Smart horses and smart womenfolk see out our Spring in style
Harry Cobden has laid down a marker that he intends to challenge for the Jockeys’ Championship, and yesterday’s winner for Paul Nicholls doubled his score to 2 for the nascent season. Shearer, running in the colours of Max McNeill, had 2 1/4l to his advantage in a match race against Dan Skelton’s Jeffrey’s Cross to open yesterday’s card. McNeill has recently slimmed down his ownership costs by dispensing with a retained rider.
In truth though, Cobden will have to work harder to keep pace with champion Brian Hughes. In the most recent season, Hughes’ work rate is remarkable, totalling 875 rides for 220 separate trainers, notably Donald McCain and Nicky Richards in the North, Charlie Longsdon in the South. Cobden’s reach presently is a good deal less: 434 rides for 86 trainers in 2022-23, built around Nicholls and the Tizzard powerhouse over the county border in D0rset. The quality of horse across these two yards is what is more likely to have Cobden challenging for leading rider status at the big festivals, rather than the championship.
At the opposite end of the racing spectrum, trainer Katy Price enjoyed her first victory in some time since slimming down her training operation in Hay on Wye, better known for its literary festival than for racehorse training. Price has trained a mere 20 winners in the past 5 seasons, so standing in the winner’s enclosure is a rare treat, made possible by Gavin Sheehan’s 11l victory on 7 year old Lost Connections over Henry Daly’s Lime Drop in the Mortimer Equine Vets Mares Handicap Chase. Price was less sartorially dressed than many lady racegoers, who had entered into the spirit of our ladies day with an impressive array of headwear and dresses that would not look out of place at Ascot next month. The first placing of Lost Connections was made considerably less demanding by the late exit two out of Mulberry Hill, for whom Paddy Brennan took a crashing fall.
Fergal O’Brien, trainer of Mulberry Hill, did not go home empty-handed however. Thirty minutes earlier, Zucayan under 5lb claimer Nick Slatter, finished with plenty in hand in the Welsh Guards Association Handicap Hurdle over the minimum distance, notching up winner number 10 of a season which has barely begun. At this pace, we can expect another record-breaking season from the Ravenshill Farm team.
Among record-breakers, few can surpass Nicky Henderson, who keeps a summer team for the yard at Seven Barrows to tick over. The former champion has some wealthy owners prepared to shell out for the best bloodstock money can buy, and twice French bumper winner Impose Toi, made it 2 from 4 over the smaller obstacles in the 2m 5f Visit the Ludlow Farm Shop Today Novices Hurdle at the prohibitive price of 1/5. He more than justified the odds with a faultless canter round for owner J P McManus, not a frequent visitor to the likes of Ludlow, and watching in absentia today too.
There was a short-priced winner in the other Novices Hurdle of the day too, as Sam Twiston-Davies made every post a winning one on 10/11 shot Guy to face off 9 other runners in the 2m hurdle for father Nigel. The winner is part-owned by William Vestey, son of the late Sam, former Chairman of Cheltenham and Master of the Queen’s Horse. How he would have relished the Coronation parade!
Paul Webber’s yard at Cropredy turned out some excellent horses under his father 25 or more years ago, but is more of a boutique operation nowadays. Webber’s obvious expertise in bloodstock allows him to indulge himself in training a few, but 350 runners in the past 5 seasons does not a champion make. Nevertheless, this niche operation is more than capable of delivering the goods on occasion, and this time around, 5 year old Happy Index took to the front 3 out, and held off challengers by a length at the line under Adam Wedge to mark up a first winner for Cropredy in this nascent season.
A line was drawn on this Spring’s racing at Ludlow in the final race here before October. Oliver Sherwood has endured a torrid few years with illness, and top class winners have been scarce since Many Clouds. However, health is everything, whether for horses or humans, so it was with great pleasure we were able to sign off till October when Sam Twiston-Davies had merely to shake up Scrum Diddly to put 15l between him and the runner-up in the closing novices handicap hurdle.
We’ll be continuing to post over the summer, so keep coming back for more news of those racing folk around Shropshire and the Marches.