Friday, 23 June 2017

Racing's famous faces are victorious at the Severn Valley Railway Raceday

I am pleased to report that the summer of racing at Pitchcroft is going from strength to strength.  Last week’s Severn Valley Railway Charitable Trust raceday not only raised an amazing £23,000 for the charity, but also welcomed a bumper crowd for a Wednesday afternoon to enjoy the first 8 race card of the season.  Eighty-three horses had been declared to run, well in excess of previous racedays this year.

The day was particularly noted for the support of a number of local trainers including Tom Weston (Hindlip), David Dennis (Hanley Swan), Tom Gretton (Inkberrow), John Spearing (Kinnersley), Roy Brotherton (Pershore) and Claire Dyson (Bromsgrove).

The big story of the day, however belonged to ITV racing presenter Luke Harvey and his 6-year old Nicky Henderson trained gelding, Drumlynn. 

Declared for the Conditional Jockeys & Amateur Rider’s National Hunt flat race, following 3 placed efforts in Irish point to points in 2016, Drumlynn had been off the track for 402 days. Described by Harvey in the winner’s enclosure afterwards as ‘green’, the horse ran well up the inner rail and saw off the challenges of Gordon Elliott’s Irish raider, Captiva Island, steered by top amateur jockey, Jamie Codd making his first visit to the course.

I am always interested in course ‘specialists’, particularly when they relate to Worcester. From time to time the success that often rather averagely rated horses have at one track stands out.  In short, the phrase ‘horses for courses’ springs to mind.

Jigsaw Financial, owned and trained by Laura Young is the perfect example.  Now 11 years old, he has been running at Worcester since September 2010.  I can’t think of many horses who have run here over quite so many years. From 7 career wins to date, 4 of those have been at Worcester. In July 2013, he won on 2 consecutive occasions in the month and latterly ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies, he was again successful at Pitchcroft last August. His victory last week came on the back of a 2nd place at our Ladies Day on June 3rd.  One to look out for when he next makes the trip from Somerset.

Another interesting fact emerged from last week’s raceday. In the Allelys General Haulage Claiming Hurdle 40% of the field left the racecourse heading for a different trainer’s yard from the one they ran for on the day.

Ten horses were declared for the race, the purpose of which being that all the horses were for sale.  The racecard listed the cost price of each of the 10 horses and following their performances, 5 were ‘claimed’.

Claines trainer Richard Newland took home Beau Bay and Mr Caffrey, Sophie Leech took Gordon Elliott’s Buonarotti Boy back to Westbury-on-Severn, Gary Moore ‘bought’ the runner up, Deebaj, and the winner, Ascendant was re-claimed by his owner following an ‘outside’ claim.

The ever-popular Family Fun Raceday is on Sunday when aspiring little jockeys can enjoy complimentary pony rides and the first race is due off at 2.10pm.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

A right royal Ladies Day

Ladies Day at Worcester Racecourse is so much more than just another raceday. The day seems to attract larger crowds each year, and the statistics tell us that many of these people only come racing once a year, representing on the whole, a different type of crowd to other racedays. 

I think it’s also important to remember that the year on year numbers of people who dress in their finery and come out to enjoy themselves, not only support the Racecourse’s biggest day but also many of the local restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, car parks and indeed other attractions in Worcester over the weekend. Nor must the generosity of the many racegoers who contributed to the incredible £25,000 raised for St Richard’s Hospice on Ladies Day, go unmentioned.

On a day when 2,000 spears of locally grown asparagus were consumed, 100kg of seafood was prepared, 1,000 scones and 1,500 pies were enjoyed, the racing highlight was undoubtedly the victory of Her Majesty the Queen’s homebred, Take to Heart in the concluding maiden hurdle.

The gelding by Sakhee who has previously been placed in all his 6 races bar one, led for much of the race and won by a clear 15 length margin under Nico de Boinville.  The race was a qualifier for our summer Fixed Brush Hurdle Series, giving Take to Heart automatic eligibility for the £25,000 final in October.

You have to look back to 2014 to find the Queen’s last runner at Worcester. Also bred by Her Majesty and trained by Nicky Henderson, Special Agent won a bumper at the course on Ladies Day in June that year, similarly coinciding with Derby Day.

On that occasion, when I sent the photograph of Special Agent to the Queen, as I do for all our winning owners, I received communication back thanking me and saying that Her Majesty had enjoyed watching the race from the Royal Box at Epsom.

By contrast, the £9,000 Sparkling Anja Potze Fine Jewellery handicap hurdle was won by permit trainer and owner, Rosemary Gasson from Banbury with Mr McGuiness who was 2lb out of the weights. The decent quality field featured three previous course winners, including Slim Pickens trained locally in Claines by Richard Newland.

Horse power meets steam power at the races tomorrow afternoon, when we stage the annual Severn Valley Railway Charitable Trust raceday.  The two racedays held in aid of the Trust in 2015 and 2016 have raised between them, an amazing £45,000 which has gone towards the restoration of historically important trains and carriages, building new facilities and funding the Heritage Skills Training Academy, helping to ensure the Severn Valley Railway will be here for future generations to enjoy.  It never ceases to amaze me just how generous people are and how much a raceday can help to raise for a wide variety of very worthy local charities.

The first race is due off tomorrow at 2.20pm.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Come rain and shine, great racing is always on the card at Worcester

You have to be careful what you wish for.  One week we are subjected to a deluge of rain on the raceday, resulting in just shy of an inch of water soaking into the track. The following week’s meeting is an uncomfortable scorcher, the hottest day of the year so far.

Our first Gent’s race evening proved a popular event, with plenty of local support and people flocking to the track for the start of the Bank Holiday weekend.

There were beaming smiles from amateur jockey, Sam Jukes who rode his first winner under rules in the opening Hargreave Hale Investment Managers hunter’s chase.

Winning pointer with the Ledbury Hunt, ten year-old Rye Cross put in a much improved performance on his recent Cheltenham run to see off the challenges of the favourite, Master Sunrise, trained by Diana Ralph in Malvern.

The Ralph family had plenty to celebrate later in the evening, however.  Diana’s son Alastair, who trains at Billingsley near Bridgenorth in Shropshire, posted a double on the card.

Former amateur jockey on the point to point circuit, Ralph began his racing career working for Michael Scudamore.  He went on to join Paul Nicholls’ yard at Ditcheat before furthering his experience with a stint for Dr Richard Newland in Claines.

Whilst maintaining his yard of successful pointers, Ralph advanced his career as Henry Daly’s assistant trainer for 5 seasons.  In 2015 he took out his own training licence and the yard is currently going from strength to strength.  Of his 9 Worcester runners to date, 4 have been winners.

Employing the services of Richard Johnson, who rode a treble on the card, Ralph’s first victory of the evening was with 11/4 favourite Gustave Mahler in the national hunt novice hurdle, a qualifying race for the 7bets4free Fixed Brush Hurdle Series final at Worcester in October. Gustave Mahler is a course and distance winner, having scored in the bumper exactly a year ago on Ladies Day.

It’s Oscar was Ralph’s second success of the night in the 2 mile 7 furlong handicap hurdle, having last run at Pitchcroft in July 2013, coming home in 4th place under Jason Maguire.

It was particularly pleasing to see It’s Oscar’s owner, Sue Troughton in the Worcester winner’s enclosure as she is a great supporter of the course and rarely misses a meeting.

Martin Keighley had not had a winner at Worcester for 705 days and 34 runners, so it was thrilling to see his 13 times maiden runner, Viking Mistress eased on the run-in under Richard Johnson to record an 11 length success for the many happy members of the Martin Keighley Racing Club who had come along to support her.

Keighley trains at the famous Condicote Stables near Cheltenham, former home to jump racing legend David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson.

Tomorrow’s meeting at Worcester is the annual Ladies Day fixture and a large crowd is expected.  The first race is due off at 1.45pm with gates opening at 11.30am.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Irish weather the storm on a wet Wednesday

Come rain or shine, the racing show must go on! The 67 horses were declared to run for last week’s meeting on ground described as Good to Firm, Good in Places ground. Following 18mm of persistent rain between 7.30am and 5.30pm on raceday, the ground went through 3 ‘going’ changes and ended up as officially ‘Soft’ according to the Clerk of the Course and the jockeys alike.

As would be expected with such a swing of conditions, there were some non-runners, however the soggy weather did not dampen the quality of the racing or the thrill of the finishes.  Five of the 7 winning distances were recorded as less than 2 ¼ lengths.

The day really belonged to Noel Fehily who rode a treble, including a double for trainer, Harry Fry.
Fehily is a master of his craft especially on the younger, more inexperienced horses, expertly educating them in the early stages of their racing careers. All three of his winning races were for horses at the grass roots end of the sport, a bumper, a novice and a maiden hurdle.

The first of Fehily’s wins was the race of the day for me.  With a keen interest in national hunt breeding, mares’ bumpers always catch my eye.

The 9/4 favourite for the race, purchased last year for £75,000 was the 6 year-old King’s Theatre mare, Annie Angel trained by Amanda Perrett.  Her only previous form was an Irish maiden point to point win on her debut last December.

Expected to win the race, Annie Angel came up against the sole Irish trained raider at the meeting, A Three Eighty who is named after an aircraft. A strapping 17hh filly, A Three Eighty made a solid start to her future in a Fairyhouse bumper in April.

The two horses pulled 13 lengths clear of the opposition and battled in impressive style all the way to the line.  The 20/1 shot, A Three Eighty just managed to put her nose in front and snatched victory by a short head.

A Three Eighty is trained in County Tipperary by Tom Hogan, who interestingly, is famed for training Gordon Lord Byron, bought as a foal for just 2,000 Euros in 2008, to win over $1.8 million in prize money in flat races all over the world.

Even more astonishing in the light of this, is the fact that Gordon Lord Byron fractured his pelvis as a 2 year-old leaving the stalls on his debut run at Roscommon in 2010.

Determined to save him, Hogan filled his stable with car tyres to prevent him from lying down and straining the injury trying to get up, which almost certainly would have proved fatal.  He remained standing for 4 months.

The following year, he posted his first win at Dundalk followed by international success in Australia, Hong Kong and France, as well as Britain and Ireland.

Evening racing at Pitchcroft opens tomorrow night with the annual Hargreave Hale Investment Managers Hunters Chase, due off at 5.50pm.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Skelton starts the summer jumps season with a double at the Season Opener

The future of our sport depends, like most sports, on securing the engagement of the younger generation. There are a number of initiatives in racing to entice the young to get involved, from accompanied under 18’s being admitted free, to student discounts.  

The support from the Worcester University students at Pitchcroft last week was extremely encouraging to see and we hope that some will venture down again, hopefully sparking an interest in racing that could well span many years.

The Worcester leading trainer contest of 2016 was a very close run thing, concluding on the final day of the season when Neil Mulholland just pipped Phillip Hobbs and Dan Skelton by a mere couple of points to take the title.

The 2017 trainer competition has started competitively, with both Jonjo O’Neill and Dan Skelton hitting the ground running with 3 winners and 2 seconds between them.

Skelton, who trains locally at Alcester, sent out his well-bred, 5-year old mare, Whatzdjazz to win the Fixed Brush Hurdle Series mares maiden hurdle.

The race was the first qualifyer in the new series which culminates in a £25,000 final at Worcester in October, at which Skelton confirmed there was every possibility his mare would be aimed.  Whatzdjazz, who won her first outing in a Fakenham bumper in February found plenty on the run in to see off the challenges of Jonjo O’Neill’s 6/4 favourite, Big Penny, a £70,000 purchase last year as a 4-year old.

Skelton’s other winner on the card was Cobra De Mai, coming to Worcester off the back of his chasing debut win at Warwick 11 days previously.

Cobra De Mai is by Great Pretender, an increasingly popular sire and only one of two stallions by the legendary Kings Theatre available to national hunt breeders.

Alan Phillips, a local trainer based at Callow End, was delighted that his first runner of the new season was a winner at his nearby track. Lined With Silver was partnered to victory by popular weighing room joker and champion jockey in Jersey for the past 4 years, Mattie Batchelor.

Phillips rode 87 winners between 1993 and 2003 in point to points, hunter chases and novice chases, and took up training pointers in 2004.  In 2013, he took out a dual-purpose licence and now runs a small string of national hunt as well as flat horses.

We stage less ‘selling’ races than we used to these days.  Having said that, the race on last week’s card saw winning mare, Lakeshore Lady, in the Giant Bolster colours of Simon Hunt, auctioned after the race and bought by trainer Sheila Lewis from Brecon, for 4,400 guineas.

There was no success at the opening meeting for last season’s Worcester leading jockey, Richard Johnson, who was presented with a framed picture of one of his 2016 victories.  I am however certain that he will be on the score sheet in defence of his title very soon.

The gates open for racing at Pitchcroft tomorrow at 12 noon.