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.

Stratford specialists the Skeltons to lead the fightback against Irish dominance at racing’s top table

According to the extensive database collected by Timeform, no duo in horse racing is quite as effective at Stratford as Dan and Harry Skelton.

Dan, the elder of the brothers, has trained 35 winners from his 167 runners at the course according to the stats – nearly double that of his nearest rival. Incredibly, more than one in three Skelton entries either wins or is placed at Stratford. We should mention his younger sibling Harry too. He has ridden 31 winners in the same timeframe – a success rate of 25%, with 38% of his rides at the track ending in victory or at least a place.

He claimed the Champion Jockey crown in 2021, landing 152 winners in a prolific campaign, and the hope for British racing fans is that the Skeltons can spearhead a return to the glory days for domestic runners at the Cheltenham Festival.

At the most recent edition of the flagship meeting, just four of the 28 races were won by a British horse. The Irish, on the other hand, claimed 23 victories.

There are plenty of different explanations as to why that might be, with the Irish bred and trained purposefully for the big meetings at Cheltenham, Punchestown, and the like. Meanwhile, some British trainers and owners prefer to focus on the nitty-gritty of the National Hunt campaign.

Either way, take Nicky Henderson’s haul out of the roll call of winners and it really does make for dismal reading for the domestic entries.

Getting Closer

The Skeltons have some excellent horses at their disposal, and a couple got close at the 2021 Festival.

Roksana was third in the Close Brothers’ Mares Hurdle, and ran superbly at Aintree a few weeks later to finish second in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree. Available at 10/1 in the Cheltenham Stayers’ Hurdle odds for 2022 here at Space Casino, she could bring the Skeltons a rare success at the Festival.

But for a stumble late on, they could have been celebrating a win in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Their Spanish horse, Nube Negra, ran superbly well in the two-mile outing, and stayed on despite a fumble to finish just half a length behind the winner, Put the Kettle On.

The seven-year-old still has room for development, and victory in the Desert Orchid Chase – defeating Altior by three lengths in the process – was an outstanding effort.

Elle Est Belle secured another place for the Skeltons in the Champion Bumper back in March. The five-year-old is already a course winner, and produced an excellent effort to finish behind the more experienced Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit at the Festival. With another year of action under her saddle, Elle Est Belle could be another profitable campaigner at Cheltenham for the duo.

Other contenders will emerge as well, you suspect, with the likes of Langer Dan also promising a bright future. For the prosperity of British racing, the hope is that the Skeltons will lead a Warwickshire fightback against Irish racing dominance – starting with the Cheltenham Festival in 2022.

First time visitor to Stratford? Here’s your startpoint

Otherwise known as the Stratford-on-Avon Racecourse, Stratford is one of the most well-known racecourses in the UK. Located in the county of Warwickshire, its specialty is thoroughbred Jump racing and it holds around 19 meetings throughout the year from March to November. More casual than Ascot or Epsom, it is popular with serious racing fans, and those just looking for a nice day trip. The course is also a bit smaller than some of the others but it has a total of three enclosures including the Centre course, Tattersalls Enclosure, and the Club enclosure. Guests can also camp on site as it hosts the Stratford Touring Park which is great for caravans, mobile motorhomes, and up to 192 tents.

In addition to horseracing, the venue is also used for events like product launches and parties, and several set-piece public events like the Adventure Overland Show. But what else do you need to know about visiting Stratford Racecourse and Stratford-upon-Avon at large?

Going racing

The first thing to note about going racing in the post-pandemic scene is that you must book in advance. Click here to purchase. It may not always be this way, but for the time being, we’re all keeping safe, and usually there are cost savings to buying early.

Parking in the public car park is free. You can also take a taxi to the racecourse and there are regular pick-ups afterwards. The station is a good 25mn walk.

The paddock is a central focus around which to study the horses and espy your fancy. Like a lot of courses appealing to a local audience, it’s always a good idea to follow local stables. Dan Skelton, Olly Murphy and Richard Newland are always to be respected, whilst Fergal O’Brien, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Jonjo O’Neill often send well-fancied runners here.

One of our younger racegoers made this You Tube clip in 2019

One of the more obvious things to do at Stratford Racecourse is to bet on the races that are taking place! There are two ways to go about this; online betting, or betting with a bookie. As it’s 2021, the most popular form of betting these days takes place online. From the convenience of a smartphone or tablet, punters prefer to bet on the races and benefit from a range of different bonuses, odds, and incentives. These bonuses can include additional prizes, bet matching, or even additional spins on games that aren’t racing-related. For those who are new to horse race betting and online gambling, it’s possible to follow a step-by-step article to help you compare the bonuses on offer as well as additional features.

Once you’ve figured out how you will bet, all that remains is getting your race day outfit sorted, finding someone to go with, and enjoying yourself with all the excitement that comes with this kind of events! Ladies Day each

Racing is great for people watching though. Sometimes, you can have as much entertainment watching others as the horses! Of course there’s time enough for both in an afternoon’s racing.

We always recommend you watch at least one steeplechase from the rail by an obstacle. The thunder of hooves, the breathing of horses at full gallop, shouting from the riders and the crash of birch collide to make a thrilling experience close up.

About Stratford-on-Avon

The town of Stratford d is famous throughout the UK and world as the home of William Shakespeare. The renowned poet, playwright, and author was born here and as a result, almost 3 million people a year visit to pay homage. It’s also home to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and plenty of other sites in line with the Shakespeare theme, like Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. There are other theatres in the town as well as plenty of museums, an orchestral hall, and a number of stately homes nearby, like Charlecote, or Warwick Castle, where Richard Neville, the Kingmaker, manipulated politics in medieval England. The classic lines of palladian Ragley Hall are about 15mns drive away.

Shakespeare’s statue, surrounded by characters from his plays, adorns the gardens in front of the RSC

The town has a vibrant literature festival this year in July. But for most visitors, the river is an equally exciting attraction. Hire a rowing boat to amble up or down river and before you know it, you’re tempted to jump in!

Other fun things to do include visiting a medieval pub called The Garrick Inn, and going to the Campaign for Real Ale beer and cider festival which takes place in Stratford every year.

Where to stay

Of course, the smart money says you should stay at the Racecourse in either a tent, a mobile home, or caravan. If you don’t fancy that kind of adventure, there are plenty of other options. The Cotswolds, of which Stratford is a part, is home to a great number of stunning cottages, houses, and larger places that have been converted into accommodation. You can go full-out luxury in a spa hotel such as the Burnside Hotel, Broadway’s Lygon Arms, or try a quaint bed and breakfast such as the Quilt and Croissants. Stratford is chock-a-bloc with B & Bs.

Stratford is less than 20 miles from the centre of England, and its motorway links through the M40, M5 and M6 make it easily reachable from virtually anywhere. As a base for exploring the Cotswolds or central England, and taking in a day’s racing en route, it takes a lot of beating.

Gold lays down the law in the Foxhunter

Stratford’s largest crowd since March 2020, capped at 2,000, enjoyed an incident-packed evening of top flight hunter chases last night in which it felt at times as if the stewards had been tasked with ongoing training. Whereas on most days’ racing, their task is one of monitoring, there was much to keep them busy.

The highlight of the evening however, was the continued ascent toward the top rank by Law of Gold, trained by Norfolk farmer David Kemp, and ridden by Dale Peters in the evening’s feature event, the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter Chase. This 2019 winner of the point-to-point.co.uk Champion Novice Hunters Chase took the scalp of Bob and Co and Monbeg Chit Chat when taking up the running at the last in the back straight, and always had the race in hand from then on. The winner clearly appreciates Stratford and was able to dominate in a way that he could not in the bigger field and higher class opposition in the Cheltenham Foxhunter.

Law Of Gold jumps the last to win at Stratford. 28/5/2021 Pic Steve Davies

However, a new challenger could well appear in the form of Ulster-trained Vaucelet, who put the sword to Britain’s two top novices in Premier Magic and Fumet d’Oudairies in the point-to-point.co.uk Champion Novice Chase, also known as the John Corbett Cup. The Tom Ellis – trained Fumet d’Oudairies was sent off a warm favourite at 6/4, but Vaucelet took the lead going into the final turn. Jack Andrews on Fumet d’Oudairies got a better jump from his mount at the last allowing him to join level again, but the winner stayed on well to win by 2 3/4l.

Winning trainer David Christie, based in Fermanagh, wasn’t hanging about to celebrate. With runners at Pointing fixtures in Ireland today, he set off briskly to catch the night boat from Stranraer before the evening was finished. Tell that to anyone who thinks training racehorses is a feather-bedded profession! A mere 6 hour drive lay ahead.

Vaucelet and Mr B Harvey lead over the last to win at Stratford. 28/5/2021 Pic Steve Davies

There will be other days for the two English challengers however. The three leaders were a distance ahead of Captain McGinley in fourth, himself no slouch, having won an Intermediate Hunters chase at Cheltenham last month.

The opening event of the evening gave the stewards their first homework on a busy night in the Stewards’ Room. In the shortest race of the evening over the minimum trip, a tight finish was fought out by Sam Waley-Cohen on long time leader Capitaine and Chloe Emsley on Creative Inertia. Under forceful pressure from the experienced Waley-Cohen, Capitaine pulled out enough in the final 100 yards to win by a length. However, the rider weighed in 1 1/2lb light and after an objection by the Clerk of Scales, was disqualified.

Skinners Pet Foods have supported the Ladies Open Series for five years, and there’s a clear correlation between their audience and the Pointing set. It was a disappointment therefore to see just four declared to run in this £10,000 race, but a lack of opposition won’t trouble Tom Ellis, enjoying his 151st winner under Rules and between the flags with Deans Road, who landed this with ease, under Gina Andrews.

The West Country was in good voice after Keltus prevailed in the White Swan Hotel Handicap. Spectators could have been forgiven for thinking Little Mix were playing after racing for all the shrieking that met the return of the successful Jeremy Scott- trained winner. Just a neck separated the winner from second placed Zamparelli in the most exciting finish of the night. Any one of five horses could have won at the last, where Clondau Westie skewed and lost his rider, allowing Lucy Turner to gain an advantage. Charlie O’Shea gave Keltus some forceful driving to get back up close to the line, to allow Devon blood pressure to subside.

Leading owner Tim Underwood took all his horses out of training this year, citing that running with all the Covid protocols was simply no fun. So it was sporting of him to underwrite the Print Concern Restricted Series, whose final made up the penultimate race of this magical evening for the Point-to-Point community. Have no doubt of his appetite to be back at the head of affairs though when matters return to normal.

Meantime, the race itself produced another scintillating finish, in which Bradley Gibbs, who’d come to Stratford with a set of plum rides, might reasonably have thought his moment had finally come as he led into the last on David Brace’s Gats And Co. Rivals Tekap and The Bonny Boy though took him on on either side, and ran on the stronger in the final 150 yards. In their last meeting at Kingston Blount 3 weeks ago, The Bonny Boy went down by a neck to Tekap. This time the situation was reversed, again a neck separating the two.

Some bumping near the line in a hard-fought finish brought the bing-bong into play to allow the stewards to examine the race for interference, but they judged any scrimmaging not to have affected the result. One-all between these two game rivals. Anyone following this game would certainly want to see Round Three.

The evening was concluded by the third of the season’s Point-to-Point bumpers, following similar events at Aintree and Exeter. Punters used to backing the favourites in bumpers duly followed Tom Ellis’ Latenightfumble, but anyone who’d been at Chaddesley for the Worcestershire in mid-April will have recognized the steady development of winner Fountains Chief, for Theresa Clark and this 6 1/2l win wouldn’t have been a great surprise to her or rider Darren Andrews.

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.

Atlantic Storm a precursor to public attendance on May 22

All the talk at Stratford yesterday was of the return of racegoers the following day. Since July last year, whilst the professionals of the sport have been thankful to be able to carry on their business on the track, the process has been largely functional without the ability to celebrate winners with owners, recruit new ones, or merely accept congratulations from the public. With last week’s announcement, all that is set to change for the better; one more step on the road to normality.

Some courses lend themselves better to course specialists, and in the case of Atlantic Storm, trained by Rob Summers at Tanworth-in-Arden, that’s certainly the case. A winner of seven of his 43 starts, he’s now won 3 of these around Stratford’s tight bends, since being bought out of a selling hurdle here in October 2018. It’s standard-bearers like these that keep small trainers in the sport, when faced with the large battalions.

Stratford remains one of the few courses still running selling races. Generally considered low grade contests, they do occasionally throw up some great theatre in the ring afterwards. Sadly, there were no surprises when the Sam England-trained Pepper Street justified 11/10 favouritism to win yesterday’s seller, and the winner went home too after there were no bids.

French-bred Shaman du Berlais was the most impressive winner of the day, making a winning debut over fences in the 2m6f handicap chase for Kerry Lee. A graduate from UK Point-to-Points at Cocklebarrow and Didmarton, the eight year old had reasonable form for Tim Vaughan, but hadn’t been seen on the track since September 2019. A change of scene seems to have done the trick after a long layoff.

Shaman Du Berlais and Richard Patrick win at Stratford. 16/5/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Seamus Mullins has a good record around Stratford, although Plumpton would have to be his favourite course. However, he was off the mark for this new season at the fifth attempt around Stratford with 10/1 shot Barrowmount in the Maiden Hurdle, as was Neil Mulholland, sporting a 100% strike rate from his single runner and winner of the handicap hurdle with The Wicket Chicken.

The Wicket Chicken and Sam Twiston-Davies win at Stratford. 16/5/2021 Pic Steve Davies

Tickets are now selling for Stratford’s fixture on May 22, where public attendance will be permitted.

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