Taunton can boast not only a beautiful racecourse, but also very distinguished antecedents. Several monarchs have given their patronage to Taunton. As a young man, the Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of King Charles II, was encouraged by his uncle, King James II, to participate in horse racing and he achieved some success claiming to have ridden the winner of the Chester Cup. Despite the king’s patronage, the Duke tried to usurp him from the throne, and when he returned to England from exile in 1685 set up his standard in Taunton proclaiming himself the rightful king of England. He was welcomed to the town with acclaim by all its citizens, amongst whom the most prominent seem to have been twenty virtuous young ladies of great physical beauty attired in their finest garments.
Today our racecourse might not be able to host a Monmouth, but most certainly our lady patrons would more than hold the Duke’s attention in the face of his earlier admirers as would the seven good races that lay ahead of us today.
This euphoria was not to last. Having basked in Taunton’s adulation, Monmouth moved on to Bridgwater where his badly armed followers were slaughtered by the King’s army at the battle of Sedgemoor. He was captured and then tried at the Bloody Assize in Taunton to which Judge Jeffrey had been dispatched to administer rough justice. Monmouth was executed on Tower Hill whilst the King, with great nonchalance, avoided the grizzly spectacle by visiting a speedily arranged race meeting in Winchester.
Today’s racing was held in more peaceful circumstances, but nonetheless provided many thrills. There has been plenty of rain since our last meeting eleven days ago, 20mm of it in the last three days, thus the going was soft and rather claggy, as illustrated by the slow times.
Most of our sport’s leading trainers were represented in the first, The Broadway and Horton Cricket Club Novices’ Hurdle, run over 2m 3f in weather most unsuitable for cricket. JPR One landed the odds for Brendan Powell and Colin Tizzard, following up his Exeter win, impressively from Paul Nicholl’s £120,000 newcomer Tango Tara, a huge horse who handled this tight track well. The winner is named after the Welsh rugby icon J.P.R. Williams. One cannot keep this name out of the racing headlines presently, whether appended to a horse’s or a trainer’s name.
The second was the first of two divisions of a 2 mile maiden hurdle sponsored by Invest Southwest, consistently generous benefactors of Taunton races. Knickerbockerglory, dropping down in class from a previous run in a listed race, landed the odds with consummate ease for the Skeltons, making every yard of the running. Making the running in Novice Hurdles at Taunton pays dividends. In the last 34 races 9 winners have made the running while only one has come off the pace.
The second division saw a maximum field line up. Yet again the favourite made all the running and won. Natty Night completed an across the card double for Venetia Williams, (that name again), in the silky smooth hands of Charlie Deutsch, who, looking very Ruby Walsh – like, gave credence to the views of both Walsh and McCoy that Charlie is perhaps the finest horseman race-riding at the moment. The Phillip Hobbs trained Iberio was very heavily backed, but as he had done at Worcester and Chepstow, spoiled his chances by jumping too big.
Next in the feature race, we had the smallest and best quality field of the day in the 2 mile Novice Handicap Chase. Only two points separated the four runners in the betting and the two outsiders came to the last in the lead upsides each other. Sarasota Star, who had jumped magnificently throughout, made his only mistake by overjumping to let the Gary Moore trained Golden Boy Grey, ridden by son Jamie, go on and win, having been well backed just before the off.
In the 2mile 3 furlong handicap hurdle Paul Nicholls showed why he is champion trainer. Captain Mathan, carrying the famous Stewart family colours, having been well backed during the day, led all the way to win after nearly two years off the track. This is a very well handicapped horse and should be followed.
The sixth, the 2m 7f Geoffrey Bosley “Tally Ho” Handicap Chase seemed another very competitive affair. In the event the heavily supported favourite Queen of Court, carrying only 9st 13lb thanks to Archie Bellamy’s 7lb claim, won in fine style. This mare, owned and trained by Grant Cann, was yet another triumph for punters on a day when all six winners so far had been well supported in the market.
The finale was a 2m handicap hurdle for mares. For a long time it looked as though Gaot might prevail. Her owner J.P McManus had announced earlier in the day the purchase of France’s leading cross country horse, Prengarde, to be sent to Enda Bolger to be prepared for the big race in March. The rumoured purchase price was more than a hundred times the winner’s prize in this event; it was Tabitha Worsley riding the top weight Amelia’s Dance who prevailed for trainer Robert Walford.
Good racing in the new year; we’re back here at Taunton on Saturday 22nd January for the most important race of our season. Do come and enjoy the thrill.