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.)
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.]
Kauto Star and Laura Collett in July 2013Kauto Star - the gelding who won races and racegoers' hearts - has been put down after falling in the paddock and suffering severe neck and pelvis injuries.
The British eventer Laura Collett announced his death on Twitter.
The 15-year-old had been retired from racing in 2012 and Laura Collett had successfully retrained him in dressage.
Kauto Star and Laura gave a dressage display at the Barbury Horse Trials last year. And in March they appeared together in publicity for Channel 4's Cheltenham Festival coverage - along with Denman, Big Bucks and Masterminded.
Kauto Star won the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice. He won 23 of his 41 races, including five King George VI Steeplechases.
Kauto Star's owner, Clive Smith told BBC Radio 5 live: "It is really devastating - he was looking fit and well at Laura Collett's yard. The main injury was to the neck, as it gets worse it attacks the spinal cord. He also fractured his pelvic bone. A really sad time indeed."
"He had a great talent for never giving up. He wanted to win. With jockey Ruby Walsh riding him, he put this massive effort in at the end of races. He had a heart of a lion."
Avebury at the Avebury fence - from the videoThere are thirteen chalk white horses of Wiltshire. You can top off that unlucky number by adding eventing's Wiltshire wonder horse: Avebury - a grey who now matches the chalk horses for whiteness.
The organisers of the St James's Place Wealth Management Barbury International Horse Trials (July 9-12) are marking Avebury's outstanding successes with a video about him - which you can watch here. This video explains what makes him such a special horse.
In addition, the horse trials, which take place on the Barbury Castle Estate on Marlborough Downs, are renaming their signature fence on the cross country course after Avebury.
Avebury is ridden by Andrew Nicholson, whose stables are at Lockeridge, and owned by Rosemary Barlow. Last year Avebury and Andrew achieved a historic hat trick - winning the prestigious Barbury International three star competition for a third consecutive year.
Avebury was bred by Andrew, raised in Wiltshire and named after the Avebury World Heritage Site - just a few miles from Barbury. And Avebury is a regular visitor to the Barbury Estate where he works on its famous gallops.
Andrew Nicholson explains that Avebury is a straightforward horse who likes the crowds: "Avebury loves Barbury and he also loves the camera so filming this video was good fun. We are all proud of what he has achieved here and look forward to being back at Barbury in a few weeks time.”
Nigel Bunter, Chairman of Barbury International Horse Trials, sees the renaming of their most iconic cross-country fence as a fitting tribute to a wonderful horses: "We hope Avebury fans will enjoy our film on him. We want to encourage as many as possible to visit Barbury in July to see a living legend and maybe history repeating itself with a four timer!"
Another frame from the video
Tickets for the Barbury Horse Trials start from £12 per person per day booked in advance. Children under 12 years go free. For information and tickets visit the Barbury website or call 01672 516125