Cotswold trainers emphasized their current well-being at this early stage of the National Hunt season at Newton Abbot this afternoon with winners of five of the seven races. And whilst early September is hardly mid winter fare at Grade I tracks, handlers from the county are placing their charges to best effect and dominating the top of the Trainers Championship.
Opening the batting, Graeme McPherson underlined the well being of his string with his sixth winner of the campaign and the second within four days, when Callum Gilhooley won the opening NH Novices Hurdle by 3/4l under Kielan Woods, enjoying bhis ninth winner of the campaign. If all goes well, Graham's momentum should carry him to his best ever total two seasons ago, when 20 winners clocked up over £195,000 in prize money. His Cocklebarrow runner Gold Time, who finished just off the pace in the Restricted last January was sold at Tattersalls Summer Sale.
Dariya was next up for Chipping Norton trainer Charlie Longsdon, strictly speaking over the county border in Oxfordshire. Charlie's stable is hot to trot at present, following a double at Stratford, again with Dariya, bought in after the seller, and Jamacho, running in the colours of Stratford Racecourse. That makes an admirable hat-trick from his last 3 runners, and cements the partnership with conditional Tom Buckley. Tom has a 25% strike rate this season and could be a contender of the junior riders championship.
Tom George can always be relied upon to refresh his select string over the summer. There are no timewasters in his yard, and virtually every horse earns their keep. When they don't, they're firmly shown the door. Ballon Onabudget secured his place in the handicap hurdle under Jonathan Burke to keep the county's momentum up.
And fresh from representing the Gloucestershire Gypsies at Stowell Park on Sunday (where he enjoyed another winner in absentia at Fontwell, Fergal O'Brien maintained his impressive start to the season with a double in the Novices Handicap Chase and the Bumper, both ridden by Paddy Brennan. Cheltenam de Vaige, winner of the chase, has now won three times at Newton Abbot since the resumption and seems to still be ahead of the handicapper, whilst 5 year old Long Stay broke his duck after a move from Denis Gerard Hogan and a switch across the Irish Sea.
The numbers of horses and trainers in the surrounds of Gloucestershire have never been better, and it's testament to the interest in the sport, and the skill of their handlers, that our trainers are putting a clean pair of heels between them and the more traditional training centres in the South West and Lambourn. Although not a training centre with communal gallops in the traditional sense of the word, the Cotswolds is the engine running the recent popularity of the sport, all the way up the racing pyramid from Point-to-Points to professional racing.
This week and next sees the return of carefully managed crowds to racecourses at Doncaster, Warwick and Newmarket. If those test events run without mishap, we can anticipate a swift acceleration of spectator numbers in time for the autumn.
I can't wait.