Stratford is perhaps better known for its Hunter Chase fixture and competitive summer cards. But did you know that this past National Hunt season the track by the River Avon had a horse running at it who went on to be placed in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle?
The Cheltenham Festival seems a world apart, yet the link between the premier jumps meeting of the year and Stratford is there for all to see. For Pleasure, trained some 25-30 miles east of the track on the Edgcote Gallops made famous by horses like L’Escargot, near the border between Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire by Alex Hales, ran twice and won both times here earlier in the campaign.
A very headstrong gelding by Excelebration, For Pleasure is a keen going sort but that did not stop him progressing from winning a Stratford handicap off 107 in July into a graded performer. Via another handicap win at Bangor, he returned to the track and completed his hat-trick.
For Pleasure’s regular jockey Harry Bannister got no pleasure in trying to steer him right-handed in a Listed race at Kempton. He forfeited alarming amounts of ground rounding the home turn and lost all chance of keeping his winning streak going.
However, once back on a track configured anti-clockwise like Cheltenham, For Pleasure showed his Stratford successes were no fluke. He won one of the official trials for the Supreme, the Grade 2 Sharp Novices’ Hurdle at the November Meeting.
An all-the-way victory there helped For Pleasure achieve a peak hurdles rating of 145. Although he couldn’t win at Newbury off that in graded handicap company, he still had enough left to hang on for third in the Supreme.
While For Pleasure was no match for Appreciate It at Cheltenham, and would have finished out of the frame if Blue Lord hadn’t fallen at the final flight. He was the best of the British horses in the race, reversing Newbury form with Soaring Glory. If he could just learn to settle, then Hales would have a very useful talent to train.
Even more local to Stratford are the Alcester stables of Dan Skelton. Younger brother Harry was crowned Champion Jockey for the first time in his career this past season, and they made the nine-mile trip southeast for eight of his winning rides.
Two of those Stratford victories came aboard Stepney Causeway, a horse who looks very much on the up. With improvers like this to ride, it’s no wonder that Skelton is 11/8 in the horse racing betting for a successful defence of his National Hunt Jockeys’ Championship for 2021-22.
The progress made by Stepney Causeway in the short time he has been in the Skelton stable after joining from Flat trainer Michael Bell in January is quite remarkable. He won three times in March, including those back-to-back hurdle wins around Stratford in the space of a fortnight.
From there, Stepney Causeway went up to Ayr in April and scored for a fourth time in five starts for Skelton during the Scottish Grand National meeting. He has earned some ante-post quotes for next year’s Arkle, should his connections decide to switch him to fences.
Running at their local track has helped both Stepney Causeway and For Pleasure on their career path so far. It may well be worth following these Stratford success stories when the jumps season returns to the big stage in the autumn as a result.