Downlands Racing News with Pat Murphy – May 2022 update

April 2022 Racing News

Spring has arrived but in true unpredictable British fashion – still no rain worth mentioning and not a great deal of warmth either. This is more than just a piece of meteorological small-talk. Perhaps with the exception of cricket, the weather plays a greater part in racing than in any other sport. This year, the lack of rain ended a lot of national hunt horses’ season early due to fast grounds and higher risk of injury.

In April we saw a wonderful Grand National won by an Irish-trained horse, Noble Yeats. That bit of national pride out of the way, I must add that it was British-owned and ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen, a proper amateur in that he does this as a hobby beside running a huge dental practice. My own two tips for this race were second and sixth. Ironically, I had tipped the winner for Cheltenham and he jumped poorly there so I went off him for the National.

Champions were crowned at Sandown on 23 April. Paul Nichols was again crowned Champion Trainer (for the thirteenth time) and finished the season in style with a five-timer at Sandown. The same day, Brian Hughes became Champion Jockey (for the second time), his 204 winners putting him almost 100 clear of his nearest challenger.

Overall it was a great season for the industry. Crowds were back in numbers at the big meetings and its popularity did not wane during Covid. Horses are selling for huge amounts of money – which shows that racing is buoyant – but the concern is that the best stock is increasingly ending up in a small number of yards, so making the gulf between the top of the pyramid and the bottom larger and larger. Football fans out there might know what I mean.

The flat season is now in full swing and we have already had the first classics run. The Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket on 30 April saw a one/two for Godolphin. The winner, Corobeus, was ridden by James Doyle who spent his young life living in East Garston and Eastbury when his mother trained in the village. He then followed this up the following day in the One Thousand Guineas by winning again, this time on Cachet. Well done James (twice).

Lambourn trainers Charles Hills and Clive Cox have made bright starts to the season and Stan Moore has carried on his good form from the all-weather season into the turf.

Locally Good Friday saw huge numbers of people turn up for Lambourn Open Day. The weather was more than kind and I believe record amounts for charity were raised.

Also in April, a convoy of horseboxes headed for War stricken Ukraine with supplies of food, shelter and medical supplies. Hats off to all the volunteers who helped get this organised.

April 2022 Racing News

I can’t believe that the Cheltenham Festival has been and gone. Like so many things you look forward to for ages, It seemed to be over in a flash. I was lucky enough to be there on the Tuesday and Thursday and the atmosphere was electric. People were really up for a proper open-air party with great racing thrown in. That’s exactly what they got.

On the racing front we saw some fantastic performances. Constituation Hill blew everyone away with his 22-length win in the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Nicky Henderson looks to have found yet another star. Henderson’s stable had a good enough festival with two wins and five seconds, so plenty of encouragement for the future.

However, it wasn’t all perfect for his team as local hero Shishkin ran no kind of race at all. He was beaten by the first fence and nothing has so far come to light to explain his uncharacteristically terrible performance.

Alan King’s Marlborough yard had a good week, the highlight being a brilliant win in the Arkle Chase with Edwardstone. Alan truly is a trainer for all seasons.

The golden couple of Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore did not disappoint in the Champion Hurdle – an excellent win and brilliant reception from the huge crowd which they missed in 2021. Rachael followed that by winning the Gold Cup on the Friday on 2021 on A Plus Tard. Last year, of course, she had the choice of A Plus Tard and the eventual winner Minella Indo. This time round she stuck to her previous choice, learned from last year’s defeat and won in a brilliantly executed ride.

Overall, the festival was a success. Britain doubled its tally of winners compared to the previous year but Ireland and Willie Mullins came out on top with the score 18/10. So, there is hope that things are starting to redress the balance. As I mentioned last month, one needs a bit of healthy competition in these things rather than one country winning almost everything (and I say that as an Irishman). The crowds flocked to Festival and that has to be good for the sport in general and Cheltenham in particular.

9 April is Grand National Day, No Tiger Roll as he has now been retired but 40 others will be trying to win the race like the Tiger. The main British hopes rest with Snow Leopardess and Fiddlerontheroof but Irish horses dagain ominate the betting. I fancy Any Second Now and Longhouse Poet – 10/1 and 22-1 respectively at the moment. As usual this will be a great spectacle and hopefully also a safe one.

The turf flat season has now started and East Ilsley Trainer Mick Channon won the first big pot, the Lincoln. A good start for the yard and hopefully for them a springboard for a great season.

March 2022 Racing News

I wouldn’t say I’m counting the days…well, actually, that’s exactly what I am doing. It is very nearly here: 28 races over four days from 15 to 8 March with 275,000 people there to witness the unfolding drama that is the Cheltenham Festival. Like a child looking forward to Christmas, I can hardly wait – the roar of the crowd when the starter gets the runners off for the first race and an even louder one when the race heats up and people’s fancies get into contention. And then repeat the experience another 27 times.

Last year’s meeting seems a lot more than 12 months ago given all that’s happened since. There was barely any roar of the crowd in 2021 as, due to Covid, there was barely a crowd to roar. Ireland and Rachael Blackmore took Cheltenham by storm, 23 winners from my home country (just saying) and Rachael leading jockey.

This year could well see more of the same, a fact some English trainers seem to have resigned themselves to. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they have run up the white flag on this one, they do seem to have a new mantra – “it is not all about Cheltenham.” But make no mistake – whenever a trainer is extolling the virtues of a horse to a would-be owner, it is the Cheltenham dream they are selling. 

So, what about our local hopes? Nicky Henderson does have a fairly strong hand going into the meeting with Shiskin favourite for the Champion Chase; while Constitution Hill and Jonbon (the most expensive National Hunt horse sold at auction, costing a cool £570,000) are second and third favourite for the Supreme Novice Hurdle. Epatante, winner of the champion hurdle two years ago, is back to take on the mighty Honeysuckle. All in all I would say he has a fighting chance of a winner or two.

The Marlborough area is well represented with Alan King’s Edwardstone favourite for the Arkle Chase and Emma Levell’s Paisley Park near favourite for the Stayers Hurdle.

That said, Ireland probably has the favourites in most of the other races. Certainly the Gold Cup on the Friday is dominated by Irish-trained horses. The first three home from last year renew rivalry, with a couple of new kids on the block lurking to try and take the crown. I think Rachael Blackmore can win this year on A Plus Tard, second last year to stable companion Minella Indo.

Whatever happens results-wise, let’s hope that all participants and racegoers remain safe. Just one word of warning – there is talk of a bus drivers strike in Cheltenham that week (there would be something) and that will add to traffic and so possibly journey times.

Enjoy the festival. May you back lots of winners and, like me, savour the thrills and atmosphere of this wonderful event.

February 2022 Racing News

How lovely that February has arrived and signs of new life everywhere. The real sign of spring in these parts the return of  the river Lambourn, followed almost immediately by the ducks. All these seasonal signs also mean that the Cheltenham festival is now very close.

January and early February is when the big players will have their last race before the festival. Some bubbles will be burst while others will emerge as contenders for the big races. In mid January we had the race of the season so far when Shishkin and Energume faced off at Ascot. We were not disappointed: in an epic duel, Shishkin came out on top by one length, leaving us all looking forward to the rematch at Cheltenham. The huge crowd at Ascot were buzzing and it was fantastic to feel that excitement on a racecourse again after the last couple of years.

Top Lambourn Trainer Nicky Henderson has his team in fine form. As well as Shishkin he has Constitution Hill, Jonbon and Walk the Line high up in the betting for their respective races at the festival.

The last weekend of January also gave us trials day at Cheltenham. People’s favourite Paisley Park won the Cleeve Hurdle for the third time, in so doing bursting the bubble of local favourite Champ, who finished second. They will meet again in March but I don’t think either will win the big one. That may go to Ireland again, as will many of the other races.

On a slightly different matter, jockeys’ weight has been the hot topic of the month.

To give context, because of Covid restrictions the use of saunas and gyms were banned and jockeys were given a 3lb weight allowance: so if you had to ride at 9st you actually weighted out at 9st 3lb. Easy so far, yes? Well, the BHA in its infinite wisdom decided to change the rules, banning saunas on racecourses permanently and removing the 3lb allowance for jockeys. Instead they raised all weights by 2lb. This will help nobody as jockeys, being jockeys, will still try to ride at the lightest they can. They’ll just find other methods of losing weight, some of which may not be healthy ones. I was always told if it ain’t broke don’t fix it but obviously the powers that be are working with a different cliché. Discussion is ongoing to find the right solution, Hopefully common sense will prevail – it sometimes does…

January 2022 Racing News

Happy 2022 to one and all.

After last month’s article about Bryony Frost and her troubles, she put the middle finger up to her detractors by winning the grade-one Tingle Creek chase at Sandown on Granateen for Paul Nicholls. This is as perfect a way to say “I’m here and staying here” as I can think of.

December as always gave us a host of good racing and lots of clues for Cheltenham in March. Let’s start with local success, Nicky Henderson finally took the wraps off last season’s best two-mile novice at Kempton over Christmas and he did not disappoint, Sishkin put up an excellent performance to win easily and this sets up the clash we were hoping for at Cheltenham last March between him and Energumene, trained by Willie Mullins in Ireland. Both look so exciting and, come the day, may the better one win.

Henderson also won the Christmas Hurdle with Epatante, who won the Champion Hurdle in 2020 and was third last year to Honeysuckle. She will again go for the champion but if Honeysuckle turns up on her a game she looks unbeatable.

Marlborough Trainer Alan King looks to have an exciting chasing prospect on his team in the shape of Edwardstone – twice a grade-one winner in December – but in his category there are a couple of likely contenders in Ireland in the shape of the mightily impressive Ferny Hollow and his stable companion Blue Lord.

Willie Mullins won the King George at Kempton with Tornado Flyer and would have had a one-two but for a last-fence fall. An Irish domination at Cheltenham in March is starting to look a distinct possibility. Over Christmas week in Ireland Willie Mullins sent out an astonishing 24 winners, which has to be some sort of record.

What was nice to see over the festive period was the great turn out at race meetings. Kempton on Boxing Day and Cheltenham on New Year’s Day particularly had crowds in excess of 30,000 while Uttoxeter, a small country track in the midlands, attracted 8,500 visitors. I think it is fair to say that people are still in love with a day’s racing even if they have to pre-book and show covid passes. On the opposite end of the scale it was sad to see the Welsh National run behind closed doors for the second year running. This provided the third Welsh-trained winner in a row, amazing considering that the local yards went 50 years previously without winning it.

From 6 January jockeys and officials and indeed anyone who has to enter the green zone on a racecourse has to show a negative lateral flow test or else no admission. I can see this been a problem as at the time of writing there seems to be a shortage of said test kits, certainly in this part of the country.

The show rolls on in January and it does not get any easier. The first couple of months of the year aren’t noted for their clement weather while the current Covid surge and the possibility of further restrictions are dominating the headlines. Fear not, however, as the days are getting longer and spring is on the way.

December 2021 Racing News

Happy Christmas everyone. This month’s column is going to be slightly different from usual.

I would like to take this opportunity to speak about the big story in racing at the moment, that being the case of Bryony Frost and Robbie Dunne.

Robbie was accused and found guilty of four counts of bullying, misogyny and sexual misconduct. I don’t know either of these jockeys personally but Bryony did ride a winner for me recently.

Anyone who has read a paper or listened to the news will know the background to this story: but for those who don’t, it centres on a campaign of bullying of Bryony  by Robbie. The fallout is as serious as the charge. The weigh room (the jockeys’ inner sanctum) has been accused of been rancid – strong words. There are things about them that need to improve, as I mention below. It’s also true that a particular culture of behaviour can be easier to keep up than to amend (much the same accusation has recently been made about Yorkshire Cricket Club). Many occupations exist in a bubble and so don’t immediately respond to changes in the wider world. When someone is brave enough to point out that change is overdue, that can be a bit of a shock. Women have, rightly, stormed many of the citadels of the racing world recently so change was always likely to happen. Now it has.

As in all sporting arenas, racing has some big characters, people to whom the younger generation look up; people who, within their inner sanctums, should also assume the responsibility to stamp out trouble before it leaves the dressing room, the weigh room or whatever room it happens to be in. They should have seen what was happening for what it was in these changing times.

In this instance, I feel the senior jockeys, the valets and weigh-room stewards let down the whole of the industry I love so much. Someone should have nipped this in the bud early on – and not by boycotting Bryony for speaking out. “I hope,” she told me last week, “that no one, male or female, ever has to go through what I have in the last two years.” I feel for her as a person. I think she is a wonderful jockey and brilliant ambassador for our sport. She can talk for England, mind you, but lovingly and insightfully about every horse she rides. Her stellar mind will keep her successful career on track.

As for the punishment, I think an 18 month-ban is harsh, The guy is 36 so lit’s ikely his career as a jockey is over – rightly so, plenty of you will say: but surely a six-month ban and a warning, and an education for all jockeys on modern etiquette in a sport where male and female compete on equal terms for equal pay, might have been more appropriate. He was the one who was singled out by the case but he may not be the only one who could have been so charged. This is not a time just for punishment but also or reflection on how we can make this sport an exemplar of equality, as in so many ways it already is.

There are certainly aspects of the weigh rooms that need to change. Plans are already in place for this to happen. One obvious example is that the women should not have to enter the male changing area to get weighed as they do now. However, complete segregation would be a bad idea. These are vibrant and busy places with lots of banter and plenty of friendly arguments about everything from Love Island to the last race run. Neither sex should be excluded from this – they are work places, after all.

I hope that, as an industry, a sport and a passion, we can learn and move with the times and embrace our competitors of all sexes, colours and creeds. Live and let live. More than with any other sport, racing has recently shown that men and women can compete on equal terms on the course. Let’s make sure they’re accorded equal respect off it as well.

November 2021 Racing News

The clocks have gone back, the leaves are coming down and the nights are drawing in: so that must mean jump racing is about to take centre-stage. Never mind Christmas – for me, this build-up is the most exciting time of the year.

First, there is the small matter of the Breeders cup at Del Mar (where Bing Crosby sung about the surf meeting the turf). I am sorry to say I have not been keeping up with events leading up to this great spectacle so am not sure if we have any local runners.

We were, however, locally represented in the Melbourne Cup where Kingsclere trainer Andrew Balding had Spanish Mission finish a brilliant third to two of Australia’s best horses. A worthwhile trip as for him and his team there’s huge prize money even for third.

On the home front in October we had champions day at Ascot, Hollie Doyle rode her favourite horse Trushan to victory in the stayers race and Glen Shiel into second in the sprint. Yet another excellent day for Hollie. (You can click here to read a recent interview with her in Penny Post. )

Oisin Murphy was crowned champion jockey for the third time after a titanic battle with William Buick. His turn will come as he’s an excellent all-round jockey.

Jumping was in the limelight at the end of October. One of our favourites Frodon and Bryony Frost stepped up in the first grade-one of the season at Down Royal in Northern Ireland, beating the gold cup winner Minella Indo and Rachael Blackmore. He truly is a superstar, this horse.

The big November meeting at Cheltenham is only a couple of weeks away and that is when we feel winter has started. Nicky Henderson usually has a strong team ready for this one.

For what it is worth, I trained a couple of winners in the last two weeks and am looking forward to the winter months ahead. I truly love National Hunt racing at its best – and, fortunately, I live and work in a part of the world where I’m surrounded by the very best…

October 2021 Racing News

Autumn has now arrived and very soon our thoughts will be turning to the National Hunt season, The big battalions will soon be cranking up a gear but unfortunately without some star names this time round –Altior and Min have both retired and the ante-post favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Monkfish, is out for the season after suffering a tendon injury. New stars will doubtless emerge as we get into winter.

Meanwhile, the flat season is still going strong and a great battle for Champion Jockey is taking place. Reigning champion Oisin Murphy leads William Buick by about ten winners at the time or writing but that could change as Buick is leaving no stone unturned in his quest for a first championship.

The first weekend in October brought us Europe’s richest race, the Prix De l’Arc, and it was won by 80/1 chance Torquator Tasso, trained in Germany and ridden by a young German jockey launching himself on to the world stage in impressive and eye-catching style. Longchamp was also a happy hunting ground for the British over the weekend, none more so than Marlborough Trainer Alan King who won his second group-one of the season (and his career) with Trueshan triumphing in the Prix Du Cadran beating the fading star Stradivarius, whose career as a racehorse might now have finished – age waits for no man, and no horse, and he will enjoy a fruitful time as a stallion. Unfortunately Trushan’s regular jockey Holly Doyle missed out as she was serving a seven-day ban: a bad time to have an enforced week off work as it turned out.

September was a good month for some of our local stables with Clive Cox, Ed Walker, Owen Burrows and Archie Watson all enjoying some success. Clive particularly will have enjoyed the month with two group two winners for his two-year-olds.

Saffie Osborne (daughter of trainer Jamie) is lying second in the apprentice championship has had to finish her season early due to complications with some metalwork that was put in last year after a horror fall at Windsor – she’s having the metal rod removed from her arm as it is causing her hand to spasm. Such risks are part of the sport, of course. To pick just one name, AP McCoy’s long of injuries include breaking all his teeth, two punctured lungs, a dislocated thumb, two broken shoulder blades, a broken ankle…I could go on but perhaps the squeamish of you would prefer I didn’t. Saffie is young, brave and talented and will, I’m sure, be back better than ever. All the best for a quick recovery.

September 2021 Racing News

Well that is it – summer has gone. It never really materialised but, hey ho, this is England, after all.

Racing still keeps going no matter what. The ground won’t suit all horses all the time but it will always suit someone.

York’s Ebro festival was the highlight of the month and what a joy to see stands full of people having a wonderful time. The Racing did not disappoint, either. The mighty Mishriff has probably stamped himself as the best 10-furlong horse in the world with a brilliant performance in the Juddmonte International. This remarkable horse has now won nearly £11 million in prize money with wins over his career in Britain, France, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, What a money spinner he is. £14.5m is the target to beat and who’s to say he won’t make it.

Also at York, the Nunthorpe Sprint was won by Yorkshire-trained Winter Power. This was a blistering performance from a sprinter on the up. The Ebro itself was won by Irish trained Sonnyboyliston (whom I tipped on 4LEGS Radio, let it not be forgotten) at 12/1. Stradivarius got his season back on track winning the Lonsdale Cup for the fourth time: once again what a star he is. Horses’ names can at times seem strange or even inappropriate – “Stradivarius”, however, describes him perfectly.

Andrew Balding’s Kingsclere stable continues in great fettle and is challenging for the years Trainers’ Championship (and is currently leading the table). Lambourn trainers, meanwhile, are having plenty of winners but not at the top level.

September is a month that sees a lot of well-bred two year olds gracing the racecourse. Most will not be stars but all of us, at every race, are on the lookout for something special for the future. The group-one Haydock Sprint Cup, for instance, could see Lambourn’s emerging sprint star Starman take his chance. He loves fast ground – as does Clive Cox’s Supremacy. He’s been a bit disappointing this season but don’t write him off yet,

On 11 September we will have the last classic of the season, the St Leger, I have fancied Wordsworth for this for a while. I think he will be suited by trip and track.

Covid has changed all our lives, mostly for the worse but in a few cases for the better. Take the one-meeting-a-day restriction and a ban on the use of racecourse saunas, for instance. These were introduced to reduce transmission rates but it soon became clear to many that jockeys were happy with these for other reasons – fewer high-speed dashes from one meeting to the next and less time spent in weight-reducing but dehydrating heat. Mental and physical health seem to have improved, which has got to be a plus for everyone. It’s also given more jockeys a chance to get a ride and means that they have just one set of conditions to prepare for. It’s been better for trainers, too, as they now know that the jockeys are all actually at the track and not (as in some nerve-shredding cases previously) stuck in a traffic jam twenty miles away. Good news, therefore, that the authorities have decreed these bans will stay in force in 2022. I hope they’ll both become permanent. There are a few other things I’d like to see changed as well – but don’t get me started…

August 2021 Racing News

Hello to you all and I hope you are bearing up under the strain of a typical British summer, with heatwave one week and washout the next. For gardeners, cricketers, party organisers and weather forecasters this kind of weather poses its own challenges – but I’m thinking about racing. Put yourself in the mind of a busy flat trainer trying to place your horses to their best advantage and then coping with ever-changing ground conditions and seeing long-made plans washed away and you’ll have some idea of how difficult this uncertainty has been. July 2021 was the kind of  month that trainers hate.

That said, the test of anyone in any profession is how well you can rise above adversity. It was, for instance, a fantastic month for some of the area’s finest trainers.

Let’s start with Starman, trained by Ed Walker in Lambourn, who won the July Cup at Newmarket. That’s not the half of it, though, as he led home a Lambourn clean sweep in this prestigious group-one sprint.

Next up was Goodwood and a first group-one winner for Marlborough-based dual-purpose trainer Alan King with Trushan triumphing in the Goodwood Cup under Hungerford-based jockey Hollie Doyle. Alan followed up the next day with a group two winner, also at Goodwood.

Kingsclere trainer Andrew Balding then got in on the fun, winning the group-one Sussex Stakes with Alcohol Free under Lambourn-based champion jockey Oisin Murphy.

Unfortunately, there is also some sad news, Our Lambourn star of the last few few years Battash, trained by Charles Hills, was retired from racing after failing to fire on two runs this season. It has been a joy to watch him for four seasons. What a brilliant speedball he was at his best.

The King George at Ascot was a brilliant race with an equally brilliant winner with Alydar becoming the first horse in twenty years to do the double of this and the Epsom Derby.

It is fantastic to see crowds returning to racecourses and feel the excitement that brings. Let’s hope it continues – we all need a bit of excitement (and certainly some human contact) in our lives. Racing at its best – and we’re lucky to have some of the best on our doorsteps – certainly provides that.

July 2021 Racing News

Summer did arrive for a week and in that week I followed the cliché and made hay while the sun shone. It’s now all stored away in the barn. I’m glad I did because I don’t know quite what’s happened to the weather since then.

The racing has been non-stop although we did lose a few meetings due to waterlogging. June kicked off with the Epsom Derby, Oaks and Coronation Cup. British-trained horses have finally started fighting back to stop the Irish from plundering all the most coveted prizes. There were wins for Godolphin in the Derby and William Muir in the Coronation Cup, although Aiden O’Brien did triumph in the Oaks: 2-1 to Britain at this stage.

Next up was Royal Ascot, with crowds back on course. Thel maximum was 12,000 per day but strangely average attendance was 10,000. Covid testing and only a week to get tickets sold made it difficult for Ascot but at least it is a start Hopefully the sport can build from here.

On the track, the racing was, as usual, top class. Palace Pier and That Man Frankie won the feature on the first day, with Lambourn trainer Roger Teal having a red-letter day as Oxted won the group-one Kings Stand Stakes. This was a massive win for Roger and his team. Lambourn was robbed of a second group-one winner with Archie Watson’s Devils Pride finishing first but losing the race in the stewards room later – a bitter blow for the connections but probably the right decision. Unfortunately for Archie, he also was second in the group-one Diamond Jubilee on Saturday,

Kingsclere Trainer Andrew Balding had a fantastic week with four winners but got beaten on countback to be the leading trainer.

Lambourn-based jockey Oisin Murphy was the week’s leading jockey with five wins. Hungerford-based Hollie Doyle and her Partner Tom Marquand both had winners and quite a few places as well. Ascot this year was special for many others, with nine jockeys and five trainers having their debut winners at the meeting, Nice to see success getting spread around,

June ended with the Irish Derby at the Curragh and we went so close to hailing a local winner with Martin Meades’ Lone Eagle being collared in the shadow of the post by the Charlie Appleby-trained and William Buick-ridden Hurricane Lane. The owners Godolphin have had had a resurgance this season, winning both Derbies.

The final score at Ascot was Britain 28, Ireland, 6 USA 1. Normal service resumed…

June 2021 Racing News

Summer has finally arrived and with it the flat racing season moving into top gear.

The best news  racing has had for a while now is that Royal Ascot is to be allowed a crowd of 12,000 spectators each day. Everyone will need to have had a negative Covid test to gain admission and adhere to various regulations while there. This is a major step in the right direction. This will be been the biggest crowd at a race meeting since Cheltenham in March 2020, the event that was (unfairly in my view) blamed for kick-starting the first wave of cases. How long ago that all seems.

On the track itself, the weather has played its part with the ground in a lot of places having been unseasonably soft. Now, after a mini heatwave, Epsom is having to water for the Derby meeting. The race itself has a familiar look to it with the big powerhouses holding  strong hands. Aiden O’Brien again has the favourite in Bolshoi Ballet and I think he will take a lot of beating. England needs a home-trained winner like never before with Ireland dominating in both codes (sorry to have to mention it again, but it’s the truth).

Also at Epsom, William Muir runs Pyledriver in the Coronation Cup, a group-one race for the older horses. He disappointed in last year’s Derby at the track and I would be inclined not to back him: he looks awkward enough in a finish on a flat track, let alone on the cambers of Epsom.

Stables in this area have been chugging along nicely without settling the racing world alight, Ed Walker is having plenty of success and now needs one at the top level, maybe at Royal Ascot. Watch out for Clive Cox’s two-year-olds at Ascot as well as a couple of them have put in good performances in the run-up to the meeting,

I am a National Hunt man at heart but I love top-class flat racing as well. I for one am looking forward to the third week in June – and not just to make good hay in the field.

May 2021 Racing News

We have just had the most fantastic month of racing both sides of the Irish Sea.

Let’s start with the Grand National and Rachael Blackmore’s historic win on Minella Times, the first female rider to win the race in its 275-year history. What a superb ride she gave the horse – always in a good position and jumping beautifully. She could have been called the winner a fair way out. What a wonderful achievement, for her and for the whole sport. It’s to be hoped that many female jockeys will emulate her.

The winner was trained by Henry de Bromhead (as was the second-placed Balko De Flos at 100/1), a stellar return which followed a one-two in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. What an achievement for him as well.

Aintree as a whole was again a successful meeting for the Irish, with 12 out of 15 finishers in the National trained on the green side of the Irish Sea. Overall at the meeting Ireland had just 12% of the total runners but 50% of the winners. Nicky Henderson again saved the day for the Lambourn Valley with Shiskin and Chantry House both winning.

The season certainly ended with a bang at Sandown: Paul Nichols was champion trainer for the 12th time and Harry Skelton champion jockey for the first. The main race of the day produced a fantastic contest with the result been decided in the stewards’ room and Marlborough Trainer Alan King getting his biggest win of the season in a race that has been lucky for him in the past.

It has to be faced that the season in general has been disappointing for the Lambourn valley and surrounding area with a lot of stables under-performing. Let’s hope the new season goes better.

The flat season is now in full swing and this weekend saw the first two classics run, the 1,000 Guineas and 2,000 Guineas. Like the jump season just gone, the winners came from Ireland. However, the big stories to come out of it were not Irish domination, but age.

The 2,000 Guineas was won by 79-year-old trainer Jim Bolger and ridden by his 54-year-old son-in-law and stable jockey Kevin Manning – no strangers to big success over the years. Neither looks to be going for the pipe and slippers just yet.

In the 1,000 Guineas, 50-year-old Frankie Dettori triumphed, showing again what fantastic athletes modern jockeys are. The young pretenders have a lot to live up to.

To finish this month, we have to acknowledge one of the true outstanding jockeys of our time with Richard Johnston, four-times champion jockey and runner up to AP McCoy 16 times, retiring from the saddle. He finishes a fantastic career as jump jockey with the second-most wins ever. Let’s hope he has a long and happy retirement.

April 2021 Racing News

Spring has arrived and how very welcome it is.

We have had the successful running of the Cheltenham Festival and the Lincoln heralded the start of the turf flat season. But  let’s look at Cheltenham first. Dear me, what an embarrassment for British stables with only five winners out of 28 races run. Keeping the local flag flying, two of those were for Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson with his charge Shiskin being particularly impressive. He looks like that will be at the top of his two-mile grade for a while.

On the other side of the coin, what a week to be Irish – 23 festival winners and then we beat England in the rugby (sorry – that one just slipped out). There will be many articles written about why Ireland totally dominated Cheltenham but to me the answer’s a simple one – their horses were better.

Yet again racing proved that gender does not matter in our sport as Rachael Blackmore finished the week as top jockey with six winners including champion hurdle. I’d also add that ITV did an excellent job on its coverage of the event.

Next up is the Grand National on 10 April. I think the favourite Cloth Cap will take a lot of beating. He looks made for the race.

Lambourn stalwart Trainer Charlie Mann has decided to retire at the end of April. He had a very successful career both as a jockey and then a trainer. He is great fun, is Charlie, and a very good trainer. I hope he has a long and happy retirement.

The flat season will pick up a pace during the month. Our local trainers have started the season well and hopefully they will keep up the momentum.

March 2021 Racing News

March has arrived and the weather has got better, the ground is starting to dry out a bit and a lot of trainers (and gardeners) will be relieved.

The Cheltenham Festival starts on the 16th and I for one can’t wait, even though like almost  everybody else I will be watching from home. The last time I missed Cheltenham was the foot-and-mouth year when it was abandoned. Before that…well, don’t ask. None of us are getting any younger.

The Lambourn valley again looks to Nicky Henderson for our best chances of success. He has a strong team for some of the main races lead by Epatante, the reigning champion hurdler. She was surprisingly beaten at Christmas but a back problem was diagnosed and put right. She will take all the beating again this year.

Shiskin will be hot favourite for the Arkle Chase. He has looked good over fences but Willie Mullins poses a big threat with Energumine. Both look good bit I am siding with the Irish challenger.

The Gold Cup on the Friday is the highlight of the week. Nicky has two contenders in last year’s second Santini and the RSA chase winner from last season, Champ. Of his two I would fancy Champ more than Santin – he is a good horse, although he might give you a fright or two on the way round. However, both will all have to step up if they are to beat Al Bhoum Photo, winner for the last two years and looking to be the first since Best Mate to win three. I think he will.

Alan King and Emma Levelle both based near Marlborough have great chances of success with Trationic and Paisley Park. Both trainers have tasted festival success in the past so they know what it takes to win.

On a different matter, some of you will have seen a story that has broken about leading Irish Trainer Gordon Elliott who trains the national winner, Tiger Role. I have not seen the photograph in question and  am not going to comment without knowing the facts. All I will say is that social media is a brilliant tool, if used properly.

Best of luck with your Cheltenham punting.

February 2021 Racing News

Well, January 2021 – a month we had all looked forward to after the nightmare year that came before it – has so far been a bit of a downer. Fate has done its level best to disrupt the racing programme and put lots of plans on the back burner. I would say there have been as many jump meetings been abandoned as there have been run.

Cheltenham’s trials meeting at the weekend been one of the latest casualties. Hopefully some of the better races are going to be rescheduled to Sandown next weekend as plenty of the Cheltenham Festival contenders will be hoping to have their final run before March.

We did, however, see a future star at Doncaster on Saturday. The Nicky Henderson trained Shiskin had his third run and third win over fences and is a very short-priced favourite for the Arkle chase at the Festival.

The pecking order for Cheltenham’s races should become a bit clearer after the first weekend in February when we have the rescheduled races at Sandown, as well the Dublin racing festival at Leopardstown with with a host of star names running and hoping to book their ticket to Cheltenham.

As for your ticket, that has become a lot more expensive and more difficult to get because of the twin disasters of Covid and Brexit. Luckily, ITV will be showing eight races from Leopardstown over the weekend so we can all make our own minds up about the credentials of the Irish horses coming to Cheltenham.

Racing continues to give a lot of enjoyment to people at home and under difficult trading conditions is just about surviving at the moment. Turnover is down 81% and prize money down 60%. These figures, in any business, are not sustainable in the long term. Hopefully for all us things will soon start to turn a corner and we can all get back to living our lives again.

January 2021 Racing News

Happy New Year, hopefully a more normal one than we have just endured. We all need to be like racehorse trainers and be patient – it will come right in the end.

Looking back on 2020, a huge thank you is due to to all members of the racing industry for keeping the show on the road under very tight restrictions.

On the course itself we have had a fantastic year of racing and December did not disappoint. We started with the Tingle Creek at Sandown and another excellent performance from the evergreen Politologue – another great training achievement from Paul Nicholls. He didn’t stop there in this fantastic month for his team as they also won the King George with Frodon with a brilliant ride from Bryon Frost and followed this up with Bravemansgame in the Challow at Newbury. These were all grade-one wins which will possibly regain him the trainers championship come April.

Also in December we had the Long Walk hurdle at Ascot. What a race it was with the Emma Levelle-trained Paisley Park getting up in the shadow of the post to deny one of my personal favourites, Thyme Hill. A rematch at Cheltenham in March is on the cards. I will be sticking with Thyme Hill for that one.

Unfortunately the Lambourn stables still seem to be out of form. Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson had a couple of high-profile reverses over Christmas with both champion hurdler Epatante and Stable star Altior getting beaten at Kempton. The stable is having winners but not at the rate you expect from such a powerhouse.

The local flat stables did have a good year with Clive Cox, Charles Hills, Owen Burrows and William Muir – and, slightly further afield, Andrew Balding And Alan King – all having good seasons.  

On the jockey front, Hungerford residents Hollie Doyle and Tom Marquand each had a stellar year (and kicked of 2021 with the news of their engagement). I think Hollie did more for British racing than any other single person in 2020. She rightfully picked up many awards throughout December, including three Lesters – something only achieved once before, by Paul Hannigan. These awards are special as they are voted for by all jockeys. The British public clearly agreed as well, voting here into third place in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in December.

The weather is playing its part in racing with plenty of abandonments. As a result, there’s currently not a lot to look forward to in January at the moment.

Let’s hope that Covid gets a kicking out of our lives and racing continues to give great entertainment to so many. Personally I’m counting the days until the Cheltenham festival on 16 to 19 March. The organisers have confirmed what we all knew, that it was “unlikely” to go ahead with its full 60,000+ per day capacity: however, as matters stand, it will be taking place, which is the main thing.

December 2020 Racing News

What a fantastic month November has been for racing, both flat and national hunt. Even better news is that limited crowds are now allowed back on racecourses. The maximum is 2,000 people but many courses are taking a commendably cautious approach and setting their own lower limits, for now at least.

I will start with the flat and mention the fact that Britain and Ireland both had a very good Breeders Cup in America while Ireland won the Melbourne Cup in Australia – both fantastic achievements considering the logistics of travelling under Covid restrictions.It shows if there is a will there is a way.

Our local jockey golden couple, Hollie Doyle and Tom Marquand, both achieved personal bests for the season and both have been invited to compete in the International Jockeys’ Challenge in Hong Kong in mid-December. It’s also been announced that Hollie is one of the nominees for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award. Huge congratulations are due. I hope that the racing community will get behind her: a vote only takes a phone call. This is already a superb achievement – remember that, in our sport, women and men compete on equal terms – and there’s every chance she can go all the way. This would be wonderful boost for racing and, in particular, for the many superb female jockeys for whom Hollie would then provide an even more compelling role model.

National hunt racing is now in top gear, starting with the open meeting at Cheltenham and the Ladbroke chase meeting at Newbury. Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson has had a good month. He launched a couple of very exciting novice chasers in the shape of Shiskin and Chantry House: both horses looked good over hurdles last season but it seems as if they will be even better over fences. Also from Seven Barrows ,the reigning champion hurdler Epatante launched her new season with an effortless display of brilliance at Newcastle.

The Henderson big guns are lining up to be fired and on Saturday 5 December the great Altior returns to action at Sandown in the Tingle Creek Chase, a race he has won a couple of times. I fully expect another victory.

Also on Saturday, Santini who finished second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, starts his campaign at Aintree with stable second jockey Jerry McGrath on board. Every weekend through December has high-class action on the track and hopefully we can have some local success. Other than Mr Henderson’s, however, the rest of the valley’s yards seemed to be have been rather misfiring in November, although there are signs that the corner has been turned this month.

Finally, a very happy and safe Christmas to all of you – see you in 2021.

November 2020 Racing News

Hello to all of you – and thank goodness that racing can continue, albeit behind closed doors, during this next difficult time.

The national hunt season is stepping up a gear now with some really good racing over the last couple of weekends. Anyone half interested in jump racing must have been lifted by the performance of Frodon and Bryon Frost at Cheltenham, carrying a welter weight and conceding plenty of pounds to his opponents. He jumped superb and won decisively. All that was missing was a crowd to appreciate it.

This last weekend we saw the return of the highest rated steeplechaser, Cyrname, He won decisively at Weatherby and I would think he will now be aimed at the King George at Christmas. Over in Ireland a host of stars made there seasonal reappearances to varying degrees of success.

It warms my heart to see these horses returning to action and the promise of another exciting and competitive season ahead. For me, and for everybody else, it will have to be from the comfort of the armchair. I don’t see crowds been back on a course before the spring at the earliest. Racing is financially up the proverbial creek without a paddle. The racecourse revenue comes from crowds and media rights to betting shops. With all betting shops closed, that revenue stream has been strangled and the levy for the industry from online betting on racing is not enough to sustain it for long.

On a happier note, Champions Day at Ascot was a big success for local participants with Lambourn Trainer Archie Watson winning the sprint with French cast off Glenshiel and supplying Hungerford-based jockey Hollie Doyle her first group-one winner. In fact Hollie and her partner Tom Marquand won four of the races between them on flat racing’s big day.

November is always a big month for national hunt racing with the open meeting at Cheltenham and the Ladbroke Chase meeting at Newbury. Both will be held behind closed doors but televised on ITV.

Racing will do its best to keep people’s spirits up during a difficult time for all. The televised racing has been brilliant and that will continue in the dark months ahead. Better than than to be at a meeting with hardly any people: I have done this a couple of times and, believe me, it’s a soulless experience to be in a near empty racecourse.

Stay safe everyone and tune in to the fabulous sport that horse racing is.

October 2020 Racing News

Well that was quite a start to October – a month’s rainfall in the first weekend (and still falling as I write). Racing at Ascot, Windsor and Stratford was all abandoned because of water-logging. Nor was there to be a fairytale ending for the wonderful mare Enable in the Paris mud. Conditions were atrocious and not to her liking. She has been wonderful for racing and her connections with 11 wins at the highest level and a few more just below that. She will be sadly missed but hopefully she will breed a star like herself.

Quite a controversy surrounding the withdrawal of all the O’Brien planned runners after French authorities announced that some horses fed on Gain feed had failed dope tests. All the O’Brien horses are on that feed so, for the integrity of the sport, they were withdrawn at a huge cost to all concerned.

Another story emerging from France last week was that our champion jockey Oisin Murphy had failed a dope test for cocaine in August. He is determined to clear his name and had hair follicles tested which came back clean. The story rolls on and it is up to him to prove his innocence.

On a better note, Lambourn Trainer Clive Cox is continuing a fine season and looks to have unearth another star in Supremecy, a winner at group-one level in Newmarket last week: he also he had a group-two winner in the Rockefel stakes with Isabella Giles. These two horses should keep him happily dreaming through the winter. Kingsclere Trainer Andrew Balding is also having a fine season with plenty of quality winners including the stable’s star Kameko triumphing at Newmarket.

October usually sees the winding down of the flat season. We have Champions Day at Ascot in a couple of weeks and some Lambourn flyers will be strutting there stuff there including Oxted and Clive Cox’s sprinter Golden Horde.

The jump season will start to pick up a gear now the rain has come although in this incredible year there seems to be less jump racing at the moment. Roll on the national hunt season proper. I for one can’t wait.

September 2020 Racing News

Another month has passed and I could say another one nearer to my passion of winter national hunt racing. Hopefully, by then we will have some sort of crowd allowed to attend meetings (although, as events proved, these hopes have been dashed for the time being at least).

There are three pilot meetings in September: Doncaster’s St Leger meeting, Warwick’s jump meeting and the Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire meeting. Racing continues to lead the way in its approach to Covid safety on track: last Friday, for instance, leading jockey Ben Curtis was asked to leave Newmarket racecourse as he had entered a restricted zone and now can not ride for ten days. A mistake pure and simple but a very costly one for Ben.

We enjoyed a brilliant York Ebro festival in August and the Lambourn stars came to the fore in two of the major races. First to strike was Pyledriver for William Muir and Martin Dwyer, a very impressive winner of the Great Voltigeur, a race that has always been seen as a St Leger trial. On this performance he goes to Doncaster with an outstanding chance of winning.

Next up was the brilliant Battash. In winning the Nunthorpe for the second time, he showed a really good attitude on ground that was slow for him. The performance of the meeting – and quite possibly the season – was Ghayathi for Godolphin. He used to be a high-class tearaway but now he is the real deal, having learned to settle in front in his races and grinding the opposition into submission. One of the best we have seen for a while.

Also in August, Clive Cox’s Royal Ascot winner Nando’s Prato ran an exellent second in the group one at Deauville last weekend.

September has a lot to offer racing fans with the great Enable having her final run in Britain and the St Leger meeting at Doncaster. Hopefully next month I will be writing about a Lambourn winner.

Before I finish I have to mention Hungerford resident Hollie Doyle. Hollie is taking female jockeyship to a whole new level. 116 winners in 2019 and she has already passed 90 for the current year (with four months left; and we had a nine week break with no racing) With five winners at Windsor on the Saturday and followed by three at Yarmouth on Sunday and I think you could say Hollie had a very good August bank holiday weekend.

August 2020 Racing News

Hello to all and welcome to another Downlands Racing column.

Coved-19 is still causing problems to our daily lives but racing is hanging in there in extremely difficult times bringing some joy to participants and followers alike. (This post from the BHA has information about the regulations that currently govern the resumption of the sport.)

There were supposed to be 5,000 spectators at Glorious Goodwood on the 1st of August as a trial event to get spectators back at live events. Unfortunately, due to on-going problems in the wider community this was cancelled by the government at late notice, costing the racecourse a six-figure sum in the process. Hopefully the situation will improve in the near future.

On a much brighter note, the racing has been fantastic. The brilliant Enable, now six years old, did what she does best when winning her third King George at Ascot. Mind you, she did only have two opponents and both of those came from Ireland. (Where have all the British middle-distance horses disappeared to?) She is now on course to attempt to win the Prix de l’Arc for a third time in early October.

The Lambourn valley, historically known as the home of jump racing, now houses four of the fastest flat horses in the country. The July cup at Newmarket, one of the summer highlights over six furlongs, was won by Oxted-trained Roger Teal and followed home by two more Lambourn runners in Golden Horde and Khadem. That’s a first win for Roger and his team at group one level, so hats off to them .

Now to glorious Goodwood and possibly the fastest horse in training anywhere, the brilliant Battash trained by Charlie Hills, won his fourth King George sprint and breaking his own course record in the process, clocking 55.62 for the five furlongs. It would have taken some effort to keep this horse sweet as he has a reputation for been very difficult to handle.

Another one of our favourites, Stradivarius, strutted his stuff at Goodwood. Although trained in Newmarket he is owned by Lambourn-based businessman Bjørn Neilson. This horse, like Enable and Battash, is six years old – it’s so good for racing that the star horses are racing for longer.

The next top-class meeting in this country is the Ebor festival at York in mid August. A host of top class racing to look forward to on what is in my view the fairest – in both senses of the word – race course in Britain.

To finish on a sad note, Stan Mellor, the first national hunt jockey to ride a 1,000 winners and later a successful trainer, passed away on 1 August, aged 83. He was a great mentor for lots of people around Lambourn. Our thoughts are with his family.

July 2020 Racing News

Hello to all of you and I hope you have had a wonderful month of June.

Racing has certainly had a good month with meetings everyday and Royal Ascot going ahead. Jump racing returns on 1 July and hopefully that goes as smoothly as possible.

Royal Ascot was very good for local trainers with Clive Cox, Charles Hills, William Muir and Owen Burrows all amongst the winners, as was Marlborough-based trainer Alan King (with three wins) and Kingsclere-based Andrew Balding.

Performances of note were Battash winning the Kings Stand Stakes for Charlie Hills – a race in which he finished second in the previous two seasons – and my own favourite, Golden Horde,  winning for Clive Cox. I think he could be rather special and looks very uncomplicated. Clive’s other winner, Nando Parrado, returned at 150/1, the biggest ever priced winner in Royal Ascot’s long history. I have to say that I think that ITV did a wonderful job with their coverage, while Ascot can be very proud of the show it put on in very difficult circumstances.

The show then  moves on to Epsom on Saturday 4 July with the Derby and Oaks, for the first time in their history, being run on the same day. There’s huge local interest in the Derby as Lambourn houses the current favourite for the race in the shape of Ed Walker’s English King, to be ridden by Frankie Dettori. Also from Lambourn is Pyledriver from William Muir’s stable, a Royal Ascot winner last week and currently the light of his trainers eye. However, they both might have to play a supporting role behind Andrew Balding’s Kameko, winner of the 2000 Guineas a few weeks ago, and a horse who in my humble opinion is going to take a lot of beating

Then on Sunday 5 June we have the Eclipse at Sandown where the mighty Enable returns to action: a real treat for all lovers of horse racing as we don’t normally see flat horse of her stature stay racing for as many seasons as she has. Hopefully she comes back as good as ever – and wins.

Off the track, another big winner for Lambourn this month has been the Stables of Daniel and Claire Kubler which won the Lycetts team championship. This award is given to the stable which has achieved the highest standard in team management and team morale. Well done to all, a great effort, about which you can read more here.

Finally, the Leicester lockdown nearly resulted in the 30 June evening meeting there being called off. A BHA spokesperson eventually confirmed that ‘as racecourses are a place of work and as  strict safety criteria are in place’ the meeting could ahead, but not before 17 of the 121 runners had been withdrawn. 

Hopefully next month I will be writing about a local Derby winner and owners being allowed to attend race meetings again (this statement from the BHA on 29 June suggests this will be possible from 4 July: I’ll have more news on how that’s gone in next time out). Have a good one.

June 2020 Racing News

Welcome back racing!

The first of June 2020 is a date most of us will remember for a long time, the moment when a whole industry collectively breathed a huge sigh of relief. We can get back to doing what we as racing professionals are programmed to do.

Over the first two days of racing, 365 horses ran at Newcastle in the north and Kempton in the south. The protocols in place for participants are very thorough, with health checks, social distancing and only those people needed for the days racing allowed to attend. Racing has to get this right as we are the first competitive sport allowed to return to action. We want to make sure we’ve set some high standards for the footballers to follow when that sport returns in a couple of weeks.

In years to come, the question ‘which was the first horse to win a race in the UK after the 2000 lockdown restrictions were eased?’ might crop up in a pub quiz. You might want to make a note of the name of Zodiakos, the 22-1 shot ridden by Jimmy Sullivan and trained by Roger Fell, which triumphed in the Welcome Back British Racing Handicap at Newcastle on Monday.

Obviously work at home has had to carry on keeping horses fit and healthy and keeping staff employed. We all owe a big thanks to owners for keeping the faith in difficult circumstances. As mentioned last month, prize money has taken a big cut so we will have to wait and see what impact that will have.

Next weekend Newmarket hosts the classics that should have been run a month ago plus a lot of other top class races all shown on ITV and Racing TV. The horse we are all wanting to see is Pinatubo– a real gem last season – in the 2,000 Guineas. Hopefully he will have trained on to be the star he has promised. At this stage I don’t know what opposition will be taking him on but I am sure that, as ever, the cream will rise to the top. Here is hoping that all runs smoothly in the vital first week and we can start to plan and look forward to better times.

May 2020 Racing News

Hello to all and hope you are all keeping well.

Racing like the rest of the country has been thrown into free fall with all racing and sales suspended since 18 March. As an industry we are doing our best to look after the horses and staff and hope we can resume in mid May – at the time of writing this there is a plan in place to restart on the 15th at two venues, Lingfield and Newcastle. Both courses have the infrastructure needed to keep everyone safe, including hotels on site where participants can be housed and isolated.

The BHA is currently drafting a race program due for release this week to give trainers the opportunity to plan which races there will be for their horses to run in. This may include running some of the better races lost so far in the first week of June – with Royal Ascot still planning to run but behind closed doors later in June, these races are needed to give horses a chance to get a race in.

Of course all of this is subject to government approval: racing, like all sports, has been in constant touch with all the relevant bodies to try and make this happen. Hopefully next month’s column will be able to report on some action on the track, some local success and plans to ease the sport out of lockdown and see some semblance of normality return.

The Grand National 2020 (well, the virtual version)

What a wonderful release it was from the terrors that are strangling life at the moment. Nearly five million people tuned in to watch an excellent piece of modern technology. As an older sceptic I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and was prepared to be disappointed: instead, I found myself getting right into it, having a bet and managing to criticise some of the jockeys’ tactics. The virtual Davy Russell on Tiger Roll, for example, was not nearly as cool as the real Davy, who definitely would not have been in front at half way.

Overall the race in general was quite lifelike – there were fallers, jockeys getting unseated and pulling up when out of contention. We’ll never know what would really have happened but the virtual result was perfectly believable. Personaly I backed the third each way. I don’t have a presence on social media but, if I did, I would have been calling for a stewards’ enquiry – the winning jockey, Jack Tudor, was not qualified for the National as he had not ridden enough winners over fences.

On a more serious note there were restrictions on the betting with a maximum bet of £10. More importantly, all the £2.6m profits going to NHS charities. Well done the betting industry – and we don’t get to say that very often.

Keep safe, follow the rules and hopefully we will all get through this torrid time before too long.

April 2020 Racing News

Well what a month this has been. It started with a brilliant Cheltenham festival and ended with everyone’s life on hold.

Let’s start with the positives. A truly fantastic meeting for Nicky Henderson at the festival with four winners including the brilliant Epatante in the Champion Hurdle. A remarkable performance from Champ (named after A P McCoy) – I still can’t quite believe it and I witnessed it first-hand. He was a poor third jumping the last fence with ten lengths to make up but somehow found a turbo that none of us realised he had. This puts him right up there as a serious contender for 2021 Gold Cup. Speaking of which, the Henderson-trained Santini came agonisingly close to landing the big one, beaten a half length by the now dual winner Al Boum Photo, trained by one W Mullins in Ireland.

There was a great atmosphere at Cheltenham. The racing and weather were just what was needed as most of us suspected what was coming in the following week. To be fair to the organisers, they had done a fantastic job with sanitising stations all round the enclosures and everyone using them.

Now to the bad news.

Racing has been suspended until at least 1 May, which means we lose the last six weeks of the national hunt season. At the time of writing, the plan is for racing to resume then, but behind closed doors and only on the flat. Private ambulances and retired medical staff have been asked to cover that side of it.  Horses will be ready to take part in what ever sort of race programme the BHA puts together and where as the work at home is continuing as near to normal as can be.

One of the highest-profile casualties has been the Grand National which was to have taken place on Saturday 4 April. In a sense it still will do so, as a virtual version of the race, using the latest CGI technology and algorithms, will be live-streamed at 5pm on ITV. It’s currently unclear whether the bookies will be accepting bets. I imagine there’ll be rather few sweepstakes than usual this year but if it’s possible to organise a virtual Grand National I imagine virtual sweepstakes shouldn’t be too hard. If you’re involved in one and you draw Tiger Roll then I’d say you’re looking at the winner.

The longer-term picture for an industry that employers 75,000 people directly or indirectly is not so good. As an entertainment industry we are and will be for some time hit by a huge loss in revenue. Somehow, the wheels need to be kept turning. Things like the stock market crash and value of the pound effect us directly as obviously we need investors in horses. The breeders and pinhookers are in for a tough time – we should now be gearing up for a busy sales season but that has obviously been put on hold. I feel for them all as they now have huge liabilities with unsold stock.

I know overall situation in the country is just as bad, and often worse, than that which racing is having to endure. From my own perspective and for many others in this industry, survival will be the sweetest result of all.

Stay safe and healthy, follow the guidelines set out and hopefully before too long things will improve.

March 2020 Racing News

Spring is trying incredibly hard to make an appearance, with flowers coming out to play and blossom starting to appear. For the racing world, however, the key sign of the start of spring is the Cheltenham festival. This year’s runs from Tuesday 10 to Friday 15 March – four days of top-class racing accompanied by no shortage of food and drink. My first tip is therefore that a good number of people will not see (or even be in a condition to see) a race, nor perhaps even a horse, during their visit to one of the great sporting events of the year.

February was notable in racing terms for what did not happen rather than what did. We lost 18 race meetings in the month – in retrospect we possibly should have lost some more as conditions at times were so bad it did not make for pleasant viewing.

One significant event was the retirement of Oliver Sherwood’s stable jockey Leighton Aspell. A winner of two consecutive Grand Nationals 2014 and 2015  (he also came second for me in the same race in 2003), he won many big races throughout his wonderful career, 922 being his final score. Figures alone, though, will not tell you what he meant to those of us lucky enough to have made use of his natural ability in the saddle. On a personal level, he was and is an honest, kind-hearted and level-headed gentleman.

Back to Cheltenham and local chances over the four days. Nicky Henderson has is usual strong squad for the meeting with four ante-post favourites for the major races – Sheskin in the first race, Epatante in the champion hurdle, Champ in the RSA Chase and Santini in the Gold Cup. Of these I only fancy Epatante, an excellent horse. I do, however, have a feeling about another Henderson horse in the first race, namely Chancery House and I’d suggest this to you as a very good each-way bet. Other notable local hopes are Paisley Park on Thursday and Warren Greatrix’s Emitom in the same race.

I have two other pretty strong feelings which I’ll share with you – I think Lostintranslation will win the Gold Cup and that Chacun Pour Soi will win the Champion Chase. Remember, you heard it here first…

To anyone going, have a great time. To those of you who are not, you are really missing out on a wonderful sporting event.

Right – I need to get myself spruced up to take my place on the panel at the Cheltenham Preview Night this evening in East Garston Village Hall. If you didn’t make it along to that (and the Village Hall is a bit more exclusive than Cheltenham with a capacity of about 100) then you’ll have missed another great event. Be sure to book in time next year. It’s always a sell-out, alhough whether this is because of or despite my presence I wouldn’t like to say.

February 2020 Racing News

Welcome to February’s column. January was quiet enough month, as usual at this stage of the season: lots of horses have a mandatory flu vaccination and need an easy time for a couple of weeks.

There has been some good racing in January and where better to start than Cheltenham and Emma Levelle’s Paisley Park. The reigning Stayers champion put up an excellent performance in the Cleeve Hurdle and looks the banker for the Cheltenham Festival in March. Also on Cheltenham’s card, we had the Cotswold Chase which was won by Nicky Henderson’s Santini.

This horse’s performance left us pondering a bit. He proved he’s a good stayer well and jumps extremely well; but does he have the ability to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup? Personally, I’m not sure. He is hard to read as he races ‘behind the bridle’ or ‘lazy’, if you like. This time of year many of us are thinking of the Cheltenham Festival and looking for clues as to what might happen on those magical days in March.

To that end, I will pick out another performance, this time in Ireland. Benie de Dieux, a faller at the last when clear at Cheltenham last March won easily on her return to action and looks like Cheltenham is the main target again. Other than Nicky Henderson, all other national hunt stables in the valley have been very quiet, all hoping for less testing ground conditions in the near future as not that many horse cope with the severe conditions we have had this winter my own included.

Roll on spring and the Cheltenham Festival. On that note, if you fancy hearing some local experts (and me) giving our views on what might happen at the Festival, be sure get your tickets for the Cheltenham 2020 Preview in East Garston on Friday 6 March. It’s always a great event and usually sells out, so book now to avoid disappointment. 

January 2020 Racing News

A happy healthy and productive new year to all of you. 2020 – how did this come around so quick? It only seems like a short time ago that we were letting off the big fireworks to usher in 2000.

There have certainly been a few fireworks in the racing world over the last decade. The sport has had its share of ups, downs, false starts, surprise non-runners and unexpected fallers. As ever, though, the cream has risen to the top and we’ve seen some wonderful trainers, jockeys and, of course, horses. Hard to know where to start but I’m going to pick out a few of each for my honourable mentions. (You may well have a quite different list of your own, of course – if you want to suggest any alternatives, post a comment at the foot of the post.)

Starting on four legs, the stand-outs have been Frankel, probably the best flat horse any of us will ever see; and, more recently, Enable, a pure winning machine. Over the jumps, Sprinter Sacre and Altior have been the main eye-catchers.

As for the jockeys, if I had to pick two star performers then I’d go for Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore. A recent (and long overdue) feature, however, has been the emergence of the women. Hollie Doyle has been just the latest to make a huge breakthrough, riding 117 winners in 2019. Bryony Frost made a big splash over jumps with a grade-one win at the Cheltenham festival quickly followed by Rachael Blackmore from Ireland. Rachael went on to win six races at grade-one level in 2019.

Plenty of familiar faces amongst the trainers but it’s always good to see new blood coming into the field and keeping the rest of us on our toes. One of these is Lambourn-based Archie Watson – 120 winners in the last 12 months and he has only been in business three years.

As for December on the track, it was more of the same: Defi De Seuil winning the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown; and Nicky Henderson winning both the International Hurdle at Cheltenham with Call me Lord and (for the third year in a row) the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, this time with the very impressive Epatante who is surely now the new favourite for the Champion Hurdle in March.

Also at Kempton, the King George was a disappointing race in that there were only five runners and two of those, Cyrname and Lostintranslation, did not run to their best. The race did, however, have an excellent winner in Clan Des Obeaux, claiming the race for the second time.

The Welsh National was won, appropriately enough, by a Welsh-trained horse, Potters Cross, taking the prize for Cristian Williams – a brave winner on very soft ground.

National Hunt minds will now be starting to think about Cheltenham in March. I have never known the picture for all races to look so cloudy at this stage. So many of the big-name horses on both sides of the Irish Sea have been beaten in the last month that punters and bookies alike must be scratching there heads wondering what is going on and what will happen next. One big name that did win was Al Bhoum Photo, the reigning Gold Cup winner strutting his stuff at Tramore on New Year’s Day and romping home to an easy victory.

Spring is not far away now, says he hopefully: snowdrops will soon appear, the daffodils will quickly follow and then the highlight of the season The Cheltenham festival, will be upon us. Despite (or maybe because of) the uncertainty about the form book, I for one can not wait. At the time of writing, it looks like this year’s festival might have a few shocks and surprises up its sleeve. The picture might be a bit clearer by the time I come to next month’s column. See you then.

December 2019 Racing News

Welcome to December’s column. What a fantastic month of National Hunt racing we’ve just had, helped and hindered in equal measure by the very wet autumn: hindered, because we lost quite a few meetings to waterlogged courses (including the first day of Cheltenham’s open meeting and the last day of turf racing on the flat at Doncaster); helped, because of easier ground which allowed a lot of top class performers to get out there and strut their stuff.

Few strutted better than Defi Du Seuil, trained by Philip Hobbs, who started his season with a convincing win over two miles at Cheltenham, a trip he has not tried for a while. He is now going for the Tingle Creek at Sandown in early December. Also at Cheltenham his stable companion, Thyme Hill, marked himself as a novice to follow. Alan King’s Marlborough Stable was also amongst the winners, with Harambe claiming the big handicap hurdle.

Unfortunately there were no winners for the Lambourn Valley at Cheltenham. Nicky Henderson has had a really good month with plenty of winners and a couple of high profile defeats, so let’s start with them. The valley’s star horse Altior was beaten for the first time in his jumping career: it had to happen sometime. He had won nineteen in a row but had his colours lowered by Cyrname at Ascot last Saturday. No disgrace, however, to lose out to Cyrname, who is a seriously good horse. Then, the stable’s high achiever over hurdles Buveur d’Air, got beaten at Newcastle trying to win the Fighting Fifth Hurdle for the third time. This was a shock defeat as there did seem to be anything of his ability in the race. Also in the Valley, Jamie Snowden is continuing to have a great season, indeed his best on record.

Moving to the local meetings, the big event in November was the winter carnival at Newbury which saw a Marlborough-based triumph in the big one – De Rasher Counter, trained by Emma Levelle, was a very popular winner. Emma also had the big winner on Friday with Paisley Park, her star horse winning the long-distance hurdle. The Henderson camp had a good weekend with four winners over the two days, most importantly Champ – named after the great Sir Anthony McCoy – won his second start over fences quite stylishly but not without a couple of scares. On the run in he nearly took the wrong course, although I’m not certain that that was not a jockey error.

Oliver Sherwood also had a really good win with Severano on Friday. I think we won’t see the best of him until he goes jumping big fences next season.

So now we roll on to the busy month of December – where is the time going? So much top-class racing to look forward to in the rest of 2019 and beyond.

Let me be the first to wish you all a happy Christmas as it will be over by the time you hear from me again here.

November 2019 Racing News

Well, what a wonderful October it has been for racing fans and participants.

We started with the great Enable getting beaten in the Prix de l’Arc and then heard the wonderful news that she is to stay in training next season. Paris Longchamp was not, however, a happy hunting ground for the Valley as Battash, our main hope of success  ran poorly, probably because of the very testing ground conditions. He also will be back next season.

The Racing carnival then moved on to Ascot and Champions Day. Oisin Murphy (no relation) was crowned champion jockey for the first time – but not the last, of that I am fairly certain. Ciaren Fallon, son of legendary jockey Kieran Fallon, was crowned champion apprentice, a huge achievement in his first season. The future is looking bright on the jockey front.

The racing on the day was superb: the ground was soft but that did not stop the quality from shining through. Kingsclere Trainer Andrew Balding was quick out of the blocks winning the Champion Sprint: but that was the closest this part of the world got to success on the day. Magical and Kew Gardens, both trained in Ireland by Aiden O’Brien and ridden by his son Donnacha, were superb. Magical had run behind Enable only 13 days previously, a performance to match any I have witnessed.

On a much happier note for the valley was Nicky Henderson winning his first National of any description, The American Grand National, a rare feat in itself but a magical one for the team at Seven Barrows Stables.

The flat-racing carnival becomes very international at this time of year with British runners taking part in the Breeders Cup in America and the Melbourne Cup in Australia. (The latest news from Melbourne is that Frankie Dettori was denied in a photo finish but then demoted to fourth and, to add insult to injury, received a week’s ban for impeding Il Paradiso. His mount, trained by Joseph O’Brien in Ireland ran a superb race and nearly made it back-to-back wins in the race for Joseph. At the weekend he also became only the second ever both to ride and to train a Breeders Cup winner, as well as the youngest trainer to win it. I expect he can also walk on water…)

Jump racing is gradually taking over now in this country and the big stables are preparing their battalions for the battles ahead. November is always a very exciting and challenging month, a time when hopes and dreams for the season ahead can be kept going or crushed in one race. Best of luck to Valley participants in the upcoming racing at home and abroad and have a great month.

October 2019 Racing News

September was a very busy month for flat-race trainers with a busy racing schedule and yearling sales every week, or so it seems.

The market has the usual look of the top end being strong and the rest a bit of a struggle. Our local trainers have been active, with Clive Cox, Jamie Osborne and Archie Watson spending plenty of money, hopefully, they will be thinking, on next year’s winners.

I would imagine that Clive Cox will be going into winter particularly satisfied with his recent business: he has a couple of excellent two-year-olds in Positive and Golden Horn who look ask if they could turn into very decent three-year-olds next season.

September saw the last of the classics,the St Leger at Doncaster, with the favourite Lodgician, ridden by Frankie Dettori, coming home a decisive winner. This lovely grey looks like he could have a bright future. Also on that weekend we had the Champions’ weekend in Ireland where – needless to say – Aiden O’Brien dominated the big races. The British runners did OK with a couple of winners, although these were in the lesser contests.

The rains have now come so, hopefully, we get some decent jump racing with the ground easing. The second half of October and early November is when the racing scene really starts to change.

Hopefully in the next issue I’ll be reporting on Enable winning a third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – It will not be easy but I hope she does it. She has been such a star for the sport and would deserve this accolade.

Have a wonderful October and enjoy the racing. I’m looking forward to reporting on all the autumn action that lies ahead. See you next month.

September 2019 Racing News

The apples are ripening, the kids are going back to school and the national hunt horses are getting fit for the upcoming season; meanwhile, the flat season carries on apace.

What a month August has been, starting with Glorious Goodwood and finishing with York’s Ebor Festival. Lets kick off with Goodwood and the Lambourn valley’s star performer Battash and his stable companion Khadeem.

Charlie Hills had a meeting to remember with Battash winning the King George IV stakes with the minimum of fuss: the following day Khabeem triumphed in the Stewards cup – a race that is supposed to be one of the most competitive sprint handicaps of the season – with equal ease,. The horse will be taking a step up in class in early September when he contests the Sprint Cup at Haydock.

Battash followed up his Goodwood triumph with a fantastic performance in the group-one Nunthorpe Stakes at York. Not only did he win, but he broke a course record that has stood for about 25 years, clocking over 40mph during the race. His next assignment will  be to try a repeat performance at Longchamp in France in early October.

Racing fans were spoiled at York as they saw some of the sport’s best performers in action, starting with the brilliant Enable winning the Yorkshire Oaks for the second time on her way to trying to become the first horse to win the Prix de l’Arc De Triomphe three times. York may have been the last time we see her race on British soil as she could go to stud after this season.

Still at York, we saw Stradivarius win another million-pound bonus for the second year. I don’t think the sponsors will be putting that money up again as it looked near impossible to win it and now he has done it twice. We also saw a brilliant performance from the Aiden O’Brien-trained Japan to win the Juddmont International. This horse could be the biggest danger to Enable in Paris in October.

I also must give mention to the Paul Cole-trained Duke of Hazard who won the celebration mile at Goodwood at the end of the month. This is a fast-improving horse who will step to the next level next season.

To finish, we saw a very good performance from the Clive Cox-trained Positive in winning the Solario stakes at Sandown – a big performance from an inexperienced young horse,a lot to look forward to with him. There is no doubt that that the valley’s horses are in rude health and that their standard is getting better all the time.

Roll on the jumpers – before we know it we will be talking Cheltenham and Nicky Henderson.

August 2019 Racing News

End of July already…I know people say as you get older time seems to pass more quickly so that must be what’s happening to me.

Some people don’t seem to get older, though – certainly their abilities don’t appear to fade – and Frankie Dettori is one of them. He amply proved this at a high quality renewal of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot. What an end to the month this provided – the great mare Enable again strutted her stuff, fighting off a spirited challenge from Crystal Ocean. The card featured these, the two highest rated middle-distance horses, and this year’s derby winner, and local favourite Salouen, and the leading horse from Japan, Cheval Grand. Some line-up.

The race itself lived up to expectations with the cream coming to the top. Frankie Dettori at his brilliant best winning on Enable and locally born jockey James Doyle riding Crystal Ocean in at second. It is a race that will be long remembered.

Also on the Ascot card, Lambourn trainer Jamie Osborne and jockey Nicola Currie enjoyed a big win with Raising Sand – £150,000 of prize money buys a lot of oats, so well done team Osborne. Indeed, several Lambourn yards have had a good July: Clive Cox has been sending out regular winners as has Archie Watson and Charlie Hills.

The national hunt horses are now all returning from their summer break and starting the hard road back to full fitness. Usually 12 to 14 weeks to get them back to peak condition. I have not said roll on winter yet as there is still plenty of good flat racing to come up in August including the Goodwood festival and The Ebor meeting at York later in the month.

July 2019 Racing News

Flaming June – or at least the end of the month – has been and gone. Perhaps a flaming July is to come, as it did last year.

My focus this week has been on getting hay made. Racehorse trainers, like farmers, are never quite happy with the weather. We need rain to keep the ground safe and hot sunny weather to make hay for the winter’s forage for horses. Racehorses are even more fussy than most children as if it is not good quality they won’t eat it.

Back to the racing itself. June started with Aidan O’Brien winning his eighth Epsom Derby and finished with him winning his thirteenth Irish Derby. Add to that four Royal Ascot winners and I would have to put that a good month, even by his high standards.

Speaking from the local point of view, Ascot was not that great. The weather on the Tuesday and Wednesday was horrendous but the racing was top class. There was unfortunately only one Lambourn-trained winner in the whole week and that was Charles Hills Afaak – a commentator’s nightmare of a name –  won the royal hunt cup on the Wednesday, following  on from the disappointment of stable star Battash finishing second the previous day. There was success for stables not far from Lambourn with Andrew Balding having a couple of winners and Martin Meades Manton Stable having a group-one success as well.

That said, the Lambourn Stables had a good June with plenty of winners around the country and a couple in France as well.

The flat racing show now moves on to the July cup meeting at Newmarket in mid July: hopefully the valley can enjoy some success at this prestigious event.

Also coinciding with the races are the July sales, which is traditionally where the big operations sell lots of horses that don’t fit their bill but which will suit someone else. I have had plenty of success with cast-offs from this sale in the past. It will be particularly hard for domestic buyers this year as the pound is so weak against other currencies which, of course, gives the visiting buyers from all over the world the upper hand.

Well, time to go and get this hay into the barn – not quite blood, sweat and tears but not far off. Have a great July and no doubt my mind will have moved on to the national hunt horses returning from their summer holiday and starting the hard slog of getting fit again. Just as well my ones will have some top-class forage to tuck into over the winter…

June 2019 Racing News

The flat season is now in full swing and Charles Hills has made an excellent start to the campaign. The yard had a red-letter day in mid May when Phoenix of Spain won the Irish 2000 Guineas on his first appearance of the season. A brilliant piece of training from Charles.(The horse is now ante-post favourite for The Big Mile race at Royal Ascot in a couple of weeks’ time). On the same afternoon the yard’s top sprinter Battash returned to action with an emphatic win at Haydock: he is also on course for Royal Ascot.

Another Lambourn trainer to enjoy a good month was Sylvester Kirk with an Ascot treble, a huge feat for a smallish stable. Other Lambourn yards like Archie Watson, Ed Walker, Clive Cox, Joe Tuite and Stan Moore also had a good month in May.

On the international stage, Aidan O’Brien is dominating the English classics winning both guineas at Newmarket and his seventh Epsom Derby: a fantastic feat in anyone’s language.

Well, it is time to dust off your top hats and get your tails pressed as Royal Ascot is just around the corner and this year the valley has plenty to look forward to at the royal meeting.

May 2019 Racing News

Hello and welcome to Downlands Racing column, looking back at April and forward to May.

Well – there is only one place to start and that is with the magnificent win for Tiger Roll in the Grand National, winning it for the second time and making it look very easy this time around. He is the first horse in 45 years to win back-to-back Nationals, the last one being the great Red Rum. Tiger Roll has now reached cult status as he has also won at four Cheltenham festivals and he is only nine years old (or young). He could come back and try again next year. I would not be betting against him at this stage.

Speaking about the National, I’m sad to report that former National-winning jockey, successful trainer and all round good bloke Brendan Powell has retired from training. The financial pressures of running a racing stable became too much, paying rent makes it so difficult to balance the books with all the other outgoings as well. Brendan will not be lost to racing, however, although although he is leaving Lambourn to take up a role as an assistant at Joseph O’Brien’s stable in Ireland. We wish him the best of luck for the future.

On a less edifying note, another former resident of Lambourn, Chris Beek – prominent racehorse owner and syndicate manager of horses trained by Alister Lidderdale – will be taking up residence at Her Majesty’s pleasure for six and half years for defrauding unsuspecting clients of £200.000. I don’t expect he will be the Mr Big inside that he thought he was on the outside. Racing is well rid of people like him. 

Back to the racing and I would like to mention the excellent win in the Scottish Champion Hurdle by Verdana Blues, trained by Nicky Henderson. She put a breathtaking performance on the day, having missed Cheltenham because of soft ground.

On to the flat and Lambourn trainer Archie Watson has made a flying start to the season – his horses are taking all before them. In 2018, Archie became only the second Lambourn-based trainer to send out 100 winners in a season. As he has only been training for three years, it’s likely that we’ll be hearing a lot more about him in the future. Another Lambourn yard going well is that of Richard Hughes. As a punter you should always follow stables in form: these two certainly are.

The first weekend in May sees the first classics of the season,the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas. I had been so looking forward to seeing Too Darn Hot strut his stuff but unfortunately he has had a setback so won’t be running. His absence will make the 2,000 Guineas a very different race. The favourite is Ten Sovereigns trained by Aiden O’Brien and in my view the bookies have got this one right.

The weather has been very kind over Easter which made the Lambourn open day a huge success. Thousands turned up to see their favourite yards and horses and it seemed like all had a good time. Certainly it was a very welcome change from last year’s disappointment.

April 2019 Racing News

Welcome to the Downlands Racing column, looking back at March and forward to April.

Well, what a wonderful Cheltenham festival we enjoyed. The event truly is amazing, with record crowds on all four days even though the weather was not great. Four winners for the Valley of the Racehorse all trained by Nicky Henderson of Seven Barrows Stables. Altior did not disappoint and is without doubt the best two mile chaser around at the moment. He is not always easy to watch as he hits a flat spot in a race but always comes through to win – 18 in a row now.

The biggest disappointment was Buveur d’Air falling in the Champion Hurdle. He was a hot favourite and looking to win the race for the third time.

A big highlight of the meeting was the win of Paisley Park for Emma Levelle’s Marlborough stable. Make no mistake: this is a horse going places.

The turf flat season kicked off at the end of the month and already Lambourn stables are going well, with Archie Watson, Richard Hughes and Charles Hills all hitting the target on a few occasions.

There was an interesting survey (commissioned by the Jockey Club and West Berkshire Council) released last month about the value of horse racing to the valley. It’s worth £22.6m annually, it supplies one in three jobs to all people in the valley of working age and helps power the local economy and so keep a lot of other business going. So, the next time you get stuck behind horses on the road think not of the brief delay but of its contribution to this vital local industry. Click here to read more on this.

We have a lot to look forward to in the near future as the weather gets better and the big stables get going on the flat. I think a lot of national hunt horses are looking forward to their holidays by now (I know I am). Before that, though, there’s the small matter of the Grand National, on which an estimated £150m will be wagered at Britain’s bookies. If you fancy adding your bit to this, my tips are for Anibale Fly (though I might re-think this now the news has come through that Barry Geraghty has broken his leg) and Lake View Lad as each-way bets.

March 2019 Racing News

Hello all and welcome to our racing roundup for February and early March.

Well, plenty has been happening in racing circles over the last few weeks, equine flu and the boycotting of race meetings due to low prize money to name but two. Lets start with equine flu.

It looks at this stage like the worst is over and the British Horseracing Authority took all the right decisions, cancelling all racing for six days and resuming with tighter bio security in place. It all seems a distant memory now and things are back to normal. It’s a reminder, though, of how interconnected the racing world is and how quickly infections can spread.

Boycotting of race meetings over low prize money is another matter completely. It’s all very well for the big operations to complain at this time of year when they are least inconvenienced, but a lot of us are just happy to win some prize money. The issue is large and complex and won’t be solved by boycotting a few meetings.

The central point is that the funding of racing from betting revenue is unsustainable in its present form and something needs to be done to fix this. Racing is a huge industry employing over 80,000 people directly and indirectly. It’s estimated that it contributes about 3.5bn to the national economy. I don’t pretend to have all the answers to this (though you might not be surprised to learn that I do have a few suggestions). Hopefully agreement can be reached in a dignified manner and provide the long-term stability that the sport needs in order to continue to thrive.

The countdown is nearly over and the Cheltenham festival starts on Tuesday 12th of March and local Ingres will be in N Henderson’s runners.He looks at this stage like he has many chances through the week. Warren Greatrix and Jamie Snowdon are also well represented. The best of luck to all. 

February 2019 Racing News

Obviously the big talking point at the moment is the equine flu outbreak, with all racing being suspended until Wednesday 13 Feb at the earliest. On Friday 8 Feb it was announced that a further three cases had been identified at Donald McCain’s yard in Cheshire, bringing the total there to six. Perhaps more worrying is the news that there may also be a case elsewhere from a trainer whose horses don’t appear to have mixed with any of McCain’s recently. Everyone hopes that this has been nipped in the bud early enough. With about 12,000 horses to test around the country there’s obviously a lot of work to be done.

All this casts a bit of a cloud over the arrival of spring and, of course, Cheltenham, the annual obsession for most people involved in national hunt racing.

We have had a few good trials for the big races through January with Emma Levelles’ Marlborough stable having a very strong candidate for the World Hurdle in Paisley Park. This horse is improving with every race and again put up a wonderful performance in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in mid January.

Also on that card we had The Lovable Frodon put his Cheltenham gold cup credentials on the line with a good win in the Cotswold Chase, although I personally do not think he will enough stamina reserves for the Gold Cup itself. On this occasion he beat Elegant Escape, winner of the Welsh National and whom I think will lack the natural class needed to win big race. Last year’s Gold Cup winner Native River is a planned runner at Newbury in mid February, in a race he won last year. That is a great day’s racing with the Betfair hurdle the highlight. And, in case you’re wondering, I personally have no idea what will win it.

Also in January the great Altior strutted his stuff at Ascot, winning easily and no doubt frightening away more opposition for Cheltenham.

The first weekend in February saw the Dublin racing festival and Lambourn’s Warren Greatrix had a fabulous result with La Bague au Roi winning yet another grade 1 race. It was a great meeting although a lot of the best horses did not compete due to the prevealling fast ground in Ireland. One who did was the wonderful Apples Jade who won the Irish Champion Hurdle very easily.she now looks like she will be a major player in the big one itself at Cheltenham. The reigning champion Beauvoir Dair won a nothing race at Sandown showing he is alive and well.

Roll on the spring and, in particular, Cheltenham Festival.

January 2019 Racing News

Happy new year to all who read this newsletter.

Well, what a month December has been for national hunt enthusiasts. We started with the great two-miler Altior winning the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in truly horrible conditions, convincingly beating Un de Sceaux from Ireland. He then followed that up with a saunter around Kempton Park in Christmas week. All roads would appear to lead to his retaining his crown at Cheltenham come March.

Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson endured a horrid Boxing Day with probably three of his best horses getting beaten, one admittedly by a stable companion. Mite Bite disappointed again in the King George Chase and was reported to have bled from the nose after the race, never a good sign. The race itself was won by the Paul Nichols trained Clan Des Obeaux. A brillant feat by all concerned.

In the previous race, Beauvoir Dair, the reigning champion hurdler, was beaten by an unconsidered stable companion – a bit of a head-scratcher, this one. Earlier the same day Santini, a very good novice chaser, was beaten by another Lambourn resident, La Bague au Roi for Warren Greatrix. This was a well-deserved win in grade-one level for the mare as she has been a model of consistency throughout her career. Well done to all.

Another trainer to reach new heights this Christmas was Emma Levelle who trains near Marlborough: she had her first grade-one success at Ascot, winning The Long Walk Hurdle.

On to Chepstow and the Welsh National, won this year by the favourite Elegant Escape from Colin Tizzard’s Dorset stable. This horse was second in the Ladbroke Chase at Newbury in late November and plenty of locals will have backed him on that occasion. I hope you followed up in this race.

Now we have 2019 to look for to. The Cheltenham festival will soon come around followed by the National in early April. You need to keep an eye on all racing to keep ahead of the game.

I wish you all well for the new year particularly all trainers in the catchment area – though I’m not biased, I promise…

December 2018 Racing News

November done and dusted and only now are racehorse trainers starting to feel some relief from incredible dry autumn.

The rains have finally come and with it the national hunt season has burst into life. At Newbury this weekend Sizing Tennessee put up a wonderful performance to win the Ladbroke handicap chase (formerly the Hennessy) and beating stable companion Elegant escape to complete a one-two for trainer Colin Tizzard. Also on the Newbury card, we saw a brilliant performance from Santini on his steeplechase bow for Nicki Henderson while, on Friday, Le Bag au Roi from Warren Greatrex stable continued her rich vein of form romping home convincingly to win her twelfth race.

The reigning champion hurdler, Buveur d’air, returned at Newcastle and put up a performance that makes you think that – if he stays healthy and sound – a third champion hurdle will be coming his way in March. If all that was not enough, at Fairyhouse in Ireland, most people’s favourite mare Apples Jade blew the opposition away in the grade-one Hattons Grace Hurdle, winning the race for the third time and more in more impressive style than previously. After all that I feel worn out just watching. This is the kind of stuff we’ve been missing…

One trainer in Lambourn – Nicky Henderson, the biggest yard in the valley – has been feeling it more than most. One of his best horses, Mite Bite, ran no sort of race on his seasonal return at Haydock Park. The official excuse was that the horse was unsettled in the race due to making a minor error at an early fence. My own opinion is that the horse was neither fit enough nor sharp enough and got a very negative ride from his regular jockey Nico De Boinville – this a personal opinion and I am sure others will have other views on the matter. Bristol De Mae put up a brilliant display of front running and jumping to win the race for the second year running.

Native River, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March ran a super race finishing second on his seasonal bow on a track that did not play to his strengths.

Cheltenham played host to the open meeting, as it is officially called, and three great days jump racing was enjoyed by good crowds. The weather was beautiful for mid November and I am sure that helped. Marlborough trainer Alan King enjoyed an excellent Cheltenham with a couple of winners, most notably Sceau Royal in the Schlor chase on the Sunday. He now goes on to the Tingle Creek chase at Sandown in early December where is due to meet Altior from Henderson’s yard and also Saint Calvados from Harry Whittingtons stable. This horse travelled to Ireland to make his reappearance and put up a bright performance to win and trounce Footpad, an impressive winner of the Arkle chase at Cheltenham.That should be some race at Sandown.

So much to look forward to in December – the Ladbroke chase at Newbury,the Tingle Creek at Sandown and the king George at Kempton and of course there is Christmas itself.

I look forward to reliving it all here next month.

November 2018 Racing News

Well what a time it has been for British racing. First Enable wins the Prix De l’Arc at Longchamps and this weekend followed up with a magnificent win in the Breeders cup at Churchill Downs in the USA. Also a winner was Expert Eye for Sir Miachael Stoute and Frankie Dettori. Then, last Tuesday the impossible happened and Cross Counter led home a British clean sweep of the Melbourne Cup in Australia. So, British racing is standing proud on the world stage.

On a more local level, there were wins for Clive Cox, Stan Moore and Archie Watson in France in the last couple of weeks. With the flat season winding down it is time for the National Hunt to take center stage again although with the lack of rainfall it will be a little time before we see many of the stars appearing

Cheltenham on 16, 17 and 18  November might give us a chance to see some of the stars. No doubt Nicky Henderson will have a strong hand there. Two Lambourn Stables that have started well are Oliver Sherwood and Jamie Snowdon and I advise following their horses over the next couple of weeks.

Newbury starts its national hunt season this week. This is always a good meeting and – from a travelling point of view – a pleasantly short trip down the B4000.I’m particularly looking forward to the Ladbrokes Trophy on Saturday 1 December.

As is well known, we trainers are never miserable, never complain about anything and always look on the bright side – that said, however, we do need the weather to change for some really good racing to get going. Looking out of the window, I can see that that’s starting to happen…

October 2018 Racing News

What a fantastic month of flat racing it has been in September. Kew Gardens a fantastic winner of the St Leger at Doncaster now heads to Longchamps for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in a week’s time. Roaring Lion was the brilliant winner of the Irish champion stakes at Leopardstown. Unfortunately Saxon Warrior suffered a career ending injury whilst finishing second to Roaring Lion. Also at Leopardstown on that day Alpha Centauri arguably the best 3 year old of the season also suffered a career ending injury, both probably a symptom of the long dry summer.

Also at Doncaster the upwardly mobile Archie Watson scored his biggest success on home soil with Soldiers Call in the group 2 Flying Childers stakes. I believe he also heads to Longchamp next week for the Prix de l’Abbaye. Earlier in September, Clive Cox’s Harry Angel disappointed at Haydock, the ground was very heavy and he ran with the choke out and not lasting home. Don’t lose faith in Harry though as he goes to Ascot for the champions sprint at the end of October. That meeting at Ascot on 20th October is a fantastic day’s racing, promoted as Champions Day it usually lives up to its billing.

The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is the biggest day in the French racing calendar, where English trainers love to have a runner even better a winner. Last year’s winner Enable is favourite again and I hope she wins as she is just a marvellous racehorse. This time of year, the jump horses are nearing full fitness for a return to action but the prolonged dry spell is giving trainers a bit of a headache, everyone has artificial surfaces to train on but you can’t beat getting on grass to put the finishing touch to them and that won’t be happening any time soon.

Wincanton, Taunton and Exeter are struggling to get their October meetings on as the ground is too hard to race on. I am sure as usual when it does rain it will forget to stop until the middle of May next year.

Before I finish I must mention James Doyle, a long time resident of Eastbury who is doing so well this flat season. James has ridden a 100 winners in Britain as well as many in France, Ireland, Dubai and Australia this year. Well done James, long may it last as you will not meet a nicer person in racing.

Have successful October with your betting or runners if you have some.

September 2018 Racing News

August out the way, kids back to school, National Hunt Racing getting closer.

This is the time of year when jump horses are doing the hard miles to regain fitness after there summer break. It is also an exciting time for these stables as the young horses are starting to show something on the gallops that hopefully unearth the next star performer. Big names like Altior and Might Bite will be back at Seven Barrows strutting their stuff.

The flat season carries on apace. Archie Watson continues to impress with his results. Following on from a Royal Ascot winner in June, Archie had his first group race win in France. Harry Dunlop has also had group race success in France recently.

One of the valley’s best horses again disappointed at York – Battash is definitely becoming an enigma. When he is good he is brilliant; when not he leaves you scratching your head.

Most of Lambourn’s Stables have had a good August with plenty of winners for the valley of the racehorse.

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