Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Half way through the 2017 season at Pitchcroft

We certainly enjoyed the luck of the Irish at Pitchcroft’s Irish themed race meeting last week and were blessed with perfect weather for the occasion. Traditional music from the Emerald Isle courtesy of the Wild Murphys had everyone toe-tapping between races and contributed to a thoroughly good atmosphere created by the 2,500 racegoers who came out to support the course on a Tuesday evening.

On the track, it also paid to follow the Irish. 

Of the 7 winners, four horses were bred in Ireland, and one each in France, Germany and England. Aidan Coleman, originally from County Cork was on flying form notching a treble on the night, the first race for Lambourn trainer, Jamie Snowden and the last two for Jonjo O’Neill, who himself originates from Co Cork.

The local success was the one of the stories of the night. Claines trainer, Richard Newland has always been a great supporter of his local track and this summer has sent Slim Pickens to run here four times.  The horse has been with Newland since May 2014 and first won a novice hurdle at Worcester under Sam Twiston-Davies in June of that year.

From 17 races, the consistent gelding has won 4 times and finished second 6 times. In his 5 runs at Worcester, he has never been out of the first two. In the previous 3 runs this summer he has come up against one just too good for him but has battled all the way to the line.  Finally, last Tuesday was his day.  In another exciting finish, he was driven out to beat Martin Keighley’s Buckle Street by a neck under a confident ride from conditional jockey, Charlie Hammond.  Just one and three-quarter lengths separated the first four horses home.

Another Irish jockey, Daryl Jacob had his first official ride as stable jockey to Bourton-on-the-Water trainer, Ben Pauling aboard Calva D’Honore at the same meeting. However, the jockey’s winner on the night came aboard 11/10 favourite, Taws for Rod Millman in the mare’s maiden hurdle, another qualifying race for the Fixed Brush Hurdle Series final in October.

The summer is flying by as it always seems to and so are the race meetings.  We have reached the half way point in the season and it is therefore timely to look at the leading jockey and trainer championships, both of which are proving to be fiercely competitive.

Champion jockey Richard Johnson leads Aidan Coleman by just 12 points at the top of the Cheltenham and Three Counties Race Club sponsored table. There are only 6 points separating the next 3 places occupied by Sam Twiston-Davies, Noel Fehily and Harry Skelton.

Jonjo O’Neill leads Dan Skelton and Nicky Henderson, both tying for second place in the Foran sponsored trainer’s competition, ahead of Richard Newland. We look forward to seeing how the second half of the season unfolds.

The gates open for afternoon racing tomorrow at 11.50am.

Monday, 17 July 2017

A surprise 66-1 winner on Senior Citizens Raceday!

Sometimes it literally pays to make a quick decision. Droitwich based race sponsors, Chess Plastics and their guests arrived in the paddock just in time to choose the Best Turned Out horse in their handicap hurdle at Worcester recently. 

With moments to spare before the horses left the paddock for the start, they chose Amber Flush as the tidiest horse, making the day of birthday girl and groom, Amy Myatt.

In the excitement, some of the sponsors’ guests hastily placed a bet on Amber Flush, whose racecard form read 0P0PP-P.

The 8-year old took everyone by surprise, including her trainer, Clare Ellam, by bolting up in a decent sized field of 14 horses and winning at odds of 66-1!

Not only were the sponsors and their guests delighted, but so was their trainer who has had a rough time in the past few weeks.

In April, Ellam ran Too Many Diamonds in a Taunton selling race where he was claimed by Dan Skelton and went on to win 4 races for his new trainer in 7 days. In June Ellam’s mare, Just Marion was sadly put down after an injury sustained from running loose with a blindfold on at Brighton.

The Bowen Family who train in Haverfordwest have always supported Worcester with runners, so it was good to see brothers Sean and James both riding winners on the same card.

Sean won the handicap chase on Dr Robin, trained by his father, Peter and co-owned by his mother, Karen, and 16-year old James rode his first winner under rules aboard Get Home Now.

The recent Racing Staff week highlighting the important jobs done by all staff in racing was celebrated at Worcester with a free hamper draw, the contents of which were donated by the Racecourse staff.

The prize was won by Trish Smith and Jodie Buck who both work for Ledbury based trainer Matt Sheppard.

It was with sadness that we learned of the death of Mercy Rimell at the age of 98 last week.  I met Mercy on a number of occasions when she visited Pitchcroft for her husband, Fred’s annual memorial race.  A point to point winning jockey at the age of just 14, Mercy was also the first woman to train a Champion Hurdle winner after she took over Fred’s training licence at their Kinnersley yard on his death in 1981.  Mercy’s first winner as a trainer was with Tru Mar at Worcester a month later. A very forthright lady, her extensive knowledge and wisdom will be sorely missed by many.

Dan Skelton’s useful mare Whatzdjazz followed up her May Worcester win with an impressive victory in the novice hurdle last week, reconfirming her qualification for the Fixed Brush Hurdle Series final at the track in October.  The 5-year old was one of 3 winners in a row for Coolmore stallion, Yeats.

It will be Leprechauns and Shamrocks to the fore tomorrow evening when the first race on Irish night is due off at 6pm.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Back to back meetings at Pitchcroft deliver results for local trainers

There has been plenty of action down at Pitchcroft recently, with 2 race meeting in just 4 days.

Despite Family Fun Sunday clashing with the well supported Olly Murs on stage at nearby Worcestershire County Cricket ground and Worcester University’s open day, over 4,000 people enjoyed the afternoon of National Hunt racing, interspersed with pony rides, mini quad bikes, inflatable fun and painted faces.

The local trainers didn’t disappoint. Three of the 7 winners included Murray Mount trained at Abberley by Henry Oliver, Sweeping Rock trained by John Spearing at the Fred Rimell’s former yard in Kinnersley, and the last race went the way of Included trained by David Dennis at Hanley Swan.

The big story of the afternoon came in the £18,000 feature handicap hurdle. A very competitive affair, the strongly fancied Philip Hobbs / Diana Whateley gelding, Wishfull Dreaming went off a clear favourite.  However, in the end, the first three horses home mirrored the exact same result of a similar contest earlier in the month on Ladies Day. 

Permit trainer, Rosemary Gasson was delighted to see Mr McGuiness get the better of Richard Newland’s Slim Pickens and Alan King’s Miss Crick for the second time at the course in just 3 weeks. Both Mr McGuiness and Slip Pickens hold entries for tomorrow’s Worcester meeting.

Three days later, we welcomed Britain’s Got Talent host, David Walliams to the racecourse for the first time, as guest speaker in the Birmingham City Football Club hospitality marquee.

The local success story continued at this meeting with new recruit to Richard Newland’s Claines yard, Theo storming up the home straight to win the Conditional Jockeys Training Series Final Handicap Hurdle under Abberley jockey, Charlie Hammond.

Theo was purchased out of Shane Donohoe’s yard in Ireland recently, with only fair form and a bit of a ‘monkey’ reputation according to Newland’s assistant, Rod Trow. However, the 7-year old was on best behaviour, winning comfortably and seemingly relishing the change of scene, as further borne out by his Uttoxeter win on Sunday.

Roger Hart is very well known at Worcester and on the wider racing circuit as a tipster, Corporate raceday host and an organiser of ownership syndicates. He is less well known as an owner.  However, when Fort Worth trained by Jonjo O’Neill won on the bridle last week under a cool Aidan Coleman ride, a very excited Hart whooped his way across the parade ring to greet his winner.

Fort Worth was bought by O’Neill from Coolmore originally, and has run for O’Neil under different ownership until recently when Hart and 3 friends purchased the Presenting gelding, who jumped and stayed on impressively.

Hart tells the story that the ownership under which Fort Worth now runs, Sleeping Panther Racing, took its name from the many sleeping panther statues that can be seen on the streets of ‘Panther City’ as Fort Worth in Texas is nicknamed.

With Nicky Henderson on flying form last week, posting a treble and a third from his 4 runners, we look forward to the stories from tomorrow’s meeting, due off at 2.20pm.

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.