Eric Harris to retire after 23 years as Stratford Racecourse’s head groundsman

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THERE are just three meetings left to the end of Stratford’s 2018 season, starting with Monday’s seven-race card and, with 10mm of rain over the weekend, the ground should be perfect with a bright, sunny day in prospect, writes David Hucker.

Although rain has finally arrived, the hot summer temperatures were a test for head groundsman Eric Harris as he looked to produce good, safe ground at the height of the season.

Harris has announced his retirement after 23 years at Stratford and over 50 in all in racing at courses including Newton Abbott and Kelso.

He began in the racing industry as a 20-year-old member of the ground staff team at Newton Abbot, another course that races through the summer, where he worked for 23 years.

He then went onto Kelso and Warwick, both as head groundsman, before taking up his latest and final post at Stratford.

Harris will be replaced by Sam Linley, who started work with the ground staff team at Wincanton in May 2010, becoming assistant head groundsman.

Announcing the news, racecourse manager Ilona Barnett said: “We are delighted to be welcoming Sam to our team and we wish Eric many happy retirement years spent racing”

One who won’t mind any give in the ground is course winner Sleep Easy, who runs in the feature £15,000 Bet At racinguk.com Handicap Hurdle over two and three-quarter miles.

His last win came 18 months ago from a handicap rating of 130 and, although racing off a 2lb higher mark here, showed promise of a return to the winner’s enclosure when finishing third in a Class 2 event at Newton Abbot last time out.

Monday’s action gets underway at 2.15pm with the Racing UK On Sky 426 Novices’ Handicap Hurdle over two and a quarter miles in which Huntingdon winner Cosmic King carries top weight. At the other end of the handicap is Malangen, winner of a Leicester seller on the flat in August and lightly raced over hurdles.

But, the one to be on could be Unsafe Conduct, who benefited from wearing a tongue-tie when beating Bee An Aristocrat at Newton Abbot in May and the runner-up gave the form a boost when winning at Worcester in June.

Although Unsafe Conduct has gone up 8lbs for his win to a mark of 110, with the tongue-tie applied again, he could give jockey Harry Cobden his first winner since returning from injury just over a week ago.

Just three have been declared for the Watch Racing UK On BT TV Beginners’ Chase and, with Sussex Road looking out of his depth, this should be a match between the other two runners, with Bags Groove, who went close in a similar race at Uttoxeter in May, just preferred to chasing debutant Jenkins, who was superior over hurdles, being rated at 151 at his best.

Champion jockey Richard Johnson is riding on the crest of a wave with a 38% strike rate in the last 14 days going into Sunday’s meeting at Uttoxeter.

He rides hat-trick seeking Roll The Dough for his principal stable of Philip Hobbs in the Racing UK Profits Returned To Racing Handicap Chase and they look to have top-weight Robert’s Star to beat.

Lungarno Palace makes his first appearance since returning to trainer Fergal O’Brien, for whom he won at Huntingdon, in the Watch Racing UK In Stunning HD Novices’ Hurdle.

Jockey Alain Cawley again takes the ride and they will need to be at the top of their game if Ludlow bumper winner Rouge Vif takes to hurdling at the first time of asking.

A course winner over hurdles, Cillian’s Well carries a 7lb. penalty for his latest success over the Southwell fences and sets the standard in the Racing UK Extra On Racing UK.com Handicap Chase.

Modeligo, a course winner over fences, ran by far his best race for some time when runner-up at Uttoxeter, but has been hiked up the weights as a result and another to consider is Newton Abbot winner Lillington, who should go well for the Colin Tizzard Racing Club.

Third in a Galway bumper in August, Tight Call has since changed hands for £22,000 and could recoup some of his purchase price for new connections in the closing Visit The All New racinguk.com Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.