Tuesday, 24 October 2017

A season record of 226 entries sets the scene for the Season Finale at Pitchcroft

Anyone closely connected to racing is pretty much obsessed with the weather.  The fact is that weather conditions can ruthlessly dictate outcomes, leaving us mere mortals at its mercy with little we can do to reverse or influence conditions.

Such was the story this month at Pitchcroft.  Not one of us who care so passionately about hosting our race meetings for the maximum enjoyment of the whole spectrum of our customers, could have dreamt we would stage 2 such diverse meetings in 5 days.  On the first day, the ground quickened to the point that 33 horses were withdrawn on account of it, and the second was a meeting transferred at just 4 days’ notice from neighbouring Hereford racecourse, whose ‘firm’ ground rendered their going too risky for jump racing.

For the first of these meetings, the forecast rain did not materialise. Had we watered the ‘good’ ground the day before and then rain had fallen on the watered ground, it is likely that numbers of horses would also have been withdrawn. I have seen that happen. Opinions have differed considerably and much criticism has been levied in our direction, but the one important factor on which everyone is agreed, is that horse welfare comes first and foremost, and if trainers are not happy with the ground for the horses entrusted into their care by owners, they must act accordingly, in the best interests of the horses.

The first race on this card was a very decent mares’ novice chase, sponsored by the European Breeders’ Fund. Of the 8 mares who lined up, 5 were proven black type mares over hurdles, all rated 135 plus over the smaller obstacles.

Chase debutante, Rene’s Girl, trained at Alcester by Dan Skelton made all and cruised to an 11 length victory over Alan King’s Dusky Legend, who was placed at the last 2 Cheltenham Festivals.  We may soon see Skelton’s Presenting mare in a listed race at Bangor, according to her trainer.

The atmosphere at our second meeting last Tuesday was far more positive.  Interestingly, the feature race of the day was another mares’ only race. This mares’ handicap chase was the opening heat in the 2017/2018 Challenger Series, aimed at mid-tier level horses, with a £300,000 finals day at Haydock on Easter Saturday next year. The £20,000 heat was won by one of the outsiders, Sheer Poetry trained by Richard Woollacott.

Barry Geraghty made his first visit to the course for a while a double winning one, riding as retained jockey for owner, JP McManus. Geraghty partnered Above Board for the Jonjo O’Neill yard in the opening beginner’s chase, and also Scoop the Pot, a Worcester winner in August, for Philip Hobbs in the handicap hurdle.

The final race meeting of the season tomorrow, quite simply, should not be missed.  We have attracted a record for the season of 226 horses entered.  There are all the ingredients of a meeting to savour – top trainers, top jockeys, competitive racing including the £25,000 final of the 7bets4free.com Fixed Brush Hurdle Series, and presentations to our 2017 leading jockey and trainer.  Gates will open from 12.10pm

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

A remarkable £7,000 raised for Macmillan at the Big Macmillan Coffee Morning Raceday

Over the 16 years that I have worked at Worcester racecourse, I have tried to build specific annual racedays on a variety of different themes, to enhance our customers’ enjoyment of their day, promote local businesses and in a number of cases, help raise money for very worthy causes.

Recently, we staged the fourth, annual Macmillan Cancer Support race event on national Macmillan coffee morning day, an idea borne out of a small race sponsorship 5 years ago, where I met Heather Elliott who works for Boots in Birmingham.

From that little acorn has grown a sizeable oak tree.  Heather and Simone Chatwin, also from Boots, have worked tirelessly all year gathering prizes for the raffle & tombola, and assembling the 1,250 goody bags which they offered for donations on the day. 

Thanks to the fantastic support of so many of our racegoers, over £7,000 was raised for Macmillan and I would like to thank all those who came along to the raceday, despite the early morning rain, and supported us with their amazing generosity.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has recently stepped up a gear, with his winter jumpers already on great form.
At the last meeting, he sent 2 runners to the course and went home with 2 winners, giving him a tally of 5 winners in just 4 days.

The first was in the opening handicap chase when Little Pop, who runs in The New One and Blaklion colours of Simon and Sarah Such, led from the front to win his third chase, beating Neil Mulholland’s gelding, Full, by a length.

Mulholland was just denied again by Twiston-Davies in the second race when Ballymalin beat Night of Noir by half a length in the novice chase.

Ballymalin looks to be an interesting prospect for the future.  The Presenting gelding won 3 novice hurdles last winter and went on to run in the Pertemps final at the Cheltenham Festival in March, where he came 7th of 24 under Noel Fehily.

His final outing of last season was in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices Hurdle at the Grand National Aintree meeting in April, where he finished 5th of 11 under Sam Twiston-Davies.

The highlight of our recent raceday was the further success story of the remarkable Hallings Comet, trained by Sean Lycett.  The horse has now won 4 races at the course this summer and came second on the other occasion that he ran here.

Bred and owned by Lord Blyth at Moreton in Marsh, Hallings Comet had been stepped up in trip to 2 miles 4 furlongs, but this front running type bowled along effortlessly, ahead of the field all the way and won on the bridle. Jockey Marc Goldstein, who gets on so well with the horse, never picked up his stick.

With just 2 fixtures to go at Worcester this year, we are all particularly looking forward to Finals Day on 25 October, and especially the £25,000 final of the season long qualifying 7bets4free.com Fixed Brush Hurdle series.

The gates open for racing tomorrow at 12.20pm.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Dr Richard Newland continues his winning run at Worcester Racecourse

The Richard Newland success story with his horses at Worcester Racecourse continues. Going into last week’s meeting, the Grand National Winning Claines trainer had had 6 winners from just 13 runners this summer, and 21 winners at the course in the past 5 years.

Newland sent 2 horses to the meeting, both ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies who was having his first rides back after a short spell on the side lines with a collarbone injury.

Duke Street was having his first run over fences in the Worcester News beginners chase and managed a creditable third place, beaten only one and a half lengths by the 8/11 hot favourite, Wait for Me trained by Philip Hobbs.

Newland’s other runner was Vosne Romanee in the £20,000 feature race, the Sparkling Anja Potze Fine Jewellery handicap chase.  The versatile six-year old picked up well after the last and ran on to win his 9th race for his trainer, previously scoring twice on the flat, 4 times over hurdles and twice over fences.

Top Irish jockey Bryan Cooper, until recently retained by Gigginstown Stud and now riding freelance, made his first visit to Worcester Racecourse last week.

Cooper partnered Guiding Stars for trainer, Harry Whittington in the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce sponsored bumper.  Cooper, who won last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Don Cossack, gave Guiding Stars, a 16,000 Euro purchase as a 3-year old, a positive ride but was just touched off into second place by the 8/13 favourite, Hatcher, trained at Alcester by Dan Skelton.

The interesting upcoming horse of the day for me, was the well-bred, 4-year old Galileo gelding, Counter Shy who won the concluding 7bets4free.com maiden hurdle under a confident Richie McLernon ride.

Sent off at odds of 14/1, Counter Shy was kept up with the pace by McLernon and was seemingly undeterred by the thoroughly distracting antics of two very novicey horses ahead of him.

Counter Shy gave us a second link to the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the day, as his trainer, Jonjo O’Neill also trained his dam, Cross the Flags, a half-sister to the 2012 Gold Cup winner, Synchronised.

Current Worcester leading trainer, O’Neill invited me to his syndicate owners’ day at Jackdaws Castle last weekend.

Around 100 owners were treated to a champagne breakfast before visiting their horses in the yard and watching them work on the picturesque gallops, with far reaching views over the Cotswolds.

One of the challenges we face in racing is encouraging young people into the sport.  It was refreshing to see a group of 20 something year olds, enjoying the whole owners’ day experience, enthusiasm that I am sure they will transfer to the racecourse once their horse runs.

Tomorrow sees the annual Macmillan Cancer Support raceday at the course.  The popular coffee morning packages are now sold out but general entry tickets are still available on the gate and there are opportunities to support the charity fundraising in the marquee area, organised by the Ladies from Boots.

The gates open tomorrow from 12 noon.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Rain didn't stop play for a day of family fun & great racing action at Pitchcroft

Pitchcroft has seen plenty of racing action recently with 3 meetings in just 10 days.

The weather did its best to spoil the party on last week’s family fun raceday, but the annual mascot race in aid of the Children’s Trust to raise funds for children with brain injuries brought a ray of sunshine to an otherwise wet day.

Nine mascots representing a selection of local companies, events and sporting venues lined up for the Mascot Dash which was won in record time by Horti the Gardener from Vicarage Nurseries in Evesham, closely followed by the two ‘Wolves’ from Wolverhampton Wanderers.

On the horseracing front, we enjoyed somewhat of a reoccurring theme with a number of horses following up on previous Worcester wins.

Among these were Sonneofpresenting trained by Kim Bailey, Nicky Henderson’s striking looking grey mare, Turn Turk, the Kerry Lee trained Desertmore Hill and Shanksforamillion who is trained in Carmarthen by Debra Hamer.

Shanksforamillion is an 8-year old lightly raced gelding with just 11 outings under rules to his career.  Five of these were at Ffos Las, one each at Uttoxeter, Ludlow and Taunton and the other 3 were at Worcester in the last 2 months.

There has been a remarkable transformation in the horse since he moved in June to Hamer’s yard.  His previous form from 2013 to 2015 reads 8/pu/8/pu/pu/3/6/8.  Since joining Hamer following a long break, and being partnered on each occasion by 7lb claimer Richard Patrick, he has won all three of his chases at Pitchcroft.

Hamer is well known for finding lots of improvement in Tobefair and saddling him to win 7 races on the bounce last season, the first two of which were also at Worcester in June and July of 2016.

A large syndicate of local owners from the Brewers Arms in St Johns were in fine voice despite the rain, following the victory in the £10,000 feature handicap hurdle of Destiny’s Gold trained in Claines by Richard Newland.  Newland has now sent out 4 winners from 7 runners in handicap hurdles at Worcester this season.

The win was particularly notable for the ride given him by 20-year old conditional jockey, Charlie Hammond from Abberley, whose confidence is going from strength to strength and who notched up 4 winners last week.

The meeting was rounded off by a win in the conditional jockeys’ maiden hurdle for Wiltshire trainer, Dai Williams with Mister Mister, partnered by another upcoming jockey who rode a double on the day, 16-year old James Bowen.

Williams has sent 100 runners to Worcester since 1989 without a winner until now, and was understandably delighted, if not a little surprised to see his September Storm gelding beat some more fancied opposition.

The racing action continues at Pitchcroft tomorrow afternoon with the first race due off at 2.05pm.