Season 4 of the All-Weather Championships was the biggest and best yet, with new sponsors supporting the Championships for the first time in Sunbets and Betway, and a new partner in Be Wiser Insurance. As regards the action on the track, the competitive nature of the racing on the All-Weather allowed for some fantastic finishes throughout across all the courses involved in the Championships.
The one race which springs to mind for pure excitement and edge of your seat action was Salateen’s win in the Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes at Wolverhampton, a Fast-Track qualifier in mid-March. After a win amidst some disappointing runs out in Dubai prior to running at Dunstall Park, Salateen started a 25/1 outsider for the race. Trained by David O’Meara and given an inspired ride by Phil Makin, who set his stall out early on in the race by grabbing a big lead of some six or eight lengths by halfway of the seven furlong contest, and turning back into the two furlong home straight, he still held a healthy advantage but had a big target on his back, with both Yuften and favourite Keystroke bearing down. In the end, Salateen clung on for dear life to win by a diminishing nose to Keystroke, with a short head back to Yuften in third. That is what All-Weather racing is all about. (Replay here )
The first of our unsung heroes of the Championship was involved in a couple of similar finishes in a lower level, and that’s the Phil McEntee trained ten year old Swiss Cross. Owned by Steve Jakes, Swiss Cross had his first run of the Championships at Lingfield on the opening day, where he dead-heated in the closing apprentice handicap in the hands of Callum Shepherd, who was to win four times on this horse in the space of a couple of months. His second win, which came two weeks after his first, was an impressive two and a half length win back at Lingfield on his 100th racecourse start, which was even more special for connections. Two further wins at Lingfield followed before the turn of the year and this old warrior continues to be an extremely popular horse throughout the winter on the All-Weather.
Another horse with four wins in Season 4 was Call Out Loud, trained by Mick Appleby. Starting off a mark of 66, he won his first race of the campaign at Southwell on 10th January in the hands of Tom Marquand, beating a clutch of previous course winners. After two defeats on the Fibresand, he ventured to Wolverhampton and never looked back. He won three races on the bounce, in the hands of Alistair Rawlinson, a seller and two Class 5 handicaps. They have been his only three visits to Wolverhampton so will have an unbeaten record to uphold going into Season 5. He went up a stone in the handicap as well and then was pitched into Class 3 company at Southwell, where he was beaten by our next unsung hero. (race pictured Call Out Loud on the right, Custard The Dragon on the left)
That unsung hero is the John Mackie trained Custard The Dragon. Owned by good supporters of the Mackie yard, Derbyshire Racing, Custard The Dragon ran nine times throughout the Championships period, never out of the first four and a four time winner at Southwell. On top of that, he could have won more as he was beaten only a short head at Wolverhampton, and hit traffic problems when a length behind Call Out Loud back at Dunstall Park. Plus, he also won at Southwell on 18th April, beating Robero narrowly, a horse who since then has progressed to a mark of 94 at the time of writing. Custard The Dragon improved 20lbs over the course of the Championships, going from a mark of 65 to 85, and will be back on the All-Weather again in Season 5.
Last but certainly not least is Athassel, who won six races over the course of the Championships, improving 31lbs in the process. Athassel moved to the David Evans stable prior to the Championships a 33 race maiden, and won three of his first four starts for the yard, all at Wolverhampton, starting off a mark of just 46. The first win was on 27th December when ridden by Stevie Donohoe, who won on all those first three wins. He remained busy and then at the start of March, was refreshed again with three wins on the spin in the matter of ten days, two of those wins, one at Wolverhampton and one at Kempton, under Katherine Glenister, who has built up a strong bond with this horse, and also one under the handling of Jonny Flook in an amateur riders contest at Chelmsford City.
He could arguably has won more races, being beaten a length and a half or less on three occasions. He went from a mark of 46 to 77 and will be winning again during Season 5.
These handful are just a few of the horses which are the lifeblood of the All-Weather Championships, and whilst they will not necessarily end up on Finals Day at Lingfield Park, they are very popular characters and friends which fans of the Championship follow throughout the winter.