Select fields welcome back the sport to Ludlow
Ludlow’s season got off the mark on a dank autumn afternoon at the second time of asking, following the cancellation of the early October fixture, but all the talk was of events at Westminster rather than the little bubble of racing. In an extraordinary day of political turmoil, it was little surprise that the Truss administration hit the buffers after just six weeks, but there were plenty of surprises in turned-over favourites on the Ludlow turf on a day that would have led you to believe favourites stood a better-than-average chance.
But the sun still rises each day, and the racing game still delivers its daily fix to enthusiastic spectators and excitable punters. This, however, was not a day for long-priced winners, with just 26 horses filling the six races on good to firm watered ground – the legacy of our driest summer since 1976.
The two programmed chases attracted just 3 runners each despite respectable prize funds for each. The feature looked a shoo-in for Fergal O’Brien’s in-form team with odds-on favourite Morlach, but a blunder at the first, and a slip on the turn before the fifth last put paid to his chance, allowing Donald McCain’s Minella Plus to make it two from two in novice chases after a win at Hexham last month, this time ridden by Theo Gillard.
O’Brien kept up his impressive strike rate earlier in the afternoon, when Jack Hogan made all on hot favourite Kingston Sunflower to win the Tom Calvert Wine Novices’ Hurdle over the minimum distance. This was his seventh winner of the month – not quite the strike rate in the high teens of mid summer, but nevertheless impressive, and whilst we are entering the season of big Saturday cards, others still have plenty of ground to make up to catch him up in the Trainers’ Championship. It is fanciful to pretend the amiable Fergal will be Champion Trainer just yet, but we all remarked that Martin Pipe’s early season dominance would not last and look how wrong those forecasts turned out to be. Never say never is a motto for the times we live in.
On the other side of the Withington – Andoversford valley is a trainer 20 years older whose career has peaked and troughed like a rollercoaster. But few would begrudge the articulate Kim Bailey his successful reinvention since moving to Thorndale Farm, whence he can espy his rival and neighbour, O’Brien, less than a mile hence. Bailey hasn’t been one to embrace summer jumping as readily as a younger generation, but Spy A Diva put a series of bridesmaid positions in the past with a comprehensively easy 24l victory in the Vince Burmingham 65 Not Out Mares Hurdle to score a maiden victory over obstacles and give Bailey a sixth winner of the term. One of many to swerve the mid-summer period, the Thorndale trainer fielded just 17 runners from July – September.
Powys – based Sheila Lewis is another having kept her powder dry during the summer, but with a small yard, selecting when to run is all the more important.┬á Only one of her six runners this month to date has finished out of the frame, and French-bred Family Pot kept up an excellent 33% strike rate this month in the opening Racing To School Amateur Riders Handicap Chase in a field of 3. Arguably a lucky turn of events, given three withdrawals overnight on ground, Family Pot was an example of the maxim that you have to be in it to win it. This was a fourth career winner for rider Katie Powell.
By his own high standards, Richard Newland has endured a torrid late summer without a winner in August or September. Charlie Hammond was at his most forceful to ensure a fourth winner this month in Tiger Orchid’s neck victory over Henry Daly’s Fenney Brook in the 3m EPS Limited Novices Handicap Hurdle, rewarding those that stayed to the end with a real tussle for the final race.┬á Two races took place within this one race, the third and fourth being a distance adrift at the line.
Brian Barr is nearer the start of his training career than the end, even after half a lifetime of experience as a work rider for some of the top Flat trainers in the land. Having graduated from training under permit to a public licence, he is firmly implanted in racing country in Dorset’s Blackmore Vale. But even his wealth of experience is no guarantee of a flood of fresh owners beating their way to the door. Winners are everything to new and new-ish trainers trying to make their mark, so Manor Park’s fifth win for the yard since leaving Alan King’s Barbury stable in 2020 was most welcome in the 6 runner handicap hurdle.