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Thursday is Andrew Nicholson's big day at the Cheltenham Festival

Nicholson getting fit under the watchful eyes of AP McCoy (photo: Channel 4 Racing)Nicholson getting fit under the watchful eyes of AP McCoy (photo: Channel 4 Racing)It will be the sixth year the Cheltenham Festival has run its charity race - the St Patrick's Derby that closes the card on the Festival's Thursday - March 12 this year.  Lockeridge based event rider, Andrew Nicholson will be one of the selected entrants raising money for the Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF).

It is a flat race for amateur riders who can raise the £5,000 in sponsorship.  And their horses must have run twice under rules.

Nicholson will be riding the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Golden Jubilee - a six year-old that has won five times on the flat.  Nicholson has been getting his weight down and training hard - including a session under the eagle eye of champion jump jockey AP McCoy at the IJF headquarters at Lambourn.

A former stalwart of the New Zealand eventing team, Andrew Nicholson, told Cotswold Life:  “I will be as competitive as I can be but it’s the horse that has to run the mile and a half and lug me up the hill. As long as I do my job right and not make a fool of myself I will be happy and if I have got a horse that can really gallop who knows?"   

Phil Clark being interviewed by a Racing UK colleaguePhil Clark being interviewed by a Racing UK colleagueHe will face some seasoned competition.  The competitors include Clifford Baker who is head lad at Paul Nicholls' yard and Phil Clark the long-standing  cameraman for the Racing UK television service and who has probably watched more races more closely than many of the other riders.

The Injured Jockeys Fund was established in 1964 by Lord Oaksey, after the devastating accidents to jockeys Tim Brookshaw and Paddy Farrell.   The fund supports jockeys with career ending injuries and does amazing rehabilitation work - notably at its Lambourn headquarters - for many other riders injured in racing and other equestrian sports.

The choice of the IJT to benefit from this year's race is particularly significant as it was on the Thursday of the 2013 Festival that jockey J T McNamara had a terrible fall that left him paralysed.

Also taking part is Olive Murphy, a senior cabin crew member with Aer Lingus. She held an amateur licence in Ireland from 1993 to 1996 and is a lifelong friend of McNamara.

The youngest of this year's twelve riders is Thomas Williams - a student at Loughborough University and a pupil assistant trainer with Violet Jordan.

Andrew Nicholson will not be asking you to back him to win the race, but he does want you to sponsor him at his Just Giving site.

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Greatwood's annual charity raceday at Newbury Racecourse raises over £70,000


(Photo from Channel 4 Racing)(Photo from Channel 4 Racing)Sasha Thorbek-Hooper works at Greatwood and also at Newbury Racecourse.  On Saturday last she was up early for the charity's big day at the races...and tells the story of the day.

The Greatwood Charity for retired racehorses at Clench Common was delighted to open its doors to Channel 4's cameras on Saturday (February 28) when part of The Morning Line programme came live from the charity's headquarters ahead of our main fundraising event of the year at Newbury Racecourse.

Ex-jockey now turned Channel 4 Racing television presenter, Mick Fitzgerald interviewed Greatwood's co-founder Helen Yeadon about the charity's history.  He then moved into the classroom to speak to some of the students that attend Greatwood's educational programmes for disadvantaged children and young adults with special educational needs.

One of the Greatwood horses featured on The Morning Line programme: Seek The Faith - an American bred horse who ran 49 times with seven wins and 13 places. He was taken in because his owner could no longer afford to keep him. "He is a nice big sort of horse, he had been on his own prior to his arrival and he really enjoys the company of the other horses."

Later on in the Channel 4 programme the students were shown grooming some of the horses they work with, before finishing off the live broadcast by interviewing me about some of our stable stars and my role as fundraiser.

Despite the obvious challenge of broadcasting with horses and children (what do they say about working with one or the other, let alone both?!), the
broadcast was seamless and the media exposure has been enormous for the charity.

And there at Newbury was Mick Fitzgerald doing his day-time jobAnd there at Newbury was Mick Fitzgerald doing his day-time jobCollecting from the puntersCollecting from the puntersAfter the programme finished, the Greatwood team rapidly moved base to Newbury Racecourse for the charity raceday.

Now in its 8th year and a firm fixture in the racing diary, the card included six races all sponsored as 'Supporting Greatwood' by betfair, betway, Ladbrokes, Moore of Devizes Ltd and BetVictor.  The feature race was The StanJames.com Supporting Greatwood Gold Cup Handicap Steeple Chase.  

The raceday included a lunch attended by 300 prominent guests from the world of horse racing, followed by a main auction and a silent auction.

The raceday was a resounding success raising in excess of £72,000 - that's £10,000 more than last year's Newbury Raceday, Huge thanks to everybody involved for making the day so successful.

It rained a bit and it blew very cold, the racing was first class and the fundraising was successful.  What better way to end February!

Waiting for the next winner: Newbury's presentation podium


Neil Mulholland chats to Barry GeraghtyNeil Mulholland chats to Barry Geraghty

TM writes: If you want a tip for the Cheltenham Festival check out the jump season's emerging  colaboration between trainer Neil Mulholland and jockey Barry Geraghty.  The Mulholland trained Leave it Be was brought home by Geraghty to win the day's opening race - the Betfair Supporting Greatwood Veterans' Handicap Hurdle.  The Irish bred eight-year-old gelding was 8-1 with the course bookies.

After the race Mulholland said he had booked Barry Geraghty for two of his Cheltenham Festival runners. Geraghty will ride The Young Master in the RSA Chase and The Druids Nephew in the three-mile handicap chase on the opening day of the Festival.   

Barry Geraghty in the silks of Leave It Be's owners - The Hanham Boys Racing ClubBarry Geraghty in the silks of Leave It Be's owners - The Hanham Boys Racing Club

And if anyone wanted a reminder of Barry Geraghty's current form he made it a Newbury double with his win on five-year-old Rayak in the Moore of Devizes Ltd Supporting Greatwood Novices' Handicap Hurdle.  Rayak is trained by Jonjo O'Neill at Cheltenham.

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Police issue photo in Tedworth Hunt assault case

Wiltshire police have issued a photograph of a man they want to interview following the serious assault as a meet of the Tedworth Hunt was ending at about 4.00 pm on January 24 in Everleigh.

The main victim was the 39 year-old joint master of the hunt, Mike Lane. During the assault he was kicked several times in the head.  He lost consciousness, suffered a facial injury and needed hospital treatment.

Another man was assaulted with a flail like bar on the end of a rope. 

Fortunately no one sustained any serious injury during this assault.

It is assumed that the attack was made by a hunt saboteur - a group of protesters had been following riders and hounds during their drag hunt.  

Detectives working on the case want to speak to the hooded man in the photo.

And officers are keen to hear too from anyone who has information regarding this incident.

Anyone who recognises the man in the photo or who has any relevant information should contact PC Randle of the Rural Crime Team on 101. Alternatively call Crimestoppers 0800 555 111 where details may be left anonymously.

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Champion jockey AP McCoy to retire this season: surprise announcement after Newbury win

"The real McCoy" - talking to Rishi Persad"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 Walking back after his fall With trainer Jonjo O'NeillWith 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.

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New Zealand eventer Lizzie Brown starts the 2015 season from her new base on the Marlborough Downs

Lizzie Brown with DaffyLizzie 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)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 workJonny 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)Lizzie and Princeton: NZ high performance training under team showjumping coach Luis Alverez Cervera (photo copyright Libby Law Photography - NZ)


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Newbury Racecourse: All eyes on the Betfair Hurdle - perhaps it will be Snake Eyes' year

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.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' AsoAnd 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.)

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Haddon Training sponsors awards for grooms – Nikki Newman is runner up

David Grant with Nikki NewmanDavid 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 HeardDavid Grant with Caroline Heard David Grant with Jessica Errington 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.”


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Toby Balding: a racing world’s Who’s Who pays tribute at Marlborough College chapel memorial service

 Andrew and Clare Balding share their memories of Uncle TobyAndrew and Clare Balding share their memories of Uncle TobyThe great and good and the old and the young of horseracing and beyond gathered at Marlborough College chapel on Monday afternoon (December 15) for a service celebrating and giving thanks for the life of Toby Balding, OBE. 

He was a trainer who, Clare Balding told the assembled relatives and friends, "...didn't regard training racehorses as a job but as a way of life, and it was a life he loved." 

Toby Balding had been a pupil at Marlborough College – and the steps at the east end of the chapel sported the symbols of his racing life: a tribly, racing binoculars, his racing colours, two representative trophies and a portrait of the man.

He had trained racehorses for 48 years and saddled over 2,000 winners.  The service perfectly captured the spirit of a racehorse trainer who was renowned for nurturing winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Grand National and at Royal Ascot.  

But, as his niece Clare Balding told the packed chapel: “He was magical with horses, but even better with people.”

AP McCoy, Adrian Maguire, Richard Dunwoody, Jeff Pearce are just some names who were graduates through the Toby Balding stable – and proudly call themselves ‘the Balding babes’.   

Also there were the jockeys who rode his Grand National winners Eddie Harty (Highland Wedding) and Jimmy Frost (Little Polveir.)
Well-known racing aces in the congregation included Paul Nicholls, Mick Fitzgerald, John Francome, Graham Bradley, Ron Atkins, Jonjo O’Neill who were reflecting on Balding's genius touch with horses, people and life. 

A stunning service of hymns, poetry, anecdotes captured the many ways in which  Balding thoroughly enjoyed life.  He was a keen follower of Southampton Football Club – and the choir began the memorial service with an arrangement 'Oh When the Saints'.  And they also sang 'The Teddy Bears picnic' - a further wonderful reflection of his quirky sense of humour.
Toby's brother Ian Balding (left) & Ian's daughter ClareToby's brother Ian Balding (left) & Ian's daughter ClareEmotional tributes from the Balding and Geake families highlighted the impact he had made personally to them as a trainer, father, grandfather and uncle. A beautiful narrative and eulogy from Clare Balding and her brother Andrew, described the expanse of lives their Uncle Toby touched with his broad-minded wisdom.  

They told how Eric Clapton was among the frequent visitors to Balding's kitchen table for breakfast following mornings on the gallops.  And about the chaotic animal life at the stables.
During his training career and in retirement Toby was always generous with advice encouraging those eager to get on with it.   His grandson Sam Geake spoke one of the tributes to him - aptly finishing with a favourite saying of his grandfather at the end of a morning's work on the gallops:  "That's all folks, no action replays!"

John Francome John Francome Mick Fitzgerald of Channel 4 Racing Mick Fitzgerald of Channel 4 Racing Jonjo O'NeillJonjo O'Neill
Martin Pipe Martin Pipe John Mackie John Mackie Paul Nicholls Paul Nicholls
Eddie Harty who rode Toby Balding's first Grand National winnerEddie Harty who rode Toby Balding's first Grand National winner Jimmy Frost who rode Balding's second Grand National winner Jimmy Frost who rode Balding's second Grand National winner Former jockey Ron Atkins Former jockey Ron Atkins
Jonathan Geake - Toby Balding's son-in-law - also a trainer Jonathan Geake - Toby Balding's son-in-law - also a trainer The 'race card' or order of serviceThe 'race card' or order of service Toby Balding's son Gerald Toby Balding's son Gerald

 See:  Before the memorial service in Marlborough for Toby Balding, Ian Balding writes about his brother - the much respected racehorse trainer who died in September


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