Harry Cobden Closes Gap to Set Up Thrilling Jockeys’ Championship

After getting off to a flying start to 2024, Harry Cobden has closed the gap on leader Sean Bowen in the 2023/24 Jockeys’ Championship to set up what could be a thrilling finish to the Jumps season.

Cobden, a jockey who is no stranger to riding winners at Stratford, trailed Bowen by 42 at one point this season, but the two riders are now level-pegging at 121 each after yesterday’s racing at Exeter.

Cobden has support of Champion Nicholls

The leading trainer Cobden rides for in the sport is reigning Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls. Cobden is set to partner some of Nicholls’ leading hopes at the Cheltenham Festival, including Stage Star, who is 11/2 in today’s horse racing betting for the 2024 Ryanair Chase.

The biggest race of the week at the Cheltenham Festival is the Cheltenham Gold Cup on day four of the meeting, and Cobden will be on board Bravemansgame for Nicholls. The number one Ditcheat rider was runner-up in the race in 2023 on the same horse as they chased home Galopin Des Champs. Those two chasers are set to renew their rivalry in the Blue Riband event.

Cobden has already ridden 18 Grade One winners in his career, but he has yet to become Champion Jockey. In what now looks to be a two-way battle for the title, he will be desperate to get as many extra rides as possible until the campaign concludes in April.

Whatever happens this season, Cobden is on course for his best-ever tally for a season. His previous best came in the 2020/21 campaign when he rode 123 winners. He was third in the Jockeys’ Championship that year behind Harry Skelton and Brian Hughes respectively.

Injury kept Bowen out for 6 weeks

The early pace in this year’s Jockeys’ Championship was set by Bowen. He rode lots of winners through the summer months, including several victories at Stratford. The Welsh rider was the first to reach 100 winners, a milestone he hit in November with the assistance of trainer father Peter.

Unfortunately for Bowen, his title dreams were almost derailed on Boxing Day at Aintree as a fall put him out of action for six weeks. He has had to work hard on his rehabilitation in early 2024 to get himself back in the saddle.

Bowen made his return to action on February 8th at Huntingdon where he almost made a winning return. He had to settle for second place on board Roccovango, who was beaten by just a neck.

Like Cobden, Bowen also has the support of a major trainer as he predominantly rides for Olly Murphy as well as his father. The Jockeys’ Championship leader will be hoping that partnership can work well over the final few months of the campaign to give him the winners he needs for a maiden title.

The final Jumps meeting on the 2023/24 UK calendar comes at Sandown on Saturday, April 27th. The Esher-based racecourse will host a seven-race card which includes the Celebration Chase.

How to host the Greatest Show on Turf

Racing at Stratford gets underway on March 11 this year and, just like years past, a lot of work goes into organising each event, not least after the recent flooding affected our grandstands and track. From rebuilding fences or replacing carpets ruined by floodwater, plus the basic racing tasks to do with the runners and riders and liaising with transport officers, we have to cover a variety of bases each time we put on a show. The same goes for every racecourse up and down the country. From big to small venues, the amount of effort that goes into hosting a meet can be mind-blowing.

One of the best examples of how much goes into a racing event is the Cheltenham Festival. Known as the “greatest show on turf,” our opening fixture is a precursor to the annual festival, a day after we open our racing season. Why is it the greatest show on turf? Aside from hosting some of the sport’s best talent, Cheltenham is a spectacle. In 2023, a total of 68,500 people per day poured into Cheltenham Racecourse.

Many more would have attended, but the venue can only hold so many people, and numbers have been capped to improve the racegoer experience. Those who can’t attend in person watch on TV and online. In fact, almost as many people have a flutter on the Cheltenham Festival. Various prominent bookmaking firms estimated that, in 2023, around £1 billion was wagered during the festival. Around £1,000,000 was bet by punters at the course on each race, which means many millions were wagered online.

Such is the interest in Cheltenham that oddsmakers put up their odds way ahead of time. Ante-post markets for the 2024 Cheltenham Festival already have Galopin Des Champs as an even-money standout for the Gold Cup, and Constitution Hill as the strong 1/4 favourite in the Champion Hurdle. So, to say there’s a swell of anticipation and interest in Cheltenham is an understatement. 

What Goes into a Racing Event?

By these measures alone, it’s a spectacle that, rightly, dominates the British racing calendar. Creating the greatest show on turf doesn’t happen overnight. Here are just some of the things organisers will be working on ahead of the first race on March 12.

The Course

Grounds people have their work cut out in winter. Keeping the track in the best condition possible is the most important thing for any racecourse in attracting the endorsement of the trade professionals. Without something to race on, the whole event can’t happen. That’s why grounds people will be out tending to the track and, in turn, delivering reports on its condition (the going) weeks before the first race.

With three courses to manage (Old, New and Cross Country), there’s a substantial acreage to manage over the four days.

Runners, Riders & Officials

The quality of a race hinges on its participants. That doesn’t mean every horse has to be elite, it simply means that you need to have fair and competitive races. Organisers need to work in conjunction with the racing authority and stables to create the best races possible. Of course, the prestige of winning at Cheltenham, coupled with prize money topping £1 million per day, makes it easier to assemble the best runners, riders, and officials.

Time was when the roar greeted 20 runners in the Supreme Novices Hurdle but nowadays, even the top graded races face competition from alternative races. The phones will be hot in the Cheltenham office ensuring the fields fill well and fancied runners do not take easier options elsewhere.

Pic Steve Davies

Hospitality & Entertainment

Modern racing is more than what happens on the track. Racecourses have teams dedicated to hospitality and entertainment, and Cheltenham’s tented village is the largest at any sporting event in the UK bar none. People who attend any event, particularly the majors like Cheltenham, expect a day out. They want access to food, drink, and, in most situations, entertainment.

Many of the semi-permanent structures comprising the tented village remain in place from the autumn’s big fixture, but they are joined by more. An army of contractors from marquee suppliers, electricians, temporary kitchen suppliers and other facility providers, is on site throughout January and February building and preparing the structures before they are handed over to the racecourse.

Pic Steve Davies

Did you know over 250,000 pints of Ireland’s national drink – Guinness – are consumed during Cheltenham? Supplying bars with sufficient inventory to satisfy Gloucestershire’s thirsty punters is no small feat in itself.

Road & Rail

You can make sure everything inside the venue is set up for a great racing event, but all that effort will count for nothing if people can’t get in. Racecourses need to liaise with local traffic officers to ensure the road network can handle an influx of people. For events such as the Cheltenham Festival, the organisers also have to communicate with railway officials, as Cheltenham Station sees an influx of an extra 18,000 customers per day.

An increasingly popular route in is via the steam train that allows spectators to park at Toddington and take an old-fashioned steam locomotive to reach the racecourse station.

But for many living or staying in Cheltenham, the best form of transport is Shanks’ pony.

The Finished product

The finished product is always worth the effort. Cheltenham has become one of the most watched events in racing and the level of organisation is second to none. From the competitors to the post-race entertainment, nothing gets left to chance at these events, which is why British racing sets the global standard.

We’ve five weeks until the roar that greets that opening race at 1.30 on Tuesday March 12, and for many, that week will begin at Stratford the previous day.

Dan Skelton Could Be Set For A Big Cheltenham Festival

Warwickshire-based trainer Dan Skelton is on course for one of his best seasons as a trainer. He remains in contention for a maiden Trainers’ Championship, and he is set to go into the Cheltenham Festival with a strong team of horses.

Here is a look at some of his best chances of the 2024 Cheltenham Festival meeting.

Protektorat – Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the race at the Cheltenham Festival that all owners and trainers dream of winning. It is the feature race of the week, and also the most lucrative. As the assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls, Skelton was involved in the success both Kauto Star and Denman enjoyed in the race between 2007 and 2009.

Now with a licence of his own, Skelton’s best chance of Gold Cup success this year comes through Protektorat, a horse part-owned by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. 

Skelton’s chaser finished third in the race in 2022, while last March, the British horse came home in fifth place. As of the 17th of January, he is 40/1 in the Cheltenham Festival odds to prevail in the latest renewal of the Blue Riband contest.

The nine-year-old won one of the leading Grade I races in his division at Haydock last season. If he reproduces that form at Cheltenham, he could be a major player in the business end of the contest again, especially if the racecourse going is ‘Soft’ during the week of the Festival, as his best form comes on ground with give in it, but he came out worst in a prep against l’Homme Pressé in the Fleur de Lys Chase at Lingfield this month, so there may be alternative options. 

Grey Dawning – Brown Advisory Chase

Novice chaser Grey Dawning took a big step forward last time out at Warwick when he won the Grade II Hampton Novices’ Chase. He was faultless in that race, scoring by 14 lengths to put himself in the picture for some of the leading novice chases at the Cheltenham Festival.

Grey Dawning has entries in both the Brown Advisory Novices’ and Turners Novices’ Chase, but given how well he fared over 3m, the former of those two options looks the most likely.
Skelton will be keeping a close eye on the fixture list over the weeks before the Cheltenham Festival. The seven-year-old could have his first shot at a Grade I chase in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown in February. Gerri Colombe won that race last season and is now a Cheltenham Gold Cup contender. Skelton will be hoping his horse can follow the same path. 

Langer Dan – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle

This year is set to be Langer Dan’s fifth appearance at the Cheltenham Festival. The hurdler has consistently fared well at the meeting. He finished second behind Galopin Des Champs in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle in 2021, while last season, he claimed his first success at the meeting.

Langer Dan is set to have multiple entries at this year’s Festival and Skelton will decide on which race he participates in closer to the meeting. The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle may represent his best chance of success this year. He is now racing off an official mark of 141, which is just 6lb higher than when he was second in the race.

Nube Negra – Queen Mother Champion Chase

In 2021, Nube Negra was less than a length away from winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase, one of the four Championship races at the Cheltenham Festival. In what was a close finish to the day two feature contest, he finished second behind Put The Kettle On.

The two-time Shloer Chaser winner has an excellent record at Cheltenham and his connections will be encouraged by his latest performance on the track, as he was second behind Editeur Du Gite in the Desert Orchid Handicap Chase at Kempton.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase looks set to be one of the strongest races of the week this year, as last season’s Arkle winner El Fabiolo, leading British 2m chaser Jonbon and Dinoblue are all expected to feature. Skelton still believes his horse can be competitive in this race, as he bids to go one place better than he did in 2021.

Skelton has had four Cheltenham Festival winners to date in his career. With the runners he has this year, he will be very disappointed if he does not add to that tally across the four days.

Alex Hussain from Johnslots Talks About the Popularity of Online Horse Racing

In a little over 2 months on March 11th this year, race day will return to the Stratford Racecourse, provided the floods have abated. As a sport, a large part of the entertainment factor comes down to the atmosphere and spirit of the occasion, and the opening day is brimful, with extra crowds anticipating four days at the Cheltenham Festival starting the following day. Compared to many other sports, betting is also indelibly wed to racing, with numerous fans seeing betting as a must-do activity to make the most out of the event.

This is exemplified with televised events such as Royal Ascot, the Grand National, and Cheltenham Festival. In 2021, for instance, the Grand National set the record for UK online sports betting, drawing in bets from more than 13 million people – that amounts to around a third of the adult UK population! And aligned to this, ITV Racing will cover more days’ racing in 2023 than ever before.

Hunter chasers provide one day of action during a busy season’s Jump racing at Stratford. 2/6/2023 Pic Steve Davies

With online gambling more accessible than ever, horse racing has maintained its allure for both live and online fans alike. Wanting to find out why, we caught up with Alex Hussain, online gambling journalist focused on sports betting. Below is our chat with him about all things horses, online gambling, and why the 2024 season will be the most exciting yet.

Hi Alex, could you start off by telling us what you do for a living?

Hello there!  I’m an online gambling journalist with a particular love for all things sports. I cover a wide range of topics, but my main area is sports betting. I spend my time giving readers comprehensive news coverage on all the most bettable sports.

Speaking of bettable sports, we wanted to know what makes horse racing so popular online.

I think the main reason it’s so popular today is because the online gambling community is not all too different from the wider community. That is to say, when the online gambling industry got big 25 years ago, it wasn’t a whole load of new people finding gambling for the first time.

It was traditional gamblers transitioning to a more streamlined, convenient, digital platform to gamble. That transition integrated all the popular gambling pastimes – the ones that had been popular for a hundred years or more beforehand – and that included horse racing. In the highly developed UK market, racing remains the second most televised sport behind football, and this is a key driver to its availability and continued spectator appeal.

With a wide range of sporting events to bet on, it was thought that horse racing might fall down the rankings of online popularity. But it never really did. Of course, people like to bet on football and basketball and so on, but there’s still a special place for horse racing in the heart of the online community.

I think that’s potentially due to the popularity of ‘fixed odds’. Unlike pari-mutuel gambling – where wagers are deposited into a single pot – odds can fluctuate based on the wagers, with winnings being paid from the total payout. This means that gamblers can bet much in the same way that they do with club sports. It wraps everything up in a neat bow!

Interesting. Are there any other reasons for the popularity of horse racing in the iGaming community?

I think the inclusion of alternative payment methods helps. In 2024, users can place wagers through a variety of means, including cryptocurrency. With the added security and convenience of multiple payment methods, horse racing betting has been opened up to a wider audience. With the growth of that audience in mind, the online gambling world has also drawn in new horse racing fans, especially among the younger Gen Z generation.

For instance, there are a load of horse racing-themed slots, and even simulated horse races that gamblers can wager on. This is important, because these ‘races’ are available at any time, on any day. Real horse racing, however, is constrained to a seasonal window. Because virtual races occur daily, there’s more chance to draw in new fans and new interest in the real thing. By appealing to gamers, racing can attract fans into real racing too.

That’s crazy. So virtual games and simulations are actually aiding the real sport?

Oh yes, definitely. Just think, in 2021, the overall wagering handle increased to $12.2 billion. This was a big increase over 2020, even though there were 30% fewer races in the huge US market. The only thing you can put that down to is the online-verse. New fans are arriving everyday, and horse racing is only getting more popular as a result. I think we can only expect it to get bigger in the future, too. It’s a very exciting time to be a horse racing fan and an online gambling fan, especially with all the options at your fingertips.

Alex, thank you for your insights.

Any time!

Protektorat has several Festival options this season

Dan Skelton’s gelding Protektorat has been one of the leading chasers in the UK and Ireland over the last couple of seasons. The highlight in that period was his Grade I success in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in 2022.

Skelton has given Protektorat two entries at the Cheltenham Festival in 2024, as he is in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Ryanair Chase, for which entries close in January. A decision on which of those races he lines up in will be made closer to the meeting.

Third shot at Gold Cup

Should he appear in the 2024 Cheltenham Gold Cup in 3 months, Protektorat will be having his third start in the blue riband event of the Cheltenham Festival. He is 66/1 to win the 3m2f contest, and those looking to back Skelton’s runner should consider the leading horse racing betting offers on the meeting. They include bet365’s bet £10, get £30 in free bets promotion which is available to new customers.

The eight-year-old made his Gold Cup debut in 2022 and he finished a respectable third in the race which was won by A Plus Tard. A year later, he was fifth of 13 runners in the 2023 renewal that went the way of Irish star Galopin Des Champs.

Protektorat now has an official chase rating of 165, which is 5lb lower than when he featured in the 2023 Gold Cup. He is one of 27 horses that have entries for the feature race at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Ryanair trip may suit

The former Grade One winner has yet to show his best form in two runs so far this season. Both of those appearances have come over distances beyond 3m. With that in mind, Skelton may be leaning towards the Ryanair Chase, which is over the short trip of 2m5f.

Protektorat has been successful over 2m4f at Cheltenham, so he has shown he has the speed for the Ryanair Chase. That race would be seen as an easier assignment for the British horse, as the Gold Cup is set to feature several big players from Ireland this season, although the Irish will be well represented in the Ryanair too.

Next appearance set to be Lingfield

Skelton has revealed that he expects Protektorat’s next run to come in the Fleur de Lys Chase at Lingfield on January 21st. That valuable race is worth £165,000, and it is one of the feature contests at the three-day Winter Million meeting, a concept introduced in 2023.

Although Protektorat was not able to score last time out in a handicap where he carried top weight, he did make the frame. It was a much better performance than his seasonal reappearance, so Skelton will be encouraged by that performance. The Lodge Hill trainer will be hoping to see his horse step up again on what is likely to be his final start before the Ryanair Chase or Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The 2024 Cheltenham Festival is scheduled for the 12-15th March 2024. The Ryanair Chase comes on the penultimate day of the meeting, while the Gold Cup is positioned on the final day.

When to come racing at Stratford again

The nights are drawing in and the winter winds are beginning to blow. While it is one of the best times of the year in Stratford-on-Avon as the Victorian Christmas Market comes to life and a festive glow falls on the town, there is a noticeable absence in the air: horse racing. At Stratford Racecourse there is a pause in proceedings over the winter months, with fixtures only resuming again in mid-March. Mark that date now – Monday March 11th.

Looking ahead to next Spring’s restart

People often ask what we do at the racecourse during the closed season. “I suppose you must be getting busy now,” they say as our first March fixture hoves into view. Certainly, the mid-winter period is one of some reflection on events past, but idle time is scarce. Creating a calendar of race fixtures, and delivering them is a full-time occupation!

The Spring is the same time that Jump racing around Britain generally comes into full view for folk who don’t follow racing on a daily basis, with some of the biggest festivals in the United Kingdom taking place in early spring. Indeed, the bulk of the year’s horse race bets are placed over this time as the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National fall within a month of each other.

To that end, all eyes will be on Corach Rambler who has been priced at 20/1 to defend the title he won at Aintree in mid-April. His first run this autumn proved him less than match-fit, but the key destination is Aintree, not Kelso in November, so trainer Lucinda Russell has left something to work on.

If you’re a horse racing enthusiast, however, then these opening events at Stratford, and the festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree might seem like an age away with the bulk of the winter still to come. The good news is that there is still plenty of top flight horse racing to savour over the chillier months.

The Season is now in full swing

In fact, jump racing – which is often referred to as ‘National Hunt’ racing, accelerates throughout the festive season and only recedes to a specialist cadre of tracks – Stratford included – during the warmer summer months. 

The reason for this is that the winter conditions make the ground softer which is more forgiving on horses as they land. And boy, has it rained already this autumn, allowing trainers like Venetia Williams, a traditionalist who needs mud on her riders’ breeches to run her horses, to get going earlier than usual.

This is why you’ll often hear terms used like heavy, soft, and good to soft when the surface is being described before a race in the colder months. This terminology is referred to as ‘the going’ and provides punters with a good idea of how the race might play out on account of the condition of the actual racecourse. In fact, ground conditions this autumn to date have been so dire that an abnormal number of fixtures have already hit the buffers.

Flat racing continues over the winter

Unlike jump racing, the majority of flat racing fixtures stop over the colder months as the neatly manicured turf needed for sprints is more susceptible to the winter elements. Essentially, this makes flat racing unsafe with frost and ice posing the biggest dangers to horses. The international calendar continues throughout for the elite, November having seen the Breeders’ Cup then Melbourne Cups, whilst February and March are dominated by high value races in Riyadh and Dubai.

While very cold conditions can also affect jump racing, flat racing is more about blistering speed over shorter distances as opposed to stamina and endurance over a few miles. Overall, the elements are far harder to negotiate at high speed.

As a result, some 30 years ago, the innovative Muddle family introduced synthetic surfaces at Wolverhampton and Southwell so that the flat racing season could go ahead all year round. This has been a lifesaver for smaller trainers whose stock is not competitive enough to go close on turf, but in lower quality all-weather races, finds their winning place.

A la prochaine

So there you have it, while lovers of horse racing certainly won’t be starved of action, Stratford Racecourse will fall silent over the next few months. However, that famous roar that echoes around Warwickshire will soon return as another season of thrilling racing at Stratford begins again on March 11th 2024, precursor to a breath-taking week at the sport’s spiritual home of Cheltenham.

We’ll see you back here in no time.

Responsible gambling: simple rules to keep it as entertainment

Responsible gambling are the two words on everyone’s lips presently as racing’s campaign to ward off affordability checks gathers momentum. The petition urging the Gambling Commission to review its proposed authoritarian checks has now passed 100,000 signatories, ensuring lively debate in Parliament.

It’s fair to say, however, that British bookmakers have been in the vanguard of sense-checking affordability within existing legislation. No TV or media advert finishes without a caveat to game responsibly, the industry’s effort to reduce problem gambling to manageable levels.

Online casinos and betting sites have surged in popularity, providing an avenue for entertainment and potential winnings right from the comfort of one’s home. However, with convenience comes responsibility. Ensuring that you’re playing safely and responsibly is paramount, and the following is an example of what most sites are doing to rein in the excesses of their less inhibited customers.

Understand the odds

Every game in a casino, online or offline, has a house edge. That means that, in the long run, the house always wins. Understanding this fact can help manage expectations. Always play for fun and treat any winnings as a bonus. You can find plenty of information online to help you understand the odds of different games, and how a lot of it is down to mathematics. On a racecourse, the overround tells you the profit for the bookmaker in the book; it’s a handy tool to allow you to see where the value lies.

When it comes to finding new casinos, you can look for the most competitive promotional incentive online on offer, and use that as a way to experience fresh titles and gameplay without needing to make too large of a deposit. This is what these promotional bonuses are designed to do – to give you a feel for the casino without a heavy commitment, so don’t forget to take advantage of them. Remember, however, that if an incentive feels way too good to be true, it probably is. Popular casinos are highly competitive so the offerings are consistently great for new players, but, like any business, they still need to protect their bottom line if they’re operating above board. 

Set a budget and stick to it

Before logging into your online casino account, decide on a specific amount that you’re willing to spend – and potentially lose. Once you’ve hit that limit, it’s time to log out. Chasing losses can lead to bigger losses, so it’s essential to have discipline. The kinder on-course bookmakers will also look after their clientele; some refuse to take bets from consistent losers who look down on their luck.

Any reputable casino will also provide plenty of resources on responsible gambling, and on knowing when to step away from the table, machine, or board. Make sure you’re always working within your means, and not relying on potential winnings to top you up again.

When big matches or games are coming up, decide how much you’d be willing to lose. While nobody wants to think about losing when they’re preparing a bet, it helps to frame it that way to ensure you never bet beyond your means.

Use time management

Set time limits for your gambling sessions. Just like setting a budget, decide in advance how long you plan to play. Using alarms or reminders can help keep you in check. There are plenty of ways to implement better time management in your personal life, so try to work out what’s best for you.

Know when to take a break

If you find yourself on a losing streak or becoming frustrated, it might be time to take a break. Online casinos will still be there tomorrow. It’s essential to remember that gambling should be a fun activity, not a source of stress.

Stepping away from the computer for a while is always a good idea, whether you’re using it for leisure or for work.

Buff up on the games

While many casino games are based on luck, some have strategies that can increase your chances of winning or at least reduce the house edge. Before playing a game, take some time to understand its rules and any strategies that might apply. Some games rely heavily on strategy – for instance, poker or blackjack – while others are based more on chance, such as slots. Neither one is necessarily better than the other, but it helps to understand how much is chance and how much is skill.

Use the self-exclusion tools

Most reputable online casinos offer self-exclusion tools, allowing you to have a break from gambling for a specific period. If you feel you’re losing control, use these tools to prevent access to the platform.

While you may not think they’re necessary for you, implementing one of these tools is a great way to make sure you’re never tempted to go further than you know you should. Think of it like a lifeboat – it may never be deployed, but it should always be there anyway.

Don’t chase jackpots

Progressive jackpots can be incredibly tempting. The allure of a life-changing sum of money with just one spin is hard to resist. However, the odds of winning them are typically very low. It’s okay to try your luck occasionally, but don’t make them your primary focus.

Continually chasing these jackpots can lead to excessive spending and disappointment. Instead, enjoy the smaller games and victories along the way. Remember, the essence of online casinos is entertainment. By keeping your expectations realistic and not getting overly fixated on jackpots, you can maintain a healthier and more enjoyable gaming experience.

Online casinos provide an exciting fusion of accessibility, fun, and the allure of winning. Yet, like any recreational activity, they demand a mindful and conscious approach. By adhering to the tips shared earlier, you can dive into the casino world securely and responsibly. It’s paramount to understand that gambling is primarily about enjoyment, not a solution to financial challenges or a surefire way to wealth. Relish the games, gamble wisely, and recognize the right moment to step back.

A damp end to a season of promise

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.

Bowenspark and Richard Patrick jump the last to win at Stratford. 2/11/2023 Pic Steve Davies

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.

Guguss Collonges and Lilly Pinchin lead all the way as Lee Edwards hangs on tight to Unai at Stratford. 2/11/2023 Pic Steve Davies

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.

Mole Court produces emotional win for ailing owner

Stratford winner Mole Court stepped up on Friday to give part owner Ed Hoddell a magic moment as Cheltenham launched back into life after a five month break, with a 1/2l staying-on victory in an amateur riders chase.

The six year old gelding has now won five races in the calendar year, and his last four outings at Worcester (twice) and Stratford in August.

But as with almost every winner at the home of the sport, the back story is as interesting as the horse itself. Horrell is the building contractor at Ben Pauling’s Naunton yard, having built much of it from scratch through his Hartpury Construction business. And whilst this would vest him deeply in Pauling’s ongoing success, there is more. Wife Tina fell ill during the course of the build, and was ill enough to miss this latest success, with the prognosis for a recovery not good. No surprise therefore that a winner in that most precious of Winner’s Enclosures should be so heartily received.

Pauling meanwhile enjoyed his best ever season in 2022-23; just as well considering the investment in the Naunton Downs Golf Club and new racing set up. Over 70% of Pauling runners have won or been placed since the off of the new term in May, and at this pace, he stands every chance of growing again and passing the £1m marker.

We’ve been lucky to see 3 of those winners here at Stratford this summer where his 10 runners to date have scored an impressive 33% strike rate, which could yet be improved this week for our final fixture on Thursday.

Skelton winds up to Saturday speed

A worms eye view of Jigginstown King leading the field before victory at Stratford. 9/10/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Dan Skelton’s Alcester yard is girding up to full speed as the first of the significant Saturday cards hoves into view this weekend, and introduced another smart newcomer at Luddington Road in Kartoon & Co, a juvenile in the ownership of the Betts family, owners of some terrific horses in the past, including private Audition, winner of the 1988 Cesarewitch. Big winners have been harder to come by in recent years, but in this well-bred French gelding, there was plenty to like, even in a small 4 runner field. The winner was 7 1/2l ahead of the runner-up, the two more than 60l apart from the only other finisher.

There was plenty else to enjoy during a day shared by many winning partnerships. Shetland Tony continued the rich vein of form enjoyed by the Twiston-Davies team when justifying 7/2 favouritism for the Newport Recycling Novices Hurdle, under Sam Twiston-Davies in a bloodless 18l victory. Recent success is small compensation for the loss of Greatwood Hurdle winner I Like To Move It on his chasing debut at Uttoxeter on Saturday, but Nigel is nothing if not phlegmatic. Twiston-Davies Jnr is a man in a hurry presently; his last week’s rides have served up no less than 7 winners for 4 separate trainers.

Shetland Tony and Sam Twiston-Davies jump the last to win at Stratford. 9/10/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Perseverance is everything in racing, and the point was amply proven in the Re-Gen Waste Novices Handicap Chase over 2m 3f. Winner Martalmix’jac – a commentator’s tongue twister – finally got his head in front at the fifteenth attempt in one of the card’s two chases with a 2l margin over Famoso, a winner here at the end of August. This looks a horse that needs everything right for him, which, as we all know, happens rarely in this sport. Full marks to trainer-rider partnership Mel Rowley and Alex Edwards for persistence, and to syndicate owner High and Low, who have experienced more than their share of the latter adjective.

Martalmix’Jac [left] gets his head in front at the 15th attempt at Stratford. 9/10/2023 Pic Steve Davies

The other chase of the day produced the most exciting finish of the afternoon, when the Oliver Signy-trained Jigginstown King justified his short 2/1 favourite’s tag in holding off the in-form Lavelle yard of Minella Buster. Given Emma Lavelle’s team is also primed for a productive autumn, it shouldn’t be too long before he is winning either, but credit is die to Ben Jones for a forceful ride that saw off Tom Bellamy by 1/2l at the line. Jigginstown King was completing a hat-trick following Spring victories at Fontwell and Fakenham.

Another of the top rank trainers running into a rich vein of form is David Pipe, who struck here with the Jack Tudor-ridden Myristica in the 2m 2f Novices handicap hurdle. The five year old mare has done little wrong since joining Pipe from Yorkshire in April, running up a hat-trick in mid-summer and never being out of the frame. Pipe is hunting down a rider for his Cesarewitch hope Wordsworth, well fancied to defy top weight in this Saturday’s big staying handicap.

Robbie Llewellyn is another product of the South Wales centre of racing excellence. The Vale of Glaorgan trainer was previously 2 i/c to David Brace, and has worked for Tim Vaughan and Evan Williams, mainstays of Welsh Jump racing. Based on his percentages, this could be a breakthrough year for him, notching up his seventh winner of the term, a personal best, with 11/4 favourite Top Cloud in the opening conditionals hurdle, ridden by another man on the march, Liam Harrison.

Just as Llewellyn is a product of the British Point-to-Point circuit, so the final winner of the day celebrated a team back training under its own name with a fine history of success between the flags. Graeme McPherson disappeared from the training ranks when joining forces with Fergal O’Brien, but that partnership drew to a close due to the complications of running two training sites 15 miles apart. Moon Chime, a five year old gelding that had won at Worcester under the ancien regime earlier in the summer, made it 2 from 2 in the concluding bumper with a handsome 7l margin under claimer Nick Slatter to get the old firm on the scoresheet once again.

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