THERE is a double-header of evening racing at Stratford Racecourse this weekend and point-to-point followers will be out in force on Friday (May 20) when the seven-race card kicks off at 5.45pm.
Professional jockeys will be taking a back seat for most of the meeting, as all five chases on Friday are restricted to amateurs. First up is the £10,000 Subaru ‘Restricted Point-To-Point’ Series Final (Novices’ Hunters’ Chase) over an extended two and three-quarter miles, open to horses that have not won under the rules of any recognised racing authority other than a Maiden or Hunt Members race, or a National Hunt Flat or Flat race.
The series has been run across 50 national qualifiers, with the first heat won by Tulsa, ridden by Sam Davies-Thomas, at Cottenham near Cambridge in November.
He has not been entered for the final, but Davies-Thomas could be aboard six-year-old The Gunner Brady, a winner of two Members races this season, for trainer Tracy Bailey.
Virgo The First, owned by Martin Ward, took the qualifier at Dingley in Northamptonshire at the beginning of the month, ridden by jockey Archie Wright, but it is Lilbitluso, who followed up his four point-to-point wins with success at Cheltenham last month, who is fancied to take this in the hands of experienced rider John Mathias.
The trip is just short of three-and-a-half miles for the £20,000 pointtopoint.co.uk Champion Novices’ Hunters’ Chase (for the John Corbet Cup) and Lilbitluso would be in with chance if running here rather than the opener.
Also engaged is Broken Eagle, who has an entry in a later race, so it was a bit of a guessing game as to which horses would line up ahead of the declarations on Thursday.
The AGA Ladies Open Point-To-Point Championship Final (A Hunters’ Chase For Lady Riders) was won last year by What A Laugh, ridden by Jane Williams, who will be retiring from the saddle at the end of this season.
Back in third was Bound For Glory, ridden by Hannah Lewis, and he should run well again this year.
Palypso du Creek is a prolific winner, with 30 victories in point-to-points and under Rules, but will need rain in order to run. Berties Dream beat Bavard Court at Dingley on Sunday in a good Ladies’ race, reversing the form of their previous encounter at High Easter in April.
Vasco Du Mee is very much a horse in form, having won impressively at Cheltenham when ridden by Josephine Banks.
There is a high-class entry for the £25,000 Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunters Champion Hunters’ Chase (The 58th Running) headed by Irish-trained Marito, who has finished runner-up to On The Fringe, acknowledged as the best around at this level, at both the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals.
He had Pacha Du Polder behind him at Cheltenham and, on form, has nothing to fear from Paul Nicholls’ horse.
Ridden by Olympic cycling gold medallist Victoria Pendleton that day, Pacha Du Polder was reunited with top amateur jockey Will Biddick for his last race at Aintree, but ran disappointingly to be beaten 60 lengths.
Which jockey will be in the saddle at Stratford depends on the race Pacha Du Polder runs in.
Speaking to At The Races, owner Andy Stewart said: “If he runs in the Champion Hunters’ Chase, then Will Biddick will take the mount but, if he runs in the Ladies’ race, then Victoria will ride.”
Also entered is Paint The Clouds, who finished runner-up in this race last year, with Pasha Du Polder back in third and, over this distance, should come out ahead again, although both would have it all to do against Marito should he have made the trip from Ireland.
There are 22 entries for the Apple Tree Exhibitions Motorhome Show Open Hunters’ Chase, including Billy Magern, now with Alan Hill, but rated at 144 at his best when trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies.
He was well beaten in a Novice Riders’ race on Sunday and seems a long way from his best.
Also from the same stable is the progressive Broken Eagle, who has won eight point-to-points and ran well when runner-up to Sam Cavallaro at Cheltenham when ridden by the trainer’s son Joe.
Course and distance winner Catch Tammy, who is trained by racecourse manager Ilona Barnett, was a close third in a point-to-point on Sunday, having finished fourth behind the useful Warne at Mollington in his previous race.
Saturday’s seven-race card gets underway at 5.35pm with the Allan Atkinson Memorial Handicap Chase.