A day of processions

It was a day for binoculars – an increasingly rare site on racecourses – but only the gauge the distance from winner to placed horses in a day of long winning distances for the most part, to see out Stratford’s season in the golden browns of a lingering autumn.

A mystery confronting punters before a horse had drawn breath was why Worcester and Stratford, sharing much the same audience, should be racing the same day, when only 24 miles apart. The quirks of the British fixture list would take more than one blog to explain!

The Rowe family has been the major shareholder of Stratford Racecourse for several generations, so it was entirely appropriate that on this day of aggregate winning distances of 88l, the closest finish should be fought out in the J H Rowe Memorial Handicap Chase. Bebraveforglory, under Adam Wedge, held off a rapidly closing Top Decision to win by a length for Evan Williams. Top Decision’s run just emphasizes the form of the in-form Sam Drinkwater, who scored a double earlier in the week, and a highly promising run from a horse that has seen a racecourse just once in 2 years.

Bebraveforglory and Adam Wedge [right] up with the leaders before victory at Stratford. 27/10/2022 Pic Steve Davies

That race aside, it was a day of processions.

The longest procession was in the opener, a four runner seller for conditional riders. Floating Rock, winning his eighth race, seven for his current handler Mark Walford, won as he pleased under Tom Midgley, pulling up, and attracted no bid at the subsequent auction. Stratford is an outlier nowadays in still staging sellers, but sometimes, they can deliver a great piece of additional theatre. Not today.

It’s long been said that it’s the height of bad taste to win a race you sponsor. Perhaps as well, therefore, that the multiple winner Pencreek, trained by the eponymous trainer, met his match in the Charlie Longsdon Handicap Chase, coming out a poor 29l third to the Skelton trained and ridden Midnight River. The winner needed to do little more than be shaken up to take up the running off the home turn, and put distance between him and his rivals very quickly.

Midnight River and Harry Skelton jump the last to win at Stratford. 27/10/2022 Pic Steve Davies

The Charlotte Cole Memorial Handicap Chase over a similar distance has been a standing dish for many years since the enthusiastic stable lass at Claire Dyson’s Evesham yard was fatally injured at work in 2012. Her parents were here raising money for the Midlands Air Ambulance that supported her retrieval. The result was a welcome return to winning form for Seamus Mullins, training Sheldon for Deborah Potter. Five of the trainer’s last seven runners have failed to finish, but this 12th winner of the term has him on target to better his recent performance. A mere 14l was the winning distance this time around.

Even J P McManus doesn’t know how many horses he has in training at any one juncture. The sport’s longest-standing owner remains hugely popular, despite having started life on the racecourse as a bookmaker. And in Gitche Gumee, he has a well-regarded youngster to take to Saturday cards under the expert eye of Barbury maestro Alan King. Taking up the running 2 out in the EBF Novices Hurdle qualifier, he soon asserted and won head in chest, 13l ahead of Swapped. Keep an eye out for third, Iceman Dennis though. He may yet earn connections a dividend.

Gitche Gumee and Tom Cannon win at Stratford. 27/10/2022 Pic Steve Davies

A muted welcome hailed the winner of the second, the 22/1 Copperfasten, who turned over warm favourite Fancy Your Chances from Philip Hobbs in the mares’ maiden hurdle. This wasn’t the strongest of races, but by comparison with others the same day, the 8 runner field and 4 1/2l distance at least presented a contest to raise the blood pressure.

Hereford’s Ryan Potter clocked up his fifth winner of the term in the concluding handicap hurdle with 7 year old Fazayte. Potter is a graduate of the Point-to-Point field, climbing the greasy pole of professionalism. Under an energetic and forceful ride from Kevin Brogan, Fazayte broke his duck at the 16th attempt, seeing off Guguss Collonges by 3 1/2l. No need for binoculars this time around.

Stratford is put to bed now until March, when one year in five, we are under water. That seems improbable given the driest summer since 1976, but the weather is about as predictable as British politics nowadays, so who knows.

Not so long to wait anyhow.

Winter kings assemble their troops

Autumn brings a changing of the guard in the Jumps game, where winter horses brought in from their summer holidays in July make their first appearances of the season as October breaks and the leaves turn golden brown. Generally, it’s a time when the bigger yards begin to assert with fresh, higher-rated horses raising the quality of racing overall, and with the advent of some big Saturday cards.

There were just some early signs of this changing of the seasons at Stratford on Monday afternoon, although still subdued. Winners for Dan Skelton (just 93 runners in the 4 months June – September) and Emma Lavelle (30 in the corresponding period) tell a story of the emerging chrysalis of a season springing falteringly into life.

If truth be told, this may not have been Stratford’s most memorable raceday with an aggregate 57 lengths separating first and second in each of the seven races. More runners than has been our habit indicated an encouraging sign of a growing horse population as summer jumper coincides with winter debutant, the first group by now well exposed, the second either re-awakened, or appearing for the first time. With just two further fixtures to run here, we’ve not long to see a horses that might be touted for the big Saturday races over the coming months.

One possibility however is Dream In The Park, a five year old from Emma Lavelle’s Ogbourne Maisey academy, who put a string of bridesmaid positions behind him with a 2 1/4l victory in a modest handicap hurdle over 2m 2f. Idling in front, he looks as if the win may teach him something, and his rating of 108 is probably an underestimation. A comfortable winner for Lavelle, her eighth of a slow-starting season, and 17th for rider Tom Bellamy.

Dream In The Park and Tom Bellamy win at Stratford. 3/10/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Alex Hales is another trainer not much given to volume entries in summer races, but his Jack Thunder made a winning debut over fences in the Re-Gen Waste Management Novices Handicap, beating favourite and persistent challenger Time To Bite1 3/4l under Harry Bannister, the second leg of a double for the rider. Hales is one of three trainers breathing new life into the famous gallops at Edgcote, where chasers of the standing of Spanish Steps were trained for the Whitbread family in a previous generation. That renewed racing association has also translated into a vibrant Point-to-Point racecourse, which is well worth a visit.

Not so long ago, Dan Skelton was a standing dish at Stratford, helping his younger brother to a first Jockeys’ Championship. The emphasis now is on higher quality horses for the core October-April season, and Skelton Snr is languishing in tenth position in the Trainers’ Championship with under £200,000 in winning prize money. Few can doubt that will change as the season gets into its stride, but it’s to our chagrin that this was Skelton’s first winner this summer at Stratford from just 9 runners. As our local big trainer, we must hope to see plenty more before the season closes on October 27th.

Meantime, juvenile Medyaf produced what may be his most facile winner of the term in a 7 runner hurdle, beating Oneforthegutter 35l after Le Breille tipped up at the last. It certainly wasn’t a fait accompli that Medyaf would have prevailed over the Richard Bandey – trained Le Breille, and there’ll surely be another race for him too.

Richard Bandey enjoyed better luck 30 minutes later when Master Dancer made a winning debut under Harry Bannister in the 2m novices’ hurdle. The French-bred came from Emanuel Clayeux in France, so has impeccable credentials. The second, Donaire, kept on well under Sam Twiston-Davies.

Twiston-Davies, Snr and Jnr had better luck in the middle distance handicap hurdle an hour later when Ballintubber Boy made all to win by 11l, the distance flattered by a last fence fall by Dynamic Kate. This son of Robin des Champs looks ripe for a chasing career although his 3 from 6 over hurdles means he’s no slouch over the smaller obstacles.

Ballintubber Boy and Sam Twiston-Davies win at Stratford. 3/10/2022 Pic Steve Davies

The day began with the arrival of the Shetland Bus, named after the clandestine ferry service of spies from the Shetlands to Nazi – occupied Norway in the Second World War. Under Luke Scott, Richard Newland’s German-bred stayer proved a good advertisement for the stamina of German bred horses on a weekend when Torquator Tasso was highlighting what the German bloodstock business does best at Longchamp, securing first place readily in the staying conditional riders’ chase. That the two races are separated somewhat in quality and value is immaterial. It’s a constant surprise that there are not more German-bred horses appearing in our Jumps races from a country where sprinters are virtually unknown.

If, as seems probable, Torquator Tasso heads for stud, Jump fans may hope his progeny enjoy the same level of dual success as Overton Stud’s Kayf Tara, recently retired. Four year old Kayf Legend, one of his last generations to appear, made a competent 4l winning debut in the closing bumper.

Can Blaklion make one last great Grand National effort?

Dan Skelton and his team had a solid week at Cheltenham Festival, although a winner eluded the trainer. Protektorat put forward a fine performance in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, but could not match the pace of A Plus Tard from the last, finishing third behind a Henry de Bromhead one-two with Minella Times in second.

Skelton will now turn his attention to the Aintree Festival next week where he will attempt to pull off a shock to disrupt the potential for further Irish dominance of the major races in the National Hunt calendar. Blaklion is the best option from Skelton’s yard for a bet on Grand National 2022 at 66/1, although it would be a remarkable performance considering the age of the horse. It would be a surprise to see the 13-year-old top the Grand National results 2022 as the last horse of that age to win the event was Sergeant Murphy in 1923, and there are only three cases of competitors 13 or over who have won the National. None of these victories have occurred in the modern era, and the last six winners of the event have been under the age of 10. Nonetheless, records are there to be broken.

Blaklion was a strong contender at the peak of his powers under the tenure of Nigel Twiston-Davies. In 2017, he went to post as favourite at 8/1 for the National, but was beaten by One For Arthur. Blaklion returned as one of the top horses in the field for the 2018 race, but luck was not on his side as he was brought down at the first fence by a falling rival. The horse changed into the hands of new owners Darren & Annaley Yates in 2019 after he missed the Grand National, and was eventually passed into the yard of Skelton after a brief stint with Philip Kirby.

He was off the pace in his first races under Skelton’s charge, putting forward underwhelming outings at Ascot, Warwick and Newcastle before the 2021 Grand National. Although he was a 50/1 outsider, he still raced competitively at Aintree and finished sixth, which was more than a respectable performance from the veteran.

Blaklion has found his form over the course of the 2021/22 season after a slow start. He and the rest of the field were well beaten by Snow Leopardess at Bangor-on-Dee in November. However, he was on song to claim his first victory in five years, triumphing at Haydock Park in the Altrincham Veterans’ Handicap Chase. Skelton’s charge made it two wins out of two with a dominant display in the Last Fling Handicap Chase, finishing 28 lengths ahead of his nearest rival The Two Amigos.

He was unable to sustain his form in his last outing in the Grand National Trial Handicap Chase as he was pulled up four fences from the end of the contest, although only three horses completed the race in heavy conditions.

The 13-year-old does have a semblance of momentum and could be ready for one last great effort to etch his place in the history books. Aintree brought out the best in him some years back, and many horses approach Aintree very differently to park courses. It would be a remarkable achievement for all concerned, and running into a place again would be a feather in the cap of Team Skelton.

Bannister treble adds sparkle to bright Spring day

A large crowd appreciated the warm Spring sunshine as Stratford dusted itself off for its first weekend fixture of the Spring return to action.

Kap Auteuil has a keen appreciation of Stratford by all appearances, after his third chase win here within a year in last Saturday’s Paul Diblasio Memorial Handicap Chase. The seven year old has progressed to an official rating of 136, putting him within reach of some of the sport’s big handicaps next autumn with this sort of progression.

Kap Auteuil completes a treble for jockey Harry Bannister at Stratford. 26/3/2022 Pic Steve Davies

His trainer, Toby Lawes, has good reason to appreciate this bellwether of his stable, as does his rider, Harry Bannister, replacing regular rider Tom Cannon on this occasion, who was enjoying a treble after two wins earlier in the day.

Those two earlier winners were courtesy of Hampshire trainer Richard Bandey, for whom this season has been a breakthrough year. After winners counted on the fingers of one hand these past 5 years whilst graduating from the Point-to-Point field, this year the tally from Plantation Farm near Tadley, stands at 15. The fourteenth of these – Give Me A Moment – never looked like creasing his trainer’s brow in the opening 25 Club Handicap Chase, making all and drawing clear two out to ease down near the line, still 31l clear of runner-up Court Royal. And whilst this was a slowly-run race, the odds-on favourite was there to be taken on, but nobody did.

Half an hour later, Bandey’s cup overflowed, when Ernie Bilko, ridden handily throughout, took it up two out and ran on and away from the rest of the field, winning going away in division one of the handicap hurdle. For modest – sized yards, these days are magic.

In the second division of the handicap hurdle, Colin Tizzard edged closer to the £1m prize money marker when The Changing Man overcame Matt Sheppard’s Always Able by a comfortable 3 1/2l. The stewards looked into the horse’s improved form and were satisfied with the explanation that the horse appreciated the drying ground. In truth though, all the races were run consistently slower than standard, which leaves you wondering as to the quality of these two races overall.

Runners pass the stands in the Lady Ella’s Handicap Hurdle [Div 2] at Stratford. 26/3/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Another yard close to a personal best is Emme Lavelle, who is just £60,000 off her best season, achieved in 2018-19. With a growing number of horses rated over 150 that allow her to compete with the Saturday crowd, Emma is successfully making a go of her ambitious move to Ogbourne Maizey a few years back. This time around, it was American-bred Point Him Out, tranferred across from Michael Stidham’s outfit before Christmas, who broke his UK Jumps duck in the Margaret Banister Celebration Novices Hurdle. More to come here I’d say.

Stratford is a course that holds to traditions successfully, one of which is to maintain a series of selling races, which have largely disappeared elsewhere. A useful source of income to racecourses, Saturday’s was little different, the winner, a rare Skelton runner in a seller, being bought in for 29,000 guineas. It also produced another winner for emerging amateur Tristan Durrell, enjoying a ninth winner this season, all bar one for the boss.

The day concluded with a race in the name of the Cotswold Larder, a Broadway-based business that will be known to anyone visiting the Owners & Trainers’ Bar at Stratford, where delicious cakes are in abundance. The Cotswold Larder also supplies Fergal O’Brien, possibly one further reason why the likeable Cotswold trainer has acquired so many new owners!

Winner Lightfoot Lady clearly hasn’t been indulging herself with pastries, winning with plenty in hand on her debut for the Nicky Henderson yard by a comfortable 2 1/2l.

Kap Auteuil clocks four-timer to bookend our season

The feature event at Stratford’s penultimate fixture produced a race to savour when Kap Auteuil, successful here in March, completed a four-timer for long time owners Andrew and Sarah Wates in the colours made famous by Rough Quest in the National many moons ago.

Race sponsor Charlie Longsdon wasn’t represented in this annual race in his name, but he’ll wish he trained the winner, now that Toby Lawes has run up four chase winners with this French-bred son of Kapgarde. At the last, it was anyone’s race from the winner, Reserve Tank on the inside, and trying to come between horses, Carys’ Commodity. The last named hit the fence all wrong and capsized, whilst Reserve Tank fell independently, leaving the winner clear of a lucky Black Kalanisi for the Fergal O’Brien team. It’s an old adage but also true, that you have to jump round to win.

Kap Auteuil [noseband] and Tom Cannon win at Stratford. 28/10/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Toby Lawes, former work rider for Altior, and now embarked on a career training under his own name, has had a successful two days, this following a winner at Fakenham yesterday. If luck comes in threes, look out for his runners tomorrow.

The other handicap chase winner will have done nothing for injured Jonjo O’Neill Junior’s temper after Alan Cawley booted home the first of 3 winners today for the Jackdaws Castle team, with a double to follow under Richie McLernon at Ffos Las. Cawthorne Lad was largely unfancied, and was less than foot-perfect at the fifth, ninth and last, but by the home turn, Cawley had the measure of the race, and he was able to dominate Seamus Mullins’ Romanor, a winner here over half a mile shorter in July. The Jackdaws team are sending out runners and winners everywhere presently – definitely a team to follow.

The Queen may have something in common with Steel Wave, winner of the J H Rowe Memorial Chase later in the afternoon. Age doesn’t seem to be a barrier to either of them, and whilst the Gary Hanmer – trained Steel Wave can’t match Her Majesty’s 95 years, his 50 races ensure plenty of miles on the clock, but apparently, no loss of racing zest. The winner kept on nicely under Tabitha Worsely, another of our growing band of women riders ensuring racecourses are re-jigging the configuration of their changing room facilities.

Neighbour in the changing room, Bryony Frost continued her good week at the office with a follow up winner to yesterday’s at Taunton when Onemorefortheroad showed that experience counts against Alan King’s Call of the Wild in the British Stallion Studs EBF Nationakl Hunt Novices Hurdle. Frost conjured a good leap at the last against a sketchy one from her rival, and stayed on to a 1/2l victory.

The card opened with a mares maiden, in which Gazette Bourgeoise, trained by Ben Case at Edgcote, prevailed with some ease. The five year old ran consistently last winter whilst always finding one or two too good for her, and a summer seems to have improved her. A happy result all round, as well as for rider Harry Bannister, enjoying a 16th winner of the term.

Dan Skelton is a man on a mission to reach the top this season, focusing on quality runners to fill all the big races, but it’s rare not to write about him come a fixture at Stratford. We’re not going to make that omission here either, as despite withdrawing several runners on account of going quicker than he wanted, Dorisa Queen was able to send the team home to Alcester happy after triumphing by 4 1/4l in division one of the Wildix Unified Communications Handicap Hurdle, in the process earning brother Harry his 1,000th winner.

Harry Skelton jumps the last hurdle at Stratford for his 1000th career winner on Dorisa Queen. 28/10/2021 Pic Steve Davies

The second division went to another man in fine form at present. Ben Pauling has trained four winners in the last 7 days and the latest is 6 year old Norley, who justified 11/8 favouritism to win division two.

As if to prove that you don’t need to be of gold cup quality to produce a great finish, the Claire Dyson Equine Water Treadmill Selling Conditional Jockeys Hurdle produced a terrific finish in which any of three might have won at the last. The winner will head back to Grace Harris’s yard in Monmouthshire after failing to raise a bid in the ring afterwards, despite a most gutsy performance.

Skelton and Murphy tune up for seasonal gear change

The Skelton machine has been quietly winding up to full speed, and this weekend’s full-blooded card across two days at Cheltenham and the Old Roan Chase at Aintree allowed some of that pent-up energy to be released. With a winner at Cheltenham on Friday and Allmankind’s seasonal debut at Aintree today, there was an indication of the latent firepower shortly to be released from the Alcester championship challenger.

Friday was the first day’s racing with any sort of crowd at Cheltenham since the infamous 2020 Festival, which brought the course plenty of brickbats given the level of infections that ensued afterwards as the first of our three lockdowns came about. Some 10,000 attended for what amounted to a normal day’s racing, although hand sanitiser and the odd mask were still in evidence. The overpowering atmosphere though was one of relief that racing can once again be enjoyed in the bucolic surroundings of Jump racing’s headquarters.

Even at this early stage in the autumn season, conversations are already hinting at March, and Third Time Lucki, last seen beaten 3 1/4l and 14 1/2l respectively behind Belfast Banter in the County Hurdle and Top Novices and the Festival and Aintree, did nothing to dispel such speculation with an impeccable chasing debut in the squareintheair Novices Chase over the minimum trip. 8 1/2l separated him from Irish challenger Buddy Rich, one of several runners from Gordon Elliott, at the line. His owner Andrew Newbould has the patience of Job, seemingly; he’s waited 30 years for a Cheltenham winner, and his horse is now quoted as short as 14/1 for the Arkle.

It looks like Skelton’s other winner of the weekend may skirt Cheltenham in March and endeavour to repeat today’s success in the Melling Chase at Aintree. Allmankind, winner of 4 races in his novice season including the Grade I Henry VIII Chase at Sandown, showed his liking for an extended trip in the Old Roan Chase over 2m 4f, beating fellow Warwickshire trainer Olly Murphy’s Itchy Feet by a length. There are further big races in store for both of these for certain.

Olly Murphy didn’t leave Aintree empty-handed however. French-bred Mackelduff, under Aiden Coleman, kept on strongly to win the £20,000 Jewson Wallasey Handicap Hurdle by 3 1/4l from Pouding Poet from Tom Lacey’s, and looks capable enough to win again.

Stratford may be winding down to its conclusion, but in every other sphere, the sport is girding up to full momentum.

Four Skelton horses to follow this winter

Visitors to Stratford are well used to seeing Dan Skelton’s horses come to the venue and plunder the spoils. The trainer has a fine record here, and he has continued that fine tradition with wins across the summer and early autumn, including last Monday with Too Friendly, ridden by brother Harry.

While Skelton has tasted plenty of success across the UK, there are some standout names in his stable. And with the jumps season upon us, we pick out four that are well worth following in the from the autumn right through to Cheltenham and beyond in the spring:

My Drogo

The horse that is arguably causing the most stir in Skelton’s stable, My Drogo has been called the “most exciting Skelton prospect” by Racing TV. My Drogo went four from four over hurdles last season, including a huge win in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree. That’s got tongues wagging over his potential when switching to fences this season. But Skelton is certainly taking a wait and see approach. The Racing Post called the plans for My Drogo “fluid”, and the trainer himself called for caution before fans get too ahead of themselves. He did mention the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham as a possibility, however. And Skelton seems to agree with the assessment that the attributes are there for My Drogo to be a Gold Cup chance one day.

Shan Blue

It never really happened for Shan Blue last spring. Hopes were high after an assertive win in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, but coming up against Chantry House in the Marsh Novices’ Chase (Cheltenham) and Mildmay Novices’ Chase (Aintree) – Shan Blue was thumped by 32 lengths in the latter – was too tall an order. Pundits expect the 7yo to have a tilt at the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby later this month. Perform well there, and you can guarantee there will be a lot of buzz about Shan Blue’s chances in the King George VI Chase, a stated target according to Skelton. 888 Sport’s ante-post horse racing odds have Shan Blue down as a 33/1 shot for the King George – expect that price to tumble should Shan Blue look well in the Charlie Hall.  

Allmankind

Since moving to Skelton’s yard, Allmankind has seven wins from ten. But all three of his losses came at Cheltenham. There shouldn’t be too much read into that, however. Allmankind’s class is there for all to see, and lest we forget, the horse is still a 5yo. Moreover, there is a Cheltenham victory – back in November 2019 on his resumé. This season, you should expect to see him in action in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree in November. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. He’s doing the rounds on the ante-post markets for Cheltenham at 33/1 for the Champion Chase. But Skelton – never afraid to swerve the Festival if he feels it doesn’t fit – might have other plans.

Allmankind wins well at Sandown last December

Protektorat

Part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, Protektorat hinted at his class when delivering a (relatively) surprising victory in the Grade 1 Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April. Skelton describes the horse as “a thinker”, and the trainer has grand plans for him. Expect a run at Carlisle in mid-October, and that will likely be followed by a trip to Cheltenham in November for the Grade 3 Paddy Power Gold Cup in November. As with Allmankind, there is no clear pathway to what happens next, but a good performance in the autumn will open many doors for Protektorat, and that’s one of the reasons he’s a horse worth watching this season.   

Who says mid-week crowds are poor? Stratford sets example for others to emulate

The results tallyboard for Monday’s card at Stratford took on a more familiar view as the big names of the sport flexed their muscles in preparation for Chepstow’s big prize money fixture this weekend that is the traditional launch of the autumn campaign.

Winners for Skelton, Twiston-Davies, Hobbs and Fergal O’Brien punctuated the meeting, with Evan Williams, Jamie Snowden and Chris Gordon also keeping their end up, watched by a large crowd of over 1,300 spectators. Proof, were it needed, that post Covid, the experiences market may allow racing to benefit from higher attendances now that people can get out and about freely once again.

Evan Williams has moved to new premises over the summer, and the largely dry autumn has, to date, kept his forays pretty limited. Less than half his anticipated volume of runners in September and October (to date) is largely a function of ground conditions, although there was no fault to be found with Stratford’s Monday Good To Soft ground.

But there was no mistaking the quality of finish from Howdyalikemenow in the opening Retraining of Racehorses Novices Hurdle, a comfortable 14l winner from Dan Skelton’s Jay Jay Reilly. In truth, there was but one horse in it from the fourth, and there’ll be more races to come from this admirable galloper.

As bellwethers of the sport go, you’ll find few better than Philip Hobbs, whose strike rate is consistently around 18-20%, and who has passed the £1m mark in win & place prize money in 6 of the last 8 seasons. If last season was less than vintage, this has as much to do with the Irish rout in March as being second bested by his peer group at home.

Irish – bred Canastero finally found the winning post at the ninth attempt when just getting up at the death in the Even Keel Foundation Handicap Hurdle. Too many finishes like that will bring on grey hair at the double.

There was an exciting finish to the Support the IJF Novices Handicap Chase, when Representing Bob, for Jamie Snowden’s Lambourn yard, overcame leader Give Me A Moment in the final 110 yards to produce a 24th winner of the term for Gavin Sheehan. In this week, when steeplechases have been thin on the ground, the other chase, for conditional riders, also produced good entertainment.

Representing Bob [left] wins at Stratford from Give Me A Moment. 4/10/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Winner Templehills, last a winner in mid October at this very course in 2020, came good once again when hitting the front under Jack Savage just before the last. Although less than foot perfect, he ran on well to score by 4 1/4l.

The remaining three races were all for youngsters, among which the most notable was Too Friendly, once a Derby Hope for Tim Gredley, now gelded and switched to a life with Dan Skelton. The Skelton team is another in no great hurry to get going this summer, but their winning presence at each of the past two Stratford fixtures is a sign that the behemoth is girding up once again.

Flat speed came into play as Too Friendly joined the leaders at the last, but he was less than foot perfect, and needed to persist to come out on top against Alan King’s Oceanline in the Stratford racecourse Supporting Racing Charities Juvenile Hurdle.

Too Friendly and Harry Skelton win at Stratford. 4/10/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Fergal O’Brien and Paddy Brennan kept up the pace at the head of the Trainers’ Championship when Samba Dancer ran out a 6l winner of the Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, whilst the concluding bumper, which attracted just 6 runners, fell to the 6/5 favourite, Chris Gordon’s Aucunrisque.

Five in a row for lucky Presentandcounting

There was a distinctly end-of-summer feel to this final weekend’s fixture at Stratford on a Saturday when racing competed with the delights of the popular Moreton Show, not 45 minutes down the Fosse Way. Those that attended were not disappointed however.

Hang In There, previous winner here and runner up in the Summer Plate at Market Rasen last time, led from the off in the feature Happy Birthday Jamie Bristow Handicap Hurdle for Emma Lavelle and joint owners Tim Syder and Andrew Gemmell. Despite carrying 16lbs more than his rivals, this in itself reduced by a 10lb rider claim by young Joe Anderson, he was able to brush off his rivals when they joined him at the second last, and from a 1 1/2l lead at the last, with an enormous leap, suddenly the race was all over. The winning distance of 7 1/2l told only part of the story. It will be no surprise to see Hang In There in some of our better handicaps through the winter.

Hang In There and Joe Anderson win at Stratford. 4/9/2021 Pic Steve Davies

The Keogh & Hows Handicap Chase won’t rank in the pantheon of high quality chases, but three time course and distance winner Franz Klammer approached it with a mind to make this four for local trainer Peter Pritchard. Making every post a winning one, he retained the lead, even after a blunder at the second last, and was only swallowed up by winner Rythmn Is A Dancer in the run to the last. A trier all the way, Franz Klammer lost nothing in defeat, and there will be other races – probably here at a course he clearly enjoys. The winner, trained at Ditcheat by Paul Nicholls with Harry Cobden in the plate, won by 7 1/2l to record his debut steeplechase victory.

Percy’s Word, successful here last month for the Skelton team, followed up in different circumstances with a hard-fought half length victory over the Philip Hobbs’ trained Camprond in the opening National Racehorse Week 12-19th September Novices Hurdle. Officially rated just 114, Percy’s Word looks much better than this, and can improve again.

This worthy celebration of the equine athletes at the centre of our sport is the brainchild of Richard Phillips, absent from Stratford whilst promoting new syndicates at Moreton Show. Yards all over the country will open their doors from next weekend to those registering on the national website. Phillips’ small yard at Adlestrop has already capped numbers at 300, so it’s reasonable to expect huge crowds at the open days in Epsom, Malton and the Henry Cecil Open Days in Newmarket. Former racehorses were paraded before racing to mark the week ahead.

ROR Racehorse Parade at Stratford. 4/9/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Presentandcounting was lucky to complete his hat-trick of Stratford wins in the Pardy’s Dairies Novices Chase under Brian Hughes. A winner here at each of the past two meetings in a golden summer that has also included novice chase wins at Worcester, Perth and Cartmel, Donald McCain’s charge made all but was headed by Hooper coming out of the final bend. It looked like Hooper’s race but he met the last all wrong and luckless rider Ben Ffrench-Davis was catapulted out of the side door.

That said, Presentandcountung has done nothing but improve all season; since his debut novice chase triumph at Worcester back in May, he has improved 32lbs, and there’s nothing to say he can’t figure among our top novices provided he can manage winter ground. Presendandcounting has made a valuable contribution to McCain’s excellent start to the season, where 26 winners to date have garnered over £200,000 in prize money.

Hughes was also successful in the Naf Racing Handicap Chase over the minimum trip later in the afternoon, notching a third winner this term for Charles & Adam Pogson from their Nottinghamshire yard. Having led much of the way, Larch Hill was headed at the sixth, but given a breather, was able to reel in Romanor from Seamus Mullins’ yard on Salisbury Plain to finish full of running.

Worcestershire trainers were able to keep some of the prizes nearer to home in the remaining two races. Well-backed favourite Bagan, held up in rear, moved smoothly through the field in the Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle to win the Seller comfortably by 7 1/2l for Tom Gretton. Rare for selling races nowadays, the winner found a new owner afterwards when Simon Prout paid £11,250 for this winner of 3 races.

Bagan and Jason Dixon [left] win at Stratford. 4/9/2021 Pic Steve Davies

The closing bumper was won by Strensham Court, trained by Sam Drinkwater within earshot of the eponymous service station on the M5. Kept up to his work by Danny Burton, the winner showed good speed to put distance between him and the placed horses, finishing full of running.

Caramelized provides topping to a regal weekend for King

We’ve not yet reached September, but it’s clear from Monday’s results that the established leaders of the National Hunt game are flexing their muscles in preparation for the autumn. Four of the sport’s market leaders put their marker down on the winner’s enclosure in statements of intent for the easing of the ground when better quality horses will make the competition yet stiffer.

The Skelton team has been noticeably quiet this summer in comparison to last summer, but opened their account for the day with just their 16th winner since the season began, and the third of Stratford’s season. Cast your mind back to the final 8 weeks of the season, when Harry Skelton and Brian Hughes were head to head in consecutive Stratford fixtures with doubles and trebles to see the difference in tactics this time around. Brian Hughes leads his rival by nearly 30 winners at this juncture.

Percy’s Word, beaten a neck in his last outing at Uttoxeter, finally broke his maiden in the opening Join RacingTV Now Maiden Hurdle, joining issue with the leaders between horses as they approached the final obstacle and forging clear to justify his even money favouritism.

The next few months are always a timer to identify newcomers to the sport in the form of flat recruits searching for a place in the JCB Triumph Hurdle. Fresh from saddling Asymmetric in the Prix Morny at Deauville on Sunday, Alan King produced an early contender in the form of Caramelised, a son of Dansili, who fairly trotted up in the second division of the RacingTV.com Juvenile Hurdle, winning with a penalty by 19l. Alan told Racing UK, He’s not a good work horse; he shows nothing at home, but we’ll have to take him more seriously now!”

Meanwhile, another yard that excels in autumn races accentuated its well-being when Goa Lil broke his chasing duck at the fifth attempt in the 2m 5f Novices Handicap. Owned by the trainer after having been sold on by Isaac Suede and Simon Munir in the Spring, Goa Lil was last of the leading group of five turning into the straight, but showed good speed under strong driving from Sam Twiston-Davies to win by 1 1/4l in the end. “Hopefully that’ll get him sold,” remarked the rider afterwards. Expect Goa Lil to make the most of the yard’s autumn. Whilst there are only 7 winners on the board, autumn has traditionally been harvest time for the Naunton yard.

Goa Lil [Sam Twiston-Davies] centre and winner jumps the last with Fat Sam [left] and Royal Ruby [right] before winning at Stratford. 23/8/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Another mainstream yard rarely seen out over the summer is Oliver Sherwood’s Rhonehurst yard. Indeed, bumper winner Puffin Bay was their only runner in August, and may make for a 100% record with less than a week to go till September, winning ears pricked from a fast-finishing Shantou Champagne for the Bowen team.

Rider Sean Bowen had previously been successful in the Dr Roberts 50th Birthday Handicap Hurdle on Wbee, enjoying a third hurdle victory at Stratford in five months for Gary Hanmer. Indeed, Hanmer clearly has a liking for Stratford, with 8 winners here, second only to his local course at Bangor. This relatively new outfit is making a name for itself around the smaller venues on the promise of something bigger to come.

The runners are flagged around the fences in the straight due to the low sun. Wbee [in rear] tracks the leaders before a fourth consecutive victory. 23/8/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Justin Landy’s is another small yard finding success through a couple of good horses, with the likes of Shetland Bus enjoying consistent success for the yard, now joined by eight year old Captain Cobajay, a modestly rated horse who has nevertheless been well placed to win consecutive handicap chases before the handicapper anchors him. This second victory a week after the first, in the RacingTV Profits Returned To Racing Handicap Chase shows a good return for a horse from a switch of stable in early August, so fitness clearly wasn’t the issue.

The small yard of Jake Thomas Coulson took the other handicap chase over 2m3f with a pillar to post run from Chipati under Fergus Gregory. There was plenty to like about the way this dour grey stuck his neck out to outrun Air Hair Lair and This Breac, just when those tracking the leader might have considered he’d shot his bolt.

Chapati and Fergus Gregory [grey horse] leads all the way to victory at Stratford. 23/8/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Our final winner was in the first division of the Juvenile Hurdle won by Caramelised. The less well known Sheena West, trainer of Air Hair Lair in the aforementioned handicap chase, enjoyed a successful trip to Stratford when Fred Bear outran a Skelton horse in Scots Gold. Rather like Caramelised, Fred Bear led from start to finish, and whilst finished leg-weary, which precipitated a mistake at the last, none of the others were able to get on terms and the field was strung out across Warwickshire at the line.

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