A day for novices to impress
Fergal O’Brien has pinned his colours to the mast in terms of ambitions for this season, aiming to beat last season’s total of 128 winners, and the momentum he built up over the early months of the season shows no sign of abating now the softer ground horses are reappearing. Today’s 7 runners split between Ludlow and Newbury brought the week’s tally to 3, and the seasonal total to 76.
Four year old Poetic Music made a winning debut in the opening Mares NH Novices Hurdle under a textbook ride from the senior man in the weighing room, Paddy Brennan, lying handy throughout, joining issue 3 out, and asserting between the last two hurdles to win with some authority in the end. She is just one of a remarkable 50 individual horses to have won so far this season from Ravenswell.
The feature race of the day was the ┬ú20,000 Plymouth Food Festival Introductory Hurdle, a conditions race to flush out smart novices over 2m5f. This time, it was another Gloucestershire raider who impressed in Itso Fury, a 5 year old gelding by Fame And Glory. To date a winner of both his starts over hurdles, this small runner field allowed the Jonjo O’Neill trained gelding to pick off his opposition in a straight stalking fight between the last two hurdles. If not quite as easy as his September win at Warwick, there was still plenty to like about the way he galloped to the line, and more match practice will iron out some novicey jumping. Jonjo junior was in the plate, asserting seniority over brother AJ, who enjoyed a win in an Amateurs race earlier in the week.
Just 11 runners went to post between the two programmed steeplechases – a symptom of the continuing good ground conditions, but the change of month has brought more rainfall, which is most welcome. The Twiston-Davies team is always a force to be reckoned with early in the autumn, in Nigel’s words, “before the better-bred horses come back out again”. This is perhaps an oversimplification as Team T-D is well capable of finding well-bred chasers and hurdlers themselves, but their owners don’t perhaps have quite the deep pockets of some of their contemporaries in order to act on the biggest stages. That aside, you can be assured Bristol de Mai will line up in the select field for the Betfair Chase later this month, but the Paddy Power Gold Cup has no Grange Hill entry.
The autumn momentum was maintained however in the afternoon’s feature handicap chase by 8 year old TopoftheCotswolds, who scored a fifth chase win comfortably over Tim Reed’s Big Difference, 74l separating the four finishers in the five runner field.
The closing stages of the second chase, a novices handicap, effectively became an Indian file procession. Winner Presuming Ed made all from the seventh, was briefly joined by Miladygrace from Martin keighley’s Condicote yard before that horse slipped up at the eighth, and never saw another horse in his 20l racecourse gallop. In truth, races like this don’t make for a great spectacle to watch, but wet weather should flush out the larger fields that will make them more competitive. Adam West trained the winner.
Time was when Martin Pipe would run impressive juvenile after impressive juvenile, each making the running as fitness was made to pay. A new generation of winners has put son David back in the very top flight of the sport, even if the prolific winner rate is not so marked. So for a new generation of Pipe fans, Pipe Jnr’s Borntobealeader was like something from the old school, who despite less than foot-perfect jumping at the final two flights, managed to put 7l between him and the second in the Fonzies Fringe Juvenile Hurdle. Pipe’s 37 winners to date have him 4th in the Trainers’ Championship at this early juncture.
The home team was on the scoresheet in the finale which produced the closest finish. Alice Stephens is worth every pound of her 5lb claim, and you wouldn’t have considered her the winner even at the last, but she conjured a terrific run from the Henry Daly – trained Blenkinsop to deny A J O’Neill a second winner this week in the Amateur Riders Handicap Hurdle, which produced the biggest field of the day too.