WITH trainers Dan Skelton and Olly Murphy both landing winners at Stratford’s Family Day on Sunday, Warwickshire could soon be known for more than its Shakespeare connection as the county begins to carve out a place on the racing map, writes David Hucker.
In his seventh season with a license, Skelton had already notched up 360 career winners at the start of the afternoon.
He has been setting a scorching pace at the top of this season’s trainers table and moved onto 40 winners for the campaign when Honkytonktennessee, ridden by his brother Harry, reversed placings with Play The Ace from their previous encounter over the course last month to take the feature £20,000 Angels Solicitors Handicap Chase.
Although Honkytonktennessee didn’t seem to go through with his effort from the final obstacle that day, he was 3lbs better off at the weights this time and Skelton sent him clear of the rest three fences from home to poach what, in the end, proved to be a decisive advantage.
It should have been plain sailing from there on, but, with the race seemingly in the bag, Honkytonktennessee did his best to throw it all away, making a complete mess of the last fence and then wandering off a straight line on the run-in.
At the post, he had enough in hand to hold on and make it a double on the afternoon for the stable after the earlier success of Azzuri at Southwell.
Wilmcote-based Murphy is right at the start of his career and followed up his first win on the Flat with a maiden jumping success at Market Rasen seven days earlier courtesy of Gold Class.
After Pershing had doubled his jumps tally at Southwell a couple of hours earlier, he was looking for more success with Sky Of Stars in the first division of the Brummies Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
It didn’t look too promising when Graham Watters was hard at work on Sky Of Stars down the back straight but, after Innocent Girl had blundered her chance away at the penultimate flight, he started to make progress and wore down Bring Back Charlie, who had travelled well throughout the race, to score by half a length.
There was a thrilling finish to the opening Coventry Telegraph & Birmingham Mail Juvenile Hurdle and a big cheer went up as judge Nick Bostock announced that Scottish raider Taxmeifyoucan had just got up on the line to win.
With favourite Mauricio failing to stay the trip, it looked like The Raven Master, on whom Harry Skelton had been making steady progress on the final circuit, had timed his challenge to perfection as he touched down in front of the always-prominent Phoenix Dawn jumping the last flight.
His stride faltered, however, and he faded into third on the run-in, as 5-1 shot Taxmeifyoucan and conditional jockey Finian O’Toole came through on the outside to snatch victory.
The money talked in the Peugeot Citroen Handicap Chase over two and three-quarter miles as Scripturient, a 10-1 chance in the racecard betting forecast, was sent off the well-backed 5-2 favourite, turning the race into a procession after the penultimate fence, beating the running-on Shaiyaz by 12 lengths with the pace-setting That’s The Deal back in third.
There were three course winners in the Askews Accountants Handicap Hurdle (For The Stratford Summer Salver) with Free Stone Hill, who had been given a break since his last outing at Aintree in May, looking to have a good chance of adding to the Skelton haul.
But, it was Our Three Sons and Page Fuller who led going to the final flight, with Harry Skelton sitting motionless alongside on Free Stone Hill, ready to pounce.
The complexion of the race changed in a stride, however, as Free Stone Hill pitched on landing and, despite rallying on the run to the line, lost out by the minimum distance of a nose, with the winner trading at 6-1 in betting on the photo.
There was a furious pace up front in the Eden Vauxhall Handicap Chase, with Bestwork amongst three vying for the lead. He was still in front turning for home and, despite the efforts of his pursuers, led by Sage Monkey and Go On Henry, ran on strongly to defy his burden of 12-0 and follow up his Uttoxeter win for owners Henacre Racing and Over Norton trainer Charlie Longsdon.
Rebel Yeats sprang a 50-1 surprise when scoring on her first run for Alvechurch trainer Ian Williams at Warwick in May and, although failing to double up when beaten by the 125-rated Lithic at Market Rasen, was sent off the 5-4 favourite in the Mick Baker Memorial “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle.
However, she couldn’t peg back Dear Sire who, despite jumping out to the right and clouting the last flight, ran on resolutely for Cheshire trainer Donald McCain.
Favourite Mr Caffrey took the last of the eight races to send the large crowd home happy and many will be back again for next Sunday’s Ladies Day, for which gates will open at noon ahead of the first race scheduled for 2.10pm.