David Christie was the toast of Stratford on Friday night, capturing two of the sport's most prestigious prizes for the Point-to-Point community on the country's most valuable night of hunter chases. The County Fermanagh trainer showed a clean pair of heels to his British counterparts in the last of the three British Foxhunter chases and the Novice Championship.
As if to re-inforce the fixture as the Go-To event for aspirant pointers, Vaucelet, winner of last year's Pointtopoint.co.uk Champion Novices' Chase John Corbett Cup, stepped up a grade into full open company to displace David Kemp's Law of Gold, the previous year's winner, in the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunters Chase.
A muddling pace early allowed Vaucelet to take a leading position with Le Breuil and Dandy Dan, winner of the Ineos Grenadier Intermediate Final at Cheltenham last month, Law of Gold taking the shortest route. In truth, the slow pace made for plenty of jumping errors, which diminished as the pace stepped up on their final circuit, when Law of Gold pushed Le Breuil for the lead.
Three out, Le Breuil had given way to Law of Gold, Vaucelet, Solomon Grey and Downtown Getaway, but the first two, with Stratford form already on their record, had drawn clear, and Vaucelet asserted at the last to run out a 4l victor.
Half an hour earlier, Christie's other runner, Ask D'Man, had looked an improbable winner in the Champion Novices Hunters Chase, hunting around the first circuit, and only showing his hand 4 out, when making some headway. Turning into the straight with one to jump, Ask D'Man still had 7l to make up on long time leader Go Go Geronimo, but despite a less than perfect jump at the last, showed some good speed to take the inner berth and get up by 3/4l.
Both winners were ridden by Barry O'Neill.
The double allows Christie the admirable position of three of the UK and Ireland's leading hunter chasers, given he also trained Winged Leader to be second behind Billaway in the Cheltenham Foxhunters.
The three runner Nimrod Veterinary Products Ladies Championship Hunters' Chase produced another close finish despite the small field. The Waley-Cohen team, represented by father Robert and recently retired Sam, watched Igor just come off worse against dual hunter chase winner Fumet d'Oudairies, representing the Ellis-Andrews partnership that dominates the amateur division, and the drop in class from the heights of the Cheltenham Foxhunter allowed the Tom Ellis-trained gelding to regain a winning thread over regulation fences.
The White Swan Hotel Handicap Hunters Chase is the only handicap in the hunters calendar, but Zamparelli, trained by Victoria Collins in Broadway and ridden by leading Novice rider Freddie Gordon, made the race into a procession, extending a 7l lead at the final bend to over twice that distance at the line.
The long trip from Devon proved well worthwhile for connections of Say About It, qualified with the Torrington Farmers, whose Point-to-Point fixture is the traditional closer to the season in a fortnight. Only 4 of the seven declared faced the starter, and that field was down to two by the closing stages, where Say About It was pressed by Spanish Jump, trained by former rider and At The Races presenter Luke Harvey. Three lengths separated the two at the line for a delighted winning rider Vincent Webster.
The opening PPSA Chase over the minimum distance had spectators with their hearts in their mouths as locally-trained Azzuri, trained by Nick Pearce, assistanct to Dan Skelton and Clerk of nearby Shelfield Park point-to-point course, teamed up with stable amateur Tristan Durrell, but just failed to hold on against Across The Line, trained by Syd Hosie in Dorset. Syd enjoyed success at Cheltenham's hunters' evening, but his current crop of Rules horses are back with Joe Tizzard after running his own training operation with Nick Mitchell, then Ralph Smith.
There's plenty of evidence that British Point-to-Point owners are buying in Ireland. Three of the five runners in the concluding Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Champion Point-to-Point Bumper are Irish-bred, and in keeping with the theme of the evening, it was the Irish-bred Patanita, confidently ridden by Peter Bryan, who took the honours for Georgina Nicholls and the splendidly-named G & T Partnership.
Considering the swathes of pasture and undulating hills, the Berkeley Vale is no epicentre of racehorse development and training. Given the county's predominance in so many equestrian sports, the torch is being carried by a small band of enthusiasts and professional handlers, who are nevertheless representing the area very well.
John O'Shea is one such. Not in the first flower of youth any more, John is no mug when it comes to training from his base near Coleford in the Forest of Dean. And following him just recently would have brought smiles all round.
His latest winner, Fight For It, in the opening novice hurdle at Ludlow yesterday, is the fourth winner in less than a fortnight after a clutch of winners on the flat.
Indeed, Fight For It was bred for the Flat too, being a son of Camelot, a Derby winner, and bred by the dominant Coolmore organisation that is a world leader in graded winners. Fight For It is one who slipped through the net. A slow learner, he has been schooled over hurdles by none other than Henrietta Knight, now no longer training, but using her expertise to mentor young horses or those that have lost their way.
The former Gold Cup winning trainer has certainly worked her magic, as Fight For It ran out a convincing 8l winner, and has plenty of scope to win again.
He follows up on a brace of winners at Chepstow on April 28, hard on the heels of a winner on the clifftop at Brighton 2 days earlier. Indeed, John has a sparkling 29% strike rate from his older horses presently, right up there on winner-runner ratio with the leaders of the pack.
Berkeley Races news brings you articles about racing folk and events in and around the Berkeley country