Nicholls influence on grass roots racing is irrefutable

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls showed that his expertise for the craft extends from the zenith of the sport at Cheltenham to its grass roots in hunter chasing and Point-to-Point when picking up the feature event at Stratford’s hunters’ evening on Friday.

But whilst he took the scalp of last year’s winner Vaucelet in the feature Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter with Secret Investor, it was clear to see that daughter Olive’s victory on Shantou Flyer in the Royal Equestrian Racing Club Ladies Open Championship final gave him still more pleasure.

Olive has been riding out of her skin this season, her second between the flags. 39 rides have resulted in 11 winners, of which Shantou Flyer has provided four, starting at Larkhill in late November before progressing through Chaddesley, and hunter chases at Exeter before Stratford. Always handy in this last race, she took up the running from the seventh, and never looked back. The 12l winning distance was a reflection of this horse’s superior rating, 12lb ahead of the next best in the field of 7.

Shantou Flyer wins at Chaddesley’s Harkaway meeting back in December. Pic: Graham Fisher

Trainer Sam Loxton, third in this race last year with Caid du Berlais, has enjoyed an impressive strike rate between the flags this season. One in three of his 36 pointing or hunter chase winners has passed the post first, a rate not even his mentor Nicholls can achieve.

Secret Investor and Natalie Parker win the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunters Champion Hunters’ Chase at Stratford. 2/6/2023 Pic Steve Davies

In truth however, Nicholls’ interest in the sport is largely because of Olive’s success. The man who has conquered the heights of the sport’s greatest races is very much at home in the amateur division of the sport, but owners and trainers need have little fear he is planning to dominate. This is a family affair.

Secret Investor, owned by Herefordshire – based Clive Hitchings – was a deserving winner of the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter, but the rapidly diminishing 3l margin would have been reversed in another furlong. Runner-up Vaucelet, who lost a shoe in running, was hard – driven to make up ground from three out, and were it not for a messy leap at the last, the positions might have been reversed. It looks like 3m is my optimum trip, given his largely blemish – free season of 4 from 5 outings has rarely been over longer distances. Yet the sport is the winner for having a horse of this calibre within it; Secret Investor, rated 142, is the winner of 11 races and over £167,000 in prize money, toward which this £11,000 prize is yet a modest contribution.

Vaucelet will likely be back again; trainer David Christie enjoys this meeting and has met success here on several occasions, plus the homestay hospitality of Managing Director Ilona Barnett adds a considerable advantage!

Secret Investor and Vaucelet may well have to contend with a new challenger next year in Sine Nomine, winner of the Champion Novices Hunters’ Chase over the same 3m 3f distance. This gripping race saw plenty to excite the enthusiast. Three rounded the turn closely bunched, with Sine Nomine boxed in on the rail by a Jack Andrews on Brave Starlight, determined not to give race room. Once beyond the rail, Jack Dawson had the speed to take up an inner berth as Precious Bounty, with Sine Nomine to the inner, Brave Starlight to the outer, jumped the last in unison. The last two went on, before Dawson was able to conjure some extra speed to get him 2 1/2l clear in the final 100 yards.

Winning trainer Fiona Needham has recently stepped down as Clerk of Course for Catterick to devote more time to the family farm. The trip back up to North Yorkshire will have been all the sweeter for the anticipation of what is to come from this exciting novice.

Sine Nomine and John Dawson [right] wins the Champion Novices’ Hunters Chase from Brave Starlight and Precious Bounty at Stratford. 2/6/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Gina Andrews, crowned champion lady amateur rider during the course of the evening, showed just why she has won that accolade when getting up to win the Grace & Dotty Restricted Novices Hunters’ event over 2m6f, to ensure no Hunters’ evening was without an Andrews winner. In a white knuckle finish, favourite Captain Biggles and long – time leader Raleagh Flora, under Charlie Marshall, joined issue turning out of the bend, and met the last in unison. With a winning distance of just a head, it was only favourite backers who were glad of the result; a dead heat would have been as fair. Winning trainer Tom Ellis breaks records in the amateur level of the sport as frequently as Paul Nicholls in the professional game, this taking his seasonal tally into the mid seventies.

The Paul & Olive Nicholls team narrowly missed out on what could have been a double after Magic Saint went under by just 1 1/2l in the opening Jumping for Fun Hunters Chase over the minimum trip. leading off the bend, Magic Saint was in command, but Kaproyale under Zac Baker, took closer order. A blunder at the last gave the advantage back to the Nicholls contender, but Baker, having kept his seat, was able to conjure another run from Kaproyale to peg back the leader halfway up the run in and pull 1 1/2l ahead by the line. It was a 17th victory for winning trainer Fran Poste.

Jack Andrews, denied a winner in the Novice Championship, made sure of his place on the Winners’ board for this annual Hunter chase jamboree in the closing Visit Irish Store Sales with ITM Point-to-Point Bumper. Some may argue a flat race has no place in the Point-to-Point circuit, but the influx of h=young horses gives the lie to this outdated argument. Racegoers were rewarded with a gripping race in which Nigel Padfield’s Penniless ensured that was most certainly not the case with a 1/2l victory over Old Gold. The winning owner gets a £1,000 cheque to spend at any Irish sale coming up so chances are a Padfield horse will appear in the same race next year.

One truly unique race makes up this innovative and popular card, being the 2m 5f Hunter Chase handicap, underwritten by the White Swan Hotel. Two non-runners on account of the ground made this just a 5 runner field with a weight range from 12st 5 to 10st 5. Winner Sixteen Letters looks a horse to frustrate his trainer and rider Josh Newman. Plenty of ear movement approaching and after the last indicated he had more in the tank as Gina Andrews galvanised Peacock’s Secret alongside, but Sixteen Letters decided to find more and the 2l winning margin is not a reflection of his superiority when he opts to show it.

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