Pontefract racecoure’s inaugural rugby league evening took place under cloudless blue skies on Monday (writes Richard Hammill).
On an evening when two of the area’s most popular sports combined, a huge crowd of racegoers and RL fans alike gathered to see superb racing on the track as well as catching the players and coaches from Castleford Tigers, Featherstone Rovers, Huddersfield Giants and Wakefield Wildcats.
Season ticket holders with these clubs enjoyed discounted entry to the course while the players posed for numerous photographs.
The multiple Pontefract winner Mr Wolf also paraded before racing. Now a 15-year-old, the front running course favourite won at Pontefract eight times during his career. Looking in fantastic condition, he’ll be back to parade again at the course’s Family Day meeting on Sunday, August 14.
The feature race on the card was named in Mr Wolf’s honour and produced an incredible finish with just over half a length separating the first five horses.
The winner Dutch Mist was representing the Kevin Ryan yard and had competed at listed and group three level for much of last season but had taken time to find her feet in 2016. Held up, she was still last with two furlongs to travel but swooped down the outside of the track and just had enough left to fend off the luckless Gallipoli who was trapped for room at a crucial stage.
Now she’s regained the winning habit, she may well be able to follow up for the Ryan yard who continue in red hot form.
The evening got off to a flying start for the Mark Johnston team as their Teofonic showed her rivals a clean pair of hooves, winning impressively by five lengths.
Taking time to find her feet, once she did, the race was over in a matter of strides as she powered clear in the final furlong suggesting that a step up in trip may very well be on the cards.
Mark Johnston and jockey Franny Norton doubled up in the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats handicap over one mile, two furlongs courtesy of Renfrew Street.
Trying the trip for the first time, stamina is clearly her forte and she quickened up smartly in the closing stages to win impressively by two and a half lengths.
In what looked a competitive handicap the winner has clearly improved for the trip and will be interesting if turned out again quickly.
The 2016 Stayers Championship is shaping up to have a box office finish. Round three of the series went the way of Bulas Belle. A decent novice hurdler during the 2014 season, she was trying the marathon trip at Pontefract for the first time.
We may just have uncovered another Pontefract specialist as she made every yard of the running and won easily by five lengths under Barry McHugh who came in for this winning spare ride. The battle of the course favourites, Riptide and Tuscan Gold, went the way of Riptide who clung on to fourth place - one position ahead of his old adversary.
The first four races on the card went the way of the fairer sex with fillies or mares taking each race.
The boys struck back in the last two race with Brian Baugh’s Consistant just getting the better of another Pontefract favourite Teetotal in The Castleford Tigers Handicap.
The finale went the way of Eternity’s Gate on his first start for Ivan Furtado. A winner in his youth for Peter Chapple-Hyam, the five year old gelding had failed to win for David O’Meara last season but looked right back to his best in The Featherstone Rovers Handicap, bravely repelling all challenges and holding on gamely by a neck.
The next race meeting is on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 19, and is the first of the popular Family Day meetings at Pontefract. With whippet racing before the first race, spot prizes for the first 500 people wearing a flat cap and a huge array of activities for the kids, it looks like being a bumper day out. There are some special Father’s Day packages available too and full details of all events on the day can be found on the website at www.pontefract-races.co.uk