Stratford, 9/6/17

The last time that UK-Jumping made it to the season closer for hunter chasers, there were still a couple of professional interludes on the card and the crowd was quite sparse. This time there was a good turnout of racegoers, and the bookmakers will have been pleased with the number looking to invest fiscally in the roster of pointing connected races. And then they got the results as well. Coming a long time after some of the runners began their season, it would be expected that some with the best form would find this one step too far. But ALL of them? Or nearly all – see below for thoughts on Balnaslow. The random bonus was in the cafeteria above the main entrance. Here they were selling a pretty decent plate of steak and ale pie (and it tasted of steak rather than stake) with chips for £4. This has to be a pricing error, but everyone should rush to take advantage of it, before somebody realises.

Going: Good

Race 1: Subaru Restricted Point-to-Point Series Final Novices’ Hunters’ Chase [2m 6.5f]

1: Bay Sly     2: Ruperra Tom     3: Changeofluck

Winner owned & trained: Heidi Brookshaw, ridden: Max Kendrick

The nature of this series insists the make up of this final fits an almost inevitable pattern. Fourteen runners, of whom twelve won last time out. The other two had finished second and fourth. So where do you look? The ones that had progressed beyond Restricted class? Open and hunter chase winner Spencer Moon ran an awful race, although he did rally to nick an improbable but very distant fourth late on. With an Intermediate win, Changeofluck was next in the firing line. Or he was until a bad blunder at the open ditch (fence seven) knocked him back. In the circumstances, getting third was a fine fight back, but he was a good twenty lengths in arrears. Minella Arts had won a Confined, but having been to the fore for much of the race, he was badly outpaced. Ruperra Tom? He did not run too badly, but the Members’ that he won after the Restricted was probably a worse race, so he was not a candidate for progressing and he shaped as if this was not nearly far enough for him. So all that left was Bay Sly, another confined winner. In front from the second fence, nobody really frightened him after that, but his jumping technique was extremely awkward throughout. Repeating it will hold him back, but doing things properly will beget fifteen lengths improvement.
Bay Sly gets the one fence actually photographed more or less right. Awesome Tunes and Minella Arts are bang in contention. The second wave, left to right, are Don't Doittome, Gone Platinum and Moreece

Race 2: Foxdenton Gins Open Hunters’ Chase [2m 1f]

1: Numbercruncher     2: Exclusive Rights     3: Ring Ben

Winner owned, trained & ridden: David O’Brien

This became ripe for an upset when the favourite refused to race and the second favourite nearly unseated at fence one. Are They Your Own has no history of refusing to take part, and did not seem to be given much leeway to change his mind by the starter. Slightly controversially, he was deemed to have been withdrawn, leading to 45p in the pound Rule 4 deduction. Not cool for those who backed Exclusive Rights each-way from 66/1 to 33/1, as she would have been placed even if the favourite had taken part and won. Darwins Fox, who was only beaten five lengths in the Aintree Foxhunters, was the one to try and uproot the first obstacle. It did no knock him out of the race immediately, but would explain his very tame finishing effort. After the early excitement and tribulation, the rest of the race was fairly plain sailing. For a long while Exclusive Rights seemed ready to land a proper old touch, but Numbercruncher picked her off quite readily. He had won at Tabley in April, but generally been below his best this season. What a teaser, to come good just as he runs out of season. Prize for the best name on the card goes to Ballet Marbleless (say it quickly), being by Baryshnikov, out of Lots Your Marbles. Alas, he is not running that marvellously lately, and finished only seventh.

After timing note: This situation with the ‘withdrawn’ horse finally got the Racing Post to realise that blindly deeming all non-starters as non-runners is no more perfect than the current method, and risks annoying plenty of punters. One day they may even realise as well that courses such as Fontwell, Fakenham and Plumpton really do not need a big screen.

Race 3: Champion Novices’ Hunters’ Chase for the John Corbett Cup [3m 3.5f]

1: Now Ben     2: Tinkers Hill Tommy     3: Supreme Danehill

Winner owned: WR Milner, trained: Philip Rowley, ridden: Alex Edwards

In advance, the thought occurred that perhaps this race was not going to live up to the title, as for the most part the contenders had been winning a lot of points and mostly losing their hunter chases. However, they look like a reasonable enough bunch in the paddock, and the way that the first two annihilated the opposition at least suggests that they were worthy contenders. Now Ben had actually won a hunter chase this season, then flopped at odds-on in a Members. This was a serious bounce back, and although Tinkers Hill Tommy put up a solid fight, Alex Edwards always had the control of the racing line, so he forced the runner-up to go wide off of the final turn to challenge, and then switch back to the inner as he sustained the least indirect route that Stratford will allow on the run-in. Early leader Supreme Danehill was left toiling by the two of them, but he stays this far and more, so when Jepeck and Kristian Gray started hassling him, he could at least hang on to third spot. Broken Eagle was prominent early, but weakened suddenly at the twelfth and soon pulled up. The ground was not an excuse, so again it looks like inability to dominate – it is all in his head, not his feet.
This is Now Ben leading Supreme Danehill and Jepeck, so is not the finish, unless Tinkers Hill Tommy briefly went invisible

Race 4: Skinner’s Ladies Open Point-to-Point Championship Final Lady Riders Hunters’ Chase (2m 6.5f)

1: Dabinett Moon     2: Patricktom Boru     3: Invisible Man

Winner owned: C Marriott, trained: Fran Marriott, ridden: Claire Hardwick

On going through this race, it seemed as if it was not up to the usual standard, but as Dabinett Moon won it in 2015, perhaps perception of “the usual standard” was what lay at fault. Two horses again had control from a long way out, with Dabinett Moon taking the lead with two to jump and giving her supporters an almighty scare when landing awkwardly at the final obstacle. Patricktom Boru has struggled in hunter chases before now, but has ten pointing wins (eight in April or later), so it was about time that he made a handy contribution as per today. The horse with probably the best hunter chase form was Popaway, but since her Cheltenham win in 2016, her Rules form read unseated, unseated, third but tailed off. She was to the fore early, but had hopelessly lost her place when pulling up not far into the final lap. Whilst all these failures are going on, Popaway is still winning points, so it is all a bit odd. Bypassing what should have been the third last Bound For Glory was a serious danger to the first pair, and no sooner was that apparent than he weakened out of contention. He wins plenty of points, but is only one of eleven in hunter chasing and tends to appear as very one paced even on his good days, irrespective of the speed and ability ranged against him.

Race 5: Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunters Champion Hunters’ Chase [3m 3.5f]

1: Young Hurricane     2: Balnaslow     3: Wonderful Charm

Winner owned: C Helffernich, trained: Guy Brewer, ridden: John Dawson

This was a strong race. It featured four of the first nine in the Aintree Foxhunters, the second and fifth in the Cheltenham version and the winner of the Punchestown Champion Hunters’ Chase. One horse that was in all three of those was Balnaslow. He lost at Cheltenham by three lengths despite a forceful ride and a blunder at the last fence, by two lengths at Aintree, and won the Punchestown race. Adding second here is a pretty heroic season, but the real problem is shown in the win column. For a horse of proven ability, he just does not win unusually frequently. This race looked to be in the bag as he railed the very sharp final bend, but Balnaslow contrived to get beaten, and the low strike rate prevents the assumption that it was one race too many. Wonderful Charm, runner-up at Cheltenham, was very flattered to be third as he was in rear and going nowhere at the sixteenth, only to grimly outstay some far less talented individuals when it was all too late. Stablemate Rebel Rebellion finished fourth in a mirror image style – he stayed prominent for a long way and then tied up late on. So eventually we come around to the winner. Young Hurricane has rehearsed for this by avoiding the strongest enemies. He had a defeat and a fall in his first two points this season, then won a couple. Also, he lost his first hunter chase and then cruised to success in the other. How much of this win was down to being a bit fresher than the best against him and how much was a case of “this is what I do when not clobbering the fences” will emerge in time.
Young Hurricane and connections in a state of what passes for delerium and joy in Yorkshire

Race 6: Sheldon Bosley Knightr Handicap Hunters’ Chase (2m 5f)

1: Curraigflemens     2: Sam Cavallaro     3: Swallowshide

Winner owned: JRM Ridge, trained: David Kemp, ridden: Shane Roche

As is the custom at this meeting, someone has to go off hard in front. This time it was favourite Mr Satco, but after thumping fence ten he was headed and his jumping went to pieces. The slightly unpredictable Curraigflemens was the next most obvious contender, and the race went his way. Two from home it appeared as if Swallowshide had him in trouble, but once the message from the saddle was understood, he picked up quite well, and needed to as Sam Cavallo finished quite strongly. With four to jump Cab On Times caught the eye as travelling very sweetly, but did not find what he was looking for – must be an Uber driver. Tugboat has lost the knack of chugging along nicely, and offered no signs of a recovery here.

Race 7: Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Champion Point-to-Point National Hunt Flat Race (2m 0.5f)

1: Pistol Shoot     2: Askphilmor     3: Irish Legionnaire

Winner owned: Bradley Partnership, trained: Nicky Martin, ridden: Darren Edwards

These races are impossible to have an interest in, unless you are a buyer or seller of horses. Contested usually by Maiden, or at a pinch Restricted, type runners, for those doing well in pointing it cannot be predicted if they will adapt to bumpers, and for those failing between flags, might a bumper be just what they need? And after all is said and done, and we know the result, the same questions apply to the beaten horses. At least this race continued the theme of the evening by keeping the market leaders well away from the top prize – odds on My Dance was only fourth. At the line it was all very close between the first couple, but Pistol Shoot (fifth in one of these races at Aintree) had seemed in control entering the straight and it was only very late that Askphilmore’s rally started to look dangerous. It was a head short of total danger.
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