A lesson from Down Under: the All-Star Mile

Racing is in a fairly healthy position in the UK right now, particularly given the challenges of running a sport without spectators for large chunks of the last couple of years. Even allowing for a spate of small fields exacerbated by the low rainfall over the past few months, the sport retains a broad appeal across over 1,400 fixtures each year. But last month, the Racing Post launched a series of special reports under the banner, How Can Racing Broaden Its Appeal? And one of the key takeaways from the series of articles was that “Getting people involved is a major challenge for the sport.”

Of course, we have been here before. Each time there is a momentous performance on television – say, Rachael Blackmore’s heroics at Cheltenham and the Grand National – analysts talk about how it can drive engagement and appeal. Of course, it’s all well and good when saying these things after the Festival or Royal Ascot, but does it encourage people to attend the racing on a cold December night at Chelmsford? Or Stratford, for that matter, on the infrequent occasions when the sun is not warming our backs?

All-Star Mile has driven fan engagement

But there are ideas from outside the box that can drive fan engagement. An example is the All-Star Mile, which had its inaugural running in 2019 at Flemington Racecourse, the iconic home of Australian racing. If you aren’t familiar with the All-Star Mile, the main thing to know is that participation is largely decided by racing fans. To be exact, ten places in the races are allotted to horses who are voted in by fans. Five wild cards make up the rest of field. Of course, a bumper purse is offered to ensure owners are persuaded to let their horses run.

Zaaki, winner of the All-Star Mile 2022. Photo via https://twitter.com/allstarmile/status/1505047224132472834/photo/1

Now, if you really know your international racing, you might be aware that the Aussies nicked this idea from the Japanese. The fan-voted Arima Kinen race has been operating in Japan in some form or another since 1956. But the reason we chose the Australian version is that it shows how a good idea can ferment into popular culture quite quickly. Indeed, we would argue that the All-Star Mile has become a more engaging spectacle than The Everest, which was created in 2017 and is now the world’s richest turf race.

Perhaps our point is that the All-Star Mile is an example of where ingenuity trumps money. The Everest is a brilliant event, and it attracts some of the best sprinters in racing who look for a share of the £10million+ purse.

Race is rotated around Victoria

But the All-Star Mile attracts the casual fan, and one way it does this is through astute use of social media campaigning. The campaign reaches out to casual fans and potential fans, encouraging them to feel like they have a stake in the event. Indeed, before the 2022 race, TAB (Australia’s version of the Tote) ran a competition where one voter could become an “ambassador owner” of one of the horses selected for the race.

Another thing we like about the All-Star Mile is the fact it rotates. We mentioned Flemington earlier, but it will also go to Victoria’s other great venues, Moonee Valley and Caulfield. If such a principle was applied to the UK, there is no end of worthy venues that could host fan-voted races, including, of course, Stratford Racecourse. Imagine a concept like this through the Summer Jumps calendar at Stratford, Worcester, Perth and Newton Abbot.

Now, none of this is to say that UK racing should simply borrow the idea from the Australians (and Japanese), but it is the kind of concept that could yield dividends. One of the barriers to engagement with horse racing is the feeling that it is remote, particularly for those from urban areas. Campaigns like the All-Star Mile tear down those barriers through digital access on social media. The connection is there between fans and the selections in the race.

Something to think about.

Opposition folds in front of Cardboard Gangster

With 48 runners on yesterday’s 7 race card, Stratford bucked a trend of small fields by current standards during this dry summer, and the proximity to the River Avon and ability to apply liberal water to the track allows our popular summer venue to retain the confidence of trainers and owners.

At this time of year, good quality horses are hard to find around the limited range of Jumps courses able to combat the weather adequately. Class 5 steeplechases don’t often stir the soul, but the sport was still shown at its best in the Saige Handicap Chase mid-card, when turning into the short straight, any one of 5 contenders of the nine that faced the starter could have won. It was a driving finish from Tom Bellamy on D J Jeffreys’ Cardboard Gangster that got the better of a tussle with Flying Verse under the champion rider, just a 1/2l dividing them. This was a rare day without a winner for Hughes, who has been banging in doubles and trebles as if they were a Buy-one-get-one-free offer just recently.

Cardboard Gangster and Tom Bellamy jump the last to win the Saige Handicap Chase at Stratford. 28/7/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Local connections were again to the fore in the Martyn & Maureen’s Diamond Anniversary Novices Handicap Chase as Naunton newbie Ben Pauling led in another summer winner in French-bred 9 year old Pencreek. Pencreek has enjoyed a faultless summer; after 2 inconsequential chase starts last winter, his form figures for the last 2 months read 211, and whilst his official rating still hovers around 120, there will be other chases at this level to win. Rider Luca Morgan never really had to exert himself to shake up Pencreek to an easy 15l victory.

It was an all-Welsh affair in the last remaining chase over 2m 3f. There was little in the form figures of 4 1/2l winner Blaze A Trail to suggest his 14/1 wasn’t a fair reflection of his talent, yet the John Flint – trained winner, ridden by Connor Brace, held a comfortable advantage from 2 out, and never looked like getting caught. Flint is a more familiar face on flat courses nowadays, but his string look to be hitting a sweet spot, this being his second winner in as many days.

Just 6 faced the starter in the opening National Racehorse Week Novices Hurdle, but when the men and boys separated, it was only ever going to be a race between two proponents of the Summer Jumps game in Richard Bandey’s Give Me A Moment and Neil Mulholland’s Ike Sport. Give Me A Moment held the advantage under Harry Bannister, but Sam Twiston-Davies is never to be under-estimated, and saved his powder for a single devastating challenge at the last. It wasn’t enough however, and the Bandey representative made the most of his reversion to the smaller obstacles to pick up a second winner over hurdles and a 4th winner of the term for Bandey, who sports a 36% strike rate presently.

Retaining race fitness when you’re not riding much didn’t seem to trouble David Bass much in the Juvenile Maiden Hurdle. Bass’ main source of rides is Kim Bailey, whose summer runners are few and far between; in fact Bass has taken just 3 rides in the past fortnight, but made no mistake with Mutara, trained by Sean Curran, in what didn’t look the sharpest of races for our youngest entrants. The second, Graffiti, having a first run over obstacles, ran around some in the closing stages and may well improve when less green.

Lady Reset and Tom Scudamore jump the last to win the We Are IDP Mares’ Handicap Hurdle at Stratford. 28/7/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Second in the Trainers’ Championship, David Pipe might have considered yesterday an excellent means of keeping tabs on Fergal O’Brien. However, whilst there was no great surprise in Lady Reset’s 7l win in the Mares Handicap Hurdle mid-afternoon in a 4 runner field, a second winner was denied when Defi d’Oudairies, despite winning the closing handicap hurdle by a short head, lost the race in the stewards’ room. This seemed a somewhat harsh judgement given that neither rider stopped riding at any juncture, but margins were tight and “Rules is Rules”. The records will show a winner for Sam England and rider Tom Midgeley. What a breath-taking finish to close our day.

Kielan Woods sets Stratford alight with treble

Ladies Day at Stratford this year took on a matinee feel as the races were pulled forward to cope with the heatwave. And if truth be told, light frocks were still too much in the sweltering heat. However, as always, the horses were first in the queue, with plenty of water, assiduous teams managing their welfare and some competitive racing as a result.

The biggest prize of the day was the £25,000 Roger Wytton Stanley Memorial Handicap Chase, which saw a third course win for Larch Hill, determinedly ridden by our champion rider Brian Hughes for Charlie and Adam Pogson. Three of the select field of five were still in contention turning in, and despite a sustained challenge from the Nicholls – trained Mick Pastor, Larch Hill summoned up additional effort to pass the post 2 3/4l ahead. That’s three notches on the Stratford bedpost since September last year, emphasizing the truth behind the “horses for courses” adage.

Larch Hill and Brian Hughes [left] jumps the last with Mick Pastor before winning the Roger Wyton Stanley Memorial Handicap Chase at Stratford. 17/7/2022

Time was when you could regularly embarrass yourself in racing mixing one brother up for another, or in the case of the Hills brothers, talking about horses they’d never ridden! One man whose success currently means he may well need a double is Ben Pauling. If you know your Cotswolds, you will at least acknowledge the similarity in looks between him and affable estate agent Tom Hayman Joyce, to whom I chatted amiably and erroneously about horses for 3 minutes last weekend before he gently corrected me as to his identity! The real Ben Pauling’s horses are running very well presently, and another hit the line in front in the second of the three chases on Sunday when Serjeant Painter won his third consecutive chase under Kielan Woods for the Ben Pauling Racing Club, by a comfortable 2 3/4l. He looks very capable of continuing this winning streak, idling in front.

Woods was back in the Winner’s Enclosure 90 minutes later to complete a double when Ayr of Elegance struck a blow for the western side of the Cotswolds, scoring a fourth winner of the term for D J Jeffreys, who trains just outside Evesham. Leading from flagfall, the mare was kept up to her work by Woods, as she was in front a long time. It wouldn’t have taken much for her to drop her bit and lose momentum.

A good day at the office was not yet over for Woods however, with a booking for the Alex Hales – trained Queens Highway, who retained her unbeaten record in the concluding bumper – another sign of the resurgence of the location so famous in racing circles that is Edgecote, where the likes of Spanish Steps were trained.

Lambourn trainer Oliver Signy has been sparing in his Jumps runners over the summer, but few can fault a 50% strike rate, and winner of the second race, the Ardencote Spa Handicap Chase, Etat Major Aulnes, has been the contributor toward all of those 3 victories from 6 runs. Given the temperature, the trainer and his rider Gavin Sheehan will have been glad merely to ride him out for a 3l untroubled victory.

Etat Major Aulmes and Gavin Sheehan win at Stratford. 17/7/2022

A Fergal O’Brien/Paddy Brennan winner is a standing dish at Stratford, and so it turned out with Pop The Champagne, who took the fizz out of another prospective winner for Alan King when getting up in the last 100 yards of the Kerry Lewis Freelance Florist Novices Hurdle, but it was another Gloucestershire trainer who began the afternoon well.

Adrian Wintle knows Stratford well as a rider in a polished amateur career, and his select team of flat and national hunt horses deliver winners regularly for his owners. Jumps winners have been slight in the past year or so, with easier pickings from inexpensive horses discarded from bigger stables and aimed at handicap company. Twelve year old Ennistown was a runner-up here back in May, but went one better here in the opening Allan Atkinson Memorial Handicap Hurdle over 3m 2f to give Wintle his virgin winner of the term under the guidance of Tom Bellamy.

More Jamacho joy for racing club members

Jamacho made the members of the Stratford Racecourse Racing Club happy again for a ninth time in 4 years as he won the Stratford Summer Salver, sponsored by Allsopps, in a very exciting finish with Beyond The Clouds. Both are trained by Charlie Longsdon near Chipping Norton, and Jamacho was winning for a fourth time over course and distance here at Stratford.

Jamacho jumps the last with Charlie Longsdon stable companion Beyond The Clouds in the Stratford Summer Salver Handicap Hurdle. 10/7/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Last year’s winner of this race was Hang In There, now novice chasing, and highly regarded by Emma Lavelle. There’s no suggestion that Jamacho is in the same league, but he lacks nothing in determination, surrendering the lead before the last, but getting back up on the back of a better jump at the last, and defying every effort from champion jockey Brian Hughes on the runner-up, to win by a neck.

Sutton Veny has become a little powerhouse in the world of Jump racing since Milton Harris took up residence, and his run of good results continued here with a double, starting with Macuna in the Juvenile Hurdle, defying a double penalty to win by 6l. Since winning a 1m 2f handicap at Salisbury in late April, the filly has been virtually unstoppable over Jumps, with a record of 3 from 4 including wins at Aintree and Newton Abbot. Experience showed here, in her reversal of form with Shipton Moyne, whom she finished behind at Market Rasen 5 weeks ago. Bradley Harris took the ride.

The second Harris winner, taking his season’s tally to 12, was Fire Lake in the Stratford Racing Club National Hunt Maiden Hurdle, who got up in the final 100 yards to justify his 11/8 favouritism. It was a close-run thing though; you would have given him an outsider’s chance of the three leaders turning in and jumping the last well, he found himself baulked on the rail and Mitchell Bastyan had to switch to the outside. It was late on that Fire Lake found the acceleration that lost his maiden tag.

Jamie Brace rode a coolly judged race to take the National Racehorse Week 10-18th September Handicap Chase on Joly Maker for Jonjo O’Neill for the sport’s longstanding leading owner, J P McManus. The 3 1/2l winning distance over Zuckerberg and Forget You Not belied the ease of this victory for the eight year old, recording his fifth winner over fences. There’s only one other course in the UK where Jonjo sports a better strike rate than this 18% – Cartmel.

Runners unsaddle on the track because of the heat at Stratford. 10/7/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Rostello appeared barely at the races in winning his third handicap chase for the Richard Newland-Cillin Leonard partnership in the Stratford Racecourse Campsite Handicap Chase over 2m 6f. Not perhaps the most competitive of fields, Rostello positively hacked up under 11st 11lb, and there’s few would argue that more can follow at this class. The other 7 finishers were strung out like washing, the best part of 40l covering them all.

Runners pass the stands in the Stratford Racecourse Campsite Handicap Chase. 10/7/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Favourite backers were feeling comfortable about Dindin landing the odds in the final 2m handicap chase, but despite a clean jump at the last, stamina came into play for Trumps Benefit, from the Herefordshire yard of Ryan Potter, ridden by Caoilin Quinn. Dindin might well have held the advantage but for idling in front, and alternative riding tactics might be brought into play next time around.

Those who follow Fergal O’Brien’s fortunes through his social media will know Saturday mornings are a dieter’s nightmare at Ravenswell Farm, with cakes supplied by the sponsor of the opener, Broadway’s Cotswold Larder. So it was no great surprise to see F O’Brien listed against the winner with Eagle’s Realm, a comfortable 1 1/2l winner of this Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, under Liam Harrison, one of the array of riders now affiliated with the pioneering Withington trainer. He may well take his percentage in cakes instead.

Come racing back on Sunday 17th for Ladies Day, which promises to be a scorcher, whatever description you apply it to.

Jonjo has smart commodity to look ahead to

A total of 39 runners faced the starter in the six races programmed on June 28 for a sunny summer evening at Stratford, in which local Cotswold trainers put in a good showing.

The evening’s most valuable race started the card, but attracted just two runners in the Stratford Supporting Racing Staff Week Novices Chase. Well thought-of Cary’s Commodity from Jonjo O’Neill’s, and Calva d’Auge, from Paul Nicholls, are both rated 135+ and until Tuesday at least, both maidens over fences, runners-up both is small fields at Uttoxeter and Kempton respectively.

The spate of small runner fields, especially in novice chases, doesn’t preclude an exciting finish in what has to be a game of cat and mouse. In this particular exercise, Calva d’Auge looked to be going better turning in, but when Jonjo Jnr asserted on Cary’s Commodity, the race was over in a matter of strides. He won unchallenged by 17l in the end, and looks well capable of further improvement.

Carys Commodity and Jonjo O’Neill win at Stratford. 30/6/2022 Pic Steve Davies

In the evening’s other novice chase, a handicap 90 minutes later, the handicapper could afford to give himself a pat on the back. Five of the six runners were still in close contention as they approached the last, with Smith’s Bay, Cremant and Tigerten semmingly holding the advantage. From an unpromising position, Luca Morgan conjured a great run from the Ben Pauling – trained On Springs to win by 2 3/4l, so ensuring Pauling’s thirteenth winner of the term from his new yard at Naunton.

Kielan Woods notched a 16th winner of the season on D J Jeffreys’ Reams of Love in the following maiden hurdle at 20/1 in a performance that belied his starting price. DJ is yet another product of the Cotswold racing scene. Formerly assistant to Charlie Longsdon, he originally set up near Stow, but has now moved to Hinton-on-the-Green, just south of Evesham. There’s little of not yet in the yard, but smart placing is ensuring the Jeffreys name is appearing in winners’ lists and attracting attention.

If there is one trainer you can be assured of following successfully in the summer months, it is Gary Hanmer. French-bred Sir Tivo made it seven wins over fences in this Watch on RacingTV Handicap Chase over the minimum trip, leading from the off until briefly headed, before rallying again. Runner-up Admiral’s Sunset trained by David Weston near Marlborough, was close enough to suggest a win will not be long coming. Hanmer has now passed the £100k prize money marker for the season, this being his 12th winner since the start.

Sir Tivo wins at Stratford. 28/6/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Another making the best of a season where the big stables are largely absent is Laura Morgan, not far behind Hanmer in the trainers’ list. She maintained her healthy 22% strike rate with her 11th winner in the concluding bumper where debutant Illusion of Time, impeccably bred by Sea The Stars, recouped a little of that breeding cost in his 1 1/4l victory.

Old Radleian Jamie Snowden has made the most of his alumni status at the Oxfordshire college by persuading the Alumni association to indulge in a racehorse, and they received just reward in the 2m 6f handicap hurdle when College Oak made all and won by 4 1/4l from in-form Milton Harris’s Mr Yeats and favourite Justified.

A neck, a head, a neck… With finishes like this, racing is peerless

The attention of sports fans was perhaps centred more on events at Trent Bridge and Ascot than Stratford yesterday, but the six race card in beautiful early summer sunshine provided some highly entertaining sport nonetheless.

Appreciate is showing the form of Joe Root as he notched up a hattrick in the opening Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle for Milton Harris and Mitchell Bastyan. Showing good pace to pick off the leader Kolisi at the last, Appreciate was following up on wins here in May, and a short head victory at Newton Abbot 4 days previously, which clearly hadn’t left a mark. And whilst the standard of this race is hardly on a par with England’s talisman batsman, there would appear to be more in the tank from this improving four year old.

The ensuing Mares’ Novices hurdle over the minimum trip provided an eventful finish. Turning in, Symbolic Spirit led, with Lunar Shadow not making much of an impression, and Quiet Thunder in third. The first two fell independently of each other at the last, allowing conditional Chris Ward to pick up an unexpected 50/1 winner for Sarah Hollinshead. Both fallers were none the worse for their tumbles. This was Ward’s first winner of the new term, and 38th in total.

Alan King, trainer of faller Lunar Shadow, exacted compensation later in the afternoon in a very exciting further Novices hurdle over the minimum trip, in which Rafiki, given a forceful ride by Tom Bellamy, got up by a head to beat Tardree and Olly’s Folly. Just five ran in this race, but any one of four could have won a furlong out, proving that small fields can often make for great finishes.

Rafiki and Tom Bellamy [2nd left] wins at Stratford as four jump the last together. 14/6/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Sarah Humphrey’s small West Wratting yard in Cambridgeshire enjoyed 9 winners last term, and courtesy of Glimpse of Gold, winner of the RacingTV free for a month Handicap Hurdle, she is already a third of the way to levelling that score with just seven weeks of the season behind us. This was the eleven year old’s third consecutive win following victories at Fakenham in April and May and the gelding lacks nothing in enthusiasm. Conditional Jay Tidball was in the plate.

There was more scrubbing going on in the closing stages of the Join RacingTV Now Novices Handicap Chase than you will find on HMS Pinafore. Three were in contention coming out of the back straight, all three under pressure to maintain their position. Eventual winner Boston Joe, for Rebecca Curtis’ South Wales yard, was locked in battle with Invincible Wish from Sarah Jane Davies, with School For Scandal in hot pursuit. Conor Ring conjured a terrific late run from Invincible Wish, but the winning post came just in time for Paul O’Brien on Boston Joe. The winning distance was a neck.

Boston Joe and Paul O’Brien win at Stratford. 14/6/2022 Pic Steve Davies

The excitement was far from over however, as the golden hour from 3.20 – 4.30 was punctuated by winners by a neck, a head and a neck – enough excitement to challenge Trent Bridge, where Stokes and Bairstow were in full flow after the tea interval. As the two England batsmen made short work of the 299 run chase with overs to spare, the appropriately – named Ahead of Schedule, long time leader in the closing Watch on RacingTV Handicap Chase over 2m 6f scarped home from Wavecrest. In stark contrast to Trent Bridge’s final result, the neck winning distance was, to paraphrase Wellington, ” a close-run thing”.

The action returns to Stratford on June 28th, when we may be basking in a third test win by our boys in white at Headingly, but Stratford spectators will be most royally entertained by our six winners.

Jumpers to follow this Flat season

It’s not uncommon for National Hunt horses to switch codes in the summer and feature on the Flat. There is lucrative prize money on offer in the leading stayers’ division.

Here is a look at some of the best jumps horses who are likely to appear on the Flat this summer and what their main target will be.

Earlofthecotswolds

Hurdles and chase winner Earlofthecotswolds showed how effective he can be on the Flat when he won one of the biggest races on All-Weather Finals Day at Newcastle. He was successful in the All-Weather Marathon Championships Conditions Stakes, getting the betting of a smart horse from John and Thady Gosden’s yard by a neck.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ runner is now being prepared for a shot at the most prestigious stayers race in the sport. Given how tough he was at Newcastle last time out, he is likely to be one of the Royal Ascot tips for the day three contest this year, where he is 16/1 in the betting.

It is going to be very interesting to see how the National Hunt horse fares against Trueshan, former winner Stradivarius and Kyprios in the feature race of the Royal meeting. It is being billed as one of the strongest renewals of the Ascot Gold Cup in a number of years, so he will need to be at his best to land the spoils.

Proschema

Dan Skelton is a regular trainer here at Stratford, as this is one of his local tracks. The Lodge Hill man had an excellent year in the 2021/22 National Hunt campaign. One of the horses who gave him success last season is Proschema. The seven-year-old also finished second in a Grade Two contest at Wetherby.

The talented hurdler is set to appear in the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle this year. The heritage handicap contest takes place over the extended 2m trip at the northeast racecourse. It is a real stamina test, which the seven-time winner should relish.

If Proschema can come out on top, Skelton will join the likes of Jonjo O’Neill, Donald McCain and Martin Pipe as National Hunt trainers who have won the “Miners’ Derby.

Vauban

One of the stars of this year’s Cheltenham Festival meeting was Vauban. Willie Mullins’ juvenile prevailed in impressive fashion in the Triumph Hurdle. He then followed that up with another Grade One victory at the Punchestown Festival.

Connections of the gelding have indicated they are keen to enter their horse in some of the big Flat races this year. His first target could be the Ebor Handicap at York in August. The Irish trainer won the valuable handicap contest in 2009.

If everything goes well at the Ebor Festival, the four-year-old then may head Down Under for a shot at the richest 2m handicap race in the world, the Melbourne Cup. That’s a contest Mullins has had entries in before but has yet to win so far.

Hopefully we see all three of the above horses back over obstacles in the 2022/23 National Hunt season following success on the Flat.

The ups and downs of racing amply illustrated

The highs and lows of being a racehorse trainer were amply illustrated on Sunday as Warminster trainer Milton Harris, formerly of this parish, notched a double but endured an empty berth in the horsebox for the third of his runners on the way home.

The regeneration of the Harris story is one of endurance over adversity. A man who at the turn of the century was among the higher echelons of the mid – size stables found financial stability difficult to secure. The ignominy of bankruptcy was followed by a spell in the doldrums before finding new premises at Sutton Veny, outside Warminster. Last season proved a breakthrough year, with 56 winners and nearly £600,000 in prize money, including a first Grade I winner in Knight Salute, perhaps a fortuitous sole winner of the Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree after the demotion of dead-heating Pied Piper.

Since that memorable April day, there has been no let-up in the Harris momentum. The season is not yet a full month old, yet 18 runners have yielded 3 winners on a 17% strike rate.

And so to Sunday’s eventful programme. Harris’s first runner, Achy Breaky Heart had contributed 3 winners last term to that 56 winner tally, and four out looked set to add to that tally, leading into the final fence whilst pressed by Princess Midnight. However, both horses fell independently, leaving Jamie Snowden’s Howdilyoudo to break her chase maiden tag.

There’s an old adage in racing that you have to jump round to win, and this was one example, but also one in which the game Achy Breaky Heart paid the ultimate price.

No winner can compensate for losing a horse in a race, but the Harris – Mitchell Bastyan combination were quick to make amends. Not half an hour later, Appreciate won the Allen Vs Ford Selling Hurdle by 3l in a competent display that saw him bought in for 5,200 guineas.

Appreciate and Mitchell Bastyan [centre] wins at Stratford. 15/5/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Stratford is one of very few racecourses who nowadays persist with selling races. Perhaps it’s because there are so many opportunities to buy at auction, from Tattersalls in Newmarket and Cheltenham, to Yorton Farm or Goresbridge, but thee seems little doubt that bringing the theatre of the auction house to the track adds to the drama around racing. Is there a brave racecourse out there prepared to turn the concept on its head and stage a valuable seller rather than one catering solely for the lower reaches of the sport? Step forward you innovators!

Milton Harris’s second winner to alleviate the loss in the second race came courtesy of 4/5 favourite Copshill Lad in the closing bumper, appropriately enough sponsored by Milton Harris Racing. The dark grey gelding had the race well under control and the 2 3/4l winning distance in no way describes the ease with which the winner put his rivals to bed. Look out for more from this Middleham Park Racing – owned gelding.

Two other Wiltshire trainers have endured contrasting fortunes these past 12 months. Neil Mulholland has consistently proved his worth in the top flight of those yards without big money owners, finishing last season with 62 winners and £588,000 in prize money, none of which accrued from big race winners. In the course of so doing, he responded to his owners’ requests, including several innovative and great fun trips to Les Landes Racecourse on Jersey, where the prizes make UK racing look like Hong Kong by comparison, but where the craic is good.

Mulholland is another on fire at present, and a 30% strike rate in chases means only a fool ignores his runners presently. Ragamuffin, under a resolute ride from Sam Twiston-Davies, probably had the upper hand when his main rival Above Suspicion from the Tom George yard fell at the last in the catchily titled Fantastic Roasts at Riverside Novices Handicap Chase, to offer up the race at a 9l winning distance. Nevertheless, with six winner in the past week alone, it would be a brave man to oppose Mulholland runners just now.

Ragamuffin and Sam Twiston-Davies win at Stratford. 15/5/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Neil King’s fire has not been burning quite so brightly these past few months. Last season was in no way a failure, but the 15 winners had to be grafted for, and he will have been glad to start a new season with a little more momentum. In 2/1 joint favourite Give Me A Cuddle, he will have been glad to welcome his seventh winner of the new term in the Riverside Restaurant Stratford Open To All Maiden Hurdle. The winning owner was Andrew Cohen, former owner of Suny Bay and Uplands, the training yard made famous by Fred Winter.

You can never rule out the West Country in seeking winners during Stratford’s summer months, and Sunday proved the rule once again. Philip Hobbs produced a winner in Shantou Sunset, perhaps not one of the yard’s leading lights, who lacked nothing in determination to wear down the Mulholland – trained Viking Sunset, who looked the stronger at the last, in the Live Music at Riverside Mares Handicap Hurdle, under a robust ride from Jack Martin.

And 25 miles away in Wellington, David Pipe is a man you ignore at your peril. His may not be the big punting yard of his father in his heyday, but he learnt his trade from a master of the profession, and winners they come aplenty. Vernon Subutex, a winner of seven of his 24 starts in France, made a winning debut in the 2m 6f Stratford Parks Thank you to Owners Handicap Chase.

May is a busy month at Stratford, and we look forward to starting all over again on Saturday.

Christie is toast of the Foxhunter

David Christie was the toast of Stratford on Friday night, capturing two of the sport’s most prestigious prizes for the Point-to-Point community on the country’s most valuable night of hunter chases. The County Fermanagh trainer showed a clean pair of heels to his British counterparts in the last of the three British Foxhunter chases and the Novice Championship.

As if to re-inforce the fixture as the Go-To event for aspirant pointers, Vaucelet, winner of last year’s Pointtopoint.co.uk Champion Novices’ Chase John Corbett Cup, stepped up a grade into full open company to displace David Kemp’s Law of Gold, the previous year’s winner, in the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunters Chase.

A muddling pace early allowed Vaucelet to take a leading position with Le Breuil and Dandy Dan, winner of the Ineos Grenadier Intermediate Final at Cheltenham last month, Law of Gold taking the shortest route. In truth, the slow pace made for plenty of jumping errors, which diminished as the pace stepped up on their final circuit, when Law of Gold pushed Le Breuil for the lead.

Vaucelet and Barry O’Neill [right] jumps the water with the leaders before winning the Pertemps Network Champion Hunters’ Chase at Stratford. 27/5/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Three out, Le Breuil had given way to Law of Gold, Vaucelet, Solomon Grey and Downtown Getaway, but the first two, with Stratford form already on their record, had drawn clear, and Vaucelet asserted at the last to run out a 4l victor.

Half an hour earlier, Christie’s other runner, Ask D’Man, had looked an improbable winner in the Champion Novices Hunters Chase, hunting around the first circuit, and only showing his hand 4 out, when making some headway. Turning into the straight with one to jump, Ask D’Man still had 7l to make up on long time leader Go Go Geronimo, but despite a less than perfect jump at the last, showed some good speed to take the inner berth and get up by 3/4l.

Both winners were ridden by Barry O’Neill.

Ask D’Man and Barry O’Neill [centre] comes late to catch Blazing Tom and Go Go Geronimo to win the point-to-point Champion Novices’ Hunters’ Chase at Stratford for trainer David Christie. 27/5/2022 Pic Steve Davies

The double allows Christie the admirable position of three of the UK and Ireland’s leading hunter chasers, given he also trained Winged Leader to be second behind Billaway in the Cheltenham Foxhunters.

The three runner Nimrod Veterinary Products Ladies Championship Hunters’ Chase produced another close finish despite the small field. The Waley-Cohen team, represented by father Robert and recently retired Sam, watched Igor just come off worse against dual hunter chase winner Fumet d’Oudairies, representing the Ellis-Andrews partnership that dominates the amateur division, and the drop in class from the heights of the Cheltenham Foxhunter allowed the Tom Ellis-trained gelding to regain a winning thread over regulation fences.

The White Swan Hotel Handicap Hunters Chase is the only handicap in the hunters calendar, but Zamparelli, trained by Victoria Collins in Broadway and ridden by leading Novice rider Freddie Gordon, made the race into a procession, extending a 7l lead at the final bend to over twice that distance at the line.

The long trip from Devon proved well worthwhile for connections of Say About It, qualified with the Torrington Farmers, whose Point-to-Point fixture is the traditional closer to the season in a fortnight. Only 4 of the seven declared faced the starter, and that field was down to two by the closing stages, where Say About It was pressed by Spanish Jump, trained by former rider and At The Races presenter Luke Harvey. Three lengths separated the two at the line for a delighted winning rider Vincent Webster.

The opening PPSA Chase over the minimum distance had spectators with their hearts in their mouths as locally-trained Azzuri, trained by Nick Pearce, assistanct to Dan Skelton and Clerk of nearby Shelfield Park point-to-point course, teamed up with stable amateur Tristan Durrell, but just failed to hold on against Across The Line, trained by Syd Hosie in Dorset. Syd enjoyed success at Cheltenham’s hunters’ evening, but his current crop of Rules horses are back with Joe Tizzard after running his own training operation with Nick Mitchell, then Ralph Smith.

There’s plenty of evidence that British Point-to-Point owners are buying in Ireland. Three of the five runners in the concluding Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Champion Point-to-Point Bumper are Irish-bred, and in keeping with the theme of the evening, it was the Irish-bred Patanita, confidently ridden by Peter Bryan, who took the honours for Georgina Nicholls and the splendidly-named G & T Partnership.

Little need to relate how they would celebrate their success.

Any season will do for Winter Kings

Trainers best known for their midwinter stable strength were in charge at our most recent fixture on Saturday evening in front of a sizeable crowd enjoying the late Spring sunshine.

First of our winter types to strike was Emma Lavelle, whose successful partnership with Tom Bellamy delivered Light N Strike to win the Hydraulic Centre Ltd 40th Anniversary Handicap Chase by 7 1/2l. The bigger obstacles evidently appeal to the Leading Light gelding; this was his third victory from just 7 starts over fences.

Kim Bailey, a model of consistency, was next up, with 10l winner Shantou Express in the Technicair Air Conditioning Handicap Hurdle. A paltry 4 faced the starter – scant reward for the delivery of good watered ground, but consistent with the plague of small fields facing the sport at every level currently. Bailey enjoyed a good 2021-22 season without hitting the dizzying heights of the previous season with Grade I success. He of all people will appreciate that you train what you have in front of you, and sadly many owners have opted to bring their horses home this Spring rather than wait for softer conditions underfoot at £50+ per day and in all honesty, who can blame them?

Forgot To Ask notched a fourth chase win in the last steeplechase of the evening, the Charles Peters Recruitment Handicap Chase, as Jonathan Burke kept his cool to reel in the Henry Brooke – trained Dhowin at the last and win going away. It didn’t look that way around the final bend, but the distance to the line can be deceptive at Stratford, and so it proved once again. The winning distance for the Tom George – trained winner was 4 1/4l.

Forgot To Ask and Jonathon Burke [left] catches leader Dhowin at the last to win the Charles Peters Recruitment Handicap Chase at Stratford. 21/5/2022 Pic Steve Davies

The demands of training racehorses as a business have grown an increasing trend of business partnerships from the upper reaches of the flat to small time Jumps handlers. Paperwork, red tape, and the sheer demands of overseeing syndicates rather than single owners have made this a necessary means of spreading responsibility. Charles and Adam Pogson are one such combination, albeit with a limited number of horses. it’s difficult to fault their 33% strike rate in this latest season however, enhanced by Larch Hill’s 2 1/2l victory over favourite Atlantic Storm in the feature Alan Clarke 80th Birthday Handicap Chase. 2 winners from 6 runners may make this an unrepresentative statistic, but it’ll still be one to savour.

Someone with an even more impressive strike rate presently is Richard Hawker, training near Frome. Home-bred Thirsty Farmer was handy throughout before taking it up around the final bend and seeing off runner-up Vinnie’s Icon to win the Mid Warwickshire Cleaning Supplies 50th Anniversary Handicap Hurdle over 2m 6f. The Hawker stable is currently on fire with a 60% strike rate and two winners from the last 3 runners.

Runners head up the straight against the late night sun in the Mid – Warwickshire Cleaning Supplies Ltd 50th Anniversary Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at Stratford won by Thirsty Farmer. 21/5/2022 Pic Steve Davies

The days of big field novice hurdles seem a long distant memory, and it could be argued that young horses learn more in small, less bustling fields. Yet a small field doesn’t prevent a good finish, and the best of the evening was that which headed the card in the Glentucky Derby Novices Hurdle over the minimum trip. The race turned into a fight between Tardree and Toronto, in which the latter, trained by Brian Barr, showed good speed to assert 150 yards from home to win by 3/4l under Angus Cheleda.

The evening concluded with the fixture’s largest field in a Novices Handicap Hurdle in which the Adam West – trained Noahthirtytwored held off the in-form stable of Milton Harris, represented by Tarseem, to land the spoils by 4l.

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