There are two stories that have stood out at the racecourse this week for a number of reasons.
The first was the victory in the annual hunter chase of Stratford Stroller. The horse, who was runner up in a similar race at Bangor earlier this month, has tasted Worcester success in the past when in 2009, trained by Jonjo O’Neill, he was ridden to victory in a handicap hurdle by AP McCoy.
Enjoying her first win under rules, Josephine Banks from Himbleton had Stratford Stroller comfortably in the lead from the back straight, with the only looming danger being her sister, Abigail aboard Hall Kelly. Josephine and Abigail are two of the granddaughters of the owner of the 11 year old Beneficial gelding, the legendary Worcestershire lady point to point rider, Pat Tollit. The famous royal blue and cerise colours have been a major feature of West Midlands racing for over 90 years.
Tollit’s father, Major Harold Rushton rode 86 winners. Often referred to as the greatest point to point rider of all time, Tollit rode for 25 years winning 171 races with a strike rate of nearly 50%. To put this amazing achievement into perspective, these wins came in an era when lady jockeys were confined to ladies races, of which the opportunities were less than 15 rides per season. Tollit was the first lady jockey to ride over 100 winners. Having won her first championship title in 1951, she finally retired at the Wheatland fixture in May 1973. It was an honour and a privilege to welcome Mrs Tollit into the winner’s enclosure at Worcester last Friday.
It was also a privilege to welcome a well-known, popular equine star on the same evening.
Magnificent in stature, to have a horse of the calibre of Hunt Ball running at Worcester was wonderful to watch for those of us who enjoy National Hunt racing. Bred in Ireland, Hunt Ball’s rags to riches story is well documented.
In the 2011 – 2012 season, he won a series of 7 races when trained by Keiran Burke for eccentric and at times, controversial owner, Anthony Knott. Hunt Ball went from a handicap mark of 69 to 154 before winning the Pulteney Land Investments handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2013. The fairytale ended for Knott and Burke and the horse was sold to American syndicate, Atlantic Equine, who sent him to race in the USA. He had 5 runs including the Breeders Cup Grand National Steeplechase, before being brought back to the UK and sent to Nicky Henderson’s yard in Lambourn. The well-loved chaser completed the Crabbies Grand National in 2014.
It was a pleasure to see him fly over the Worcester hurdles, ears pricked, always in the lead, never in any danger of being passed, enjoying his evening on the banks of the river Severn.
Whilst we can’t promise legendary owners or Cheltenham Festival winners tomorrow afternoon, we can be sure of exciting, competitive racing across our eight races. The gates open at 12.10pm.