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.