Pontefract: first meeting of the season on Tuesday
PICTURE: RP GRAPHICS
Pontefract. Childhood memories of Pontefract cakes, adult memories of Jamaican Flight.
It’s that time of year. The early days of the Flat season mean, of course, the first round of the Pontefract Stayers’ Championship; eight races, every one over a distance beyond two miles.
Round One is the Jamaican Flight Handicap (3.40), celebrating the wonderfully durable stayer trained and owned for most of his racing life by the late Sue and Peter Lamyman.
Jamaican Flight encapsulated the fact that a racehorse doesn’t have to be very good to bring not only pleasure but success. Jamaican Flight never won a race when rated more than 74 but he ran 183 times on the Flat and over hurdles from 1995 to 2007, winning 20 races, four of them at Pontefract, and finished runner-up 27 times.
The whole collection was worth less than £140,000 in prize money but for the Lamymans and Jamaican Flight’s many followers, there was a lot more to it than the money. He brought joy.
Judged by the handicapper’s cold eye Jamaican Flight wasn’t a classy horse and it’s fitting that the race named after him and the series as a whole is designed for modest stayers.
Tuesday’s race is for horses rated 56-75 and apart from the final round on October 23, which is for horses rated 81-100 (wouldn’t it be better to stick to a similar rating band as for the other races and increase the prize for the Championship winner instead?) none of the races are open to horses rated over 85.
There’s a points system based on nine points to the winner of each race, six for the runner-up, four for the third and three for the fourth placed horse.
The same horses appear year after year. Riptide, an ever-present veteran who won the Championship last year and in 2013, is there, as is Tuscan Gold, the 2015 winner. There’s Hartside and, of course, Madam Lilibet, who probably is a madam judging by the hard work she demands from her riders. Madam Lilibet has won nine times but not for over two years and 20 appearances.
There isn’t a huge prize for winning the Championship but there’s a welcome one for the smaller stables that have a realistic chance of capturing it – £1,500 to the winning trainer and the same for the owner and stable.
This year could be the year for La Fritillaire. On her two previous runs at Pontefract, last autumn, James Given’s five-year-old was just beaten by Leoncavello and then, in round seven of the Championship, got her revenge. La Fritillaire starts the season only 3lb higher.
Perhaps Leoncavallo, who has since been highly tried over hurdles, will reappear at Pontefract later in the Championship.
While the Jamaican Flight Handicap is full of old faithful horses and old faithful jockeys, the Pontefract card starts with a probably more nervously excited Sebastian Woods, having just his fifth ride, on Sunnua, for Richard Fahey (2.10). Good luck.
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