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.
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.
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.