Golfe Claire gets rub of the green for Kirby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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