THE weather may have had a distinctly autumnal feel about it at Stratford on Saturday, but out on the track Western Miller lit up the afternoon with an impressive winning debut over fences for Over Norton trainer Charlie Longsdon, writes David Hucker.
Western Miller was the punters’ choice in the two-and-a-half mile Grundon Waste Management Novices’ Chase and he put in an exhibition round of jumping, making all the running for Jonathan Burke to secure an easy winner from Too Many Diamonds and Kapstadt.
Although he had every chance, Kapstadt, a course winner over hurdles and last seen out on the flat at Ascot, didn’t attack the obstacles with the same fluency and style as the winner and will need to improve if he is to make his mark over fences.
A thunderstorm hit the course as the runners were being saddled for the opening Keogh and Hows Handicap Chase and racegoers were still huddled under cover as a mud-splattered Exitas and Conor Shoemark returned after a comfortable victory for Aylesbury trainer, Phil Middleton’s, first win of the season.
Runner-up, Oliver’s Hill, couldn’t make any impression on the winner from the second-last fence, although running his best race for a while, but favourite Spoilt Rotten, who wasn’t too fluent over some of his fences, came down three from home after being held up on the first circuit.
Middleton had more cause to celebrate when he doubled up in the following Watch Racing UK On Sky 432 Conditional Jockeys’ Selling Handicap Hurdle with the grey Astrum, who was making a quick reappearance after finishing runner-up at Hexham just four days earlier.
A winner over the course in April when trained by Donald McCain, Astrum could have been on his travels again, but Middleton went to 5,200gns to buy him back at the post-race auction.
A good race looked in prospect for the £10,000 George Pragnell Gold Cup Handicap Chase over two and three-quarter miles and Ciaran Gethings on top-weight Always On The Run made sure it was a true test of stamina.
Despite jumping slightly to his right at times, Always On The Run put in some good leaps to be in front turning for home, but the pack was closing in as they approached the final fence.
Play The Ace, a winner over the course in June, jumped the best, finding an extra gear on the run-in for Sean Bowen to score from Mont Royale, who was last with a circuit to run, and Always On The Run, who was placed yet again and could do with a little respite from the handicapper.
With the going having eased to good to soft, multiple course winner Rossetti was withdrawn from the feature £15,000 Cremin Silver Anniversary Handicap Hurdle, leaving five to go to post.
The classy Court Minstrel headed the betting, but his chances hadn’t been helped by the rain and he never got competitive as Comanche Chieftain set a good pace up front.
Dear Sire and Caid Du Lin were locked in a battle up the run-in, but the admirably consistent Dear Sire, who won a novice race over the course in July, had his head in front to record his fourth success of the season.
The runner-up didn’t have much room against the inside rail, but his jockey, Richard Johnson, didn’t stop riding and had better luck in the Vote Stratford Racing Post Readers’ Award Novices’ Hurdle to make all the running on Flashing Glance to score from Reckless Behavior.
Dan Skelton’s Mister Universum, who couldn’t peg back front-running Thahab Ifraj over the course last time, was sent off the odds-on favourite to get back on the winning trail, but he disappointed again, fading on the run-in to finish a well-beaten third.
Lady Vesta ran well enough on her debut at Newton Abbot to suggest she could go close in the concluding Andy Townsend Memorial Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
She had to settle for the runner-up spot again, as Johnson completed a double on the afternoon with another all-the-way success, this time on The Black Squirrel, to increase his lead at the top of the jockeys’ table.
The next race meeting in Stratford-upon-Avon is on Monday, 2nd October.