Reigning champion jockey Richard Johnson scored two impressive wins at Fontwell, including a 20/1 success in the feature race, while the course's leading jockey going into the meeting, Noel Fehily, stretched his advantage with two victories of his own.
The day began with a fantastic insight into the Cheltenham Festival, which provided invaluable knowledge from a star-studded panel, including Colin Tizzard, Daryl Jacob and Leighton Aspell.
Five went to post for the first race of the day, a class-four novices’ hurdle over two miles, five and a half furlongs. It was Ben Pauling’s Boreham Bill, the top-rated horse in the field, who went off 13/8 favourite, under Jacob and made all the running, stretching the field throughout.
Tizzard and Harry Cobden’s Golden Sunrise, who disputed favouritism before the off, was nudged along to try to close in the final circuit having tracked the leader by a couple of lengths but by the home turn he was all out. Unsurprisingly, it was the prolific partnership of Philip Hobbs and Johnson, whose mount Reikers Island received 7lb from the top two, who showed up late on.
He was always travelling well and chasing the leading pair and came to challenge the favourite on the run in. Jacob battled to keep his horse running straight but he pulled right late on and flattened up the hill leaving Johnson and Reikers Island, who stayed on gamely, to land the spoils by a neck.
The Racing Welfare Handicap Steeple Chase featured four horses, with Citadel for Dan and Harry Skelton the hot favourite despite having been pulled up in his last four outings. Free World set the early gallop but Harry Skelton tracked him all the way around with Citadel jumping well and looking as though his short-price favouritism was more than deserved. However, he took a bad tumble four out and left the race wide open.
Spirit Of Chartwell, well off the pace most of the way around, found his way back into the race approaching three out and Free World had tailed off by the next. Spirit Of Chartwell found more on the run in to score by a length, adding another one to his impressive course form. Both horse and jockey were fine following Citadel’s fall.
A maiden hurdle contested over two miles, one-and-a-half furlongs saw Hobbs and Johnson’s Casterley Rock start as favourite in their bid for a second joint success. He made all under Johnson, stretching on down the back straight for the final time, but possibly went a bit too early as began to struggle at the approach to the straight and was soon joined by Euxton Lane and The Cannister Man, who moved nicely into contention.
Casterly Rock made a mistake at the next and soon tailed off, leaving Aspell and Euxton Lane to move well clear and win easily, with 17n lengths to spare from The Cannister Man in second and Casterly Rock well back in third.
The feature race, a class three handicap hurdle, served up a 20/1 surprise winner as Johnson defied top weight to land his second of the meeting. Dicosimo, who showed plenty of promise for Irish trainer Willie Mullins earlier in his career but has failed to replicate the same form for his current yard, has obviously benefitted from a recent wind operation as he made all the running to score by five lengths for Warren Greatrex.
Battle Of Ideas and Free Range were embroiled in their own battle for second place, with the latter finding more to finish four lengths clear of Cobden and his mount.
In the final race of the day over obstacles, The Injured Jockeys Fund Handicap Steeple Chase, Tizzard and Cobden’s third and final shot at glory lay with the 11/8 favourite, Sandy Beach. Four went to post and all were in with every chance turning for home, but Holbrook Park was the first to show his hand, followed by Master Burbidge and Sandy Beach, with Turban being the first to be hard-ridden.
Holbrook Park gave it everything but ran out of gas on the home stretch, drifting right from three out and eventually being beaten into third by Turban. Master Burbidge clipped the last but found more up the run-in to give top course jockey Fehily another winner at Fontwell, beating Cobden’s Sandy Beach by three and a quarter lengths.
The National Hunt flat race saw Mulholland and Fehily team up with odds-on favourite Irish Odyssey, looking to assert themselves as top trainer and jockey at Fontwell this season. With one circuit to race, all four runners were pretty well grouped although Cracker Jak was pushed along to remain in the race and was the first to fail.
Irish Odyssey was pushed along around the home turn but soon asserted his presence on the home straight to stretch well clear of the field, winning by 14 lengths and making it two from two for the prolific duo. Fehily now has 12 wins from 33 rides at fontwell and Mulholland has trained nine winners from 40, leaving them both sitting proud at the top of the standings at the end of the meeting.
The next meeting at the West Sussex track is the St Patrick’s Raceday on Saturday, March 17, where you can enjoy racing, rugby and all things Irish.