THE first in the series of Pontefract’s three family days took place last Sunday (writes Richard Hammill).
A huge crowd packed picnics and barbecues and headed to the track for the annual Flat Cap and Whippet Family Day.
There was a four-timer for former champion jockey Silvestre De Sousa as well as doubles for trainers Sir Michael Stoute and Mark Johnston, along with a winner for the Queen.
The Yorkshire Pedigree Whippet Racing Club got proceedings underway at 12.30pm with 10 whippet races and a couple of ‘mixed breed’ fun races.
Racegoers gathered along the final furlong to cheer on their favourites and while the whippets were spectacularly fast, Meg the Pocket Rocket Jack Russell got the biggest cheer as she sprinted up the final furlong. Whippets and horses weren’t the only speedsters on show either - there were even racing ferrets too.
As usual, the picnic enclosure became a sea of colour as bouncy castles, helter skelters and kids rides took over the lawn. They were interspersed with an array of gazebos and blankets as hundreds of families set out their picnics.
And while the children were kept busy with either their free sweets and activity books or a trip to the circus or a free pony ride, mums and dads were able to enjoy the high class racing.
The feature race on the day was the listed totepool Pontefract Castle Stakes.
Ryan Moore, the leading jockey at Royal Ascot this year, made the journey to Pontefract for three rides including the favourite for the big race with Abingdon.
Already twice a winner last year at listed level, the Sir Michael Stoute runner had finished her 2016 campaign in group two company in soft ground at Doncaster.
Clearly relishing the quicker ground at Pontefract on this occasion, the filly has thrived over the winter and won as she pleased by 10 lengths.
Receiving rave reviews from Ryan Moore, the jockey hopes that Abingdon can make her mark in group company.
The first leg of Sir Michael Stoute’s double came courtesy of the Queen’s horse Swiftsure.
While Ryan Moore was unable to do the weight on the royal runner, Joe Fanning stepped in to the saddle and had an armchair ride on the Dubawi gelding who made every yard of the running before quickening clear in stunning style for a six length victory.
The first two races on the card both went the way of Pontefract leading trainer Mark Johnston and former champion jockey De Sousa.
The opening race was a six furlong sprint for two year old fillies and the market was dominated by the Sir Michael Stoute newcomer Procedure and Johnston’s Footsteps Forever.
The Stoute newcomer ran a race full of promise but was just outpointed in the closing stages by the more experienced Footsteps Forever who gave Johnston his second consecutive win in this race, having won with Fancy Day in 2016.
The Johnston/De Sousa double was provided by Cape Coast in the one mile, four furlongs maiden. He quickened nicely in the home straight to readily pull clear of his main market rival, Andrew Balding’s Count Simon.
De Sousa’s third and fourth winners came courtesy of trainers Ed De Giles and Mick Channon.
The former trained Akavit to win the totepool Pontefract Cup over two miles, two furlongs.
Scoring for the third time this season, the brave Akavit looked like a sitting duck as a host of challengers, including hot favourite Frederic, lined up to take him on in the closing stages.
However he was not to be denied and battled on bravely to hold off La Fritillaire. Mick Channon’s Pattie had yet to win a race but had taken on some strong company so far, including at listed level at Newbury last time. She enjoyed this drop in class and scored cosily to bring up four winners on the day for De Sousa.
De Sousa very nearly made it five wins on the day in the finale but his mount Sheepscar Lad was just touched off in the shadows of the post by Bryan Smart’s Alfie’s Angel who shrugged off an absence of 302 days to make a winning seasonal reappearance.