A DOUBLE at Stratford’s final meeting of 2018 on Thursday kept the winners flowing for Alcester trainer Dan Skelton and, having broken Martin Pipe’s record for the earliest century at Cheltenham last week, he took his score to 105 for the season, writes David Hucker.
With Skelton’s Diomede Des Mottes a non-runner, the opening Eric Harris Retires Today Maiden Hurdle looked a match between Shannon Hill, who scored by a wide margin on his only point-to-point start for Francesca Nimmo, and Rambling Rector, who pulled up on his last run and was returning after a wind operation.
Bought for £85,000 after his win, Shannon Hill has since moved to leading trainer Alan King and was sent off the 1-3 favourite to make a winning debut under Rules.
After Rambling Rector had set a steady early pace, Wayne Hutchinson took the red-hot favourite to the front after the fifth flight and was never headed from that point on.
Approaching the final jump, Hutchinson took a look over his shoulder, but the dangers were non-existent and Shannon Hill won as his starting price suggested he would.
Next up was the Charlotte Cole Memorial Beginners’ Chase and, with Nicky Henderson’s smart hurdler Thomas Campbell withdrawn because of unsuitable ground, it was left to Skelton’s Stowaway Magic to make all the running and beat his two rivals at odds of 1-16.
Stowaway Magic had gone down by just a neck on his first start for the Skelton yard at Carlisle, having won four times for Henderson, and completed a quick double for owners Mike Grech and Stuart Parkin, who have ambitious plans with their burgeoning string of jumpers.
On official ratings, Vancouver stood out in the Alistair Admits His Age Conditional Jockeys’ Selling Hurdle. Off the course for 11 months, he broke a blood vessel when tailed off on his comeback run at Worcester in September, but punters still had faith, making him the 15-8 market leader.
Another with a question to answer was Utility, who had whipped round at the start at Kempton Park, refusing to race, but he got away with the others this time and, having tracked Vancouver into the home straight, quickly went clear to post a 14-length success for trainer David Bridgwater and jockey Callum McKinnes.
Wayne Hutchinson has struck up a good rapport with course winner Comanche Chieftain and they were looking to score another victory in the feature £16,800 Charlie Longsdon Racing Handicap Chase.
Setting out to make all the running, Comanche Chieftain was joined by Skelton’s Cobra De Mai at the third-last fence, with the two going head to head.
The winner of four chases, the last of which came at Warwick in February, Cobra De Mai went clear of the field from the final jump, but it’s a long way home and he was closed down by top-weight Activial in the straight, holding on by a diminishing neck.
Skelton’s dual winner Not That Fuisse had to give weight to all his rivals in the £12,400 British Stallion Studs EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle (Qualifier) and needed to bounce back from a disappointing performance last time in a Chepstow handicap.
Musselburgh bumper winner Seddon had found the pace a bit hot at the Cheltenham Festival, but this was a much less demanding test and he went past Not That Fuisse approaching the final flight to score easily in the hands of Adrian Heskin for the McNeill Family.
The J.H. Rowe Memorial Handicap Chase brought the curtain down on the year and it saw hat-trick seeking Bradford Bridge, the mount of leading jockey Richard Johnson, a well-backed 7-4 favourite on his return to chasing.
Running here in preference to Uttoxeter on Friday, Bradford Bridge looked well-in from a handicap mark of 118, but he was slow at some of his fences and made a mistake at the fourth-last, never getting into the race.
It was Soupy Soups and Noel Fehily who cut out the running, only to be collared close home by 10-1 shot Cloth Cap, who was brought with a well-timed run by Richie McLernon to land the prize for owner Trevor Hemmings and trainer Jonjo O’Neill.