Despite the best efforts of the weather gods, Pontefract’s 2016 race season got underway on Tuesday with a mammoth eight-race card (writes Richard Hammill).
The racing had to pass a 6.30am raceday inspection before the action started on heavy, stamina sapping ground.
The feature race on the card, The Watch Racing UK on 3 Devices Handicap, was won in fine style by Mark Johnston’s Master of Finance who was following up victory in the corresponding race last year.
A classy field assembled including Lord Ben Stack, who had contested the 2015 Dante Stakes at York, and Silvery Moon, who had been runner up in 2015, but under a fine Silvestre De Sousa ride, Master of Finance saw off all comers to win by one and a half lengths.
The main supporting race on the card, The Racing UK Anywhere Available Now Handicap, was run over six furlongs.
The 2015 champion trainer at Pontefract, Richard Fahey, had taken this race last year with the hugely talented Grandad’s World and he looks to have another smart inmate in his care as Stamp Hill ran on bravely to head Candelisa in the closing stages.
The winner had run at Royal Ascot in 2015 before winning at Chester and looks to be an extremely well handicapped horse who could go on to win again this year.
As the name suggests, The High-Rise EBF Maiden has an illustrious list of previous winners with Luca Cumani’s High-Rise winning this race en route to glory in the Epsom Derby.
Just six runners lined up, but Sir Michael Stoute’s Du Moto proved the strongest as he galloped up the Pontefract hill to become his trainers’ first winner - and first runner - of the 2016 campaign.
The Galileo colt relished the testing ground and ran on strongly to claim Jedd O’Keeffe’s Lord Yeats in the final 100 yards.
The Pontefract Stayers Championship has become a popular addition to the racecourse calendar.
The 2015 championship was won by Tuscan Gold who tied on points with Riptide.
The first leg of the 2016 season kicked off with the Jamaican Flight Handicap and both of these Pontefract favourites were in action.
Tuscan Gold ran a storming race to take second place but had no answer to Kenneth Slack’s Almost Gemini.
The seven-year-old grey gelding had improved out of all recognition over hurdles, winning three times over the winter and carried on his improvement on the flat, storming clear to win by one and three quarter lengths.
The opening race of the season – The 80s Night on Friday Eve 27th May Handicap – had two divisions to accommodate the number of horses wanting to take part.
The first leg went the way of Sands Chorus. James Given’s four year old had race fitness on his side after a couple of runs on the all weather. It really showed as he stayed on strongly to deny Alan Swinbank’s Lopes Dancer.
The second division was also won by a horse who had already had a run in 2016 - Sugar Lump stayed on strongly to follow up his win at Redcar on Easter Monday for the Eric Alston yard.
There was a £10,000 bonus on offer in the Ron and Joan Senior Maiden Fillies Stakes and the John Quinn trained Wowcha was a well backed winner under a fine rider from Richard Kingscote.
The Zoffany filly showed a smart turn of foot in the conditions to score by two lengths. The race was run in honour of Ron and Joan Senior who have just retired having worked at the racecourse for over 50 years.
The final race on the opening day saw a welcome return to form for Astra Hall for the brilliant Michael Appleby team. Relishing the soft ground, the mare was well backed and given an excellent ride by George Buckell who looks a star in the making.
The next race meeting on the calendar is on Monday, April 18 - a card featuring the Pontefract Marathon. If the conditions prove to be as testing as they were on Tuesday, it’s going to require a Herculean effort from the winner. Full details of the card and the rest of the 2016 season, can be found on the racecourse website at www.pontefract-races.co.uk