The Racing Hub Round-up: the week’s top stories
Your weekly round-up of top racing stories in a nutshell, plus upcoming fixtures and TV races
Racing and Racecourses
The Horse Welfare Board published its report on equine welfare in racing, with 20 recommendations.
Just weeks before the 2020 Grand National, John Baker is to leave his position as managing director of Aintree racecourse.
He took responsibility for running Aintree in 2012, together with Carlisle and Haydock, as part of a Jockey Club Racecourses’ regional restructure.
Baker, 50, who intends to take a short break, said: “I have absolutely loved my 17 years working for Jockey Club Racecourses. I joined as general manager at Carlisle, where I have some wonderful memories, and as a little boy watching the Grand National with my granddad.”
A jockeys’ insurance scheme is at risk of ending if a sponsor cannot be found.
Last year the Stobart Group ended its support of the scheme and the Professional Jockeys Association has been looking for a replacement backer for the Career Ending Insurance, which pays up to £!00,000 to any jockey whose riding career is ended due to injury.
The PJA has the funds for the scheme to run until the end of March, but not beyond that point.
Mid Worcestershire MP Nigel Huddleston (pictured) has been appointed minister for sport, tourism and heritage, which includes responsibility for racing.
Huddleston has been a supporter of the BHA’s stance on the use of the whip saying that provisions of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 coupled with the BHA’s rules on the use of the whip,” provide adequate protection for racehorses.”
He also said that the 2017 Gambling Review, which led to the reduction of FOBT minimum stakes from £100 to £5, meant “addictive and socially damaging impacts of gambling are being addressed at the same time as striking the right balance with responsible growth and a thriving sector.”
Either Ludlow or Musselburgh should see the return of Richard Johnson to race-riding on Thursday following his recovery from a broken arm.
The four-time champion jockey has been side-lined since 21 January when he suffered the injury to his right arm in a fall at Exeter.
Before the injury he was three winners behind Brian Hughes in the jump jockeys’ champion shup, but the gap grew19 whilst Johnson was out of action. Johnson has 111 winners and Hughes 130.
Johnson has also been signed up by the Racing Post to write a column every Saturday, and every day during the Cheltenham and Grand National Festivals.
He will also appear on the weekly programme What A Shout.
Meanwhile, Brian Hughes has had his three-day ban, imposed by Carlisle stewards for weighing in 5lnb light, suspended by the BHA. Hughes but argued at the time that he had done nothing wrong and that the ban would undermine his chance of becoming champion jockey for the first time.
A statement from the British Horseracing Authority said the punishments issued “have been temporarily stayed pending further investigation into the exact cause of the underweight”.
Hughes was first past the post, but weighted in without his saddle cloth containing lead weights, and it was subsequently found on the horse walk between the track and the winner’s’ enclosure,
Paul Hanagan left hospital on Monday without needing surgery, nine days after being admitted with a back injury incurred after a heavy fall Newcastle on 6 February.
He fractured to his T6 vertebra and has been fitted with a brace.
He said from Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary: “I’ve just had an X-ray and no operation is needed. The fracture is still stable, which is great news, and instead I have a brace fitted to wear throughout the day.
“It’s very hard to say when I will be back, and I have a long journey ahead of me with rehab, but I’m really positive and I’m going to make sure I will come back even stronger and fitter.”
Dual Grand National-winning jockey Leighton Aspell, with back-to-back Aintree wins on Pineau De Re and Many Clouds, retired from race-riding at Fontwell on Sunday – the second time he has quit the saddle.
Aspell rode 922 winners in Britain and Ireland, was abord Many Clouds for all his 27 starts, including the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January 2017, when he beat Thistlecrack, after which the horse suffered a fatal pulmonary haemorrhage.
He finished second in his final ride, on Itsnotwhatyouthink in the bumper at Fontwell, and is now taking time out before making any future plans.
Following an evening celebrating the achievements of stud and stable staff from across the country at the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards, James Frank (pictured) of Hascombe and Valiant Stud was been named as the 2020 Employee of the Year.
James, who also won the Stud Staff Award, was presented with the perpetual Godolphin Trophy by special guest presenter Oisin Murphy alongside Ed Chamberlin at an event hosted by the British Horseracing Authority.
Other winners were:
- David Nicholson Newcomer Award: Kevin Skelton – Bryan Smart
- Leadership Award: Mat Nicholls – Kim Bailey
- Rider/Groom Award: Hayley Ashcroft – Tom Dascombe
- Stud Staff Award: James Frank – Hascombe and Valiant Stud
- Dedication to Racing Award: Andy Stringer – John Gosden
- Rory Macdonald Award: Simone Sear – Racing Welfare
James received a total of £20,000 in prize money with the same amount being shared amongst the staff at Hascombe and Valiant Stud. This is part of a total of £128,000 in prize money awarded on the evening by sponsors Godolphin.
Having come to the UK from Zimbabwe in his mid-twenties, James’ belief in leading from the front and setting the example to those he works with has been the hallmark of his 17 years of working in racing and breeding.
Three Nicky Henderson’s Champion Hurdler contenders, Pentland Hills (Paddy Power odds 5/1), Fusil Raffles (14/1) and Verdana Blue (25/1) pleased the Seven Barrows master with their spin round Kempton Park on Tuesday.
In what is now part of Henderson’s pre-Festival routine, 13 horses went to the Sunbury track to work over a lap and a half of the all-weather track.
Pentland Hills and Verdana Blue were second and third behind Adjali in the first group, with Fusil Raffles coming home behind Birchdale.
Henderson said: “It was good and they all did what they had to. It just puts an edge on them and you don’t judge them by results here. I was happy with Pentland and Verdana and Fusil was all right.
“We know what the horses work like. One or two had a blow, that was fine and you take it will put them right, but a lot haven’t run for a bit and that is why they are here.”
Henderson believes he still has more work to do the 2019 Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills and fellow Grade 1 scorer Fusil Raffles.
He added: “I was very pleased with Pentland. Epatante is surely the one (for the Champion Hurdle). I could make a case for Pentland as he did that well, but he has another bit of work to come.
“I think that was a step forward for Fusil and Daryl (Jacob) was happy. He is a horse that comes to life on a racecourse.
“He certainly did twice last year and we have got to get him back to that. Verdana Blue is going to have to go on ground that doesn’t suit her, but she is in great form.”
One Henderson horse who will not be Cheltenham bound is Glynn, who was a 14/1 short The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
Henderson said: ” He looked very good at Doncaster, but he hasn’t come back to that since then.”
Tiger Roll (evens), looking to win the Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival for third time running is set to face a serious challenger in the shape of French trained 6yo Easysland (11/4).
Easysland won over the Cheltenham cross-country course at the first time of asking in December and was subsequently purchased by JP McManus.
Trained by David Cottin at Lamorlaye, he has since won a Listed cross-country chase at Pau earlier this month
“They’re very happy with him in France, and the plan is to go to Cheltenham – all is good,” said McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.
“He won nicely there and came out of the race well. We’re looking forward to running him at Cheltenham.”
Two Festival candidates from Ben Pauling’s yard are pleasing the Gloucestershire trainer.
The eight-year-old Global Citizen (11/1) took part in a gallop at Kempton ahead of a tilt at the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase
Pauling said: “He was easy for the eye to see, and he was good. He was very well in himself, and I feel like we have got him spot on. He just wants to get on with life.”
Kildisart (12/1) was the other Pauling runner to please, and is on track for the Ultima Handicap Chase after the eight-year-old stayed on finish fifth bhind Mister Malarky in the Grade 3Betway Handicap Chase at Kempton on Saturday.
“He’s come out of his race at Kempton brilliantly,” said Pauling, adding “I was very happy with him, and it’s all gearing up now for the Ultima.
“I’m really looking forward to getting him out at Cheltenham. That was much more like him. He finished very well, after struggling to go the early gallop on that tighter track.”
Unbeaten Highway One O Two, the 4¾l start-to-finish winner of Kempton’s Grade 2 Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle will bypass the Imperial Cup at Sandown and go straight to Aintree.
Of the 5yo, who is three from three over hurdles, Gordon said “To be quite honest, if he was a straightforward horse, I would have gone for a normal novice somewhere with a claimer on for his third run – and keep his mark of 135.
“However, that’s been blown apart now – we’re up to 146, so we’ll wait for Aintree.”
Betting and Bookmakers
Around 200 Coral and Ladbroke shops closed for the last time over the weekend, a figure which parent company CVC Holdings, refused to confirm.
The company said that it had identified a number of shops for closure to bring an end to the triennial process.
An initial 1,000 shops were forecast to be shut, but the figure was reduced to 900. William Hill have shut 700 shops, the closures coming on the back of FOTB minimum stakes being cut from £100 to £2.
Following the Gambling Commission suspending the licence of the Matchbook betting exchange last week, online operator MoPlay, who have said that due to financial difficulties they are unable to process withdrawals, have also had their licence suspended.
Although customer funds are held in a separate account, the company, which was set up by Juergen Reutter and Patrick Jay, formerly of William Hill and Ladbrokes respectively, said that if it became insolvent it may not be able to return funds as they would be deemed to be company assets.
Media and Marketing
ITV Racing came away with two bronze prizes at this year’s Sports Journalists Awards.
Coverage of the Cheltenham Festival earned an award in the Television/Digital Live Event Coverage category, which was won by Cricket World Cup Final – Sky Sports & Sunset + Vine, with I’m Game – Sky Sports picking up silver.
In the Television Sport Live Broadcast category, the Opening Show won bronze, with Cricket on 5 – Ashes Headingley Final Day – Sunset+Vine getting gold and European Qualifiers: Bulgaria v England – ITV Sport winning silver.
Racing on TV
Saturday 29 February
- Doncaster: 1.50, 2.25, 3.00, 3.35
- Newbury: 2.05, 2.40, 3.15
- Kelso: 2.45
Subject to change. ITV/ITV4