Downlands Racing News with Pat Murphy – August 2020 update

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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