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.
Kimble winner Another Mystery (Lot 28) was sold to Newmarket trainer Lucy Wadham for £55,000 at last Friday's Tattersalls April Sale at Cheltenham where several successful Pointers were traded up to Rules racing.
Wadham was in the market again later in the day when Chris Barber-trained Kimble runner-up Dash For Cash was also knocked down to her for £45,000.
The day's trading was marked by several Pointers appreciating significantly in value from the step up to the professional game.
A four-year-old son of Fame And Glory out of a mare who was a half-sister to the highly-talnted Treacle, Scotch On Da Rocks was sold to Tessa Greatrex of Highflyer Bloodstock for 80,000gns. He was offered for sale by Warwickshire’s Tom and Gina Ellis, who trade as G & T Racing. Tom trained the horse to win at Mollington, and is headed for another Point-to-Point Trainers' title this season. The horse will be trained in Gloucestershire by Ben Pauling.
Fellow Cotswold trainer Charlie Longsdon will train Dingley winner Lyrical Genius (Lot 15) sold from Chris Barber's to Charlie for £32,000, whilst Yorkshire - trained Marton Abbey, left Cherry Coward's for Kim Bailey to a bid of £24,000.
Last Saturday’s Chaddesley Corbett winner Dondiam (Lot 35) made £50,000. Trained by Fran Nimmo, he was sold to Dan Astbury and Tim Talbot, while Nimmo’s Adjournment (Lot 12) made £45,000 to a bid from Oliver Greenall and Astbury.
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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