to white. The transformation across UK racing happened over ten months with work being completed in 2023. Other racecourses across the UK also saw 368 fences change colour, along with 2,132 hurdle panels. The traditional florescent orange colour might have been synonymous with Stratford racecourse, but there was a big reason behind the change, and it’s all to do with the welfare of the horses. Once again, Stratford pioneered the change.

The pursuit of safety in an inherently dangerous sport might seem somewhat anomalous. Yet British racing has an unparalleled reputation for its efforts in reducing injuries and fatalities in Jump racing. The pressure on the sport from lobby groups is intense, as witnessed by the demonstrators at last year’s Grand National.

In other countries of Europe, racing over obstacles has all but expired. There are around 5 Jump races in the whole of Germany, whilst in Sweden, direction from the public has led bookmakers to suspend betting on any jump race. In a sport under pressure to demonstrate it is managing safety of its equine athletes proactively, the BHA has shown strong leadership.

Horse Welfare Board

The Horse Welfare Board were in charge of overseeing the fence colour project. They noted research which was carried out by Exeter University regarding how horses’ vision filters colour. The original research was commissioned by the BHA, and backed by the Racing Foundation. The university found that after trialling numerous colour options under different racing conditions, including the traditional orange markings, horses have reduced dichromatic vision when compared to humans. Although they can see a range of colours clearly, most of their colour vision revolves around blues and yellow. They are unable to tell orange, green and red apart.

The study found that when the wood and vinyl padding on racecourses, guard rails and top boards were changed to white, this gave horses increased visibility. It even helped to improve jumping performance by stimulating the focus around the take off markings.

When betting on races from a trusted UK  bookmaker, race conditions are often taken into account when calculating the chance of a horse winning. Since the fences changed colour, this has led to some horses having a better performance on the track. Punters should have also taken the change of colour into account when formulating horse racing betting strategies, as previous poor jumpers may now perform better.

Adjusting to the change

As a result of the change that happened across racecourses over the last few years, horse trainers and owners have also been making adjustments. Trainers have now adopted white fences when schooling and the alterations have filtered all the way down to the Point-to-Point division too, to try and help horses adjust to the new conditions they may see on the track.

Since the fences changed colour at racecourses across the UK, organisers have also been working to make horse racing safer in other ways. At Aintree, organisers moved the start time from 5:15 pm to 4 pm in an attempt to improve the ground, and the distance to the first fence was cut to ensure horses had a slower speed when making the first jump. Additional veterinary checks were implemented, along with a standing start. Changes like this are set to move across other big horse races, and could even be a focus for smaller race tracks as well moving forward. Softer foam, and rubber toe boards have also been added to numerous race courses.

As time goes on, horse safety is becoming more and more of a priority, and with changes like this set to alter horse performance, it’s certainly helping to make things more interesting for punters. 

Jumpers to look out for at Royal Ascot

Centrepiece of Ascot’s Royal Meeting is the Gold Cup, run over a distance of two miles and four furlongs, so it is no surprise that the race often includes Jumps horses, as they have the stamina to see out the marathon trip.

In the past, we have even seen Ascot Gold Cup contenders feature at Stratford over obstacles. Here is a look at the National Hunt horses involved in the feature race of the royal meeting this year, and their chances of being successful in the fixture’s marquee event.


Irish horse Vauban has run eight times over hurdles, with his most famous victory coming in the Triumph Hurdle at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival. He is 9/1 in the Ascot odds 2024 to add the Gold Cup to his record this year, with a repeat visit to Melbourne on his autumn agenda.

Willie Mullins’ runner has been one of the leading Royal Ascot tips this year as he showed last season at the Royal meeting that he can achieve success in major races on the Flat. The six-year-old won the Copper Horse Handicap by over six lengths in a dominant performance.

Since that Royal Ascot triumph, Vauban has had a Group triumph in the Group III Ballyroan Stakes at Naas in Ireland. Connections then took their chance in the Melbourne Cup in Australia, but unfortunately for them, he could only finish 14th of 23 runners.

Although Mullins has yet to rule out a switch back to hurdles for his horse, the Gold Cup has been the priority over the last 12 months. He warmed up for the race with an appearance in the Yorkshire Cup at the Dante Meeting at York. It was another solid effort, as he finished second behind the defending champion Giavellotto.


Two-time hurdles winner Absurde is another Cheltenham Festival winner entered for this year’s Ascot Gold Cup. He won the Country Handicap Hurdle at the biggest meeting in the Jumps racing back in March.

The former French-based horse has shown great durability throughout his career. When he made his debut as a two-year-old in France in 2020, he ran over the distance of 1m on the Flat. He has since appeared in a hurdles race over 2m4f.

Like his stablemate Vauban, Absurde also featured in the 2023 Copper Horse Handicap. He had to settle for the runner-up spot in that race as he proved no match for the former Triumph Hurdle winner.

Absurde did win a big Flat race last summer as he landed the Ebor Handicap at York. He stayed on strongly at the back end of the 1m6f contest under the hands of Frankie Dettori to get the better of his Gold Cup rival Sweet William. 

The Irish St Leger at the Curragh is an option for Mullins’ gelding should he run well at Royal Ascot this year. He may also switch back to hurdles in October for the 2024/25 National Hunt season.

The 2024 Ascot Gold Cup takes place on day three of the royal meeting on Thursday, 20th of June at 16:25, with the final field declared two days earlier on Tuesday, 18th of June.

Helping you understand your sport

Stratford upon Avon is a unique race course, with some of the smallest jumps in the country and a tight circuit that is in stark contrast to galloping tracks like Cheltenham or Haydock Park. Yet that does not mean it provides less excitement. These races are often much faster than others that contain more imposing obstacles. If you are new to racing and feel unsure of the types of races available in UK jump racing, then we can help you understand the different divisions, and the nuances of particular race types.

Evening wash down as the sun goes down at Stratford. 1/6/2024 Pic Steve Davies

National Hunt Flat Races

National Hunt is the name given to jump races. They differ from flat races in that they are often over much longer distances and contain obstacles, making them much more a test of endurance and jumping ability than speed. There are plenty of horse racing guides that will help you understand the differences and how to bet on them. However, quite confusingly, these national hunt races also provide flat racing.  

Often known as bumpers, they are races for horses bred for National Hunt races that will at some point be jumping fences and hurdles. The title stems from a time when the pool of riders included amateur and novice riders, and refers to their weaker riding style which included bumping along on the horse’s back instead of driving a finish rather neater. These bumper races are only open to horses seven years and under. Horses must also exclusively have only raced in bumpers before, and are limited to just 4 runs before they must graduate to a hurdle or chase.

Hurdle Races

Hurdling is a race type where horses must jump over obstacles, commonly known as hurdles. They differ from fences, also used in racing, as they are smaller. The fences are made from brush and are very flexible. Combined with their low ground clearance, these races tend to be faster than ones that contain fences. They also attract many flat race horses that have changed to an obstacle-based race.  The jumping style over a hurdle is much flatter; a well seasoned horse will flick through the top of the hurdle without losing momentum in a flat trajectory, barely losing its stride pattern. Hurdles can be uprooted by poor jumps too, unlike a steeplechase fence, which will always come off best in a fight!

Porter In The Park and Joe Anderson [centre] jumps the last to win the Scott Davis Memorial Handicap Hurdle from Secret Trix [left] and Wbee [right] at Stratford. 1/6/2024 Pic Steve Davies

Races of this type generally have a distance of two miles or longer, with a minimum eight hurdles in a race. Any horse who has never won a race of this type before can compete in novice hurdles, or a maiden hurdle, defined as open to those that have not yet won. Novices can carry on for the season in which they pick up their first win. This is often a reason why good quality maidens that have been placed in high quality races toward the end of a season are held back for a clean shot at a full second season in the novice category, where their experience will hold them in better stead than a new generation coming through. 

Steeplechase Races

A chase is a shortened way of describing a steeplechase. These are races that include fences as obstacles, which are larger than hurdles. Each one is a minimum four feet 8inches high. However, they are not the only obstacles and water and open ditches can also be included. The water provides an excellent spectacle in front of the stands at Stratford. The races are run between two miles to four and a half miles.  

Mortens Leam and Harry Reed [right] win at Stratford from Champagne Court. 11/3/2024 Pic Steve Davies

The types of horses in these races are generally older with more experience. They will likely have run over hurdles before and will have the stamina to complete a more demanding race. Races of this kind do not use starting stalls. Instead, jockeys will walk the horse towards a tape which is released when the race begins.  

Just like hurdling, there are also novice and maiden chases. These are for horses without a win over fences and horses can run until the end of the season they win in.  Confusingly, however, a horse having won a point-to-point in Ireland can start his career over here as a maiden. And over in France, there are 4 year olds chases, limited to younger horses, meaning often French-bred horses are more precocious than their British and Irish contemporaries.

One further category common to Stratford’s Spring season is Hunter Chases, limited to horses that have not competed in professional races since mid-October of the previous year, and to be ridden by amateur riders. These are usually competing in point-to-point races, where the type of race is always a conditions race. Stratford is unique in staging the sport’s only Hunter chase handicap.


Each category of race except National Hunt Flat races offers a ladder of excellence up which a horse may climb, starting with Novice events, graduating to Handicaps, where horses carry different weights allotted by an official handicapper who has assessed their performances to date. There are often Novice handicaps too, where unexposed horses can be afforded an advantage by the handicapper’s lack of knowledge of their ability.

In the race conditions, you’ll see a classification of each race, from Grade I (sadly none at Stratford) to Class 5. Handicaps are also managed so that they are framed for horses of a similar standard each time; eg: rated 0-120. This means the top-rated horse would carry 8st 5lb (120lb) in an open competition of all the horses in Britain.

Weight for Age Races

The traditional model of race is commonly known as a Conditions race, where horses are allotted a weight depending on their age, in a time-honoured scale devised by Admiral Henry Rous, who served in the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic era, but is best known in racing circles for devising the weight for age scale back in 1855. Penalties can be incurred by horses for races won, either in quantity or value.

A horse’s weight may not exceed 11st 12lb under Rules, irrespective of the volume of penalties.

Once you know these types of races, you will find many different subcategories that you should take a look at. The most common are graded races, where horses with a certain form and record compete. There are also listed races which involve handicaps for horses. Do some research, understand your races and enjoy the season ahead.


Who are the horses to watch at this year’s Royal Ascot?

Royal Ascot is one of the most prestigious events in the horse racing calendar, set to return in 2024 with a line-up of extraordinary talent. Here, we’ll spotlight some of the top contenders to watch at Royal Ascot 2024, when of course, on the opening day, you’ll be here enjoying the action over jumps at Stratford.

This five-day festival showcases equestrian excellence but is also a hub for hospitality, and social and cultural events, attracting the attention of racing enthusiasts and casual spectators alike. With numerous races and an international field of runners, it can be challenging to identify which horses are poised for standout performances, we’ll aim to look at some winning contenders as recommended by betting expert Daniel Smith.


Inspiral, a standout mare from the John & Thady Gosden stable, has been turning heads with her powerful performances. Known for her strong finishes and tactical versatility, Inspiral is expected to run in the Queen Anne Stakes for a second year, hoping to go one better than her neck second in 2023. Her previous victories in Group 1 races like the Jacques le Marois, Sun Chariot and Breeders Cup Fillies & Mares the have solidified her reputation as a top-tier competitor. Will jockey Frankie Dettori be summoned back to perform at the stage he excels at? If so, Inspiral’s chances at Royal Ascot look even more promising.


Another notable contender is Luxembourg, a horse with a significant following due to his impressive performances in high-stakes races all over the world. Trained by legend of Coolmore, Aidan O’Brien, Luxembourg has shown remarkable growth and resilience. His entry in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes is highly anticipated to see if he too can go one better, beaten 4l last year by Mostahdaf. Luxembourg’s ability to maintain high speed over long distances and his tactical racing style makes him a strong contender for this prestigious event.

Emily Upjohn

Emily Upjohn, trained by the Gosden team, has captured attention with her remarkable victories and consistent performance. She has demonstrated exceptional talent in middle-distance races and is expected to be a major player in the Hardwicke. Emily Upjohn’s combination of speed, stamina, and strategic racing make her a horse to watch closely at distances of 1m2f+. She holds entries later in the summer in the Coral-Eclipse, Pretty Polly and Irish Champion Stakes.

King of Steel

King of Steel was an emphatic winner of the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot 2023 after nearly upsetting the odds-on Auguste Rodin in the Derby, and followed up in the Qipco Champions Stakes at Ascot in October. Having shown this level of impressive form, he was being aimed at the Prince of Wales’ Stakes until an injury early this month put him on the sidelines. This looks likely to curtail at least this year’s racing record, if not his career at large, so discount him from any selections at this year’s Ascot.


Willie Mullins has become the go-to trainer for international comparison, and Absurde is being tilted again at the Melbourne Cup in the autumn. An unorthodox prep has already included victory in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and he will likely hold other entries in races like the Queen Alexandra alongside stablemate Vauban. Mullins knows what is required to win down under, where Absurde and Vauban represented him last year. He won’t be making the extended trip without good reason, so a good run at Ascot will tell a story.

Skelton is a man in a hurry

In recent seasons, the Skelton yard has largely focused on the core winter season, but stung by having been touched off by Willie Mullins in pursuit of a first British Trainers’ Championship, Dan Skelton has been firing in runners right, left and centre this May. It was, indeed, a cruel twist for Skelton, that having seen off his former boss Paul Nicholls, he should be upstaged by none other than Willie Mullins, a man who frequents British shores only for the marquee events.

He looks to be doubling down on the Championship assault in ’24-25, with 27 winners already having amassed over £200,000 in prize money (hat figure itself something of a side comment on the prizes on offer in the summer). With 17 winners in the last fortnight, and a 35% strike rate in hurdle races, this is a yard in a hurry.

And boy, what a hurry this is. A 9/1 treble at Stratford on Saturday evening continued a streak of form that is leaving the rest in the shade. Early days it may be, but even the prolific Fergal O’Brien is languishing at well under half the stakes won of the Alcester powerhouse.

Five year old Juan Bermudez set the ball rolling on Saturday, picking up division one of the Grace & Dottie Novices Hurdle, a symptom of perfect ground conditions. It was an overdue maiden success for the son of Nathaniel who has been bridesmaid at Fakenham and Huntingdon since his introduction in March.

The Skelton yard boasts a splendid 35% strike rate in chases, so it was difficult to oppose Hidden Heroics in the Farmers Fresh Handicap Chase, where he was sent off 7/2 favourite. Making the running for the first time appeared to retrieve the form that saw him successful last at Ludlow in December.

Hidden Heroics and Harry Skelton win the Farmers Fresh Handicap Chase from Bbold at Stratford. 1/6/2024 Pic Steve Davies

Given his breeding, it will have surprised no-one to see Supreme Yeats staying on to land the final visitracingtv.com Handicap Hurdle over 2m6f. A change of scene from laura Morgan’s seems to have rejuvenated his form, and it would be no surprise to see him defy a penalty.

Meantime, other handlers have also been making hay, and Marlborough was double-handed as David Weston and Emma Lavelle both enjoyed a winner. Weston’s East Kennet yard is hardly a full-time operation. He hasn’t returned to the dizzy heights of four seasons ago, when 26 runners produced 6 winners, but one from two isn’t so bad. It all looked pretty smooth for James Davies on Six And Out, second throughout in division 2 of the novices hurdle, before picking off the leader before the last and staying on to win by 1 1/2l.

Lavelle has enjoyed greater prominence after making the leap to train at Peter Makin’s old yard at Ogbourne Maizey. With the retirement of stable stars like Paisley Park, it’ll be a time for renewal. Porter In The Park appears to enjoy this ground, having already been successful at Ludlow and touched off at Market Rasen this Spring. Off a lowish weight at this level, he’s well capable of adding to his tally, winning here by 2 3/4l from Olly Murphy’s Secret Trix in a 3m2f handicap hurdle.

Porter In The Park and Joe Anderson [centre] jumps the last to win the Scott Davis Memorial Handicap Hurdle from Secret Trix [left] and Wbee [right] at Stratford. 1/6/2024 Pic Steve Davies

Gary Hanmer is another who thrives in the slightly less competitive environment of summer jumping. May has always been a fertile month for him, with 6 winners this year, 5 in 2023, and 8 in 2022. Rotten Row began June as Hanmer had left May, with a ready 4 1/4l win over Begin The Luck in the BRC Roofing’s 30th Anniversary Handicap Chase under Robbie Dunne.

The pair were unlucky not to strike a second time, coming off a half length worse on Northern Rose to Anthony Honeyball’s Getmetothemoon in the mares handicap hurdle. Both first and second were staying on well, and it won’t be long before Northern Rose too will break her duck.

Getmetothemoon and Rex Dingle track the leaders on the way to winning at Stratford. 1/6/2024 Pic Steve Davies

Take another look at What A Glance

The 65th running of the Stratford Foxhunter, sponsored by Pertemps Network, produced a result worthy of the point-to-point community it supports, when What A Glance produced a good turn of foot at the last to win for Shropshire owner Ann Taylor and her grandson Tom Britten, who trains the nine year old. Ridden by Murray Dodds, a second winner in as many days for him, the gelding was produced between horses at the last, having been handy throughout.

The three circuits of Stratford gave plenty of opportunity for jumping errors, but this experienced field included winners of some of the sport’s best known hunters’ events, including Premier Magic, winner of the 2023 Cheltenham Foxhunter, and Law of Gold, winner of this event in 2021, and runner-up to stablemate Vaucelet the following year. The Mullins – trained Annamix was well fancied, not least as stablemate Onlyamatteroftime had won in a hack canter at Warwick 24 hours earlier.

Five out, Dale Peters made the best of his way home, sending Law of Gold into a 2l advantage over favourite Fairly Famous, with the winner and Lift Me Up close behind. Go On Chez blundered at the third last but recovered to rejoin the back of the main group at the turn, the rest spent.

What A Glance and Murray Dodd jump the last fence to win the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunters’ Champion Hunters’ Chase at Stratford. 31/5/2024 Pic Steve Davies

Britten will look forward to Cheltenham 2025 after benchmarking his horse against Premier Magic and Annamix.

Thirty minutes earlier, it had been the moment for one of Pointing’s staunchest supporters, Diana Williams, to step forward and receive the John Corbett Cup for the success of previous course winner Forest Chimes in the pointtopoint.co.uk Novices Champion Hunters Chase. Recent Cheltenham winner Iskander Pecos was sent off favourite, but found Stratford’s bends and faster ground a bit too sharp. Forest Chimes, under Darren Andrews, was able to take up the lead at the last in the back straight, and always had enough in hand to keep Iskander Pecos at bay. Philip Rowley has a notable record in the hunter chase division.

Forest Chimes and Darren Andrews jump the last to win the point-to-point.co.uk Champion Novices’ Hunters’ Chase at Stratford. 31/5/2024 Pic Steve Davies

Only 5 went to post for the Ladies Open Hunters’ Final, in what looked a face-off between 2023 Aintree Foxhunter winner Famous Clermont and young pretender Imperial Esprit, recent winner at Edgcote. Famous Clermont has stuck to point-to-points until this race this season, but evidently lost none of his zest for racing. Taking a keen hold, he was prominent from flagfall, taking it up at the 6th of the 17 fences., and he always had the measure of the younger Imperial Esprit. It would be doing newly crowned lady point-to-point champion rider Izzie Marshall a disservice to say she was run away with, but it turned into something of an armchair ride, albeit rather an active armchair!

Famous Clermont and Izzie Marshall win the Stratford Ladies Open Championship Hunters’ Chase Final at Stratford. 31/5/2024 Pic Steve Davies

Marshall had already visited the winner’s enclosure to start the evening in the Jumping For Fun Restricted Hunters event on Alan Hill’s Learntalot, although it required the judge to decide the winner in a blistering finish involving Well P and the fast-finishing Padjoes Legacy. It transpired Learnalot had held on by a head, Well P a further 3/4l behind in third. Another stride would have produced a different result.

Peter Wright has been a force for good in leading the sport’s amateur division over the past 6 years, including the small matter of a pandemic and the wettest winter on record. His achievement ws recorded in the Peter Wright Over & Out Hunters Chase, the only handicap in the sport. David Kemp is always a force to be reckoned with at this fixture, and his Rebel Dawn Rising was sent off 100/30 favourite but came off a length worse to Envious Editor, whose last visit here had been a remote 5th in the Ladies Final in ’23. His outings have been sparse this winter, limited to a single winning run at Hexham, but that freshness showed in a race where he picked off the favourite at the last and made every pound of the 12lb he was receiving count. The 1l distance at the line was comfortable enough for young rider Henry Crow and his mother Caroline, and he should continue to visit the winner’s enclosure at this level for a year or two yet.

Shortest race of the evening, the White Swan Hotel Stratford Hunters over 2m, saw Fier Jaguen bounce out of the gate to make the running for Freddie Mitchell, substituting for the suspended Bradley Gibbs, surviving a dramatic blunder at the water. Four out, no more than 4l would have covered all bar one of the runners, as they all lined up to take on the leader.

Last year’s winner Kaproyale looked to have it all to do as they straightened up, Mix of Clover, Missed Tee and Cat Tiger having stolen a length or two. Charlie Case drove Kaproyale between horses to win in another judge-confirmed finish, over Cat Tiger and Mix of Clover, with distance of a nose and a neck. Phew.

Mullins bids to win Stratford Foxhunter centrepiece

 A fascinating evening awaits pointing fans as Stratford sees out this most interrupted of Point-to-Point seasons on Friday evening, with a whole card dedicated to the amateur cadre. 

The feature Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter Chase is graced by the presence of Aintree Foxhunter third Annamix, bidding to maintain the momentum of Willie Mullins in the British Trainers’ Championship. Annamix is rated just 2lb ahead of other runners, 2023 Cheltenham Foxhunter winner Premier Magic and Gina Ellis trained Fairly Famous, who downed the former at the Cheltenham Hunters’ evening at the start of the month. 

Unbeaten this Spring is Kelso and Ludlow winner Go On Chez, trained by former riders, now turned training partnership, Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero, on the face of it with a little to find. However, both his starts this Spring have been untroubled victories, so he has yet to be tested and might spring a surprise.

Also unexposed is What A Glance, trained by Tom Britten, but he has a little to find on Stratford form on a softer surface in late April. 

The field is completed by Lift Me Up, well beaten by Fairly Famous at Cheltenham, and Law of Gold,  second in this race in 2022, but pulled up last year. Whilst he is twice a winner  at High Easter this spring, his star may be on the wane. 

This time last year, Fiona Needham made the long trek from north Yorkshire to win the pointtopoint.co.uk John Corbett Cup, aka the novice championship, with Sine Nomine. A more select field awaits the starter on this occasion, headed by Hannah Roach’s Iskander Pekos, who has graduated from his Leicester maiden success under Rules to consecutive successes at Ludlow over 2m4f and Cheltenham at intermediate level earlier in the month. He will start a warm favourite to see off the Rowley – trained Forest Chimes, successful here in February and a recent winner at Eyton, and Go Go Geronimo, trained by Kelly Morgan, who comes here fresh from a 3 1/2l victory over Camdonian at Charm Park earlier in the month. 

You can never rule out runners from the Ellis stable, and Master Templar was staying on when 3 1/2l behind Gabiorot in the four miler at the Cheltenham Hunters’ evening. Stratford’s tight turns are a different kettle of fish however. 

Bradley Gibbs runs Dur Al Aghaidh, a recent acquisition from Ireland. Whilst a winner at Boulta last November, recent form has been patchy, so a watching brief may be advised.

The other race of note is the Ladies Open Championship Final, in which just 5 are declared. Famous Clermont has run well this Spring without hitting the heights of his Aintree Foxhunter triumph of April ’23, but he found the Champion Hunters’ at Punchestown rather too hot at the start of the month. At his best, he should have the beating of the other four, who include Shantou Flyer, who ran a 20l sixth to Sine Nomine at the Festival, and comes here on a hattrick after wins at South Hill and Cothelstone. Olive Nicholls takes the ride.

Also on a hattrick is Imperial Esprit after wins at Mollington and Edgcote, but he is facing higher-rated competition for the first time. The field is made up by Captain Biggles, three times the bridesmaid in his last 3 contests, with little reason to suggest he can go one place better here.

Boola Boss underlines Welsh centre of excellence

It can’t be easy recruiting owners in the furthest reaches of South Wales where Rebecca Curtis plies her trade, but talent will out, they say, and the Pembrokeshire trainer with perhaps the most picturesque gallops in the country, has enjoyed success at the highest level, with no less than five Cheltenham Festival winners.

The Festival is a long way away from a May Sunday at Stratford, but proof of concept is alive and kicking after The Boola Boss made all under Paul O’Brien to win the feature William Hill Extra Place races Handicap Chase yesterday by 8l. Setting off in front, he was briefly challenged by Henry Daly’s Petty Cash, but pulled out extra to put the 2m 6f contest out of doubt. He’s likely to be rested now until the autumn.

The Boola Boss and Paul O’Brien win at Stratford. 19/5/2024 Pic Steve Davies

The Curtis stable is just 10 miles away from Peter Bowen, a Welsh powerhouse that, injury allowing, would likely have propelled son Sean to his first Jockeys’ Championship in ’23-24. Take nothing away from the stylish Harry Cobden, but Bowen’s January layoff was critical in allowing the Somerset rider to catch up.

The energetic Bowen jnr is wasting no time in pressing on and a double yesterday at Stratford brought his tally to 8 already. Gary Hanmer is a man to respect around the summer tracks, and punters latched on to 2/7 favourite Minella Rescue in the 2m6f novices hurdle on the back of a 4 1/2l third in a higher class race at Cheltenham last month. It looked a textbook ride for Bowen as he took close order two out, challenged for the lead approaching the last and won going away by a 2l that could have been a great deal more.

A half hour later, he was back in the Winner’s Enclosure with Tom Gretton’s Fancy Stuff after a facile 8l victory in the Mares’ Handicap Chase. Clear after two out, this was a straightforward route to earning his £214.63 riding fee. Gretton’s runners are to be noted currently. Two winners from just 7 runners gives him a 29% strike rate.

The day had begun in warm sunshine with a competent display from Jamie Snowden’s Dusky Days, earning a maiden chase victory in the William Hill Epic Value Novices Handicap Chase from Barest of Margins, who deserves a short head victory on name credentials alone. Second here in a handicap hurdle 13 months ago, he was sent chasing shortly afterwards. Gavin Sheehan had something in hand with a winner who was stretching his advantage with every stride at the line.

Georgie Nicholls evidently learnt a thing or two during her time with ex Paul. Now training under her own name around Wantage, she teamed up with Lorcan Williams to deny Rebecca Curtis a double when 7 year old Saint Bibiana had enough up her sleeve to outpoint4/1 favourite Bridget Mary. A length down at the last, she found some speed to put 3l between her and the runner-up by the line. There was a race for the minor placings, Curtis’ charge just getting the better of fellow Welshman, David Brace’s Newmill Getaway by a neck.

No bumper would be complete at Stratford without the introduction of another youngster from the Twiston-Davies centre of excellence. If Georgie Nicholls had been hopeful of a double with Chattamento in the concluding bumper, she was swiftly disabused. Debutant Little Watson, running in Twiston-Davies colours, made pretty much all, and kept on well to win by 2 1/2l from the aforementioned Nicholls runner. again, the race was for the minor placings, Fergal O’Brien’s Hola Hermosa losing out by a neck for second.

Little Watson and Sam Twiston-Davies win the Maiden National Hunt Flat Race at Stratford. 19/5/2024 Pic Steve Davies

Golfe Claire gets rub of the green for Kirby

Fine weather graced Stratford’s first evening fixture on Thursday but the advent of Spring sunshine had yet to make an impact on ground conditions, described as good to soft in places. Owners and trainers seeking an early showing in the Championship rankings were quick to respond with 62 runners facing the starter in 7 contests.

Paddock scene on a warm night Evening racing. 9/5/2024 Pic Steve Davies

The best finish of the day took place in the Racing TV members Night Novices Handicap Chase, and viewers who didn’t take up the offer to attend were given a gripping finish by the 6 runners with just 8 chase starts between them. The running order barely changed throughout, with Lightening Mahler cutting out the running, and eventual winner Golfe Claire handy in fourth. Three out, you would have been hard-pressed to put runner-up Watergrange Jack in the finish, but all changed as they exited the final bend.

Sam Twiston-Davies’ persistence on the Mulholland-trained Watergrange Jack forced him into contention between horses, with Lightening Mahler setting sail for home, and Golfe Claire and Twiston-Davies apparently fighting out second place. A hundred yards from the line, Watergrange Jack got his head in front, but was run out of it by the Phil Kirby-trained Golfe Claire to win by a neck – the sort of finish that Stratford regulars love.

Golfe Clair and Joe Williamson [left] jumps the last with Watergrange Jack [centre] and Lightening Mahler [right] in the Racing TV Members Night Novices’ Handicap Chase at Stratford. 9/5/2024 Pic Steve Davies

Dr Richard Newland and new training partner Jamie Insole have been outspoken in defending smaller British trainers from Irish invaders, suggesting some races should be restricted to British-based handlers. The idea hasn’t stopped them from sourcing horses further afield themselves, and they introduced a new recruit in Wales, a 1 3/4l winner of the opening maiden hurdle. Wales is a German-bred, winner of two middle distance races in Hanover for Andreas Wohler. The Germans have an excellent record of breeding stayers.

Sixth placed Get The Value was the subject of some scrutiny in the Stewards’ Room, for some apparent tender handling before running on in the final stages. Explanations from rider Ben Poste and trainer John O’Shea were noted.

The Stewards were busy again 40 minutes later when assessing an apparent improvement in form of No More No, 2 1/4l winner trained by Lawney Hill of division one of the novices’ handicap hurdle. No More No hasn’t troubled the judge in six previous races over hurdles and in point-to-points, but the application of a visor seemed to galvanize the 5 year old into action under Richard Patrick. The stewards weren’t wholly convinced and noted the explanation: code for keeping the horse under scrutiny in future runs.

The remainder of the evening was very much a victory for the ladies changing room as Tabitha Worsley, Isabel Williams and Lilly Pinchin each made their mark. Much has been made of Bryony Frost’s departure to France in the absence of a book of regular rides here. Nevertheless, there is a growing cadre of women riders who are making their presence felt, and who offer just as good value in the plate as their male counterparts.

Worsley’s winner was no great surprise to punters, who latched on to previous Stratford winner Bernard in the second division of the novices handicap hurdle to send the 8 year old gelding off 11/8 favourite. Leading on the bend, the Mel Rowley – trained winner always had the edge on Inspector Lynley in second, ensuring a frustrating evening of seconds for Neil Mulholland.

Isabel Williams gets plenty of opportunities for her father Evan, and the latest was Tour Ovalie in the Mares Handicap Hurdle. Twice second in March and April at Hereford, she finally found the winning habit with a promising burst of speed from the bend, facilitated by the omission of the final hurdle. Williams has 63 winners to her name, just 8 off losing her claim.

Tour Ovalie and Isabel Williams [right] wins from Asian Spice at Stratford. 9/5/2024 Pic Steve Davies

Lilly Pinchin must now be the senior British rider in the girls’ changing room, and she teamed up well with Gary Hanmer to win the first division of the 2m 2f Novices Handicap Hurdle with commentator’s tongue twister Fandabidozi, who stayed on well to beat Amalfi Bay and The Sad Shepherd one length and a neck respectively.

The second division went to Kayley Woollacott’s Our Dylan, a winner at Hereford last month, and belatedly finding the sweet spot after 24 starts. Ben Godfrey has been in the plate for both winning rides.

After the wettest Spring any of us can remember, we really shouldn’t complain about seeing the sun, but the bright light made a pig’s ear of the NH Racing Club likes Cotswold Larder Handicap Chase, with 3 fences in the straight omitted, reducing the obstacle count from 17 to 10. Village Master made this race a hat-trick after successes at Hereford and Warwick, under James Bowen, to send punters home happy with a 6/4 favourite. There have been some lean years recently for trainer Warren Greatrex, but on his current form, you oppose him at your peril. Three winners from 8 runners is no mean record, even at this stage of the year.

It’s On The Line stakes claim to top hunter chaser spot

It’s On The Line asserted his credentials to be the best hunter chaser in Britain & Ireland in another narrowly won victory in the Event Power Champion Hunters’ Chase at the Punchestown Festival on Friday. 

The J P McManus owned gelding is, to all intents and purposes, a professionally trained horse, in the care of Emmet Mullins, and ridden by Derek O’Connor, the leading Irish amateur. However, he’s a horse that makes life hard for himself, and is aptly named.

Re-opposing from Cheltenham in this race were Ferns Hill, Billaway and Samcro, with Famous Clermont the sole British contender. Second only to Sine Nomine in the Cheltenham Foxhunters, It’s On The Line had gone one better at Aintree, only asserting over Benny’s Hill in the last half furlong, enough to be sent off 6/4 favourite here. Vaucelet, winner and runner-up in each of the last two renewals of Stratford’s Pertemps Network Foxhunter, was also in the field.

In murky conditions and in demanding ground that encouraged 5 of the 14 runners to pull up, Samcro led largely unchallenged for the first two-thirds of the race, before being joined by Famous Clermont, under James King from the 9th fence. It’s On The Line remained in touch, some 5l adrift as the two leaders slugged it out in front.

Samcro was first to crack, allowing Famous Clermont to take up the running, but as they turned in, Lifetime Ambition hoved into view with the favourite, and two out, any one of the three might have won. Lifetime Ambition got away from the last in front, but Derek O’Connor showed why he is the leading amateur, conjuring up a tremendous burst of finishing speed to assert 100 yards from the post. the winning distance of 1 3/4l was growing with every stride.

Emmet Mullins told RTE, “He doesn’t make life easy but Derek has the trick to him. Early doors it wasn’t great as Derek had to make a move to get him off the inside and get him travelling.

“I was very happy the whole way around until the third last and there was a bit of a panic when Lifetime Ambition went on. Once he got over the second last I was always fairly confident he was going to get him back.”

O’Connor added, “He’s an amazing horse. He’s just doing enough to stay alive all the time but every time you ask him, he brings a little bit more for you.

“To be fair, I never really got serious with him until after I jumped the last, I just wanted that company. Susie Doyle rode a brilliant race (on Lifetime Ambition) and she’s unlucky in defeat.”

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