THE flat season stepped up a gear this week, especially in Yorkshire, starting of at Pontefract who opened their gates for the first time this year on Tuesday, and trainer Jedd O’- Keeffe proved the star of the show saddling a 131/1 double.
O’Keeffe offered a distinct sign his season could be about to hit full throttle with a welcome pair of winners.
Buoyed by Shared Equity’s win at Newcastle on Saturday, the Middleham handler was in fine form and Dark Ocean got the ball rolling in the Pontefract Loyalty Card Handicap.
Given what O’Keeffe described as “a peach of a ride”
by Graham Lee, the four-yearold appreciated the cut in the ground and ran out a ready two-and-a-half length winner from Kyllachy Star.
O’Keeffe said: “He has been ever so consistent for us and would have won as a twoyear- old if he had not been badly hampered at Newcastle.
“He produces his best form when there is some ease in the surface and I am delighted for the owners.”
It was a different bunch of jubilant owners that graced the winner’s enclosure after the New Racing UK Anywhere Available Now Handicap courtesy of New Bidder.
The course-and-distance winner displayed his battling qualities under a powerpacked Russ Kennemore ride to thwart the bold bid of See The Sun by a head.
O’Keeffe said of his scorer: “I really thought he would improve for the run but he is so game and a credit to our yard.
“He needs give in the ground and this trip really suits him. What a day.”
Earlier in the day Champagne Rules caused an upset when defying odds of 100/1 under Paddy Aspell in the maiden for Catterick handler Sharon Watt.
Conditions appeared to get the better of Munaaser, who arrived boasting some fancy entries in the Dante and the Derby for Sir Michael Stoute, but the winner charge relished conditions underfoot and won despite hanging into the stands’ side rail on the run for home.
Bill Watt, husband of trainer Sharon said: “We are over the moon. I just cannot believe it.
“We know he is good but there were some real class horses in opposition today.
“Sharon deserves all the credit as she puts in all the hard work. We thought he would win a race, but not today.”
Micky Hammond also enjoyed a double on the day starting with Pertuis at Pontefract and later with Frank The Slink over the sticks at Carlisle.
On his Pontefract winner, Hammond said: “He was unlucky over jumps as he kept bumping into one and going up in the handicap, so I gave up and turned him away to keep him for the Flat. Everything was right for him today as he likes it here, and he’ll win again, perhaps the Ladies Derby at Ripon later on.”
Alan Swinbank is another trainer in great form at present, and this week his fine run of form continued with Deep Resolve winning at Southwell on Tuesday before Naburn came home in front on Wednesday at Catterick, their first flat meeting of the year.
Of Naburn, Swinbank said: “He likes this ground and he’ll run again in the amateur riders’ race at Musselburgh next weekend with Ollie Sangster claiming seven pounds.”
Staying at Catterick, Mark Johnston got of the mark on on turf in the opening race, in the end sending out the first two home with Maxie T beating stable companion Late Shipment.
The winner was ridden by the in-form Graham Lee and afterwards the trainers’ wife, Deirdre, said: “He’s a nice progressive horse who stays well.”
From the flat back to the jumps and all eyes will be on the Scottish Grand National tomorrow.
Mendip Express is a horse progressing very quickly and Noel Fehily will ride the lightly- raced eight-year-old, who ran up a hat-trick of wins in his first three chase starts but hasn’t been seen out since finishing a distant third to Smad Place over 3m at the beginning of February.
Fry has been forced to reassess the performance of the sponsor’s 10-1 shot in light of the subsequent exploits of his Newbury conqueror at Cheltenham last month.
Fry said: “He had a good break after the Newbury run which was disappointing at the time but, with the way that Smad Place ran in the RSA and given the very testing conditions, possibly not.
“We’ve been very pleased with him in the lead up to the race and he seems in very good order.”
Mendip Express, who has been eclipsed by Green Flag as market leader in recent days with most firms, is unlikely to face anything like the heavy ground encountered at Newbury.