Boreham Bill adds to Lavelle account in Lanzarote
It can be difficult to raise enthusiasm for early January racing after the richness of the Christmas programme, but today's 3 fixtures from Chepstow, Kempton and Wincanton, including several rescheduled Graded events from cancelled fixtures between Christmas and New Year, did exactly that, showcasing the sport at its best.
In conditions that have been anything but favourable, ground staff at each course succeeded in beating Jack Frost, and whilst the going was dead everywhere, to race at all after the low temperatures earlier in the week was nothing short of a triumph.
And between Wincanton and Kempton, our Wiltshire trainers were more than keeping their end up.
Kempton's Lanzarote Hurdle isn't quite the race it once was, but it always turns in a competitive event and the 20 runner field illustrates its popularity. First run in 1978 when my old guvnor, Gerry Enright, won it for Josh Gifford on Nougat, it keeps delivering good quality stayers. This time, it was the turn of Emma Lavelle's Boreham Bill under conditional Ben Jones, who delighted bookmakers by going clear in the final 100yds and winning going away, at 66/1. It continues the fine form of the Lavelle yard, clocking up the 20th winner of the term.
Wincanton is normally the private fiefdom of one Paul Nicholls, whose Shepton Mallet stable is about as local as you can get. And whilst the Nicholls winner machine was busy enough with two winners here and a haul for the day of seven in total, it was Alan King who stole the day with a double. Seven year old On To Victory switched from Eve Johnson Houghton a little over a year ago, having run up several victories on the Flat. This was his maiden hurdle triumph, a race in which he did just enough to win.
Around 90 minutes later, Daryl Jacob steered Messine des Obeaux to a comfortable win in the rescheduled Dipper Chase, re-routed from waterlogged Cheltenham. The 3 runner race begs the question of whether races of this calibre are actually worth saving, by Jacob won't have minded; this was leg 2 of a five-timer.There aren't so many days like that!
Warminster trainer Milton Harris is a man who won't stay down when life puts him on the canvas. He continued his "rehabilitation" when Jacob gave a masterly lesson in patient riding on Jackson Hill in the closer. Missing the break, he trailed the field until 4 out, picking off beaten horses and getting his head in front 2 from home. Milton's a long way off his best year of 2010-11, when he trained 32 winners, but he's evidently placing them well. His 8 winners this season to date have generated nearly £95k in prize money, nearly half that winning-most season.
Meanwhile, Pointing fans are learning patience, as our governing body scopes out the practicalities of rescheduling fixtures from January and February, and fixture secretaries are faced with the financial realities of racing behind closed doors. A majority of Larkhill's fixtures have already been cancelled, and the schedule for Spring is already thinning out as the uncertainty over the end of this lockdown begins to meet the reality of set up costs for a fixture.
The racing we've seen to date has been top drawer, with big fields and competitive racing. The upside of a severe reduction in fixtures will be a continuation of this competitive racing, and an improved Hunter chase programme as horses qualify for the Foxhunter Chases of the Spring, but with every further week of uncertainty, the difficulties of mounting a fixture and funding it become more acute. It's going to be a telling season.