Nicholls brings a Foxhunter trophy back to Somerset
There was a Wessex theme to the grand finale of the Hunter Chase season when 54 runners faced the starter in the 7 race Hunters' evening at Stratford on Friday.
Some might question the need for champion trainer Paul Nicholls to chase down hunter chases at the lowest end of the racing spectrum. Yet followers of the sport have become very familiar with the appearance of Nicholls at our small meets, as he watches his daughter olive, just as so many other owners watch their own children learning the art of race riding. There have been numerous occasions when Nicholls has eschewed the excitement of the professional game on a Sunday to attend a point-to-Point.
Olive Nicholls has been in contention for the novice riders' title this season, but her first visit as a rider to Stratford resulted in a winner and second. Shantou Flyer provided the winner in the Royal Equestrian Racing Club Ladies Open Championship Final, proving no match for Normofthenorth and Solomon Grey, a handsome 12l separating them at the line. And it could have been a double but for Kaproyale not reading that script in the opener, pipping Magic Saint by 1 1/2l into second. Somerset based Sam Loxton was the man in charge, whose one in three strike rate is to be noted.
But the story of the nights surely surrounds Secret Investor, owned by Herefordshire-based Clive Hitchings, who beat last year's winner Vaucelet into second place in the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter Chase under Natalie Parker. Secret Investor has done the Nicholls team proud, winning nearly £165,000 in prize money - albeit little at this level - and still rated 142. Rare it is nowadays to see horses of this calibre between the flags.
A new kid on the block may mean the Foxhunter trophy could head north next year after Sine Nomine made the long trek from North Yorkshire worthwhile for Fiona Needham and rider John Dawson in the pointtopoint.co.uk Novices Champion Chase. Any one of three might have won it at the last, but Dawson drove Sine Nomine to find more.
A somerset trainer/rider was also on hand to win a unique race in the Hunter Chase calendar later the same evening. Sixteen Letters is trained by Josh Newman at Crewkerne, and won the White Swan Hotel Hunters Handicap Chase with a little in hand. Sixteen Letters may be what some in the trade call "enigmatic".