There can be little doubt that the suspension of the Point-to-Point season has rejuvenated the Hunter Chase calendar. Every Hunter Chase since the calendar began in January has been well populated, better indeed than one would have a right to expect from the Open races they are replacing.
So much so that today's Leicester card in heavy ground saw two divisions of the Dick Saunders Memorial Hunters Chase for Novices. The ground didn't prevent Bradley Gibbs from clocking his second success of the week with Premier Magic, ridden out to a 3/4l victory over No Limitations. Connor Brace once again picked up the ride, maintaining the Welsh connection.
Premier Magic is already a winner this term at Chaddesley Corbett in early December's Wheatland meeting behind closed doors. On that occasion he saw off some big names like Wishing and Hoping, and he reinforced his reputation today against a sustained challenge from No Limitations.
It begs the question of whether he merits an entry in the Foxhunter. Whilst this was a Novices race, there were Open winners among the field he beat.
Hats off to Leicester for the division, which produced their two biggest fields of the day by some distance.
There are three more Hunters chases later this week, plus an additional one to the planned schedule at Musselburgh on Monday, making a maximum 6 remaining opportunities to qualify for the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase at the Festival.
Hertfordshire is not a county where National Hunt racing is in the forefront of sporting prowess, but that may be about to change for the better. Bradley Gibbs is a Welshman now converted to a Home Counties lifestyle, and living in Lemsford. But that lifestyle has him set upon becoming a professional National Hunt trainer, which won't come as any surprise to followers of Point-to-Point racing in the UK, as Bradley already has an impressive record since he first burst on the scene in 2011.
Just 26, he is sitting in third place in both the Gentleman's Championship, with 4 winners, (Alex Edwards leads on 7), and the Trainers' Championship on 3 (Mel Rowley leads with 9). But in what would have been a definitive season for the new set up, Bradley would have every right to feel aggrieved at the way the season has been sabotaged by Covid once again. After all, this is a man who's already ridden 169 winners between the flags.
Bradley hails from Pontypridd, part of that rich seam of racing success that runs along South Wales, fostering trainers of the calibre of Rebecca Curtis, Evan Williams, Tim Vaughan, Peter Bowen and a thriving if homely Point-to-Point scene around venues like Howick, Llanfrynach and Dunraven Stud, home to the king of Welsh Pointing, David Brace.
In fact, Bradley is a graduate of pony racing in Wales, and enjoyed his first ride between the flags whilst the ink was still wet on his 16th birthday cards. It took a year to achieve a first winner, but then, like London buses, three came at once the same weekend. "After my first, on Cinaman at Ystradowen, I picked up a spare in a Maiden that same afternoon which won. Then I won at Cothelstone the day after, so went from none to three in 24 hours," he explained to Jake Exelby earlier this year.
So what's the Hertfordshire connection then?
Bradley's partner is Claire Sherriff, whose father Julian farms in the county. He grew up attending the Enfield Chace meeting when it was held at Friars Wash, and needed little encouragement when Claire and Bradley were looking for new and larger premises. He owns 4 of the 12 horses at the yard on his farm, but they have plans afoot to extend this to 24 - a first step in pursuit of a professional licence. They made the move to Lemsford this last summer.
And that ambition came a little closer this afternoon when able Intermediate horse Rio Bravo rewarded Bradley's long drive to Catterick with a 2 1/2l victory in the Hunters Chase there under fellow Pointing graduate Connor Brace, now a Conditional rider with Fergal O'Brien in Gloucestershire.
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