FOR many racing fans, the Flat season only really gets going once the opening two Classics are out of the way. So with the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas having taken place at Newmarket last weekend, perhaps last night's meeting at Catterick was the point at which summer racing in this part of the world really began.
It certainly felt that way wandering around the betting ring before the off, with shirt sleeves having replaced overcoats and jackets as the clothing of choice.
“It wasn't like this in Newcastle when we set off,” said one elderly racegoer, hauling his winter jumper above his head. “Aye, but you're in Yorkshire now,” replied his companion. “The sun always shines down here.”
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While next week's Dante meeting at York will thrust Yorkshire racing into the national spotlight as some of the leading Derby and Oaks contenders put their reputations on the line, it is meetings like last night's that are the real bread and butter of the Flat scene in our region.
A fairly unremarkable six-race card, featuring three races at Class Six, the lowest grade of racing. But a winner's a winner no matter what race it's running in, and a night at the races remains a popular leisure choice no matter what the standard of the horses competing for honours.
As the rest of the summer unfolds, there will be plenty of pleasure derived from evenings like this, not to mention pints drained and wallets emptied.
Trainers also need meetings where they can run horses of all standards, and while last night's card might not have thrown up any classic contenders, there were plenty of names to add to the notebook for future outings.
Appleberry, the winner of what looked a fairly weak opening feature, might not cause too many ripples in future races, but given that Michael Appleby's maiden went off at 5-1, that was never going to matter too much if you backed him.
“It was my wife's formula,” said George Murtis, a regular visitor to Catterick from Ripon, as he picked up his winnings. “Pick anything in pink. And that normally goes for the dresses I have to buy her too.” At least he'll have something to add to his savings collection for the next shopping trip.
Brian Ellison is a dab hand at plundering meetings right across the North, and the Malton-based Geordie picked up his 13th winner of the season when War Poet justified short-priced favouritism to land the Racing UK Anywhere Claiming Stakes.
It was the seven-year-old's first win for more than two years, but maintained a strong few weeks for Ellison, who was also among the winners at Beverley on Monday.
“He's had quite a few problems, and he wasn't doing a lot when he got to the front, but he deserved to win,” said Ellison, who could not hide his enthusiasm for stable star Top Notch Tonto, who should improve for his fourth-placed finish in the Group Two Bet365 Mile at Sandown last month.
“We've had a dozen winners in the last month or so, so the horses are running well. It's good to have some nice horses that will take us through the summer.”
David O'Meara's Lord Of The Nile would appear to fit that description, and the Sir Robert Ogden-owned three-year-old comfortably justified odds of 1-7 to break his maiden halfway through the card.
Odds of 1-7 mean you would have had to put £700 on to win £100. Suffice to say it was hard to spot too many punters in the Catterick ring adopting that betting plan. A couple of quid betting without the favourite seemed to be a much more popular approach, and this being Yorkshire, even that was done through gritted teeth.
Given his pedigree, it's unlikely Lord Of The Nile will be making a return visit to Catterick any time soon, but the same cannot be said of Conry, who triumphed in last night's feature race, the Yorkshire Outdoor Adventure Activities Handicap.
Ian Williams' veteran clearly relishes the track, and after holding off Piceno in a hard-fought finish to win by a head, Conry can now boast five Catterick victories. Given that his trainer is based in Worcester, perhaps he thinks he's on his holidays whenever he heads up the A1.
Martin Todhunter is based just across the Pennines in Cumbria, and the short trip was worthwhile yesterday as Miss McNamara ran out a hugely impressive winner of what looked like being a competitive two-mile affair.
“She'll jump a fence one day and it'll be interesting to see what she makes when she does,” said the dual-purpose trainer. Given that she finished more than 11 lengths clear of the third-placed horse, My Destination, her Flat rating is unlikely to remain on an attractive mark for much longer.
The final race of the night, a five-furlong sprint, went the way of Keep It Dark, which was fitting given that, by the time it was finished, the light was just about giving way.
While summer is on the way, it's not quite arrived yet. But by the time the Dante's been run next Thursday, it will feel like the heart of the Flat season is upon us.