Track Talk From Executive Director Phil Bell- 17th Jan


17 January 2023

As I write this week’s column, we have just abandoned our race meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. As readers are very much aware, the cold weather has hit South Wales with a vengeance this week. We deployed frost covers to try and protect the course from the elements but with temperatures falling to minus 6c we didn’t stand a chance of going ahead. It’s all very frustrating because we had a team of 30 people at the track on Sunday to lay the covers and our ground staff team did everything they could to protect the racing surface. 
Our next meeting is Friday 3rd February. There are seven races from 1.30pm. Advance tickets are just £15. We then have Six Nations Race Day on Saturday 25th February with the Wales v England game live after racing in our Fans Zone. Advance tickets are just £10. 

Saturday was memorable for Sam Thomas (photographed) and Sean Bowen, with five winners between them. 

Thomas’s 2021 Coral Welsh Grand National hero Iwilldoit overcame a 383 day absence to take Warwick’s Classic Chase over 3m5f.  It was an emotional success for the trainer, who was hurt in the November helicopter crash from which his landlord, leading owner Dai Walters, is still recovering.  The horses hadn’t been firing for a while – the yard had had just two winners from 34 runners since the beginning of November.   

Part of the reason for the horse’s long absence is that he is a poor eater.  If he doesn’t eat enough, he can’t be given much exercise.  In the lead-up to this race, however, he had been eating properly.   

Stan Sheppard, who is now 3-3 riding Iwilldoit, said he’d jumped and travelled well throughout, and as the race went on he felt the outcome was never in doubt.   Chris Morgan, the head of Diamond Racing, the Caerphilly-based syndicate that owns the horse, has also had a traumatic time lately.  His young son is slowly recovering from a life-threatening head injury in the autumn while playing rugby.   

The sponsors, property company The Wigley Group, had put up a £100,000 bonus for a horse that wins the Classic Chase and the Grand National, a race for which Iwilldoit has been slashed from 50/1 to 20/1.  The snag is that runners in the National need to have competed six times over fences, and this was only Iwilldoit’s fifth.  He’d have to run again before 19 February to qualify for the race. Thomas also has the Grand Steeplechase de Paris in May as an option, where the going is more likely to be in his favour.   

Thomas’s lean spell was well and truly broken, for within the hour he had another winner at Kempton.  There the useful Dai Walters-owned novice hurdler Deere Mark won his first handicap.  Produced late by Sam Twiston-Davies, he was value for more than the length and a half he won by.  If he sneaks into next month’s Betfair Hurdle at the bottom of the weights he should have a fair chance.   
Kempton racegoers also saw Evan Williams’ Annsam make all the running under Adam Wedge to win a three mile chase, jumping well and galloping his opponents into the ground.  However, his closest pursuers faded so badly at the end that he won by 17 lengths, so the handicapper is going to hit him hard.  Conversely, Kitty’s Light’s mark is coming down steadily and he made some late progress to finish third and Christian Williams’ stayer is sure to run some big races in the not too distant future.   

Sean Bowen’s Wetherby treble keeps him in a clear second place in the jockeys’ table, 16 clear of Harry Cobden and 31 behind Brian Hughes. Betting £1 on all of his 444 rides so far this season would have yielded a £177.33 profit, a terrific score that shows that he is riding winners at good prices, not just favourites.   

Saturday’s winners were good illustrations of that.  The 11/2 shot Fiston De Becon, having its second run for Olly Murphy, took the maiden hurdle in good style.  He’d shown little form before and the trainer’s representatives put the improvement down – unusually – to the removal of a tongue strap.   

Stablemate Mackelduff (5/1) won the three mile chase, staying on well to pinch the race in the last few strides.  It was a fine effort on his second start over the larger obstacles and carrying twelve stone.  Bowen ended the day with a victory in the mares’ bumper for Archie Watson aboard Chosen Hero.  In hindsight 12/1 was generous for a Punchestown point-to-point winner guaranteed to get the trip in the soft going.  

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