Skelton double stores up summer bounty in pursuit of first Championship

Stratford’s enhanced lunch offering for owners with runners demonstrated its worth yesterday when a healthy 73 runners populated a card where not one but two races divided at declaration. Despite coinciding with the opening day of the Royal meeting, there was a healthy attendance, and an Owners & Trainers lunch pavilion enjoyed by many.

The damp and cold May has enabled the popular Warwickshire track to provide unseasonably soft conditions. Our so-called summer provided good to soft ground more readily found in November than mid-June. However, the sun made an appearance and shirtsleeves were the order of the day throughout.

Dan Skelton is leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of his first Trainers’ Championship. Having fought off his former boss, Paul Nicholls, he might reasonably have considered the 2023-24 title his by right, until the Spring exploits of one Willie Mullins denied him. Whilst Mullins was demonstrating his expertise across both codes of the sport with a winner in the final race of Tuesday’s card at Ascot, the Skelton brothers made hay nearer to home, with a 2 1/2-1 double at their home track.

The Alcester yard has gone off like a scalded cat this Spring, with 33 winners already chalked up and £255,000 banked: just the sort of figure that could make all the difference next April when the chips are down. There were no great surprises around the victories of Juan Bermudez or Climate Precedent, both sent off favourite for their respective races.

Juan Bermudez was last seen here at the start of the month when winning a similar novices hurdle over 2m2f, and this looked a textbook ride from the hard puller, who always had Jazz Puller in his sights before pulling clear 100 yards from the line under Skelton Jnr. The 5 year old gelding, a son of Nathaniel, has plenty of speed, and can defy a penalty again.

A change of scene appears to have freshened up Climate Precedent, who proceeded to conclude the card with an accomplished 5 1/2l victory under Harry in the second division of the Novices Handicap Hurdle to wrap up the Skelton double. Formerly with James Owen since coming off the Flat mid summer last year, this was enough to allow the four year old to break his duck over obstacles.

Climate Precedent [left] completes a Skelton double at Stratford. 18/6/2024 Pic Steve Davies

Trainers were in short supply with a majority amusing themselves at Ascot. Alan King chose to saddle Tritonic at Ascot in favour of Theonlywayiswessex in the Injured Jockeys Fund 60th Anniversary Novices Handicap Chase. Tom Cannon, whose sole ride of the day this was, deputized admirably, and rode a perfect race to break the gelding’s duck over fences after a placed effort here a month ago. The IJF was represented by a number of former riders and Lisa Hancock, CEO of the organisation that does so much to pick up injured riders and put them back together. It’s heart-warming to see the positivity with which so many see their lives, not least when their mobility has been compromised on a permanent basis by the sport we all love.

The lot of the smaller trainer is hard. It’s undisputably a young person’s game, so no surprise that Daisy Hitchins has carried on where Brian Barr left off. Barr’s long-serving assistant now runs the Dorset yard and sent out her second winner of the summer when 3/1 favourite Bhold made good at the third time of asking here at Stratford in the Happy Birthday Mary Handicap Chase, the only other race over the larger obstacles. Rider Harry Reed always had enough in hand to see off Callum Bewley on Do No Wrong, the distance 2 1/4l.

Another of the emerging generation of trainers collared the opener, as Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero’s Cawthorne Cracker returned from a 238 day break to land the Conditional Riders handicap hurdle opening the card, under 3lb claimer Toby Wynne. Wynne has 17 more winners to lose his claim altogether.

Two Gloucestershire neighbours were head to head in the finish of the day in the second division of the 2m2f Novices Hurdle. After an eventful start in which Rocky Breeze pulled up, and Six And Out and Habibi hampered each other and unseated their riders, the business end of the race was fought out between Martin Keighley’s Pacific and 10/11 favourite Go Go Chicago, trained by David Killahena and Graeme McPherson. The two stables are within 3 miles of each other either side of Stow-on-the-Wold. Kielan Woods had to ride a fearsome finish to overhaul James Best on the Keighley horse, but prevailed by a neck at the line.

Time was when Lambourn was a racing village dominated by the major Jump yards, but times have changed. The village is top-heavy in Flat yards nowadays, although Seven Barrows flies a flag for the winter sport. Among the leading remaining jumps yards is Folly House in Upper Lambourn, home to Jamie Snowden.

The last two seasons have seen the Snowden yard accelerate to be prominent among that tier of his profession winning shy of £1m, which equates to the 5-15th places in the table. It’s rarely a golden summer for Snowden, whose horses are kept for the core season, but that said, his recent strike rate has been above par in May and June, suggesting our late Spring has enabled him to keep some winter horses going.

One such is Donnie Azoff, who secured his third win in 15 months in the 2m handicap hurdle with a 9l win over Pam Sly’s Take It Easy. This will have been one of Gavin Sheehan’s easier winners, and at this level, Donnie Azoff can score again before the handicapper gives him an unsurmountable weight.

Farrier Andrew Martin has just 8 horses in his yard at Chipping Norton, none of them meriting much consideration. Come On Nia provided a welcome fillip when holding off Gary and Josh Moore’s Sanitiser 1 1/4l in the first division of the novices handicap hurdle to merit a 25% strike rate, comparable to stables at the top of the tree.

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