Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Looking ahead to the Season Finale

Where did the summer go! Five months, seven days and 18 fixtures since the start of the 2016 Worcester racing season, we are now approaching the finale tomorrow afternoon.

The last meeting produced a fantastic result for our charity, Macmillan. Racegoers dug deep and very generously supported the various fund raising activities organised by the ladies from Boots, resulting in an amazing record total of just over £5,000 raised on this annual day.

Earlier in the year, when the exciting news broke that Hereford Racecourse was to be re-opened, Worcester’s 6th October fixture was transferred to create the first race meeting to be held at Hereford since 2012.

The Worcester staff fully embraced the idea of helping to re-open Hereford and when the day dawned, with not a cloud in the sky, we were all extremely proud to be part of such a historic occasion.

The feeling of goodwill, everywhere you turned, was something I will remember, and going forward we will continue to work very closely with the team at Hereford and help them build on that special day.

As the season at Worcester draws to a close, we reflect on the many success stories.  The weather, which is so important to all racecourses from the aspect of producing decent ground for the horses, as well as encouraging racegoers to attend the meetings, has been kind this year. The owners and trainers have been wonderfully supportive as is borne out by the fact that we have had 49 more horses running at the course this year than over the equivalent fixtures in 2015.

The 165 entries for tomorrow’s meeting include horses from all the top yards, and the runners will be competing for £63,000 in prize money.

The races tomorrow include the annual Fred Rimell Memorial Handicap Chase. Rimell trained locally at Kinnersley and was crowned champion National Hunt trainer on five occasions spanning 25 years from 1951 to 1976. Among his many achievements were the winners of four Grand Nationals, two Cheltenham Gold Cups, two Champion Hurdles, a Champion Chase and three Triumph Hurdles.

Tomorrow will also see the conclusion of the 2016 Worcester leading Owner, Trainer and Jockey contests. With Jonjo O’Neill leading Neil Mulholland by just 7 points in the trainer’s title and Aidan Coleman currently lying ahead of Richard Johnson by a mere 6 points in the jockey’s table, it is all to play for on the last day.

Aidan Coleman with Mont Royale and winning connections

More certain is that JP McManus, who has run many horses at Worcester over the years, will be confirmed as our most successful owner this year.

The final fixture of the season has often produced horses who have gone on to achieve bigger things, and there is no better example of this than Ballyandy, who in 2015 had his racecourse debut in the ‘Newcomers’ bumper at this meeting, and went on to win the Grade 1 Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in March this year. 

The gates open tomorrow at 12.20pm.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Locals triumph on 12th September

For the first time, we were delighted to welcome trainer Tom Gretton as a race sponsor to Worcester last week.

The Inkberrow trainer has been running his horses at the course over the summer and kindly agreed to sponsor the 2 mile handicap chase in aid of the Surrey based, Racehorse Sanctuary. The race turned into a well-supported, local affair with 6 of the 11 horses trained within an hour’s radius of Worcester.

The winner, Bandol is an 8-year old gelding, owned and trained at Abberley by former jump jockey, Henry Oliver.  The winning pointer had his first two runs under rules in bumpers at Worcester in 2012 and 2013 when trained by Laura Young.

The second placed horse, Deise Vu is trained by Roy Brotherton at Pershore and has finished consistently in third place on his 4 previous outings, including at Pitchcroft in July.

A new lady trainer was granted her full licence 2 weeks ago. Former Manager of Hereford Racecourse and Bath Clerk of the Course, Katie Stephens’ first runner as a fully-fledged trainer was at Worcester with Zero Visibility who finished in third place in the opening handicap chase. 

Another local story to emerge in the week was the excellent run by Gas Line Boy in the Kerry National at Listowel. Alvechurch based Ian Williams sent his 8-year old over to Ireland as the only British raider in the race. The horse made most of the running in testing ground under Tom Scudamore and finished a creditable third, despite making a few jumping errors.

Having fallen in the Crabbies Grand National in 2015 when trained by Philip Hobbs, Gas Line Boy then had a spell with Jim Best before moving to Williams’ yard in the spring of this year where he appears to be flourishing.

Richard Johnson and Tim Vaughan teamed up for a quick fire double in the opening two handicap chases at Pitchcroft last week, which was enough to move Johnson up to second place behind Aidan Coleman in the Worcester jockey table, with Sam Twiston-Davies 6 points behind.

The trainer table has never been more competitive.  Just 9 points (less than one win) separate the first 6 names – Philip Hobbs, Jonjo O’Neill, Dan Skelton, Nicky Henderson, Neil Mulholland and David Pipe.  As there are only two meetings left this season, it is impossible to predict how these two contests will finish.

Owner, JP McManus is 24 points clear of his nearest rival in the owner’s championship. Favourites Racing is the syndicate attached to the yard of Hanley Swan trainer, David Dennis.  Both owners have been fantastic supporters of the course with their runners throughout the summer, as well as in previous years.

The gates open for the popular annual raceday in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support at 12.20pm tomorrow.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Weston continues impressive strike rate at Worcester with mare Solstalla

One of the things I most enjoy about the racedays is the interesting people I meet, week after week, both involved directly with the racing and also those visiting the course to enjoy a day out.

Last week I had the pleasure of talking to David Weston, a trainer from West Overton near Marlborough, following the win of his four-year old filly, Solstalla in the mare’s maiden hurdle. Weston’s breeding and training operation is very much a family affair which includes his partner and owner of Solstalla, El Tanner and their children. His national hunt horses, in the main, are ridden by Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey, Nico De Boinville, who Weston has known since he was 16. 

Solstalla, ridden by Nico De Boinville with trainer David Weston
Weston has an impressive strike rate at Worcester.  Four of the six horses he has run at the track have won.

Solstalla, who is by Halling out of a mare called Solstice, started her career on the flat and her last win came at Goodwood in 2015 as a three-year old.  The filly first ran at Pitchcroft on Pershore Plum Festival raceday in July when she came second, a run she followed up with a further second at Fontwell in August.

Another horse Weston has run at Worcester is the homebred, At First Light.  The mare was ridden by De Boinville to win three times from three runs at the course last summer.  Last week she had her first run of the season at Uttoxeter where she stayed on well to come second to Tim Vaughan’s Dovil’s Date.

The ‘banker’ of last week’s meeting was Vintage Vinnie who was having his first run of the season, back over hurdles.  The son of Vinnie Roe won on the bridle by 16 lengths and obviously goes well fresh because he also started his 2015 season with a win at Worcester last September under Leighton Aspel.

Vintage Vinnie is trained on the coast near Newport by Rebecca Curtis, who has a 25% strike rate for the horses she sends to Worcester.  The gelding’s form last season included a second in the Skybet Chase at Doncaster in January under Barry Geraghty.

With Richard Johnson riding at Perth last week, a win in the opening novice chase gave Aidan Coleman sufficient points to take the lead in the Worcester jockey table by 10 points from Sam Twiston-Davies and Richard Johnson.  The lads are fiercely competitive and they will be going all out at the final three meetings of the season to secure the top honours.

Dan Skelton has overtaken Nicky Henderson to take the second spot in the trainer’s table this week behind Philip Hobbs, thanks to a second place for his recent Worcester winning mare, Stephanie Frances in the opening novice chase.

More stories are sure to come from the race meeting at Worcester today, when the first race is due off at 2.10pm and the gates open at 12.10pm.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Competition heats up to become Worcester's top trainer and top jockey 2016

Now we have arrived in September, with the winter National Hunt season just around the corner, racing at Worcester is on a countdown. Just 4 meetings remain between today and the finale on 19 October and the race to be the top 2016 Worcester jockey and trainer has never been closer.

As the table stands this week, Aidan Coleman is just two points ahead of Sam Twiston-Davies, with last year’s champion, Richard Johnson in third place just two points behind. Bearing in mind, 10 points are awarded for a win, the fiercely fought contest is starting to look very exciting.

Philip Hobbs leads Nicky Henderson by ten points on the trainer leader board, with Dan Skelton in third place by one point and last year’s winner, Jonjo O’Neill only a further point behind. Previous years domination by AP McCoy and Jonjo O’Neill are a thing of the past and both competitions look like going right to the wire on the 19 October.

One of the most interesting races on last Tuesday’s card, run under brilliant blue skies, was the 2 mile juvenile hurdle. The race is for 3 year olds and all bar one of the 9 runners were recruits from the flat, with very limited hurdling experience.

Sam Twiston-Davies notched up the first leg of a double on the day aboard the Paul Nicholls trained Cliffs of Dover, who seemed to take to the Worcester brush hurdles and relish the quicker ground.

Sam Twiston-Davies with Cliffs of Dover
Another horse switching from the flat to hurdles this summer at the age of 8, is Barwick, trained by George Baker in Manton. Barwick won Epsom’s Great Metropolitan Handicap back in April but rather lost his way after that. Drawing on his flat speed to good effect, he passed three horses on the run in under a skilful drive by Andrew Tinkler, to take the concluding maiden hurdle by a neck.

As the Worcester season draws to a close in October, we are all really looking forward to turning our attention to the re-opening of Hereford Racecourse. Whilst Hereford have hosted both Arab races and point to points over the past 4 years, the first National Hunt fixture to be staged there since the course closed in December 2012 will be on 6 October, a fixture which was transferred from Worcester. Three further fixtures will follow this year on 31 October, on 23 November and 19 December.

The staff from Worcester, as well as from a number of other ARC racecourses are currently working hard to help Hereford prepare for their big relaunch, which promises to be a historic day not to be missed.

Racing at Worcester resumes this afternoon, with the gates opening from 12.10pm and the first race is due off at 2.10pm.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Croco Bay makes winning return at Family Fun Day

When you wake up in the morning and the sky is already blue, a rolling mist is hovering over the fields shrouding the mares and foals in a gentle veil before the heat of the day rises, you know it’s going to be a good day.  That was the feeling I had on the morning of last week’s Family Fun raceday at Worcester and I wasn’t to be disappointed.

A sizeable crowd turned out to enjoy the activities which included pony rides for all those would-be little jockeys and out on the track, there was plenty of excitement for keen National Hunt followers to get their teeth into.

The winning distances of all 7 races in order were a neck, a head, 2 and a half lengths, a neck, one and three quarter lengths, a nose, and one and a half lengths – a reflection of the close finishes which followed one after another.

Two horses in particular caught my eye.  Stephanie Frances, a King’s Theatre mare trained at Alcester by Dan Skelton and ridden by brother, Harry was returning to Worcester having won the British Stallion Studs EBF National Hunt Novice Hurdle at the course back in October 2014.

Stephanie Frances ridden by Harry Skelton
The mare just beat Theatre Flame, a fellow King’s Theatre progeny on his chasing debut, in the opening Novice Chase.  Stephanie Frances went off 4/9 favourite, having cruised to victory at Southwell the previous Sunday.  Her outing prior to that was in the Grade 1 OLBG Mare’s Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March where she ran creditably to finish 10 lengths behind Willie Mullins’ Vroum Vroum Mag.  The plan going forward is to give her a short break before the listed novice chase for mares at Bangor in November.

One of our feature races of the season is a £20,000 Handicap Chase run over two miles, which went the way of Croco Bay trained by Ben Case and owned by Lady Jane Grosvenor.  Croco Bay was also returning to Worcester on the back of a 3rd place in a handicap chase in August 2014.

Prior to this Worcester success, Croco Bay’s previous three outings were all high profile ones.  The nine year-old ran in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual at Cheltenham in March, he was fifth behind Katachenko in the Betfred Red Rum handicap chase at the Grand National Festival at Aintree in April, and also ran in the Guinness Handicap Chase at the Punchestown Festival in April, where he finished in fourth place behind Irish Cavalier.  The next target will be a valuable handicap chase at Market Rasen where he will step up to 2 miles and 5 furlongs in September.

Tomorrow evening’s race meeting will conclude what has been another busy month of racing at Pitchcroft, and with a rare juvenile hurdle on the card, it will be interesting to think we may be witnessing more stars of the future racing on the Worcester turf.

The first race is due off at 4.25pm with gates opening from 2.25pm.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

What Happens Now: What Happened Last Fixture

For the first time we welcomed members of the British Horse Society to the Racecourse last week.  The day was intended to help fundraise for the very important equine welfare work undertaken annually by the charity, and also to raise awareness of their safety campaign requesting drivers to pass horses ‘wide and slow’ and to kill their speed to 15 mph.   This campaign has been sparked by a number of fatal accidents on British roads in recent years.

Two of the supporters of the day included first time Worcester race sponsors, Henry Oliver Racing and Hillgrove Stud, both of whom depend on horses for their living. Hillgrove Stud is based near Droitwich, and Liz Williams with her partner Max Young, breed and produce top quality dressage horses. Henry Oliver, former national hunt jockey turned trainer, is based at Abberley and runs a number of his horses at Worcester during the season. The British Horse Society reported that they raised over £1,500 through the generous donations of racegoers for which they were extremely grateful.

The opening race of the day, the Henry Oliver Racing Novice Chase was a very competitive affair, and included representatives from the top yards of Paul Nicholls, David Pipe, Donald McCain, Jonjo O’Neill and Phillip Hobbs.

McCain’s Dr Massini gelding, What Happens Now (pictured above) was confidently steered to victory by Will Kennedy, seeing off the challenges of Tom Scudamore aboard David Pipe’s For ‘N’ Against by three quarters of a length. Kennedy, who began his association with McCain last season, has a 21% strike rate when riding for the Cheshire based trainer. What Happens Now, a former point to point winner, has won three of his four starts over fences and it would be no surprise to see him progress on from here, especially once the ground eases later in the year.

The race date last week clashed with a Stratford evening meeting.  Whilst the short hop from one course to another was ideal for the jockeys who were riding at both Worcester and Stratford, it is far from ideal to have two racecourses in such close proximity racing on the same day from a logistical point of view.  Not only does it split a local crowd of jump racing supporters, but there are also a good number of staff who make their living by working at several racecourses and they have to make difficult decisions when there is a clash.

The only clash at the vintage themed Ladies Evening race meeting tomorrow evening at Worcester, will be the sound of the instruments of the 28 strong members of the Royal Signals Band who will be welcoming racegoers from 3.30pm as they arrive at the course, as part of the Help for Heroes race night.  The first race is due off at 5pm.