Saffie Osborne’s love affair with the Racing League looks set to continue as she began this season’s competition with a bang.
The 21-year-old was one of the stars of last year’s six-week event, scooping the leading rider’s title thanks to an inspired treble at Newcastle on the final night of action and she picked up where she left off on Wales and The West’s sole representative Chinese Knot in the William Hill-sponsored Nursery.
Although slightly reluctant to enter the stalls, Chinese Knot showed plenty of guts to hold off Michael Dods’ Midnight Lir at the business end, with the victory also helping Wales and The West make the perfect start to the defence of their Racing League title.
“We’ve started the way we finished last year,” team manager Jamie Osborne told Sky Sports Racing.
“We’ve more runners than anyone else, we’ve 13 runners tonight, sadly not quite the full team.
“We got maximum points there and we’ve got some strong chances later on and in the middle of the card we might just be medium and you might need a bit of imagination to see a couple of them winning.
“But I’ve got a great team of trainers and unlike some, mine are right behind this and behind their leader.”
Wales and The West quickly extended their advantage at the top of the table when they picked up another 25 points for winning race two with Ed Walker’s Dark Trooper.
“It was a good performance from this lad, I thought he really enjoyed the ground and a bit of ease,” said winning rider Ross Coakley.
“He’s been running on the all-weather predominantly up until now, but stepping back a furlong on that ground I think really suited him. I was always travelling and felt like the winner.”
Yorkshire claimed second through Brian Ellison’s Northern Spirit.
The East’s player-manager Frankie Dettori was narrowly denied a winner in his first ride of the night when Charlie Fellowes’ Shahbaz, the 15-8 favourite for the one-mile handicap, was unable to reel in Dean Ivory’s Achillea.
There were some weary runners at the end of the eight furlongs but the mount of Marco Ghiani pulled out extra to score by a neck and give London and The South their first success for the 2023 competition.
“The last time at Ascot over seven furlongs it still looked a little bit short and Dean was happy to go up to a mile,” said Ghiani. “He thought she would have a great chance and she did.
“This is a great opportunity to ride for different trainers and different owners that you wouldn’t normally ride for and is a good way to create more contacts for Saturday’s when there are seven meetings.”
However, the East did not have to wait long to get on the scoreboard on home soil as George Margarson’s Farhh To Shy proved superior in race four over seven furlongs.
There was barely a rival in sight as the mount of Callum Shepherd came home a two-and-a-quarter-length winner, with Dettori’s East region leapfrogging London and The South into second position.
“We’re on the board,” said the Italian.
“So far so good, we’ve had a winner and a second and we have one in the last with a chance.
“I’ll be panicking if we are too far back on the second last week, but if we are in reach on the last two days like last year it can make a big difference.”
The defending champions extended their advantage at the top when Saffie Osborne registered her second winner of the night aboard Michael Bell’s Stone Circle (17-2) in the five-furlong sprint.
The course and distance winner was given an inspired ride by the young jockey who has made a flying start to the defence of her leading jockey crown and took Wales and The West’s points tally past the three-figure mark.
“If she had got beaten a head we could have criticised her, but she didn’t,” said Jamie Osborne.
“Michael Bell, in fairness, rang me three weeks ago and said ‘please let me run this horse in this race’ so all credit goes to him. He is a new addition to my team and a very welcome one.”
It was more of the same in the sixth race of the evening when Osborne brought up a fantastic opening night treble.
She needed every yard of the one-mile-six-furlong trip aboard Milton Harris’ Alnilam to hunt down fellow Wales and The West runner Haliphon, but Osborne had a willing partner in the 9-4 favourite who stuck his head down bravely for a half-length win.
She said: “He’s a lovely horse and hopefully he will have a nice future.
“He’s still quite big and ran around a little late on, but he has a willing attitude and did everything right eventually.”
Dettori ensured his East team ended the first evening in very good shape when making every yard of the running on Cumulonimbus who held off fellow East runner Eagle’s Way in the £100,000 feature over 10 furlongs.
Riding for Charlie Fellowes, Dettori thrilled the crowd on the 11-2 shot, and treated them to a flying dismount.
He said: “It’s great to win the big race of the day, it’s good for the team and good for Charlie Fellowes. We were first and second so that’s good.
“It’s the third year of this so I hope it takes off.”
Wales and The West top the table after night one on 164 but The East are in their slipstream on 153.