Big crowd at Pontefract’s first meeting of season

Midnight Dance (left), ridden by Jamie Spencer,  pips Rock Fillies in the closest finish of the day  in Tuesday's penultimate race. Pictures:  Alan Wright (Official Photographers).
Midnight Dance (left), ridden by Jamie Spencer, pips Rock Fillies in the closest finish of the day in Tuesday's penultimate race. Pictures: Alan Wright (Official Photographers).

Pontefract’s 2015 season got underway on Tuesday with an outstanding seven-race card (writes Richard Hammill).

The 5,000 strong crowd were treated to excellent racing in glorious spring sunshine.

With top jockeys Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori in attendance, as well as runners from the powerful southern yards, it was a great day which is sure to throw up a number of future winners.

The feature race, the Easter Family Funday Handicap, saw a brilliant front running performance from Mark Johnston’s Master of Finance.

The four-year-old gelding had run in some competitive handicaps during his three year old career and got his season off to the best possible start under a fine ride from Silvestre De Sousa, beating a field jam packed with southern raiders.

De Sousa was the leading jockey at the track in 2014 and, on this evidence, he’s going to be competing for a similar role on a track that he clearly excels at.

Not to be outdone, the leading trainer from 2014, Richard Fahey, also hit the scoresheet with a win for Grandad’s World in the main supporting race, the Racing UK Anywhere Available Now Handicap Stakes.

It looked a fiercely competitive heat on paper and there were three co favourites including the Fahey runner.

Grandad’s World had won a maiden at the course last August before performing with great credit when pitched into a big sales race at Doncaster in September.

The three year old produced the standout time on the day and battled on strongly to hold off Geordie George.

Just as it did in 2014, the opening race of the season went to trainer Jedd O’Keeffe, jockey Graham Lee and Dark Ocean. Laid out to win the race for a second year running, Dark Ocean travelled supremely well before battling to get the better of Dha Chara.

Owned by an enthusiastic group of local owners, the five year old gelding loves the track and will be back again throughout the season when the ground is riding on the softer side.

Lee secured a quickfire double when taking the Breeders Backing Racing High-Rise EBF Maiden on Wind Place And Sho.

The race has a rich history with High-Rise winning it before going on to win the Epsom Derby in 1998.

The James Eustace trained gelding appreciated the step up in trip and battled on gamely to hold off representatives from the Gosden and Stoute stables.

The Jamaican Flight Handicap remembers one of the course favourites in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Jamaican Flight ran a remarkable 29 times at Pontefract, winning four times and thrilling his fans by usually trying to make every yard of the running.

In a very reminiscent manner to the former Pontefract hero, Suprise Vendor followed up his win in this race in 2014 by leading from flag fall and seeing off all challengers under Jason Hart.

Making the long journey from Selkirk and fit from the National Hunt season, Suprise Vendor took his course record to two wins from two races.

The penultimate race on the card, the Watch Racing UK on 3 Devices Maiden Fillies’ Stakes produced the closest finish of the day with Ralph Beckett’s Midnight Dance getting up in the shadows of the post to deny the front running Rock Follies from Lady Cecil’s yard.

John Quinn took the final race on the card with Final Countdown. Fit from a novice hurdling campaign, the four year old ran on strongly to deny Fazza and Where’s Tiger.

After racing, John Quinn worked his star performer, The Wow Signal, before a tilt at the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in May. While the horse will clearly be much better suited to a firmer surface in the classic, John Quinn expressed his delight with the workout and indicated that the horse would now go straight to Newmarket without a prep run.

There are two more race meetings at Pontefract in April on the 20th and 29th before the first Friday evening meeting of the season on May 22 (80s Night). There are a limited number of tickets available for this evening meeting at 80s prices and racegoers are encouraged to book early.