Larkhill's Avon Vale Races to celebrate James McNeile's life & memory - at the anniversary of his death
There will be some distinctly moving moments at the Avon Vale Races at Larkhill on Easter Saturday (March 31). It will be the first anniversary of the death of James McNeile in a fall. The 57-year-old racing enthusiast was riding his own horse Pointview Gale in a maiden race.
As the Avon Vale Races website puts it: "2018’s event will celebrate the racing life and passion of James McNeile, an enthusiastic countryman, member of the Avon Vale Hunt and amateur rider, who so sadly lost his life at our event in April 2017."
"Led by his brother Peter – a lifelong racing professional – we plan to make the Avon Vale Races into one of the events of the Wessex calendar, and as a fund raiser for the Injured Jockeys Fund."
This year's meeting will feature the inaugural running of the James McNeile Trophy. Despite their travails over the past year, the family will be represented at the meeting.
Peter McNeile has been instrumental in establishing this race: "How appropriate that we've selected a Novice & Veteran Riders Race, fifth on the card - just the sort of race James would have enjoyed. Lots of folk have already joined the James McNeile Fan Club for which our grateful thanks. You too can join the Club to help support the race in perpetuity, or simply come and support us on the day."
The meeting has a card of seven steeplechases - as well as a fun dog show, Easter egg hunt for the children, jockey coaching from a professional rider, bookmakers, licensed bar and loads of shops to while away the time in between races. And there's plenty of food at the Larkhill Nosebag - our range of premium food concessions - or you can indulge yourself with special hospitality in the Queen's Building.
Further information and tickets at the Avon Vale Races website.
Many of this year's spectators will know about the recent tragedy in the Woollacott family who trained for James McNeile in Devon. Richard Woollacott took his own life a few months ago, and his wife Kayley is now forging ahead under her own name to keep their business going.
James's last remaining horse was too ill to be sold in 2017, but returned to training in the autumn with this meeting as a target. Minella Half Century, or Eric for short, is a lovely big chaser and a grand ride and ownership for the day was offered to one or more members of the James McNeile Fan Club who are supporting the race named in his memory.
New this year is an award sponsored by Wadworths to celebrate excellence during the day - an Outstanding Performance Award for the owner, keeper or rider adjudged to have put up the most remarkable performance of the day. This could be a training or riding effort, a contribution by a stable hand and not necessarily by a race winner.
Peter McNeile, for the Avon Vale Committee: "In this Corinthian sport where the financial prizes are meagre, peer recognition is an important element of the sport. We welcome Wadworths' imaginative approach to highlighting excellence in the sport, especially at this event."
The award will be judged by representatives of Larkhill Racecourse, the Avon Vale Races and Wadworths with the winner receiving a prize and of course a case of the sponsor's product.