Soft conditions bring on a Venetia Williams double
The curiosity that is the British weather ensured that 39 runners turned out for the six races of our second fixture of the season; only a month ago, ground was too firm. Now, it has turned to the soft that one might reasonably expect in mid-November.
One man normally unchecked by matters of weather or race conditions is Philip Hobbs, yet the maestro of Minehead has endured a quiet start to the autumn, his 12 winners to date at a modest strike rate of just 10%. Our Weatherbys Hamilton Handicap Hurdle will certainly not be his highest profile winner of the term, but the 4 1/4l victory of 5/4 favourite Langley Hundred under claimer Elizabeth Gale, indicates that his stable is beginning to flex its muscles and work to regain his rightful position among our top five stables.
Venetia Williams is another to meet a stop-start┬á season, having swerved running stable star L’Homme Presse at Ascot at the weekend.┬á She doubled her season’s tally to 4 with a double, courtesy of Paseo in the Frank Williams Memorial Novices Handicap Chase and Desque D’Isle in a feature handicap chase that cut up to just three runners. A look at her stats will tell you however that December and January are rich months to follow a Williams theme. Despite the ground coming around to her preferred soft conditions, the time of year is early yet, although three winners in the space of 3 days (a winner at Haydock on Saturday) tells of another stable accelerating into top gear.
The card opened with a Maiden Hurdle, in which a rare winning British Point-to-Point graduate added to his reputation. Western Zephyr won last December at the unique International Point-to-Point at Barbury, running this year at Cocklebarrow, before transferring from Fran and Charlie Poste to Charlie Longsdon. A smooth opening gambit in a maiden bumper at Huntingdon was followed by a tilt at a Grade II bumper at Aintree’s Grand National fixture in which he ran prominently but dropped away tamely. In this first run over the smaller obstacles, Sean Bowen offered up a text book ride, asserting from 2 out to win by 6l from his 11 rivals – the largest field of the day.
Local boy Henry Daly has been enjoying a purple patch this month, and relishes flying the flag at his local course. In 6 year old mare Fenney Brook, he has found a willing partner. Touched off a neck in a similar race here last month, Fenney Brook under Richard Patrick took it up two out, asserted at the last and won going away by a 6l that suggests she may win again at this level, even with a penalty.
After a blank season last term, conditional Kai Lenihan is making amends and strengthening his reputation through his attachment to Kim Bailey’s Andoversford yard. As the rain continued, the closing boys’ race saw him add a fifth winner to his career tally in a largely effortless 18l victory for 6 year old hurdler Gerard Mentor. There aren’t many conditionals that can boast a 44% strike rate, which may lead to some outside rides, as to date, all bar one of this season’s rides have been for his guv’nor.