Snowden double a primer for Festival week

The wettest winter in living memory has played havoc with the launch of a new season’s racing at Stratford, and the drama wasn’t finished when Clerk of Course Nessie Chanter was forced to call a 7am inspection after yesterday’s heavy rain. However, the skies cleared, nerves held and another season of 15 fixtures got underway under overcast conditions in heavy ground, with two fences omitted.

Forty-five runners faced the starter in the seven races, with several withdrawals on ground, despite declaring on soft. Most affected were the two chases for professionals which attracted just 10 runners between them. The course had good reason to thank the 7 amateurs who nearly doubled the chase runners in the novice hunters’ chase.

It was, perhaps, an inauspicious start to Festival week, but one where organisers 25 miles further south will welcome, given that soft ground will moderate the pace of the races.

Not entirely surprisingly, the testing conditions allowed only one favourite to win; a tonic for Dan Skelton, for whom a long-running BHA case against him was finally put to bed with a £6,000 fine, announced during the day – a light punishment considering what might have prevailed in other circumstances. It was something of an irony that the only favourite should prevail in the one race of the season underwritten by on-course layers, when Doyouknowwhatimean under Harry Skelton had the upper hand over Force de Frap, who has been laying the foundation of a reputation for Naunton’s latest trainer prodigy, Emma-Jane Bishop in the 2m handicap chase.

Big race pairing Jamie Snowden and Gavin Sheehan enjoyed a double to set them up for the week ahead, although Sheehan had already bagged the first for Bourton-on-the-Water Richard Hobson by then. Snowden has a select team of 6 headed Cheltenham – bound, including GA Law, a 20/1 chance in Thursday’s Ryanair Chase.

This was more bread and butter fare however. French – bred Milldam opened the day’s account with a neck victory over favourite Playful Saint in the 2m handicap hurdle, denying the Skeltons a double, whilst a rather less heart-stopping 5 1/2l separated debutante Hollygrove Cha Cha in the concluding bumper from runner – up As Legends Have It, from another in-form team in Ben Pauling.

Snowden’s 40 winners keep him on course for a seasonal best. He is less than £100k short of last winter’s milestone haul, and just 6 winners shy of his best ever numerical tally in 2019-20.

One man seeking a change in fortune is Kielan Woods, who recently returned from a lengthy suspension for repeated whip infringements. He paired up with David Jeffreys to continue the magical start to 2024 by 8 year old gelding Goguenard in winning the Alderminster Novices Limited Handicap Hurdle, his third visit to the winner’s berth since the end of January for owners Les Petits Coquins.

Michael Hawker’s runners under Rules are few and far between recently, but in 12 year old Mortens Leam, he appears to have found the winning thread again. Off the track from December ’22 for a full 12 months, the seasoned chaser showed some of the talent that won him 5 other races at Taunton last month, when a 2l runner – up in a low grade handicap. He went one better here in similar grade under Harry Reed.

Richard Hobson has earned a reputation for seeking out unexposed French – breds and looks to have unearthed another in juvenile hurdle winner Roger, 1 25/1 winner of the opener. He had to travel a lot further then the Aulde Enemy to find Roger however, transferred from Jaroslav Hanacek in Slovakia this month after campaigning at Bratislava. He’ll need to brush up his jumping to progress, but there was no doubting his turn of foot.

Phil Rowley is no mug when it comes to the hunter chase scene, and he shares plenty on common with Stratford. Both his and the Stratford premises have been under water in this interminably wet winter. Happily, this wasn’t enough to prevent Darren Andrews and Forest Chimes from winning the Service With A Smile Novices Hunters Chase. the half length at the line didn’t tell the full story of a victory with a fair bit in hand.

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