Familiar feeling as Pontefract Racecourse stages first meeting of new season
The racing year at Pontefract has kicked off in the same way the 2020 season ended with horse racing throughout the country still subject to strict hygiene protocols and no admittance to the general public.
While it was a new season, some things do not change and there was a familiar story to the raceday weather. While there was 20 degree heat a week earlier, the course was battered by gales, snow and hail for the first meeting. Little seemed to have changed on the track either with leading trainer at Pontefract in 2020, Richard Fahey, straight off the mark in the very first race.
G For Gabrial ran out a brave winner under Connor Murtagh. Having chased a frenetic early pace set by the favourite, Mark Johnston’s Dream With Me, Murtagh moved G For Gabrial closer to the tearaway leader in the straight and made irresistible progress to get his mount in front close home.
Feature race on the day was the £19,000 Go Racing In Yorkshire Handicap over 1m2f and the favourite was Waldkonig, a rare runner on the track for the father and son training team of John & Thady Gosden.
Favourite for the Derby following his two-year-old debut, Waldkonig had been beaten twice since. The defeats, however, had been inflicted by Highest Ground (subsequently second in the Dante at York) and Mishriff (arguably one of the best horses in training) and the son of Kingman was definitely back in calmer waters.
Despite giving weight to all his rivals, Waldkonig strode clear to win impressively by 3¼ lengths and winning rider Rab Havlin was suitably impressed, feeling that it would be the last time that the horse was seen in a handicap with some lofty targets on the agenda.
There was a double on the day for the Gosdens as Trawlerman took the 1m4f EBF High-Rise Maiden for Godolphin on James Doyle’s only ride of the day. The race remembers Luca Cumani’s High-Rise who won this race before going on to win the Epsom Derby in the same season. Will history repeat itself at Epsom in June? Well Trawlerman is still in the Derby and can be backed at 33-1 following his impressive rout of the opposition, which were led home by Mark Johnston’s King Frankel, fully 8½ lengths behind.
Rab Havlin, successful on Waldkonig earlier in the day, brought up a double when steering Dragons Will Rise to a brave victory in the closing race on the day for the Micky Hammond team.
A Havlin treble was only just thwarted when The Rutland Rebel failed to repel the late surge of Arabescato for John Butler and Silvestre De Sousa in the long distance Jamaican Flight Handicap. The dashing grey showed a willing attitude to draw clear close home and looks unexposed over the trip so could be one to follow.
Trainer Karl Burke has his string in fine form at the moment and secured a double on the day courtesy of Bickerstaffe and Spycatcher. Both had been hugely promising two-year-olds and look as though they have trained on superbly well. Spycatcher had finished second in the Group 3 Acomb Stakes at York in 2020 and the winner of that contest, Gear Up, was a Group 1 winner later in the year.
Spycatcher deservedly got his head in front this time, pulling comfortably clear of Richard Fahey’s Cooperation who himself ran a race full of promise.
Bickerstaffe had run twice as a two-year-old, winning on the first before being sent off favourite for a Listed Event at Ayr. He produced a telling turn of speed in the closing stages to deny the equally promising Popmaster. The race could throw up a few winners in 2021.
The second division of the racingtv.com Novice looked equally enthralling with Dexter Belle running out a hugely impressive winner for Kevin Ryan, Kevin Stott and owner Clipper Logistics.
The daughter of Ajaya had run just once as a two-year-old in a traditionally hot race at York. Put away after that initial experience, she was well backed on this occasion and never looked in the slightest danger of defeat, making most of the running before pulling away with the minimum of effort to win by 5½ lengths. She is one to follow.
The two remaining race meetings scheduled at Pontefract this month (Monday, April 19 and Wednesday, April 28) will both be run behind closed doors but, should the Government’s roadmap easing restrictions continue on its current course, then Pontefract is hoping to welcome back a limited number of spectators for their three meetings on Friday, May 28th, Monday, June 7 and Sunday, June 20.
Guidelines by the British Horseracing Authority and the DCMS mean that numbers will be severely restricted, and certain areas will be inaccessible to the public, but a small number of tickets have gone sale via the course's website (pontefract-races.co.uk) today.