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.

The science behind racing success

Racing, considered as the ‘Sport of Kings,’ is a captivating fusion of art and science. It’s a realm where powerful thoroughbreds gallop to victory, spurred on by the dreams of their owners, trainers, and countless fans. But behind the raw power, the striking elegance, and the rousing cheers lie intricate systems and multifaceted intricacies governing a horse’s performance on the racetrack.

The role of genetics in determining racing potential

It’s often said that champions are born, not made. In the context of horse racing, this adage finds a strong foothold in the realm of genetics. A horse’s genetic makeup can significantly influence its natural predisposition towards speed, stamina, and competitive spirit. The simple reason that Coolmore, Godolphin and Juddmonte win so many of the Pattern races across the world Flat calendar has as much to do with their colonisation of the best bloodlines as with any inferred genius in training or riding.

Historically, certain bloodlines have earned illustrious reputations for producing racing prodigies. Take the example of the legendary ‘Northern Dancer.’ His descendants have dominated racetracks globally, making his lineage one of the most coveted. But why this fixation? Studies have indicated distinct genetic markers linked with elite racing performance. Thus, when breeders spot these markers in pedigree lines, they see potential champions. Northern Dancer’s progeny have consistently turned out to be champion sires in their own right, and the same is the case over Jumps, but without the dominance of one bloodline.

There are glorious exceptions however. Red Rum, bred to be a sprinter, turned out to have stamina in abundance, and a particular leaning toward Aintree’s out-of-the-ordinary fences. Sometimes, it’s as well to remember that horses can make fools of us all.

While genetics offers a glimpse into a horse’s latent potential, realizing that potential is a whole different ball game. And here, training gallops into the spotlight.

Training regimes and routines: crafting a champion

Every horse, regardless of its breeding, is unique. Any trainer blurb will tell you how each animal’s needs are treated on a one-to-one basis. This individuality demands tailored training approaches. Think of training as sculpting a block of marble into a masterpiece. The raw material is vital, but the sculptor’s skill and approach breathe life into the stone.

There exists a multitude of training techniques, ranging from interval training to steady cantering. Some trainers focus on building a horse’s stamina by subjecting them to long, slow workouts. In contrast, others might emphasize short, explosive drills to hone their speed. Some horses take no training at all; others are stuffy in the wind, and require plenty of work.

But training isn’t merely about physical conditioning. Renowned trainers, with their vast reservoirs of experience, often emphasize the psychological aspect. They work tirelessly to cultivate a winning mindset in their charges, teaching them to respond to jockey cues, handle the pressure of race day, and navigate crowded fields. The rapport between a horse and its trainer is an intangible yet crucial element, bridging the gap between innate potential and racing prowess.

Take Harchibald, winner of 10 races from his 31 runs over the smaller obstacles for Noel Meade. He is what’s known in the trade as a “thinker”, code for a horse that needs to be kidded to put his best foot forward at the right time. In supreme stylish and arch-tactician Paul Carberry, he found a like-minded soul ready to hold him up until the last possible moment before launching his run, meaning he generally won by a small margin and on the line only. Not a bet for thee faint-hearted.

Training then. is not just about physical fitness, but mental awareness too.

The modern day racing scene

Times have changed, and so has horse racing. Today’s racetracks are witnessing an exciting convergence of age-old traditions and cutting-edge innovations. Advanced technologies monitor a horse’s vitals in real-time, specialized diets fine-tuned to individual needs enhance performance, and data analytics predict optimal training routines. This was all considered black magic when the likes of Michael Dickinson and Martin Pipe introduced it in the late eighties and nineties, but their processes have become mainstream.

Horses are weighed regularly; diet is scrutinized like never before. No longer do you hear much about eggs and Guinness being added to horses’ diets like with Arkle and others of his era, as nutrition has moved well beyond the stableman’s knowhow. Swimming is more often than not an integral part of training, to ease stress on joints.

But, amidst this scientific precision, the heart of horse racing still beats with unpredictability. No matter how much we advance, the race’s outcome remains a thrilling enigma until the very last second. This blend of precision and unpredictability is what makes betting on racing a thrilling endeavour for many enthusiasts, whether you’re a stato anxious to know what rail movements have added in distance to a race, or whether you’re an occasional punter seeking an instant fillip.

However, the unpredictability is not a detraction; rather, it’s a proof of the myriad factors influencing a race. While understanding the underlying science can offer enthusiasts a perceived edge, the unpredictable heartbeats, individual choices, and split-second decisions remind us that there’s always more to learn, observe, and admire in this magnificent sport. As the horses thunder down the track, every stride they take is a product of generations of breeding, months of tailored training, and the passionate spirits guiding them. Yet, there’s always room for that surprise burst of speed or unforeseen riding error that turns predictions on their heads.

However you love it, the sport is captivating every time.

Dress to impress at the races: a duffer’s guide

A day at the races should be an excuse to dress up as much as possible. However, there are some refinements that are needed to make you stand out in the right way. Dress codes at the races are a subject of continuing discussion among British racegoers at any rate. Among UK racegoers, racecourses rarely stand on ceremony nowadays; you might get turned away in swimmers and flip-flops, but just about everything else goes. By contrast, in Australia, dressing up is par for the course, and spectators of both genders jump at the chance to get dolled up. Fashions in the Field competitions are legion.

But in one sense this is simple. You should be wearing boots and breeches, a helmet, some silks, etc.

Then again, you’re not a jockey, are you? If you’re not intending to jump on board a horse, that’s not the tip you’ll be looking for. If you’re looking to enjoy the comfortable facilities at Stratford, including its bars and restaurants while you watch the races, you’re going to need some guidance on how best to dress to impress. A day at the races is no ordinary day out. It’s an excuse to dress up. However, there are some refinements that are needed to make you stand out in the right way. Take a look at our guide to what to wear when visiting Stratford Racecourse, or for that matter any other racecourse around the Midlands.

Some basic rules

A day at the races is considered an occasion, so take a wander through the “Occasion” section of your favourite clothing brands. But remember, there are occasions and Occasions. Stratford is not Ascot, and Cheltenham in October is not Cheltenham in March. If you’re in doubt as to the status of the meeting you’re headed for, take some advice beforehand.

We’re talking dresses and suits, but not necessarily formal. This is because a day at the races, the big events anyway, tend to be held in the summer, with the glorious exceptions of the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree Ladies Day, both exceptions to the rule. You’re going to be outside watching the racing, making your UK bet, weather permitting, so summer colours, shoes, and patterns are all expected.

For men

You might think this answer is simple too: wear a suit. But since when is life simple? Men might be more limited in their options than women but they have to nail it, or you’ll see the mistake and credibility goes out of the window. Make sure your suit is tailored and fits well. It was no coincidence after all that stylish but now sadly defunct Jermyn Street shirtmaker Thomas Pink became involved in the sport 20 years ago.

However, wearing a suit means you can experiment with it. There is fabric, colour and accessories to think about. You can take things up a notch with a three-piece suit to really look like you belong and play with prints and colours. Tweed is a regular at the racecourse, to the point that the barmen know its drink, but there are lots of options within that. Accessories on March 17 is code for a spring of shamrock for example.

Just remember the rules of seasonal wear: pastels for summer and spring, brights for winter, and warm tones for autumn.

Remember the golden rules: no outlandish or clashing patterns, no clashing socks, and no tuxedo. It’s an outdoor summer event that doesn’t call for a heavy dinner jacket.

There are also some unspoken rules re headwear: no Panama before Ascot, although global warming may have tempered the rigidity of this particular no-no. Time was when wearing a hat was obligatoire. Now men are more likely to be seen bare-headed or with a Peaky Blinders baggy tweed cap rather than a trilby.

For women

Women have a lot more options in general when it comes to fashion. For example, one big decision you will face is whether to wear a dress or not. Maybe you’re more comfortable in trousers. There’s nothing wrong with that. A nice pair of summer wide-leg trousers would be a smart option and can still be very bright for the occasion. Plus, a simple white or black t-shirt or shirt will really pop the colour of your trousers and leave you feeling comfy. Additionally, you can look rather daring in a jumpsuit at the races. Somewhere between trousers and dresses, this one piece will allow you to look done up without keeping a hold of your skirt the entire day.

Best Dressed Couple at Stratford. 23/7/2023 Pic Steve Davies

The winter brigade have adopted tweed in a big way for ladies fashions. It’s no coincidence that Holland Cooper and Dubarry have become such enduring brands around Cheltenham. There’s tweed and leather everywhere, from your dog’s over-blanket to the garters of your socks and everything in between.

The real fun here is in the accessories. What is a day at the races without an outlandish hat? If you don’t want to go too big, you can look into a simpler headpiece on a headband. However, it’s a day at the races: we’re not going to stop you from going as big and bold as possible, and hang what the folks behind you in the stands think; they can always move to somewhere with a better view!


All that to be said, a day at the races is like anything else: wear what you feel comfortable in. If you want to dress up, dress up. If you fancy a T-shirt and jeans, no one is going to have a problem with it. If they do have a problem with it, they need another drink.

Steel Wave rolls back the years

The late summer heatwave made shirtsleeve order an easy decision for the acting stewards at Stratford’s Saturday fixture, but many trainers had already made a decision to wait for another day as temperatures hovered around 30 degrees Celcius. Just 29 runners filled the six races despite well watered ground, although one could hardly express surprise in the circumstances.

Stratford. 9/9/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Thirteen year old Steel Wave has grown to like Stratford this season, notching up his third course victory in the Keogh & Howes Handicap Chase under regular pilot Tabitha Worsley. That also makes 8 wins for trainer Gary Hanmer since taking over the horse from the Closutton giant W P Mullins back in November 2018. It was age before beauty in this 2m 6f handicap and Worsley made every one of his four years on his oldest rival count. making the running and setting the pace from the 11th onward. One might even say he won a little handily, more than the official 1 1/4l over O’Faolains Lad would indicate.

Steel Wave wins at Stratford. 9/9/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Gavin Sheehan and Jamie Snowden enjoyed a back-to-back double in the centre of the card with Donnie Azoff in the novices hurdle and Guinness Affair in the Genair Novices Handicap Chase. Only 4 faced the starter in the latter race, and they all remained in contention turning in, but it was Guinness Affair who proved the most tenacious, holding out over Glory And Honour to justify his 11/10 starting price. Winner of his last four chases around the smaller venues, he is bound for a hike in class, to races like the Rising Stars at Wincanton, having learnt his trade well in less exalted company.

Guinness Affair [right] wins at Stratford. 9/9/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Sheehan rode a well-judged race in the preceding Gordon Field Star Shines Brightly Novices Hurdle over the minimum trip, in which a field of just three lined up. Red hot favourite All The Glory could have been expected to wrap this up, but Sheehan made all and wasn’t for stopping when it might have been expected he would curl up. Instead, despite a resolute sprint after the last Jonjo junior couldn’t conjure enough extra speed from his mount to reel in the winner, who still had 1/2l in hand at the line.

North Yorkshire trainer Ollie Pears has but sparing runners over obstacles, but Max of Stars wasn’t to know that when Brian Hughes jumped him out of the gate. It’s unlikely he ever saw another horse, making all and drawing steadily clear in the Lee Pollard 60th Birthday Handicap Hurdle over 2 miles. With champion Brian Hughes in the plate, the horse was well supported at 6/4.

Selling races are as rare as hen’s teeth nowadays, and horses sold from the ring after even rarer. Yet Stratford’s theatre produced both in the 11l victory of 6 year old Elham Valley from Fergal O’Brien’s Ravenswell stable under Liam Harrison. The best horse on paper as well as in reality, he attracted interest in the ring and was knocked down to a Mr Cornwall for £8,000.

The day ended as it had begun, in bright sunshine, and with a small field lining up for the Bumper. It proved an easy contest to win for Antrim-based Gerald Stephen Quinn, whose 5 year old Aughafatten never looked troubled under Darren McGill to follow up on his maiden bumper win at Perth last month.

Pauling & Woods light up an apology for a summer evening

Ben Pauling and Kielan Woods stole the honours at Stratford’s last evening fixture of the summer when teaming up for a double that included the feature handicap chase on a damp day which gave the lie to a description of summer evening racing.

It was Queen to Rook 4 as Chess Player comprehensively outpointed his field to land a comfortable 21l victory over nearest pursuers Blaze A Trail and Arcade Attraction, both previous winners at Stratford this or last term. Taking up the lead before the last, Woods was able to put distance between him and Blaze A Trail without undue effort. In this class, he’ll be worth following even with a penalty.

Ben Pauling and Kielan Woods after completing a Stratford double. 31/8/2023 Pic Steve Davies

In the concluding bumper, there was plenty to like about the way Betty’s Tiara stuck to her task, showing great gameness on debut to win by half a length. Second-placed Baskerville is also one to follow; she jumped the course crossing a furlong out without any great break to her rhythm, but it’s doubtful she would have beaten the winner. One of the last of a Kayf Tara generation, Betty’s Tiara relished the staying effort. It’ll be worth following both horses in their next races.

Fresh from a treble at Worcester to round off August and a winner at far-flung Cartmel, Gavin Sheehan was at his best to roust Bucko’s Boy to reel in long-time leader Thirtyfourstitches from Dr Richard Newland’s yard in the feature Tom & Nicola Allen Wedding Day Handicap Hurdle. Seeking a run up the inner, the gap closed at the last and Sheehan produced Bucko’s Boy on the outer to get past the leader and win his second on the bounce after a victory at Bangor at the start of the month. Jamie Snowden’s horses are coming to hand with a brace of wins in the past week, this his ninth of the term to date.

Bucko’s Boy and Gavin Sheehan [left] jump the last behind Thirtyninestitches before winning at Stratford. 31/8/2023 Pic Steve Davies

The least showy races can provide the greatest excitement, and this point was well illustrated by the finish to the fifth race, the City Sign & Graphics Handicap Chase, in which a selection of horses without wins to their name in 18 months or more lined up. Yet it provided a gripper of a race, with maiden Famosa finally breaking his duck at the seventeenth attempt.

It is the lot of smaller trainers to find and train horses that find it harder to win. Matt Sheppard manages this task with alacrity, but even he had some explaining to do to show the apparent improvement in form of Famosa. This was no well-orchestrated coup however; Richard Patrick put up 4lb overweight and the horse drifted in the market beforehand. It was a result to secure a win by a narrow neck margin.

Famoso and Richard Patrick are joint second over the last behind Tikkinthebox before victory at Stratford. 31/8/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Donald McCain will be a key player if Brian Hughes is to reel in Sean Bowen in the pursuit of the Jockeys’ title, and the two paired up together to maintain their excellent Stratford record in the novices’ handicap chase with Latino Fling.

Turning in, July winner here Gold Link looked set to gobble up the McCain horse for Emma Lavelle and Tom Bellamy, but Latino Fling on her chase debut showed excellent resolve under a string ride from Hughes to maintain a 3/4l margin at the line.

Another with pretensions to the Jockeys’ title is Harry Cobden, whose portfolio of supporting trainers is extending all the time. In these summer months when the Nicholls team fields barely a runner, he has clocked up 37 winners for 40 separate trainers. Trainers like Brian Ellison will always be happy to have a rider of Cobden’s calibre on board, and both he and second-placed Sam Twiston-Davies were seen at their best in the opening maiden, when Cobden just prevailed on Irish pointer Dream Jet, dropped down in class for a winning hurdle debut in the UK follwoing a mid-division placing at Market Rasen in July.

It was Ellison’s day too, this being the second winner with 10 minutes after Oscar Doodle justified favouritism at Chelmsford a few minutes earlier.

Obituary: Jonathan Sheppard, icon of US steeplechase scene

One of the greats of the US steeplechasing scene, Jonathan Sheppard, has died, aged 82 at his home in Pennsylvania.

For racing fans of a certain generation, Sheppard was a pioneer of international travel when bringing Flatterer over to run in the 1986 French Champion Hurdle, a precursor to a valiant second to See You Then in the third of that horse’s Champion hat-tricks in 1987. At that juncture, the Breeders Cup didn’t even exist, and international travel, excepting between Britain and Ireland, and the continent, was largely non-existent.

Flatterer’s placed effort was the trigger to an effort to bring the US and UK markets closer together, brought about by the creation of the Sport of Kings Challenge, a set of six races – three on each side of the Pond – with handsome bonuses of up to $1m for winning a full set. Predictably, Sheppard was in the vanguard of the first US entries in the series, at Cheltenham, and Leopardstown. 

Commonly known just as “Jonathan”, the elder statesman of US racing, was born in Ashwell, Hertfordshire, between Letchworth and Royston, in 1940 to a horsey family which encouraged his participation in local Point-to-Points. His father Daniel was an official with the Jockey Club, then the power in the sport covering regulation, finance, fixtures, the lot. Rides under Rules were scarce and limited.

There was no inevitability about a son following his father into the sport. Three other siblings avoided the racing bug, but Jonathan opted to try his hand in the land of opportunity, not having the finance to bankroll a start up training operation in the UK. In the early sixties, he worked with other legend Burly Cocks for two seasons before returning briefly to the UK. 

A lucky break was the making of his career with steeplechasers. In 1965, he met George Strawbridge Jnr, an accomplished and wealthy amateur rider, and heir to the Campbell Soup fortune.  The two set about growing a stable not just of National Hunt horses, but Flat too. Strawbridge was leading owner some 23 times from 1974 onward, a domination only really matched by one J P McManus over here. 

The Sheppard stable became both the go-to and the dominant force in the sport stateside. His 1,242 career wins over obstacles, winning over $25m, set records unlikely to be overtaken in our lifetimes, and he was Champion Trainer 26 times, the last just three years ago.

But whilst to most, Sheppard was considered an icon of the National Hunt world, his 2,184 victories on the Flat dwarfed his Jumping achievements, his horses winning some $60m+.

Like many good trainers of horses, Sheppard attracted the best human talent too. Those that worked with him have gone on to great success; just like the Duke and Reg Hollinshead, he was a nurturer of talent both equine and human. Graham Motion, who led up Flatterer in that epic Champion Hurdle adventure in ’87, is now a highly successful Flat trainer in the States winning the Kentucky Derby in 2011 and Dubai World Cup 2 years later, whilst Janet Elliott became champion Jumps trainer in ’91. More recently, Leslie Young and Keri Brion, who brought horses across to Ireland with a view to the Festival, have shown Sheppard’s knowledge continued to flow even after his retirement.

The Jumps world is a sadder place without his diplomatic approach, hard work and understated expertise: another case of Britain exporting its best talent overseas.

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