Eastnor trainer Matt Sheppard opened his stable to the public today as part of National Racehorse Week, the seven day campaign to share with the public the behind the scenes elements of racing yards up and down the country.
Several hundred folk had registered to see the picturesque yard just off the village green in Eastnor, adjacent to the estate office for Eastnor Castle. On such a day, one might reasonably have expected stable jockey Stan Sheppard to support his parents’ enterprise, but a jockey goes where he is booked, and the long journey to Plumpton’s opening fixture proved well worthwhile, when Glory And Fortune ran out a comfortable winner of the 2m Family & Friends Remembering Norman Sharpe Handicap Hurdle for near neighbour Tom Lacey.
Fellow Worcestershire handler Sam Drinkwater was also successful when Strensham Court followed up his impressive Stratford Bumper win of early September with another accomplished performance. He looks an exciting horse to go hurdling with over the coming months.
Two other trainers from within the West Mercian area also notched a winner at Plumpton. David Bridgwater isn’t best known as an advocate of summer jumping, but Pirate Sam, under contrasting racing tactics, showed notable improvement in form to win the novices handicap chase, breaking his chase duck in the process.
The bellwether of summer jumping, Richard Newland, also took his season earnings a step nearer £200,000 when Galata Bridge followed up early promise from a Worcester run on the first of the month to win his maiden hurdle at the prohibitive odds of 2/7. No-one got rich there.
This week is the first since May that Jumps racing will be staged every day, a sure sign that the winter code is gathering momentum. Open days here, there and everywhere bear testament to a fresh season, hopefully unencumbered by lockdowns and restrictions on attendance. The Point-to-Point season launches in Devon on October 30.
Sam Drinkwater is not a man known to embrace summer runners, but he introduced a youngster at Stratford on Saturday to open his account for the season. Strensham Court looked all over the winner from half a mile out in the concluding bumper, winning his maiden National Hunt contest by a solid 4 1/4l under Danny Burton.
If the increase in bumpers has led to smaller fields, it has also allowed a more fruitful education for young horses, allowing them to understand the rhythm and bustle of a race more gradually than in a field of 20.
Strensham Court, covered up throughout the first mile and a half, eased between horses to pick up the lead turning into the home bend. Thereafter, there was really only one winner.
September is a formative time for Jumps yards, as horses brought back in become ready to run. There has been a noticeable shift in gear from the leading yards of the sport, as the quality of horses running begins to rise, fuelled by open mornings each weekend.
This next week marks National Racehorse Week, from September 12-19th when numerous trainers open their doors so visitors can see how the stars of our sport are looked after in luxury and with assiduous care. It’s the brainchild of Adlestrop trainer Richard Phillips, busy promoting syndicates at Moreton Show on Saturday last.
The West Midlands isn’t usually known for its flat racing pedigree. If you’re from this area, you’ll know that we hang our racing hats on the Skeltons, occasionally referred to as the English O’Briens. That’s some compliment, so it’s not hard to see why we follow the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals so closely.
However, another narrative is emerging for West Midlands residents, and it revolves around the 2021 Flat Jockeys’ Championship. With Tom Marquand and Hollie Doyle both in contention, it’s feasible that the couple could be fighting it out for the title come the autumn. For the West Midlands, that means looking out for the following nags.
Every winner counts when the scores are tallied at the end of the season. Still, it’s nice to dominate classic events and take the PR and exposure that comes with it. For Marquand, that means heading to the Coral-Eclipse in July with high hopes of taking on Mishriff and Love. While the horse racing betting ranks him as a 10/1 outsider, the horse racing predictions believe this runner has what it takes to upset the odds.
To begin with, Marquand and Addeybb were very impressive in 2020, taking the Queen Elizabeth Stakes in Australia and finishing a close second to Lord North Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot. Last April, the duo retained their QE Stakes down under, highlighting why the gelding was rated the third-best racehorse in the world at the end of 2020.
At 10/1, Marquand has his work cut out, particularly if he wants to beat his partner, yet the likes of Addeybb prove the Cheltenham-born jockey who grew up in the Cotswold Hunt is in with a shout.
Archie Watson’s Sherbet Lemon is 33/1 for the Epsom Oaks, which isn’t anything to write home about. However, Doyle, born and bred in Herefordshire, is riding a runner that is going under the radar after winning a Lingfield trail a couple of weeks ago.
Of course, it’s about more than a single race, something that Doyle understands after her stratospheric rise in recent years. In Sherbet Lemon, she has a horse that is almost guaranteed to slug it out in the big races and offer her the opportunity to add to the 78 winners she has already accumulated.
Archie Watson doesn’t have as many runners as he would like, but the fact Sherbet Lemon is rated at 7/1 for the championship is testament to her ability and the faith punters and the bookies have in Doyle’s jockeyship.
Doyle is riding high after her third place in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year of 2020. Wouldn’t a championship just top that?
Will It Happen?
If you go on odds alone, it appears as if Oisin Murphy (10/11) and William Buick (2/1) will bolt out of the gates and won’t be caught. After all, they are on retainer for some of the biggest yards and syndicates in the sport, such as Ballydoyle and Godolphin. Regardless, Marquand and Doyle have enough rides booked for the whole of the West Midlands to cheer them on to success.
If not, there’s always the National Hunt season and Cheltenham to look forward to with Dan and Harry Skelton!
Stratford’s largest crowd since March 2020, capped at 2,000, enjoyed an incident-packed evening of top flight hunter chases on Friday 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.
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!
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.
Repel all boarders was the message meted out in today’s West Midlands Open Hunters Chase this evening, as Wishing And Hoping prevailed by 3/4l to beat the Philip Hobbs-trained Jatiluwih for the £1,539 winner’s prize.
Given the scaled down calendar of fixtures in the West Midlands, the running of the race had been thrown into doubt, and a change in the conditions to make it an Open race was part of the effort to keep the race in Worcester’s calendar.
The five runner field, in which third placed Marcle Ridge also figured included a strong challenge from the West Country in Jatiluwih, and Master Dancer, trained in Devon. Drumhart, another Worcestershire candidate, made up the rest.
Wishing And Hoping is ths ort of horse any owner would love to run. Winner of four of his five Point-to-Point starts, and a further 5 races under Rules, he is a bell-weather of performance. This was a second victory of the season after the opening weekend at Maisemore back in October, and the welcome drop in class from the Cheltenham Foxhunter allowed him to assert his authority on home Worcestershire turf.
Given the rewarding numbers running in open races between the flags presently, the numbers pot-hunting in hunter chases should be viewed with disappointment. Riders like second-placed David Maxwell have been very supportive, but if we are to maintain a presence under Rules other than in the marquee events, then I fear we won’t do so unless races like this reach the magic threshold for each-way betting: namely, 8 runners.
With racecourses under financial pressure as never before after a year with income halved as a result of behind closed doors racing or no racing at all, some consolidation may well be necessary. But here’s an idea: if we were to absorb more of the current hunter chases back into the Pointing calendar, would there be a case for maintaining the prize funds – wherever possible – of the races transferred from the Rules programme? Many fixtures would welcome the chance to stage more valuable Open contests, currently capped at £1,000.
This is one of the many conundrums facing Rules and PPA administrators over the next few months.
Warwickshire based trainer Dan Skelton enjoyed a solid 2020/21 season with his growing yard and will be optimistic for the next National Hunt campaign, and especially for his fortunes at the Cheltenham Festival in 2022. There were a number of horses that performed to a high standard over the course of the term, and Skelton will be eager to get them back out on the track to fulfil their potential.
The British-bred is perhaps the best horse Skelton has at his disposal, and he performed to a high standard during the campaign with four victories from his six races. Allmankind did not have the best start to the season, placing in third at the Masterson Holdings Hurdle at Cheltenham when he was considered the favourite. However, he bounced back with assured outings at Warwick and Sandown to send him into the new year with momentum.
Skelton’s charge faced a talented field in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick, but delivered on expectations to win his third race on the bounce. Allmankind faced off against the outstanding Shishkin in the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham. The five-year-old failed to rise to the occasion against Nicky Henderson’s charge and finished fourth of five competitors. He ended the season on a high note with a dominant victory in the Future Champion Novices’ Chase at Ayr, but he needs to raise his standard against elite competitors to challenge for major honours.
The six-year-old will carry a run of four-straight wins into the next campaign. Skelton and his team should be very excited about his potential for the new season. My Drogo only made his debut in October and flashed his talent by finishing second in a flat race at Cheltenham. He claimed his first victory in his debut over hurdles at Newbury before winning the Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot as a 9/1 outsider. Skelton opted against placing his charge in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival, and instead sent him to run at Kelso.
My Drogo continued his winning run with a strong outing in the Premier Novices’ Hurdle, beating his nearest competitor by nine-and-a-half lengths. The British-bred ended the season with an excellent outing in the Grade I Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, overcoming a talented field to claim victory. He could be a good shout for the Arkle Chase in the horse racing betting odds at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, based on his form from last term.
Protektorat enjoyed an excellent season and will be one of the contenders for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham Festival in 2022, although honours could come sooner in the King George VI Chase in December. After an underwhelming performance in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham in 2020, Protektorat had a great start to the new term notching back-to-back victories at Carlisle then Cheltenham.
However, he suffered setbacks at Wincanton and Kelso at the start of the month before undergoing wind surgery, which ruled him out of the Cheltenham Festival. Protektorat returned to the track at Aintree and put in a sublime outing to win the Manifesto Novices’ Chase. Skelton faces a challenge to prepare his charge for the tough challenges ahead, but he certainly has a live contender on his hands.
Aren’t we lucky to have a trainer with this calibre of horses in our midst?
Fresh from retaining the Scottish National in its home country, owners and trainers converge on Perth this week for what is usually one of the most popular of the Spring Festival meetings.
The late lamented Sam Morshead re-energized Perth and made these three days a tick-box exercise for all the south’s top yards, where they could relax after the stresses of the higher profile events at Cheltenham and Aintree, and that work has been ably continued in the most demanding circumstances by current CEO Hazel Peplinski.
Firmly tongue in cheek, Sam referred to Ascot as the Perth of the South, but now that owners are permitted to attend once more, a little of the fizz that comes to west Berkshire can rub off on the beautiful surroundings of Perth, and for those of a betting disposition, bettingroyalascot.co.uk will like as not give you a best odds option on whatever you fancy.
Sadly, the rigours of compliance with Covid protocols have done for the northern Point-to-Point circuit this Spring, with not a fixture to be had since Alnwick. There’s no great evidence those horses are rushing into hunter chases, given the two runner field at Sedgefield yesterday, where Tom Ellis wasn’t troubled to add to his score for the season with 1/3 favourite Dundrum Wood.
Three Counties trainers dominated the first day of Perth today, when Olly Murphy enjoyed a double, Fergal O’Brien moved his seasonal tally to 101, and Henry Daly continued his good run of form. However, sadly the established hunter chase has been moved away from the festival.
Meanwhile, closer to home, Albi Tufnell couldn’t follow up on his Stratford success in Ludlow’s Hunter chase, which was won in the final half furlong by Immy Robinson on Garde Ville, for Wrexham trainer Patricia Rigby. This was Immy’s third victory of the season across Pointing and Rules racing and brings her total tally to one short of a half century.
Garde Ville’s previous run was a winning one at Sandon over Easter under the guidance of Lorna Brooke. And although the result was a winning one, it was also acutely poignant for trainer Trish Rigby. Lorna is the first fatality in the sport since James McNeile’s fatal fall at Larkhill in April 2017.
The relatively small number of Point-to-Point fixtures is resulting in good fields throughout, and it’s evident that the amateur followers of the sport are much happier in the more relaxed environment of the Point-to-Point field than in hunter chases, given the drop off in hunter chase runners since the restart.
It’s fair to say that Blaklion has been around the block. At eight-years-old and at the peak of his powers, there wasn’t much the Nigel Twiston-Davies mount seemingly couldn’t do. Now, the former Grand National entrant is four years older and in the capable hands of Warwickshire-based Dan Skelton.
Dan Skelton and his family-friendly yard are viewed as England’s answer to the plethora of Irish talent that comes over to the UK and dominates the Spring festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree. This year has been scintillating, with to date 116 winners enhancing his reputation. However, it’s fair to say Blaklion is a bit of a long shot. Will he even make it to Aintree in April?
A Race Against Time
Everything looked rosy back in early February. The entrants for the 2021 Grand National were announced and Blaklion was on the shortlist. In fact, he was the only Skelton mount in the race, adding extra pressure to his broad shoulders. Unfortunately, not a couple of days later, it emerged the horse tweaked a ligament and had a minor setback.
Although it wasn’t massive, it was enough for the bookmakers to react, ranking Blaklion as a 40-1 chance according to 2021 Grand National odds. Thankfully for Warwickshire’s racing enthusiasts, the former star hasn’t been pulled out, nor is he by any means at the bottom of the listings. Still, it wouldn’t be a shock if he didn’t make it when the starter’s flag drops in April.
An Impressive Former Record
Part of the reason Skelton took the horse on was because of his previous outings in the Grand National. So, 40-1 won’t phase him too much at all. Sure, just because Blaklion has performed admirably well in the past doesn’t mean he’ll be in fighting form in a month. However, if he does make it – something his trainer is aiming to do – it could be a fairy tale.
As favourite in 2017, Blaklion was yards clear of the rest, seemingly with the race at his mercy. Sadly, his stamina proved flawed and the main man ended up placing fourth. Twelve months later, he had no luck whatsoever, being brought down, rather than making a mess of a fence and being his own worst enemy.
There’s no doubt the gelding has potential for the big prize, even at an age with some of his best days behind him. Therefore, everyone in Warwickshire should hope Skelton and his team can get Blaklion to Merseyside as there might yet be fireworks.
A Promising Ascot Ride
Although Blaklion hasn’t run since tweaking a ligament last October, there was plenty of cause for excitement. He was rusty, but he was evidently a lot sharper for the race, impressing his trainer who thought it might take a bit longer for his charge to get to race fitness.
The ring rust will still be there in April because it’s unlikely the gelding will get many further pre-Aintree opportunities. He’s shown some of his racing zest in runs at Warwick and Newcastle, before dropping out when push comes to shove. However, the plan is to give him a further run before Aintree. If that happens, his current odds could be very different on race day, particularly if the handicapper is nice after he was allotted one of the top weights in February.
For the pride of Warwickshire, we hope the veteran gets there and does the county proud. Blaklion deserves one more crack at the big time.
Cork riders Aidan Coleman and Paul Townend are ready to fight it out for the leading rider award at Cheltenham this week. Both Jockeys will be looking ahead to the prestigious Cheltenham Festival with relish.
It is most likely that the winner of all four principal races, i.e: the Champion Chase, Stayers Hurdle, Gold Cup, and the Champion Hurdle will be ridden by either rider. Irish jockey Paul Townend who competes in Irish National Hunt racing has been brilliant ever since taking over as first jockey to trainer Willie Mullins from the peerless Ruby Walsh.
The native of Lisgoold, Midleton in County Cork, has a brilliant set of rides throughout the week including French-bred, Irish-trained racehorse Al Boum Photo who is aiming for a third consecutive Gold Cup as well as horse racing immortality. The last three time winner of the race was Best Mate in 2002-4 and before that Arkle 1964-66, making this potentially all the more remarkable.
Owned by a Cork man and Joe Donnelly, a former bookmaker who also owns Arkel contender Shiskin and Gaillard Du Mesnil, Al Boum Photo is a major contender this coming Friday.
Ex-bookmaker Joe Donnelly is exceedingly private but his late investment in National Hunt horses has earned him immense dividends. Townend will also ride the odds-on favourite, Mullins’ trained Chacun Pour Soi in the Champion Chase which is the feature race for Wednesday.
This fantastic chaser will be participating for the first time on the Cotswolds track after incurring an injury on the morning of the race last year. However, the horse has looked devastating this term with wins at Cork and Leopardstown on two occasions.
British-based Aidan Coleman will rely on the quality of Epatante with the hope of defending her Champion Hurdle title which is the feature race on day one of the Festival – a festival that has been covered with fair odds by BoyleSports ahead of time just so punters can have huge chances to win big.
Meanwhile, Horseracing appears very unlikely to feature in the government’s programme of up to 12 pilot events planned to inform the return of large-scale events across culture and sport.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has disclosed that the Emirates FA Cup Final billed to take place at Wembley stadium on May 15 and the World Snooker Championships at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre on 17 April, are both in line to be part of the four-step plan out of COVID-19 induced lockdown.
Racing is scheduled to return to limited spectators in step 3, which starts on 15th May, with officials presently consulting as to if the threshold for spectators will be 4,000 or 10,000 fans at that point.
While many racecourses, including Goodwood and Chester, had indicated a willingness to take part in any pilots run, there is already a good deal of experience across the racing market amassed from test events at Warwick and Doncaster last year, including from the period when limited spectators were permitted during the short-lived period of regional COVID-19 tiers last year December.
The Racecourse Association (RCA) has liaised with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport on the return of spectators since the government first revealed its plans to ease restrictions last month. Racing’s response to the Covid protocols is being upheld as a best practice which may lead to a swifter return to normality, and of course, Pointing’s spectator return will take a lead from the Rules example. We are dependant upon their successful implementation.
Including football and snooker, the scheduled program is set to have in it a number of events across the hospitality and arts sector, with Liverpool hosting a number of outdoor and indoor projects ranging from weddings and comedy clubs.
In recognition of the tricky environment facing amateur riders hoping to ride in the Aintree Foxhunter, this year named after former Aintree Chairman Rose Paterson, the racecourse has amended the qualification criteria to allow amateurs the maximum chance to get qualified.
This alteration will restrict eligibility to Category B Amateurs who have ridden in at least one steeple chase or hurdle race under the Rules of Racing and/or the Rules of Irish NH Committee between 1 November 2020 and 5 April 2021 inclusive. Of course, at present, amateur riders are not permitted to ride, and are having to sit out three of the most coveted races of the season at Cheltenham next week.
In addition to the scheduled hunter chases before closing on April 5, a further 5 amateur races will be scheduled from March 29 at Wincanton (Mar 29), Uttoxeter (Apr 1), Carlisle (Apr 3), Market Rasen (Apr 4) and Chepstow (Apr 5).
Meantime, fixture secretaries diligently planning for the return of Pointing on March 29 are discovering just how tortuous the process can be. Despite authorisation from BHA, fixtures remain at the whim of local authorities nervous to allow sport to start again. In the West Midlands, the Berkeley’s fixture at Woodford on Saturday April 25 has estimated the obstacles are too great to risk, and withdrawn, to be replaced by a fixture at Larkhill.
And there’s plenty of competition from professional trainers for the limited number of hunter chases scheduled even now. This week, the Maiden at Catterick was won by John O’Shea, but the open race at Leicester yesterday fell to Venetia Williams’ Tango de Juilley, owned by her stable staff. We can expect to see them mob-handed I suspect at Cheltenham’s Hunters’ Evening, when owners will be permitted once again for the two-miler. This was Venetia’s fifth consecutive winner from her last 5 runners. Next week’s Cheltenham Foxhunter is sadly dominated by horses trained by professionals.
Sheppards win new friends at home and at Plumpton
Eastnor trainer Matt Sheppard opened his stable to the public today as part of [..]