The damp Spring has resulted in excellent fields at the Jumps fixtures in April to date – there were 163 runners over Cheltenham’s two day fixture last week and the Scottish National fixture was also well supported. No surprise then to see 79 runners assemble on Good to Soft ground for our first Sunday fixture of the summer season.
For many trainers, this is an opportunity for the season to wind down. With just Sandown’s fixture on Saturday among the UK-centric high value cards to go, the top yards are sending the better horses off on holidays.
However, there are plenty of horses whose destiny is not to grace Grade I courses each Saturday, but which can find a winning theme at country venues like Stratford, proving the old adage that every horse has his day.
Kim Eyre might be one such horse, trained in south Wales by Evan Williams. With an official rating of just 94, the likes of Cheltenham aren’t even plugged into the horse’s satnav, but he was game enough to score a first victory in 10 runs under Rules, when snatching victory from the likeable grey Cardboard Gangster just lengths from the line in the 3m3f Handicap Chase, under the trainer’s daughter Isobel.
Don’t discard Cardboard Gangster from reversing placings however. This was a first run in 6 months or so for D J Jeffreys, and he will shape fitter next time. There’s certainly a race in him in the next few months too.
Scudamore is a name rarely off our lips in recent weeks, after the excitements of Aintree hero Corach Rambler. Scudamore the horse has also been playing his part, and produced a turn of speed to deliver a 6l winning distance in the Bet at Racingtv.com Novices Handicap Hurdle under Lewis Stones for Jennie Candlish. The flat recruit, winner of three races over 1m4f+ on the flat, has taken a few runs to find his feet over hurdles, but showed an excellent turn of foot here to break his duck.
The mares programme across the UK has been a great success story for the sport, enabling a broader cross-section of horses to compete, and stimulating the British market for race brood mares. 89 mares participated in Cheltenham’s all mares card on Thursday, and there were 9 runners for the Mary Kendrick Memorial Hurdle here too, which produced our best finish of the day. Eventual winner Minelladestination can consider herself lucky to have prevailed by a neck under Peter Kavanagh for Donald McCain. In another stride, the neck winning distance would have been reversed with second-placed Born To Please. More finishes like this and we’ll be clutching for the blood pressure tablets.
Warren Greatrex trains in Upper Lambourn from Weathercock House, a yard that has sent out hundreds of top flight winners. Greatrex looks to be emerging from a few torrid years in the doldrums. A winner at Aintree last week gave a welcome fillip to a yard short of quality since the heady days of 2016-19, and that sense of momentum was given a further boost when Jonjo O’Neill Jnr booted home Line of Descent 1 1/4l ahead of Post No Bills in the David Spencer 60th Birthday Novices Handicap Chase over 2m3f. Greatrex and wife Tessa, part of the Highflyer Bloodstock team, must be hoping to have turned the corner once again in the archly competitive sport we all follow.
The opening Maiden Hurdle divided, producing a welcome winner for another yard which has found winners hard to come by. Jake Coulson, former amateur rider who embarked on a training career in 2017, welcomed his first winner in a shade under a year when Forever A Dove landed odds of 14/1 in the second division, under Toby Wynne.
Winners are an altogether more familiar sight for winning trainer in division one, Fergal O’Brien, who has posted a personal best this year, Carrigeen Kampala being his 138th winner, ridden by Liam Harrison. O’Brien announced last week he was dissolving his partnership with Graeme McPherson, but it seems unlikely this small setback will slow up his progress. McPherson, on the other hand, may yet return to training under his own name.
Fiona Needham is a name better known in racing circles as Clerk of Course at Catterick, but she’s no slouch with her own Pointers and Hunter chasers. 7 year old Sine Nomine looks like he might develop into a candidate for the John Corbett Cup here at the beginning of June with a comprehensive trouncing of 4 others in the concluding Jumping For Fun Grassroots Open Hunters Chase under John Dawson.