Leicester racecourse has given point-to-pointing a lift by dividing its hunters’ chase on tomorrow’s card.
Shorn of point-to-pointing by the national lockdown and ban on non-elite sports, owners and trainers with suitable horses are heading to hunters’ chases, and Leicester’s novices’ race drew 47 entries and 30 declarations. Clerk of the course Jimmy Stevenson therefore elected to create two divisions of a race which commemorates Dick Saunders for whom the term legend of racing could not be more apt. A top-rank amateur rider, he won the 1982 Grand National on Grittar , who was trained in Leicestershire by his owner, Frank Gilman. Saunders’ daughter Caroline Bailey is a successful licensed trainer.
Leicester’s decision follows a similar boost for point-to-pointing at Musselburgh racecourse, where a second hunters’ chase has been added to its card on March 3.
Stevenson said: “I’ve been here for 27 years and this is the first time we have divided a hunters’ chase. We are back running on the old chase course and have a bit of fresh ground, and so we decided to give it a go.
“There is so much demand at present, and that’s understandable.”
An all-chase card, Leicester’s other five races have attracted a total of 35 declarations, a number which Stevenson said “helped” to facilitate the divided hunters’ chase. He said: “The ground is heavy at the moment, and we don’t want to destroy it, so it’s a balancing act, but we’re happy to help out.
“I remember Dick very fondly. He was a steward here at Leicester when I started and he was a man who everyone respected.”
Chameron, who is likely to start favourite for Division I of tomorrow's Dick Saunders' Novices' Hunters' Chase
Both divisions of the Dick Saunders Novices’ Hunters’ Chase over two and three-quarters of a mile offer some fascinating clashes. In Division I last season’s Coronation Cup winner Chameron from Sam Loxton’s stable is likely to start favourite, but dangers include the Jack Teal-trained Matts Commission, who is on a four-timer, Cousin Pascal who won at Chaddesley Corbett on his debut for Joe O’Shea’s stable in December, plus the useful mares Cheltenham Mati (Tim Underwood) and Shometheway (Lucy Smith).
Bradley Gibbs’ horses are in terrific form – his Rio Bravo won Catterick’s hunters’ chase yesterday – and his Premier Magic (pictured at the top of the page) cannot be ignored in Division II of the Dick Saunders. The eight-year-old’s defeat of Wishing And Hoping at Chaddesley Corbett was a significant victory, although the likes of No Limitations (Emma Yardley), Gottagottagetaway (Lucy Smith) and I’m Wiser Now (Fergal O’Brien) should ensure it is not a walk-over for Gibbs’ horse.