I normally approach the Saturday at the end of March with sadness as a die-hard Jumping fan, because once the Lincoln is on, the jumps calendar plays second fiddle till the end of the season with the exception of the Grand National. In fact, the period between Cheltenham and Aintree is something of a no-man's land for quality racing, but this does make for creative raceplanning to allow some of the sport's less well established horses buff up their reputations.
The Northern Lights Series, stagerd at Musselburgh on Friday and Carlisle today, is one such example, but northern trainers successfully held on to two of the three contests this afternoon. There's plenty of talent in the north, but now that Graham Wylie has rowed back on his involvement, the number of big spending owners is much lower than before. The halcyon days of the eighties, whee trainers like Michael, then Monica Dickinson, Jimmy Fizgerald, then later, Howard Johnson and Ferdy Murphy, seem a long time ago; let's hope the wheel of success is cyclical.
Nevertheless, there was some entertaining racing at Ascot this afternoon. Ascot takes some filling at the best of time, so it must be cavernously empty without crowds. But that won't have bothered two Gloucestershire trainers success in the handicap chase and conditionals hurdle.
Richard Hobson is something of a specialist with French-breds, and Defi Sacre is one such example, scori ga long overdue forst success of this season on his sixth run since November. Richard would, I'm sure be glad to have a yard full of comparable animals as Defi Sacre has beena model of consistency since leaving Emmanuel Clayeux in late 2018. In the last two seasons, only an unseat at Newbury earlier this season has prevented him being out of the frame on each occasion. Given his resilience when put under pressure, there may be another race in him before the close in a month.
The bellweather of Gloucestershire trainer success, Fergal O'Brien, kept the Ravenswell scoresheet ticking on when Stoner's Choice won the conditionals race to open the card. Owned by Carolyn Kendrick and ridden by son Max, he gave Max a 27th winner of the term. Although Danny McMenamin may have stolen an unassailable lead in the race for the Conditionals title, Max is one of three or four tussling for the runner-up berth.
Ascot rarely achieves a big field for its hunter chase, but Paul Nicholls won't have minded that French-bred Acala only beat 4 other rivals this afternoon. Hunter chases have been very well supported since January, in the absence of Point-to-Points, even though amateurs have been banned from participating.But all that is set to change from tomorrow (March 29), so it remains to be seen whether matters will revert to type.
With 50 or so fixtures scheduled between Monday and June 12 when the Pointing season closes, it remains to be seen whether the rate of entries can be maintained. There's still time for a flush of hunter certificates to be lodged. One man who will see it through right to the last day is Chedworth's David Maxwell, who has been sidelined since October. He is wasting no time getting back into the saddle with rides for Philip Hobbs at Fontwell tomorrow, and in a Hunters chase at Fakenham on Tuesday. These are the aperitif before riding Cat Tiger in the Aintree Foxhunter on April 8th.
Fixture 2021 Cancelled
Look out for 2022 dates later in the summer
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)