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Newbury's model of consistency: Mustashry delivers eighth Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes victory for serial winner Stoute

21-05-2019 Emma Blackburn

Sir Michael Stoute extended his extraordinary record in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes to eight victories, 33 years after he secured his first, when Mustashry saw off the challenge of superstar filly Laurens to claim a stirring renewal of Newbury’s Flat showpiece on Saturday (May 18).  Sir Michael went on...

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Salisbury on Thursday last week - 16 May

20-05-2019 Harriet Hodgkinson

  Salisbury Racecourse hosted its third raceday of the season on Thursday 16th May.    

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Newbury declarations: can Romanised upset the odds again & spring an Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes surprise

16-05-2019 Emma Blackburn

Trainer Ken Condon is hoping Romanised can upset the odds again and deliver victory in Newbury Racecourse's Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes.  This will be his first run since his  surprise win in the Irish 2,000 Guineas last year.

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Laurens could be this year’s ‘superstar miler’ as she heads to Newbury's Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes

14-05-2019 Emma Blackburn

Trainer Karl Burke believes his five-time Group 1 winning filly Laurens could become the superstar of this year's one mile division, as he readies her for the Group 1 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury on Saturday, May 18.

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Local success in 2018-2019 jump season


Once again the 2018-2019 jump racing season was a tussle between the big two - Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls and former Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson with Dan Skelton snapping at their heels.

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Salisbury Races: Jockey David Probert stole the show riding a double at their season's first evening meeting - sponsored…

07-05-2019 Harriet Hodgkinson

The well supported newcomer Firepower justified favouritism in the opener of Salisbury's first evening card of the season (May 2) - for trainer Clive Cox and jockey Adam Kirby in the 2-year-old EBF Novice Stakes over 5 furlongs. 

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Can the O-Brien filly I CAN FLY equal RHODODENDRON's 2018 Lockinge victory

02-05-2019 Emma Blackburn

Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has identified I Can Fly and Le Brividoas his most most likely candidates for the Group 1 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury on Saturday, May 18, for which 30 horses remain on course after the latest scratching stage.

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Rising star Jason Watson is Newbury Racecourse's 2019 ambassador for the Flat season & young racegoers


Newbury Racecourse is working with Jason Watson - one of Britain’s leading young jockeys - as their new ambassador for the 2019 Flat season and for their Club 24.  

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Defending Badminton champion withdraws

01-05-2019 Janet Perrins

Marlborough based New Zealand event rider Jonelle Price has made the difficult decision to withdraw her 2018 Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials (MMBHT) winner, Classic Moet, from this year’s event, due to start today (Wednesday, 1 May 2019).

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Big fields and keen racing mark Salisbury's first raceday of the season

29-04-2019 Harriet Hodgkinson

Salisbury Racecourse hosted its first race meeting of the 2019 season on Sunday (April 28) and welcomed a crowd of 4,000 to their Byerley Stud sponsored Season Opener Family Day, on a dry but fresh-feeling day.

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Jonelle Price takes fourth place in season’s last four-star eventing competition


Jonelle Price & Faerie Dianimo at Barbury 2013Jonelle Price & Faerie Dianimo at Barbury 2013Les Etoiles de Pau, the season’s final four-star eventing competition (October 23-26), was won by the German rider Ingrid Klimke on Horseware Hale Bob.  They took joint first place in the dressage and first place in the cross country, and despite four faults, held on in the show jumping to win by a clear 6.2 points.

Mildenhall-based Jonelle Price kept the New Zealand flag flying – and local hopes very much alive - to finish fourth in the overall placings.  With her nine-year-old grey mare Faerie Dianimo, she was in eleventh place after the dressage, in sixth place after the cross country – and went on to take the season-topping fourth place.

Jonelle Price (copyright Libby law Photography)Jonelle Price (copyright Libby law Photography)Mrs Price was one of only three riders with a clear round and no time penalties in the final show jumping stage.

After her fourth place at the World Equestrian Games this summer in France, she must be keener still to get into the top three placings.

“It was about giving her a good trip, and if we were competitive, then that was a bonus,” said Price of the feisty little grey who is owned by Trisha Rickards and Jacky Green. “To be able to do both was super.”

She’s confident it is just the start of an exciting future for Faerie Dianimo.

“The cross country was quite strong,” said Price. “It was tough from start to finish, and at 12 minutes was the longest one we have had all year. The questions came thick and fast, with problems right throughout. It was a true four star out there.”

“We had one moment in the showjumping. If ever she is in doubt, she goes sky high – which is what she did. She always gives it everything..”
Price says while the nine-year-old horse is dainty, unique and beautiful to look at, she is “a little fighter”.

“She keeps me on my toes and is relentless. She loves what she does and is bloody good at it! She is incredibly talented – give her another 12 or 24 months and she could be really special.”

For Price and her husband Tim, the result at Pau caps off their best-ever year:  “It’s been a combination of everything coming together . . . horsepower, training, belief and a bit of luck to carry you across the line.”

It was a bleak day for the British contenders.  William Fox-Pitt on Parklane Hawk was in joint first place with Klimke in the dressage.   And on his second entry Seacookie TSF (last year’s winning pair) was in fifth place.

However, Fox-Pitt retired Seacookie TSF during the cross-country and withdrew Parklane Hawk before he started the course.  He blamed the hard ground.

The highest placed British pair was Nicola Wilson with One Two Many - finishing in eighth place.

The final results saw Germany's Abdreas Dibowski in second place and France's Arnaud Boitteau third. In fifth place was Ireland's Joseph Murphy on Sportsfield Othello who had been in fourth place after the cross-country, but had twelve faults in the show jumping. Murphy had worse luck still on Electric Cruise - they were in second position after the cross-country, but were eliminated at the horse inspection before the show jumping.


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Andrew Nicholson misses Pau – Qwanza is not fit enough

The French four-star eventing competition at Pau this weekend holds the odd distinction of being the last major competition of 2014, but also the first of the international equestrian federation’s Classics Series for 2014-2015.  

And it’s that second part of Pau’s attraction that will disappoint New Zealander Andrew Nicholson – he has had to withdraw his eleven-year-old mare Qwanza as she was “just not quite fit enough” after a year-long lay-off following injury.

Nicholson’s other star eventers – Avebury and Nereo – are resting after another successful season in which he completed two hat-trick wins.  With Avebury he won both Barbury and Burghley for the third year running. He won the Classics Series in 2013 with its $40,000 prize.

Lockeridge-based Nicholson told the New Zealand press: “There is not much point in going there if the horse is not 100 per cent. We'll miss this, write the year off and start afresh next year."

Sixteen of Pau’s 40 four-star international entries are British riders – headed by Pippa Funnell with two mounts and William Fox-Pitt with three mounts.

With Nicholson’s scratching, local interest resides with another New Zealander, Jonelle Price from Mildenhall with her nine-year-old mare Faerie Dianimo.  This will be Jonelle’s first ride over Pau’s cross country course.

After a great season which included her fourth place at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, Jonelle is now ranked ninth in the world.  The other New Zealand entry is Jock Paget who has two mounts in the competition.

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An apprentice’s diary from the World Equestrian Games 2014


Marcelo Tosi & Eleda All Black - trotting up for the judges [Photo copyright Nico Morgan Photography.)Marcelo Tosi & Eleda All Black - trotting up for the judges [Photo copyright Nico Morgan Photography.)Imogen Hellawell (known to all as ‘Immy’) is based at Marcelo Tosi’s Woodland Farm stables in Marston, near Devizes, and is working for her Advanced Apprenticeship in Horse Care and Management with Haddon Training, who are based in Marlborough.  Her Apprenticeship programme has been specifically tailored around a professional eventing yard.

“Throughout the programme Immy has been a dedicated learner who has shown a passion for working with horses. Immy demonstrates an extremely high level of quality in her work and a strong commitment to the care of Marcelo’s horses. Getting the opportunity to groom at WEG 2014 is incredible, knowing Immy Huggy would have been turned out beautifully.”  Alex Plank, Haddon Training Assessor.

Marcelo Tosi is a Brazilian event rider. He was selected to represent Brazil at this summer’s World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Normandy. Imogen went to WEG as his groom with his horse Huggy - more formally known as Eleda All Black. [Photo of Tosi & Eleda All Black copyright Nico Morgan Photography - see more at his website.]

Imogen kept a diary of her time with Team Brazil for WEG 2014:

Packing, packing, packing
We started the trip to WEG on Saturday, August 23. We spent the day packing the truck not just for our horse, but for the other two team horses as well. By the time we were finished the truck was pretty full!

On French soil 
 We then set off at 7.00 am for the ferry in Portsmouth which was two hours away. When we were on the ferry, we did the final check on the horses (giving more hay and water) ready to leave them for the night. We arrived in Caen, France at 7.00 am. Once we left the docks we stopped to give the horses water and more hay. After a one hour drive from the docks we arrived at our base. We unloaded the horses and settled them into their stables.

The grooms' bunksThe grooms' bunksFinding our feet
We spent the most of Sunday, August 24 unpacking and getting the stables organised, in the evening we took the horses out to stretch their legs. Myself and the other grooms went to discover the groom’s accommodation, which was small but very comfortable.

Hustle and bustle
Monday and Tuesday were mostly the same:  the horses went for dressage training and then to  graze. The venue was becoming very busy with the other teams arriving.

Let the games begin…Wednesday, August 27

Marcelo and Huggy had an arena familiarisation.  This is where they could work in the warm up arena beside the main arena.  In the afternoon we had the first vet inspection, so before that I spent the early part of the afternoon plaiting and making the horse look beautiful!

Thursday 28th August

In the morning we had our dressage test, so I had to plait the horse up and prepare him for the test. Our horse did a reasonable test which we were all pleased with. In the afternoon we had one other team rider doing their test, so I went to watch it with the rest of the Brazilian team.

Friday, August 29

Today was a day off so our horse just went for a short gallop and jump just to prepare him for the cross country the following day. The rest of the day we spent a lot of time grazing.

 Our last team rider did an amazing test on Friday, putting him into the top 20 after the dressage.

Saturday,  August 30

Cross country day arrived with very wet ground, we were lucky to be ninth out on course!! The horse was taken for a light hack to relax him and stretch his muscles in the morning. I spent this time preparing the kit so I was ready to meet them at the finish (water buckets/ sponges/scrapers/spare shoes/grease/rugs etc.)

Then it was time to go cross country, I was full of nerves as the first horses hadn't made it home. Our horse came home finishing strongly! It was time to get him washed off and cooled down - this was a real team effort getting water on and off him.

When Huggy was cool enough we took him back to the stables to be iced and to rest. For the rest of the day I helped the other Team Brazil grooms with their horses at the finish, as they had helped me.   In between I kept walking and icing my horse.

In the evening it was crazy busy as we had to get all the equipment packed up, ready to leave early for the main stadium for the show jumping the following day.

Cross country day was a real team effort as everyone helped everyone! Our Chef d'Equip made sure us grooms had what we needed from food to information about the next day, and our vet gave the best care to get the horses ready for the next day.

The Brazilian riders rode all three horses home safely, so we had a team for the next day!

The showjumping arenaThe showjumping arenaSunday,  August 31
The alarm went off at 4.30am. We had to get the horses ready for an 8am trot up. My horse was a bit stiff so we took him for a long walk to loosen up.  Then we did another lot of icing. I plaited him up and prepared him for the last vet inspection, we arrived half an hour early to give them a good walk. My horse trotted up very well and passed the vet inspection, as did the other two team horses!

After the trot up it was a mad rush to get the horses loaded and ready to leave for the hour drive to the main stadium. We settled the horses and organised the equipment we needed.  At 12.45pm the riders had an arena familiarisation in the stadium, so that the horses could see everything before jumping with a full stadium of 22,000 spectators!!

Then it was my boy’s turn to jump his round. He had 3 poles down but we were very happy with him as he tried his heart out for us. There were only 13 clear rounds, so it was a course that caused a lot of problems.

Huggy in retirement Huggy in retirement When he finished it was a bit of an emotional moment as this will be his last eventing competition, as we are retiring him now. Everyone was very happy with the results as the team finished 8th out of 18 teams.

Monday, September 1

We arrived home Monday lunchtime, Huggy has now started his retirement in the field.

It was a successful WEG both for the team and Marcelo - and me.

Huggy has been an amazing horse for us, he has had an impressive career: winning team Bronze at the Pan AM Games 2011, competing at Burghley Horse Trials CCI 4* and Pau CCI 4*, the London 2012 Olympic Games and now a World Equestrian Games, he fully deserves his retirement!



No sooner was Immy back at the yard, than she was asked to accompany one of Tosi’s horses on its journey by air back to Brazil.

The Brazilian eventer Marcelo Tosi has been based in  Britain since 2010.  The 44-year-old has a degree in animal science and is a director of the Agromix Animal Feed company.

He was assistant trainer to the Brazilian team for the Athens Olympics in 2004.  He then based himself in Belgium for six years.  He rode for the Brazilians at the London Olympics.

In 2011 he won team bronze at the Pan Am Games in Mexico.  He now trains with Nick Turner, Mark Todd and dressage rider Anna Ross-Davies.

Eleda All Black, owned by Bronwen Jones and Iain Greer, is a 17 year-old British bred gelding.


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Greatwood announces death of Spirit Son – the racehorse that recovered from a broken neck


Spirit Son - in his hurdling daysSpirit Son - in his hurdling daysThe French-bred racehorse Spirit Son was a successful 5-year-old when he suffered an unexplained collapse.  The gelding, owned by Michael Buckley and trained by Nicky Henderson, had four wins from five starts and was fancied to win the Champion Hurdle at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival.

However, a tendon injury ruled him out of the race.  He recovered and was sent away to recuperate and get him ready for a return to racing.

Then disaster struck. Spirit Son was found collapsed on the floor of his stable.  Nicky Henderson rushed down from Scotland to see what could be done.  

The horse could not get up – and people feared the worst. But he rallied and was soon able to stand while being supported.

About six weeks after his collapse, he was well enough to be taken to the O’Gorman Slater Main equine hospital in Newbury where a scan revealed he had a neck fracture.  For a more precise diagnosis he was taken for a CT scan which revealed he had two fractures – one each side of his neck.

As Nicky Henderson wrote in the Racing Post:  “There were two known surgeons who could perform an obviously extremely complicated and undoubtedly dangerous operation, one in the USA and one, John Walmsley, in Hampshire, who luckily was prepared to perform what was going to be a huge task with major risks involved. But it was the only option.”

An operation under general anaesthetic was tricky for a horse that was still recovering his balance and strength.  But a most unusual surgical procedure was carried out using metal implants.  And it was successful and Spirit Son recovered.

As Henderson wrote:  “The prognosis for racing always has been and still is very low, but he deserved a chance to have a life, whether it’s on a racecourse or in another role.”

He was not to race again and Spirit Son arrived at the Greatwood charity for retired racehorse at Clench Common near Marlborough on November 6 last year.  Announcing his death, Greatwood said that his condition had deteriorated during the summer months and he had to be put to sleep this morning – October 8.


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Neil King: Marlborough Downs’ new racing trainer is ready for the jump season


Neil King 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 gallopThe 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 WhelanTrevor 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 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 CourtMercers Court 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.
ZeroeshadesofgreyZeroeshadesofgrey 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 Town Mouse 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 Tender Surprise 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.



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Racing: Rain puts Salisbury’s final meeting of the season in doubt

Salisbury racecourse officials will hold a 7.15 am ‘precautionary inspection’ on Monday morning.  With the ground already soft and heavy in places, Saturday’s rain and expected rain on Sunday evening and Monday morning may prove too much for the course.

The Salisbury course’s season finale on Monday (October 13) is the Bathwick Tyres Reduced Admission race day.  The six races (first at 2.20pm, the last at 5.00pm) have attracted good entries.

Richard Hughes, champion flat race jockey in 2012 and 2013, will be riding the Hannon entries.  This season Hughes has been in a close fight for the title with Ryan Moore.

The Salisbury card's  2.50pm race for maiden fillies includes a horse named Evening Rain – fingers crossed.

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Down at the start with Gary Witheford - ‘the stalls man’ who gives racehorses the chance to win


Gary Witheford at the startGary Witheford at the startThe 5.10 race at Pontefract on Monday, October 6, passed off without much fanfare.  But the result was a major victory for Witheford Equine of Burbage – the three-year-old gelding Dubai Star not only went safely into the starting stalls, but won at odds of 11-2.

It was Dubai Star’s first race and for this ‘tricky’ horse getting there had been quite a journey. He was bred in Ireland and bought as a yearling for 170,000 guineas: not an outrageous price paid for a horse sired by Dubawi out of Tango Tonic.

Dubai Star is owned by HRH Princess Haya of Jordan (wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Godolphin Racing fame) and trained at Newmarket by John Gosden. Last month at a Kempton Park evening meeting, Dubai Star was to race for the first time with Gosden’s stable jockey William Buick on board.

It was not a star race – with a total prize fund of just £4,000.  But the three-year-old needed a race in case he was sent for the October sales or there was a need to convince his owner he should be kept in training to race next season.

Gary Witheford had been asked by Gosden to get him ready for the starting stalls.  Gary had been to Newmarket several times to calm the horse and practise getting him quietly into the starting stalls.

Dubai Star goes into the stalls Dubai Star goes into the stalls After his usual negotiations with the racecourse officials at Kempton, Gary was down by the start for 6.10pm race ‘The £25 Free Bet at Maiden Stakes”: “It’s going into the gladiator ring – it’s a challenge every time.  When it comes off it’s great.”

Gary draped Dubai Star’s hindquarters with one of the lightly padded stalls rugs he designed himself to stop horses bumping their ribs or stifles on the stalls.  The rug is designed to stay behind when the horse jumps out of the stalls.

He led Dubai Star in perfectly easily and the horse looked quite calm: “The calmer I am, the calmer the horse will be. But I am firm.”

Gary keeping Dubai Star calmGary keeping Dubai Star calmBut behind the stalls things were going badly with some of the other entries.  One horse never made it into the stalls at all and another went in most unwillingly – delaying the start by crucial minutes.

After about four minutes waiting, Gary had to move out of the stall beside Dubai Star where he had been reassuring the horse and making it feel comfortable.  

A cross Dubai Star taken out of the stallsA cross Dubai Star taken out of the stallsThen, when the delay reached about six minutes, Dubai Star had had more than enough and reared up hitting his head on the top bar of the stalls.  Gary pulled Buick clear.  The horse was brought out backwards and the race started without him.

Gary was very despondent.  And people I spoke to as we made our way back from the start were indignant there had been such a long delay.  As one punter put it: “That was a most unfair way to treat a jumpy horse.”

Driving back to Burbage Gary was pretty depressed: “I’m a perfectionist.  That’ll screw me up for a week.”  John Gosden came on the phone and was calm and understanding about the unfortunate start to Dubai Star’s racing career. His calm voice must have taken some of the sting out of Gary’s anguish.

A disconsolate Gary leads Dubai Star away from the startA disconsolate Gary leads Dubai Star away from the startGary told Gosden he wanted to put Dubai Star through a stalls test.  That took place ten days later at Newmarket.  It’s a test in front of race officials and the horse has to enter the stalls and stand quietly for one minute.  Dubai Star passed the test and would be allowed to enter another race.

And so he was entered for that Pontefract race to be ridden by Roger Havlin, understudy to stable jockey Buick at Gosden’s Clarehaven yard.  And there to see Dubai  Star successfully into the stalls was Gary Witheford’s son, Craig.

Now he has conquered his fear of the starting stalls, he could well be a horse to watch next season.

At most of Britain’s racecourses and many overseas courses too, Gary Witheford is well known to owners, starters, stalls teams, trainers – he is often known as “the stalls man”.   He has made a successful business out of calming wilful horses and getting them to go quietly into the starting stalls.

The practise stalls on the gallopsThe practise stalls on the gallopsIn fact, Gary Witheford’s company, Witheford Equine, does much more than train horses for the stalls and attend at the start of flat races.  And though he prefers the term ‘natural horsemanship’ for his skills, he is a ‘horse whisperer’ – it says so on the cover of his fascinating book.

Trainers also use Gary to ‘break in’ young horses.  That is another term Gary would rather we did not use: he prefers ‘starting’ young horses. As during his process he does not ‘break’ anything.  He can do in twenty minutes or so what takes several weeks by traditional ways of ‘breaking’ horses and he ‘starts’ between 400 and 500 young horses a year....and they're off!...and they're off!

Trainers send their horses to Gary’s yard near Burbage – sometimes just for the morning and sometimes for residential care.  They are shown how easy it is to go into the stalls.  Then they go up to Gary’s gallops and get to jump out of the stalls at full stretch.

Not happy with the stallsNot happy with the stallsOne day when I was at the yard he had a really very unruly horse from a local trainer.  This horse played up terribly in the stalls – so much so that it scraped itself a little.  But Gary was determined to see it right.

The vet was called, but the horse was none the worse for his tantrum and would be coming back to get Witheford Equine’s whispering treatment.  One day he too will go on and win a race – at Pontefract or some other racecourse where Gary and Craig are trying to show the authorities that there are other ways of getting horses into the starting stalls than by manhandling them in like some many sacks of potatoes.

You can find out more about Gary Witheford’s technique and about his new book here at Marlborough News Online.


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At the top of his sport, Andrew Nicholson stays focused on his eventing horses


Sometimes you pick up a book about a sportsman’s life – whether autobiography or ghosted biography or a bit of both – and you wonder whether it might not be a tad too soon for this person to warrant a book.  You could never think that about Marlborough-based Andrew Nicholson and his new book Focused.

He has, after all, been representing New Zealand in the Olympic Games for 30 years.  He was the world’s top eventer in 2013 and in that year topped the British eventing standings for the fifteenth time.

The book is published during an eventing season in which he has scored two unrivalled hat-tricks – winning Barbury and Burghley three times in a row with the same horse, the amazing Avebury.

Focused is subtitled My Life in Pictures and it has an excellent collection of photographs from his youth in New Zealand up to recent triumphs.  

It was written with Catherine Austen who used to report for Horse and Hound: “We’ve looked at thousands of images and selected some really interesting ones – not just pretty shots of horses jumping fences, but ones that tell a story and show the progression he has made as a competitor and a horseman.”

Andrew Nicholson, now aged 53, told Marlborough News Online that he wanted the book to have a balance of the bad days and the good days: “It shows what you have to go through to get to the good days.”

His introduction reveals much of the horseman he has become.  And he is frank about his ambition to be number one in the world, “but first and foremost I have to make a living”:

Andrew Nicholson & Avebury at Barbury (2014)Andrew Nicholson & Avebury at Barbury (2014)“It was this basic necessity that started my involvement with horses, breaking in young thoroughbreds for trainers in New Zealand and then working as a farrier at the age of 15.  I then progressed to earning money from training and selling horses, and finally from the prize-money.  The financial principle is the same today.”

The book makes it very clear that top eventing riders do not just ride their top horses in top events.  In order to bring young horses on, they need to go to many of the lower ranked events and to competitions that cater especially for less experienced horses.

And that’s where travel comes in: “The travelling is what I find gets me down.”  At the busiest part of the season, he may only be at home on Mondays: travel on Tuesday, vet inspection on Wednesday, competing Thursday to Sunday, usually getting home late on Sunday.

Among the intriguing photographs in the book is one of Nicholson with his four eventing four star winners.  Nicholson writes: “You can see that they are all different shapes, but what’s more interesting is how much more different they are to each other when they are not eventing fit.”

“Quimbo looks the most thoroughbred of the quartet, even though he probably has the least thoroughbred in him; Mr Cruise Control looks like a gigantic hunter; Nereo stays reasonably elegant, while in the middle of winter Avebury looks like a hairy kid’s pony.”

Avebury - after a good rollAvebury - after a good rollOne of the books main attractions is the way Nicholson writes so clearly about his horses and their idiosyncrasies.

Nereo & Avebury - doing their own thingNereo & Avebury - doing their own thingWhen Marlborough News Online visited Andrew Nicholson’s Westwood Stud near Marlborough, Avebury was not looking very much like the smart horse that enters the dressage arena with such aplomb.  Alongside Nereo, Avebury bred by Nicholson and born when he was based near Devizes in 2000, was out in the field enjoying some well-earned R and R.  

As Nicholson said, he was ‘being a horse again’ – so much so that the two horses avoided eye contact with Nicholson just in case he had come to take them away from the freedom of the field and put them inside again.

I asked Andrew Nicholson whether he agreed that too much emphasis in eventing was now put on the dressage stage of competitions: “It’s starting to change back to cross country. This season at WEG [World Equestrian Games], Badminton and Burghley cross country played the major part.  Ten years ago you could get away with a rubbish dressage.  Now you have to be good at all three stages – because the standard has come up so much.”

Nicholson is not sure whether he will go to the Rolex Kentucky event which starts the new season in April 2015.  He won it in 2013 with Quimbo.  But last year Avebury was decidedly off-colour after his first trip by air: “Avebury felt flat – I don’t know whether he didn’t like the plane or didn’t like America!”

Jet Set IVJet Set IVTwo of the season’s final eventing competitions are in France.  Le Lion d’Angers championships are for young horses.  He will be taking Jet Set IV for the seven year-olds’ competition and Swallow Springs for the six-year olds’ competition.

Then he goes to the season’s finale, the four star competition at Pau.  Nicholson won that in 2012 with Nereo.  This year he is taking Qwanza the eleven-year-old mare he rode to seventh place at Kentucky in 2012.  Last year they came to grief at Luhmühlen…

…and which is the family’s favourite photograph in the book?  I assumed it would be the happy family groups of the children on their ponies.  But as we left, a small voice said that his favourite photograph was the one of “Daddy in the water” – and there it is: Andrew Nicholson and Qwanza all but submerged after falling at the first water complex on the Luhmühlen cross country course last year.  

It shows vividly that even the best of eventers have those bad days: “You see”, he said with a broad grin, “what I have to put up when I get home!”

You will have to buy the book to see that photo of Andrew Nicholson.

Focused – Andrew Nicholson My Life in Pictures – with a foreword by Captain Mark Phlillips (Racing Post Books) £20.

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