Title rivals Johnson and Skelton continue battle at Warwick
Report by David Hucker
TOWCESTER'S loss was Warwick’s gain, as the transfer of Thursday’s fixture proved a bonus for local racegoers with leading jockey title rivals Richard Johnson and Harry Skelton both in action.
Despite drawing a blank in the previous two days, reigning champion Johnson came into the meeting with 135 winners on the board for the season at a strike rate of 23 per cent and he was keen to set a good pace on Samburu Shujaa in the opening Play Your Racing Pools At Colossus Maiden Hurdle.
Title challenger Skelton was on Redzor, riding for his brother Dan, and he came to join the leader at the third-last flight, opening up a clear advantage as the runners turned towards the home straight.
But, in behind, Nico de Boinville was travelling ominously well on favourite Nestor Park and he took command over the penultimate flight to put daylight between himself and the staying-on SamburuShujaa, with Redzor, who had no answer when the chips were down, back in third.
There was an interesting contest in prospect in the following mares’ novices’ hurdle with Market Rasen bumper scorer Definitelyanoscar, who had hurdling experience on her side, preferred in the betting to Barbados Blue, an impressive wide-margin winner over the course back in May.
As the betting suggested, they came to the second-last hurdle together where Barbados Blue made a mistake to hand the advantage to Definitelyanoscar, who powered clear with Noel Fehily to score by two and a half lengths.
Don’t give up on the runner-up, however, as she stuck to her task despite wandering around on the run-in and should be all the better for the experience next time.
The smallest field of the afternoon lined up for the Cash Out & Consolations At Colossus Novices’ Handicap Chase, but it produced one of the best finishes as top-weight CuddlesMcGraw and Agent Memphis, who had led from the off, battled it out over the final two fences.
Despite coming close together on the run-in, it was Cuddles McGraw who prevailed with Paddy Brennan to bring up Cotswold trainer Fergal O’Brien’s 27 winner of the season.
Fourteen set out in the day’s feature race, the £11,000 colossusbets.com Handicap Hurdle, run over two miles and five furlongs, with a red-hot favourite in the shape of bottom weight Unblinking, runner-up in a big field at Cheltenham 11 days earlier.
Despite being untidy at the penultimate flight, Unblinking proved a decisive winner for conditional jockey Jordan Nailor, beating the lightly-raced Hastrubal, with long-time leader Subcontinent back in third, the trio pulling 20 lengths clear of the remainder.
The grey Rule The Ocean led the field into the straight in the mares’ handicap hurdle, with just FieldExhibition looking like laying down a challenge, although she did her best to throw away her chance when running wide. Straightened-up by Nick Scholfield, Field Exhibition got her head in front jumping the last and ran on strongly to post a 4-1 success for Glamorgan trainer Christian Williams.
Sounds Of Italy was another well-supported favourite in the three-mile Play The Saturday 7 At colossusbets.com Handicap Chase for Dan and Harry Skelton. A winner of two point-to-points on soft ground, as well as breaking his duck under Rules on yielding going, Sounds Of Italy jumped to the front four fences out and, despite Skelton’s right foot slipping out of the stirrup after the last to make life interesting, he was too good for bottom-weight What Larks.
This success brought up his rider’s 115 winner of the campaign as he looks to claw back Johnson’s lead.
There was little form to go on in the closing bumper for three-year-olds, but the betting market singled out €75,000 purchase L’Incorrigible as the one to back and he forged clear of Frenchy Du Large inside the final furlong for trainer Tom Lacey, who is building a reputation in this type of event.