With the first round of the 2017/18 Challenger Series been completed, we have seen upsets, unlucky losers and horses to keep an eye on in the future.
The Challenger Series has continued to grow in popularity and be embraced by owners and trainers alike. There have been a total 66 runners in the eight races completed so far.
Staying Mares’ Handicap Chase Series
The first Series to get under way was the Mares’ Chase Series that had to be moved from Hereford to Worcester due to firm ground. Sheer Poetry for trainer Richard Woollacott and jockey James Best gave the first shock of the Challenger Series, running out a 20/1 winner by 17 lengths. Always travelling nicely in midfield, James Best gave her a squeeze three from the finish, where she took up the lead and cruised home. The yard said ‘Although she can be a little bit of a monkey at the start she is very game and willing once off and racing. She was given an excellent ride by James Best and jumped immaculately – we are looking forward to her next start!’. She could be one to follow this year.
Staying Handicap Chase Series
The next Series under way was the Stayers Chase Series at Carlisle won by Vic De Touzaine for trainer Venetia Williams and jockey Wayne Hutchinson. Venetia’s horses usually prefer a softer surface and it proved so, as the Challenger Series Qualifier gave the Hereford trainer her first and only win of the campaign so far. Vic De Touzaine was held up before making smooth headway into third before three out. He was a length down coming to the last, was ridden and ran on gamely to lead in the last stride.
One week later and we were back at Carlisle for another Challenger Series Qualifier. Courtown Oscar ran out a game winner for the Philip Kirby team. After virtually making all, he was ridden after three out, headed on the run in, but he responded to Adam Nichols urgings and rallied to lead again towards the finish.
Middle Distance Handicap Chase Series
The Middle Distance Chase Series started at Wincanton, where Orbasa benefitted from a tumbling mark for Paul Nicholls. The Nicholls yard have made a flying start to the campaign and Orbasa was no different. Always in touch, he tracked the leaders, lead and going best two out and was pushed clear to win by a cosy five lengths. The handicapper was clearly impressed, putting him up 6lbs, but he has been competitive off that mark before and you wouldn’t be surprised to see him go in again this season.
Mares’ Handicap Hurdle Series
The Challenger Series headed to Stratford for the first race in the Mares’ Hurdle Series. Miss Night Owl made her second winning reappearance in as many years for Tom George as she held on gamely from Alan King’s Giveaway Glance. She popped out an virtually made all, ridden into and joined at the last, she had to produce a game effort to hold on by a shoulder.
Staying Handicap Hurdle Series
The penultimate Series to begin was the Stayers Hurdle division. Oh Land Abloom landed the spoils for Neil King and conditional jockey Harry Teal. Having chased leading pair, he went second and chased leader two out, ridden and led narrowly next, mistake and headed last, battled back under pressure and forged ahead towards finish. This was arguably a career best performance from the seven-year-old and there could be more to come this winter.
2m Handicap Hurdle Series
The final Series to get under way was the 2m Hurdle Series where the flourishing Barrys Jack completed the hattrick for Brian Ellison and Kaine Wood. He is a horse that clearly relishes a softer surface, winning his last three on soft or worse ground. However, this wasn’t as easy as the market predicted. The 4/7 favourite tracked leaders, pushed along and briefly outpaced after 3 out, ridden to challenge last, he took up the lead 110yds out, stayed on to win gamely.