Norfolk's David Kemp is not to be underestimated in Hunter chasing's biggest prizes, and his Law of Gold returned to Stratford on Friday seeking back to back victories in the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter Chase, a race he so comprehensively won in 2021.
But the prize went west, not east, as David Christie captured two of the sport's most prestigious prizes for the Point-to-Point community on the country's most valuable night of hunter chases. The County Fermanagh trainer showed a clean pair of heels to his British counterparts in the last of the three British Foxhunter chases and the Novice Championship.
As if to re-inforce the fixture as the Go-To event for aspirant pointers, Vaucelet, winner of last year's Pointtopoint.co.uk Champion Novices' Chase John Corbett Cup, stepped up a grade into full open company to displace David Kemp's Law of Gold, the previous year's winner, in the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunters Chase.
A muddling pace early allowed Vaucelet to take a leading position with Le Breuil and Dandy Dan, winner of the Ineos Grenadier Intermediate Final at Cheltenham last month, Law of Gold taking the shortest route. In truth, the slow pace made for plenty of jumping errors, which diminished as the pace stepped up on their final circuit, when Law of Gold pushed Le Breuil for the lead.
Three out, Le Breuil had given way to Law of Gold, Vaucelet, Solomon Grey and Downtown Getaway, but the first two, with Stratford form already on their record, had drawn clear, and Vaucelet asserted at the last to run out a 4l victor over the gallant Law of Gold.
Half an hour earlier, Christie's other runner, Ask D'Man, had looked an improbable winner in the Champion Novices Hunters Chase, hunting around the first circuit, and only showing his hand 4 out, when making some headway. Turning into the straight with one to jump, Ask D'Man still had 7l to make up on long time leader Go Go Geronimo, but despite a less than perfect jump at the last, showed some good speed to take the inner berth and get up by 3/4l. Kemp's Rebel Dawn Rising was prominent until 4 out and faded to a distant fourth.
Both winners were ridden by Barry O'Neill.
The double allows Christie the admirable position of three of the UK and Ireland's leading hunter chasers, given he also trained Winged Leader to be second behind Billaway in the Cheltenham Foxhunters.The three runner Nimrod Veterinary Products Ladies Championship Hunters' Chase produced another close finish despite the small field. The Waley-Cohen team, represented by father Robert and recently retired Sam, watched Igor just come off worse against dual hunter chase winner Fumet d'Oudairies, representing the Ellis-Andrews partnership that dominates the amateur division, and the drop in class from the heights of the Cheltenham Foxhunter allowed the Tom Ellis-trained gelding to regain a winning thread over regulation fences.
The White Swan Hotel Handicap Hunters Chase is the only handicap in the hunters calendar, but Zamparelli, trained by Victoria Collins in Broadway and ridden by leading Novice rider Freddie Gordon, made the race into a procession, extending a 7l lead at the final bend to over twice that distance at the line.
The long trip from Devon proved well worthwhile for connections of Say About It, qualified with the Torrington Farmers, whose Point-to-Point fixture is the traditional closer to the season in a fortnight. Only 4 of the seven declared faced the starter, and that field was down to two by the closing stages, where Say About It was pressed by Spanish Jump, trained by former rider and At The Races presenter Luke Harvey. Three lengths separated the two at the line for a delighted winning rider Vincent Webster.
The opening PPSA Chase over the minimum distance had spectators with their hearts in their mouths as locally-trained Azzuri, trained by Nick Pearce, assistanct to Dan Skelton and Clerk of nearby Shelfield Park point-to-point course, teamed up with stable amateur Tristan Durrell, but just failed to hold on against Across The Line, trained by Syd Hosie in Dorset. Syd enjoyed success at Cheltenham's hunters' evening, but his current crop of Rules horses are back with Joe Tizzard after running his own training operation with Nick Mitchell, then Ralph Smith.
There's plenty of evidence that British Point-to-Point owners are buying in Ireland. Three of the five runners in the concluding Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Champion Point-to-Point Bumper are Irish-bred, and in keeping with the theme of the evening, it was the Irish-bred Patanita, confidently ridden by Peter Bryan, who took the honours for Georgina Nicholls and the splendidly-named G & T Partnership.
Last weekend heralded the final hurrah of the French Jumps season in a grand weekend that includes the French equivalents of the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup. For older readers, this latter race is the one in which Fred Winter steered Mandarin to victory without a bit.
Auteuil is a big galloping track to the south west of Paris, and stages some magnificent fixtures, even if very few seem to know about the venue. The French have never been avid racegoers, more's the pity; in fact, of the crowd that attends the annual Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October, at least a third are English. Frenchmen are envious of our crowds, if not our prize money, which is poor in comparison to the Paris-mutuel funded French model.
In recent years, globe-trotting Willie Mullins has sent runners successfully to Auteuil, and British trainers like Tom George have been afforded temporary licences to train to capitalize on the superb training facilities and excellent programme of racing.
And true to form, one W R Mullins sent a strong team over to Paris this last weekend for a tilt at the Grande Course de Haies, including Klassical Dream, Kemboy and King George winner Tornado Flyer. Klassical Dream ran on well in the soft ground to come second in the €350,000 hurdle over 5,000m, more an equivalent of our Stayers Hurdle.
Earning more publicity was Mullins' attempt on the Grand Steeplechase de Paris, in which Franco de Port, Burrows Saint and Al Boum Photo were joined by RIchard Hobson's Lord du Mesnil. Al Boum photo disappointed but Franco de Port will be aimed at the same race in 2023 after finishing a 25l third behind Sel Jem, a seventh victory in this race for Guillaume Macaire.
Mullins and Hobson were not the only trainers from the British Isles to tilt at Auteuil riches however. One Nick Littmoden, formerly of the Hamilton Road in Newmarket, now training at Moulins near Vichy, landed a valuable listed handicap on Saturday with Captain Speaking. Always handy, he took closer order turning into the final bend, and picked off long time leader Starko at the final fence.
This was Littmoden's biggest success since his move, the ninth of 2022 from just 47 runners. To paraphrase an old BA advert, he's one of ours, doing rather well over there.
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