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Alan King hunting for first Hennessy crown with Smad Place and Midnight Prayer

 

Smad Place (nearest the camera) and Midnight Prayer check out Newbury's going (Photo courtesy Newbury Racecourse & GJ Multimedia)Smad Place (nearest the camera) and Midnight Prayer check out Newbury's going (Photo courtesy Newbury Racecourse & GJ Multimedia)Barbury Castle trainer Alan King talks to Harriet Rochester about next Saturday’s Hennessy Gold Cup

Next Saturday (29 November), marks the 58th running of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury Racecourse. The race is one of the most significant handicap chases this side of Christmas. And Hennessy’s sponsorship of the race is the longest running commercial sponsorship in world sport.

Rich in horseracing heritage, the race’s winners include such names as Arkle and Denman, who both won the race twice – taking pride of place on its distinguished roll of honour.   The Hennessy Gold Cup is the jewel in the crown of the Berkshire track’s jump racing calendar and of the three day Bet365 Hennessy Festival, featuring two further fantastic days of racing on the Thursday and Friday.

Marlborough’s Alan King is planning a two pronged attack on the historic race with Smad Place and Midnight Prayer as his two confirmed runners, with a third, Medermit, also holding an entry, but likely to run at Haydock on Saturday. [Medermit did run at Haydock today (November 22) and was unplaced in the Betfair Chase.]

Smad Place leads up the all-weather gallop (February 2014)Smad Place leads up the all-weather gallop (February 2014)Smad Place who has not seen a racecourse since he was beaten a neck by O’Faolains Boy in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last March is currently priced at 10/1.  The gallant grey had a progressive and impressive campaign last season, beating Sam Winner in February this year. He also was the convincing winner in a novice chase at Exeter last November.

Smad Place took part in a racecourse spin at Newbury on Tuesday along with stable mate Midnight Prayer, whose last race was also at the Cheltenham Festival when he won the four mile chase for amateur jockeys.

“It wasn’t serious work, but they both enjoyed it. They just cantered quickly down the back, breezed along – neither had a hard blow, they just did enough”, King explained at Newbury’s media launch.

Speaking from his yard on Friday, Alan King told Marlborough News Online:  “Smad Place’s form is very strong and progressive, his win against Sam Winner in February has franked this.”  

“His racecourse gallop on Tuesday should also tune him up nicely before next Saturday and he will work tomorrow and school next week, the only question mark is who will ride, as I am not sure if Wayne Hutchinson will be ready”.

Wayne Hutchinson is Alan’s stable jockey along with Robert Thornton. They have both been side-lined with injuries.

“Midnight Prayer’s main target is the Welsh National after Christmas and to be honest there aren’t too many options for him. His form is also very good and I am not worried about dropping him back in trip from four miles especially on soft going”.

In previous years King has not had many runners in the race and has yet to saddle a winner in the race:  “I love this fixture and its history and it would be marvellous to win the Hennessy”.

Newbury Racecourse’s Bet365 Hennessy Festival runs from Thursday 27 to Saturday 29 November.

 

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The Value of Horses: How a horse can impact on a 30-something female having a bit of a crisis

 

(Photo: Will Weaver)(Photo: Will Weaver)Harriet Rochester’s Marlborough Downs Uncovered column gets a bit personal
 

Globally horses play a diverse role.  From a reliant working member of the community in third world countries to a priceless competitor in sports from eventing to horseracing or as a much-loved pet or companion. 

This latter role was highlighted very poignantly earlier this month, when staff at Royal Albert Edward Infirmary in Wigan granted Sheila Marsh's dying wish, by arranging a visit from her horse to her hospital bed (- photo at right.)  Mrs Marsh died the very next day.
 
It also cannot be ignored that these animals are also a valuable commodity in the horsemeat trade.  At last year’s World Horse Welfare conference, HRH The Princess Royal, who is the charity’s president, controversially highlighted this point.  When she addressed the 400 delegates at this year’s conference, The Princess Royal, perhaps not wanting to stir the pot quite so vigorously, asked: ‘What is the Value of Horses?’ 

It was a question that sparked debate for the remainder of the conference and has prompted me to quiz myself.
 
The value of horses spans money, utility and sentiment. This was demonstrated by several detailed studies across numerous scenarios during the conference.

Jason Hare addresses the conferenceJason Hare addresses the conferenceArguably the most thought provoking case was delivered by ex-Royal Marine Jason Hare.  He was “blown up twice” while serving as a Royal Marine, once by a suicide bomber and once by stepping on an improvised explosive device.  Jason suffered catastrophic injuries - losing his left leg, digits on his right hand, his left eye and he also suffered severe facial injuries and had to have his nose amputated. “I lost my facial identity,” he said.
 
It was at HorseBack UK, a charity which aids the recuperation of service men and women who have suffered physical or mental injuries, that Jason’s road to recovery began.
 
“I found working with horses extremely beneficial. It’s hard to be patient when you’re a patient, but working with these animals relaxed me and taught me perseverance.”
 
“In the Royal Marines we say: you have to improvise, adapt and overcome – it’s the same principal in this role.  It might take weeks, months or even a year but this gave me my mobility back - and with dignity.  I never thought I would be a horse owner but as I learnt to walk, my horse learnt new skills – we did it together.”
 
Jason’s words and experience inspired me to ask myself this question - what is the value of the horse to me? In addition to the important fact that a significant part of my PR business revolves around the horse-world, I am a mad keen racegoer and eventing groupie. But for the purpose of this exercise I am going to focus just on Thomas – my horse.
 
I purchased Tom a year ago, he is a former racehorse, who never made much of an impression on the track, despite boasting a rather smart pedigree.   My main aim was to have some fun and have a bash at eventing. 

A year on and we have successfully completed several BE 100’s, we’ve yet to snaffle that elusive rosette, but there’s always next year and I am pretty proud of us and our journey. [BE100 is a British Eventing class where the fences do not exceed 100cms.]
 
Tom came to me during what for me felt like a particularly low spot in my life.  On reflection this now sounds rather hollow, especially when we are reminded so frequently of the cruel curve balls life can throw – and particularly by Jason’s story. But our problems tend to be relative to us, however big or small.
 
Anyway, I was now responsible for a living being, someone who relied upon me to nurture, train and develop him. I began to start making plans, this was anything from Tom’s day-to-day exercise program to setting competition targets. 

Little did I know that I was ‘positive forecasting’ or for those who have read The Secret using ‘the law of attraction’.   Having learned this tool I then began apply it to other areas of my life - foremost to work. And lo and behold new business prospects began cropping up.  It was as if the world was a lamp with a genie within it and all I had to do was put my wish out to the universe, give it a little rub and it was granted. Happy days.
 
So one way I value the horse is its power to teach.  I believe we never stop learning, consciously or sub-consciously and what we gain in one experience we can more often than not transfer that skill into another area of our life, usually to our benefit. 
 
Returning to Jason’s story and the emotional and therapeutic value of the horse: to finish his address he told how he was asked how much he paid his therapist – his reply was "Feed, hay and water". Priceless - in my opinion.
 
Harriet Rochester  of  HRSM Ltd.
@HatRochesterPR

 

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Another Manton sale: a bit of racing heritage for sale - & the source of Stonehenge’s sarsens

 

“Racing is set to lose another slice of its heritage with the famous Manton Derby Gallop included in the latest sale of land at the Wiltshire estate owned by the Sangster family” – that is how the Racing Post introduces its news story on the further sale of Manton Estate land.

The Wantage estate agents Adkin are advertising this sale as “A unique opportunity to acquire Land at Fyfield & Overton Downs, Marlborough, forming part of the Fyfield Down SSSI.”  And Strutt and Parker headline the sale as “A truly unique opportunity to acquire a protected landscape steeped in history.”

Adkin and Strutt & Parker are joint selling agents for 577 acres of Overton and Fyfield Downs at a guide price of £2,000,000 or as one agent has it ‘offers in excess of £2,000,000.  

The Delling The Delling This separate lot – one of seven into which the estate was divided for the sale  – includes a three-bedroom house, The Delling.  This house has been redundant for about 30 years and is need of ‘substantial renovation.’   This lot also includes 35 acres of woodland.

Fyfield Down is not only steeped in racing heritage:  it is a triple-S-I because it was the source for Stonehenge’s sarsen stones – and the ground still boasts many sarsen stones.  It is now one of the best places in the area for birdwatchers.  [SSSI = Site of Special Scientific Interest.]

The Racing Post report says that contracts have still to be exchanged between the Sangsters and Paul Clarke for his purchase of Manton training establishment now the base for trainers Brian Meehan and George Baker, and much of the estate’s agricultural land.

But the ‘little used’ Derby Gallop, which climbs 150 feet over seven furlongs, was not part of Mr Clarke’s purchase.  This mile-long grass gallop was used in the past by several Derby champions to prepare them for the Epsom course’s gradients – including most recently 1992 Derby winner Dr Devious.

Guy Sangster told the Racing Post: “The gallop is in the middle of nowhere, away from the main gallops, and is probably used by Brian [Meehan] twice a year to give the horses a bit of variety.  The Derby winners from Manton in the past would have gone out there for a day out because it’s a long way from the main gallops.”

Peter Chapple-Hyam who used to train at Manton explained to the Racing Post that Dr Devious and the two Classic winner Rodrigo de Triano (a horse bred by Robert Sangster) would have used the Derby gallop: “But I didn’t use it just before the Derby because it was a fair trip away.”

 

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Globe-trotting, gym bunnies, manicures, long lunches & Downton catch-up…. an event rider’s winter starts here

 Harriet & Thomas Harriet & Thomas Harriet Rochester’s Marlborough Downs Uncovered feature marks the end another eventing season:

This week my horse, Thomas, checked into his winter residence – a lush field of grass up on the Marlborough Downs, along with some of his equine mates who are there for a well-earned break after a busy eventing season.   

With a relentless schedule of competitions for professional riders between the months of March and October, one wonders what can possibly keep these equestrian adrenaline junkie’s amused during all that winter downtime?

So after some digging about I discovered what some of the Marlborough eventing tribe are planning to help the winter months fly by…

 

Andrew NicholsonAndrew Nicholson Andrew Nicholson                        Stables: Lockeridge

2014 highlights – triple wins at Landrover Burghley Horse Trials and at the Barbury International Horse Trials winner - riding Avebury.

Andrew wouldn’t admit that to avoid the winter weather he will often be found ensconced reading his new book Focused.  However, he says;

“Going jump racing at Cheltenham is as good as any holiday for me.   I also take some of the youngsters to hunter trials and give a lead to my nine-year-old daughter.    We will steal a few days away as a family in between doing general maintenance around the property, something that’s a bit of a bore but necessary.’

“Before we know it, December will be here and the horses will come back into slow work and then we’ll be preparing to do it all again in 2015”.

 

 

Sir Mark Todd                 Stables: Badgerstown

Eventing legend and International Equestrian Federation rider of the twentieth century.

“I manage the Brazilian event team so I am off to South America in November and back again in December for some training clinics.  I’m also off to New Zealand over Christmas and back via the States for more teaching."

 "There’s no rest for the wicked, but I expect I will find some time to nip to the beach whilst on my travels.”

“Each snow season, I try to make an annual pilgrimage to the mountains.  In order to help prevent any unwanted pre-season injuries as well as time on the piste, I always ensure there’s plenty spent experiencing and tasting the local après ski."

 

Sir Mark Todd Sir Mark Todd
 

Jesse Campbell              Stables: Ogbourne St Andrew

Up and coming New Zealand rider.

“When not riding the babies, I will be catching up on the back series of Downton Abbey and playing golf, we have a lad’s eventer’s trip to Prague planned in November – it’s tough going in the winter.  I also love giving the England Rugby team stick and supporting the All Blacks. "

“I am off to New Zealand at the end of the year to see my family and also spending some time in Australia with my girlfriend, where topping up my tan is on the agenda”.

 

Rebecca Howard             Stables: Mildenhall

Current Canadian rider of the year

In late November I’m heading over the pond to my homeland – Canada, where as well as catching up with my folks and sisters I have some teaching clinics planned in British Columbia.

Hands take a real beating across the competition season so my winter guilty pleasure is a regular manicure from Kreem boutique, Marlborough.   

I am also a dedicated follower of Shaun T – a Will Smith look-a-like. Him and his T25 video works out are a great incentive to help me out of bed during the winter mornings.  If it’s not Shaun T – then I head to the gym.

 

 Rebecca HowardRebecca Howard

After Tim’s victory at Luhmuhlen (photo: copyright Libby Law Photography)After Tim’s victory at Luhmuhlen (photo: copyright Libby Law Photography)Tim and Jonelle Price                  Stables: Mildenhall                          

2014 highlights: 1st Luhmuhlen 4 star (Tim and Wesko) and 4th in the World Equestrian Games (Jonelle and Classic Moet)

As well as being an ace pilot on a horse, Jonelle is renowned as a dab hand in the kitchen and the Price Sunday’s roasts have become legendary in the area.  

“What off season?! Looking ahead our winter looks pretty hectic with lots of travelling. Although, in previous winter’s us Kiwis have mastered the art of a long indulgent lunch, generally generously sponsored by numerous renowned wine regions from around the world”. Jonelle explains from the final four star event of the season at Pau in France, where she finished 4th riding Faerie Dianimo.

“Last year Tim and I went to Vietnam.  It was great to experience a totally different culture and be so far removed from our daily lives.  We plan to be in Germany and Sweden in November for some indoor competitions and then we are going to Puhinui, New Zealand in December for their big spring event and to spend Christmas with our families.  

“As much as we enjoy the lower intensity this time of year, it’s always good to get back to the horses”.

Whether it’s winter months with the latest TV period dramas, indulging hours at the beautician’s or some globe-trotting – rest assured, come early 2015,  the Marlborough event riders will be ready to roll and hungry for the competition season once more.

 
Tweet me @HatRochesterPR

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Jonelle Price takes fourth place in season’s last four-star eventing competition

 

Jonelle Price & Faerie Dianimo at Barbury 2013Jonelle Price & Faerie Dianimo at Barbury 2013Les Etoiles de Pau, the season’s final four-star eventing competition (October 23-26), was won by the German rider Ingrid Klimke on Horseware Hale Bob.  They took joint first place in the dressage and first place in the cross country, and despite four faults, held on in the show jumping to win by a clear 6.2 points.

Mildenhall-based Jonelle Price kept the New Zealand flag flying – and local hopes very much alive - to finish fourth in the overall placings.  With her nine-year-old grey mare Faerie Dianimo, she was in eleventh place after the dressage, in sixth place after the cross country – and went on to take the season-topping fourth place.

Jonelle Price (copyright Libby law Photography)Jonelle Price (copyright Libby law Photography)Mrs Price was one of only three riders with a clear round and no time penalties in the final show jumping stage.

After her fourth place at the World Equestrian Games this summer in France, she must be keener still to get into the top three placings.

“It was about giving her a good trip, and if we were competitive, then that was a bonus,” said Price of the feisty little grey who is owned by Trisha Rickards and Jacky Green. “To be able to do both was super.”

She’s confident it is just the start of an exciting future for Faerie Dianimo.

“The cross country was quite strong,” said Price. “It was tough from start to finish, and at 12 minutes was the longest one we have had all year. The questions came thick and fast, with problems right throughout. It was a true four star out there.”


“We had one moment in the showjumping. If ever she is in doubt, she goes sky high – which is what she did. She always gives it everything..”
Price says while the nine-year-old horse is dainty, unique and beautiful to look at, she is “a little fighter”.

“She keeps me on my toes and is relentless. She loves what she does and is bloody good at it! She is incredibly talented – give her another 12 or 24 months and she could be really special.”

For Price and her husband Tim, the result at Pau caps off their best-ever year:  “It’s been a combination of everything coming together . . . horsepower, training, belief and a bit of luck to carry you across the line.”

It was a bleak day for the British contenders.  William Fox-Pitt on Parklane Hawk was in joint first place with Klimke in the dressage.   And on his second entry Seacookie TSF (last year’s winning pair) was in fifth place.

However, Fox-Pitt retired Seacookie TSF during the cross-country and withdrew Parklane Hawk before he started the course.  He blamed the hard ground.

The highest placed British pair was Nicola Wilson with One Two Many - finishing in eighth place.

The final results saw Germany's Abdreas Dibowski in second place and France's Arnaud Boitteau third. In fifth place was Ireland's Joseph Murphy on Sportsfield Othello who had been in fourth place after the cross-country, but had twelve faults in the show jumping. Murphy had worse luck still on Electric Cruise - they were in second position after the cross-country, but were eliminated at the horse inspection before the show jumping.

 

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Andrew Nicholson misses Pau – Qwanza is not fit enough

The French four-star eventing competition at Pau this weekend holds the odd distinction of being the last major competition of 2014, but also the first of the international equestrian federation’s Classics Series for 2014-2015.  

And it’s that second part of Pau’s attraction that will disappoint New Zealander Andrew Nicholson – he has had to withdraw his eleven-year-old mare Qwanza as she was “just not quite fit enough” after a year-long lay-off following injury.

Nicholson’s other star eventers – Avebury and Nereo – are resting after another successful season in which he completed two hat-trick wins.  With Avebury he won both Barbury and Burghley for the third year running. He won the Classics Series in 2013 with its $40,000 prize.

Lockeridge-based Nicholson told the New Zealand press: “There is not much point in going there if the horse is not 100 per cent. We'll miss this, write the year off and start afresh next year."

Sixteen of Pau’s 40 four-star international entries are British riders – headed by Pippa Funnell with two mounts and William Fox-Pitt with three mounts.

With Nicholson’s scratching, local interest resides with another New Zealander, Jonelle Price from Mildenhall with her nine-year-old mare Faerie Dianimo.  This will be Jonelle’s first ride over Pau’s cross country course.

After a great season which included her fourth place at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, Jonelle is now ranked ninth in the world.  The other New Zealand entry is Jock Paget who has two mounts in the competition.

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Racing: Rain puts Salisbury’s final meeting of the season in doubt

Salisbury racecourse officials will hold a 7.15 am ‘precautionary inspection’ on Monday morning.  With the ground already soft and heavy in places, Saturday’s rain and expected rain on Sunday evening and Monday morning may prove too much for the course.

The Salisbury course’s season finale on Monday (October 13) is the Bathwick Tyres Reduced Admission race day.  The six races (first at 2.20pm, the last at 5.00pm) have attracted good entries.

Richard Hughes, champion flat race jockey in 2012 and 2013, will be riding the Hannon entries.  This season Hughes has been in a close fight for the title with Ryan Moore.

The Salisbury card's  2.50pm race for maiden fillies includes a horse named Evening Rain – fingers crossed.

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Down at the start with Gary Witheford - ‘the stalls man’ who gives racehorses the chance to win

 

Gary Witheford at the startGary Witheford at the startThe 5.10 race at Pontefract on Monday, October 6, passed off without much fanfare.  But the result was a major victory for Witheford Equine of Burbage – the three-year-old gelding Dubai Star not only went safely into the starting stalls, but won at odds of 11-2.

It was Dubai Star’s first race and for this ‘tricky’ horse getting there had been quite a journey. He was bred in Ireland and bought as a yearling for 170,000 guineas: not an outrageous price paid for a horse sired by Dubawi out of Tango Tonic.

Dubai Star is owned by HRH Princess Haya of Jordan (wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Godolphin Racing fame) and trained at Newmarket by John Gosden. Last month at a Kempton Park evening meeting, Dubai Star was to race for the first time with Gosden’s stable jockey William Buick on board.

It was not a star race – with a total prize fund of just £4,000.  But the three-year-old needed a race in case he was sent for the October sales or there was a need to convince his owner he should be kept in training to race next season.

Gary Witheford had been asked by Gosden to get him ready for the starting stalls.  Gary had been to Newmarket several times to calm the horse and practise getting him quietly into the starting stalls.

Dubai Star goes into the stalls Dubai Star goes into the stalls After his usual negotiations with the racecourse officials at Kempton, Gary was down by the start for 6.10pm race ‘The £25 Free Bet at BetVictor.com Maiden Stakes”: “It’s going into the gladiator ring – it’s a challenge every time.  When it comes off it’s great.”

Gary draped Dubai Star’s hindquarters with one of the lightly padded stalls rugs he designed himself to stop horses bumping their ribs or stifles on the stalls.  The rug is designed to stay behind when the horse jumps out of the stalls.

He led Dubai Star in perfectly easily and the horse looked quite calm: “The calmer I am, the calmer the horse will be. But I am firm.”

Gary keeping Dubai Star calmGary keeping Dubai Star calmBut behind the stalls things were going badly with some of the other entries.  One horse never made it into the stalls at all and another went in most unwillingly – delaying the start by crucial minutes.

After about four minutes waiting, Gary had to move out of the stall beside Dubai Star where he had been reassuring the horse and making it feel comfortable.  

A cross Dubai Star taken out of the stallsA cross Dubai Star taken out of the stallsThen, when the delay reached about six minutes, Dubai Star had had more than enough and reared up hitting his head on the top bar of the stalls.  Gary pulled Buick clear.  The horse was brought out backwards and the race started without him.

Gary was very despondent.  And people I spoke to as we made our way back from the start were indignant there had been such a long delay.  As one punter put it: “That was a most unfair way to treat a jumpy horse.”

Driving back to Burbage Gary was pretty depressed: “I’m a perfectionist.  That’ll screw me up for a week.”  John Gosden came on the phone and was calm and understanding about the unfortunate start to Dubai Star’s racing career. His calm voice must have taken some of the sting out of Gary’s anguish.

A disconsolate Gary leads Dubai Star away from the startA disconsolate Gary leads Dubai Star away from the startGary told Gosden he wanted to put Dubai Star through a stalls test.  That took place ten days later at Newmarket.  It’s a test in front of race officials and the horse has to enter the stalls and stand quietly for one minute.  Dubai Star passed the test and would be allowed to enter another race.

And so he was entered for that Pontefract race to be ridden by Roger Havlin, understudy to stable jockey Buick at Gosden’s Clarehaven yard.  And there to see Dubai  Star successfully into the stalls was Gary Witheford’s son, Craig.

Now he has conquered his fear of the starting stalls, he could well be a horse to watch next season.

At most of Britain’s racecourses and many overseas courses too, Gary Witheford is well known to owners, starters, stalls teams, trainers – he is often known as “the stalls man”.   He has made a successful business out of calming wilful horses and getting them to go quietly into the starting stalls.

The practise stalls on the gallopsThe practise stalls on the gallopsIn fact, Gary Witheford’s company, Witheford Equine, does much more than train horses for the stalls and attend at the start of flat races.  And though he prefers the term ‘natural horsemanship’ for his skills, he is a ‘horse whisperer’ – it says so on the cover of his fascinating book.

Trainers also use Gary to ‘break in’ young horses.  That is another term Gary would rather we did not use: he prefers ‘starting’ young horses. As during his process he does not ‘break’ anything.  He can do in twenty minutes or so what takes several weeks by traditional ways of ‘breaking’ horses and he ‘starts’ between 400 and 500 young horses a year....and they're off!...and they're off!

Trainers send their horses to Gary’s yard near Burbage – sometimes just for the morning and sometimes for residential care.  They are shown how easy it is to go into the stalls.  Then they go up to Gary’s gallops and get to jump out of the stalls at full stretch.

Not happy with the stallsNot happy with the stallsOne day when I was at the yard he had a really very unruly horse from a local trainer.  This horse played up terribly in the stalls – so much so that it scraped itself a little.  But Gary was determined to see it right.

The vet was called, but the horse was none the worse for his tantrum and would be coming back to get Witheford Equine’s whispering treatment.  One day he too will go on and win a race – at Pontefract or some other racecourse where Gary and Craig are trying to show the authorities that there are other ways of getting horses into the starting stalls than by manhandling them in like some many sacks of potatoes.

You can find out more about Gary Witheford’s technique and about his new book here at Marlborough News Online.

 

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