Plenty of striking fillies on show at Dunstall Park on Friday evening as the racecourse held its annual Ladies’ Evening meeting. A card of seven exhilarating races was supplemented by fashion competitions, live music from tribute band Iconic 80’s and narration throughout by the legendary Derek Thompson for At the Races.
The first race served up a tricky puzzle for punters to decipher in the form of an apprentice handicap. Twelve runners lined up along with some of the top young jockeys in the country ready to take their rides. The market changed a number of times until Diamond Runner, racing off bottom weight and with an additional five pounds taken off by the talented Paddy Pilley, was backed into clear favourite. Charlotte Jenner went straight off into the lead on Dynamite Dixie, blazing a trail and attempting to steal the race from the front. However, the horse could not sustain the effort for the whole trip and weakened three furlongs out, opening the race up for a closer. That turned out to be the Mark Brisbourne trained gelding Omotesando, initially held in midfield before a perfectly-timed move by Charlie Bennett to streak past the front runner, easing towards the end yet still winning by a convincing six lengths. It was the well-fancied Diamond Runner which finished second, narrowly beating Joe Doyle on Angels Above.
Next up was a Class 5 maiden, featuring horses trained by Michael Bell, Andrew Balding and Sir Mark Prescott no less. It was Bell’s Niblawi that went off as the well-backed even money favourite, this despite questions over whether the horse was truly progressing having been close but never quite done enough to win all of its previous races. Quite a strong pace was set by Dale Swift on Pistyll Rhaeadr, tracked by Robero all the way while Niblawi was kept in midfield by Louis Steward. With two furlongs left it appeared for a moment that Robero may struggle for room, but Lemos de Souza manoeuvred the horse out to take over the lead and kept on to comfortably hold the favourite for whom the fears of ‘seconditis’ were justified.
A close-knit handicap followed, with a betting market ranging from 3/1 to 11/1 for a field of seven horses. Five of those had previous form at Wolverhampton, including last time out winner Idol Deputy as mentioned on this blog only two weeks or so ago. Once again it was a case of a front runner setting the pace before being picked off by a late finisher. Phillip Makin took So It’s War right to the front and it looked like a shrewd move when still on top with half a furlong left to go. That being said, the gelding seemed a bit one paced and Racheal Kneller swooped late around the outside aboard the aforementioned Idol Deputy to win by half a length. It is clear that the bond between jockey and horse gives rise to a level of intuition that allows such impeccable judgement and thus booking Kneller to ride is a no-brainer for trainer James Bennett.
The fourth race was a fillies’ selling stakes, named in memory of Teja Singh Driver. Emerald Bay was the heavily-backed favourite for William Haggas, fresh from monumental success at York’s Ebor meeting. In the famous colours of Cheveley Park Stud, the filly went off at short odds of 8/15. Rio Deva led, followed through by the favourite and debutant Hobnob, but soon weakened in the final furlong. It was at this point that Emerald Bay forged through, keeping on under Graham Gibbons to win relatively easily. Hobnob for trainer Nick Littmoden looked set to take second place under Wolves stalwart Luke Morris but Bryan Smart’s Madame Barker fought back to reclaim that spot for jockey Fergal Lynch. A representative for Haggas made several bids in the auction in an attempt to retain Emerald Bay, but the horse was bought by another bidder for 10,000 guineas. Gibbons landed a quick-fire double in the subsequent race as he bucked the trend for losing front runners aboard Bosham for Mick Easterby. With only one previous run on the all-weather resulting in a win at Kempton, a small section of punters, including myself, backed Bosham to outrun its odds of 11/1. The gelding did just that, making all having been well clear with two furlongs remaining and keeping on to win by almost four lengths. Dunstall Park regulars Reginald Claude and Dream Ally finished second and third respectively.
The penultimate race of the day was also the longest at one mile and four furlongs. Trainer Mark Johnston has been in fantastic form in recent months and it was his gelding Trafalgar Rock that began the race as strong favourite. Morris led aboard The Alamo and was closely followed by Joey Haynes on Full Speed, one of two horses for trainer Philip Kirby. Kirby’s other horse Bold Henmie tracked the leaders before being quickened up to lead with two furlongs left, holding off the favourite and scooting clear under a well-judged ride by claimer Phil Dennis. Johnston’s charge bridged the gap slightly late on but only really stayed on the same pace, coming second for the third race in a row.
All eleven horses lined up for the final contest, a Class 6 handicap over one mile and one and a half furlongs. It seemed that the vast majority of bets went on Scurr Mist for Keith Dalgleish as it began the race at even money having finished first and second on the last two occasions. Michael Appleby’s French Press was the early leader, but a number of other horses queued up to rival the gelding from the beginning. Phillip Makin tracked the leaders on Scurr Mist, quietly pushing the grey along to mount a challenge with a couple of furlongs to go before eventually taking over to lead in the last furlong, staying on well to win by three lengths. French Press battled well to finish second and Diletta Tommasa came late to steal third for Daniel Mark Loughnane.
As stated before, beyond the racing there were competitions held to celebrate the fashion on show. It was fitting that Sallyann Hunter, travelling from her home in Scotland as she does every year for Ladies’ Evening, was awarded the accolade of Best Dressed Lady. This loyalty really serves to display the draw of Wolves as a venue providing entertainment for the masses and a personalised service to every single individual in equal measure. Do come and experience it for yourself, you won’t regret it!
Finally, a special mention must go to another epic #WolvesForm story on Saturday. Litigant, having previously won over one mile and five furlongs at Dunstall Park in 2013 (pictured above), was the winner of the illustrious Betfred Ebor at York. Back in 2013 the horse was with trainer Seamus Durack and Wolverhampton was still Polytrack! The horse went on to win two more races for Durack, both at Lingfield and the latest one being in April 2014. That information goes to show just how great a training performance it was by Joseph Tuite, winning such a revered race after almost 500 days off the track and on the gelding’s first run for Tuite. It was an unbelievable effort by both trainer and jockey, with Oisin Murphy compounding the training preparations with an equally superb ride. It was a tremendous story all round and great for those #WolvesForm followers!
Author: Luke Archer (firstname.lastname@example.org)