Fontwell, 18/5/18

The hunter chase night at Fontwell. Improved weather generated an improved crowd on the last couple of years, although it seems that by being somewhat off of the beaten track, the venue is happy to take the fixture funding and play out all sorts of evenings in front of a modest attendance. Also, by not watering the ground to soft at a time when the mud lovers are turned out for the summer, the fields were respectable for the most part as well. And unlike some years, the results were not a dull procession of predictable winning favourites, although we only see the innovative nature of some of those results with hindsight. We really cannot wait a moment longer for time travel to be invented, although the bookmaking industry will obviously grind to a halt. No pictures because the weather was predicted to be too gloomy, but instead was too sunny. Go to to see if they have one of Antonia Peck and Full Batten doing the open ditch in unusual style.

Going: Good (Good to Firm places)

Race 1: Fuller’s Brewery Mares’ Open Hunters’ Chase [3m 2f]

1: Kimora     2: One Big Love     3: Flights

Winner owned: Steven Astaire, trained: Chris Loggin, ridden: Emma Yardley

This was a third win in the race for Kimora, although her non-attendance in 2017 means that it is not the purest of hat tricks. She just scraped home at the expense of One Big Love who looked early on the run-in as if she would be in the lead shortly but Kimora had come here in a better frame of mind than her pointing season suggested was on the cards. Flights, stablemate of and joint favourite with One Big Love, set the pace, but surrendered a bit too readily (again) when headed. Rounding the far bend Florella was travelling best of all, only to hit the third last, an open ditch, and not pick up after that. She is not the first horse here to have problems switching from the all-weather bend back onto turf and then not be on equilibrium when the ditch quickly looms up.

Race 2: Henry Carr’s 24th Birthday Celebrations Ladies’ Open Hunters’ Chase [2m 5.5f]

1: Forever My Friend     2: Can Mestret     3: Never Complain

Winner owned: Mrs JH Docker, trained: Mickey Bowen, ridden: Jodie Hughes

Forever My Friend got in a ding dong battle with Hammer And Anvil at the front of the race and it looked as if this was going to set the race up for someone to sweep majestically through to victory. The two prime contenders were Never Complain and Can Mestret. Never Complain sat at the back and found that the front of the race refused to retreat into his ambush later on, but Can Mestret got involved in plenty of time, only for Forever My Friend to refuse to let him get by. Considering that he is a horse whose season has been a hefty beating at Ludlow followed by a less hefty but still severe defeat at Cheltenham, Forever My Friend looked especially determined to win this.

Race 3: Peter Mendoza Memorial “Placepot Pete” Novices’ Hunters’ Chase [3m 2f]

1: Bally River Boy     2: Just Cause     3: This Breac

Winner owned: Ian Slatter, trained: J SLatter, ridden: Ally Stirling

The story of Bally River Boy’s race. Go to post early. Be mounted on the course. Jump left whenever possible. Try and dive the wrong way up the track when first crossing the intersection. Accept that Ally Stirling is not interested in any of your nonsense. Be normal for the second half of the race. Win. The last part of that was helped by Just Cause, the master of inconsistency, going through interesting times also. Sat right out at the back, there was not much urgency to do anything else until the first fence on the final circuit. The instant of being rushed along a bit he made an error and the rider lost an iron, perhaps two. It cost him a little bit of time and position, but having lost by less than a length in the end, it probably was significant. Dour staying type In A Blue Dust also used very patient tactics, but did not have the nippiness to make the frame, This Breac being able to hang on to that despite the first two running clear of him from the last. Favourite Herbert Park was running a sluggish race and was not a winner in the making as early as halfway. But he did have place pretensions, which ended with a mistake two out.

Race 4: Racing Welfare Supporting Mental Health Awareness Week Grassroots Hunter’s Chase [2m 5.5f]

1: Monsieur Gibraltar     2: Dont Do Mondays     3: Danandy

Winner owned: Gane, Fogg & Nicholls, trained: Rose Loxton, ridden: Lorcan Williams

On the one hand, this was a most impressive winner. Monsieur Gibraltar was only briefly under pressure after the third last and when he came back on the bridle, his rider was happy to let the horse breeze along and win by less than a length without any force needed from the saddle. On the other hand, Dont Do Mondays had won his last three races, all Opens, and historically would have appreciated this slightly shorter race, so if one flicker of doubt had hit Monsieur Gibraltar, the race could easily have been lost. Monsieur Gibraltar is only seven years old, so a bit young to have converted from Rules as a career ease down. In the big show he was well beaten in his only three mile race, so presumably Aintree would be the Foxhunters’ target next year. Until recently he is the type that would have stayed with Paul Nicholls for hunter chasing, but then he would not have been qualified for “Grassroots” races… Danandy was just behind the first two, but working hard to be there, when he fluffed the last and with a place readily in the bag he was allowed to take the last half furlong or so in his own time.

Race 5: United Hunts Champion Open Hunter Chase [3m 3.5f]

1: Wonderful Charm     2: Al Co     3: Adrenalin Flight

Winner owned: RJH Geffen, Sir J Ritblat, R Waley-Cohen, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Will Biddick

Al Co tried to control this race in the way that his stablemate Forever My Friend had managed to do earlier. It failed, but that was because Wonderful Charm was doing his race in the same fashion as ‘former’ stablemate Monsieur Gibraltar approached the fourth race. For Wonderful Charm it also worked, but the impression was that he had to stretch himself that little bit more to shake off the attentions of Al Co. It is still a win, and when Wonderful Charm was more or less ante-post favourite for Cheltenham, who would have imagined that he could be backed at fractionally odds against for this meeting – only those that also predicted that his double tilt at festival hunter chases would not turn out well. Adrenalin Flight ran a solid enough race, especially considering that he had a far less experienced rider than the main pair.

Race 6: Westbourne Racing Club Maiden Hunters’ Chase [2m 5.5f]

1: Steeles Terrace     2: Hinxworth     3: Goodnight Vienna

Winner owned: MB Clarke, trained: Andrew Pennock, ridden: Richard Collinson

The betting put this race down as an upset, but it was not a totally unpredictable one. Steeles Terrace looked pretty handy when winning a Maiden and a Restricted early in the season, and a couple of the beaten horses had improved to spoil the viewpoint that he had simply dismissed bad opposition. When the rains came his form dropped away, so all it needed was faith that these underfoot conditions would fix the problems. That faith did not need to be extended to expecting a sixteen lengths cakewalk. All it took to pay off was Hinxworth to get taken on for the lead as he tends to win when making all, and lose when not given free rein in front, plus Goodnight Vienna’s dangerous challenge on the final bend to peter out, plus pony-sized Changeofluck to struggle with regulation fences (he ran on gamely from a lost cause two out to finish fourth), Boygojumping to not be at his best and Big Bang De Loire to amble through the race with a resentment at the inconvenience to which he was being put. All of these came to pass, but it would be unwise to not appreciate what a decent horse Steeles Terrace can be when avoiding sludge to race on.

Race 7: Open Hunters’ Chase [2m 2f]

1: Numbercruncher     2: Exclusive Rights     3: Velvet Maker

Winner owned, trained and ridden: David O’Brien

Every hunter chase meeting needs an event for horses not suitable for pointing, and this is it. Numbercruncher has not been to this meeting before but won the two miler at Stratford to close out last season, and it was no surprise that the 5/1 available on him during the day did not last. The rather beatable looking odds-on favourite was Wells De Lune, but it was his display of mediocre jumping skill that knocked him out of serious contention by halfway. Partly this may have been due to the fast pace set by Exclusive Rights. She has been called some names over the years, but the one which sticks is non-stayer, and this race met her requirements well. Prior to tonight her hunter chase form was 22P, including second to Numbercruncher at Stratford. She has started her races at 33/1, 33/1, 16/1 and 50/1, so even doing her each-way would leave you quids in. And yes, this is all with the benefit of hindsight, and with Stratford presumably on the agenda for her and Numbercruncher again, do not expect a neck defeat to lead her to such long odds again. Velvet Maker ran OK to be third, but no more than OK.
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