A first winner, and a smart handicap contender: you saw them here
The wet start to the autumn has precipitated large fields considered a rarity nowadays in the National Hunt sphere. Good to Soft ground at our second fixture enabled 82 runners to take their chance and the seven race card enjoyed double digit fields in three of the contests.
It was a day in which the home team of trainers from the Marches didn’t altogether succeed in fending off the new elite of the Jumps game, with winners for the championship-leading Ravensbrook team of Fergal O’Brien, David Pipe, and Dan Skelton, whilst a newly resurgent Philip Hobbs, paired up with Johnson White, has found a new mojo after a season or two outside the top rank.
The changing of the guard at the top of the sport, as contenders for top spot jostle for position, is reflected in Hobbs’ joint tenure of the training licence with longstanding assistant Johnson White. Over more than a quarter century, Philip Hobbs has trained more than 3,000 winners, ranking him just fourth behind Martin Pipe, Paul Nicholls, and Nicky Henderson. Bringing new energy to the outback of Exmoor is both necessary and desirable to get the stable back into the top five after a modest year (by his exacting standards) in 2022-23.
Game pillar to post winner Dan’s Choice under amateur Callum Pritchard, just held on after wresting what looked a decisive advantage two out, only to see the fast-finishing Striking Out under James King hoving into rapid view after the last. Just a neck separated them at the line, disappointing favourite backers who’d loaded into the runner-up.
Whilst only a 9th success of the term to date, the Sandhills team are running well, and more can be expected as the season accelerates. What’s more, it was a debut winner for Pritchard.
This time of year is a formative one to see the novice hurdler cadre flourish, and with three such contests on the card, there was plenty to digest.
The open novice hurdle over the minimum trip was so well subscribed it divided. Henry Daly kept the home flag flying in division one, with 5l victor Wyenot under Richard Patrick to notch a fourth winner of the term to date, whilst the second division was an altogether closer affair. Two top riders fought out a neck and neck finish where maiden Recoup, ridden by Paddy Brennan, just prevailed by a head over Chocabloc under Nico de Boinville for owner Harry Redknapp.
The third novices event was restricted to mares. Bridgnorth trainer Alistair Ralph prevailed with 4l winner Victoria Milano under Jack Tudor, but any one of three could have won two out. It was a race in which market followers were largely left scratching their heads, not least after Alan King’s Baby Sage, sent off 5/2 favourite, tipped up at the first.
Ralph’s Pougne Aminta wasn’t up to making it a double for the yard in the following Richard Strachan Memorial Handicap Chase, another restricted to mares so it was left to Worcestershire’s Richard Newland to score with La Renomme under Charlie Hammond on seasonal debut. Nevertheless, the French-bred clearly knows her way around Ludlow, having won similar races here in March and April.
Newland has been vociferous in defence of British-based trainers against the more and more frequent incursions from Ireland, and at the lower levels of British jumping, he may have a point. As if to illustrate the strong hand that Ireland holds at the top of the tree, there were 4 Irish winners during Cheltenham’s opening weekend, a trend that looks set to continue in our more valuable races. Irish competition at Ludlow is, as yet, rare.
The other chase of the day saw the familiar colours of Brocade Racing carried to a bloodless victory by Neon Moon for David Pipe and Jack Tudor, a partnership blossoming in its second season. Running off joint top weight in a limited handicap, the race was pretty much in the bag four out when he asserted, and 12l is a generous description of the ease of his winning. The winner is now headed to Ascot for the Sodhexo Chase, a Saturday handicap with a six figure prize fund.
There was some saving of face for favourite backers in the final two races of the day, both handicap hurdles, one over 3m, the other 2m.
In the shorter version, Moveit Like Minnie ran out a length winner for the Twiston-Davies partnership of father Nigel and rider Sam, but the same partnership had to give way in the preceding 3m contest to 6 year old son of Flemensfirth, Seefin, for the Skelton team, following up a similar win at Uttoxeter a month ago.