Drama galore at Ascot, Wetherby and Down Royal on Saturday. Ed Chamberlin reflects on it all in his latest column.
Saturday was an afternoon that had a bit of everything. Drama, controversy, brilliant performances, and on our first visit to Wetherby with the ITV cameras, lots and lots of rain.
We had a great welcome from racegoers, the local media and the racecourse itself. Jonjo Sanderson runs a very good ship there and they skilfully tap into the local community and are well supported as a result.
There was a real buzz around the racecourse on both Friday and Saturday and purely from a TV point of view the one horse we wanted to win above all the others was Lady Buttons.
She’s got a big following in Yorkshire which was evident on Saturday. Her owners Jane and Keith Sivills were there, along with a massive fan club. They were all bedecked in purple and white to match their racing silks.
Husband and wife don’t watch the race together, suggesting they are very superstitious, but there’ll have been one heck of a party back at the Tiger Inn pub they run in Easington afterwards.
Phil Kirby continues to make a name for himself in the training ranks and I really like the way he picked himself up from losing the high-profile horses owner Darren Yates briefly had with him. He made no fuss and just got on with the job and you can tell how popular he is by the reception he received on Saturday.
You then add in Adam Nicol, the winning rider, who has come back from serious injury just to partner this horse, as was featured in an excellent piece by Tom Richmond in the Yorkshire Post.
Adam’s partner Jenny Durrans looks after Lady Buttons and has built up a really good following on social media as she gives people at home a real insight in to the life of racehorses and the love and devotion they receive.
It’s a story that had all the ingredients that resonate well with an ITV audience.
Jenny is a great example of the dedication you see throughout the country and I’m honoured to have been asked to host the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards again next year. It’s one of the best nights of the year and I urge owners, trainers and stud farms to nominate their staff now as the November 12th deadline is fast approaching.
Back to Wetherby and Ballyoptic was a brave winner of an attritional renewal of the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase, the track’s most prestigious race.
It was a lovely story for the Mills family, dad Fred and son Wayne. The latter was just 19 and a promising footballer who played for Arsenal Juniors when he slipped from a roof he was working on and suffered serious spinal injuries.
He was visited in hospital by then champion jockey Peter Scudamore in 1990 and that sparked the dream of racehorse ownership for the pair who have been involved in the sport ever since.
Along with fellow owner Dave Mason they can now dream of races like the Betfair Chase and the Coral Welsh National with their admirable chaser.
I’ve been very keen to get owners to the forefront of our coverage on ITV and there are so many wonderful stories to tell.
It was great to be able to include the Ladbrokes Champion Chase in our coverage on Saturday and full marks to Road To Respect for recording back-to-back victories in the the Down Royal feature.
I’d imagine the Paul Nicholls team were very pleased with the run of Clan Des Obeaux in second, too, although bookmakers eased him out for some of the big winter races. He’s a 7/1 chance with Sky Bet for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton.
It was probably a good thing the champion trainer was in Ireland and not at Ascot given the bizarre incident at the end of the Byrne Group Handicap Chase.
The good news for the champion trainer, followers of Ben Linfoot’s Value Bet column and the Insider on ITV’s Opening Show, was Diego Du Charmil kept the race.
I found the situation very confusing. It was controversial given the interference before the final fence – and then what happened there. Throwing out Capeland seemed so harsh and it was impossible not to feel sorry for his owner Kathy Stuart.
To start our analysis we focused on the question of whether either – or both – of them had jumped the last and perhaps we didn’t pay enough attention to what had happened before that point. It left all of us, Andrew Thornton, Mick Fitzgerald and Sir Anthony McCoy included, completely baffled.
I’ve watched it dozens of times since and still don’t know what the right decision should have been.
One thing’s for sure, the rain of the early autumn means there’s been a really fast start to the National Hunt season which just gets better and better from here.
This week we make our annual trip to Wincanton to share the love around the country and showcase the big days at some the tracks that don’t always have the spotlight on them.
Wincanton is another venue that taps into their local community and you can guarantee they will be out in force to cheer on Present Man’s bid for an unprecedented hat-trick in the Badger Ales Trophy.
Finally, despite everything mentioned, above, the star of the week was undoubtedly Khadijah Mellah who lit up the London premiere of the documentary Riding A Dream in Brixton. I was delighted to hear the first broadcast of it on ITV was watched by over one million people on Saturday.
It’s a wonderful film and another example of the power of the racing family when everyone unites behind a cause.