Surprises all round as 150/1 winner provides first British winner for conditional rider

The history of the battle of the Trainers’ Championship in Britain this season will not include a chapter on Stratford’s April fixture after none of the three contenders sent runners for the 7 race card. And whilst Paul Nicholls enjoyed a double at Wincanton the same day, the impact of his winnings is unlikely to change the course of the Championship, set to conclude at Sandown on Saturday.

Irish runners are a familiar sight on many British racecourses, notably venues like Cheltenham, Ascot and Perth, the latter a relatively easy run from the port at Larne. Stratford is a more tortuous route via Holyhead, but if Mullins prevails on Saturday, who knows if this will encourage more from the Emerald Isle.

Meantime, the floodwaters which kyboshed the previous fixture have receded, allowing 67 runners to compete on near perfect Good to Soft ground. The water has made its presence felt; steeplechase fences do not respond well to 3ft of water, and the first in the back straight has yet to be fully replaced, meaning each circuit comprised 7, not 8 fences.

They say that every horse has his day. In the feature 3m3f handicap chase, it was difficult to see any but long time leader Lord Sparky proving that adage correct. Throughout 3 circuits of Stratford’s sharp track, he outjumped his nine rivals, showing up indifferent jumping from many of them too. But sadly, it wasn’t his day. Challenged as they rounded the final bend by Ballyrashane and Fast Deal, we went wrong behind 200 yards from the post and was quickly pulled up by rider Cieran Gethings. Maiden Fast Deal, whose trainer Michael Chapman must have the patience of Job, came good with late speed to win at the 46th attempt over obstacles and on the flat. Full marks for persistence.

Fast Deal and Alan King [left] score at 150/1 at Stratford. 21/4/2024 Pic Steve Davies

Lord Sparky was attended and made his way back home with a slipped tendon.

Meantime, results readers needed a double take as winning rider Alan King might have led some to believe the master of Barbury Castle was having a mid-life crisis after taking up race-riding in his fifties. This Alan King is an Irish conditional rider enjoying his first British winner on his 138th ride in total. The winner may have been as much a surprise to him as to punters everywhere else, given his SP was 150/1.

It was a productive weekend for the better known Alan King. Favour And Fortune had produced his 34th winner in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr for Hemmings Racing, whilst Finest View continued the winning theme in the 2m handicap hurdle at Stratford under To Cannon. In fairness, perhaps not all the credit should rest with King, who only took back charge of Finest View in late March from Andrew Martin, but maybe he should never have left. A winning sequence of 4 in Spring 2022 must have left the Barbury maestro wondering what we needed to do to retain the horse in the first instance.

One contemporary of King’s we’ve not seen a lot of this jumps season is Ian Williams. The Williams enterprise is largely focused on the flat nowadays, which is Jumping’s loss, for this articulate and savvy trainer has plenty to offer. A forceful finish ridden by Charlie Todd on Garitsa Bay ensured his 11th winner of this term in the first division of the novices’ handicap hurdle, getting up by a head to produce the tightest finish of the day.

The ballot to decide which horses drop into which division fell badly for Henry Oliver, whose two runners in the second division filled the first two places. Irish Point-to-Point winner Finn Lough was sent off 13/8 favourite but it was the largely unfancied Telefenney who prevailed under Toby Wynne for a 3l advantage at the line. The pair were 9 1/2l ahead of the third, so they may be a cut above their peer group.

Fergal O’Brien recently celebrated his fourth consecutive century of winners when Manofthepeople provided a swansong winner for retiring rider Paddy Brennan at Cheltenham earlier in the week. Winner 104 might reasonably have been expected in the opening Grace & Dotty Mares Maiden Hurdle, but Richard Bandey’s Villainess was there to spoil the party, taking it up 2 out and winning with a little more in hand than the 1 1/2l distance would suggest. Bandey has a good record at Stratford.

Another who may have more talent than his lowly rating would suggest is R Bernard, an 8 1/2l winner of the 3m 2ft handicap hurdle that followed Villainess’ triumph. The Rowley team has made a successful transition from the amateur division, and despite the vexations of losing their gallops to the floods in mid-winter, continue to improve their numbers. R Bernard, a maiden hitherto, was their 19th of the season to date, this time under the guidance of Tabitha Worsely.

The fixture concluded with a hunters chase, a done deal almost from the off. Winner Deise Aba from Fran Poste’s Warwickshire yard is rated 15lb superior to the nearest of his rivals, and nearly 30lb ahead of the majority. No Surprise then to see Zac Baker dictate the race from the off and and do enough to keep What A Glance no better than 3l at the line. Expect to see Deise Aba back here for the Hunters’ evening on May 31.

Deise Aba and Zac Baker win unchallenged at Stratford. 21/4/2024 Pic Steve Davies

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