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.

Phew, what a scorcher! Hatcher and Wbee hat-trick kings at Stratford on Ladies Day

The finalists for the Ladies Day line up at Stratford. 18/7/2021 Pic Steve Davies

On the hottest day of the year so far, which drew the biggest crowd to Stratford for nearly 2 years to enjoy Ladies Day, the Skelton brothers landed the feature race at Stratford yesterday with a horse on a hat-trick. Hatcher, winner of 14 of his 33 starts, appears to have a real penchant for our course, this being his fifth course victory, but his first as a chaser.

Always handy, there was never really any doubt about the winner. From entering the final bend, Skelton Jnr was sitting motionless whilst rivals Tikkinthebox and Scardura scrubbed away. Before the last, Scardura dropped away rapidly whilst Us And Them, an Irish raider, ran on doggedly for third.

The Skelton team has been more slowly away this summer, this being only their 69th runner (!) Nevertheless, the 14 winners to date have already amassed nearly £125,000 in prize money, an indication in itself of the quality of horses in the yard when the value of a majority of summer prizes is so pedestrian by comparison with the winter and spring months. These summer fixtures are by way of an aperitif for many of the bigger yards.

Hatcher and Harry Skelton jump the last to win at Stratford. 18/7/2021 Pic Steve Davies

The legendary leading owner, J P McManus, with hundreds of horses in training on both sides of the Irish Sea, has enjoyed over 350 winners over the past 5 years in the UK alone, yet French-bred Demon d’Aunou was his first winner of this term from just 10 runners overall. The Jonjo O’Neill – trained 8 year old was enjoying his first handicap win since winning his novice at Cartmel nearly 12 months ago. Going second two out, Jonjo Jnr rode him into the lead approaching the last to win comfortably by 8 1/2/.

McManus also has horses with Nicky Henderson, but it was owner-breeder Rita Brown who enjoyed the debut chase win of Royal Ruby in the LWK MS Group 50th Anniversary Novices Handicap Chase to complete the chase programme. 29 summer winners have set an awesome 28% strike rate to maintain when the more competitive autumn races accelerate. Rider Nico de Boinville set out to make this a test by leading from the off, and aside from briefly losing an iron at the sixth, was never troubled to win, asserting a winning margin of 9l.

Demon D’Aunou and Jonjo O’Neill jump the last to win at Stratford. 18/7/2021 Pic Steve Davies

The card opened with two handicap hurdles, the first of which, restricted to mares, went to a trainer rarely seen on the Jumps circuit. Upper Lambourn’s Mark Usher, whose Jumps runner have only once exceeded 20 in any of the past 10 seasons, is enjoying a 33% strike rate this term, enhanced by the efforts of Dylan’s Sea Song, winning a second handicap under Harry Bannister, despite running a little wayward on the run to the last. At this level, there are more races in her for sure.

To follow, in the Peter Allsopp from Bell Green Coventry Memorial Hurdle, hat-trick seeker Wbee duly obliged for Gary Hanmer, with Sean Bowen in the saddle in place of Bryan Carver, injured at Newton Abbot recently. Most trainers would give their eye teeth for performers of Wbee’s nature; since the turn of the year, the 6 year old son of Yeats has run six times, won 3 and been beaten less than 14l across his other 3 placed efforts.

Amateur Ben Bromley has been steeped in the sport all his life. With a father running a highly successful bloodstock business, he has all the connections, but you’ve still got to rise to the occasion. Working close to home for Mel and Phil Rowley, Bromley Jnr has ridden for 8 yards already this summer, outside the Point-to-Point circuit, including Nicholls, Henderson and Denise Foster.

This time around it was champion trainer Paul Nicholls who supplied the ammunition to enable a fourth career victory for the young rider, completing a hat-trick of wins on this novice hurdler in the Terry O’s 60th Birthday Novices Hurdle. The young Bromley is certainly beginning to look the finished article, and lacked nothing in tactical nous and polish in a finish.

Lady Excalibur showed a good turn of foot to win the concluding bumper on her debut appearance for Alan Jones and rider Tom O’Brien.

Watch Out For Contenders For the 2021-22 Jockeys’ Title Over Our Summer Fixtures

We saw a fantastic tussle between defending champion Brian Hughes and Harry Skelton for the 2020/21 National Hunt Jockeys’ Championship, with the latter coming out on top for the first time. Some of the key moments took place at Stratford earlier this Spring behind closed doors. All the main contenders for the title next season are likely to appear regularly here, so Stratford is going to be an important track for them as they look to assert a lead over the summer and autumn. Here is a look at the main contenders.

Harry Skelton

Harry Skelton, a first time winner of the Champion Jockeys’ Trophy for the 2020-21 season

Skelton finished last season incredibly strongly to get his hands on the trophy on the final day of the campaign at Sandown. The brother of trainer Dan Skelton said it was a ‘dream come true’ to win the trophy.

The majority of Skelton’s winners last season came from his brother. However, he also partnered a number of Paul Nicholls’ horses in March and April which proved really helpful in his battle with Hughes.

Skelton is 11/10 in horse racing betting to defend his title, and tops the betting for the first time in his career. If he has the same hunger and drive as he showed in the final months of the 2020/21 campaign, he is sure to have another strong chance, especially with the support he gets from the Lodge Hill yard.

The defending champion is a regular at Stratford as this is his local track. With 31 winners at this course over the last five years, no jockey has enjoyed more success here than Skelton.

Brian Hughes

Hughes will be keen to win back his championship and he should once again be in the mix in the closing stages of the season. The 2019/20 champion has a lot of success in the north, in particular, where he is the go-to man for many trainers.

When he was successful in 2020, Hughes was the first northern-based jockey to lift the trophy since Jonjo O’Neill in 1980. The Irishman is not afraid to rack up the miles in pursuit of the championship. Expect to see Hughes appear at the majority of Stratford’s meetings over the next 11 months. He has had 17 winners from his 66 rides here over the last five years.

Harry Cobden

11-time Grade One winner Harry Cobden was very much in contention for the title last season until he picked up a cheekbone fracture which ruled him out the final six weeks of the campaign.

Harry Cobden carries the backing of the Champion Trainer which puts him bang in contention

Cobden is a very talented rider who is now retained by Champion trainer Nicholls. He is sure to partner a lot of top-class horses next season and given the size of Manor Farm stable, there should be no shortage of rides either.

The 22-year-old has been improving his number of winners with each season. If he is able to stay injury-free from now until April, he will have a big chance of landing his maiden title. It was an injury that put paid to his chances last season.

It’s going to be an exciting title race to follow this season, particularly when all three of the above jockeys appear at Stratford over the coming months.

Stratford Specialists Trained in Locally Could Be Horses to Follow Next Season

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.

Edgcote trainer Alex Hales

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.

Stepney Causeway helps Harry Skelton to win his first Jockeys' title in March 2021
Stepney Causeway helps Harry Skelton to win his first Jockeys’ title in March 2021

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.

Skelton and Hughes match strides

Racing is always better served under blue skies and moderate temperatures, and so it was  for Stratford’s,second meeting of the season as an 8 race card welcomed owners back to the racecourse for the first time since November. It felt like the beginning of the start of normality.

One of the themes of this last month of the season has been the tussle for the top place in the Jockeys’ Championship. Brian Hughes’ plan to swerve Cheltenham in order to build up a lead elsewhere didn’t play out as well as he’d planned, but the Skelton team drew a blank at Cheltenham too, since when a four-timer at Southwell has lit up the race to the Championship on April 24.

The Championship was the dominating story of the day’s racing, when Harry Skelton’s four-timer further eroded the slender lead of the current champion, Brian Hughes. The card opened as the well-backed Skelton-ridden Stepney Causeway made virtually all to win the opening Novices’ Hurdle as a 4/11 favourite should,  by 15l from Brian Hughes of Faitque de L’Isle.

Hughes responded in kind 30 minutes later when riding Nightfly to victory for Northamptonshire-based owner-breeder Dee Flory, on her first racecourse visit since before Christmas. Some 80 owners accompanied her to see their horses run on this first day with a lower restriction of admission.

The Skelton pair fought back again to narrow the gap in the feature Visit racingtv.com Handicap Chase. 10 Year old Rocco was always handy and took up the running from Colorado Doc down the back straight for the final time. Skelton Jnr was not going to make any mistake and put yards between him and the runner-up to bring his score to 122 and the deficit back to 3.

With his tail up, Harry Skelton concluded the card with the last two winners, in Dan Gun and Get Sky High in the second division of the handicap hurdle and the bumper.

So much the trend nowadays in racehorse ownership is among groups rather than individuals, and who can be surprised? After all, it’s so much more fun to be sharing in the joy of ownership among friends than on your own. Certainly, it’s sure that owner Andrew Gemmell was enjoying himself most of all in the company of other members of the syndicate he was permitted to join – The Frisky Fillies. Lest I be branded a chauvinist, they chose the title themselves for their horse Flemcara, who won the handicap hurdle in the middle of the card under Tom Bellamy. Andrew, you may recall, has been blind since birth, but is also the owner of Paisley Park, one of the gutsiest horses in training.

Emma commented afterwards, “It’s difficult to know who enjoyed that more – the horse or rider. Both came back with big grins on their faces! Flemcara has been chasing, but didn’t take to it as he does hurdling, and will stay over the smaller obstacles.” Certainly, if you followed the winner, you’ll have seen ears pricked for much of the second circuit, even when asked for an effort – a sure indication the winner was relishing the contest.

The winner didn’t have a hard race, so may reappear before the end of the season, ground conditions permitting.

Andrew Gemmell with trainer Emma Lavelle at Stratford. 29/3/2021 Pic Steve Davies

The first division of the 2m 6f handicap hurdle resulted in a welcome winner for Henry Daly, who has endured a torrid season he’ll be glad to forget. This winner at least gets him into double figures, but he’s not a man seen on the racecourse frequently when the sun is beating down, so may put this lockdown year down to experience. French-bred Guillemot, owned by former Senior Steward Sir Thomas Pilkington, was breaking his duck with a pair of blinkers to assist. As it was, Henry stayed just long enough to greet his winner and for an interview before retreating back to Ludlow.

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