The curtain came down on the 2015 racing season at Pontefract on a glorious autumn afternoon (writes Richard Hammill).
A huge Monday crowd of almost 4,500 people came to celebrate the end of what has been a fantastic year at the West Yorkshire track and were treated to some excellent racing and nail biting finishes.
The feature race was the 23rd running of the totepool EBF Silver Tankard Stakes. With £40,000 on offer, a quality field assembled with Peter Chapple-Hyam’s Beast Mode, who had finished fifth in the Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket, the pick on form. Well supported favourite, though, was Ralph Beckett’s unbeaten Thanksfortellingme, who had created a good impression in winning at Epsom and Goodwood. The two fought out the finish but it was the unbeaten gelding from the Beckett yard that came out on top in a pulsating finish.
The win provided jockey Richard Kingscote with a double on the card after Tom Dascombe’s newcomer, Calder Prince, took the two-year-old Maiden Auction Stakes.
The 2015 leading Pontefract trainer, Richard Fahey, looked to have a good chance with the well supported favourite Hold On Magnolia but he was unable to land a blow as Calder Prince took the spoils.
The final leg of the Stayers Championship was the Phil Bull Trophy Conditions Stakes. It was possible that either Riptide or Tuscan Gold could take the championship with Micky Hammond’s representative holding a narrow two-point lead going in to the final round.
Neither horse featured in the finish as Hughie Morrison’s classy stayer, Nearly Caught, scorched up the home straight to collect by an easy 10 lengths. He had finished fifth in the Cesarewitch, beaten just 1½ lengths, only nine days previously and the hardy stayer appreciated this drop in class with victory never in doubt.
Riptide plugged on gamely up the home straight to finish fourth with Tuscan Gold back in sixth. The pair finished level on points but using the countback system, Tuscan Gold took the championship courtesy of a win earlier in the season.
Mick Channon had taken the nursery at the last meeting with Kassia and he repeated the feat in the opening race as Harlequin Rock came from last to first to just deny John Quinn’s Catastrophe.
With only a head separating the pair at the line, the Rock of Gibraltar gelding showed a real will to win and stretched his neck out best where it mattered. He’d looked like a horse to follow earlier in the season when hammering Mark Johnston’s smart Bathos at Nottingham. Things haven’t gone entirely to plan since then but on this evidence, he could have a good three-year-old career ahead of him.
Dance King has been in good form all season and had run well when just touched off in the final race of the season at York a couple of weeks ago. He again travelled supremely well in the Bet totequadpot Handicap and, after looking as though he may struggle for racing room, fairly flew through the final furlong to collar Arrowzone close home.
Tim Easterby’s charge was gaining a deserved success in scoring for the first time since his course and distance victory in July 2014.
The old adage of ‘horses for courses’ is often a good pointer and Blue Sea of Ibrox followed up his highly promising run at Pontefract in September when seeing off well fancied representatives from the Roger Charlton, John Gosden and Peter Chapple-Hyam yards. John Berry’s seven-year-old mare had not won a race before, but clearly has a liking for the West Yorkshire track as she stormed up the home straight to collar the market leaders in the final furlong.
There are not many horses that win from stall 15 at Pontefract, but Mercers Row managed this feat when finishing his race off strongly to catch front running Bowson Fred in the final furlong.
The final race of the season saw another big field of sprinters hurtle up the Pontefract hill. For much of the race it looked like the season’s leading jockey at Ponte, Graham Gibbons, would end the season on a high as Hoofalong led the field a merry dance. It was not to be, though, as Avon Breeze came with her customary late run to chase the leader down in the last 100 yards for the Whitaker stable.
The 2016 season starts up on April 5, 2016 but there are lots of exciting developments planned ahead of the new season. Keep up to date at www.pontefract-races.co.uk