Stratford's seven race programme of hunter chases is eagerly awaited by the sport, not least for the last of the three marquee Foxhunter chases and the most valuable programme of hunter chases in the UK calendar. And Friday evening's fixture didn't disappoint for East Anglian handlers, of which two took home a trophy.
Norfolk farmer David Kemp is not one to ignore when he runs a horse in a high quality contest and Law of Gold proved that point, returning to the course where two years ago, he secured the John Corbett Cup to prove himself among the top novice horses of his generation. This time around, he looked assured in beating Bob And Co and Moonbeg Chitchat in the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter by 5 1/2l.
Sudbury based Ruth Pennock won her first race under Rules at the fifth attempt when The Bonny Boy reversed last month's neck second with Tekap in the Print Concern Restricted Series Final. This was simply the race of the evening - two evenly matched horses and riders racing neck and neck to the line in a scintillating finish to warm the heart. The cheers and shrieks that greeted Alice Stephens afterwards might have been for a movie or rock star, echoing around a Stratford enjoying a decent crowd for the first time in nearly 2 years. The Bonny Boy had to survive an enquiry before collecting the silverware, when the two combatants got very close in the final 150 yards.
Of the other two major prizes on this terrific night's racing, one headed to Ulster, the other to the West Country. David Christie, who trains in Fermanagh, wasn't frightened off by the reputations of the two leading British novices in the point-to-point.co.uk Champion Novices Hunters Chase for the John Corbett Cup. Both Premier Magic, trained and ridden by Bradley Gibbs, and Fakir d'Oudairies, from the Tom Ellis stable, have earned themselves a strong following with hunter chase wins in the period when professional riders displaced amateurs before March 29th's restart.
Neither had the stamina to out jump and out run Vaucelet, brought over specially by David Christie from his stables at Derrylin in Fermanagh. The 10 hour journey via Stranraer was worthwhile however, as Vaucelet ran out a 2 3/4l winner. Christie is the trainer of over 300 Pointing winners in Ireland, and set off the same evening to be back to saddle Saturday's runners himself. Oh, the joys of training!
In the other feature, the fifth running of the Skinner's Ladies Open Final, the leading Point-to-Point yard of Tom Ellis secured a scalp with the progressive Deans Road, under Gina Andrews.
In these pages, we try to bring you a flavour of the Jump racing scene across the UK, and occasionally with races of merit further afield. Despite remonstrations that British racing is the best in the world, there are plenty of racing territories who also know how to stage a show.
Belmont Park in the USA piggy-backed the creation of the Breeders' Cup 30 years ago to add a Breeders Cup Chase, of which the most famous winner was none other than the Toby Balding - trained Morley Street, Champion Hurdle victor of 1991 and winner of 3 Aintree Anniversary Hurdles on the trot. Morley Street's venture across the Atlantic in October 1990 has set a trend for an increasing number of high value raids stateside and a steady stream of sales to the growing North American jumps market.
However, Belmont is much better known as the venue for the Belmont Stakes, the third and final leg of the US Triple Crown that includes the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, the Preakness at Pimlico and the eponymous race at Belmont. It's a notoriously difficult treble to win. Although Justify and American Pharoah have both succeeded in the past 6 years, there was a 37 year wait until American Pharoah broke the hoodoo in 2015.
This year's Triple Crown is rather different after the travails of Covid, meaning the Kentucky Derby on May 1 started the ball rolling. This year's final leg at Belmont is on Saturday June 5.
Preakness winner Rombauer looks set to renew rivalry with only one other Preakness runner, the seventh placed Japanese runner Go Da Ina, but there are at least six Kentucky Derby also-rans lining up for the Belmont. Rombauer is not a guaranteed runner; he may yet swerve the Belmont for an alternative engagement.
Essential Quality is one of the favourites after his fourth at Churchill Downs. His racing record to date includes the Bluegrass Stakes, Southwest Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
The GB home team has hitherto rarely been represented on the dirt surfaces of the USA. However, Newmarket-based Charlie Appleby, representing the global Godolphin bloodstock operation, has lined up Rebel's Romance, winner of the Group II UAE Derby at Meydan. No European runner has won the Belmont since Go And Go won by 8l for Dermot Weld in 1990.
Given the globalisation of racing, even over Jumps nowadays, the big events of the Flat season have ceased to become quite so far away. There's a delicious uncertainty about horseracing that transcends time zones and geographical boundaries, and God loves a trier! To increase your chances of winning your horse racing bet it's always as well to read up and understand the US betting market. Failing that, being partisan and following the home team will always allow for some interest!
One time Welshman Bradley Gibbs, now based in Hertfordshire, warmed up for what might be a memorable Friday evening at Stratford with a win in the less salubrious surroundings of Southwell this afternoon.
Tanit River, trained by Robbie Llewellyn in the Vale of Glamorgan, prevailed by 1 1/4l over the much vaunted Cat Tiger in the Join Southwell Golf Club Hunters Chase to give Gibbs his third winner of this fresh season, but 18th past the post under Rules or between the flags since October.
Gibbs has Premier Magic to look forward to in Friday's Hunters evening at Stratford, the most valuable collection of hunter chases anywhere in the UK calendar.
Gibbs is jocked up against Captain McGinley and Premier Magic in the pointtopoint.co.uk Champion Hunters Chase, aka the John Corbet Cup, whilst Premier Magic is also entered in the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter Chase too.
It has to be said that if Premier Magic is to be considered a candidate for next year's Cheltenham Foxhunter, then winning either race is a must. The John Corbet Cup has spawned some excellent hunter chasers, including Harbour Court, winner of the United Hunts Challenge Cup, Garde Ville, winner of four hunter chases this term for Patricia Rigby and Now Ben, winner of 15 of his 24 Point-to-Points. Premier Magic's reputation is very strong, and going into the summer with one of these races under his belt would give spice to the countdown to next year's Festival.
The East Anglian season has taken such a hammering this past few months that to spawn a champion in our midst would be a great fillip.
There hasn't been much to celebrate at the elite end of the sport when Ireland and Britain have clashed recently, but we can take some pride that our Hunter chasers and Point-to-Pointers are ruling the roost.
The number of trainers sending horses to Punchestown this year in particular has been very limited. In fact, in recent years, most of our top horses have aimed for Sandown's Celebration meeting, which set out some time ago to ensure the home team stayed home. In that respect, it's been Mission Accomplished. However, Punchestown is a lesser event without the spice of international competition, so I hope our leading lights will be back next year.
Not so, one Paul Nicholls, whose successful sally across the water brought success in the Punchestown Gold Cup, where Clan des Obeaux overcame Al Boum Photo and other top flight stayers, and Bob And Co, who nicked the Champion Hunters Chase from under Willie Mullins' nose yesterday evening.
David Maxwell, owner-rider of Bob And Co, is a rarity by today's standards, in not working for a licensed trainer or running a livery yard,as is the case with so many of our young riders. And he's not so young either! Although more than capable I should add.
Not foot-perfect, it didn't stop him joining issue with long-time leader Billaway, a Cheltenham Foxhunter runner-up on two separate occasions, at the second last, challenging all the way to the line to win a nose. Maybe we're not so bad after all.
Bradley Gibbs meantime enjoyed a memorable evening at Cheltenham, when the season was sung out with the annual Hunters' evening. The East Anglian challenge was muted, but Welshman Gibbs, now based in Hertfordshire, flew the flag with a double on Captain McGinley in the Intermediate that used to be the Connolly's Red Mills Final, and Highway Jewel in the Mares race.
Captain McGinley wasn't overly troubled in the Intermediate, and we can hope to see him step up to Open class next season.
Highway Jewel, on the other hand, had her backers sweating somewhat after a dreadful mistake at the 16th, landing on the fence. Momentum and a good seat carried Gibbs through, and whilst headed, she rallied to put in a good leap at the last and win going away. The trainer-rider was having his first two runners at Cheltenham, and maintains a 100% record. That'll do!
Highway Jewel looks a nice sort, and improving. This was her third run of the season, and second win. Her second run was a 3/4l second to the Tom Ellis-trained Late Night Pass at Warwick in February, then rated 8lbs higher.
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