Pontefract’s 2018 season belatedly got underway on Monday following the abandonment of the scheduled first meeting.
A crowd of around 3,000 racegoers swarmed to the track to celebrate the start of the season and racegoers were treated to much better weather this time round with some fantastic racing, including the Pontefract Marathon – the longest handicap race run on the flat in 2018.
The opening race of the year, The Belinda Carlisle at 80s Night on 25th May Novice Stakes, was fought out by the only two horses with racecourse experience with Carey Street getting the better of Bengali Spirit. The winner, trained by John Quinn, had run a promising first race in the Brocklesby at Doncaster – a race that has thrown up numerous winners since.
The course’s champion trainer in 2018, Richard Fahey, had to settle for the runner-up spot in the first race, but his representative in the second, Society Red, was well backed to make amends. He found one too good, though, when Gulf of Poets registered his second course victory in the Napoleons Casino Bradford Handicap. Mick Easterby’s charge racked up a four- timer last season and, judged by this performance, could well follow up.
Feature race was the £25,000 RIU Hotels and Resorts Handicap. A good quality field of 14 faced the starter and it was Foolaad, for the Roy Bowring stable who took the honours, completing a five timer in the process. The horse has now won eight of his last 10 starts and is clearly capable of staying one step ahead of the handicapper.
The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for the popular stayers competing in the Pontefract Marathon – the equine equivalent of the London Marathon run the day before.
The last two winners of the Stayers Championship – ‘Riptide’ and ‘Tuscan Gold’ – are now enjoying a long and happy retirement so there will be a new name to add to the role of honour! The enigmatic Madam Lilibet has been competing in the Championship for a few years and was runner-up in this contest in both 2016 and 2017. The writing was on the wall early for this colourful character as she delayed the start by almost 10 minutes as she took her time to get to the start. Once the race was underway, she decided that she had done enough and pulled herself up shortly after passing the winning post for the first time!
At the business end of the race, Wemyss Point and Becky The Thatcher fought out a thrilling finish. Both winning hurdlers over staying trips, it was Phil Kirby’s Wemyss Point who passed the line a head in front. Connections of both horses are keen to come back later in the season and, hopefully, provide some more fantastic finishes.
Just out of luck in the marathon, Micky Hammond got off the scoresheet in the final race when Jo’s Girl came with a storming late run under PJ McDonald to grab victory. Dalawyna looked all over the winner when kicking clear in the final furlong but, trying a mile trip for the first time, her stamina just faded away close home.
The first division of the Mark Hackett Memorial Novice Stakes really got the crowd going. In 2017, David O’Meara won this race with Black Isle Boy and he did it again with Three Saints Bay under an impressive ride from David Nolan. This one looks to have a promising three-year-old career ahead of him.
The second division of The Mark Hackett Memorial Novice Stakes saw the impressive Mark Johnston trained Alhawdaja cruise to victory by 3 ¼ lengths. She could be one to watch for the future.
Harrison Shaw gave B Fifty Two a brilliant ride to take The Bootleg Beatles on 20th July Handicap Stakes over the flying five furlongs by ¾ of a length, patiently producing his horse late up the inside rail to head off Dragstone Rock yards from the line.