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.

Rookie Whillans doubles up

Rookie trainer Ewen Whillans made the long trip from the Scottish borders worthwhile yesterday as Cracking Destiny asserted around the final turn to win the feature Brian and Sheila Vaughan Memorial Handicap Chase under Callum Bewley, and for good measure followed up in the bumper with Scot’s Poet.

Long time leader Mercian Prince looked to have come to the end of his effort after the second last as rivals Courtandbould, Yccs Portocervo and Cracking Destiny bunched up behind. Bewley got the best run on the outer of the leader to run to the last and always had the measure of the Twiston-Davies’ -ridden Yccs Portocervo – a commentator’s nightmare – on the run to the line.

Cracking Destiny and Callum Bewley [right] jumps the last with Yccs Portocervo before winning at Stratford. 19/8/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Scot’s Poet, also ridden by Callum Bewley, prevailed by showing good late speed in a final two furlongs with plenty of bumping and boring in one of the better-supported bumpers of the summer to date.

Whillans, taking over the licence from father Alistair, is in the rare position of achieving a 100% record from his two runners to date, having held a licence only since Wednesday. Not often a starter sets out with two trips to The Winners Enclosure with his first two runners!

Ewan Whillans after completing a Stratford double with Scots Poet. 19/8/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Runner-up Sam Twiston-Davies, whose perseverance on Yccs Portocervo made for such an exciting finish in the feature, came good himself a little over an hour later when Lawtop Legend won the National Racehorse Week 12-19th September Handicap Chase over 3m 3f, continuing the great strike rate of Richard Newland and his first jockey. With 55 win and placed horses from 82 runners, the pair boasts a 67% return on horses running from the yard; small wonder Newland is attracting owners a-plenty.

Jockey Page Fuller enjoyed contrasting fortunes in the two novice chases, winning the Sd Photography Novices Handicap comprehensively for Marlborough handler David Weston, but losing her chance when her mount Some Day Soon blundered two out in the Avon Novices Chase later in the card. It was the recovery of the day as she was shot up the neck of her horse and clung on to retrieve a third place for retained trainer Jamie Snowden.

Weston has an admirable record from a small band of horses at his base in East Kennett, this being his fourth winner from just 10 runners, something of a contrast to Donald McCain and Brian Hughes, eventual winners of the 2m5f Novices event with Presentandcounting, enjoying a fifth win this year already.

Another trainer with admirable stats is Devon – based Claire Hitch, who produced another talented youngster in Every Breakin Wave, who followed up his July victory at Newton Abbot with a 1/2l win in the Claire Boskett 30th Birthday Novices Hurdle. Claire cut her teeth on the Point-to-Point circuit; just another example of how the grass roots of the sport has merged indiscernibly with the lower ranks of the professional game.

Ben Pauling is one of many mainstream trainers who have largely reverted to type after adopting the summer game wholeheartedly after the enforced break of 2020. His August runners are a shadow of the effort from last year, but Serjeant Painter, formerly with Marcus Tregoning, was determined enough to make amends for this, staying on well to win the opening Stratford Racing Club Novices Handicap Hurdle by 1 3/4l from Jakamani, representing Mark Bradstock. Pauling’s six winners this season to date have reassuringly been from six individual horses which speaks of more to come.

Pritchard completes hat-trick with Franz Klammer

Franz Klammer is rejuvenating the fortunes of Whatcote trainer Peter Pritchard, completing a hat-trick in the Erin, Anya & Joe Brewer Handicap Chase yesterday at Stratford. The nine year old won going away after a tussle between the second last and one hundred yards from the post when the match was settled. Despite a 20lb hike in the weights, he appears at his best around his local course, and who is to say he may not run up a fourth? For a stable livinbg in a winner drought these past five years, it must seem like a trip to the Promised Land.

Franz Klammer and Alexander Thorne [yellow colours] leads the field all the way for another victory at Stratford for trainer Peter Pritchard. 29/7/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Third – placed for trainer Gary Brown is worth following next time around at this level. He was running on like a train, and only missed the runner-up slot by a neck.

Alan King has become a man for the big occasion with his Flat team, picking off big winners regularly, the most recent of which has been a Glorious Goodwood double with Trueshan in the Goodwood Cup and Asymmetric in the Group II Richmond Stakes. However, the man who started out over the sticks hasn’t eschewed the Jumps game by any means and flat recruit Caramelized fairly bolted up in the Join Stratford Racing Club Juvenile Maiden Hurdle. The ex-Hannon three year old asserted quite readily in the straight to win by 7l with plenty in hand. It might seem fanciful to talk of the Triumph still 8 months hence, but there are certainly plenty more races to win with this youngster.

The most valuable race of the day saw 5 novice chasers draw swords in the SAige Fencing Novices Chase. Turning in, it looked a straight fight between Jamie Snowden’s Some Day Soon and Rebecca Curtis’ Welsh raider Ruthless Article. Page Fuller had pushed Some Day Soon into a 2l lead at the last before Ruthless Article crumpled on landing, and ran on to put 17l between him and eventual runner-up Forecast. Fuller’s 6th winner of the season cements her partnership with Snowden who provides the lion’s share of her rides.

Jamie Snowden doubled up in the concluding National Racehorse Week 12-19th September Novices Hurdle with Guinness Affair under Gavin Sheehan, denying Fergal O’Brien’s Our Colossus, and precipitating a rare winnerless day for the Ravenswell team.

The We Are IDP Mares Handicap Hurdle saw the finish of the day and an example of two of our top riders at their most forceful. Tom Scudamore and Brian Hughes are near perfect exponents of their craft, and a driving finish from both on respective mounts Lady Reset for David Pipe and See The Sea for Donald McCain was only decided yards from the post, when Scudamore gained a head advantage. It really was not a race for those with weak hearts!

Time was when the Pipe yard under Martin’s leadership would farm the summer races, but nowadays, David is more focused on quality runners rather than the quantity that created the Pipe reputation.

Lady Reset and Tom Scudamore [left] just beats See The Sea at Stratford. 29/7/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Another of our top riders, Nico de Boinville, also had to be at his most persistent as French-bred Tel’Art scored a third win over the smaller obstacles for Ben Pauling in the longer 3m 2f handicap hurdle. It was Hughes who lost out again by 1/2l in second place despite a strong challenge from Oscar Montel, trained 15 miles further east along the Cotswolds from Pauling, by Charlie Longsdon.

Tel’Art and Nico De Boinville beats Oscar Montel at Stratford. 29/7/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Devon – based Chris Down notched his second winner of this term in the opening handicap chase with Fat Sam, whose previous form figures of 54F gave no immediate indication of latent talent pressing to show itself. Bookmakers were rubbing their hands as the 25/1 shot took up the running turning into the straight, and maintained his advantage to the line under James Davies. Small stables like these, operating on a wing and a prayer, are, in reality, the bedrock of this sport.

Laura Morgan’s Leicestershire stable is another small yard but one with a strike rate right up there with the best. At 24%, her runners are a force to be reckoned with, but even she might acknowledge Beautiful Ben was a lucky winner of the other remaining chase, over 2m 3f, after Tom Gretton’s Bagan unseated at the last. The two had picked up the lead going into the home turn, with the rest of the field going nowhere, and Bagan was arguably going the better before stumbling on landing and sending Robbie Dunne out of the side door. Take nothing however from the winner, picking up his eighth career victory.

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.

Footie fever as O’Brien doubles up

On a day when all the hype was directed toward another sport with an 8pm kick off, Fergal O’Brien scored a double when introducing two maidens to winning ways at Stratford yesterday. Meantime, everyone – even our esteemed Clerk of Course pictured below – entered into the football spirit, with no loitering after the last race as everyone rushed to their designated evening viewing place.

Stratford Clerk Of The Course Nessie Lambert supporting England with the Union Jack Facemask at Stratford. 11/7/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Former Richard Hannon – trained Burristo got the ball rolling in the opening Juvenile Hurdle, opening his account over the smaller obstacles with a 2 3/4l win over Oliver Greenall’s Boundsby Boy. In truth, none of the first three was fluent in their jumping when at the business end of the race, but there’s room for improvement in all as they finesse their racing experience.

Irish maiden Point-to-Pointer Colossus made up the second leg of the double in the maiden hurdle when Paddy Brennan kicked away from the field on the home turn, showing some good speed to finish 2 1/4l to the good. O’Brien leads the Trainers’ Championship at this nascent stage with 30 winners, whilst Brennan’s double took him to 25 for the season, 3 off leader Brian Hughes with an impressive 29% strike rate. The O’Brien – Brennan partnership has been one of the leading features of the past two seasons.

The day’s most valuable race, the Jonathan Walker Memorial Handicap Hurdle, for the Stratford Summer Salver, went to Ogbourne Maizey’s Emma Lavelle, whose Hang In There defied top weight to dominate the 2m contest, winning by 9l for owners Tim Syder and Andrew Gemmell. The drop in class suited well to get his head back in front after some mid-division performances in higher level races last winter. Emma, not of habit one to field large numbers of runners until autumn, enjoyed a great start to last season, and that winning habit may have stuck. Hang In There may target some of the summer’s more valuable handicaps with this return to form, on the proviso of good ground.

Hang In There and Tom Bellamy jump the last to win the Jonathan Walker Memorial Handicap Hurdle at Stratford. 11/7/2021 Pic Steve Davies

The three handicap chases all fell to small stables, the largest of which is Seamus Mullins’ yard at Willsford, which can always be relied upon for Summer jumps winners. The Daniel Sansom -ridden Romanor won a novices handicap chase over half a mile further at the corresponding meeting in 2020, and got up in the final strides to beat Tivo from Gary Hanmer’s Cheshire yard after Tivo made a mistake at the last.

Romanor and Daniel Sansom [right] chase down Sir Tivo to win at Stratford. 11/7/2021 Pic Steve Davies

By contrast, locally trained Franz Klammer continued his love affair with Stratford’s turns with a follow up victory in the class 5 handicap chase over 2m6f after his 25l victory here last month. This time around, the margin of victory was little different at 23l, and there’s little to suggest the winning sequence need not continue at this level.

The third chase fell to Sheena West’s Irish – bred Air Hair Lair, ridden out to win the 2m3f chase by 2l from a Matt Shepherd horse. Sheena is one of a diminishing group of Jumps trainers in Sussex, once a powerhouse of the sport built around Findon and Arundel.

The concluding conditionals handicap hurdle went the way of British – bred Espressino, trained by Chris Down, and a ninetieth career winner for Charlie Hammond.

We woz robbed: a night of footie analogies as McPherson is denied in weight incident

It was an evening when England football held the thrall of much of the country as England beat Germany to progress to the quarter-finals of the Euros, but the action was quite as exciting as Stratford reached its halfway point of the summer.

Harry Cobden is making up for lost time over Jockeys’ Championship rivals since his return from injury on June 11. The West Country rider, out since Aintree in April, is riding with his usual gusto, and took the opening novice chase with Rhythm is A Dancer, opening his account over the bigger obstacles after 4 hurdle wins for Paul Nicholls. Winning owner William Harrison-Allan is a former sponsor of the Cheltenham Foxhunter with his company the CGA.

Rhythm Is A Dancer impresses in his novice chase
Rhythm Is A Dancer and Harry Cobden [left] jup the last with The Bull McCabe and Ballymoy [about to fall] before winning at Stratford. 29/6/2021 Pic Steve Davies

This was a good quality novice chase despite just 5 runners, and throughout, any one of four of the runners could have been a winner. Runner-up The Bull McCabe is already a course and distance winner over hurdles at Stratford, and he and the winner jostled for the lead throughout, until joined at the last by Ballymoy, who looked highly dangerous, until falling. This didn’t help third placed Premier D’troice, but in truth, he was held at that point. The winner lengthened away nicely to win by 6 1/2l.

We were treated to another chase 30 minutes later when Irish Point-to-Point graduate Scardura rewarded trainer Neil Mulholland with a third win since joining the stable in October 2019 in the handicap chase. Sam Twiston-Davies led pretty much throughout to test his rivals and was never under duress in the 5 1/2l victory. The Mulholland yard can do no wrong presently. They enjoyed a four-timer at Les Landes Racecourse on Jersey – one hurdle and 3 flat wins) last week, which went pretty much unreported, even if the quality of racing in the Channel Islands leaves a bit to find on the mainland.

Scardura and Sam Twiston-Davies lead all the way at Stratford. 29/6/2021 Pic Steve Davies

The last of the three chases looked to be in the hands of Chris Honour’s Shortcross Storm turning in for the 2m 3f novices Handicap chase, with Sparkleandshine and eventual winner Authorize off the bridle. Over the last pretty much together, SparkleandShine hung right, whilst Authorizo, from Henry Greenall’s Cheshire yard, stayed on dourly to win by 2 3/4l. The Greenall stable already has 10 winners on the board and a handsome 25% strike rate for its chasers this term.

The middle distance handicap hurdle produced a terrific finish as Graeme McPherson’s Calum Gilhooley and Nicky Henderson’s Chives battled for supremacy over the last 150 yards. But whilst Kielan Woods’ efforts on the former delivered a neck victory at the line, the previous 100 yards was littered with various pieces of tack that had come adrift from under the saddle, leading to an inevitable objection by the Clerk of the Scales for weighing in light. The winner was disqualified, denuding the Stow-on-the-Wold yard of its fifth winner of the summer. Given his robust attitude to racing however, it surely can’t be long before this game horse finds another race of his own.

Favourite backers got behind 11/8 market leader Butte Montana to improve on his runner-up berth at Uttoxeter at the start of the month in the Maiden Hurdle, and Paddy Brennan took the race by the scruff of the neck and made no mistake about ensuring the winner lost his maiden tag. This was a 25th winner of the new term for the Ravenswell team, that have carried on the good work from the Spring.

Lucy Wadham’s youngsters are always to be respected in bumpers and novice or maidens, and Ocean Heights, a son of Dubawi no less, prevailed to break his duck at the fourth attempt in the concluding bumper, under conditional Corey McGivern, enjoying a third career winner.

Should Dan Skelton Do the Unthinkable and Avoid the 2022 Cheltenham Festival?

For National Hunt trainers, the Cheltenham Festival is the pinnacle of the sport, and missing it is almost unheard of. People like Warwickshire’s own Dan Skelton need to prove to punters and pundits that they can produce exceptional winners that deserve to grace the event. It’s part of their sporting legacies.  

Even winners at Stratford as early as September are bookmarked for the Supreme Novices’ “if all goes well over the winter”. The year runs the risk of becoming top-heavy around just 28 races, less than 1% of the total run in the UK alone.

Things haven’t been going to plan for the Skeltons at Cheltenham in recent years, with Dan being among most of Britain’s top trainers in failing to secure a winner in 2020. Although it’s unthinkable, is it worth the yard focusing on success away from the iconic venue in 2022?  

The Grand National is wide-open  

There’s no doubt that the Grand National is as prestigious as any Cheltenham race, especially for British trainers and jockeys. Of course, the competitive nature of the event makes it incredibly challenging to win. Skelton’s outfit hasn’t done it yet, but it has an excellent opportunity in 2022 because the field may be weaker.  

Currently, the horse racing betting quotes Any Second Now and Minella Times as 16/1 joint-favourites. The latter won the race by six-and-a-half-lengths in 2021 from the former, so it’s easy to see why they are strong contenders. However, Skelton’s only entrant was Blaklion and he ended the race sixth. He might have been 36 lengths behind the winner, but the 12-year-old has the experience to burn and didn’t run very often before his Grand National appearance last time around.  

With a better warm-up during the 2021/22 season, the former National champion could feasibly close the gap, particularly if his training is dedicated to bouncing back at the Grand National. After all, Blaklion is an Aintree specialist and that counts for a lot at the Merseyside venue.  

What’s more, the National is no longer a one race wonder. Many of the other races are viable alternatives to Cheltenham, or for the lucky few, an additional opportunity for lucrative prizes. Cheltenham needn’t be the be-all and end-all any more.

An Uphill Battle  

Although it’s hard for British horse racing fans to hear, it’s essential to understand why UK mounts can’t match their Irish counterparts at Cheltenham presently. Last year, only five British horses managed to win, compared to 23 from across Ireland. Dan Skelton himself said afterwards that the Irish are better and the British racing system needs an overhaul.  

Until that happens, it’s perhaps unhealthy for UK yards to target events they can’t win. For example, Third Time Lucki for Dan Skelton Racing is the fourth favourite for the 2022 County Hurdle at 8-1 behind You Raised Me Up, Champagne Gold, and Ganapathi. While Skelton has had success in this race previously, the official ratings of his rivals make for unpleasant reading.  

Plus, Third Time Lucki failed to make an impression in the last edition of the race when he was beaten into sixth place by Belfast Banter.  

Fans overlooking rivalry  

What might swing it for the UK-based trainers at the moment is that the fans don’t seem to care about the battle between the British and Irish. Over one million viewers tuned in to watch the action on average in 2021, with a 1.5 million peak for Rachael Blackmore’s success in the Champion Hurdle.  

It’s one thing trying to do the impossible when the supporters are desperate for something to cheer on, yet it’s another when racing fans only seem to want to see the best compete against one another. For Skelton and co, there’s not much point going toe-to-toe with the Irish when they had 82% of the winners with only 40% of the runners in 2021.  

Instead, it’s smarter to regroup and pour over the long-term strategy. That way, he and his peers can bounce back and begin to challenge for Cheltenham honours in their backyard, rather than allowing the Irish to dominate.  

That’s what the Irish trainers and jockeys did a decade or so ago when they were the underdogs. Now it’s the BHA’s turn to meticulously plan the future of the UK National Hunt racing scene. 

Hooper’s Stratford Hat-trick

Most eyes were on Ascot as yesterday’s fixture at Stratford got folks in the mood for racing with a lunchtime start. Familiar racing names certainly didn’t have it all their way in an intriguing afternoon during which horse welfare in the heat was uppermost in everyone’s mind. Given the care provided for runners at Stratford on every raceday, never mind during mid-summer temperatures, I hope I shall be reincarnated as a racehorse. Running fast for a couple of miles 8 times a year seems a fair exchange for a life of luxury and super-fitness.

Crowds return to the stands side enclosures on a glorious day at Stratford. 15/6/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Stratford’s rehabilitation to crowds continued as spectators returned again under the restricted capacities currently operating, and those attending were treated to plenty of great entertainment.

The opener was handsomely won by All in Gold, a daughter of Derby winner Golden Horn, who looked as if she’s run over longer distances too, after jockey Henry Brooke took some time to pull up. She always had the measure of the David Jeffreys’ trained Flighty Bride, winning by 1 3/4l. Trainer Olliver Greenall, busy replenishing his stock earlier this week at the Goffs London Sale, when buying the top-priced stayer, Zinc White for £310,000, had a fine season last time around, and the good work is continuing.

The feature event of the day, the MansionBets Betsival Bet 10 Get 20 Handicap Hurdle continued the good run of Nicky Henderson’s Hooper, winning for a fifth time on the bounce since February, and a third time at Stratford. This is a candidate that keeps on improving to keep ahead of the handicapper, and given that the first and second had drawn some 20l ahead of the remainder by the winning line, there may well be more to come. TakeItEasy, ridden by Gina Andrews for Newmarket-based Pam Sly, continued Pam’s excellent record with her small team of jumpers; there’ll certainly be a race this summer for the runner-up.

Hooper and Ben Ffrench Davis jump the last to score again at Stratford. 15/6/2021 Pic Steve Davies

One trainer rather less used to visiting the Winner’s Enclosure is Peter Pritchard, who trains at Whatcote. His last winner was in 2016, but there was no doubting the gusto with which Franz Klammer won his #MansionBet Betstival Handicap Chase under conditional Alexander Thorne. Leading pretty much throughout, he applied the speed his name implies from the 13th to win by 25l.

Someone with rather more experience of Stratford is Pyle trainer and businessman David Brace, whose business supports Fergal O’Brien Racing, where his son Connor continues his ascent toward the top of the jockeys’ career ladder. David has produced plenty of Point-to-Point winners for Stratford’s Hunters’ evening, but today was the turn of Shanandoa, under fellow Welshman and Pointing graduate Jack Tudor, who teamed up to win the Conditionals Handicap Hurdle, completing a double within 5 days after her win at Uttoxeter on Thursday last. In this best finish of the day, the British-bred mare was able to overcome a 7lb penalty from Uttoxeter to beat Ronde de Nuit and Jessica Rabbit, 1/2l separating each.

Another graduate from the Point-to-Point ranks is Gary Hanmer, who acquired a full professional Trainer’s licence in 2015 after several years between the flags. His base at the Bolesworth Estate in Cheshire is better known to eventing fans for its International Horse Show in July, where former Aintree Clerk of the Course, Andrew Tulloch is a mainstay. A fourth win of the season yesterday with Sir Tivo in the MansionBet’s Betstival Beaten By a Head Novices Handicap Chase brought him halfway to his best ever score. The yard is certainly firing; the last five runners have all been in the frame.

No Stratford raceday would be complete without a winner for the powerhouse that is the Skelton yard at Alcester, and yesterday was no exception. A dashing grey, Gregor has been knocking at the door since going down by 4 3/4l to Parramount here at our opening fixture on March 15 in one of those Hughes-Skelton tussles that defined last season’s race for the Jockeys’ Championship. He showed great resolution and no little speed to grab this race at the last and break his duck at the sixth time of asking.

Robin Dickin off the mark for the summer

You could be forgiven for thinking there were just two trainers around Stratford reading this blog, and it’s certainly true that Messrs Skelton and Murphy are prolific in their pursuit of winners. Yet Warwickshire and the surrounds of Stratford play host to plenty of other able handlers.

One such who’s had a lean time of it in recent years is Robin Dickin, who enjoyed a welcome change of fortune when winning a handicap hurdle at Southwell yesterday. One-time Irish winning Pointer, the French-bred 9 year old Phoebus Lescribaa, flattered to deceive on that winning debut at Lisonagh in 2016, and has largely disappointed since, winning just 2 of his 16 starts.

Former jockey turned trainer Robin Dickin

They say there’s a race in every horse, but the patience of any owner is sorely tested over lengthy gaps between entering the hallowed Winner’s Circle. Four changes of trainer, from Rebecca Curtis through Fergal O’Brien and Olly Murphy led Phoebus Lescribaa to Robin Dickin’s door in July last year. And if truth be told, by the end of last year, Dickin himself may have been having doubts after a series of middling performances.

But May 2021, the horse may have turned over a new leaf! Dropping from middle distances to the minimum trip, Phoebus was just run out of it by 1/2l in a handicap hurdle at Southwell, so it was little surprise that the enterprising and persistent Dickin returned there a month later to finally get his head in front, again over the minimum distance.

Robin started training in 1986 at the conclusion of a successful riding career under both codes. He’s since trained some 350 winners, led by Kadastrof, the prolific Dr Rocket, and current favourites like Thomas Crapper and Restless Harry, between them responsible for 15 winners including the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury in 2017, and Restless Harry’s neck win over Teaforthree in the Weatherbys Hamilton Insurance Handicap Chase, a Listed race at Ascot in 2014.

Last season, however, runners and winners were well down on the halcyon years around the start of the decade. The team has adapted to new facilities at Alne Park near Stratford, where landlord Nic Allen, an enthusiastic owner and supporter of Stratford already, provides a benign interest in the developing business.

As every trainer will tell you, success is about persistence, doing the right thing on a consistent basis, and not a little luck. Owners can be fickle, searching for the latest name in the training ranks as if their methods were markedly different to any other. This is not to say the old ways are always the best; rather that the quality of training facilities all over the UK nowadays allows trainers to prepare their horses to much the same standards throughout, so fashions in choice of trainer often have a relative importance above their station.

Have no doubt. Top flight success and Robin Dickin will be bedfellows once more before too long has passed, and Stratford will be the better for it.

And so say all of us.

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