Ascot Concludes Jumps Season With Spring Family Raceday

April 4, 2023

Ivaldi forges his way to victory in the Ascot Shop Handicap Hurdle (JTW Equine Images)

By JTW Equine Images

Ascot Racecourse played host to their final jumps race meeting of the 2022/23 season on Sunday 2nd April, which was also marketed as the first Family Raceday for 2023 at Ascot. On the seven-race card, there featured a competitive juvenile handicap hurdle, as well as a favourite for racegoers in the Veterans’ Handicap Chase, a race for horses aged 10 or older.

Though the day started off cold and grey, by the end of the day spring was definitely in the air, a fitting transition many would say from the National Hunt to the Flat season. Only 3 more race days are planned as things stand between now and Royal Ascot in June; the Royal Ascot Trials Day on Wednesday 3rd May and then a doubleheader on Friday 12th and Saturday 13th May, featuring the Victoria Cup on the latter day.

El Rio wins the opening race on Spring Family Raceday (JTW Equine Images)

El Rio and David Bass were easy winners of the opening race on Spring Family Raceday, the Ascot Racecourse Supports Ascot United Warriors Maiden Hurdle, for trainer Kim Bailey and owner Rio Grandess. In a race where nothing much happened for the first half of the soft going contest over 2m 4f, at the hurdle turning out of Swinley Bottom for the second time the favourite Mylesfromwicklow made a shuddering error, Harry Skelton doing well to maintain the partnership.

Spago was also beginning to mount his challenge under Paddy Brennan, but a steady-run race soon turned into a dash for home, with Bass kicking on, leaving his nearest pursuers flat-footed, and 2 foot-perfect jumps sealed a very eye-catching win for connections. Mylesfromwicklow battled on for 2nd, and Spago was third, in a race where nothing else threatened.

Eaton Collina takes The Soil Science Novices’ Handicap Chase (JTW Equine Images)

The Soil Science Novices’ Handicap Chase went the way of favourite Eaton Collina and jockey Richard Patrick, for trainer Kerry Lee and owner Mrs H. Watson. In an eventful race where Gamaret, Allo Allo and William Cody all either fell or unseated the rider, the eventual winner also jumped markedly left throughout. At the fence that would be the last in a circuit’s time, Gamaret fell, giving Charlie Deutsch no chance of staying on. Heading out into the country with a circuit to go, Allo Allo was cruising on the outside of the eventual winner but made a bad mistake at the next fence, and gave jockey Ciaran Gethings no chance of maintaining the partnership; a crushing blow for one travelling so smoothly. The leader Eaton Collina continued to jump to their left, and by the turn for home, only 4 horses were left in the race, quickly reducing to 3 at the second last, when William Cody crashed out. Eaton Collina was therefore left to come home unchallenged, to score by 20 lengths at odds of 2-1.

There was a sad postscript to the race, however, as after racing we became aware that Gamaret had very tragically sustained a fatal injury in his fall. Our thoughts are with jockey Charlie Deutsch, trainer Venetia Williams, owners Kennett Valley Thoroughbreds VII and all connections.

Blueking D’Oroux victorious in the Royal Ascot Racing Club Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (JTW Equine Images)

A huge shock was had in the third race of the afternoon, the Royal Ascot Racing Club Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, where Blueking D’Oroux won at odds of 50-1 for jockey Angus Cheleda, trainer Paul Nicholls and owner Mrs Johnny de La Hey.

The Ditcheat top weight was a pillar-to-post victor, always being bang there at the front, and in a race where the tempo was sedate at first, the field was stacked as a result for much of the contest. Penna Rossa was an awkward ride for Charlie Price at the early obstacles, wandering around at a few, and down the back straight Arclight gave her jockey Nico de Boinville and backers a fright when almost running out. The complexion was set up turning for home, where the Ben Pauling-trained Bad was outpaced, and favourite backers were praying Mr Freedom, 5th in the Fred Winter at the Cheltenham Festival, could find a gap for jockey Robbie Dunne’s urgings.

Straightening up, the eventual winner kicked on strongly, galloping all the way to the line, being pursued by stablemate Afadil all the way. Over the last, it became clear that despite Havaila finishing well under Sam Twiston-Davies, the bird had flown, and it was a Ditcheat 1-2, with the fast finisher only just being denied 2nd. Trainer Paul Nicholls had recently been critical of the handicap mark of 127 allocated to the winner, but Angus’s 5lb claim came in very handy, allowing the victory.

Black Gerry on his way to a five-length score in the LK Bennet Handicap Chase (JTW Equine Images)

Black Gerry gave the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase winner Editeur du Gite combination of jockey Niall Houlihan and trainer Gary Moore a winner on Sunday at Ascot, in the LK Bennet Handicap Chase over 2 miles and one furlong. A type of race that is well-appreciated at Ascot, the early pace was set at a good temp for the conditions.

The leader Fast Buck jumped well throughout the first half of the race, with Hatcher making a mistake at the middle of the fences on the back straight. Fast Buck continued to jump well into Swinley Bottom, but made a mistake coming into the side straight. Dolos briefly threatened to assert, before Royale Margaux swept past turning for home. At the second last however he had a host of challengers behind him, and at one point it looked to be a quintet jumping the last; Royale Margaux, Black Gerry, Frere D’Armes, and Dolos being joined by Hatcher from the back. However, it was Black Gerry under Niall Houlihan and Frere D’Armes under Harry Skelton who took the battle to the last, with the former careering away to take the spoils. Like Hatcher, they had bided their time at the back, and the perfectly-timed run was produced to great effect, to win for owner Mrs M. Devine. Trainer Gary Moore commented after the race that the horse will be aimed at the Jumps Season Finale at Sandown on April 29th.

The Imposter (blue silks) takes the Colts And Fillies Club Novices’ Handicap Hurdle (JTW Equine Images)

The Imposter was a game winner under jockey Tom Buckley of the Colts And Fillies Club Novices’ Handicap Hurdle for trainer Nigel Hawke and owners Mark Philips and J.H. Gumbley. The 4-1 favourite was always up close from the start, in a handy position heading into Swinley Bottom, as the field headed towards the second and third hurdles, with Scamallach Liath leading along. Revasser did not jump either of those hurdles with any sort of aplomb, with Rebel Intentions taking a handy position at this point. At the fourth, The Imposter landed just in front of Scamallach Liath, and with a circuit to go there was only one horse struggling. Revasser was being pushed along by Bryony Frost with a circuit to go, but Realm of Glory wanted the pace to be very much quicker, keen under Charlie Deutsch.

The pace was not to their liking down the hill and into Swinley Bottom, with the field stacking up. The early exertions soon told as they began to drop away coming up the hill, as Charging Point began a move. San Pedro was being kidded along at this point, with Revasser not finding anything for pressure. Ailes D’amour began to fade as the field headed along the side of the course, as Scamallach Liath and The Imposter still at the head of affairs. 3 out Tom Buckley asked for more in an effort to stretch the field, the pace increase catching many out. Rebel Intentions and Thomas Bellamy started to look menacing on the outside turning for home, as Charging Point began to come with their challenge. Heaven Smart and Kraqueline were also staying on, and after the second last, the earlier sprint for home began to show on Rebel Intentions, who faded tamely.

It was almost three in a line at the last, as Charging Point rapped the top of the hurdle, losing all momentum, and effectively handing the eventual winner the race at that point. Scamallach Liath stayed on well for second, as the winner was game and not for passing, who in the process gained their sixth win in seven starts. Trainer Nigel Hawke was quoted by the Racing Post as stating that “you don’t get many horses like him – he just wants to win… you know if you’re upsides two out that he’s going to go close as he always battles. I haven’t had many as genuine as him in my time. I don’t know how good he can be, but he’s got a great will to win which is absolutely priceless.”

Two For Gold soars in the Memberships At Ascot Veterans’ Handicap Chase (JTW Equine Images)

Many would say the feature race of the day was the Memberships At Ascot Veterans’ Handicap Chase over 3 miles, and for this writer, it certainly was! Two For Gold and David Bass were game winners of the race, at the scene of one of the winner’s most admirable performances, when a 2-length second to Fakir D’Oudairies in the 2022 Ascot Chase, over some would say an insufficient 2m 5f. The son of Gold Well then ran admirably in last year’s Grand National, going well for a long way before fading as the extra stamina required did not materialise. That stamina however was in abundance on the soft going at 3 miles, giving the May We Never Be Found Out Partnership 2 another day in the sun.

In the early parts of the contest, the Philip Rowley trained-Wishing and Hoping laid out his stall, with a good jump to lead at the first. That good jump however was not replicated at the third, and Saint Xavier inconvenienced Two For Gold at the fourth. The eventual winner then took closer order at the fifth, with Ruthless Article jumping sharply out to the left at the seventh. By the time the horses were approaching the 9th and 10th fences, there was an 8-length advantage, where Two For Gold was big at the 9th, and took it up after the 10th.

Wishing and Hoping was back leading at the 11th but jumped left at the 12th, giving Two For Gold the initiative again. Larry, Ruthless Article and Run To Milan were still off the pace at that point, but as the field went into Swinley Bottom, they were much closer 6 out. However, the pace quickened approaching for home with Two For Gold remorseless in the conditions, and despite Larry and Run To Milan closing from the back, he and David Bass were not for catching, powering clear to give the jockey and Kim Bailey a double on the day.

The final race of the day, and indeed the 2022/23 National Hunt season at Ascot, saw 7/2 favourite Ivaldi forge his way to a double on the day for Paul Nicholls, owner Mrs Johnny de la Hey, and a deserved winner for Harry Cobden, who had endured a frustrating afternoon until that point. From flag fall in the Ascot Shop Handicap Hurdle over 2m 5 1/2f, the son of Night Wish went to the front and led the field under Harry Cobden, running with a low head carriage. The pair stacked the field, Jerrash being scrubbed along slightly after the first two hurdles, with Hasty Parisian and Rocky Man close behind as they headed out for the final circuit. Certainly Red was not fluent at the first flight in the back straight, nor was Espoir De Romay for the treble-seeking Bailey and Bass combination.

Sir Psycho was travelling well at Swinley Bottom under Angus Cheleda, but Ivaldi was going strongly under Harry Cobden 3 out, and with Sir Psycho cruising 3 out also, another Nicholls 1-2 was on the cards. Push came to shove, Fifty Ball for Niall Houlihan having to be delivered late but turning for home they were under strong pressure, and Ivaldi was then challenged by Rocky Man. The latter hit the second-last, but the bird had already flown at this point. Despite being untidy at the last, Ivaldi had plenty in hand to satisfy favourite backers, and cruised to victory for delighted connections.

Espoir De Romay ran fantastic for second, coming from a mile back to stay on strongly for second, with Rocky Man third. The pillar to post victory gave Nicholls and Mrs Johnny De La Hey a double on the day, but there was sadly another sad postscript. Clay Rogers, under Sean Bowen for the Olly Murphy stable and owned by the Future Champions Racing Syndicate, had fallen heavily 2 out, with the fall tragically proving to be fatal. As with Gamaret, our thoughts are with connections at this sad time.

The information that they too had sadly passed away was only made aware after racing, a sad end to a week which has seen loss in both equine and human capacity. It is a stark reminder that not every day is given, and those who work in the industry do so at a huge level of risk, which must not ever be understated. To the family, friends and colleagues of Jess Whalley and Mazar Allauddin, our thoughts also remain with yourselves, as racing comes together to remember those lost this week.

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