Double up George ranks Ludlow a favourite
It’s clear that Tom George is a keen fan of racing at Ludlow; he has sent more runners there than any other course in Britain, and continues to enjoy an outstanding record there. It says something about his affinity for the track that his horses have won more there than at any other British course bar Cheltenham and Aintree, which is also testament to Ludlow’s commitment to staging well endowed races which are best of class.
Today was another of those vintage days for the Slad – based trainer, when his none of his three runners at Ludlow returned home empty-handed two of them finishing in the winner’s berth.
The soft ground had whittled down the field for the Forbra Gold Cup to just five, among them previous winners like Canelo and course winner Head To The Stars, successful here back in December, bidding to win the race for a third time. It wasn’t a race for speed; the four finishers looked flat-footed in the conditions, whilst the other runner downed tools two out and refused. Nevertheless, it was Java Point who prevailed under Jonathan Burke to bring up the trainer’s 28th winner of the season.
Half an hour later, it was the turn of six year old Come On Gruff to notch a second winner of the season in the Wye Valley Novices Handicap Hurdle for the same partnership, beating Richard Phillips’ Picanha 2 1/2l.
The George stable doesn’t appear to have a strong hand for Cheltenham, a meeting at which British hopes have been squeezed into fewer and fewer hands in recent years.
Two others who will also be choosing selective fields for Cheltenham are Fergal O’Brien and Charlie Longsdon, both successful here too today. Karl Philippe gave his jockey and connections some heart-in-mouth moments with a less than faultless round of jumping, which included hanging into the second horse between the last two fences as rider Paddy Brennan lost an iron. You don’t get to be one of the most wanted riders in the Weighing Room by not overcoming obstacles like this however, and Brenan’s forceful riding in the murky conditions prevailed in the end over Quoi de Neuf from Evan Williams. It was certainly a ride worthy of any Man of the Match award.
Glimpse of Gala clearly relished the conditions in the feature George Rickards 30th Birthday Handicap Hurdle to give rider Bradley Roberts a first jumps winner. In contrast to many of the other finishes, the mare fairly scooted down the home straight for a third win this season. Her splendidly named owners, the Tweed Clad Fossils have clearly had terrific value from their mare, yet to finsh out of the frame in five runs so far this winter.
Poker Master’s rider Tom Buckley showed some intelligence in seeking out unraced ground hard under the stands rail in the opening Conditional Riders Handicap Hurdle. Given the miserable conditions, it was a strategy that worked well, more than justifying the 330 mile round trip from Philip McBride’s stable at HQ in Newmarket. He may yet defy the handicapper by scoring a hattrick with this sort of form and at this level.
Meantime, Dan Skelton’s Knickerbocker Glory ran out an unchallenged victor in another birthday event, a Novices Hurdle, in which he made all and never saw another horses from the third.
The final race of the day saw another small field face the starter in the Butty Bach Hunters Chase. Three runners were withdrawn on account of the ground, and whilst half a length separated Oliver Greenall – trained winner Gesskille, and second Give Me A Copper, it was pretty much a match given the only other runner pulled up when completely outpaced two out. Hunter chases have generally not been filling well, and it looks as if some consolidation of the programme would make the racing more competitive for next year, or earlier.