Racing: Stray success as fence claims four

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The sort of sickening spectacle that gives animal-rights activists powerful ammunition with which to attack the exploitation of horses by the racing industry occurred when four horses came down at the penultimate fence in the novice chase at Worcester yesterday, writes John Cobb.

The immediate consequences were the first, and almost certainly the most improbable, winner of Jack Smith's training career when Stray Harmony gained victory at 66-1, and a four-day suspension for the jockey Robert Bellamy for improper riding.

Stray Harmony, who was also achieving her first success at the age of seven, was a distant fourth when Who Is Equiname came to the fence in front in the two-mile, seven-furlong contest.

Who Is Equiname breasted the fence and fell, and was swiftly joined on the floor by Careysville, who came down independently. At this stage the race looked at the mercy of the David Nicholson-trained Dream Ride, who jumped the fence only to be brought down by the writhing body of Who Is Equiname.

Making the most of her good fortune, Stray Harmony safely negotiated the final two obstacles to finish alone.

Bellamy, who had pulled up Kellytino at the fourth fence from home, decided to rejoin the battle, his eyes fixed on the pounds 934 up for grabs for second place. But the exhausted grey staggered over the third last, attempted to refuse at the second last and ended up marooned on top of the fence.

The jockey was found guilty by stewards of improper riding and banned on 30 and 31 May and 5 and 6 June.

n n Mark Birch, one of the leading jockeys in the North for nearly 30 years, has retired from the saddle. He has hung up his boots, aged 48, having ridden around 1,500 winners worldwide, most of them for the Malton trainer Peter Easterby. They included a Gimcrack Stakes on Sonnen Gold and several notable handicap victories, the pick of them being successive Chester Cups on the great Sea Pigeon.