Sean Levey took the riding plaudits on the opening night of the second edition of the Racing League, as he partnered a treble at Doncaster for Matt Chapman’s table-topping London and The South team who bagged four winners overall.
TV presenter Chapman had been very vocal before the competition got under way and luckily for him his team backed him up, standing tall on 174 points.
With Richard Hannon and Andrew Balding providing the bulk of his runners on Town Moor, and with the likes of Charlie Hills and Mick Channon to call on in later weeks, Chapman’s team were always going to be ones to watch.
But four winners on the first night perhaps surpassed even their expectations.
The new regional format has proved popular and while the scoring system might still require a calculator, there is no doubt this year’s edition is a big improvement.
Chapman certainly thinks so after the victories of System in the opener and Zabbie in race three, both trained by Hannon, while the Balding-trained Scampi (9/1) won over 12 furlongs and Nicola Currie sealed the night when bolting up in the last aboard Dean Ivory’s Pledge Of Honour (11/2).
“It just shows the problems with the other captains! They are not listening to the big players in the game. I did and I got the result. It’s a team game and I’m playing the team game,” said Chapman.
"I can’t thank Richard enough for running those two horses. With System he was insistent he ran while he was always running Zabbie.
“I’ve got to be honest, Hannon had a whole load of entries for that race and I was really hoping he didn’t choose Zabbie as I thought he had a host of better contenders. But just like with System, there’s a reason he’s a top-class trainer and I’m a mug. I can’t thank him enough.
“Sean Levey has been brilliant all night. Look, he’s a Group One-winning jockey and everyone knows I love him to bits because not only is he talented, but he’s good fun – hopefully it shows his talents to other trainers and he starts to get more outside rides.”
Levey said: “To have a double for the boss (Hannon) is great and whenever you ride for Andrew Balding you always think you have a chance because his horses are in great form. I know Mr Balding from last year’s league, we were in the same team then as well. It’s great to have three winners.”
He added: “I quite like wearing this armband (for leading jockey). I’ve never had one before, I think I might keep it! Chapman is a bit much, but he’s enjoying himself at least.”
Mick Quinn’s Team North got off the mark in race four with the progressive sprinter Juan Les Pins (13/2), an easy winner for Paul Hanagan. The ex-Newcastle United striker and former trainer also feels the rejigged regional teams concept is a major plus.
“I’m really looking forward to the format of the regional teams this year so punters and racegoers can get behind a team,” said Quinn.
“I’m Team North and I’ve got trainers from North Yorkshire to Newcastle so I’m hoping the Geordies come out and support us at the two meetings there, I’ve even gone for black and white colours!
"There’s tremendous prize-money, we’ve got loads of runners tonight compared to everywhere else in the country so as far as I’m concerned there’s no losers, it’s an exciting concept. There was so much going on last year with the team sponsors, this year the hope is people latch on to a team."
Like Chapman, Leonna Mayor was combining her role as team manager with presenting duties and admitted to feeling relieved when Mattice (8/1) helped lift them from the lower reaches of the table.
“I’m really chuffed to get a winner as I really did not want to leave a Yorkshire track without one,” said Mayor, whose squad sits second on 128 points, just ahead of Jamie Osborne’s Wales and The West (125).
“I’ve felt the stress because you have trainers putting horses forward, but I was having to say I’ve already promised so and so. To a point it’s first come first served as it’s not for me to decide what is well handicapped, I can only trust what people tell me. The problem is they all think they are well handicapped!”
It was not a good night for last year’s winning team captain Rupert Bell, however. Having managed Team talkSPORT to victory 12 months ago he was chosen to lead The East, essentially Newmarket, but they are languishing at the foot of the table.
“It’s a different format this year, but I did win it last year so now I get a sense of what Pep Guardiola feels like, I’ve got a target on my back,” said Bell.
“Anything to keep Matt Chapman out of the headlines – but then he goes and gets off to a flier!
“We haven’t filled all our slots tonight but this is the busiest time of the season, the ground is fast and we are not forcing trainers to run, that’s not the point.
“What is happening is that I’ve already had three trainers telling me they have horses they want to run next week, my brother (Michael Bell) has been on saying he’s got one for Newcastle so that’s the point.
“All sport has to evolve, I cover a lot of golf and I’ve been talking about LIV Golf – now that is a bag of worms – this shouldn’t be creating any grief given the prize-money involved and everyone is bleating about prize-money.
“Does it generate each-way betting? Yes. There’s no football to watch, it’s on two TV channels so it’s got a pretty clear run at things.”
We are committed in our support of safer gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline / GamCare on 0808 8020 133.