Highest Ground too good for Leicester rivals

Highest Ground made the most of having his sights lowered with victory in the Sharnford Conditions Stakes at Leicester.

Sir Michael Stoute’s colt looked an exciting prospect when making a winning debut at the Midlands venue on his only start as a juvenile – a theory which was given more weight after he put the high-class Waldkonig in his place at Haydock 12 months ago.

He was a narrowly beaten favourite in the rescheduled Dante Stakes on his next appearance, but disappointed on his final start of 2020 in Newmarket’s Darley Stakes and finished a long way behind Waldkonig on his return to action in the Gordon Richards at Sandown in April.

Faced with just four rivals, the son of Frankel was a 10-11 shot for his latest assignment under Ryan Moore.

Odds-on backers would have been sweating with a couple of furlongs to run as the admirable Outbox galloped on in front, but Highest Ground eventually wore him down and passed the post a length to the good.

Alan Cooper, racing manager for owner-breeders the Niarchos Family, said: “I should think that was a nice confidence boosting race.

“After his first run of this season, we discovered he had the equivalent of a sore throat afterwards. That was the reason we have given him more time since, to let it all clear up.

“It’s nice to see him back in the winner’s enclosure.”

Highest Ground holds an entry in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot on Saturday week.

When asked whether that Group Two contest was a potential target, Cooper added: “I think that was one of the ideas behind running today, to consider the Hardwicke.

“Let’s get home and regroup with Sir Michael at the end of the week and take it from there.

“We’ll see what Sir Michael and Ryan recommend and work out the programme.”

Not quite Wembley, but Leicester delighted to have racegoers back

Leicester welcomed racegoers with open arms for their evening meeting, with the city still in celebration mode after the football club won the FA Cup for the first time on Saturday.

The Oadby track was much more sedate than the atmosphere at Wembley, where an estimated 6,000 Leicester fans saw their club defeat Chelsea.

There was only about a tenth of that number at the racecourse – but it was still significant, marking as it did the latest step towards normality.

Clerk of the course Jimmy Stevenson said: “It’s great to have racegoers back. You can see the difference. We’ve been so used to the other experience with Covid, it’s been painful.

“I watched the cup final on Saturday and it was the same. Unfortunately, there’s no one from Leicester City here tonight as they’re playing Chelsea again on Tuesday.

“In total, the attendance with everyone will be about 600 to 700. We’re just taking it steady and getting everything in place and back in the groove.

“It’s been difficult because we’re led by Government guidelines and they’re changing all the time.”

Jockey Tom Marquand was delighted to see the crowds back in the UK after being used to them on his recent stint in Australia.

“I got used to the crowds in Australia, then I came back to no crowds again, which was bizarre, so this feels more normal than not having crowds,” he said.

“It’s great to have everyone back. It just lifts the racecourse up a bit.”

He picked up a winning spare ride on Divine Magic (9-2) in the Organ Donation – Start The Conversation Fillies’ Stakes. Marco Ghiani gave up the mount as his partner was expecting a baby.

“I’m sure he won’t be too bothered about missing out on a winner, but it’s a nice spare to pick up and she relished that bit of dig in the ground,” said Marquand.

He completed a double on the William Haggas-trained Chalk Stream (7-1), owned by the Queen, in the Rainbows Hospice For Children And Young People Handicap.

It was a quiet night for the 13 bookmakers on course, despite a gamble being landed in style by newcomer Dora Penny in the opening Bodie Hodges Foundation Restricted Novice Stakes.

On-course Bookmaker Michael Cannon was just delighted to be back working.

“It’s nice and quiet and nice to be out,” he said.

“I personally thought there would be more people here because it’s the first day everyone is allowed out. I can understand some people may be taking a cautious view, but for those who are out business is acceptable. It’s a small step on the way.”

Backed down from 13-2 to 11-4 favourite, the David Evans-trained juvenile was a smooth winner by two and three-quarter lengths from Hattie C under George Downing.

It was the second gamble landed by the Evans stable in recent days after Choux bolted up at Thirsk from much bigger odds.

Downing said: “This filly is very nice. David said to me she goes well enough at home and although she was a little bit green early on she knew her task when let down. Mr Evans knows the time of day.

“Delighted to see crowds back. It’s what the sport needed. It’s great, it brings lot more enthusiasm to racing. It’s very positive.”

Sadly, there was no joy for Lee and Jo Burns, parents of apprentice jockey Harry Burns, who made the two-hour journey from Harlow in Essex.

Unfortunately, his mount in the opener, Teasyweasy, was withdrawn after unseating him on the way out to the track and running loose.

“This is the first time we’ve seen him ride since the pandemic. We last saw him on the track about two years ago,” said his father.

“He took a little time off, but he’s back doing it again since March. He’s based with Jo Parr in Newmarket.

“We’re excited about seeing him ride again.”

Bashosh (2-1) looked an exciting prospect when making an impressive debut in the British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden Stakes.

The Dubawi colt, a full-brother to Nezwah, winner of the Group One Pretty Polly Stakes, shot clear of Thaler in the final furlong to score by four lengths. The first two drew 16 lengths ahead of Emanate in third.

His rider Jack Mitchell said: “He’s just taken a bit of hand to come to hand. He’s similar to his sister in that he’s not run until he was three.

“He’s got the job done really nicely. I liked the way he went through the race. He was green, but he was very professional at the end.

“I think he will only I improve by going up in trip. The run will make is sharper. He’s very exciting.”

Tracks poised for return of racegoers

Monday marks the end of racing behind closed doors as courses are permitted to welcome a limited number of spectators.

The latest milestone in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown allows racecourses to host 4,000 fans or fill the course to 50% capacity – whichever is the lesser number.

There is also a slight easing in restrictions on course, with owners able to access the parade ring to meet trainers and jockeys and masks only compulsory in the paddock and indoor areas.

Carlisle, Redcar, Leicester and Windsor all host fixtures on Monday and will therefore be the first tracks to benefit from the change in policy, with Ffos Las still restricted to racing behind closed doors due to the differing stance between the English and Welsh governments.

The impact of Covid-19 left Carlisle unable to host a single Flat fixture last year, but the Cumbrian track was able to run a behind-closed-doors jumps programme from October onwards.

Officials at Carlisle are excited to reinstate the Flat action in front of paying spectators.

“We’re delighted to be able to welcome back Flat racing to Carlisle after such a long absence and it’s particularly fitting that it coincides with the first day of spectators being allowed to return to racecourses,” said Molly Dingwall, general manager at Carlisle.

“The pandemic has had a huge impact on sport as a whole and we’ve felt that just as keenly at Carlisle racecourse. It was disappointing not to be able to host our Flat programme last year and that meant some historic races did not take place, but we couldn’t be more excited about Monday.

“Owners, trainers and spectators have been so supportive of the course over the years, not to mention incredibly patient.

“The team here have been absolutely brilliant and have worked incredibly hard to keep the course in great condition. We can’t wait to welcome everyone back for what should be a fantastic summer of Flat racing.”

Redcar will have spectators on course on Monday
Redcar will have spectators on course on Monday (Tony Knapton/PA)

Redcar stages an eight-race card, with the first race fittingly named the Great To Welcome You Back Median Auction Maiden Stakes.

Redcar’s general manager Amy Fair said: “We’re really looking forward to welcoming spectators back after so long, we’ve really missed the atmosphere they bring, but the emphasis has to remain very much on public safety.”

Leicester will also be in action, with a seven-race evening card kicking off at 5.05pm after over a year of racing in front of empty grandstands.

Empty stands at Leicester in March
Empty stands at Leicester in March (Tim Goode/PA)

David Maykels, general manager of the racecourse, said: “We are looking forward to welcoming annual members and the public back after 15 long months.

“Tomorrow evening sees further relaxation also for owners, who can now enter the parade ring and winners enclosure for their race.

“We have hired a large marquee until September to facilitate hospitality clients and owners due to losing our boxes and club room for jockeys and stewards.

“Tomorrow we will be providing the paddock pavilion for owners and trainers, plus in annual members we will be providing some welcome-back bubbly to thank them for their support.

“Let us hope this is the start of a special summer and beyond.”

Hollie Doyle records Leicester four-timer

Record-breaking rider Hollie Doyle lit up Leicester with a 135-1 four-timer on Saturday.

Doyle – who partnered five winners on one afternoon at Windsor last season and had five at Kempton in March – has put down an early marker to suggest she will be right in the mix when it comes to being champion jockey this season.

She finished fourth in the title race last year – in what proved a breakthrough season for her – and she has already stated she will be gunning for the championship full bore this time around.

Her first winner was relatively straightforward as Ed Dunlop’s Bellarena Lady (11-10 favourite) had little trouble in taking the Join RacingTV Now Novice Stakes following a promising debut at Newmarket.

The quirky Dancinginthewoods (3-1) was next for Doyle in the Kube Events Centre At Leicester Racecourse Handicap, being suited by dropping back in distance.

“Coming back in trip is the making of him, he’s been tried over seven furlongs and he could be quite keen – viciously keen, actually. But he’s settled well today and wasn’t doing a tap when he hit the front, so hopefully that will do his confidence the world of good,” Doyle told Racing TV.

Jeanette May (4-1) then did the business for Doyle and her old ally William Stone in the second division of the Follow Us On Twitter @leicesterraces Handicap.

“She’s so frustrating and I feel sorry for Will. She’d been so close to winning at Kempton and then you think today’s the day, but then she’ll go and run a dud,” said Doyle.

“At halfway today she was trying to pull herself up, but the further we went the better – she’s quite cute. She’s well capable, but it depends what mood she’s in.”

Doyle was seen to best effect on Roger Varian’s Jaramillo (9-4) in the Racecourse Live Streams On RacingTV Extra Novice Stakes.

He had been beaten in two hot maidens last season, and Doyle said: “He made me work. We went a nice gallop and I was going as quick as I could, but turning in once we hit the rising ground between the four and the three, the further we went the better I was going and I always felt like the winner.

“When I let him down he was very green still and it was more of an education today.

“He’s just a big, burly baby really. He’d only had two runs and this was his first time on turf today. I just feel with those types it’s best to try to correct them with your body strength rather than your stick straight away, though obviously you might need your stick in some cases. He was just looking for company, that’s all.

“I think stamina is his strong suit. I was a bit concerned about the ground today, but he’s by Oasis Dream so technically he should be going on it. I think he’ll be better on slower ground and he’ll get a mile and a half.

“It’s going great, I can’t complain.”

Welsh National card beaten by the weather

Chepstow’s Coral Welsh Grand National meeting has been abandoned due to a waterlogged track.

The fixture has had no luck down the years on the weather front and once more course officials were forced to admit defeat.

Earlier in the week there had been optimism that the prestigious card, which also features the Grade One Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle, would survive but a further downfall overnight from Storm Bella left the course with patches of false ground.

Clerk of the course Libby O’Flaherty inspected at 7.45am but was left with no choice but to call the meeting off.

“We’ve had another 27mm overnight and this morning, up to 7am when I was walking the track,” said O’Flaherty.

“It’s so annoying as there’s just one area of false ground down the back straight and I was trying to find a way around it but there just isn’t one.”

Speaking later in the morning O’Flaherty confirmed that the meeting would now be run on January 9.

“We’ve rescheduled for January 9. It should be like-for-like but we are just waiting for official confirmation that the card will be exactly the same,” she said.

Limerick’s card on Sunday was also called off due to waterloging while the meeting there on Monday must pass an 8am precautionary inspection following 18mm of overnight rain on already heavy ground.

Monday’s meeting at Leicester was also abandoned due to a waterlogged track following an inspection at 9.30am on Sunday.

Heavy rain overnight had left false patches on already heavy ground.