Anyone closely connected to racing is pretty much obsessed with the weather. The fact is that weather conditions can ruthlessly dictate outcomes, leaving us mere mortals at its mercy with little we can do to reverse or influence conditions.
Such was the story this month at Pitchcroft. Not one of us who care so passionately about hosting our race meetings for the maximum enjoyment of the whole spectrum of our customers, could have dreamt we would stage 2 such diverse meetings in 5 days. On the first day, the ground quickened to the point that 33 horses were withdrawn on account of it, and the second was a meeting transferred at just 4 days’ notice from neighbouring Hereford racecourse, whose ‘firm’ ground rendered their going too risky for jump racing.
For the first of these meetings, the forecast rain did not materialise. Had we watered the ‘good’ ground the day before and then rain had fallen on the watered ground, it is likely that numbers of horses would also have been withdrawn. I have seen that happen. Opinions have differed considerably and much criticism has been levied in our direction, but the one important factor on which everyone is agreed, is that horse welfare comes first and foremost, and if trainers are not happy with the ground for the horses entrusted into their care by owners, they must act accordingly, in the best interests of the horses.
The first race on this card was a very decent mares’ novice chase, sponsored by the European Breeders’ Fund. Of the 8 mares who lined up, 5 were proven black type mares over hurdles, all rated 135 plus over the smaller obstacles.
Chase debutante, Rene’s Girl, trained at Alcester by Dan Skelton made all and cruised to an 11 length victory over Alan King’s Dusky Legend, who was placed at the last 2 Cheltenham Festivals. We may soon see Skelton’s Presenting mare in a listed race at Bangor, according to her trainer.
The atmosphere at our second meeting last Tuesday was far more positive. Interestingly, the feature race of the day was another mares’ only race. This mares’ handicap chase was the opening heat in the 2017/2018 Challenger Series, aimed at mid-tier level horses, with a £300,000 finals day at Haydock on Easter Saturday next year. The £20,000 heat was won by one of the outsiders, Sheer Poetry trained by Richard Woollacott.
Barry Geraghty made his first visit to the course for a while a double winning one, riding as retained jockey for owner, JP McManus. Geraghty partnered Above Board for the Jonjo O’Neill yard in the opening beginner’s chase, and also Scoop the Pot, a Worcester winner in August, for Philip Hobbs in the handicap hurdle.