Nigel Bunter at the cross-country courseThe St James's Place Wealth Management Barbury International Horse Trials will be welcoming 1,150 horses when they open on Thursday (July 9.) That total is a hundred more than last year, is a record number for the event and it makes Barbury the world's largest international horse trials.
Barbury Chairman, Nigel Bunter, told Marlborough News Online: "We've spent a month looking at weather forecasts. After the recent rain, the going should be near perfect - and it looks set fair for the weekend."
The chalk under Barbury's famous grass downs and a wind over the top of it, dries the ground very quickly - even after last Friday's freak storms. The grass is looking wonderfully green.
The highlight on Sunday will be the three star eventing competition's cross-country and all eyes will be on Lockeridge-based New Zealander Andrew Nicholson and his amazing 15-year-old grey Avebury who have won Barbury's premier three star event three years running.
Nigel Bunter says they've already notched up a 'remarkable achievement' at Barbury: "They've been using our gallops for the last few months, so we know he's fit and ready to defend his title."
The 'Avebury' obstacleWhatever happens in this year's competition, Avebury's name will live on at Barbury as they have now re-named their cross-country course's signature obstacle - the Stonehenge jump - after him.
Saturday's highlight will come at lunchtime with the second running of the JCB Champions Challenge - a relay held in the main ring. The event raises money for the Injured Jockeys Fund.
This year sees former Champion jockey AP McCoy's first ride in public since he retired at Sandown in April. He is teamed with Richard Johnson (who may well take over from AP as jump champion), Sam Twiston-Davies (Paul Nichol's stable jockey) and Wayne Hutchinson (stable jockey to Alan King who trains at Barbury.)
Opposing them will be a team of eventers led by Andrew Nicholson with Sir Mark Todd, Harry Meade and Tina Cook. The third team will come from the winners of the Inter Hunt Scurry competition. Last year the jockeys - then led by John Francome - won.
When we were at Barbury on Tuesday morning it was obvious the downland site was nearly ready for the horses - and the crowds which usually number about 15,000 over the four days. The Willis Brothers were out working on the cross-country course.
They have to give the obstacles a make over a few days before the event so the birch can stay green in the jumps. Some of the birch they were using comes from Savernake Forest. Later the jumps will be inspected to make sure they are exactly the right height and thickness.
Ashley Willis and Stewart Roberts at work on a cross-country jump
The Willis Brothers are based near Malmesbury and create obstacles for designers of many cross-country courses. In the past they have made Olympic courses and have won the contract for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
This September the European Eventing Championship are being held at Blair castle in Scotland. This has brought a much larger than usual contingent of European eventers to Barbury. And, of course, the locally-based New Zealand eventers will be there in force too - including Jonelle Price (third in the world rankings), Andrew Nicholson (fifth) Tim Price (at 16) and Sir Mark Todd (at 17.)
Jonelle Price With the Barbury International Horse Trials starting later this week, there is special interest in the International Equestrian Federation's new set of worldwide rankings for eventing riders. This list covers the twelve months up to June 30 - and Mildenhall's New Zealand rider Jonelle Price is back as number three in the world.
She had been at three last year, but dropped to fifth in the FEI's previous list. In June she came a tantalising second in the Luhmuhlen four star on Fairie Dianimo
Jonelle's husband Tim has dipped in the rankings from nine to sixteenth place - and that despite his brilliant performance coming a close second on Wesko at this spring's prestigious Rolex Kentucky competition.
The Prices are great fans of the Barbury International Horse Trials - not least because they are based so close by. And they have put their names to Barbury's fundraising for the Prospect Hospice.
The top two places in the new rankings see Germany's Michael Jung and Britain's William Fox-Pitt change places with Jung now top of the list.
Lockeridge-based New Zealander Andrew Nicholson is at five - down one rung. And another locally-based New Zealander, Sir Mark Todd is back in the top twenty at 17 - up from 42nd position.
There are now five British eventers in the FEI's top twenty - with two of them joining William Fox-Pitt in the top ten. Oliver Townend is at eighth - from seventh. Nicola Wilson stays at tenth place - with a good performance at Kentucky behind her.
Pippa Funnell has come back into the top twenty with a startling jump to fifteenth position from 31st. And Gemma Tattersall is at 19 - up from 21.
Many of these big eventing names will be competing at this week's Barbury International Horse Trials.
Sally Randell and KillimordalySally Randell has just applied for her training licence. For the past year she has been assistant trainer at Andy Turnell's yard on the edge of Broad Hinton - soon she will be taking over the yard.
Turnell, who as a youngster was a star jockey and then became the quiet man of racehorse training, is still recovering from the stroke he had two years ago which paralysed much of his right side. He will be changing to a 'supporting role' at the stables.
He and his wife hit it off with Sally from the word go. He told the Racing Post: "I'm confident this will work. Apart from being a tireless worker, Sally is bringing new owners to the yard."
Turnell 'inherited' his licence from his father who trained at Ogbourne Maizey. But Turnell, who is now 66, moved his training establishment around England, before settling back to Wiltshire and his everyday view of the Hackpen white horse.
Sally had been training point-to-pointers in Wales and when she arrived at the Turnell yard just a year ago, it was empty. While Andy was recovering from his stroke, the horses had gone to other other trainers. Working together closely , Andy, his wife Gilly and Sally have re-built the yard and have been having successes - six winners in the 2014-2015 jump season.
There are now seven horses training in the licensed yard for the summer. In the winter Sally hopes to get that up to sixteen or seventeen.
Sally has completed her three modules at Newmarket's British Racing School. Also on her courses was another soon-to-be trainer from just the other side of Marlborough, champion jockey Richard Hughes.
On the all-weather circuit When Marlborough News Online was at the stables, Sally and amateur jockey Brodie Hampson were riding out the final two horses of the morning. Brodie was on the eight year-old Waddingtown Hero who has had two recent wins in chases at Ffos Las.
"Ffos Las has been good for us," says Sally with a smile. But looking closer at the results tables you find that Waddingtown Hero has come third-first-second-second-first in his last five races - providing quite a tonic for the yard.
Sally was riding the bay gelding Killimordaly - a six year-old named after a village near Galway. His Irish owner, Patsy Hardiman, died recently - very suddenly.
Sally Randell, Donnas Palm, Brodie Hampson His family are keeping Hardiman's other horse, the four year-old Any Destination. But Sally is now forming a syndicate to keep Killimordaly at the yard. He raced over hurdles last season and early in June he came second in a two mile seven furlong chase at Ffos Las.
Brodie, in the earliest of her twenties, has known Sally since she was eleven. Her father was Sally's detachment commander when they were serving with the Royal Artillery. And she met Brodie who kept a pony at the regimental Saddle Club when Sally was there.
They have worked together for five years and Sally believes Brodie has a great future as a jockey. She won her first ever point-to-point race and with six wins over jumps and under rules she came second in the 2014-2015 Amateur Lady Jockeys National Hunt Championship - behind Bridget Andrews.
Sally told us that one of best memories of her year at the stables was seeing the delight on Andy Turnell's face when Brodie rode Aristocracy to a three lengths victory in a hurdle race at Wincanton last November: "He thinks the world of Brodie."
Sally herself was no mean jockey and only announced her retirement earlier this year. In 2009, riding Oakfield Legend, she became the first woman to win Sandown's Grand Military Gold Cup. She won it again in 2014 on Bradley and again this year on Loose Chips.
Another boost to her year has been seeing how Andy made great progress in his recovery once the horses were back in the yard: "He's back to his old self."
He travels to the races with Sally, but gets pretty tired. Every week he goes to Oaksey House, the Injured Jockeys Fund headquarters in Lambourn, for physiotherapy - and he rides with the Lambourn Riding for the Disabled.
Sally says the Turnell training establishment is "A really great yard" and she is very pleased to be taking it over. It has 17 licensed boxes, enough paddocks for the horses to be turned out every day, an under-cover horse walker ("Great for the winter!") and a long all-weather circuit. Further down, the barn has sixteen more horses that Sally plans to keep for point-to-pointers.
Brodie Hampson & Donnas Palm at the Cambridge Harriers Point-to-Point, Cottenham December 2014 (Photo copyright Racehorse Photos) On the day we visited Sally, yard manager Gerald Burton and his son Sam were away on training courses. Sam is just turning sixteen and joins as a novice aiming to be an amateur jockey.
Sally has just appointed Emma Owen to look after the yard's admin and publicity, and she too has been at the Racing School. And Kate Leahy is joining the team soon.
And then we are introduced to Donnas Palm - an eleven year-old grey gelding with a history and now quite a magisterial presence at the yard.
Beginning in 2008, Donnas Palm raced in Ireland and chalked up six wins and three seconds in his first 13 outings. Ridden by such well-known jockeys as Paul Carberry and Barry Geraghty, he won eleven races under rules. Racing in England from April 2013 onwards was not such a success.
He is now trained by Sally for point-to-pointing. In that first race in Ireland at Navan he was ridden by Nina Carberry, so it is fitting that Brodie Hampson has been racing him recently.
Brodie says he is an 'absolutely straightforward horse'. There is, however, a 'but'. If he finds himself in the 'wrong position' with other horses in a race "He simply tries his best to stop." Brodie now has the measure of him and Sally hopes he will be at the yard for the rest of his days.
Thanks to Racehorse Photos for use of their photo of Brodie Hampson and Donnas Palm.
[Click on photos to enlarge them.]
Riding down to the start (photo by kind permission of Betfair)Victoria Pendleton - the 'golden girl' of British cycling - started riding just nineteen weeks ago and at Newbury Racecourse on Thursday evening (July 2) she took part in a charity race - her first outing in public. The flat race, The George Frewer Celebration Sweepstake over one mile and five furlongs, was the first on the evening card raising funds for the Key4Life charity.
She said afterwards that she was thrilled with her first ride in a race. She finished eighth in a field of eleven on the eight year-old bay gelding Mighty Mambo - trained by Lawney Hill at her Oxfordshire yard and for whom Victoria is now riding out.
As one seasoned racing correspondent put it: "Few novice riders would even begin to contemplate anything like a public race and fewer still would have sustained such enthusiasm in the face of the inevitable tumbles and petty humiliations that horses deliver." (Chris Cook, The Guardian.)
The walk from the weighing room: Victoria and Charlotte PlunkettPendleton and Mighty Mambo got away rather slowly from the start. But she made some late progress: "I gave him too much to do. There's a really long straight here and I thought some horses would blow out so I wanted to bide my time. It was over too quickly. I wish I could do it again."
The charity race was won by Oratorio's Joy trained by Mr J.A.Osborne and ridden by Maisie Turner, with Charlotte Plunkett (Barbury trainer Alan King's PA) second on Uriah Heap - trained by her boss.
Safely on board - watched by Alan King (at right) The age range of the riders taking part in the charity race was staggering. The youngest was Jacob Jelfs (aged 20) - he rides out for trainer Charlie Hills. And the oldest was Sir Mark Todd (aged 59) New Zealand eventing star based just over the Marlborough Downs at Badgerstown. He almost certainly has more Olympic medals than Ms Pendleton.
The challenge to Victoria Pendleton from Betfair proved to be one she could not refuse. It was not just a challenge to switch from bicycle to horse, but to become a race jockey.
Once she had retired from competitive cycling after the London Olympics, she had been looking for a challenge - perhaps a challenge a little more atuned to her skills and love of speed than Strictly Come Dancing. Betfair provide it: they wanted to find "an unexpected and entertaining perspective on horse racing, while also profiling the skills, athleticism and courage faced by jockeys every day."
Training is hard work: riding out (Betfair photo) Victoria & AP McCoyBetfair assembled a team of experts to make sure Victoria could reach their ambitious target. The team included chef d'equipe of the British eventing team, Yogi Breisner, trainer Lawney Hill, para-dressage rider Tamsin Addison, champion trainer and Betfair ambassador Paul Nichols. Oh, and she had some words of wisdom from another retired champion - AP McCoy.
At 34-years-old, Victoria had been riding bicycles since she was three-years-old and had only had the occasional holiday pony ride. Her record made her Britain's most successful woman Olympic athlete, so she certainly knows about the hard work and dedication the change of saddles would involve.
[To enlarge click on image]The Betfair challenge aims to get Victoria ready to take part in the Foxhunters Amateur Chase at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival. On the way she will have more charity races before she goes to the British Racing School to see whether she qualifies for an amateur's licence. And before the end of 2015 she hopes to be able to have some point-to-point rides.
Betfair's Mark Ody, is more than hopeful she will make the Cheltenham race: "With Victoria's Olympic pedigree, our support network, a lot of hard work, we're all hugely confident that we'll be cheering Victoria on in the Foxhunters Amateur at Cheltenham Festival 2016."
The George Frewer Charity Race at Newbury (sponsored by the Bernard Sunley Charitable Foundation) was in memory of George Frewer, who died in a freak accident on what would have been his 17th birthday. His passion was horse racing. To date over of £450,000 has been raised in his memory.