At Pontefract’s opening meeting of the season last year, racegoers were faced with wind, rain and hail and the horses and jockeys had stamina sapping, heavy ground to contend with (writes Richard Hammill).
One year on and the weather gods were certainly smiling down on the track on Tuesday as crowds flocked to Pontefract for an early Easter treat with some fantastic racing.
With almost 4,000 people in attendance, punters were witness to some stunning performances on the track.
Richard Fahey had won The Racing UK Anywhere Available Now Handicap for the last two seasons.
Grandad’s World took the contest in 2015, while Stamp Hill won last year.
In 2017, Fahey relied on the recent Godolphin purchase Brian The Snail, who had won at the track on his debut back in September, 2016.
Despite giving lumps of weight away to his rivals, the Zebedee colt was well backed to take his unbeaten record to three.
Jockey William Buick soon had his mount racing prominently just behind the pace and, when asking his mount to quicken, the response was impressive as he pulled away nicely from a really promising group of sprinters.
The winner will now step up to group three company at Ascot next month before a crack at the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal meeting later in the year.
Fahey has always held the colt in very high regard and the colt looks likely to take high rank among the Musley Bank sprinters.
Godolphin were doubling up following the hugely impressive victory of their racecourse debutant Above Normal, who very much lived up to his name.
The EBF High-Rise Maiden has an illustrious list of previous winners and the Saeed Bin Suroor inmate looks one to keep on the right side of.
Ridden by Kevin Stott, the jockey was hugely complimentary about the Street Cry gelding who quickened up smartly to win by four and a half lengths.
It’ll be interesting to follow the path marked out for this three year old who could, as they say, be anything.
The feature race on the card was the £25,000 Watch Racing UK on 3 Devices Handicap over one mile, two furlongs and Mark Johnston was bidding to win the race for the third year in a row with Final, who has already had an extremely successful time on the all weather.
A strong field congregated which also included Cote D’Azur (second in the Silver Cambridgeshire at Newmarket last season), Cymro (fourthh in the group three Ormonde Stakes at Chester last season) and Snoano (who had been an exciting juvenile for John Gosden and had run in some tough handicaps since moving to Tim Easterby).
Always travelling supremely well, it was the Easterby hope Snoano who quickened up smartly entering the home straight before holding off the late rattle of Final who had missed the break.
Easterby commented that the horse had been working well and was well forward this season.
He’s likely to be aimed at more big handicaps this season where his high cruising speed will certainly stand him in good stead.
The Pontefract Stayers Championship has become a popular addition to the Racecourse calendar.
The opening race of the 2017 championship featured many old favourites such as Riptide, Tuscan Gold and Madam Lilibet.
While Tuscan Gold ran a stormer in second, he had no answer to the younger legs of Uncle Bernie who travelled smoothly into contention before quickening away to win by two lengths.
The opening race of the season - The ROA/Racing Post Owners Jackpot Handicap - had two divisions to accommodate the number of horses wanting to take part.
Both divisions of the race produced big price winners and punters would have done very well to find either of them.
The first leg went the way of 25-1 shot Billy Roberts who defied an outside draw in stall 14 to take victory for the Richard Guest yard, while the second division was won by 40-1 chance Rockwood from stall 13 for the Karen McLintock team.
Despite being a multiple winner on the All Weather, the son of Rock of Gibraltar was winning for just the second time on turf.
There was a £10,000 bonus on offer in the Into The Sky Maiden Fillies race which was taken by Acadian Angel for John Quinn and Jason Hart who was winning for the first time on just her second trip to the races.
Bred by Richard Hannon, the Dark Angel filly looks useful and will continue to pay her way.
It may also be worth keeping a close eye on some of the horses in behind the winner, as several of them ran very promising races with the future in mind.
The final race on the opening day saw a welcome return to form for Gulf of Poets who was well backed and won easily for Mick Easterby and Nathan Evans.
The gelding is owned, among others, by golfer Lee Westwood.
Judging by the ease of the success, the horse will be turned out quickly before the handicapper has his say.
Pontefract’s next meeting is on Monday, April 24.
It features the Pontefract Marathon and the £20,000 5f RIU Handicap.
Full details of the card and the rest of the 2017 season, can be found on the racecourse website at www.pontefract-races.co.uk.