IT was business as usual for Dan and Harry Skelton at Stratford’s last evening meeting of the year on Tuesday, landing a first and last race double to get their season back on track after a couple of frustrating weeks, writes David Hucker.
After a blistering start to the season when they could, seemingly, do no wrong, the stable’s strike rate has slowed in the last two weeks, with just three winners from their last 26 runners.
After 19mm of rain had fallen over the weekend, the going was good to soft and the question in the opening Watch Racing UK On BT TV Novices’ Hurdle was whether Hatcher, who had run up a hat-trick of wins by a combined margin of 67 lengths on good ground, would be just effective on a softer surface.
As well as the going, Hatcher also had to contend with conceding weight to all his rivals, with Ffos Las winner Francky Du Berlais, who was in receipt of 12lbs, fancied to end his unbeaten run.
Hatcher set off to make all the running as usual and, although Francky Du Berlais closed the gap in the home straight, he had enough in hand to score by two and a half lengths.
Peppay Le Pugh had finished runner-up in his last five outings and was made an odds-on chance to get his head in front in the Racing UK HD On Sky 426 Handicap Chase on his first start for the Skelton yard.
He cruised past leader Deise Vu rounding the turn for home, winning in facile style to bring up Dan’s 82nd winner of the campaign and the 80th for jockey Harry.
Wilmcote trainer Olly Murphy had chosen Fontwell Park winner Walk Waterford from his two entries in the following Rio Gold Syndicate Novices’ Handicap Chase over two miles and five furlongs and, despite carrying a 7lb penalty, he headed the betting with champion jockey Richard Johnson again in the saddle.
Walk Waterford duelled for the lead with outsider Monty Massini until going on with a circuit to run, with winning point-to-pointer Pink Eyed Pedro and Elkstone giving chase.
The writing was on the wall for the favourite at the second-last fence as he dropped back quickly and, with Pink Eyed Pedro fading on the turn for home, it was 4-1 shot Elkstone, a chance ride for Robbie Dunne, who took command of the race, staying on well in the straight to beat chasing debutant Polished Rock.
The first of three races to carry a prize fund of £11,800 was the Visit The All New racinguk.com Handicap Hurdle over three and a quarter miles and it was top-weight Bassarabad and favourite Guerrilla Tactics who disputed the lead from the off.
Guerrilla Tactics hadn’t been seen over the smaller obstacles since beating Lord Topper at Warwick eleven months ago, but he showed a good turn of foot to take what proved to be a winning lead on the home turn, just holding off the late challenge of Dreamsoftheatre by a head.
Jockey Brian Hughes had been in double-winning form at Cartmel on Bank Holiday Monday and he travelled to Stratford for just two rides, the first coming on 3-1 favourite Chieftain’s Choice in the Racegoers Club 50th Anniversary Handicap Hurdle.
Exitas, a course winner over fences, had led from the start with amateur jockey Tommie O’Brien, but Chieftain’s Choice was breathing down his neck approaching the final flight and skipped clear on the run-in for a four and a half-length success, making it win number 47 for the season for Hughes, who sits in third place in the jockeys’ championship behind Skelton and Johnson.
His second ride came on Jamacho, part-owned by the Stratford Racecourse owners group, in the Bet At ruk.com Handicap Hurdle over two miles.
Heading the market was Romanor, who sprang a 20-1 surprise when beating Regulation over the course in June but, whereas the runner-up had failed to build on that effort, Romanor had gone from strength to strength, winning again at Fontwell Park just five days earlier.
Jamacho tracked leader Thahab Ifraj to the penultimate flight, as the rest of the field bunched up behind, and it was Romanor who burst out of the pack to strike the front approaching the final jump and run on well to deny bottom-weight Watt Broderick with Tamarillo Grove, backed in from 16-1 to 10-1 before the off, a staying-on third.
With five winning favourites, it was a good evening for punters and, in what is a busy period for the course, there is racing again next Tuesday afternoon, when the six-race card gets underway at 2.15pm.