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May Racing Carnival opener attracts Warwick's biggest crowd for 21 years

Easy Street (near) leads Pretty Reckless over the last in the Qatar Airways Handicap Chase. Photo: David Pratt (dwprattracingphotography.co.uk)
Easy Street (near) leads Pretty Reckless over the last in the Qatar Airways Handicap Chase. Photo: David Pratt (dwprattracingphotography.co.uk)

GLORIOUS sunshine saw Warwick enjoy its largest attendance since 1997 for the start of the Qatar Airways May Racing Carnival, with 6,686 basking in the bank holiday sunshine, writes David Hucker.

And it proved a red-letter day for leading owner JP McManus and jockey Richie McLernon, who landed a double, including the day’s big race.

The green and yellow hoops of McManus are familiar colours on British and Irish racecourses and McLernon could be spotted going easily on 16-1 shot Easy Street as the runners turned out of the back straight in the feature Qatar Airways Handicap Chase.

Despite topping the weights with 11-12, Easy Street had been dropping down the handicap and was back to the same mark as when last winning at Fontwell Park 13 months ago.

Although Pretty Reckless threatened over the final fence, the result was never in doubt as Easy Street strolled away on the run-in for a seven-length success, completing a quick double for owner and jockey, having taken the previous race with Hargam.

Course ambassador Dan Skelton had landed last year’s running of the Molly Ollys Wishes Novices' Handicap Chase with CobraDe Mai and he saddled dual hurdle winner Free Stone Hill this time, but faced a well-backed rival in the grey Hargam.

A useful juvenile hurdler when trained by Nicky Henderson, he was switched to the John Quinn yard last October, but didn’t immediately show any improvement, being pulled up in his last two starts.

Racing on better ground this time, he returned to his best, having too much pace from the last fence for Free Stone Hill, who had travelled well throughout the race and had every chance turning for home.

It has been onwards and upwards for Skelton since setting up as a trainer on the family farm in Warwickshire, having posted a career-best 156 winners last season at a strike rate of 19 per cent.

He kicked off the new campaign with a four-timer at Uttoxeter on Saturday and, despite this defeat, left the course with two winners to add to his already burgeoning total in the shape of Gortroe Joe and the well-backed Bandsman.

Huntingdon winner Lungarno Palace set the standard in the opening Olly Murphy Racing Novices' Hurdle, but he carried 6lb more than his rivals for that success and had since been beaten at Kempton Park.

He nearly got back to winning ways, but found Gortroe Joe, who had made all the running after jumping to the front at the first flight, half a length too good at the line.

Great Alne trainer Robin Dickin ran two in the Visit The All New racinguk.com Handicap Hurdle, with course winner Wildmoor Boy having his first race since a wind operation.

He took the field along at a good pace, but didn’t feature in the finish which saw 13-8 favourite Bandsman, who had been 14-1 in the racecard betting forecast, run away with the race in the style of an improving horse.

Simply The Betts won a bumper at Market Rasen last September, but had failed to follow up in four runs over hurdles.

The last of these was the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and he found the opposition a lot less daunting in the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing "National Hunt" Maiden Hurdle, cruising into the lead with Daryl Jacob approaching the penultimate flight and proving far too good for his rivals.

Chatelier and James Nixon led into the straight and held off the challenge of Druid’s Folly to land the Agetur Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle. The fancied Be Daring did his chances no good with some untidy jumps, running on late to take fourth place and reward each-way backers.

The Henry J Socks Ltd Handicap Hurdle was divided, with Ring Minella coming out on top in a thrilling finish to the first division where just a length covered the first four home, and Hoo Bally Diva wearing down favourite Hollow Park to take the second.

Saturday sees the second leg of the Carnival with Ladies Night, featuring live music and entertainment, including a leading Robbie Williams tribute act.

There will also be a new competition, ‘Fashions On The Field’, with two Qatar Airways economy class return flights from Birmingham to Doha among the prizes. Local businesses Ardencote Manor Hotel, Listers Audi and Warwick Castle will also be providing prizes.

The seven-race card gets underway at 5.30pm, with the feature being the Class 3 Lawton Tubes Centenary Handicap Hurdle over two miles and three furlongs.

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