Milton Harris's flat-breds in the ascendant
Chepstow in mid October is the traditional start of the core Jumps season, and in recent years, the lovable South Wales course has been expending huge efforts to grow its two day kick-off to the winter. Led by some smart graded races and a £75,000 handicap hurdle, it begins a long sequence of valuable Saturday cards that only draws to a halt at Sandown next April.
Unseasonably wet weather this year led to heavy ground. This is to be expected when the staying mudlarks line up for the Welsh National after Christmas, but conditions would certainly have left the Chepstow ground staff in dismay at this early stage in proceedings. It wasn't enough to put off a summer jumps graduate from outshining his peer group though.
Sutton Veny trainer Milton Harris is having a good go in shifting the balance of power among Wiltshire-based Jumps trainers from the north of the county to the south. His 30 wins to date have landed him in second place in the Trainers' Championship, largely on the back of some sharp juveniles in unremarkable novice events from Stratford to Newton Abbot. This is a yard that excels with flat-bred youngsters with enough speed to adapt to hurdling and run up a sequence, rather than staying chasers over 3m plus.
Take Pyramid Place for example. Since leaving the august quarters of John Gosden in Newmarket's Bury Road, the son of Derby winner Authorized wasted no time in running off three wins in his juvenile season for his new stable. He drew a blank in the 21-22 season, but since the start of 2023, has done little wrong. After a winner at Wetherby in February, he's been running through the summer months, including a brace of victories at Cartmel - a venue that rarely draws the eye of the handicapper. This was enough to ensure him a handy weight of just 10st 8 in the £75,000 Wasdell Group Silver Trophy.
This is the sort of expertise that owners draw on when they entrust their horses to a trainer like Milton Harris. With leading conditional Bradley Harris (no relation) in the plate, the six year old made light of the ground conditions and belied his 20/1 SP to land the spoils by 3 1/4l.
Earlier on the same afternoon, the latest in the most recent crop of newly adopted juveniles announced his presence on the scene too. Balboa showed he has some fight in him in winning the opening juvenile hurdle by 4l, having been knocking on the door in previous runs at Cartmel and Market Rasen.
Looks like there's plenty of ammunition to come from the Harris stable as we enter a formative time for the sport.
Meantime, the Wessex calendar is set up for the opening weekend of the new Point-to-Point season. The Portman gets the ball rolling at Badbury Rings on November 12th.