If ever you wanted to see the highs and lows that racing can bring, you got both extremes in less than an hour on day one of Fontwell Park’s Oktoberfest meeting.
First there was the joy of seeing Workbench win the Fuller’s London Pride Handicap Steeple Chase for the third year on the trot for Harry and Dan Skelton and owner Norman Lowe.
But in the next race, Indiana Bay collapsed with an injury that proved fatal - and his position as he lay on a bend on the racecourse meant officials had to take the extremely-rare step of stopping and voiding the race.
Fontwell clerk of the course Ed Arkell said he had never had to stop a race in a decade in the job.
He told At The Races: “David Dennis’s horse (Indiana Bay) had a problem going into the bend. He was on the floor and we had medical staff there as well as making sure the jockey (Kieron Edgar) was all right.
“I was not happy that if we had runners coming past again we could ensure safety.
“Had it been on the straight I would have been happy for them to have bypassed. But going into a tight bend on the running line we had to put health and safety first. Jockeys with their heads down could have easily looked up and taken evasive action and something else could have been brought down
“We could easily have something nasty happen so we had to do the sensible thing and stop the race.
“It’s not a decision we took lightly. I’ve been clerk here ten years and it’s never happened before. It’s unfortunate and we’ll discuss the situation with owners and trainers. But it was a situation you could not legislate for.”
Voiding the race meant all bets were refunded.
We could easily have something nasty happen so we had to do the sensible thing and stop the race.Ed Arkell
The incident came one race after the high point of the day when trainer Dan and jockey Harry Skelton teamed up for another London Pride success with Workbench, who’d won the race in 2014 and 2015.
Owner Norman Lowe joked afterwards they ought to name a Fontwell stand after him and indicated he’d be back to try for a fourth win in the race next year.
He revealed it could all be down to his lucky hat - which he’d been reunited with earlier in the afternoon after leaving it at the Skelton yard a couple of months ago.
Workbench was the fourth winner of the afternoon - and the fourth favourite to pass the post first.
The two-day festival began with course specialists Gary and Jamie Moore teaming up to deliver a win for Heart of the South Racing’s Sisania (10/11 fav) in the Performance Foundations Juvenile Maiden Hurdle.
Frodon (4/6 fav) took the Performance Foundations Management Appreciation Novices’ Chase for Paul Nicholls and Sam Twiston-Davies - the jockey completing a double later in the Thomas Guirey Memorial Handicap Hurdle on Young Dillon (9/2), for Richard Newland.
James King rode Hygrove Percy (4/6 fav) to the win in the Nicola Coy Appreciation Society Breakthrough Handicap Hurdle for Neil Mulholland.
There was a good-sized crowd in to see the action and they enjoyed Bavaraian-themed entertainment including a wide range of German beers and an oompah band, while the Fuller’s shire horses were a big attraction.
The Oktoberfest action continues with a Southern Water-sponsored charity day on Saturday.
Our Saturday tips: 1.50 Desert Sensation, 2.20 Play The Ace, 2.55 Belize, 3.30 Gowanauthat, 4.05 Graasten, 4.40 Highbury High, 5.15 Tinted Rose.
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