From May through August each year, the Newbury Racecourse in Berkshire conducts a series of events under the title “Party in the Paddock.” Along with top-name music acts, such as The Wanted and Tom Jones, a full slate of races are scheduled, leading up to a card of eight on a Saturday in mid-August. That’s when the Group 2 Hungerford Stakes is held, a seven-furlong sprint for Thoroughbreds aged three years or older.
This £100,000 flat race takes place on the straight turf of the Newbury track, with the three-year-olds carrying eight stone eleven pounds. Entrants aged four years and over carry nine-stone-four. Allowances of three pounds are awarded to fillies and mares, and there are penalty weights of four pounds and two pounds, respectively, for previous winners of Group 1 and Group 2 races that have been run since 1st November of the previous year. Two-year-olds, however, are exempt from the penalties.
The inaugural edition of this event was conducted in 1949 and named after a town located several miles west of Newbury. Initially the distance covered was a mile and a half, which was later reduced to seven furlongs and 64 yards on Newbury’s left-handed course. From 1971, the Hungerford Stakes was classified at the Group 3 level. In 2002, the race was switched to the straight track and four years later it was promoted to Group status.
During its history, the Hungerford Stakes has had a number of sponsors, stretching back to Gardner Merchant in 1988-93. Thereafter, sponsorship became intermittent. In 1994, Toplist backed the race, and in 1997 the sponsor was Grosvenor Casinos. From 2000, thehorsesmouth.co.uk, Stan James and The Sportsman Newspaper each had a turn with the race’s title. Then in 2007, current sponsor CGA came on board.
Only one horse has won the Hungerford Stakes twice. Jimmy Reppin did it back-to-back in 1968-69. A lack of dominance keeps this sprint an interesting one. Among the more exciting races over the years was the in 1994, when Young Em and Pollen Count both claimed first place in the race’s only recorded dead heat.
Frankie Dettori is the leading jockey at the August fixture. He has won here six times in total, including the photo finish on Pollen Count. His other five victories came aboard Inchinor in 1993, Bin Rosie in 1996, Decorated Hero in 1997, Lend a Hand in 1999 and Shakespearean in 2010.
Among trainers, Noel Murless was the first to claim four champions here, starting with Olga in 1953 and followed by Princely Gift in 1955, St. Chad in 1967 and Welsh Pageant in 1971. Then, Henry Cecil brought his own four winners to the track: Tannenberg in 1978, Salieri in 1983, Ever Genial in 1985 and Salse in 1988. The most recent four-time victor is Pollen Count’s trainer John Gosden, who also won with Decorated Hero in 1997, Muhtathir in 1998 and Sleeping Indian in 2005.
Trends always play a role in picking winners at Newbury, and the Hungerford Stakes is certainly no exception. Two favourites have won here recently—the 2005 joint-pick Sleeping Indian at 9/4 and Paco Boy at 6/5 in 2008. Horses entering at low odds tend to do well, but the occasional long-shot pays off, too, such as the surprise winner of 2001, Atavus, paying 33/1 and 2009’s victor Balthazaar`s Gift paying 10/1.
Ages don’t give much of a clue as to winning potential in this race nowadays. The three-year-olds used to own the track until 1993, but since then the winners have tended to be older, with four-year-olds claiming seven of the last 15 outings and only a two three-year-olds coming in first since the turn the new millennium. Of interest, Balthazaar`s Gift won at age six, while the 2006 winner, Welsh Emperor, was seven.