Racing is always better served under blue skies and moderate temperatures, and so it was for Stratford’s,second meeting of the season as an 8 race card welcomed owners back to the racecourse for the first time since November. It felt like the beginning of the start of normality.
One of the themes of this last month of the season has been the tussle for the top place in the Jockeys’ Championship. Brian Hughes’ plan to swerve Cheltenham in order to build up a lead elsewhere didn’t play out as well as he’d planned, but the Skelton team drew a blank at Cheltenham too, since when a four-timer at Southwell has lit up the race to the Championship on April 24.
The Championship was the dominating story of the day’s racing, when Harry Skelton’s four-timer further eroded the slender lead of the current champion, Brian Hughes. The card opened as the well-backed Skelton-ridden Stepney Causeway made virtually all to win the opening Novices’ Hurdle as a 4/11 favourite should, by 15l from Brian Hughes of Faitque de L’Isle.
Hughes responded in kind 30 minutes later when riding Nightfly to victory for Northamptonshire-based owner-breeder Dee Flory, on her first racecourse visit since before Christmas. Some 80 owners accompanied her to see their horses run on this first day with a lower restriction of admission.
The Skelton pair fought back again to narrow the gap in the feature Visit racingtv.com Handicap Chase. 10 Year old Rocco was always handy and took up the running from Colorado Doc down the back straight for the final time. Skelton Jnr was not going to make any mistake and put yards between him and the runner-up to bring his score to 122 and the deficit back to 3.
With his tail up, Harry Skelton concluded the card with the last two winners, in Dan Gun and Get Sky High in the second division of the handicap hurdle and the bumper.
So much the trend nowadays in racehorse ownership is among groups rather than individuals, and who can be surprised? After all, it’s so much more fun to be sharing in the joy of ownership among friends than on your own. Certainly, it’s sure that owner Andrew Gemmell was enjoying himself most of all in the company of other members of the syndicate he was permitted to join – The Frisky Fillies. Lest I be branded a chauvinist, they chose the title themselves for their horse Flemcara, who won the handicap hurdle in the middle of the card under Tom Bellamy. Andrew, you may recall, has been blind since birth, but is also the owner of Paisley Park, one of the gutsiest horses in training.
Emma commented afterwards, “It’s difficult to know who enjoyed that more – the horse or rider. Both came back with big grins on their faces! Flemcara has been chasing, but didn’t take to it as he does hurdling, and will stay over the smaller obstacles.” Certainly, if you followed the winner, you’ll have seen ears pricked for much of the second circuit, even when asked for an effort – a sure indication the winner was relishing the contest.
The winner didn’t have a hard race, so may reappear before the end of the season, ground conditions permitting.
The first division of the 2m 6f handicap hurdle resulted in a welcome winner for Henry Daly, who has endured a torrid season he’ll be glad to forget. This winner at least gets him into double figures, but he’s not a man seen on the racecourse frequently when the sun is beating down, so may put this lockdown year down to experience. French-bred Guillemot, owned by former Senior Steward Sir Thomas Pilkington, was breaking his duck with a pair of blinkers to assist. As it was, Henry stayed just long enough to greet his winner and for an interview before retreating back to Ludlow.