May 24, 2021

Henderson can make hay while the sun shines

After a prolonged dry spell, it is fair to say mother nature is getting her own back, typified by the abandonment of Chepstow and Newton Abbot in the second week of May due to standing water. We have had some joy as well over the last few weeks with some horses and riders featured in the winners, in particular Flyin’ Solo who looks a thoroughly progressive individual and could easily develop into a Pattern performer.

We also highlighted the talent of Saffie Osborne, who is fast becoming a potential candidate for the apprentice title with the likes of Laura Pearson and Mark Crehan after a really good start to the season riding winners for a variety of different trainers in addition to a nice supply from dad Jamie.

Once again, I’ve hopefully got a few angles for us to bear in mind over the coming weeks, with three trainers and four horses to keep an eye on.

When you think of summer jumps racing, there are certain trainers which spring to mind, the likes of Dr Richard Newland and Dan Skelton in particular at the top of that list in recent years. However, a few years ago, both Tim Vaughan and more so Peter Bowen were specialists, amassing big numbers in terms of winners at the likes of Worcester, Market Rasen and Uttoxeter to name just three.

I want to focus on Bowen in particular, who had a torrid time for the majority of the winter on deep ground, with not very many winners at all. With that though comes the fact that his horses have now got themselves nicely handicapped again, and the winners are starting to flow, including Game Line’s win in the Norfolk National. That display typified the health of the yard, taking the race by the scruff of the neck with a circuit to go and routing his rivals in the end, with James Bowen clearly having every confidence that he would keep galloping as opposed to how the yard’s horses were finishing tamely in the winter.

Paul Henderson is another trainer who has had a tricky time over the winter and even the horses who were being well backed not running well either. This shrewd outfit certainly know the time of day and an upturn in fortunes will certainly come in the none too distant future. On the level, Ruth Carr also really struggled for form during 2020, whether that was partly due to Covid-19 striking and pushing the Flat race programme back I’m not sure, but once the temperatures get warmer, her horses definitely thrive. Eight of her nine winning-most months of her training career have been in June, July and August, with the other one being in May 2011.

In last month’s article, I mentioned David Evans and his record with two year olds in sellers and claimers, and luckily, he had a winner at Redcar in one such contest very soon after, but I want to focus on another inmate at his Welsh base this time around. The horse in question is All You Wish, who caught the eye when finishing fourth at Wolverhampton on 4th May.

Formerly with Andrew Balding, he managed to win at big odds on his second and final start as a two year old in 2019 before a 252 day break before a fair run at Yarmouth and a very hopeful stab at big odds in the Britannia Handicap at Royal Ascot last year. Another break and a yard switch to Evans before his November return at Wolverhampton, he finished plumb last on his first three runs for the yard before being very well backed when finishing fourth at Lingfield, before a close third at Wolverhampton at the start of 2021.

It has now got to a point where he is too dangerously handicapped to ignore, and after this run in May, he firmly stays on the tracker. He is now off 60, a full 24lbs below his peak handicap mark, and this race was run totally against him. He was backed again and was held up by Adam Kirby, but they absolutely dawdled around and given he was sat last at the three furlong pole, he was in deep trouble, so much so that four of the first six over the line were the first four turning into the home straight. He came wide to challenge and Kirby was clearly aware around the furlong pole that he wasn’t going to win so looked after him to finish fourth beaten three lengths.

He looks the sort to me that is screaming out (not literally!) for some form of headgear, so that is certainly something to watch out for. Interestingly, the other horse to fill the first six places over the line from the rear of the field was Van Dijk, who then won on his next start at Ayr.

Two horses caught my eye from the Windsor card on 10th May in the novice races. The more obvious one of the two will be the three year old Luisa Casati, trained by Tom Ward. This filly by Vadamos ran a cracker at Newbury in April on her second start and matched that with this effort under Andrea Atzeni here and now receives a handicap mark which may well prove fruitful. The last two runs have both been over ten furlongs with both runs suggesting that a step up in trip can also propel her to a different level.

Tom Ward is another one of a band of up and coming trainers who are more than capable, and given he used to man one of the yards at Richard Hannon’s prior to flying the nest to go alone, he knows what a decent horse looks like. Interestingly the three riders who have ridden her so far are Tom Marquand, Richard Kingscote and Andrea Atzeni, some of the best around and I assume able to provide a great barometer.

There was also a two year old that went straight in my tracker without any hesitation and that was Profound Alexander in the opening race. Trained by William Muir & Chris Grassick, this grey Kodiac filly did a lot wrong in the early stages, missing the break and looked very much like the new kid at school, looking at everything. Martin Dwyer was desperate to coax her along and educate her without getting stuck into her, which will of course help her massively in the long term. I’m almost certain she is above average, but whether it’ll be in the short term or even as a three year old further down the line I’m not sure, but she is definitely one for the trackers.

I thought I’d chuck one from the jumping sphere in the mix who made a nice debut at Ffos Las recently. The horse in question is Meechlands Magic from the Debra Hamer yard, who finished an ultimately well beaten sixth under Ben Jones on his bumper debut. Not unbacked at huge odds, he travelled like a dream for an awful long way on the outside before gradually fading away behind runaway winner Timeforatune.

The winner heralds from the Brian Eckley yard, who does incredibly well with his homebred runners, although on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Hamer doesn’t tend to target bumpers with her horses by any means, so this is one definitely for the long term. He is also out of a mare called Do It On Dani, who I remember from my very early days of going racing for the excellent now retired Alison Thorpe, and that mare loved fast ground so that might be the way to go going forward with this particular gelding but only time will tell.

As a final gambit I thought I’d discuss the Flat jockey’s championship.

We mentioned the apprentice title a bit earlier on, but it is probably the most open contest as far as the overall championship goes for many a year, with half a dozen riders all in with a chance.

There are five main contenders really but the group of six may be filled with James Doyle should he have a really hot streak at some stage. Current champion Oisin Murphy is narrow favourite at present to retain his title and will go close again with an injury-free run, with last season’s late challenger William Buick certainly seeming to be having a good go based on his host of outside rides.

The Marquand/Doyle (Hollie) household have certainly a part to play with strong backing from a host of yards. However, I have to confess I have actually had a bet on this market which is extremely rare for me, and I’m with Ben Curtis. With a new link-up with Mark Johnston and a long list of other yards which Curtis rides for such as Roger Fell, Karl Burke and David Barron up in the North, plus riding horses for big yards from the South travelling North such as William Haggas and Ralph Beckett.

It is also key to remember Curtis was the winning-most rider of 2020 overall and I think he may well be the value to try and win his first title.

Once again, much to look forward to on the countdown to Royal Ascot and Epsom, and hopefully we can stay lucky as crowds are finally back on course! Take care and be lucky!

Will Bowler

Will Bowler is a freelance writer, together with being one of the busiest Point To Point commentators. Will also commentates on harness and pony racing, with a long list of different venues including Haydock, Wolverhampton, Southwell and a personal favourite in Beverley. He worked at Southwell Racecourse for six years as race day presenter and marketing executive, helping at Doncaster and Uttoxeter on occasion. He has shares in two horses, one with Laura Morgan and one with John Mackie.

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