There is clearly a lot of excitement surrounding this week’s York Ebor Festival. Crowds have been flocking back to racecourses for a while now, but the four-day event at the Knavesmire is the first truly blue-chip festival to take place with crowds allowed back as normal. A successful festival is important. Not just for the organisers at York, but for every level of British racing, including Point to Point racing.
And while there is plenty of buzz around the festival, which has been lifted by news of £4.7 million in prize money (more than double last year’s amount), there have been a few hiccups. Most notably, the withdrawal of St Mark’s Basilica from the festival’s flagship race, the Juddmonte International Stakes. That takes a lot of star power away from the Knavesmire this week, as the Aidan O’Brien trained 3-year-old is currently rated as the joint-best racehorse on the planet.
Stradivarius goes for third Lonsdale Cup
Nevertheless, the four-day event is about much more than one horse and one race, and even those with a casual interest in flat racing will see a familiar name on the racecards and tips for Day 3 of the Ebor Festival – Stradivarius. The 7-year-old record-breaker is the favourite for the Lonsdale Cup, and it would surely take the roof off the place if Staradvarius can take at least one more big win in front of a full house as he winds down one of the most storied careers in modern racing.
Stradivarius, who is trained by John Gosden, has basically done it all as a stayer, and then some. Three Ascot Gold Cups, four Goodwood Cups, and a three-time Cartier Champions Stayer are among some of the accolades. Frankie Dettori usually rides (and will on Friday), and the wily jockey will know that a record third Lonsdale Cup on Stradivarius is within his sights. Dettori will make his own bit of history with a win, becoming the first jockey to win the Lonsdale Cup six times (he is currently tied with Pat Eddery on five).
Dettori a big factor in the betting
Dettori clearly loves riding at the Knavesmire (his list of big wins at the Ebor Festival is too long to print here), and bookmakers reported to the Racing Post pre-festival that the Italian legend is a big factor in the betting patterns. Put him together with a big name like Stradivarius, and you can appreciate why bookmakers will be losing some sleep on Thursday night.
On the downside, it feels more and more likely that we will not see Stradivarius take on Trueshan, the horse that now holds Stradivarius’ Goodwood Cup crown. Trueshan’s trainer, Alan King, clearly prefers testing conditions for the horse, and the going is likely to be good on Friday. Nonetheless, Stradivarius would represent a hugely popular winner regardless of who he lines up beside at 2.25 on Day 3 of the festival.
Despite his favourite status, it’s no given that Stradivarius will take that record-breaking third Lonsdale Cup. His powers have perhaps waned somewhat over the last year, exemplified by a 4th place finish in the Ascot Gold Cup in mid-June. However, Dettori claimed that Stradivarius was denied a clear run on the home bend in that race, which ultimately went to Subjectivist.
He has been called the “rarest of horses”, and we might see him again in the Ascot Gold Cup next year. But then again, given his age, we might not. This week could be one of the last opportunities for the crowds to see one of the modern greats in action – they should relish the chance to see Stradivarius try to break yet another record.
Clare Hobson is one of that growing band of professional horsemen and women who learned their trade in the Point-to-Point field. She now runs a breaking and training yard outside Royston in Hertfordshire.
During a riding career, she was no slouch, pushing home 11 winners from 116 starts between 2007-14. She continued training as well until 2016, combining this with a full training licence from 2011.
Yesterday, she teamed up with another graduate from the Pointing ranks, in Tabitha Worsley, to produce Uncle O to win the John Matthew Memorial Novices Handicap Chase at Market Rasen, her first winner of the new term from just 6 runners to date. And crikey, if every winner was that close, you'd be hairless before a season was out. Uncle O had to fight every inch of the run-in to beat Christopher Kellett's BeGoodToYourself by a head.
More evidence that the racing backwater that is Hertfordshire still has plenty to offer.
The racing game is full of enthusiasts willing to fulfil a dream of becoming a trainer, despite the remonstrations of those within the sport telling them there's little money in it. But when you strike it rich, doors open for you.
Of one thing though, you can be certain. Racing is a sport with no fast-track. You have to do your time, learning the psyche of the Thoroughbred, then learning how to monetize this in a horse-coping business. The two disciplines are very different, and arguably, the first is the easier.
Around 500 trainers co-exist across both codes of the sport in the UK, and around 10% leave training each year, to be replaced by youngsters hoping to make the grade. Remarkably, despite all the prognostications about prize money, staff shortages and so on, this lifestyle choice continues to attract new entrants every year.
One such is Martin Smith, who trains a select band of dual purpose horses from Kremlin House Stables on Newmarket's Fordham Road, since setting up in 2013. Sixty-four winners later, this fledgling operation has pioneered a low risk syndicate ownership solution alongside owners who own whole horses for themselves. It's part of a business ethos to protect the business from over-reliance upon a small group of people.
Martin's experience is considerable, from assistant positions with Richard Hannon to a spell as Clerk of the Course at Jebel Ali, then training in the USA, but Newmarket ticks all the boxes.
And it certainly seemed to work this afternoon, when six year old gelding Friends Don't Ask picked up his third chase victory in a handicap at Newton Abbot, steered by Nick Schofield. He'd appear a value horse; his last 10 runs have seen him out of the frame on just 3 occasions and a winner twice.
Now that's the sort of horse any trainer wants to have.
lNewmarket trainer Lucy Wadham has a terrific record with her jumpers, her 24 winners last term amassing nearly £250,000 in prize money, just shy of her personal best. You can always rely on a Wadham youngster in any bumper or novice hurdle. A graduate from the Point-to-Point field, Wadham cut her teeth as a journalist in current affairs before reverting to horses.
There won't be any headlines about her most recent winner last night at Stratford however. The concluding bumper took place on a card overshadowed by an altogether larger sporting event taking place some 100 miles south-east at Wembley, where England beat Germany 2-0 to progress to the Euros quarter-finals.
The impeccably-bred Ocean Heights, a 4 year old son of Dubawi, stayed on gamely to win his first National Hunt race at the fourth attempt, putting winner number 3 on this term's Jumps scoresheet for the Wadham team, aby ridden by claimer Corey McGivern, enjoying just a third career win.
It was a day for football parallels; the best finish of the day came in the 2m 6f handicap hurdle, where Graeme McPherson might have said,"We wuz robbed" in classic footie parlance, after his deserving neck winner Calum Gilhooley was denied the race by failing to weigh in correctly. The weight cloth and saddlecloth were both shed in the final 150 yards of the stirring finish.
There was also a notable entrant to the novice chase ranks in the opener, when Rhythm Is A Dancer prevailed for the Ditcheat team of Paul Nicholls, representing former sponsor of the Foxhunter Chase, William Harrison-Allan, for whom this was a home-bred success.
There are over 400 racehorse trainers licensed by the British Horseracing Authority, so it shouldn't be a surprise when one comes across a new name. Although every trainer will tell you there's no money in training horses; the churn ratio of trainers exiting the sport has remained at around 10% each year for 40 years. Yet as one door closes on a career concluding, another opens for an ambitious newcomer eager to fill the gaps.
Ilka Gansera-Leveque is one such newcomer. German-born Ilka cut her teeth as an amateur rider with champion trainer Bruno Schütz in her homeland, graduating to an apprenticeship for 3 years, before spending some time with horse whisperer Monty Roberts in the USA. Schütz was a winner of the German Derby at Hamburg no less than four times before his death in 2000.
She returned to this country to qualify as a veterinarian, one of just two such who are trainers (the other is Mark Johnston - say no more). After a spell with Rossdales in Newmarket, she set up on her own, pre-training, breaking and training her own small string on the Hamilton Road in 2012.
It hasn't been an overnight success, but the bedrock of this sport comprises horsemen and women whose lives are dedicated to the well-being of their bloodstock, and who immerse themselves in the improvement of the stock in their charge. When husband Stephane returned to Newmarket to set about training Arabians, it was time to follow.
Runners over obstacles have been few and far between in a yard with no more than 20 inmates, and Southwell is hardly Ascot, but a first for this season - and last - when she extended her licence to both codes, was something of a milestone in today's 3m handicap hurdle as Just Once repaid the faith with a 3/4l victory. A lucky 13th ever runner under National Hunt rules.
Let's hope for Ilka's sake he doesn't live up to his name.
You don't need to be a diehard Jumping fan to appreciate the superb racing and pageantry that defines Britain's best known race meeting. Put simply, the 35 races of the Royal fixture at Ascot next week are to Flat racing fans what Cheltenham is to the winter brigade, but Ascot's reputation and draw is now worldwide, with runners drawn from Europe, the USA and the Pacific.
It all started when Queen Anne discovered Ascot heath on a hack and declared that the land is "perfect for the horses to gallop at full stretch.” She further introduced many of the principal races, led by the Gold Cup. The first race meeting took place in 1711 on August 11th, and since then, the meeting has grown in stature and length. Today, we refer to these five days as Royal Ascot.
There are two tracks at Ascot, suitable for both flat racing and national hunt. The Jumps course was imported lock, stock and barrel after the closure of nearby Hurst Park in 1963. And were if it not for the marquee events at Cheltenham and Aintree, Ascot's jumping calendar would top the pile.
This year, the Ascot Authority plans to open the meeting for five days, starting on Tuesday June 15th. The 35 races will offer will offer £6m in prize money,
A major reason for the popularity of the event is the royal connections with the race. The prize money is another reason why the audience is so invested. The Royal Ascot prize for this year is a total of £6million throughout the different races. Two foremost races, The Prince of Wales’s Stakes and The Diamond Jubilee Stakes, offer a total of £700,000 for each race.
Ascot is also a key marker in the fashion calendar, but with just 12,000 people allowed to attend each day in 2021 due to Covid restrictions, this will be somewhat subdued. If you're one of the lucky ones attending, then your chances of being picked up by the TV cameras are that little bit higher than hitherto!
Royal Ascot 2021 is a few days away and there's plenty of talk around fancied runners; you can find more about the Royal Ascot 2021 races and the latest betting tips and predictions, sharing up to the minute information and the best tips since Eliza Doolittle encouraged Dover in My Fair Lady.
The opening race of the first day would be the £400,000 Queen Anne Stakes, in which Palace Pier is currently odds-on favourite, at 8/15. Palace Pier is laying claim to be the number one miler in the world.
The second popular race is the King’s Stand Stakes. Experts are predicting that the 7-year-old Battaash will win the race. He is among the fastest horses in the world, trained by Charlie Hills, winner of the corresponding race in 2020. This season, he will defend his title. The Queen also has an intended runner in King's Lynn, trained by Andrew Balding.
For the Prince of Wales Stakes on Wednesday, experts are suggesting that Lord North has the greatest potential. According to John and Thady Gosden, his trainers, he is in perfect shape to face off his opponents.
For those that normally eschew the Flat however, there are two races that are always worth watching. Both over extended distances, they play to Jumping trainers with dual purpose horses that have sufficient speed to win on the flat.
On Tuesday, the Ascot Stakes is a handicap for horses rated 0-100 over 2m4f. Last year, this was part of an Ascot treble for Alan King with Coeur du Lion, but the past four runnings have gone to trainers with strong winter connections.
On Saturday, the Queen Alexandra is a conditions race over even longer: 2m 6f. This final "getting out Stakes" was another winner for King in 2020 with Who Dares Wins, but five of the races since 2011 have been won by trainers with Jumping credentials, including Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.
After the Belmont Stakes and the Derby last weekend, the Royal Ascot is another major event this month as the summer rolls out festival after festival. And you can be sure that our leading Jumps trainers will be stealing the odd race from under the noses of the Flat brigade, just as the opposite has become the case at Jumping's biggest meetings nowadays.
Enjoy the spectacle.
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