On the eve of Ascot, we celebrate another Mullins
South Wiltshire's finest have been putting themselves back in the news this week as the rest of the racing world limbers up for the splendour of Royal Ascot starting on Tuesday.
There can be fewer starker contrasts in racing than the pomp and ceremony of a full-blooded Ascot and a day's summer jumping at Southwell, but the latter is a more regular haunt just now for Wilsford's Seamus Mullins, whose Kentford Mallard was a 4l winner of the Bramley Newspaper Mares Handicap Hurdle yesterday at the Nottinghamshire track. Seven runs since January 1 make this one of the busiest horses in training, and certainly among the most robust.
Seamus has enjoyed a terrific start to the new campaign, this being his sixth winner. He has a good strike rate around Southwell. Only Plumpton tops it.
Further west, another man reinventing himself is Milton Harris, enjoying a first winner in nearly a month courtesy of handicap hurdler Khan at Fontwell today, who precipitated an enquiry after the horse showed what looked like considerable improvement to win. Since the last win was over 1m 2f shorter, and without the assistance of a first-time tongue strap, explanations were accepted. Chalk the first winner of the new Jumps season to the Warminster handler.
Fontwell's seven race card tells a sad story of the demise of Jump racing in the South East. Just one winner today is trained in Sussex, by Diana Grissell at Brightling Park in East Sussex. Compare this to West Country, Midlands or Yorkshire courses, which have successfully stimulated local training businesses to supply both runners and winners. The halcyon days of Sussex as a powerhouse of Jumping talent through the likes of Josh Gifford are largely gone, although a rearguard action is being fought by Gary Moore, Nick Gifford and Diana whose daughter Rose handles Pointers as well. Rose is at the forefront of racing's embracing of diversity.
The same is mirrored among Point-to-Point fixtures in the South East. There are virtually no horses qualified with South east hunts nowadays, meaning fixture secretaries have to harvest their runners from East Anglia and the southern counties. The loss of Parham as a venue will also impact on the choice of venue for the popular Chiddingfold, Leconfield & Cowdray meeting, leaving a lot laying on the shoulders of the equally popular Aldington Races.
A year ago next week, a deserted Royal Ascot hosted a rare event in the form of a treble by Jumps trainer Alan King, with winners in the Ascot Stakes with Coeur du Lion, Duke of Edinburgh with Scarlet Dragon (giving Holly Doyle her first Royal Ascot winner) and Queen Alexandra with Who Dares Wins. It seems highly improbable that any Jumps trainer, never mind the master of Barbury, should achieve a treble again any time soon, but I always look out for those with stronger wintertime reputations in the longer distance races, where Jumps handlers have an enviable record. King on the other hand, no longer sees himself as primarily a Jumps man; the yard has a dual focus, reflected in the volume of runners across both codes, and a growing reputation in the summer sport.
Whether you're a died-in-the-wool Jumps man or a follower of racing under any code, it's a fixture to savour, all the more so with all 35 races being broadcast by ITV.
Put on your finery at home and enjoy.