IT’S Halloween Raceday at Stratford on Thursday as the course stages its penultimate meeting of the season, with the highlight of the afternoon being the Class Three Charlie Longsdon Racing Handicap Chase over a distance just short of two-and-a-half miles, writes David Hucker.
Last year’s contest produced an exciting finish, with Alcester trainer Dan Skelton’s Cobra De Mai getting the better of top-weight Activial by a neck.
This time, Skelton has entered hat-trick seeking Bennys King, not seen since winning at Market Rasen on Boxing Day and now racing off a 9lb higher mark.
Longsdon could saddle dual course winner Western Miller, pulled up at Uttoxeter last month after a blunder at the 11th fence but, although he has won with some give in the ground, the likely conditions on Thursday would not be ideal.
Atlantic Storm, twice a Stratford winner this summer, is another who be better suited to a sounder surface and, although the consistent As You Like has won all his chases on good ground, he has winning form on good to soft over hurdles to suggest that he could be the one to be on.
There are 29 entries for the 25 Club Maiden Hurdle over two-and-three-quarter miles which opens the card at 1.45pm, including four from champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
Blackjack Kentucky is the most experienced of the quartet, earning an official rating of 128.
A number of the leading trainers have more than one entry, including Nicky Henderson and Skelton.
However, Philip Hobbs has just the one possible contender in dual point-to-point winner Winter Getaway, who was sent off favourite to win a bumper at Fontwell Park earlier this month.
Hobbs has two entries in the following Charlotte Cole Memorial Beginners’ Chase over the slightly shorter trip of two miles and five furlongs in the shape of Cotswold Way and Tidal Flow, the latter having made a promising debut over fences at Ffos Las behind Poker Play.
Although drawing a blank last season, on hurdles form, Black Op is the one to beat, although he is likely to find this distance a bit on the short side on this easy track.
Skeaping’s win at the last meeting came just 24 hours after he had beaten Ballyellis at Fakenham and the two could meet again in the Annual Membership Conditional Jockeys’ Selling Hurdle over an extended two-and-a-quarter miles.
There was just a short head between them that day and Ballyellis, an easy winner of his previous two races, including over the Stratford course, could get his revenge this time.
The familiar hooped colours of the McNeil Family were carried to victory by Seddon in last year’s running of the British Stallion Studs EBF “National Hunt” Novices Hurdle (Qualifier) and Wetherby bumper winner Sheshoon Sonny could be another winner for them, although trainer Alan King has also entered Perfect Predator.
Wilmcote trainer Olly Murphy has four to choose from, as does Evan Williams, and it could turn out to be a contest that throws up a number of future winners.
The final race of the afternoon, due off at 4.25pm, is the J.H. Rowe Memorial Handicap Chase. Amongst the 23 entries is Alexander The Grey, who had gone close on a number of occasions, including runner-up three times over the course this year, before finally getting his head in front at Ludlow under regular rider Lilly Pinchin.
Between The Waters had every chance, however, he failed to quicken from the last fence here earlier in the month, and the veteran What A Laugh is another to consider coming back from a break.