PJ McDonald steers Cromwell's Irish raider Dha Leath to Pontefract feature race victory
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The feature race on a valuable racing programme was the £50,000 Weatherbys Pipalong Stakes run over one mile, writes Richard Hammill.
A field of nine fillies and mares lined up in a race named after one of the sprinting stars of the north in the 90s, Pipalong, who won a number of Group races and big handicaps during her career for trainer Tim Easterby.
While the Easterby team were not represented in the 2023 renewal, there was a classy looking line-up with the market headed by William Haggas’s Purplepay who had won a Group 2 in France last summer and was taking a sharp drop in class having competed in Grade 1s in Australia on her previous two 2 starts.
Among her opponents were two stablemates from Roger Varian’s yard, as well as two Irish challengers.
With little pace to the race, Charlie Johnston’s Espressoo had an easy lead and it looked for a moment as if she would hold on. With Purplepay’s brief challenge petering out disappointingly, it was left to the strong finishing Dha Leath from Gavin Cromwell’s Irish base to weave her way through to take the honours.
PJ McDonald held his mount up at the back of the field but had a very willing partner, bustling her way through the gaps bravely.
It was another big success for Cromwell’s yard who are better known for their National Hunt horses. However, following a Royal Ascot winner, Dha Leath is further proof that the trainer can turn his hand to both codes.
There was better luck for the Haggas yard in the preceding race when their Star Ahoy ran on determinedly to get up close home in the 1¼m maiden.
Given a strong ride by Tom Marquand, the favourite looked as though he may be in trouble as Iron Lion kicked on in the home straight. However, the son of Sea The Stars put his head down in brave fashion to get up close home, with classy hurdler Wonderwall running on strongly to grab second on his flat debut in a close finish.
The first three home are all likely to hold their own in upcoming races.
Charlie Johnston’s Espressoo had just been denied success in the big race, but the yard went one better when Kitai took the £28,000 supporting Northern Commercials handicap. Under a confident Joe Fanning ride, the winner was held up in the middle of the pack but could be spotted travelling with consummate ease turning into the home straight.
Once sent about her business, she quickened up nicely to draw clear of It Just Takes Time to win by two-and-a-half lengths, in turn taking her course record to two out of two.
There was a birthday winner for jockey David Allan as he guided Tim Easterby’s course specialist, Carrigillihy, to a gallant success in the 1m 4f handicap.
Taking his course record to five wins out of seven starts, the dashing grey had to battle hard to see off Sir Mark Prescott’s handicap debutante, Spritzin’, by a neck – the pair clear of the remainder.
The runner-up lost little in defeat and is likely to go one place better soon.
The opening handicap for two-year-olds looked a tight race on paper and proved to be as David Easterby’s Keep Warm registered his first win in four starts.
Steadily progressive, the second favourite was held up at the rear of the field before going for a daring run up the inside. With any number of chances at the furlong marker, Keep Warm stayed on strongest to claim victory.
The final race on the card saw a hugely promising performance by Ed Bethell’s Lerwick.
The trainer has already hit a personal best number of winners and registered number 30 with a smooth success. Setting out to make all the running, the winner was never really pressed and quickened up smartly to win by two lengths.
The next race meeting at Pontefract is the final evening meeting of the season on Friday, July 21.
After six races, the fantastic Dreams of Fleetwood Mac will take to the stage to entertain the crowds and for those who prefer to listen from the sidelines, there are local breweries displaying their wares in the Beer Festival area.
Further information can be found on the Pontefract Racecourse website at www.pontefract-races.co.uk