Our opening fixture in 2018 was the Sky Bet Winter Jumps Raceday. Initially, with 6 races on the card, the Class 1 Listed Sky Bet Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase featured as a re-scheduled additional race following the abandonment on 29th December 2017. The second race, The Sky Bet ‘Best Odds Guaranteed’ Maiden Hurdle, divided to make 8 races on the card.
Passing an initial inspection at 7am on the morning of racing, the weather remained overcast with occasional drizzle throughout the day. However, this did not affect the going which remained as Soft on the Chase course and Soft, Good to Soft in places on the Hurdle course.
The opening race of the day was the class 4 Sky Bet ‘Racing Cash Out’ Novices’ Steeple Chase. Attracting only 3 runners, the Malcolm Jefferson trained Grade 2 hurdle winner MOUNT MEWS went off as favourite. Proving his worth, he made an impressive chasing debut to win by seven lengths under jockey Brian Hughes. Second went to SAM RED for the Skelton Team who challenged the winner three fences from home. Third went to 150-1 outsider SUSSEX ROAD who remained outpaced by the leaders under Dave Crosse.
The first division of the Sky Bet ‘Best Odds Guaranteed’ Maiden Hurdle over 2m4f was the second race. As a £210,000 Irish point-to-point recruit, BLACK OP stood the clear favourite and the mount of Noel Fehily. Although not jumping very fluent, he drew clear approaching the last fence and made easy work in front of his rivals. The Nicky Henderson trained COLONIAL DREAMS finished in second and after blundering at the last fence, he remained 17 lengths behind the winner. Third went to AARON LAD for Dr Newland and Daryl Jacob and FIRST DRIFT finished in fourth for Ben Case who weakened before the last fence.
As the second division the Sky Bet ‘Best Odds Guaranteed’ Maiden Hurdle, 9 runners went to post. TOMMY RAPPER stood the clear favourite for the Skelton Team, co-owned by Olympic Gold Medal winner and Dan’s father Nick Skelton. Proving he was back on track for this season, the seven-year-old stayed on well in a strong finish with BOOK OF GOLD who finished in second place. The Oliver Sherwood trained gelding was ridden out by jockey Leighton Aspell just before the last fence and challenged the winner until the finish line. THE OGLE GOGLE MAN remained outpaced before three fences from home to finish in third place. Fourth place went to FROZEN FLAME for Jonjo O’Neill.
In the fourth race, The Sky Bet ‘Fast Withdrawal’ Novices’ Hurdle Race, all eyes were on the unbeaten RAVENHILL ROAD trained by Yorkshireman Brian Ellison. Heading to post as a clear favourite, the seven-year-old had to work hard against his rivals. In the home straight, the Johnny Farrelly trained AND THE NEW made all the running and stayed on well after the last fence to win by 1 ¾ lengths under Brendan Powell. 40/1 outsider DJANGO DJANGO finished in second place with seven-pound claimer Jonjo O’Neill Jnr on his back. RAVENHILL ROAD’s unbeaten record was broken when he finished in third place after slightly weakening after the last fence. NOT THAT FUISSE finished in fourth place for the Skelton Team.
The feature race of the day was the Class 1 Listed Sky Bet Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase. Rescheduled from our abandonment on 29 December 2017, the race attracted six declarations. After losing the Henderson trained CASABLANCA MIX as a non-runner the day before, RENE’S GIRL went off as the clear favourite. Trained by Dan Skelton and proven over hurdles, RENE’S GIRL won on the first time of asking over chase fences at Worcester in October. She proved to have class after racing enthusiastically and jumped well before drawing clear of her rivals to win by an impressive ten lengths under Harry Skelton. SONG SAA finished in second place and remained in second position from the ninth fence from home under Adrian Heskin. The oldest mare in the field, nine-year-old MISS TONGABEZI, finished in third place accompanied by jockey Richie McLernon after being outpaced after the tenth fence. The Donald McCain trained SAME CIRUS finished in fourth when ridden by Brian Hughes.
The Class 4 Sky Bet ‘Extra Place Races’ Mares’ Handicap Hurdle was the sixth race of the day over a distance of 2m3½f. As a qualifier for the Northern Lights Mares’ Hurdle Series Final, the race attracted sixteen runners. Heading into the penultimate hurdle, the leading group had it all to play for in a battle for the top spot. WOOLSTONE ONE, trained by Emma Lavell, proved to give more when leading approaching the final hurdle and stayed on well to win by 1½ lengths partnered by Gavin Sheehan. Second place went to ROSIE McQUEEN who also stayed on well after the last race but could not catch the leader. Trained by Jonjo O’Neill, the six-year-old mare wore cheek pieces for the first time which proved to be beneficial. POLLY’S PURSUIT finished in third place after slightly weakening on the run-in to the finish under jockey Ned Curtis. Fourth place went to 11/2 joint-favourite and Fergal O’Brien trained OSCAR ROSE who stayed on well towards to the finish for jockey Paddy Brennan.
The penultimate race of the day was the Sky Bet ‘Top Price Promise’ Steeple Chase (A Novices’ Limited Handicap’ over a distance of three miles. With a smaller field this time of six, CRYSTAL LAD went off as 11/4 favourite after taking to chasing well after being placed at Sandown and Ludlow this season. The Ian Williams trained RED INFANTRY raced keenly and made all the running to win the class 4 contest giving Robert Dunne his first win on the day. Second place went to winning hurdler NIGHTLINE for trained Charlie Longsdon after staying on paced in the home straight for jockey Jonathan Burke. Third place went to CRYSTAL LAD for the Moore family and GENERAL MAHLER finished fourth by one length for trainer Brian Ellison.
As the night was drawing in, the final race, the Class 5 Sky Bet ‘Request a Bet’ Handicap Hurdle attracted eight runners. Over a distance on 3m½f, favourite INNISFREE LAD hoped to retain his form after an impressive win at Uttoxeter on 31 December. However, CHEQUE EN BLANC led approaching the final fence and stayed on well to win. AMBERJAM finished in second place for trainer Lucy Wadham and claiming jockey Maxime Tissier. Third place went to favourite INNISFREE LAD who stayed on at one pace but couldn’t catch the leaders. A winner over this distance, LOG ON claimed fourth place after leading approaching the third to last fence but lost touch of the leaders over the final fence.