Harry Skelton closes gap on jockeys' championship leader Brian Hughes with four-timer at Stratford
CHAMPION jockey Brian Hughes and his nearest challenger Harry Skelton fought out the latest round in their battle for this season's title at Stratford on Monday and it was Skelton who came out in front, cutting the gap at the top of the table from six to three, writes David Hucker.
Skelton got off to a flying start in the opening Watch On Racing TV Novices' Hurdle (Novices' Championship Hurdle Series Qualifier) over two miles and half a furlong when Stepney Causeway, an impressive winner here last time, led his rivals a merry dance to score eased down by 15 lengths.
Hughes was on board Faitque De L'Isle, making his British debut for trainer Ed de Giles, and well as he ran, he was always second best in a race where none of the other runners ever got into contention.
The champion struck back in the next, the Join Racing TV Now Handicap Chase over two miles and three furlongs, as the Charlie Longsdon trained Nightfly, well-handicapped on her best form, led turning out of the back straight and proved too good for Jarlath over the final fence.
The runners had been tightly packed with a circuit to go but, with Exeter winner Jemima P in trouble some way out and second-favourite Brave Jag fading between the last two fences, the field had thinned out leaving Nightfly and Jarlath the only two still in with a winning chance in the closing stages.
Hughes did the better of the two in the Racecourse Live Steams On Racing TV Extra Selling Hurdle, finishing runner-up on the veteran Chieftain's Choice with Skelton only fourth on Embole, neither able to land a blow on all-the-way winner Falberto.
Well ridden by Fergus Gregory, who is attached to Olly Murphy's Wilmcote stable, Falberto jumped off in front and was always in command, coming home one-and-a-quarter lengths to the good.
There was some spirited bidding at the post-race auction with connections going to £9,000 to buy the winner back.
Neither had a ride in the long-distance Bet At racingtv.com Handicap Hurdle which went to top-weight Flemcara, owned by the intriguingly named “Andy & The Frisky Fillies”, who led all the way under Tom Bellamy.
The “Andy” of the partnership is Andrew Gemmell, owner of top-class hurdler Paisley Park, who was on hand on the first day that owners were able to return to racing to watch his horse win.
It's nearly two years since Born Survivor last won, but he continues to drop down the ratings and ran in the feature Visit racingtv.com Handicap Chase from a mark of 135 compared to 152 at his best.
Taken into the lead on the turn for home by Skelton, he proved too strong for the pace-setting Colorado Doc and the consistent Midnightreferendum, winning by 14 lengths.
“Age has caught up with him for the higher-class listed races, but he still retains his ability, determination and enthusiasm at this level,” said winning trainer Dan Skelton.
“He needs good ground and may next go to Perth for a race in the last week of the season.”
With the 100% Racing TV Profits Go Back To Racing Handicap Hurdle over two-and-three-quarter miles attracting 62 entries, the race always looked likely to be divided and a field of 15, without absentee Zero To Hero, lined up in the first division.
The runners finished well strung out, thanks to the fast pace set by Shareef Star, but the leader tied up badly in the home straight as 14-1 shot Guillemot, who had raced prominently throughout, flew home under Richard Patrick to beat Definite Winner and Canastero.
Disappointment of the race was Our Rockstar, backed in to 9-4 favourite, who made an early mistake and was never seen with a chance after.
Despite the size of the field, the second division saw an even shorter priced favourite in the shape of Dan Gun and the money looked safe from the moment Skelton sent him to the front approaching the final flight as he quickly put daylight between himself and the rest.
Get Sky High made all the running in the closing The Every Race Live On Racing TV Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race to make it four wins on the afternoon for Skelton compared to one for Hughes.
It looks a race between the two and, after having them as joint favourites, Paddy Power shortened Skelton to 4-5 to overtake Hughes and claim the title.