Party politics has no place in sport, but one can’t help but issue three loud cheers for the Westminster government allowing us punters to enjoy the spectacle of live racing in the flesh rather than on a screen. Better, in my view, to see a novice hurdle at Taunton live than a race even as prestigious as the Welsh National on television. The Taunton race planners have come up trumps, seven good races, all of them with enough runners to allow each way betting, with a valuable mares’ race the star of the show. The groundstaff produced a good to soft surface, and those whose belts are not too tight can enjoy Taunton Racecourse’s outstanding cuisine. In consequence, all the high flying Somerset stables were represented today. Nicholls, Hobbs, Pipe and Scott all have runners while Dr Newland and Nicky Henderson had entries to be respected.
The familial nature of Taunton races is exemplified by today’s sponsors most of whom have links with the town of Taunton itself. With the winter solstice only ten days behind us, we had an early 12.15 pm start. Nine runners contested the first, a conditional jockeys handicap hurdle run over 2m 3f. It was an absolute thriller that engendered wild cheering from the holiday crowd. Karakoram number 11 at 11-1 prevailed for Joe Anderson and trainer Grace Harris after the David Pipe trained Kalzari had looked the winner until demolishing the second last.
The second, sponsored by the Taunton based Invest Southwest, a 2 mile juvenile hurdle which attracted a competitive field of 14, was won by the debutante Irish Hill for Harry Cobden and Paul Nicholls whose previous race had been on the flat at Longchamp. Nicholls was fresh from enjoying his youngest daughter Olive ride a winner at Chaddesley Corbett the previous day. The favourite, Graystone under Bryony Frost, had looked a certain winner until taking a crashing fall at the last. Notwithstanding, Lucy Wadham is still hopeful that she has a Cheltenham contender. This fall sadly led to the demise of the Racing Post’s placepot which today was from Taunton.
There were also 14 runners for the next, a 2m 3f novice hurdle sponsored by Taunton’s leading estate agents, Newton King. Two other leaders, Cobden and Nicolls scored a quick fire double when Brave Kingdom, who had impressed at Sandown, made every yard of the running to land the odds. Ballyblack for another Somerset trainer, Jeremy Scott, ran a most encouraging race to finish second – a novice to note
The fourth race was sponsored by Summerfield Developments who had already been in existence for two years when the races moved from Bridgwater to the grounds of King’s College in 1825. 198 years after their founding Summerville carries a powerful socially aware conscience in all its projects. Their project today was to sponsor the 2m 7f handicap chase at 1.50. Ten runners lined up for this novice chase which saw five horses upsides as they came to two out. It was the Ben Pauling trained Bangers and Cash that prevailed ridden by Luca Morgan. Racegoers are certainly getting value for the entry fee today.
The feature race of the day was the mares novice hurdle carrying a winners prize of over £12,500 thanks in large part to the generosity of the Byerley Stud. Set up only 6 years ago by principals with a wealth of experience, the stud, owned by Sarah Clifford and stud manager Ian Bradbury, specialises in buying older mares with a quality pedigree. Their horses enjoy 250 acres of the finest Wiltshire pasture just outside Bath. Sarah has been a long time supporter of National Hunt racing through Bathwick Tyres, whilst husband Wayne owns Cool Coyde. Despite the best efforts of Bryony Frost and Lucy Wadham to make this an all distaff affair with Game on for Glory, nothing was to stop the Cobden/Nicholls juggernaut complete a treble with their listed bumper winner Rainy Day Woman. Nicky Henderson was here to saddle Ahorsewithnoname which was not quite good enough.
The penultimate race, a handicap chase over 3m 2f and nineteen fences proved to be attritional with less than half the field completing the course. A deal of very sketchy jumping was on display. The courage of Kingsmill Gin for the Best/Du Plessis combination prevailed over Eaton Miller.
One normally associates Thatcher’s cider with vast men doing battle on the rugby field in Bath. How good it is to see this family-run Somerset business sponsor a race for jockeys, about half the weight of the rugby men, in the 3 mile handicap hurdle finale. Punters left happy after Fergal O’Brien’s Tip Top Cat justified favouritism with relative ease.
So raise a glass of Somerset’s finest gold liquid to wish all concerned with this wonderful day’s racing a Happy New Year.