"The real McCoy" - talking to Rishi PersadThe nineteen times champion jump jockey AP (Tony) McCoy brought Mr Mole home at Newbury on Saturday to win the Betfair Rush Chase - and as he rode back to the winner's enclosure he told Channel Four Racing's Rishi Persad that he is retiring by the end of the season.
Mr Mole, trained by Paul Nicholls, gave McCoy another landmark in his career - he was his 200th winner of the season and it is the ninth season he has reached 200 winners.
Speaking to Channel Four Racing, McCoy said: "I want to go while I'm still enjoying racing and while I am still near the top. This is without a doubt the hardest decision I've ever had to make. I've been dreading this day."
But he did say that being Champion Jockey twenty times would be "a good number" - and that looks a cert as there is no one to challenge him this season.
McCoy's wife, Chanelle, said: "He made the decision maybe two weeks ago. Some days he's at peace with it, some days he's a little bit sad. Hopefully he'll be 20 years champion jockey this year and will go out on a high."
McCoy is 40 years old - and is part owner of The Outside Chance pub in Manton. He and his wife and two children live north of the Marlborough Downs.
In 2010 he won the Grand National - at his fifteenth attempt - and went on to become the first jockey to be BBC Television's Sports Personality of the Year.
As if to prove that racing is a game of hard knocks and ups and downs, in the very next race at Newbury McCoy's horse fell at the first fence. He was riding the Jonjo O'Neill trained Goodwood Mirage in The Betfair Hurdle - which has a prize fund of £155,000.
|Walking back after his fall
||With trainer Jonjo O'Neill
He seemed none the worse for his fall as he walked back along the course explaining to Jono O'Neill what had happened to the 5-year-old Goodwood Mirage.
Lizzie Brown with DaffyThe new eventing season in Britain begins in a few weeks time, and New Zealander Lizzie Brown is in the midst of some hectic preparations. She is now in the official New Zealand High Performance Eventing Accelerator Squad - and had her first day's training with them on Thursday (February 5.)
Last September Lizzie moved from stables at Milton Lilbourne, near Pewsey to the Wickdown Stables up on the Marlborough Downs - right at the heart of the Temple Farm Estate. She has nine horses and the help of working pupil Rupert Betting - who has his own eventing horse there too: "We help each other - it's a two-way thing." A new head groom joins them very soon.
Even on a wintry afternoon with snow still lying on roofs and on untrodden paths and a piercing wind blowing, it is a wonderful place to be. As you drive up to the stables your attention is caught along the way by four soaring buzzards, a red kite and a couple of hunting kestrels.
Apart from eleven boxes, Lizzie has an indoor and outdoor school, a grass dressage arena, cross country and show jumps and is within easy hacking distance of some of the county's best gallops.
Lizzie & Frank winning at Boekelo (2013) (photo copyright Libby Law Photography - NZ)Originally from Hamilton, New Zealand, after successful years eventing on home courses (in 2009-2010 she was the leading event rider in New Zealand), Lizzie came to England in 2011. In choosing Wiltshire she was following in the footsteps of fellow Kiwi eventing stars Sir Mark Todd (now at Badgerstown), Andrew Nicholson (Lockeridge), Jonelle and Tim Price (Mildenhall.)
Lizzie had a break-through year in 2013 when she and her then 12 year-old chestnut gelding Henton Attorney General (known as Frank) won the CCI three star crown at Boekolo in Holland. And that was just two months after the pair had won the CCI two star class at the Blair Castle international.
Lizzie told Marlborough News Online about Frank: "He's a great horse - I was lucky to get him at that stage in my career." She favours New Zealand bred horses: "They're tough and sturdy - lovely horses to ride - after all I grew up with them."
Another New Zealand import is Princeton II - known as OJ - a nine year-old brown gelding that Lizzie owns: "He's really shaping up - and he'll step up this year. He should be back-up behind Frank in the run-up to the Olympics." (See photo below.)
Lizzie is realistic about being selected for the New Zealand team: "It's a lot to do with how this year goes. You just have to work hard. The team picks itself because of riders being on form and horses that are fit." Beyond the 2016 Rio Olympics, there are the next World Equestrian Games in 2018 at Bromont in Canada.
One of Lizzie's younger horses is six year-old Cinque Terre - known as Daffy and seen above with Lizzie - a 16-hands brown mare who began eventing last season. She's still a novice and aiming for one star in the coming season: "She has springs in her feet, is a joy to ride and is the true definition of a pocket rocket! She is an exciting prospect for 2015."
Being a New Zealander on the British eventing circuit has its difficulties. She has to get the agreement of both the New Zealand and British eventing authorities before she can enter a British competition. And then, with the increasing popularity of the sport, for many events competitors face a ballot for places in each class: "It's a bit of a pain to do all the work and then not get into an event."
It is just as well that back in 2008 Lizzie began studying full-time at Waikato University and has a bachelor degree in business management. Eventing is an expensive business and managing the costs is essential.
Jonny Royale ready for some dressage workShe estimates it costs about £10,000 a year for each horse. But that is reduced by sponsors who provide feed, tack, safety gear and clothing. Lizzie is very grateful to her sponsors and in addition is always looking for people to buy shares in her horses.
Shares are still available for one of Lizzie's younger horses: Jonny Royale. A steel grey gelding, Jonny is a six year-old New Zealand thoroughbred - by all accounts a lovely mover and an intelligent horse.
The future looks bright with Jonny and Daffy and three even younger horses that have just arrived at the stables.
Many thanks to Libby Law for the use of her two action photographs. Libby's worldwide photographic coverage focuses on New Zealand's eventers. [Click on photos to enlarge them.]
|Lizzie and Princeton: NZ high performance training under team showjumping coach Luis Alverez Cervera (photo copyright Libby Law Photography - NZ)
Sasha Thorbeck-Hooper (pictured right in the Newbury parade ring) looks ahead to Newbury's Betfair Super Saturday on 7 February 2015 - and to the much-anticipated Betfair Hurdle.
The Betfair Hurdle is a Grade Three handicap race run at Newbury over two miles and half-a-furlong for horses aged four years or more. It's a key part of one of the highlights of the Jump season: Betfair Super Saturday which regularly showcases some of racing’s biggest names alongside the stars of the future.
The £155,000 Betfair Hurdle, now the richest race of its type in the UK, boasts a prestigious roll of honour dating back to 1963.
Newbury’s ‘Super Saturday’ also features the Grade 2 Betfair Denman Chase, a notable trial for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Past winners of that race include steeplechasing legends Kauto Star and Denman who both went on from Newbury to win the sport’s flagship race five weeks later.
Reigning Champion Chaser Sire de Grugy is no stranger to Festival success, and his intended return from injury in the Grade 2 Betfair Price Rush Steeple Chase (registered as the Game Spirit) will bring significant added interest to an already stellar card.
The Betfair Hurdle is widely regarded as one of the most fiercely-contested handicap hurdles of the whole calendar and can often throw up a future Champion Hurdle prospect. However, only two horses have managed to win this Newbury race and go on to Cheltenham and win the two mile Tuesday showpiece - always a popular start to the Festival.
Nicky Henderson has won the Betfair Hurdle five times - and has five entries this year - including the much-favoured Snake Eyes.And watch out for Venetia Williams' AsoPersian War was the first to achieve the feat in the 1960's. Then Martin Pipe's Make A Stand won this contest in 1997 and went on to Prestbury Park a month later to lift the Champion Hurdle crown.
Geos won this race on two separate occasions in 2000 and 2004 for his trainer Nicky Henderson, who has incidentally got a decent record in this contest having notched up four winners since 1998.
The event was established in 1963, and the inaugural running took place at Aintree. The race was originally sponsored by Schweppes, and it was known as the Schweppes Gold Trophy. This sponsorship continued until 1986 when it was taken over by Tote Bookmakers (later known as 'totesport)'.
The race was called the Tote Gold Trophy from 1987 to 2004, and the totesport Trophy from 2005 to 2011. Since 2012 the race has been sponsored by Betfair and known as the Betfair Hurdle.
Recent Winners of Betfair Hurdle:
• 2000 - Geos
• 2001 - Landing Light
• 2002 - Copeland
• 2003 - Spirit Leader
• 2004 - Geos
• 2005 - Essex
• 2006 - No Race
• 2007 - Heathcote
• 2008 - Wingman
• 2009 - No Race
• 2010 - Get Me Out Of Here
• 2011 - Recession Proof
• 2012 - Zarkandar
• 2013 - My Tent Or Yours
• 2014 - Splash Of Ginge
As Newbury Racecourse’s ‘Owners and Trainers Representative’ I will be looking forward to welcoming many of National Hunt’s most influential and prominent owners to Newbury for Super Saturday, who will all be there chasing the dream…. "The great joy of jump racing is that everyone with whom you rub shoulders in the stands in a bitter November rain is a true believer." (Former Foreign Secretary, the late Robin Cook.)
David Grant with Nikki NewmanNikki Newman, who lives in Marlborough, did not even realise she had been nominated until she got the email telling her she had been judged as runner up for Haddon Training British Grooms Award. Nikki is a freelance groom and was nominated in secret by the employers she works for.
The Marlborough based company Haddon Training were sponsoring the awards for the first time and were delighted by the number of nominations they received. The awards have not been run for the past six years due to the lack of a sponsor.
Haddon Training provide work-based training and apprenticeships - especially got the equestrian industry. They are an OFSTED 'outstanding provider'.
The awards are open to grooms working in all parts of the equestrian industry. They were presented by Haddon Training’s chief operating officer David Grant at the annual British Breeders awards dinner.
The overall winner was Caroline Heard who works for a hunting yard in winter and in summer as a showing groom and producer.
|David Grant with Caroline Heard
||David Grant with Jessica Errington
Jessica Errington won the award for grooms who were part of the British team at the 2014 Alltech World Equestrian Games in France.
She was looking after British eventing team member Harry Meade’s mount Wild Lone who collapsed and died immediately after completing a clear round in the cross country. Meade said the tricky conditions on the course were not the cause of Wild Lone’s death.
Nominating Jessica, Meade said she had dedicated her life to looking after Wild Lone and had handled an extremely difficult situation with huge dignity. Wild Lone was a thirteen year-old gelding and the World Games were his sixth four star eventing competition.
As a freelance groom Nikki Newman shows great versatility in handling a point-to-pointer one day, an eventer on another day, a dressage horse the next day and a mountain and moorland show pony after that. The nomination pointed out that she gave each kind of horse attention and care of the highest standard.
Commenting on her award, Nikki said: “It’s not that I have done anything different to any other groom in the country. Everyone is at home in the rain, dealing with muddy fields and the cold weather, it doesn’t matter if you are an apprentice or a head groom, everyone is doing the job. But it’s great that grooms in general are being recognised.”