NICKY Henderson, who wrested the training championship crown from Paul Nicholls last season, posted his intention to retain his title when sending out Days Of Heaven to take the feature race at Stratford on Monday afternoon, writes David Hucker.
Local trainer Dan Skelton posted a career-best total of 118 winners last season and he has been quick out of the blocks in the first week of the new campaign with six successes at a strike rate of 50 per cent.
He saddled Yorkist in the feature Class 3 Tim Cox Associates Handicap Chase over two miles and three furlongs, and the seven-year old was looking to build on a good performance last time out behind Vaniteux at Ayr.
But, it was the much-travelled Days of Heaven, who had taken in two races in America before scoring at Kempton Park in March, who came out on top.
Despite a mistake at the last fence, he made all the running with Nico de Boinville to defeat Yorkist, who made no impression from the seventh fence, by four and a half lengths.
The consistent Zipple Back was well-fancied to lose his maiden tag in the opening Terry And Sally Lugg 35th Wedding Anniversary Novices’ Hurdle over two miles and he duly obliged with Noel Fehily, leading at the penultimate flight and coming clear of Gibson Park in the home straight.
Four of the seven runners in the 23rd July Is Ladies Day Handicap Hurdle had won over the course, including St Saviour who goes well for conditional jockey Thomas Cheesman who rides him in all his work at the Philip Hobbs yard.
After winning here in April off a rating of 122, the combination had finished third in a more competitive race at Haydock Park from a 6lb higher mark but, despite taking the lead at the second-last flight, they were beaten when making a mistake at the final hurdle as Free Stone Hill and Harry Skelton swept past for an easy success.
Five-time point-to-point winner Desert Sting was an interesting runner in the Jenkinsons Caterers Novices’ Handicap Chase over two and three-quarter miles.
His most recent runs under Rules had been over hurdles, but he came into the race on the back of some wide-margin point wins and broke his duck, making all the running and overcoming a slow jump at the last to outstay 2-1 favourite Speed Demon.
Shropshire trainer Henry Daly got off the mark for the season when taking both divisions of the Bordeaux Undiscovered Wines Handicap Hurdle, with 6-1 shot Black Tulip particularly impressive in the second when winning by nine lengths under champion jockey Richard Johnson.