Regulation The jump season 'proper' is about to begin, but already during the 'summer jump season' Neil King's Upper Herdswick Farm yard - by Barbury Castle - has sent out sixteen winners. In his latest newsletter, King admits that while it is 'a little early' to be looking at statistics 'it is pleasing to be in the top echelons of the trainers table.'
Sixteen winners - all over hurdles - eleven seconds and ten thirds makes for a tidy total of £88,000 in prize money for his owners. And some of those winners have been startling successes.
Last month Lizzie Kelly rode the six year-old bay gelding Regulation to win by a length in a two mile novices hurdle at Warwick. And twelve days later she brought him home in second place to the favoured Maputo at Huntingdon.
This is what they call an 'improving horse' - for on Friday (October 16) King's stable jockey Trevor Whelan rode Regulation to a scorching ten length win at Wincanton.
The Racing Post summary of the race reads like a trainer's dream: 'Regulation rout: there was a sound gallop in this competitive-looking handicap, but it was one-way traffic...Regulation absolutely routed his rivals...A winter break is probably on the cards and a flat two mile looks best for him, so targeting Aintree next April would appeal."
Regulation was entered for a two mile novice hurdle at Kempton on Sunday (October 18) - but was declared as a non-runner. The spring will no doubt see him back to form after his winter rest.
Ballyvoneen at Neil King's Open Day in September 2015Success in horseracing often lies close to tragedy. Neil King's newsletter pays an emotional tribute to ten year old bay gelding Ballyvoneen who had to be put down after a fall in the conditional jockeys' handicap chase at Chepstow the previous weekend (October 10.)
"Trainers', King writes, "are not supposed to have favourites but Ballyvoneen was a horse that gave me so much pleasure and who I looked forward to riding out every morning."
King had spotted this Irish bred horse while buying horses in Ireland - he could not find an owner for him and had to wait for the horse's second sales appearance to buy him for 20,000 guineas. He was not an easy horse and finding the right jockey for him took, says King, a while.
"Once Trevor [Whelan] had got the hang of him there was no better person for him, he knew how to kid him along and let Ballyvoneen do the jumping and then once he had persuaded him into contention he was then strong enough to get the best out of him."
Then, with 56 chase runs, nine wins, seven seconds, ten thirds and £40,000 in prize money to Ballyvoneen's credit, came the Chepstow October weekend meeting:
"Saturday turned into the most awful day for us all, after absolutely winging his way over the first three fences which would have given him and Lizzie such a buzz, so sadly he made a dreadful mistake putting down into the open ditch and paid the ultimate price."
"I made it down the track in time to him to see him and hold him whilst the vet dealt with him and tearfully thanked him for being such a fabulous horse to me and for all the pleasure he had given others. Lizzie and [stable girl] Rosie were both terribly upset, but thankfully Lizzie was not hurt any more than badly bruised and battered."
He was racing in the colours of the stables Ridgeway Racing for Fun Partnership. Neil King has received many messages from fans of the horse. And sums up: "I'm so glad that so many other people had the respect and got enjoyment from our mere 105 rated three mile chaser, like I did and I hope you did."
The full jumps season should, with some real prospects in the yard, hold many more successes for Neil King, his jockeys and staff. And, one hopes, no more tragedies.
Neil King There is now another King training racehorses on the Marlborough Downs. This is Neil King who held the first open day at his Ridgeway Racing yard on Sunday (September 14) at Upper Herdwick Farm just east of Barbury Castle.
From the top of Ridgeway Racing’s new all-weather gallop you can look over toward the other King’s yard and glimpse Alan King’s gallops and the Barbury Horse Trials grounds. The landscape of Neil King’s 300 acre training area is truly amazing – with views across it and beyond it to hold the eye whatever the weather.
The new gallopNeil and his wife Clare only arrived in Wiltshire from his previous Newmarket yard at the end of July. Already he and his staff – some moved with him from Newmarket and some are new, local hires – have transformed the yard and gallops, developing the yard he took over from its previous occupant, trainer Jim Old.
The covered training ring is now more spacious and has a floor of waxed sand recycled from Wolverhampton’s all-weather track. They have a new horse walker and have renovated the three staff bungalows.
At the open day, Neil King told the owners – including many from the yard’s ownership syndicate, the Racing for Fun Partnership – that he had already benefitted from the chalk downs’ ability to absorb rain. The rains of August, he said, would have kept him off his Newmarket grass for many days.
Trevor WhelanOpen days are mainly about horses. King brought a handful from Newmarket and has been busy assembling new owners and buying new horses. He trains for the National Hunt (NH) jump season, but has already had winners from Upper Herdwick farm in this summer’s NH flat races.
Helping the staff lead out the horses was Trevor Whelan – first jockey for the yard. King said Whelan had been “key to many of our successes this season.” He rode 17 out of the yard’s 25 winners – as well as another 12 winners for other trainers. This put him third in the conditional jockey’s title.
Thirty-five horses were paraded for the visitors – among them horses for sale and horses to watch this coming National Hunt season all with the added plus of their local interest. In the best tradition of taking a pin to select a horse from the race card, here are five of the horses currently at Neil King’s yard – just a sample:
|Looks Like Magic
||LOOKS LIKE MAGIC – is a five-year-old grey gelding owned by Mark and Tracy Harrod. Neil King bought him for them in November 2012. In summer 2013 he ran a creditable fourth at Stratford. Last June he had an unsuccessful outing at Fontwell. But he is now looking good for the autumn. He is a very attractive looking horse.
||MERCERS COURT – a six-year-old bay gelding. Since April he has twice come second at Fontwell. But at the third attempt, when set to win, he jinked to the side and unseated Trevor Whelan for a painful fall. Neil King reckons he has a future as “a nice chaser in due course.” Owned by David Nott, Ken Lawrence & Tim Messom.
||ZEROESHADESOFGREY – is a five-year-old grey gelding from Ireland. Last year, having been turned out for the summer, he came back, says King, “looking twice the horse he was.” He won two bumpers early this year and is “an exciting hurdler for the new season.” Owned by Mrs J.K.Buckle.
||TOWN MOUSE – is a four-year-old chestnut gelding. After four disappointing runs, he came good a year ago at Huntingdon at 50-1: “I think it was quite a good race he won there, and he has since confirmed this was no fluke, finishing second at Kempton and winning again at Huntingdon.” He won again at Huntingdon in November 2013. This year he has come home fourth in two of his five races. But you are not likely to find a bookie giving 50-1 on him now. Owned by Brian bell & John Smith.
||TENDER SURPRISE – a five-year-old bay filly. She has had her problems while in training, but is now, says King, “in the form of her life”. And to prove it in July she won two hurdle races at Uttoxeter meetings. She may run at Plumpton this coming Sunday (September 21) – one to watch. Owned by David Howes.
Lizzie 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)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 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)
Nick Williams & Lizzie Kelly & trophiesJockey Lizzie Kelly, who works for Neil King's Ridgeway Racing at Burderop close to Barbury Castle, has done it again.
In December she became the first woman jockey to win a grade one race - guiding Tea for Two to win the Kauto Star Novices Chase at Kempton. Now she has won Britain's richest handicap hurdle riding Agrapart to an eleven length victory in the Betfair Hurdle - and an £88,000 first prize.
While Tea for Two had been a fancied entry in a seven horse field, at Newbury on Saturday (February 13) she faced a field of 21 other horses riding an outside chance that went from 20-1 to 16-1.
In the process she beat the much fancied Mullins-trained entry Blazer (who came home ninth) and Paul Nicholls' Modus (hampered at the fourth fence by faller Dicosimo) - one of five entries in the race for owner J.P. McManus.
Agrapart is trained by Lizzie's step-father, Nick Williams who was very impressed by Lizzie's ride in a big field race with testing ground: "As a rider, she has got better and better and I thought this was a nice, cool performance. She is very cool with a head for the big occasion."
"[Agrapart's] not entered in anything at Cheltenham. We didn't really think that Cheltenham was particularly his track - he is very much a soft/heavy ground horse as well - so we didn't make any entries for the novice hurdles there."
The David Pipe-trained gelding Starchitect was chasing Agrapart but made a terrible hash of the final flight. Lizzie Kelly rode on to take the race: "In a way it is a surprise because this kind of race...they are very kind of kamikaze and you have to have a good run. He was brilliant - he did it for me."
Before the race: leaving the parade ring Agrapart leads Starchitect into the last (photo: Newbury Racecourse)The winner's enclosure
"It has been a great season and I have beaten all the goals I set myself. I am lucky that my parents are able to put me up on good horses and let me just be a jockey and get on with it. I am also grateful for the support I have had from owners."
"I have always thought jockeys should celebrate more when they win. These big days are not guaranteed. I also lost a close friend recently which reminded me that we are not invincible and are all human beings."
Newbury's Betfair Super Saturday was, as one headline put it, a day for "Girl Power". First season trainer Kerry Lee's Top Gamble winning the Betfair Exchange Chase with Richard Johnson aboard - beating the 6-5 favourite Dodging Bullets. Last year she took over the Presteigne yard from her father Richard Lee. Top Gamble was her sixteenth winner.
It was thought the meeting would be a tussle for supremacy between Paul Nicholls and the Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins, but the laurels mostly went elsewhere on a rain soaked but crowded and cheerful day's racing.
'The Tank'If an up and coming young woman jockey and a newly licenced woman trainer stole the headlines, the crowd may remember most the emotional return to Newbury of Denman.
Now rising 16 years-old, 'The Tank" - as he was known - was applauded in Newbury's parade ring before racing started, and then led out the entrants for the race named after him - the Class One Betfair Denman Steeple Chase.
Denman gets the feel of Newbury's turf againAs soon as he was out on Newbury's track he seemed to come to life: "He really wants to join in - pity he can't", said a Denman fan watching from the stands.
After he had taken the field down towards the start, he was galloped at incredible speed back along the track and over the finish line - to cheers from the crowd.
He certainly looked superb - much better than his age implies. Fit for a race, but not for a repeat of his famous Gold Cup win. That is racing history.
Southway Star (with Trevor Whelan) winning at Fontwell [photo courtesy Fontwell Park Racecourse]Up at Ridgeway Racing, Neil King's training yard at Upper Herdswick Farm near Barbury Castle, they are all very proud of nine year-old mare Southway Star.
And justifiably so: she has now won her last four races - that is four 'chase victories in 18 days. She won on her first outing for King - at Fontwell, and went on to win again at Fontwell, at Fakenham and then on Tuesday (November 25) at Lingfield.
Her win at Fontwell on November 16 was especially sweet for Neil King. Her win gave him a hat trick of winners for the day with Zeroshadesofgrey and The Boss's Dream winning at Uttoxeter - by 20 and 13 lengths respectively.
Southway Star has been winning well - if you add up her winning lengths in those four races, she's left the others behind by a total of 58 lengths.
Neil King, who moved to Barbury from Newmarket earlier this year, bought Southway Star at October's Ascot sales for £2,300. She had, after all, begun her racing career in 2008.
Southway StarBefore Neil King bought her she had just seven wins to her name. But she seems to have taken against winning over the last two years.
Neil King is obviously very fond of this "this cracking little mare who jumps for fun." She is small - and, they say, calm and good natured. She may be even getting to like the star attention she's being paid - even on a foggy day.
She is now owned by The Ridgeway Racing For Fun syndicate - and has won them over £15,000 in prize money in those last four wins. The syndicate has fifteen shares - and to date they are not all sold. But with a recent record like hers, you will have to hurry to secure a share.
She is usually teamed with the yard's main jockey Trevor Whelan. But at Fakenham the Tuesday before last (November 18), he was racing elsewhere and she was ridden to victory by Bridget Andrews.
Southway Star's next outing may be at Plumpton on Monday (December 1.) And that would put her back over hurdles in a race for staying mares.
Artist's impression of the new parade ring areaNewbury racecourse has announced an ambitious programme of upgrades to its racing facilities and infrastructure. This follows - and is part paid for - by the housing developments round the perimeter of the course.
200 new homes on the site are already occupied - the next phase will include 360 new apartments. Sale of the land for this housing has enabled infrastructure work to begin.
A new entrance from the north by a new bridge over the railway and the new car park are nearing completion. The bridge is expected to open in time for November's three-day bet365 Festival meeting that includes the Hennessy Gold Cup.
Newbury Racecourse stands - from the racecourse sideNow Newbury racecourse has put in planning applications for a further scheme of works in two phases - with a total estimated cost of £20million.
The first phase would start in January with the re-modelling of the parade ring area, new entrances and re-siting of other buildings around the ring.
Phase two would major on the refurbishment of the central Berkshire Stand and the Pall Mall building. This phase will be reviewed in 2018 when likely financial returns from the investment will be clearer.
Outline planning permission for a 120 bedroom 4-star hotel is still valid, but there are no immediate plans to proceed with this part of the project.
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.And 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.)
Neil Mulholland's horses check Newbury's turfWith ten days to go before Newbury's premier fixture with the Hennessy Gold Cup on the third day of the bet365 Festival, press day at the course was a bit overshadowed by news of the favourite - the Mark Bradstock trained Coneygree.
Sara Bradstock, Mark's wife and assistant, told the assembled notebooks, voice recorders and cameras that the previous morning the eight-year-old winner of the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup had shed a shoe. If there was an abscess in the foot it might 'pop out'. But, she warned, "If there's a deep seated bruise it's different."
"This sort of problem can", she said, "improve very quickly, but we need to get him out and galloping by the weekend." Coneygree was the first novice winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup since 1974 and earlier this month won Sandown's Listed Rising Stars Chase by 25 lengths: "He came out of that very, very fresh and well - he's in great nick."
Neil MulhollandWilliam Greatrex Nicky Henderson
Three top trainers - Warren Greatrex, Nicky Henderson and Neil Mulholland - brought horses to Newbury for a work out on the flat course which was riding pretty softly. It is a special year for the sponsors Hennessy who are celebrating their 250th anniversary - with the 59th running of their Gold Cup.
Marlborough interest in the big race will be with Barbury castle trainer Alan King's grey Smad Place who leaped to the fore of the ante-post betting with his win at Kempton on November 2. King told Marlborough News Online that Smad Place was 'fit and in good form'. Prospects? A little shrug and a nod to the windows as the rain battered against the glass.
In last year's Hennessy "He came fifth and finished very tired. The spark had gone." But after that win at Kempton, King said, "Two days later he was back cantering."
William Greatrex & Cole HardenKing's other Gold Cup entry, Ned Stark will only make the cut if higher weights scratch: the race has a maximum field of 24 runners. And after his wonderful run at Cheltenham last weekend, Annacoty was scratched on Tuesday morning. But King will have two or three entries on each day of the Festival.
The Warren Greatrex trained Cole Harden is targeted at the Festival's bet365 Long Distance Hurdle: "I'm very happy with him" - and out on the course he looked a hundred per cent.
Whisper cools off after his gallopAnother horse entered for the Long Distance Hurdle (the race that precedes the Gold Cup) is the Nicky Henderson trained Whisper. He has won major hurdle races at Aintree (twice) and Cheltenham and won his only previous start at Newbury - his prize money stands at £237,188.
But Henderson says: "This time last year he was in no man's land - it was awful. I don't know where he went - it was a complete walk about. Now he's come back."
Also from Nicky Henderson's yard was the seven-year-old gelding Josses Hill who made the switch the chasing last season winning at Doncaster and finishing third in the Grade One Arkle Trophy Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March when, Nicky says simply, "He got handicapped."
"He's been straight and accurate. Last year - he thought he was brave and awfully good, but would then lose confidence and he froze in mid air. I just hope he's a different kind of horse this year." But Henderson's hopes for the Hennessy rest with Bobs Worth - the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.
The Druids Nephew Neil Mulholland brought two of his Hennessy entries - The Druids Nephew and The Young Master - and along for the ride was Si C'etait vrai .
Eight-year-old The Druids Nephew is currently lying seventh in the weights. His career best over fences was his win in a three mile, one furlong chase at the Cheltenham Festival. But he was beaten 25 lengths behind Many Clouds in last year's Hennessy.
Out on the Newbury course he certainly did not look like the horse that reappeared in Wetherby's Grade Two West Yorkshire Hurdle on October 31 - and finished sixth. He will be ridden by Noel Fehily.
Young Master ridden by Sam Waley-CohenAnother of Mulholland's Gold Cup entry's is The Young Master. He was ridden at Tuesday's Newbury work session by Sam Waley-Cohen. No sooner had the pair left the parade ring for the course, than it was announced that Sam's father Robert Waley-Cohen and his racing partners had bought a half share in the horse from Dajam Ltd.
The six-year-old The Young Master - now rated 150 - will go on to be entered for the Welsh Grand national - and may go for the Grand National in 2017.
Jump racing fans arriving at Newbury for the Festival - the course's first jumps meeting of the season - will see some changes. The new bridge over the railway will be open for the first time on the first day of the bet365 Festival - Thursday, November 26. And there will be a new big screen beside the parade ring.
The housing development around the course is proceeding apace - there are now 400 families living in the racecourse community.
But in November 2016 they will be 'shrinking down' the Festival from three to two days: "To give blockbuster days of racing."
The Clerk of the Course said the going on the chase course on Tuesday (november 17) was good to soft, and soft on the hurdle course. What would it be for the Festival? "We expect quite nice weather - but cold."
And finally, finding your perfect parking space is not a challenge confined to town centres: the most successful trainer during the Newbury’s Festival gets to choose where he wants his own exclusive and permanent parking space to be - last year's winner of racing's most enviable 'Keep out' sign was Many Clouds' trainer Oliver Sherwood.