Please Note: Next Race meeting is Wednesday 9th October

Wet start to the year doesn’t prevent emerging talent gracing our turf

A rare break in the wet month we’ve endured this past 30 days allowed our first fixture of 2024 to take place in watery sunshine until the rain returned around  the sixth race. 52 runners graced the seven race card on soft ground with heavy patches.

It’s a truism that heavy ground tends to produce strung out finishes, but there’s an exception to every rule, and Jonjo O’Neill, never one to hold to convention, proved just that in the Racing UK – sponsored handicap hurdle over 3m. Held up in rear, 7 year old St Davy produced a career best performance in his first fully fledged handicap, reeling in leader Emitom to lead close by the post.

Jonjo Snr told the Racing Post, “He wasn’t good enough at Aintree (referring to his previous run in a novices handicap back in April) but he’s a grand horse. He’s a chaser in the making and doesn’t mind the soft ground.” It was a 38th winner of the term for rider Jonjo Jnr.

The feature race also went the way of a Cotswold father-son partnership when 10 year old Kestrel Valley made virtually all to win the feature Plyvine Caterers Handicap Chase over 3m 1f. Winner at the previous meeting Tide Times had been fancied to repeat, but struck into himself and was pulled up 5 out.

Favourite Haut Folin from Venetia Williams’ Ross-on-Wye yard was sent off favourite to continue the yard’s blistering form in recent weeks, and kept close tabs on the winner throughout, but was not able to maintain the momentum, surrendering the lead 3 out. Thereafter, it became a procession for the Twiston-Davies horse, guided to a 20l victory under Sam.

The Cotswold theme continued when Ben Pauling produced Awaythelad to improve on his second placed effort at Lingfield in December and win his maiden here in the race commemorating former conditional Luke Watson, who tragically lost his life 4 years ago. Kielan Woods was in the plate this time around. Pauling enjoyed a vintage New Year, with a second, third and winner at Cheltenham, the winner in the first of the year’s Premier Handicaps, one of the new high value races touted to grow racing’s exposure and audience each weekend.

French-bred Royal Way didn’t let the distance travelled from West Sussex act as an disincentive to winning his first race over hurdles. A winner of an obscure 1m4f conditions event at Divonnes-les-Bains in the Jura, he’s made good for Gary Moore and enthusiastic owner Keith Loads, now farmer and one-time stand up comedian. In perhaps not the most competitive juvenile race of the season so far, Royal Way dominated under Niall Houlihan and won, head in chest, with 17l to spare. Next stop the Fred Winter.

Another youngster graduating to his maiden hurdles win was Hill Spirit, a 4 year old and a rare Jumps runner for Lambourn – based Archie Watson. He showed good speed to overcome others more familiar with Ludlow’s quirks, relegating DameoftheCotswolds to another bridesmaid position at Ludlow in the opening 4 year olds only National Hunt Hurdle.

Local honour was satisfied by a 10l victory from Ballybeg under Richard Patrick for Kerry Lee in the Simply Delicious Cakes Novices Handicap Chase, Mel Rowley’s Malaita in second. Ballybeg, opening his account over fences after 4 hurdle wins, is owned by a syndicate named Glass Half Full, an admirable name for any group involved in Jump racing where disappointments outnumber rapture by a considerable margin.

As the gloom descended once again, Irish Point-to-Point winner Bellas Bridge underscored her talent shown in a narrow defeat at Hereford in October by going two better to justify 85/40 favouritism in the closing mares bumper for Jamie Snowden and rider Gavin Sheehan who has enjoyed such a purple patch in big races this past month.


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