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Keyflow Stage1v3

Noel Fehily to finish his riding career at Newbury Racecourse - for many years his 'local track'

18-03-2019 Emma Blackburn

Noel Fehily, who announced he would retire from the saddle after riding his seventh Cheltenham Festival winner last week, will end his illustrious career at Newbury on Saturday (March 23).

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Local New Zealand eventers honoured


Three of New Zealand’s top riders who are based near Marlborough were among those honoured at the inauguration of Equestrian Sports New Zealand's Hall of Fame

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Eventing supporters see how the Prices are set for their 2019 challenges


Like racing trainers, as their season gets underway, Britain's eventers are looking obsessively at weather forecasts.  It is vital for them to get competitions in before the major events - Badminton (May 1-5) comes up pretty quickly.

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New eventing season opens with a victory for local rider Chelsea Pearce


The British eventing season opened in earnest last Saturday (March 2) at Moreton in Dorset.

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CHELTENHAM PREVIEW: How do I get to Ogbourne Maizey? Where? Bonita Racing Stables? Oh, just ask for Paisley…


The Emma Lavelle Racing stables - aka Bonita Racing Stables and currently Ogbourne Maizey's main attraction - have had dozens of visitors over the past few weeks.

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Newbury's Greatwood Raceday: San Benedeto gets Nicholls his number nine dream

03-03-2019 A Correspondent

The Grade 3 William Hill Supporting Greatwood Gold Cup is becoming a Paul Nicholls benefit after the ten-time champion jumps trainer extended his domination of the feature Newbury chase to nine victories with San Benedetoon Saturday (March 2).

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Newbury Races: Emitom could be a name to remember after his fifth win in a row

01-03-2019 A Correspondent

The rain held off, but the clouds turned it quite dark by fifth race.   The going - after the previous day's rain and some watering - was Good to Soft for Newbury Racecourse's Mencap Raceday (March 1) - and with another Emitom win, a new star may well have shown...

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Barbury Racecourse: rescheduled Vine & Craven meeting springs some surprises

26-02-2019 Jake Exelby

Barbury basked in unseasonal sunshine on Saturday (February 23) for the rescheduled Vine & Craven Point-to-Point's eight races.

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Newbury Racecourse: can Paul Nicholls clinch a ninth Greatwood Gold Cup victory?

26-02-2019 A Correspondent

Paul Nicholls has three potential candidates for the William Hill Supporting Greatwood Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3) in which the ten times champion jumps trainer could claim his ninth victory at Newbury on Saturday, 2 March 2019.

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EVENTING PROFILE: as the new season approaches, New Zealander Jesse Campbell makes a new start - with his fiancée


Spring brings the start of the new eventing season in Europe - and it's bringing an exciting and fresh start for New Zealand eventer Jesse Campbell.

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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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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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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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Neil King's yard celebrate Southway Star's star performances: four wins in a row


Southway Star (with Trevor Whelan) winning at Fontwell [photo courtesy Fontwell Park Racecourse]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 StarSouthway 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.


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


Toby Balding 1936-2014Toby Balding 1936-2014Next Monday (December 15) many members of the horse racing world – among them well known owners, trainers and jockeys – will gather in Marlborough for the memorial service to mark the life of the much respected and very successful trainer Toby Balding, who died in September aged 78.

The memorial service will be held in the Marlborough College chapel and will start at 2.00pm.

Toby Balding’s brother Ian was also a successful trainer.  He trained the legendary Mill Reef (who won the Derby in 1971.)  Ian Balding retired in 2002 passing his Park House (Kingsclere) training licence to his son Andrew.  Ian Balding’s daughter is Clare Balding the racing journalist and presenter.

Ian Balding has very kindly written this account and appreciation of his brother's life for Marlborough News Online:

Toby was born in England on 23 September 1936.  He went to the USA soon afterwards (our mother was American) and I was born there in 1938.

We stayed in America with our mother in Far Hills, New Jersey all through the war. Our father Gerald Balding, who was English and a famous polo player, fought in the war - with the Life Guards.  

After the war he took us all back to England where he set up as a racehorse trainer. We were both sent to school - first at Beaudesert Park and then to Marlborough College. In the holidays we quickly became cheap labour for him and found ourselves mucking out and then riding the racehorses.

Toby was always going to be too big to be a jockey, so being smaller I was the one destined to be the jockey and Toby the future trainer. In spite of that Toby actually rode a few winners under National Hunt rules – jump winners and a few point-to- point winners too.  

Our father trained at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire for a few years and then moved to Bishops Cannings in Wiltshire.  After a few years there he moved finally to a large stable at Weyhill near Andover.  

All this time his main patron was the American newspaper publisher, philanthropist and sportsman John Hay (Jock) Whitney, who was also Toby`s Godfather.  Toby, by the way, was christened Gerald Barnard Balding, but was always called Toby (after a great family friend) so as to distinguish him from his father.

Sadly our father died of cancer in 1956, and with Jock Whitney`s blessing, Toby who was then 20 and had recently returned from doing his National Service with the Life Guards, took over the training licence. He became the youngest ever trainer to have held a licence in this country.

Jock Whitney, who by now was the American Ambassador in London, was extremely kind and generous to both of us (he financed my further education at both Millfield and Cambridge University for example) and supported Toby very much with his training career.

My younger brother Robin and sister Gail will be very upset if I don`t mention them. They were born in England after the war. In fact they both went back to the USA with our mother soon after our father died. They both went to college over there, married Americans and have continued to live there ever since.

Toby`s training career was very much helped by a big winner on the flat very early on. He won the Portland Handicap at Doncaster with a horse called New World – and had a big bet on him at 25-1!

However, for many years, he was much better known as one of the leading National Hunt (jump) trainers.  He won the Grand National twice – first with Highland Wedding (ridden by Eddie Harty) in 1969 and then again in 1989 with Little Polveir (Jimmy Frost).

He won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham with Beech Road (Richard Guest) in 1989 and again in 1991 with Morley Street (Jimmy Frost).  He also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Cool Ground (Adrian Maguire) in 1992.  And so he became one of the few trainers to have won all three of these great races.

Morley Street was the best horse he ever trained winning the Breeders Cup Chase twice in the USA and being voted American Champion Steeplechaser of the Year in America in 1990 and 1991.

Toby always enjoyed racing politics and played a big part in it for many years.  He virtually founded the National Trainer`s Federation and was its Chairman for many years.  After he retired from training he served on the British Horseracing Board for several years and was awarded the O.B.E. for his services to Racing in 2011.  He was elected an Honorary Member of the Jockey Club in 2006.

Toby Balding was a great supporter of young jockeys and helped both A.P. McCoy and Adrian Maguire on their way to successful careers.  When Toby Balding died the Daily Telegraph tweeted the news with a photo of McCoy and Balding – and AP added his own tribute:



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Hennessy Heaven! Newbury Festival fan Sasha Thorbek-Hooper explains why it’s the must-go sports event, how to enjoy it - and the Gold Cup runners

I know that Christmas is just round the corner when I turn the page in my diary and see the ‘Newbury Hennessy 3-Day Winter Festival’ marked heavily in bold. It’s always a huge highlight of my year, and not just because I am fanatical about jump racing, but because it is such a great social event in the local calendar.

A combination of the best horses in England, France and Ireland competing at the highest, nerve jangling level, all set in glorious surroundings, coupled with fantastic racecourse facilities and all harmoniously gelled together, thanks to the awesome atmosphere created by the 50,000+ crowd that’s sure to be there over the three days.

Steeped in history, Hennessy are the longest standing commercial sponsors of any race in the British Isles and past winners have included some of the equine greats:
•    the awe inspiring Arkle, winner of the race twice in ’64 and ’65 (as well as winning The Cheltenham Gold Cup three years consecutively and notching up a total of 27 race wins from his 35 starts)
•     the 18 hand giant – Mill House in ’63
•     Burrough Hill Lad (’84) trained by the legendary Jenny Pitman, the first woman ever to train a Grand National winner.
•    2007 and 2009 saw the nation’s darling, Denman carve a niche in Hennessy history by becoming only the third dual winner of the Berkshire track’s most prized race.

The race has had its fair share of grey winners in recent times too: One Man (’94); the equally loved Suny Bay (’97); Teeton Mill (’98); and What’s Up Boys in 2001.

I have watched the last 16 runnings of the Hennessy Gold Cup from the steppings of the Hampshire Stand, and my favourite year without doubt was in 2005 when the Nicky Henderson trained, Trabolgan defied a top weight of 11st 12lbs to hold off French raider L'Ami by two-and-a-half lengths.

What made the win so special was that his jockey, Mick Fitzgerald, had only just returned from a broken neck earlier that very week. Standing in front of the winning post, with tears pouring down my face it was a fairy tale race that raised the roof.

In a bitter sweet twist, the horse that Mick beat that year was the very horse that ended his riding career three years later when Fitzy took a crashing fall from L’Ami at the second fence of the 2008 Grand National.

As a seasoned Hennessy racegoer here are my top tips on how to get the most out of your day:

•    DRESS WARM: Hennessy Day is notoriously cold so first and foremost make sure you are comfortable. You don’t have to forego fashion - a stylish, winter coat over the top of something practical is the way to go. Leather boots or funky wellies will ensure that your feet will stay warm and dry too.

•    ARRIVE EARLY: Avoid the traffic, panic and last minute travel-related arguments with family and friends by getting to the track in plenty of time. The gates open early, so make a day of it by taking a picnic or having brunch at the course. You don’t have to come by car: there is an on-course train station, therefore making the fight over the designated driver a non-starter!

•    BUY A RACECARD: Well worth the few quid it will cost you. The racecard not only gives you a list of the ‘runners and riders’ (including a guide on how to understand the technicalities of each race), but it is filled with loads of useful information to make your day more enjoyable and stress-free.

•    SET A BUDGET: If you fancy a flutter, give yourself a budget for how much you want to bet on each race and don’t go over it. Put your betting money in your right pocket and your (hopeful) winnings in your left one - but don’t be tempted to dip into during the day. Hopefully by the end of the day you’ll be up and go home with an even bigger smile on your face.

•    RENDEZVOUS POINT:  If you are going in a crowd no doubt you’ll get split up at some point during the day. Mobile phone networks get jammed up, so decide on a rendezvous point just in case. This is especially important if you have children with you.

Runners for the 58th Hennessy Gold Cup (Saturday, November 29) at November 24:


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