Anyone involved in the sport is aware that retirements (both equine and human) are inevitable but when Monday’s Albrighton & Woodland fixture at Chaddesley Corbett came to a close the West Midlands had lost three high-profile participants.
Hannah Lewis set the ball rolling after finishing third on Shometheway in the Ladies and was followed an hour later by Jim Collett (a staunch supporter of the sport for over four decades) who confirmed his departure from point-to-point ownership after Rose Iland finally got her head in front in the Mares Maiden.
Hazel Hill’s entry, and subsequent declaration, for the Members indicated a major announcement was imminent and an unusually large entourage in the paddock prior to the race supported that view.
The favourite moved into the lead with a mile to run and after that it became a straight fight with Iftiraaq. Turning downhill towards the second last it seemed that James King’s mount might spoil the party, but Hazel Hill showed his class and quickly put the issue beyond doubt.
It was fitting the publics allocation of tickets had sold out, so the horse got the recognition his exploits deserved, and he was given a tremendous cheer when Diana Williams announced his retirement. He won his first 12 races for the family and 19 in total, including the 2019 Cheltenham Foxhunters.
Hannah Lewis’s riding career has spanned 19 years and 93 winners, but her story had no fairy-tale ending with Shometheway finishing third, but she has the consolation of taking the West Midlands ladies title for the first time.
Judging by her two training successes at this meeting, it seems likely Lewis is going to be as good a trainer as she was a jockey. The Upton on Severn handler saddled Grageelagh Girl to win the Novice Riders Conditions race, which opened proceedings at 2pm, and completed her double six races later when That’s Me claimed victory in division two of the Maiden.
Supreme Danehill and Monbeg Legend set a strong pace in the Novice Riders Conditions contest, with the former paying the price by dropping away quickly with a circuit to run. Daniel Fehily’s mount hung on a bit longer and was still disputing the lead coming up the final hill.
Like many jockeys at this course, Sinclair used the final bend as a sling shot into the home straight and Grageelagh Girl had a clear advantage over Aqua Dude and Danny Archer approaching two out. Ellie Jefferson’s mount continued to make progress, while the leader did not help her cause by slowing into the last, but they quickly regained their momentum and won a little more easily than the neck verdict suggests.
This was a second career success for Sinclair who is based with Fergal O’Brien at Withington in the heart of the Cotswold country. She explained, “They went too quickly from the start, so I waited for them to come back to me”.
O’Brien’s business partner Chris Coley explained, “The mare won a bumper at Aintree earlier in her career and then lost her way. We wanted to get her confidence back, and after these performances she is likely to return to Fergal”.
Lewis’s double was completed by That’s Me in division two of the Maiden. Barley Hill and That’s Me had the run of the race but That’s Me hit the front before the fourth last and led his rivals up the final climb. They were chased into the home straight by Barley Hill, but Tom Broughton secured a fine leap from the leader at the last and the pair recorded a comfortable success.
Chu Chu Percy, Optimised and Ange des Malberaux were prominent during the first half of the Ladies Conditions, while Shometheway lost her early position. Blazing Tom and Natalya Irvine improved quickly to take up the running as the runners went out on their final circuit. The pace increased again as they jumped the island fence where Blazing Tom had the advantage over Ange des Malberaux, Streets Of London, Optimised and Shometheway.
Turning back towards home Blazing Tom had the race at his mercy, although Shometheway did pass three rivals over the final two fences to claim third spot, albeit a significant way behind the winner.
The winning jockey stated later, “I was flat out for the first circuit but had the opportunity to go to the front down by the roadside. He was foot perfect, apart from his mistake at the last.”
A major surprise looked on the cards when Abi Banks and Round Robin took the lead in the Restricted and started up the final hill with a length or so advantage. The West Country challenger Tomb Storme loomed into contention in the home straight and settled down to fight out the finish.
As Round Robin’s stride began to shorten Tomb Storme edged clear and, with Abi Banks’ mount making a mistake at the last, the West Country challenger was able to provide the first leg of a double for trainer Annabella Bacon and jockey James Cameron.
“I thought we had it two out, but he has no pace at the finish,” commented Abi Banks on her way back to weigh in.
Twelve runners lined up for the Men’s Conditions with James King dictating the early pace on Risk A Fine, while Uppertown Hawk and Cavs Girl also featured prominently. Risk A Fine and Ballyboker Breeze opened up a decisive advantage with a mile to run but could not shake off Fifty Shades, who had latched onto their coat tails.
Ballyboker Breeze got the upper hand ascending the hill and looked to holding a winning advantage, but Fifty Shades swept past between the final two fences to claim victory. The winner has been on the go since the Wheatland fixture in early December and seemed to appreciate the conditions, thus providing Daniel Ellis with his fourth winner of the season.
James King had to miss Sunday’s meeting at Kingston Blount due to suspension but rode his 29th winner of the campaign when partnering Rose Iland to victory in The Jockey Club sponsored Mares Maiden. A seven-year-old by Fame And Glory, she has not been out of the frame this season but it was pointed out that her participation in The Jockey Club-sponsored series entitled her previous efforts to be taken into consideration for this major prize.
Clarina and Rose Iland led until they were joined by Kostantina and Festival Dawn as this quartet pulled clear from the 14th. Festival Dawn and Rose Iland eased clear up the hill, with King renewing his challenge around the final bend where his manoeuvre on the inside saved him several lengths.
The two horses were still locked together at the penultimate fence, but Rose Iland inched clear of her wilting rival and that allowed the mare to score what had proved to be an elusive first success.
Interviewed afterwards, octogenarian owner Jim Collett was full of praise for trainer Jake Slatter when revealing, “The mare has never been off the farm, and Jake trains her round the edge of a field to get her fit”.
He promptly announced that I’m Wiser Now and Rose Iland would be going to the sales and, using his own words, stated, “I’m getting out of it now,” thus ending his long and successful involvement with the sport.
Collett has seen some wonderful horses carrying his colours, many of them partnered by his wife, Sue, and we wish them both all the best in the future.
Division one of the Maiden saw the days closest finish, with any one of four horses in with a chance coming to the last. Coisa Blanco led the runners on the final climb but was passed by Josh Cameron on Thursdayateight, with Mythical Prince eventually claiming second and Guinness Village a couple of lengths back in third.
The complexion of the race changed dramatically between the final two fences, with Thursdayateight slowing down and losing his lead, while Guinness Village, who was just starting to get up a head of steam, made a mistake from which he was unable to recover.
Starting off up the run in, Coisa Blanco regained the lead with Mythical Prince snapping at his heels, but then Cameron conjured up a whirlwind finish from Thursdayateight which enabled him to claim the prize in the final strides, although his riding did incur the wrath of the stewards.