Willis 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.
IRichard 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 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
||Richard Hannon talks to Channel 4 Racing
||Richard Hughes - second by a neck
Tim 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 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.
Tullius - 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 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 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.