The curtain came down on the 2018 racing season at Pontefract on a lovely autumn afternoon.
A huge Monday crowd of over 4,000 came to celebrate the end of another fantastic year at the West Yorkshire track and were treated to some excellent racing and nail-biting finishes.
The feature on the card was the 26th running of the Listed ebfstallions.com Silver Tankard Stakes and a quality field assembled. Mark Johnston’s ‘I’ll Have Another’ had already won at Listed level in 2018, while Roger Varian’s representative, Three Comets, is well regarded and has a 2019 Derby entry.
However, it was Ralph Beckett’s unbeaten Manuela De Vega who punters backed into favouritism as if defeat was out of the question. Their faith was repaid as the daughter of Lope De Vega scythed through runners to win easily by 2¾ length.
Her full sister, Isabel De Urbina, won the 1m4f Listed Pontefract Castle Stakes earlier in the year and stamina runs in the family. The trainer, who also won this race back in 2015 with Thanksfortellingme, reported that the main aim for the exciting winner is the 2019 Epsom Oaks. Bookmakers were impressed and Manuela De Vega was made joint third favourite for the Epsom centrepiece on May 31.
Andrea Atzeni, who finished second in the big race on Three Comets, made amends by riding a treble on the day.
The jockey had endured a disappointing weekend, having missed a winner at the Champions Day meeting at Ascot on a technical glitch, but gained small compensation here.
His first winner came aboard the Peter Chapple-Hyam trained Deja in the 1m2f handicap. Deja had been trained as a two-year-old by Jeremy Noseda, but is unbeaten since the switch to Chapple-Hyam and made a mockery of his opening handicap mark when storming clear of 16 rivals to win by 3½ lengths.
Atzeni’s next two winners came in the two divisions of the 1m4f Racing UK Maiden.
Roger Varian’s Imaginative enjoyed a tremendous battle with the odds on Gifts of Gold, eventually getting the better of the Saeed bin Suroor trained favourite by a length with the pair pulling an impressive 15 lengths clear of the third.
Atzeni’s treble came on Mick Channon’s Beer With The Boys who was third over the same course and distance a couple of weeks ago but showed great tenacity to see off Via Delle Volte. Proceedings got under way with a couple of two-year-old races – a one mile Nursery Handicap and a six furlong Novice Auction Stakes.
Pontefract 2017 champion trainer Richard Fahey sent out the opening winner of the card when Gabrial The One relished the step up in trip.
The win ensured that Fahey was, once again, crowned champion trainer for the season at the West Yorkshire track.
The six furlong novice saw the shortest price favourite of the day and Karl Burke’s Shallow Hal made no mistakes, running out a comfortable six length winner.
The 2018 Stayers Championship at Pontefract had already been decided well before the running of the Jamaican Flight Handicap on Monday. Micky Hammond’s Becky The Thatcher was a revelation at Pontefract earlier in the season and had already got the championship wrapped up. She is likely to face some tough competition for the 2019 renewal, though, as John Quinn’s Bodacious Name registered his second course and distance win this month when scoring bravely for Jason Hart. The win ensured that he finished in second position in the 2018 championship.
Van Gerwen was aiming to take the final race of the season for the second year in a row for trainer Les Eyre and owners Mr and Mrs Yates, of Sunpak Racing. Victory looked assured for much of the race as the course regular travelled powerfully under David Allan and held a one length lead entering the final furlong. However, he was to be denied the double as Musharrif flew home on the outside to put his head in front on the line for the team of Declan Carroll and Stevie Donohoe.
The 2019 season starts up on April 9, 2019 and there are some exciting developments planned ahead of the new season. Keep up to date with all the latest news and information from the racecourse on their website at www.pontefract-races.co.uk or on their social media channels.