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Harry Skelton brings up half-century at Stratford

Hatcher canters home to win the Racing Welfare Racing Staff Week Maiden Hurdle. Photo: David Pratt
Hatcher canters home to win the Racing Welfare Racing Staff Week Maiden Hurdle. Photo: David Pratt

HARRY Skelton, boosted by the red-hot form of the horses trained by his brother Dan, extended his lead over reigning champion Richard Johnson at the top of the jockeys' table when bringing up his half-century at Stratford on Tuesday evening, writes David Hucker.

Although having topped the table briefly last season, Skelton was playing catch-up to Johnson for most of the time, eventually finishing third with a career-best total of 131 compared to the champ’s 176.

This season, despite riding fewer horses, Skelton’s 33 per cent strike-rate has seen him go clear at the top, with a four-timer at Uttoxeter on Sunday taking his score to 49.

All but one of his winners have come from Dan’s stable and his Hatcher was backed into 5-4 favourite to bring up the half-century in the opening Racing Welfare Racing Staff Week Maiden Hurdle.

A faller at Huntingdon when looking held by the leader, Hatcher was then sent off favourite at the last meeting to beat Olly Murphy’s Yensir, but failed to deliver, going down by two and a half lengths.

There was no doubt this time, as Skelton bounced him away from the starting gate and, apart from D’Waterside keeping him company over the first four flights, none of the others could land a blow, with Hatcher having the race sewn up a long way out.

He finished six lengths in front of Carntop, who should be up to landing a race of this type in the not too distant future, and the staying-on Fleeting Visit, who took third place on the run-in.

There were three non-runners in the following BH & HPA Heart Of England Novices’ Handicap Chase over two and three-quarter miles, including Dan Skelton’s Cafe Au Lait, and it was top-weight Birch Hill, runner-up at Cartmel last time, who set a steady pace with Adrian Heskin.

He had to concede 11lbs to Born For War, who was making his chasing debut, but came into the race with solid hurdles form, having finished just behind Notnow Seamus at Southwell last time out.

It looked coming to the last that the weight difference would tell, but Birch Hill stuck to his task and, hard as Born For War tried, he couldn’t get past and there was still two lengths between them at the line.

A winner at the meeting last year, Vosne Romanee lined up again in the feature £15,000 Avonvale Equine Practice 50 Anniversary Handicap Chase over two miles and one furlong, but had to give weight away to his three rivals, including Olly Murphy’s Royal Plaza, who has been raised 6lbs for his win over Mercian King at Fontwell Park last time.

Jumping well at the head of affairs, Royal Plaza was the one to catch, but Sam Twiston-Davies was biding his time on Vosne Romanee and brought him to challenge approaching the final fence, quickly going clear for a comfortable success.

There was another good prize for the Wheaton Lamb & Burrows Handicap Hurdle in which last year’s runner-up Byron Blue was attempting to go one better from a 12lb higher handicap mark. It was top-weight Good Tradition, trained in Cheshire by Donald McCain, who attracted the money to get his head in front this time, having finished runner-up on his last two starts.

Byron Blue set out to make all the running, but was passed by Good Tradition after the second-last flight and, from there on, he was the only horse in it, with Bright Tomorrow coming through late to take second place, beaten 27 lengths by the easy winner.

The money came for Sword of Fate in the HL Barnes Handicap Chase, with Tom Lacey’s runner shortening from 7-2 to 11-4 favourite at the off. Nico de Boinville soon had him making the running, but they were joined at the third-last fence by Our Three Sons, a dual course winner over hurdles.

It looked as if Page Fuller and Our Three Sons were going the better, but the favourite wouldn’t lie down and the two came into the home straight together with de Boinville conjuring up a final effort from Sword of Fate to stay on the stronger from the final obstacle.

A McCain double looked to be on the cards as point-to-point winner Noah And The Ark seemingly had his rivals in trouble turning for home in the concluding BCG Racing Standard National Hunt Flat Race.

He quickly back-pedalled, however, as Leaving Home and Olly Murphy’s This Lovely Lady came to lay down a challenge, with the James Bowen ridden Leaving Home proving the stronger inside the final furlong.

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