After suffering the post-Cheltenham and Aintree blues there is nothing better to rejuvenate yourselves than the Challenger Series Finals Day. Just a week after Aintree and the weather couldn’t have been any different. From the glorious sunshine to a rather chilly afternoon at Haydock. The Challenger Series was rewarded for a £300,000 total prize fund (£30,950 to each winner) with 78 runners across the six races. This is an average of 13 runners per race, significantly higher than the total jumps average for 2016, 8.56.
14.05 Challenger Middle Distance Chase Series Final
The day started with Ballybolley retaining his crown as the Challenger Middle Distance Chase Series Champion. Even being 4lb higher in the weights, last year’s winner was far more impressive this time around. Employing the same tactics as his previous eight length win, the Simon Munir and Issac Souede owned horse virtually made all, jumping very well throughout. Coming into the home straight he was still travelling very powerfully. Despite being impeded by a loose horse three out, it was still just a steering job for Daryll Jacob as he ran out a 17l winner.
14.40 Challenger Staying Series Chase Series Final
A very competitive race on paper run on the Lancashire course, and it was a wide-open market with SP’s at 7/1 the field. If there was going to be a shock, then it was always going to be in this race and Willoughby Hedge duly obliged. The Alan King 10-year-old was making just his eighth start over fences and with first time blinkers hung on in an exhilarating finish from Regal Flow. Always prominent, he tracked the leaders in third and went second from five out. He challenged for the lead three out and led soon after. Regal flow pushed him all the way to the line but Wayne Hutchinson’s urgings got him the win.
15.15 Challenger Two Mile Hurdle Series Final
The first hurdle race of the day was the very competitive 2m Hurdle. Alan King was not as fortunate in this race as favourite, Midnight Maestro, was pulled up after just six hurdles. The J P McManus horse jumped the fifth poorly, never really recovered and bowed out. This left it clear for the other McManus horse, Stamp Your Feet, to bring home the prize for those famous green and yellow hooped silks. The Tom George trained five-year-old was settled toward the rear and was asked for an effort coming into the home straight. Winning didn’t look likely has he was a four lengths fifth going over the last. However, he stayed on well up the run-in to chin Limited Reserve near the line.
15.50 Challenger Mares’ Handicap Hurdle Series Final
The subsequent hurdle race brought another victory for the Munir and Souede team as Secret Door managed to get her second win over timber. There is no doubt she fully deserved a big day in the limelight as this thoroughly consistent mare has never been out of the top three. Daryll Jacob did another superb job in the saddle and had her settled in second behind the front running Beyondtemptation. He got her into a nice rhythm and went to challenge three out. She lead after the final flight and was headed half-way up the run in by Poppy Kay. This didn’t faze her as she fought back bravely to win by a neck.
16.20 Challenger Stayers Hurdle Series Final
The penultimate race of the day was another hotly contested event, with the The All In One Syndicate owned Kelvingrove defying his 12-1 odds. The Jonjo O’Neill trained gelding was recording his third win from 17 starts in a stamina-sapping race. Aidan Coleman settled Kelvingrove in behind the leading pack and got a lovely tow into the race. He was rousted along coming into the home straight to maintain his position as Master Dillion took over the lead. It was a two horse race coming over the last but Aidan’s mount pulled out more towards the finish and held on well to win by three lengths.
16.55 Challenger Mares’ Chase Series Final
The final race let the Mares jump the bigger obstacles in another excellent finish. The nine-year-old Magic Money was recording her second win over fences since making the switch to the Warren Greatrex yard. Held up towards the rear Harry Bannister got the mare into a good rhythm. She made good headway down the back straight. Harry asked the question two out and got a good response, as she lead going over the last. The race looked wrapped up but she was challenged late on by the gallant Still Believing, she found a little more and pulled out a victory for owner Michael Fennessy.