FORMER Grand National-winning jockey Graham Lee has made a successful transition to riding on the flat this season (writes Graham Orange).
His skill in the saddle was very much in evidence at Pontefract’s final meeting of the season on Monday when he rode three winners, taking his tally for the current campaign to an impressive 75 winners.
The middle leg of Lee’s 288/1 treble was on Willie The Whipper, the 7-1 winner of the afternoon’s feature race, the totepool.com Silver Tankard Stakes, a listed race for two-year-olds.
Trained at Constable Burton in North Yorkshire by Ann Duffield, who won this race two years ago with Zenella, Willie The Whipper came into the race having won on his only start, a winning debut at Hamilton Park. Having been held up in the rear, Willie The Whipper made steady headway to take the lead inside the final furlongs to win by a length and three-quarters from the 2-1 favourite Oasis Cannes in a contest over one mile.
Lee, who won the 2004 Grand National on Amberleigh House, had partnered the filly Charlie Em (7-1) to victory in the opening race, a nursery handicap over one mile for Lambourn trainer Brendan Powell, himself a former Grand National-winning jockey.
In fact, Charlie Em was having her first outing for Powell, who had claimed her after she had won a claiming race on the All-Weather track at Wolverhampton.
Charlie Em made light of the testing ground to win by four and a half lengths.
Lee’s hat-trick was completed on The Tiger, the 7-2 favourite in the handicap contest over one mile and a quarter. Successful on soft ground at Ripon in July, The Tiger - trained at Newmarket by Ed Dunlop - relished the conditions to dominate the closing stages and prevail by four and a half lengths.
A determined performance by Zefooha (20-1) enabled the mare to clinch the afternoon’s race for stayers, the totequickpick Bluff Cove Handicap Stakes over two and a quarter miles.
Given an eye-catching ride by Paddy Aspell, Zefooha gamely held off the challenge of Madam Lilibet to win by a length for trainer Tim Walford, who is based at Sheriff Hutton, near York.
It meant that Blackstone Vegas took this season’s Pontefract Stayers’ Championship to earn his connections a bonus of £3,000 in the process. Blackstone Vegas is trained at Sproxton near Melton Mowbray by Derek Shaw.
Yorkshireman was also returned at 20-1 after winning the contest for maiden two-year-olds for trainer David Brown, who is based at Averham Park in Nottinghamshire.
Ridden by Robert Winston, Yorkshireman was winning at the third time of asking, but had to battle to clinch this contest over six furlongs; the winning margin over Medici Dancer was a head.
Baby Strange (14-1), trained by the aforementioned Derek Shaw, landed the First Division of the handicap contest for sprinters over five furlongs, taking up the lead inside the final furlong to defeat Master Bond by three-quarters of a length in the hands of former Derby-winning jockey Martin Dwyer.
Now an eight-year-old, Baby Strange had won a listed race at York as a juvenile, and he showed that he has retained some ability, especially on testing ground.
The final race of the season, Division Two of The Handicap contest for sprinters, went to Cheveton (100-30 favourite) in an exciting finish.
Trained in Herefordshire by Richard Price and ridden by Joe Fanning, Cheveton – also an eight-year-old – had half a length to spare over Excel Bolt.
The leading trainer and jockey of the season at Pontefract were Richard Fahey (six winners) and Robert Winston (five winners) respectively in the competitions supported by ‘In The Frame’.
Pontefract’s 16-day 2013 season begins on Tuesday, April 9. Annual badges for next year are on sale at £190 (single) and £255 (joint), with prices held until December 31. For more details, contact 01977-781307.