Battle for jockeys' championship hots up at Stratford Racecourse's season opener
AFTER overnight rain which had turned the going soft, a dry and sunny day ushered in the new Stratford season on Monday and it saw the latest round in the battle for the jockeys’ championship between leader Brian Hughes and nearest pursuer Harry Skelton, writes David Hucker.
Hughes clinched the title last season, cut short by Covid-19, with 141 winners, so ending Richard Johnson’s run of four consecutive championships.
Lockdown meant the 2020-21 season didn’t start until July but, with under two months to go, an exciting finish is in prospect as Hughes looks to repel the challenges of Skelton and Harry Cobden, who has the backing of the powerful Paul Nicholls stable.
A winner at Warwick on Sunday took Skelton’s total to 108, just six behind the champion, with Cobden close up in third place on 105.
While Hughes and Skelton were at Stratford, Cobden was riding at Taunton, where he kept up the pressure with a treble.
The opening Join Racing TV Now Juvenile Hurdle looked to lie between Casa Loupi, twice runner-up to leading JCB Triumph Hurdle candidate Tritonic, and the progressive Stepney Causeway, a 14-length winner at Catterick last time out.
So it proved as Stepney Causeway and Skelton made all the running to deny the odds-on favourite, although Casa Loupi’s cause wasn’t helped in the closing stages by his jockey Jamie Moore having to ride without stirrups.
Despite making mistakes, Kap Auteuil got off the mark over fences in emphatic fashion when a 19-length winner at Fakenham last time and, although he had taken a big hike in the weights, doubled up in the Watch On Racing TV Novices’ Handicap Chase.
He was again not foot-perfect, but had too much in hand for top-weight Hazzaar, who also made mistakes on his chasing debut.
One to note is the lightly-raced Darling Du Large, whose last win came over hurdles in 2019 but who was going well in behind the winner until crumpling on landing at the penultimate fence.
There was no hanging around for the 13 runners in the Racecourse Live Streams On RacingTV Extra Novices’ Handicap Hurdle and it was Blazing Saddles, ridden by Matt Griffiths, who led the field out on the final circuit, seeing off all challengers and comfortably holding the late run of Isthebaropen to take victory.
There was a turn-up in the feature Class 3 Richard & Jill Hurst Ruby Wedding Celebration Handicap Chase when 12-1 shot Joueur Bresilien proved too strong on the run-in for Accordingtogino and Orrisdale.
Brought with a perfectly-timed run by Hughes to jump past the front pair at the final fence, Joueur Bresilien made light of a 429-day absence to restore the reigning champion’s lead in the title race to six.
Skelton hit back in the following Bet At racingtv.com Handicap Hurdle (Challenger Two Mile Hurdle Series Qualifier), producing Vision De Puy to collar favourite Glory And Fortune close home.
Racing in the familiar colours of JP McManus, Vision De Puy won both her starts in France, but was scoring for the first time in five outings in this country and could win again from her current mark.
The absence of point-to-point racing has seen much larger fields than usual on the racecourses and the pointtopoint.co.uk Novices’ Hunters’ Steeplechase, won last year by 6-4 favourite Risk And Roll, saw 13 runners set out on the two miles and five furlongs trip.
There was another short-priced favourite this time in the shape of Golden Tobouggan, runner-up to the useful Caid Du Berlais at Wincanton but, having looked like the winner turning out of the back straight, he found nothing more on the run to the last fence and was passed by 3-1 shot I’m Wiser Now.
Parramount, runner-up in both his starts for Over Norton trainer Charlie Longsdon, ran out an easy winner of the closing 100% RacingTV Profits Back To Racing Maiden Open National Hunt Flat Race in the hands of Hughes to make it all square with Skelton on the afternoon.
This strapping horse was always going comfortably within himself and looks a chaser in the making.
One who caught the eye was 33-1 outsider Earth King, who made good late headway to finish fifth on his racecourse debut.
The second meeting of the new season takes place behind closed doors on Monday 29th March.