A lesson from Down Under: the All-Star Mile

Racing is in a fairly healthy position in the UK right now, particularly given the challenges of running a sport without spectators for large chunks of the last couple of years. Even allowing for a spate of small fields exacerbated by the low rainfall over the past few months, the sport retains a broad appeal across over 1,400 fixtures each year. But last month, the Racing Post launched a series of special reports under the banner, How Can Racing Broaden Its Appeal? And one of the key takeaways from the series of articles was that “Getting people involved is a major challenge for the sport.”

Of course, we have been here before. Each time there is a momentous performance on television – say, Rachael Blackmore’s heroics at Cheltenham and the Grand National – analysts talk about how it can drive engagement and appeal. Of course, it’s all well and good when saying these things after the Festival or Royal Ascot, but does it encourage people to attend the racing on a cold December night at Chelmsford? Or Stratford, for that matter, on the infrequent occasions when the sun is not warming our backs?

All-Star Mile has driven fan engagement

But there are ideas from outside the box that can drive fan engagement. An example is the All-Star Mile, which had its inaugural running in 2019 at Flemington Racecourse, the iconic home of Australian racing. If you aren’t familiar with the All-Star Mile, the main thing to know is that participation is largely decided by racing fans. To be exact, ten places in the races are allotted to horses who are voted in by fans. Five wild cards make up the rest of field. Of course, a bumper purse is offered to ensure owners are persuaded to let their horses run.

Zaaki, winner of the All-Star Mile 2022. Photo via https://twitter.com/allstarmile/status/1505047224132472834/photo/1

Now, if you really know your international racing, you might be aware that the Aussies nicked this idea from the Japanese. The fan-voted Arima Kinen race has been operating in Japan in some form or another since 1956. But the reason we chose the Australian version is that it shows how a good idea can ferment into popular culture quite quickly. Indeed, we would argue that the All-Star Mile has become a more engaging spectacle than The Everest, which was created in 2017 and is now the world’s richest turf race.

Perhaps our point is that the All-Star Mile is an example of where ingenuity trumps money. The Everest is a brilliant event, and it attracts some of the best sprinters in racing who look for a share of the £10million+ purse.

Race is rotated around Victoria

But the All-Star Mile attracts the casual fan, and one way it does this is through astute use of social media campaigning. The campaign reaches out to casual fans and potential fans, encouraging them to feel like they have a stake in the event. Indeed, before the 2022 race, TAB (Australia’s version of the Tote) ran a competition where one voter could become an “ambassador owner” of one of the horses selected for the race.

Another thing we like about the All-Star Mile is the fact it rotates. We mentioned Flemington earlier, but it will also go to Victoria’s other great venues, Moonee Valley and Caulfield. If such a principle was applied to the UK, there is no end of worthy venues that could host fan-voted races, including, of course, Stratford Racecourse. Imagine a concept like this through the Summer Jumps calendar at Stratford, Worcester, Perth and Newton Abbot.

Now, none of this is to say that UK racing should simply borrow the idea from the Australians (and Japanese), but it is the kind of concept that could yield dividends. One of the barriers to engagement with horse racing is the feeling that it is remote, particularly for those from urban areas. Campaigns like the All-Star Mile tear down those barriers through digital access on social media. The connection is there between fans and the selections in the race.

Something to think about.

Hillview is a cut above

Hillview provided the most facile victory of the day yesterday in recording his fourth win of the campaign, and third within a month, in Stratford’s Savage & Stride Wedding Celebration Handicap Hurdle. The Irish-bred gelding, a winner previously at Bangor and Southwell (twice), notched up a 31st winner of the term for Cheshire handler Gary Hanmer, and there won’t have been many easier.

By contrast, the winner of the opener, Kinondu Kwetu, had to work rather harder to assert over long time leader Starsky from the powerful Skelton yard. The false pace of a three runner field made the race a sprint from the last, where the Sam Engkand trained winner was able to apply speed to overcome Starsky.

Morganstern was further confirmation of the in-form status of Somerset’s David Pipe when winning the Claudio’s 50th Birthday Novices Handicap Chase by 2 1/2l from Arbennig. This was the second leg of a cross-card double for Pipe following Neon Moon’s victory at Wincanton. Remarkably, the stable is running on a 40% strike rate over the past fortnight. Statisticians take note.

Anthony Honeyball has emerged to be a fearsome competitor in the middle ranks of the Trainers’ Championship. Fresh from winning a valuable handicap at Aintree on Grand National day, he followed up here with a horse of rather less ability. Midnight Callisto always had her rivals in hand and ran out a convincing winner of the Mares Handicap Hurdle for a 35th winner of the season for Honeyball.

A disappointing run from Snow Leopardess in the Randox Grand National wasn’t enough to knock the momentum from the Charlie Longsdon stable. Largy Nights and Kingston King fought out a tug of war for the lead from the final bend, neither excelling in jumping the last in the 3m3f Handicap Chase. However, it was Largy Nights who stayed on more dourly to win by 1 1/2l.

Largy Nights wins at Stratford for the Longsdon stable 10/4/2022 Pic Steve Davies

On a weekend when the amateurs of the game demonstrated their contribution to the sport in spectacular style through Sam Waley-Cohen’s Grand National victory on Noble Yeats, it was another accomplished amateur who snaffled the Stratford Grass Roots Hunters Chase, the last of our chases. Picking off the leader Tel ‘Art as they rounded the final bend, owner-trained and ridden Peacock’s Secret under Dale Peters ran on to be a convincing victor, and may well return here on May 31st for the Finale Hunters evening. The 14l margin could readily have been over 20.

Peacocks Secret wins at Stratford for Dale Peters. 10/4/2022 Pic Steve Davies

All the extra accoutrements seemed to work for Mickyh as tongue strap and blinkers kept the 9 year old up to his work under a forceful ride from Jamie Moore in the Bet at Racingtv.com Novices Handicap Hurdle. The second, Justified, stayed on resolutely, and there is a race for him somewhere.

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.

We’re off again!

Glorious spring sunshine heralded another season’s racing at Stratford this afternoon, the first horses to have appeared on the course since the adieu in November, and 51 horses faced the starter for an entertaining afternoon, a precursor to a feast of top quality Jump racing over the next five days.

Horses take the new white boarded hurdles for the first time in the country on a racecourse at Stratford. 14/3/2022 Pic Steve Davies/Racingfotos.com

For the quick-minded, the reference to five days is not an onward wave to a fifth day of the Festival, but an acknowledgement that there are now superb cards catering for the less than utterly brilliant at Uttoxeter and Kempton that illustrate that our sport is not all about one venue and 28 races. Horses, owners, trainers and riders all have their preferences, which is what makes our sport so rich in variety.

Festival fever allowed for a healthy crowd on this sunny afternoon, bolstered by early travellers from across the Irish Sea. If the Cheltenham roar was absent from the start of the first race of the season, it was yet more muted as Tommie O’Brien brought home Getaway Luv a 3 3/4l winner of the opening Novices Handicap Chase for owner/trainer Clive Boultbee-Brooks. This family operation in Herefordshire has just a handful of horses in training but a 60% strike rate testifies to some sound knowledge of where to place one’s horses.

The output from trainers named Williams in the UK is due to reduce this summer as the likeable Nick Williams ups sticks to expand his stable in France too. He has made a terrific contribution to the Jumps scene, not least with offspring named de Sivola, and produced another in the second, a Juvenile Hurdle, where Interne de Sivola outpaced Silver Shade, diverting from a Triumph Hurdle option to win by 2 1/4l.

There’s a keen rivalry between Nick and his former spouse Jane, who trains from the same premises. The glue that holds them together is the burgeoning career of their son Chester, who rode his step-father’s horse in the second, and made for a quickfire double for mother in the Bobby Brown Retiral Handicap Chase 30 minutes later on Esprit de Samoza. He had to pull out all the stops in a driving finish, in which runner-up Corran Cross lost nothing in defeat.

Esprit De Somoza [left] jumps the last to win at Stratford. 14/3/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Oakley showed a clean pair of heels to the opposition in the feature handicap hurdle, drawing clear two out and galloping to the line despite a renewed challenge from second-placed Osprey Call. The winner weas returning to winning ways for the first time since January 2019, and continued a good run of form for Hampshire-based Richard Bandey with this Philip Hobbs cast-off.

There was a close finish to the pointtopoint.co.uk Novices Hunter Chase where a decent field showed why Stratford continues to appeal to the grass roots of the sport. In recent months, hunter chase fields have rarely exceeded 6 runners, but 10 faced the starter, and there were two in it at the last. Drake’s Well, ridden by Alice Stephens, had been overtaken, but Jaunty’s Well pecked on landing, allowing Stephens to assert under a driving finish, to win by 1 1/4l.

Olly Murphy is still looking for a first Festival winner, but Ukantango flew the flag for the yard in the concluding bumper, winning on the fence as Aiden Coleman scraped the paint all the way round. He was well supported on this debut under Rules.

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.   

Exciting autumn brings additional momentum to the sport

As the flat season comes to an end after this weekend’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, attention has already started to switch over to the winter jumps season. And for all that we love staging fixtures in the bright sunshine and warmth of high summer, even at Stratford, we recognize that the core Jumps season begins at the start of October, with the season opener at Chepstow racecourse on Friday, October 8, just four days after our first of three fixtures that month.


Stratford’s campaign straddles three seasons, but a week after Chepstow, our own autumn effort will come on Saturday, October 16, hopefully attracting some big name trainers and jockeys to accelerate the autumn season in style. It’s a fixture where summer successes meet autumn debutantes to see whether racecourse experience can trump higher quality breeding.


When autumn gets underway, there will be a lot of action on for jump racing fans to keep up with, and seasoned veterans of the sport will know what they are looking out for. However, if you are new to jump racing, you may want to try and pick up as much horse racing knowledge as possible ahead of the new season. This could include combining some other gambling-oriented hobbies with horse racing. If you like to play casino games, then there are many horse racing themed casino games available. These include Scudamore’s Super Stakes, a game available on many sites and with £5 deposit casinos, you can deposit a small amount.


With the additional knowledge you gain, you should be able to really enjoy the upcoming season.



What are the big events this autumn and winter?

Away from Stratford racecourse, there are a number of big events that you cannot miss this season – the highlights of jump racing where the biggest names from the sport all come together. The biggest week of them all is without a doubt the Cheltenham Festival, which is set to run on March 15-18, 2022. These four days see a tussle between the best from Great Britain and the best from Ireland, with 28 races and many huge prizes to be won. And British trainers will be keen to exorcize the ghost of 2021, when they received a fearful drubbing.

Ahead of the festival, as is traditionally the case, Stratford will race on March 14, the ideal place to be if you want to get yourself ready for the Cheltenham Festival. As an appetizer to the main dish, it’s also a fixture where jockeys are trying to remain in one piece, whilst spectators chew over the prospects for the morrow’s Supreme Novices Hurdle.

A month later, if we are talking about individual races then there is no bigger than the Randox Grand National at Aintree, which next year will be run on Saturday, April 9. This is a race that is watched by millions, including many who don’t usually watch horse racing, or keep up with the sport in any way.

The National is one of the biggest sporting traditions that we have in the UK, and will no doubt once again attract plenty of attention. History was made in 2021, when Rachel Blackmore (pictured beneath) became the first female jockey to win the race and given her rise to stardom in the sport, you would be foolish to write her off winning another. It’s great news to see her back after her recent injury. We’re unlikely to see her here in the UK until March though.

These are the two biggest events to look out for, but there are many more as the season progresses. Look out for the November meeting at Cheltenham, the biggest early-season meeting of the autumn. Christmas is another busy time, with the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, followed by the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow a day later. In reality, every weekend brings another great race to savour up and down the land.

Don’t ignore the grass roots of the sport

The counties of Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and up and down the Severn Valley are a heartland for the sport, housing horses galore for every level of racing.

And whilst the recent National Racehorse Week has focused on the professional ranks of the sport at the country’s 60 racecourses, the strength of that support is fed by a hugely enthusiastic and practised amateur division at Point-to-Point level. Adapting to current trends, the Pointing season, which concludes at Stratford each May with the country’s most valuable set of hunter chases, this season will begin in late October. Venues like Chaddesley Corbett, Mollington and Barbury Castle allow budding horsemen and trainers to learn the craft or race -riding and training without the bright lights of television coverage. Any newcomer should experience this branch of the sport to see the champions of tomorrow. For local fixtures, follow Pointing West Mercian.


With all of this to look forward to, the new autumn jumps season looks set to be another exciting one. But don’t overlook us just yet… We’ve meetings of our own on October 4th, 16th as previously mentioned and 28th for our autumn swansong.

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.

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