Martin Keighley was doubling up again today at Worcester at the end of a week when Jumping has played a supporting role to the Flat's greatest event in Royal Ascot. With just five fixtures before Sunday's double header at Hexham and Worcester, it was time to enjoy the exploits of erstwhile flat counterparts for most of the week.
That said, trainers usually best known for their jumpers were prominent in some of the middle distance handicaps at the prestigious royal meeting. Alan King had a few near misses, Ian Williams nabbed the Ascot Stakes, Gavin Cromwell and Willie Mullins displayed their versatility, the former with a winner in the Queen Mary with a two year old filly. This from a man who won the Stayers Hurdle and Albert Bartlett at this year's Festival!
Back down here on Planet Earth, Worcester is enjoying a revival after losing all of last summer following the hideously wet winter of 2019-20. I was in Worcester in February of 2020 at the cricket club, where the river level was not just covering the square, but lapping the top of the temporary structures, so there's no great surprise no racing took place behind closed doors. However, under the dynamic management of Rebecca Davies, Worcester is re-energized. It may never be the Ascot of the midlands, but its flat track with wide sweeping bends suits plenty of horses, and it is picturesque, even if the facilities are spartan.
The Keighley team won't be complaining after a second double within 10 days, this time with Debden Bank in the handicap chase and Pay The Woman in a mares' novices hurdle. Debden Bank hasn't run since December when winning at Southwell, but intermittent lameness was subsuequently diagnosed as a hairline fracture of the fetlock, which appears to have been cured. My guess is Martin and his team will be careful about ground conditions so summer runs may be sparing unless the ground is good or softer. The victory was bitter-sweet after part owner Richard Gibbs died unexpectedly overnight, leaving a young family.
Pay The Woman is a 7 year old mare previously learning her trade on the Irish Pointing scene with Anthony Costello. A winner first time out under Rules at Ffos Las, she is a big strong mare and still improving, so there may be more to come. Keep an eye out both for horse and rider for the second too. Ginger du Val is trained by Mel Rowley, other half of the Phil Rowley development team who have made themselves an excellent reputation in developing youn horses. It looks like they're doing the same with young Ben Bromley, son of Highflyer partner Anthony Bromley.
Off the blocks for the season too was David Jeffreys, who trains near Stow. Ten winners last season established the Jeffreys yard as promising debutants, and whilst they won't be troubling the top rank any time soon, the achievement was no small feat bearing in mind the difficult trading conditions of the past 15 months. Thirtyfourstitches 6 1/2l victory in the second division of the handicap hurdle will have been very welcome, albeit it came after an enquiry that banned winning rider Tom Bellamy for two days for overuse of the stick, and demoted the second to third for interference.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)