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The Willis Brothers of Malmesbury to build Rio Olympics cross country course

Willis Brothers team repairing an obstacle at Barbury Castler Horse Trials 2014Willis Brothers team repairing an obstacle at Barbury Castler Horse Trials 2014The Willis Brothers have been selected to build the cross country course for the eventing competition at the Rio Olympics next year.

The family business based near Malmesbury have specialised for over 30 years in building fixed and portable cross country obstacles for eventing and steeplechase jumps and hurdle fences for the racing industry.

They build and maintain the St James's Place Barbury International Horse Trials cross country course - as well as courses for Badminton, Gatcombe Park and many other events large and small throughout the UK and the world.   

The Willis Brothers built cross country fences and courses for the Olympic Games in Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996) and in Sydney (2000) as well as the World Equestrian Games.

This is their first Olympic Games contract for sixteen years.  As Ashley Willis told Marlborough News Online: "It's an honour - it really is."

For many years the Brothers have sourced some of their most essential materials from Savernake Forest - by arrangement with the Forestry Commission they cut young birch brushwood which they use for jumps at Cheltenham and racecourses far wide.

Six members of the Willis team will go to Brazil in July to build the course for the Olympic test competition at two-star level.   That will stretch the family a bit as July sees the Barbury Castle Horse Trials - so some members of this long-standing family firm will be staying behind to make sure every goes to plan at Wiltshire's premier eventing competition.

The course is being designed by Pierre Michelet who designed the course for last summer's World Equestrian Games in Normandy.

The Rio Olympic eventing competition will take place between 6 and 9 August 2016.  But work has already started and they will soon start shipping fences out to Brazil.

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Night of Thunder wins the richest ever Lockinge Stakes at Newbury for Marlborough trainer Richard Hannon

IRichard Hannon receives his Lockinge trophyRichard Hannon receives his Lockinge trophyt was the first time Newbury Racecourse's Lockinge Day was sponsored by Al Shaqab - the major equestrian and training centre in Qatar.  And the card's prize money topped £750,000 making it Newbury's richest ever in the course's 110-year history.

The Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes  - with a total prize fund this year of £350,000 - was won by the Godolphin owned four-year-old colt Night of Thunder, trained at Richard Hannon's Marlborough stables and ridden by James Doyle.  

Second by a neck in the 15 horse field was another Hannon trained horse, Toormore ridden by champion jockey Richard Hughes, who is Hannon's stable jockey.

For Richard Hannon it was his second consecutive win in the Lockinge after Olympic Glory won the 2014 race: “We are delighted. Toormore has run a super race and Night Of Thunder looked to me that he was going to go and win very well and has probably just got tired after a long time off the track. I couldn’t be more pleased."

Night of Thunder was Godolphin's sixth Lockinge Stakes victory - a new record for the race. The race was watched by a crowd of 13,343 - up on last year's attendance.

Ryan Moore and Mrs Charlton on the podiumRyan Moore and Mrs Charlton on the podiumThe race before the Lockinge Stakes was the Al Zubarah London Gold Cup - won by another local trainer, Roger Charlton of Beckhampton.  Time Test was ridden by Ryan Moore who won five of the day's seven races - a spectacular achievement which enthralled the crowds.  His feat was said to be a 1,961.6/1 chance - if anyone had thought to lay a bet with the bookies on the number of his winning rides.

Roger Charlton reported on his website: "Time Test behaved beautifully in the prelims and the work that had been done on away days at other racecourses appeared to help him. They went slowly, as the time suggested and Time Test sat at the rear of the field. Ryan rode him as confidently as we had hoped and he quickened through the field in taking fashion, having to be brave along the way."


James Doyle talks with Godoplhin representatives James Doyle talks with Godoplhin representatives Richard Hannon talks to Channel 4 Racing Richard Hannon talks to Channel 4 Racing Richard Hughes - second by a neckRichard Hughes - second by a neck


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Laura Thomas's successful point-to-point season - and a Fontwell winner


Laura Thomas rides Full Trottle up the long gallopLaura Thomas rides Full Trottle up the long gallopAt Hackpen Farm - just below the downs near Barbury Castle - Laura Thomas trains point-to-pointers.  Her yard always hopes to have a horse ready to go beyond the point-to-point circuit and tackle a Hunter Chase and on Thursday (May 14) she had a winner in the evening's Hunter Chase race at Fontwell Park.

Ridden by Mr Jonathan Bailey, the six year-old gelding Full Trottle won by one and three-quarters lengths in the starspreads.com Maiden Hunters' Chase over two miles and six furlongs.  He was last of the 12 runners at the ninth fence, but was in fourth position by the thirteenth and led before the next fence.

Full Trottle is owned by Laura's father, Norman Thomas.

With the end of the point-to-point season now in sight, Laura's yard has had ten winners so far.


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Will the weather and Badminton's famous cross country course suit locals Jonelle and Tim Price?

Tim Price with 7-year-old novice DaisyTim Price with 7-year-old novice DaisyAll eyes will be on the weather forecast for Wednesday's (May 6) start of Europe's first four star eventing competition of the season: the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.  

New Zealander Tim Price, based at Mere Farm, Mildenhall and just back from his second place with Wesko in the Kentucky competition, is one of those hoping for some dry weather.  He's riding 12-year-old gelding Ringwood Sky Boy: "He's ready for a good performance. I'm hoping it'll be dry so he won't have to jump out of the mud."  

Ringwood Sky Boy hit four star standard two years ago.  And at last year's Badminton Tim rode him for the fastest cross country time - putting them in second place.  But he had four rails down in the show jumping and they finished in ninth place.  Then at Burghley in September they fell.

Tim got back from the United States on Monday and Wesko got back on Tuesday.  Tim is really pleased with Wesko's Kentucky performance - but pretty cross not to make first place:  "We so nearly made it - one rail down."

But second place was a handsome result.  Kentucky is an expensive trip for eventers based in Europe.  It costs about £20,000 to get horse and rider to the Kentucky arena: "You have to win or come second to pay for the trip."

Tim wanted to give Wesko "a bit of mileage in the sky" - if a horse shows it can cope with a long flight they will have put down a marker for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Jonelle Price takes a break from teachingJonelle Price takes a break from teachingTim's wife Jonelle Price is currently ranked second in the International Federation rankings as the world's leading lady rider.  She is taking two horses to Badminton: "They're both fully experienced four star horses."

It was with twelve year-old mare Classic Moet - known to all at Mere Farm as Molly - that Jonelle took fourth place at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy last year.

Her other horse at Badminton will be the 13-year-old The Deputy - aka 'Hero'.  They have done well at Burghley for the past two years - coming sixth and ninth.  Last year at Badminton they retired.

Hero is one of Jonelle's favourite horses. He went to Kentucky in 2013 and then last year gave a fantastic performance at Burghley with a double clear for ninth place.  He is certainly an experienced campaigner.  As Jonelle puts it: "He's not a classical dressage horse, but excels at show jumping.  We should be there or thereabouts."

This year entries for Badminton are a little down. 104 horses have been entered, which is 37 below last year's number of entries.  And with some notable withdrawals, all the 'wait list' entries have got places in the draw - for the first time since 2008.

Several pairs have withdrawn as they were entered for both Kentucky and Badminton - in case their horses were not ready or fit for the earlier competition.  However, Zara Phillips who had to withdraw High Kingdom in Kentucky after the horse got a knock, has also withdrawn from Badminton.

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Lil Rockerfeller tops off Neil King's successful first season training on the Marlborough Downs


Neil King with Lil Rockerfeller Neil King with Lil Rockerfeller Trainer Neil King's "best season ever" ended on an especially high note with Lil Rockerfeller's win at Sandown on the last day of the 2014-2015 jump season - also remembered widely as the day of AP McCoy's last professional ride.

A year after moving from Newmarket to Upper Herdswick Farm on the Marlborough Downs just by Barbury Castle, King is really pleased with his new Ridgeway Racing stables:  "We're over the moon. We're so fortunate the ball has rolled for us - it won't always happen like that when you've just moved."

During the jump season he has had 29 winners and his horses have won £240,000 in prize money.  And he has gained more owners and has more horses at the yard.  You only have to look at the well groomed state of the yard itself to see what a busy year it has been.

Lil Rockerfeller's win at Sandown is a story all of its own. "Disappointingly", Neil told Marlborough News Online, "after all the work we had done with him, neither I nor his usual jockey, Trevor Whelan, were there to see his victory."   Neil was in Ireland to see Trevor getting married: "So it was his fault!!"

But the story has another twist:  the ride went to another conditional jockey (the jump equivalent of flat racing's apprentice jockeys): Sean Bowen.  And with his win on Lil Rockefeller he clinched the Conditional Jockeys Championship for the season - edging out Nico de Boinville, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

Sean Bowen is seventeen.  He is the son of Peter and Karen Bowen - Peter trains in Pembrokeshire.  After the race Sean said: "It was brilliant of Neil to put me on him. This week I've been working hard to get in front of Nico and he's been hard to beat. It's been good and there's been plenty of highlights."   

Trevor Whelan Trevor Whelan There is, as it were, a sub-plot to this story, Trevor Whelan finished third in the Conditional Jockeys Championship.

Neil King bought Lil Rockerfeller last August, but it took until Christmas to find buyers for him: "Since we started racing him, he's improved and improved."  

At the end of March, he won at Ascot with Trevor Whelan aboard - running on well to win the Coutts Juvenile Handicap Hurdle by six lengths.  After the race Whelan was very positive about the horse: "He's a nice horse, but he only ran last week, so he's been busy.  That's my first Ascot winner and it's been a good season for me."

For the next jump season - which has, it should be said, already started - Neil will still have Trevor Whelan as his stable jockey.  There will also be another conditional Lizzie Kelly at NewburyLizzie Kelly at Newburyjockey, 22-year-old Lizzie Kelly who joined the yard earlier this year.

She too has had a season to remember. On New Year's Day she won at Cheltenham on Aubusson - leaving AP McCoy eight lengths behind her.   A couple of weeks later she won Kempton's Lanzarote Hurdle on Tea for Tea.  

Both horses are trained by her step-father Nick Williams and she rode them both at the Cheltenham Festival - though without a place.  She's gathering quite a fan club of youngsters who admire the way she takes on the big and male names in racing.

Last week, on her twenty-second birthday, she rode another winner for Neil King - Dire Straits won at Plumpton in a novices' hurdle - never mind it was a two horse field.  She brought Dire Straits through to beat the favourite, Thats My rabbit.

Southway StarSouthway StarZeroeshadesofgreyZeroeshadesofgreyOther Ridgeway success stories have included Southway Star who had four wins in a row at the start of the season - having been bought by King at the October sales for £2,300.  One of her wins, at Fontwell, gave King a hat trick of winners in a day - with Zeroeshadesofgrey and The Boss's Dream winning at Uttoxeter.

On New Year's Day Zeroeshadesofgrey made his debut at Cheltenham - coming a creditable third.

But before Neil King starts to plan for next winter's campaign and the stable's open day in September, he has some horses at the yard for the flat season - and stepping up to hurdles.  In March Conserve won on Wolverhampton's all-weather track and on Tuesday (May 5) is entered at Fakenham - over hurdles. Regulation is entered for an amateur riders hurdle race at Kempton on Monday (May 4) and later at Royal Ascot.

FOOTNOTE:  You can get odds of 25-1 on Sean Bowen succeeding Tony McCoy as champion jump jockey - for the 2015-2016 season.


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Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds - the syndicate way to get really involved in racing


Tullius - with KVT colours - wins the 2014 Group 2 Bet365 MileTullius - with KVT colours - wins the 2014 Group 2 Bet365 MileIf you are interested in racing, or even obsessed by it, and have always wanted to feel the thrills of ownership, joining a syndicate and buying a share in a horse is a first step.  Racing manager Sam Hoskins can certainly find you a share in one of the horses Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds (KVT.)

The KVT syndicate was started in 1988 by Nick Robinson - the man who helped get Robert Sangster into racing.  He suggested Sangster put a bet on Chalk Stream - a good Wiltshire name.  The horse did not win, but Sangster bought the horse as a gift for his fiancée.  

Nick Robinson, now aged 77, was a pioneer of horseracing syndicates.  He was the publisher of the racing industry's Pacemaker magazine, which has now merged with Thoroughbred Owner and Breeder magazine.  

Last year Robinson handed over management of KVT to a very much younger man - 28-year-old Sam Hoskins.  And he has now retired as KVT's Chairman - but still owns shares on some of KVT's horses.  Over the years KVT have sent out 122 winners and earned £2.8million in prize money.

Sam Hoskins at Newbury Sam Hoskins at Newbury Sam Hoskins became interested in racing when his grandmother owned half of Errant Knight - a chestnut gelding trained by Martin Pipe who won sixteen races in the early 1990s. Sam got a great thrill from leading him in after races.

When he was seventeen - and still at school - he found out how to lay off his bets.  Then one day he forgot to lay off what was for him then a huge gamble - a £20 bet on the Nicky Henderson trained hurdler Geos.  It was the 2004 running of Newbury's Tote Gold Trophy Hurdle.  Faced with a field of 25 runners, Sam spent an agonising time waiting to lose his £20.  But the horse won and he pocketed £400 - that hooked him on racing.

Sam Hoskins trained on the Irish National Stud course - a course that covers many aspects of racing: "I lost a stone and a half mucking out!"  He then worked at studs in Kentucky and Cambridge, New Zealand where there is a mix of breeders, trainers, polo, eventers and racing: "I learnt the ropes there."

Back in Britain, he spent two and a half fulfilling years working for the Niarchos family - leading racehorse owners and breeders.

With that £400 win behind him, and a head for the niceties of breeding and form, he went on to win racing's lottery prize: he landed the Racing Post Ten-to-Follow Competition for the 2008-2009 jump season - a cool £440,000 win.  It allowed him to set himself up in business.

In 2012 he started the Hot to Trot Racing Club with Luke Lillingston. This is more a racing members club than a syndicate. They lease horses rather than buying them and so can provide a much more affordable way into racehorse 'ownership'. Hot to Trot currently has seven horses.

The KVT silks The KVT silks Sam and Piers Winkworth are continuing KVT's regime of selling shares in single, named horses - 16 shares for each horse at around £7,000 per share.  With trainers' fees at between £50 and £60 per day, it is an expensive business.  But winnings and any money left over at the end of the season is returned to shareholders.

The syndicate has horses with trainers Andrew Balding, Charlie Hills, Ralph Beckett and Richard Hannon.  It is mainly involved with young horses - buying at the yearling sales in the £30-50,000 range.  This season they have four two year olds - three colts and a filly.

They have one 'old timer' - the much cherished syndicate star Tullius.  He is an Irish bred seven year-old chestnut gelding trained by Andrew Balding at Kingsclere.   On 25 April 2014, Tullius, with Jimmy Fortune aboard, ran on strongly to win Sandown's Group Two BET365 Mile by three and three-quarter lengths.  That win was worth £53,800 to KVT.  

And last month he won the Betway Doncaster Mile Stakes by half a length.  But Jimmy Fortune could only bring him in fourth of a field of five in last Friday's (April 24) BET365 Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown - like humans, horses have to have 'off-days'.

Sam takes a realistic view of Tullius: "He's not the most straightforward horse. And we are already thinking ahead about ways to give him a good retirement after racing."

KVT horses earned their owners £238,477 in 2014:  "Last year," Sam told Marlborough News Online, "was our most successful season for many years, mainly due to the fantastic year had by our star Tullius."

KVT's other horses for this flat season are: Bishop's Leap, Frenchman, Magical Memory, Match my Fire, Maxwell, Signal Hill and Stroke of Midnight.

Some people may find that joining a syndicate not only brings the thrill of winning, but also some doubts when something goes wrong with your horse.  But the good days in the winner's enclosure always make up for any set backs.


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One rail down puts Tim Price and Wesko in second place at the Kentucky four star

Tim Price and Wesko (courtesy U.S. Eventing Association)Tim Price and Wesko (courtesy U.S. Eventing Association)New Zealand eventing pair Tim Price and Wesko, who are based at Mildenhall,  have finished second at the Rolex Kentucky Four Star Three Day Event, just behind the reigning Olympic champ Michael Jung.

On the final day of the competition, Price and Wesko (owned by Christina Knudsen and The Wesko Syndicate) had a single rail down in the showjumping.  This allowed  Germany's Michael Jung and Fischerrocana FST to take first place.

Jung also took third place with his second horse. And the defending Kentucky champion, Britain's William Fox-Pit and Bay My Hero went clear to hold on to fourth place.

The showjumping phase took place in front of a crowd of more than 23,000: “You just have to put everything to one side and focus,” said Price. “My horse is very good in a crowd and I believed that would lift him today . . . and it did.”

Next month, Price will be competing at Badminton with Ringwood Sky Boy, and later in the season he will return to Luhmuhlen which he won last year, but this time with a young horse.

His diary for 2016 is filling up:  “I will definitely be back at Kentucky next year.”

For New Zealanders at the event, the last day was clouded by Emily Cammock's hard decision to have her horse, the 15-year-old grey gelding Dambala, put down.  Vets told her that the leg injury that recurred during the cross country meant he would never be right again - even in retirement.

Cammock said in a statement:  “He was the most honest, willing and trusting horse that always gave 150 percent.  I feel honoured that he put his trust in me and together we made a pretty awesome team.”

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Tim Price tops Kentucky three day event leaderboard after the cross country - just

Following his equal first dressage score at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event on Friday (April 24), Tim Price tweeted a photo of a calm and grazing Wesko: "Super happy with this pony!!  Thanking ya'll for your support.  Time to cross country up!!!!"

Without much ado and with rain affecting the course, Tim and Wesko, who are based near Marlborough at Mildenhall, rode a faultless cross country round.  They remain top of the leaderboard with just the show jumping stage to come on Sunday (April 26.)

The Rolex Kentucky is one of the six highest rated four star eventing competitions held annually around the world.  And with two of the three disciplines behind them Tim and Wesko hold a 0.4 of a penalty point lead over the German rider and Olympic Champion Michael Jung who is in second place on LA Biosthetique-Sam FBW and also in third place on Fischerrocana FST.

British entry and former winner of the event, William Fox-Pitt lies in fourth place on Bay My Hero.He was one of the last to compete on the cross country course and came home with 8.4 time faults.

Of the cross country's 71 starters, there were just six combinations clear and inside the optimum time, with 26 going clear but picking up time faults, 15 were eliminated and 10 retired on the course.

Elated by Tim Price's performance with Wesko, the New Zealand team also suffered a disappointment. Emily Cammock and Dambala rode a clear round with 11.2 time faults - moving them from 38th to 18th after the cross country.

However, she has to withdraw him from the showjumping:  “After the second to last fence I felt something wasn’t quite right and as we pulled up at the end of the course it was obvious we had a problem,” said Cammock.  She thinks an old injury has been revived by the softer ground.

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