What should you look for in selecting a bookie?

Winter’s icy grip on England is slowly subsiding which means that a return to warmer weather won’t be far away, and the past fortnight’s rain is going some way toward rectifying the winter’s dry conditions that have left British trainers constantly frustrated.

Indeed, Stratford-upon-Avon will soon begin to move into spring as the landscape of Warwickshire changes from bare to plentiful. Apart from breathing life back into us after a long winter, the first signs of the new season also mean a return to racing at the world-class Stratford Racecourse. We welcomed a bumper crowd for the opening fixture on Festival eve, including many friends from across the Irish Sea.


The only place to be from here till November

The packed fixture list from March to early November is sure to energise horse racing enthusiasts in the area who call Stratford Racecourse their own.

For any visitors from far and wide hoping to make the journey to Shottery Meadow, Stratford Racecourse’s modern facilities and unrivalled hospitality packages will undoubtedly provide the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable day. 

As touched on, there is much to look forward to for horse racing purists now that the kindness of spring has replaced the hostility of winter.

With racing now set to be commonplace as the mercury continues to rise, there will also be an increased interest in which bookmakers to use given that horse racing goes hand in hand with a flutter. It would be safe to say that the options nowadays are endless which is why it pays to be discerning when choosing who to sign up with in time for a summer racing season.

Below, we’ll look through the key features that any horse racing fan from Stratford-upon-Avon or even further afield should consider before opening an account. 

Best odds

There is only one place to start and that is odds. Whether you’re betting on an event at Stratford or elsewhere, it’s good practice to join a bookmaker that is offering the most competitive race odds. Essentially, the odds offered by a bookmaker can have a significant impact on your potential winnings. You may have noticed during ITV’s coverage of Cheltenham in the betting shows the “overround” – a description of the margin in any bookmaker’s book. In some of the handicaps, this exceeded 30%!

The simple logic dictates that if you place a winning bet at higher odds, you will receive a higher payout than if you had placed the same bet at lower odds. Therefore, it’s imperative to choose a bookmaker that offers the best prices so that you are able to maximise your potential winnings in the event that your chosen horse gets to the finishing post first.

In addition to this, when you place a bet, you want to feel confident that you are getting the best value for your money and not wonder if you might make a bigger profit elsewhere. Choosing a bookmaker that offers the most competitive odds can supply you with that vital confidence given that you know you are getting the best possible return on your investment should your bet land.

But understand this. The value in betting lies in totting up the odds and seeing which horse is under-priced, rather than merely following napsters’ tips. The tipsters column at the end of a season to a £1 stake almost always shows a negative meaning following favourites is a mug’s game.

A variety of horse racing markets to choose from

They say that variety is the spice of life and that certainly applies when finding a bookmaker that offers a wide range of horse racing markets to bet on. By doing this, you will be provided with significantly more opportunities to wager on different events which ultimately means that you can cherry-pick the races that suit your interests and betting style.

When all is said and done, it is all about making informed decisions when it comes to betting on horses, and to do that successfully, it helps to be able to cast your eye over a series of eventualities. For instance, if you’re betting on a horse at Stratford Racecourse that you feel might not win but will certainly get placed, then you are going to want to make the most of that inkling by having access to place markets.

Although the same can be said for any bet that you want to make, whether it be a slam dunk single on history-making Gold Cup winning jockey Rachael Blackmore or a shoot for the moon, Super Heinz bet on a line-up of multiple winners, it pays to find the bookmaker that can complement your horse racing knowledge.


Best bonus offers when signing up

Given how competitive the online sports betting industry is, you’ll find that you’re inundated with welcome offers when searching for which bookmaker to sign up with. At the bigger fixtures, the range of bookmaker offers is remarkable, from money-back specials to outlandishly large prices on fancied horses just to entice you to start betting.

When it comes to making the right choice, the key is to do your research and in particular, use the information found on reputable sites that rank the best sign-up bonuses from every bookie. Racing experts have searched the vast range of providers to find the best horse racing betting sites in the UK for anyone wanting to sign up with a bookmaker to place bets. Some of the bonuses mentioned include £30 in free bets when you join Bet365, whilst BetUK will give any new customer £60 in free bets when they place a £20 opening bet.

These generous welcome promotions aside, the broader point here is that you don’t have to take the first joining bonuses that come your way as bookmakers often have a specific offer that will ensure you receive maximum value on your opening bet. 

Access to free streams

If you can’t get down to Stratford for whatever reason, the next best option is to watch the races live online. Most of the best bookmakers for horse racing will offer live streaming of events which means that you can always keep an eye on what is going on, irrespective of where you are in the world. 

In addition to this, by watching horse racing on a live stream offered by a bookmaker, you can get a better sense of the horses’ form and the track conditions, which crucially, can help you make well-informed and accurate betting decisions.

Another benefit of having access to live streaming is that you can also spot potential changes in the race that may affect who the potential winner might be, this is especially relevant if you choose to use the live-in-play betting market.

In short, you can gather a great deal of useful information that can substantially increase your chances of winning when you select a bookmaker that offers live streaming of races.

Bet on course or off

Of course, much of the appeal of actually going racing is browsing the bookmakers’ boards in the ring, where you get to exchange notes with the characters who ply their trade there. As witnessed by their joint sponsorship of our opening card last week, our course bookmakers offer another real-time betting opportunity, where winnings are passed back to you in old-fashioned notes. There is little better than the feel of a crisp bunch of twenties!

So there you have it, a comprehensive list of what to look out for when choosing a bookmaker. It promises to be another memorable season at Stratford Racecourse with a world of possibility awaiting the various horses, jockeys, and of course fans too. 

Stratford winner stakes claim to Foxhunter greatness

It’s not often that a race winner from Stratford goes off favourite for a race at the Cheltenham Festival. Our winners, by dint of race quality and summer time racing tend to be aimed at different targets. But that is exactly what has arisen tomorrow as Vaucelet stakes his claim to be the leading hunter chaser in Britain and Ireland.

Twice a winner at Stratford, first in 2021 of the John Corbett Cup for novice hunters, which is generally accepted as the championship for the upcoming aspirants of the hunter chase genre, then a 4l winner of the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter last year, Vaucelet hails from the specialist Point-to-Point yard of David Christie in Ulster. For that reason, but perhaps that reason alone, he may count as a rare British winner at the festival in the glut of Irish tricolors flying this past week.

Fifty acres of pastureland near Derrylin in Co Fermanagh on the road between Cavan and Enniskillen finds a veritable powerhouse of Point-to-Point and hunter chase excellence, and Vaucelet is the apple of David’s eye. Winner of a modest £51,200 in career earnings, this son of Derby winner Authorized has graced the amateur scene for 3 years, since transferring to Christie in March 2021, just in time for a maiden victory over fences in a geldings only maiden at Portrush in May ’21. The rider that day was one Ben Harvey, who rode Seddon with such coolness this Wednesday at Cheltenham.

It’s not a fait accompli however. Like every other race at the Festival, the competition is stiff and numerous. The Foxhunter is perhaps the only conditions race to generally reach maximum numbers at the annual championships, and other contenders are lined up alongside.

Prominent among these are last year’s winner Billaway, from the dominant Mullins yard, Chris’s Dream for Henry de Bromhead, and The Storyteller for Gordon Elliott, all bidding to take the festival’s largest trophy back to Ireland. Billaway has yet to finish outside the first two in 3 runs in the race, but at 11, perhaps age may be his worst enemy. Chris’s Dream has obvious claims on form and would continue a hot streak for the de Bromhead yard that has suffered such ghastly personal misfortune these past months. The Storyteller won’t need directions around Cheltenham either.

But the biggest challenge may, for the first time in a while, come from British-based horses. Famous Clermont hails from Chris Barber’s Somerset yard, which lives and breathes the amateur code. The eight year old hasn’t put a foot wrong this winter, winning a Larkhill Open on New year’s day, and prepping up with victory at Wincanton in February and a comprehensive 18l demolition of Envious Editor in haydock’s Walrus Hunters Chase last month also – a well recognized prep for this race.

Corinthian David Maxwell fields Cat Tiger and Bob & Co, who bids to give Alice Stephens a memorable ride on the biggest stage.

However, if you’re looking to oppose the favourite, French-bred Le Malin might be the one. He ran to his best recent form in mid February when going down just a half length to Billaway in a hunters chase at Naas in February and has won since. Francois Nicolle doesn’t let many go but this one has more to prove.

Reassuringly, there are a number of amateur-trained British entries, pushing back the invasive reach of professional trainers into the race these past few years. It’s a race to savour, and there’s every chance we may see many of the competitors back her in early June.

Oh, and by the way, the previous race that day looks mildly interesting too.

A Festival aperitif opens our season

There are more obvious dates to enjoy a bumper crowd than a damp Monday in March, but such is the fever for racing in this Cheltenham Festival week that we are able to open our season with a vociferous and jovial crowd, keenly anticipating the most awaited 4 days of the year. So despite intermittent showers and a keen wind, our six race card enjoyed a very respectable audience, underwritten by the on-course bookmakers.

A busy crowd at Stratford attends the first meeting of the new season. 13/3/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Alan King is looking for a 34th festival winner with Edwardstone in tomorrow’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, but meantime showed that his team is in good fettle by taking the opener in a bloodless 17l victory with chaser Grandeur d’Ame. The race was something of a procession, with 5l separating second and third, and a further 14 to the only other finisher. the stable was enjoying its 45th jumps winner this term, that wellbeing demonstrated by the fact that nearly 60% of runners have reached the frame.

There wasn’t any more happiness for the on-course bookmaker sponsors in the next, when odds-on favourite Bo Zenith landed the odds in the juvenile hurdle. The winner turned over JCB Triumph Hurdle favourite Blood Destiny at Auteuil last April, and his rating would merit a look at the Anniversary Hurdle at Aintree. Trainer Gary Moore is not one to avoid a strong race.

Bubble Dubi wins at Stratford. 13/3/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Another horse bound for a valuable race is Bubble Dubi, the third of four favourites to win on the day, who broke his duck at the seventh attempt in the feature Better Value with Racecourse Bookmakers Handicap Hurdle. Trainer Stuart Edmunds is aiming him at a £100k hurdle at Sandown on the closing day of the season. Meantime, he was a 20th winner of the term for rider Cieran Gethings.

Another to break his duck was amateur rider Huw Edwards, who rode his first winner in the novices hunters chase at the 48th attempt for JJ O’Shea. And if frustration had held up the pursuit of success thus far, it was never in doubt here once Edwards took up the running 3 out on runaway winner Time Leader. O’Shea has Cousin Pascal on track to run in the Aintree Foxhunters next month.

Tristan Durrell is another amateur who has graduated to the professional ranks, and there would be few more coveted positions than with Dan Skelton. Of his 24 winners to date, 21 have been for his boss, who goes to Cheltenham well armed this year. Go Steady, winner of the Cash is King in the Ring Handicap Chase was a nice pump primer, even if poorly named for a sport where speed is of the essence. In what may prove a definitive week in the Trainers’ Championship, Skelton is “only” £600k behind his mentor and rival Paul Nicholls.

Go Steady wins at Stratford. 13/3/2023 Pic Steve Davies

Sean Bowen has a date with Noble Yeats in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday, and warmed up for that with a 2l winner in Flying Fortune for his father in the concluding bumper.

Will it be Rachael Blackmore’s Festival a second time?

In this March’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, Rachel Blackmore will defend her crown after a spectacular win in 2022. Starting the race as the favourite, she rode the seven-year-old A Plus Tard to a memorable triumph. Returning to the fold on the same mount, we discuss her chances at this year’s event.

A Plus Tard

Trained by Henry de Bromhead, in 2022 A Plus Tard pipped previous winners Minella Indo and Protektorat in third. This year, the horse remains up there with the favourites. In the Cheltenham betting A Plus Tard is generously priced at 8/1. If there are any concerns, it would only be that the horse has run very little since last year’s win. A single run in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November left the de Bromhead team much deflated after a below-par run behind Protektorat. That horse has also been beaten since, and other contenders have appeared, like Galopin des Champs and Conflated for the Irish, and Bravemansgame for the home team.

The French-bred A Plus Tard has shown considerable talent for trainer Henry De Bromhead. The horse was a consistent performer in his early career, winning several maiden and novice races in France including first place in two out of three first-year races. He then moved to run in the UK and Ireland, where he won several graded races. While a favourite, he is not the only horse Henry de Bromhead is likely to have among the Cheltenham tips, as one of this trainer’s favoured outings. 

In 2020, he showed consistent improvement in form, ending the year with a win at Leopardstown. The next year saw a win at Haydock in November with two more second places, before his win in March at Cheltenham.  As any race enthusiast will know, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is one of the most important races in the calendar and both Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead will be looking to get A Plus Tard back to the scene of his greatest triumph in peak form.

Previous winners

The Gold Cup was first run in 1924, and since then it has been won by some of the most famous horses in steeplechasing history. Horses that have won over the years include Golden Miller, Arkle, Best Mate and Denman. The recent record for the most wins by a horse is held by Best Mate, who won the race in 2002, 2003, and 2004. Arkle won the race three times in a row from 1964 to 1966 and the last two-year consecutive winner was Al Boum Photo. If A Plus Tard returns to form for this year, it can be easy to see the stable chasing the three-time win with a horse so young and full of promise. 

While the Gold Cup is the main event at the Cheltenham Festival, there are many other top-class races in the four-day meeting. Other Grade 1 races at the event include the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and the Stayers’ Hurdle providing a full meeting of action. De Bromhead is a realist; after his dream treble in 2022, a single winner would be as much as he can hope for. 2022 capped a terrific season when Honeysuckle, Put The Kettle On and A Plus Tard each won their respective Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup. Each race at the Festival offers the best horse in their class and are worth your time and effort. Check your odds, get the best prices, and enjoy watching the best racing the world has to offer.

Nicholls on the Festival comeback trail

When you think of Paul Nicholls, the mind is instantly drawn back to his superstar horses Kauto Star, Denman, Master Minded, and See More Business, to name just a few. The master trainer swept up all around him when it came to the season’s biggest races back then, with superstars winning pretty much every Grade 1 race on the calendar.

Since then, however, the 12-time Champion trainer has struggled to find horses anywhere near as talented as that team of legends. Nicholls hasn’t won a Gold Cup since 2009 or a Champion Hurdle since 2012, albeit that he has made the King George at Kempton his own through Frodon, Clan des Obeaux and this year’s performance by Bravemansgame. The paucity of success at the Festival however is scarcely credible when you think of his former embarras de richesse

He has even started to bypass the Cheltenham Festival in recent years, instead waiting for the Aintree Grand National meeting the following month.

Ditcheat has found another gear

But times are changing at Nicholls’ Ditcheat stables this season. He has started to form a formidable squad full of talented young horses now ready to take on the best in the game. Betting markets and the latest betting tips are now full of Nicholls runners, including Bravemansgame with odds of 9/1 for the Gold Cup and Greaneteen available at 16/1 for the Champion Chase. Could it be time for the trainer to hit the summit of National Hunt racing once again at the meeting where it all counts?

Horses such as Bravemansgame and Greaneteen have put the Ditcheat stable back in the limelight this season with their Grade 1 successes and, with the Cheltenham Festival now fast approaching, it must be an exciting time for everyone involved with team Nicholls.

The new star squad


Bravemansgame is Nicholls’ new stable star. A Grade 1 winner as a hurdler, the 8-year-old has come into his own since being sent chasing, winning six of his seven starts. Two of those successes have come at the top level, most recently a 14-length win in the King George VI Chase at Kempton at Christmas.

He is still progressing at a rate of knots over the larger obstacles and has earned a tilt at this season’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup. Will he prove to be as good as Nicholls’ heroes of the past? We will find out in March.


Another current star of the Ditcheat stable is the Queen Mother Champion Chase hopeful, Greaneteen. Like Bravemansgame, Greaneteen has proved to be a far better chaser than hurdler and has been particularly impressive this season with his Haldon Gold Cup win and second-place performance in the Tingle Creek.

He is currently being overlooked in the betting markets for the Champion Chase but he has all the attributes needed for a race of that nature and shouldn’t be disregarded as an also-ran.

With the likes of Pic D’Ohry (Ryanair Chase), Frodon (Gold Cup), and Hermes Allen (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle) also among Nicholls’ strong Cheltenham squad, this could prove to be a comeback year for the Champion trainer at the sport’s Holy of Holies.

Seeing these Cheltenham classics without a Nicholls runner over the past few years has been disappointing. There hasn’t been enough home-bred opposition to prevent a trouncing by Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott. Together, Nicholls and Henderson present the best chance of rebalancing the old Anglo-Irish rivalry, and Nicholls old adversary in Lambourn also has some impressive firepower. But this is the strongest team Paul Nicholls has possessed since the heady days of Kauto Star and Denman. 

If they prove to be half as good as those two, then the future is bright at Ditcheat.

Captain Nick Lees – a racing innovator

Nick Lees, director of Stratford for over 45 years and Leicester over 50, died last week at home at the age of 83. And so departed one of modern day racing’s greatest innovators.

Lees was an old school racing administrator, yet with the heart and mind of a youngster. An hour in his company always left you in the “glass half full” camp. Never short of an anecdote, he was an easy conversationalist, with a pragmatic and keen eye to how racing could adapt to changing cultural mores and retain its relevance to contemporary society.

Captain Nick Lees, formerly of the 17th & 21st Lancers, joined Leicester Racecourse in January 1970 as assistant secretary, graduated to the Clerk of Course position 2 years later, and retired from the post in 2004. Within the same timeframe, he became Clerk at Newmarket in ’74, Yarmouth in ’77, and Towcester, which he relinquished on retirement. Along with Hugo Bevan, who also died in 2022, he was amongst Britain’s busiest clerks.

Memorable moments have been many. His tenure at Newmarket coincided with the hurricane of 1988, where quick thinking saved the Dewhurst and Champion Stakes for another day, and the fateful aeroplane crash on the July course in 2000, in which Ray Cochrane and Frankie Dettori nearly lost their lives, and their pilot sadly did. As Managing Director over a period of 27 years to 2001, he oversaw much of the modern day development of the home of racing.

Nick Lees at Stratford.21/7/2019 Pic Steve Davies

At the same time, a string of top flight horses passed through the races on the Rowley and July courses, and one or two top flight maidens appeared at the lesser venues. Yarmouth in particular remains favoured by Newmarket yards introducing youngsters for the first time.

The seventies and eighties were remarkable for the emergence of sustained Arab support of the sport. Sheikh Mohammed, whose horses now run in the colours of Godolphin, fielded a string of impeccably – bred horses like Pebbles, Oh So Sharp and many more in the once familiar maroon and white sleeves, and was accompanied by Sheikh Hamdan and others like Robert Sangster. It was a time when a bright and enthusiastic promoter of racing could enthuse wealthy owners to underwrite Newmarket’s valuable Pattern races, and Lees set to with a vigour. Many of those sponsorships exist even now.

But it was another innovation that really left its mark. In 1987, Lees booked The Spinners, a band on the way down, for an after racing party on the July course. The evening drew a substantial crowd, and Newmarket Nights rapidly became a genre of racing to draw in new crowds of a younger demographic. Of course, any summer racegoer will tell you this is the way to go racing of an evening nowadays. British racecourses, and the Jockey Club in particular, are among the largest music promoters in the UK.

But Lees was also a realist. Whilst Newmarket Nights now books major acts like Madness and Ed Sheerin, I once asked him if the same would apply at Leicester. He scoffed at the idea, recognizing that the genre requires “horses for courses”. His business acumen never left him, whether applying it to choice of music, or the racing programme.

As a one – time amateur rider, Lees’ thoughts were never far from the Jumps game. A series of wet winters focused in his own mind the opportunity for riverside courses and those with adequate watering systems to switch from winter to summer calendars. The introduction of summer jump racing wasn’t welcomed by the more conservative members of the training fraternity, and many remain opposed to it even now. But its introduction was supported by a cadre of stables for whom the opportunity to earn all year round was welcomed, and racecourse finances for summer tracks – Stratford included – were transformed.

A one -time auctioneer, Lees was a fan of the selling race too, on the face of it, the lowest class type of contest. Yet the sale process was heavily loaded in the racecourse’s favour, a fact not lost on Nick as he encouraged bids from new and existing owners. Even Newmarket had sellers in the eighties and nineties, and very lucrative they could be too. Nowadays, those courses where he had an involvement remain the only venues still staging them, in part for the theatre, part for the financial return.

Nick Lees at Stratford conducting a seller, with fellow director Michael Rowe (left).19/5/2019 Pic Steve Davies

In over 40 years’ experience of racing, I came across Nick Lees in just about every capacity you could imagine. Engaging, with a boyish grin and an infectious enthusiasm, his wealth of experience, both in the saddle and from behind a desk, was well employed in keeping both the home of racing fit for purpose over a period of 27 years, but also as a champion of the smaller independent courses, like Stratford and Leicester.

Nor did his curiosity leave him post retirement. I recall sitting at my desk at Hoppegarten Racecourse in Berlin some 10 years ago, only to receive a call from Nick, seeking advice on a trip to Berlin’s only Flat track with other directors from Stratford – an annual familiarisation visit to enjoy racing abroad, and learn best practice to apply back at home.

He leaves behind a wife, Joss, and two adult children, Lottie and Sophie, but beyond that in a professional capacity, he leaves a sport in better shape than when he arrived, for which all fans can give thanks.

New Year’s resolution: Buy a racehorse

Like all racecourses in the UK, here at Stratford, we understand how important owners are to the sport of horse racing. As such, we do all we can to make sure owners have the best experience possible when watching their horses in action at our venue. Our own Stratford Racing Club is one such example which has met with great success. Owning a horse can take you to the grandest places!

If you have ever considered owning a National Hunt racehorse before, or it is something you’d be open to in the future, here are some of the benefits involved. 

Jumpers are generally cheaper then Flat horses

One of the obstacles that puts people off from becoming racehorse owners is the sheer cost involved. In flat racing at the highest level, some well-bred horses are sold for millions of pounds, with these sales often well documented in the press.

Jumps horses are generally much cheaper than those which run on the Flat. By dint of the fact that most chasers and hurdlers are geldings, there is no breeding potential to impact upon your purchase price. There is also Jump racing on turf 12 months of the year, which means there are far more opportunities for your horse to feature on the track at a summer or winter racecourse.

Hopefully, a National Hunt horse fits within your budget. Even if they come in at the lower end of the scale when it comes to their price, it does not mean you should not dream of running in the biggest races in the sport at the likes of the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National Meeting. Noble Yeats won the Grand National in 2022 after being sold for just £75,000 as a four-year at the Tatts Cheltenham December Auction.

By contrast, when dairy farmer Sirrel Griffiths won the Cheltenham Gold Cup with 100/1 outsider Norton’s Coin, he had bred the horse from a mare he bought for £500 and a stallion for £700. The offspring – Norton’s Coin – showed some promise in Point-to-Points, at which Griffiths bought him back for just £5,000. The horse won over £130,000 in prize money! Now that’s a fairy tale ownwership experience.

Racing Clubs & Syndicates

Another way to make racehorse ownership much more affordable is to join a racing club or syndicate. If you have ever wondered, how do I buy a share in a race horse? Essentially, it is a relatively easy process. All you need to do is decide how many shares you want to buy. After you make your purchase, there are no further payments required in your opening year, as all the costs such as training and service fees are covered within your shares.

With race clubs like RaceShare, some of the benefits of being part of the club is that you will get the inside scoop from your trainer on the chances of your horse. You will be the first to know when it is declared for a race. 

As a racing club or syndicate member, you also become part of a racing community. There are regular stable visits involved for you to see your horse up close, You will get to experience the thrill of seeing your horse on the track at courses like Stratford. Before you sign up for your shares, you can view the horses which are owned by the club. All their details such as their bloodstock, age, and experience will be available to view on their profile pages.

Stratford Racing Club members have enjoyed visits to Charlie Longsdon’s Cotswolds yard to see their horse, and there has been much back-slapping at racecourses across the Midlands as Jamacho has done the club proud, winning last summer at Worcester, Stratford and Uttoxeter (see below for a celebrated win in our Summer Salver).

Jamacho jumps the last with Charlie Longsdon stable companion Beyond The Clouds in the Stratford Summer Salver Handicap Hurdle. 10/7/2022 Pic Steve Davies

Stratford Ownership experience

As an owner at Stratford, you have access to an owners and trainers suite, where a complimentary buffet lunch will be served. There will also be tea and coffee available to you throughout the day. With your owner’s badge, you will get access to the parade ring before your race. This is where you will speak to your jockey and trainer before the former jumps on board the horse.

If your runner is successful in their race, a racecourse director will guide you through the presentation and you get to take away a memento of the day. You will also get access to a private room where you can celebrate your success. Make the most of it! Winners are infrequent and there will be disappointment alongside success, which makes the latter so precious!

But what makes ownership so special is that instead of being a bystander, you achieve full immersion in the sport. Before long, you are reading the Racing Post from cover to cover every day, and you get to meet other owners, both in your own stable and beyond. Although you compete with each other in friendly rivalry, there’s a terrific community spirit that binds everyone together. And all of a sudden, loads of friends want to accompany you to the races!

Good luck if you do take up racehorse ownership in the future. Hopefully, we will see you soon at Stratford Racecourse where we will be ready to welcome you with open arms.

King George offers stellar cast

This year’s King George is building toward a race that simply must not be missed. Even the briefest of glances at the entries is enough to make one salivate.

If the market is any guide, the race trophy is already headed back to Ditcheat, just as it has on a previous 11 occasions through the efforts of great steeplechasers like See More Business, Kauto Star, Silvianaco Conti, Clan des Obeaux and Frodon. The champion trainer is four-handed in the race, with Charlie Hall winner favourite Bravemansgame, Hitman, Pic d’Orhy and the enthusiastic Frodon, who will be re-united with regular rider Bryony Frost, back from injury as racing returns this week.

There was an assuredness about Bravemansgame’s victory in the Charlie Hall that swept him to favouritism in short order. He had Ahoy Senor and Eldorado Allen behind him that day, but the recent history of the Charlie Hall is not littered with Gold Cup or King George winners, only candidates. He will have to improve again and his official rating of 161 leaves him needing improvement to win.

Hitman has a rating 1lb lower after narrowly being touched off in the Old Roan at Aintree back in October. He was a well-backed winner of a graduation chase at Haydock last month, but this is the deep end. Again, were he not in the Nicholls camp, his odds might be longer than the 4/1 generally available.

Frodon knows his way around Kempton already, having won this race for Bryony Frost in 2020, and there is little doubt that he and Frost are well suited to one another with a string of wins to their belt, including a splendid weight-carrying performance in the Badger Beer Handicap in November. Frodon was no match for Protektorat in the small field Betfair Chase however, and his days at the highest level may be numbered, cruel as it is to admit it.

Candidate number four is Pic d’Orhy, winner of the 7 runner Peterborough Chase last month at Huntingdon, where Millers Bank was behind him. On the face of it, he has a little to find, but he may yet be withdrawn for an easier target.

There is little doubt that Nicholls holds something back for Christmas, a time of year he excels. Despite the shutdown for the weather, his string is firing on all cylinders, with as good a strike rate as anyone in the business. You could certainly do worse than back any of his runners.

Nicholls’ one time protege is also a stable on fire this autumn, banging in big Saturday winners as if they are going out of fashion. Dan Skelton is the man most likely presently to topple Nicholls from his champion’s perch, and fields Protektorat, who turned up the heat on Henry de Bromhead’s Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard in some style in the Betfair Chase. That 11l rout also left Eldorado Allen and Frodon in its wake, and on ratings alone, Protektorat should be favourite. He is many people’s fancy as the champion long distance chaser elect, but Kempton is very different to the galloping tracks of Haydock or Cheltenham, and the ground is its compelling factor; good ground is standard fare at Kempton and Protektorat has to date not won on ground faster than Good to Soft. Is this his Achilles’ heel?

Venetia Williams has two entered, at opposite ends of the betting market. L’Homme Pressé has been the great white hope for the resurgence of British steeplechasing to counter the Irish since he won the Brown Advisory at last season’s Festival, with Ahoy Senor behind. Those positions were reversed 3 weeks later at Aintree, since when these two rivals have avoided each other. L’Homme Pressé’s record this season is impeccable – one from one. He won the Rehearsal Chase comfortably, but what did he beat that day? It was an excellent placement by his trainer to win a valuable prize without sizing up to anything comparable. On his rating alone, he has the beating of several of these, including the Nicholls’ trio but his 2/1 price doesn’t appeal.

Of more interest is Venetia Williams’ other contender. Royal Pagaille has won the last two runnings of the Peter Marsh in Haydock mud each January, and this may yet be his target again. But with a rating of 164, only Protektorat has his measure if he brings out his A game on his seasonal bow. At prices up to 25/1, he represents a value each way bet.

Ireland won this last year with Tornado Flyer but the Irish record in this race is weak. The Leopardstown Chase in Dublin provides a suitable alternative without crossing the Irish Sea in mid-winter. Nevertheless, this year’s two entries provide a cross-channel conundrum.

Envoi Allen had the likes of Conflated and Kemboy behind him when winning the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal in October. He would be an enormously popular winner for the de Bromhead family after the tragic loss of their son a few months ago.

Of more appeal is recent Aintree winner Noble Yeats, yet another top flight animal in the Waley-Cohen colours. Noble Yeats certainly seems to like Aintree. After his Grand National win in April, he returned there last month for a convincing victory in the Grade II Many Clouds Chase over the Mildmay fences. He has earned a chance to make his case among the top three milers.

Races like this only happen twice a year. Now that the snow has gone, we look set for an uninterrupted Christmas racing week. Make the most of it, and enjoy the thrill of the King George.

Dan Skelton is a man on the march

A string of Skelton trained Saturday feature races have brought the season to life, and with it, the Trainers’ Championship. For years, the fight has been two-sided at best, although Willie Mullins did promise to upset the applecart a few years back, taking the tussle with Nicky Henderson all the way to Sandown’s finale meeting. Skelton is a Champion Trainer in waiting; less a question of if, rather when.

Big race wins courtesy of Protektorat, who downed A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase, Le Milos in the Coral Gold Cup, and last Saturday, Ashtown Lad over Aintree’s big fences in the Becher Chase, who could be aimed at the Grand National, have catapulted Skelton into second place in the Trainers’ table, little more than £100k behind his old boss, Paul Nicholls. Those looking to back Skelton’s chaser in the King George should consider Betfair’s welcome offer. New customers may be able to pick up £30 in free bets to use on the King George. To qualify for the promotion, users need to place a £10 opening bet on the sportsbook.

This has been a rapid ascent by any standards. Skelton is only in his tenth full season training, but a thorough grounding by Nicholls, the horsemanship skills of showjumper and Olympian medal winner father Nick, and riding talent from a brother he legged up to become champion in the 2020-21 season, have all synced into a compelling momentum.

Nicholls is the man to beat

To win his maiden Trainers’ Championship, Skelton must finish ahead of his former boss Paul Nicholls. The Ditcheat trainer lifted the trophy last season, and he leads the way in the current campaign after a strong start to his title defence.

Nicholls has two strong entries in this year’s King George which will come up against Skelton’s Protektorat. Bravemansgame and Hitman will both be saddled by the 12-time winner of the race.

With the likes of Greaneteen, Frodon, Stage Star, Monmiral, Clan Des Obeaux and Gelino Bello also in his yard, Nicholls has another strong stable this season. He will be targeting all the major races around the Christmas period, while at the Cheltenham Festival, he will be in contention for many of the 28 races across the four days.

But Skelton has strong backing for the Championship

To date, 49 individual winners have contributed to Skelton’s seasonal tally of 59, but unlike a few seasons ago, Skelton has eschewed the early season fixtures, preferring to aim for higher quality animals capable of toppling the established ranks. It’s no easy task. The West Country stables of Nicholls and Berkshire fortress that is Seven Barrows have owners with deep pockets, and in spades. However, the policy is working.

Heavyweight owners like Ged Mason and Sir Alex Ferguson, Darren and Annaley Yates and J P McManus all now have horses at the Alcester centre of racing excellence. These are folk invested in success at the elite level. Look among this year’s winners and you will find 16 rated over 140, the basic minimum to qualify for any of the 28 races at the Cheltenham Festival. But that number doesn’t allow for the novices and bumper horses that are the new blood of every aspirant yard.

And there’s plenty of talent yet to score. Precocious novice chaser of last season Third Time Lucki, and Imperial Cup winner Langer Dan, have yet to add to the scoresheet, whilst Shloer Chase winner Nube Negra has a real fight on his hands in the Two Mile division with the emergence of Edwardstone, Saturday’s Tingle Creek victor. My Drogo, Allmankind and Shan Blue have all yet to show their hand.

Much of a trainer’s talent is not so much in preparing the equine athletes under their tutelage, but in placing them to best effect, as well, of course, as managing owner expectations. The strength in depth at the Skelton yard offers comfort that there is always another highly rated horse ready to take the place of one on the downgrade. Fuelled by the wealth of owners within the game, and on the doorstep of the country’s second city, that expectation that Skelton will go all the way by April 2023 is tangible.

Nothing could make us prouder in Warwickshire than the success of one of our own.

A day of processions

It was a day for binoculars – an increasingly rare site on racecourses – but only the gauge the distance from winner to placed horses in a day of long winning distances for the most part, to see out Stratford’s season in the golden browns of a lingering autumn.

A mystery confronting punters before a horse had drawn breath was why Worcester and Stratford, sharing much the same audience, should be racing the same day, when only 24 miles apart. The quirks of the British fixture list would take more than one blog to explain!

The Rowe family has been the major shareholder of Stratford Racecourse for several generations, so it was entirely appropriate that on this day of aggregate winning distances of 88l, the closest finish should be fought out in the J H Rowe Memorial Handicap Chase. Bebraveforglory, under Adam Wedge, held off a rapidly closing Top Decision to win by a length for Evan Williams. Top Decision’s run just emphasizes the form of the in-form Sam Drinkwater, who scored a double earlier in the week, and a highly promising run from a horse that has seen a racecourse just once in 2 years.

Bebraveforglory and Adam Wedge [right] up with the leaders before victory at Stratford. 27/10/2022 Pic Steve Davies

That race aside, it was a day of processions.

The longest procession was in the opener, a four runner seller for conditional riders. Floating Rock, winning his eighth race, seven for his current handler Mark Walford, won as he pleased under Tom Midgley, pulling up, and attracted no bid at the subsequent auction. Stratford is an outlier nowadays in still staging sellers, but sometimes, they can deliver a great piece of additional theatre. Not today.

It’s long been said that it’s the height of bad taste to win a race you sponsor. Perhaps as well, therefore, that the multiple winner Pencreek, trained by the eponymous trainer, met his match in the Charlie Longsdon Handicap Chase, coming out a poor 29l third to the Skelton trained and ridden Midnight River. The winner needed to do little more than be shaken up to take up the running off the home turn, and put distance between him and his rivals very quickly.

Midnight River and Harry Skelton jump the last to win at Stratford. 27/10/2022 Pic Steve Davies

The Charlotte Cole Memorial Handicap Chase over a similar distance has been a standing dish for many years since the enthusiastic stable lass at Claire Dyson’s Evesham yard was fatally injured at work in 2012. Her parents were here raising money for the Midlands Air Ambulance that supported her retrieval. The result was a welcome return to winning form for Seamus Mullins, training Sheldon for Deborah Potter. Five of the trainer’s last seven runners have failed to finish, but this 12th winner of the term has him on target to better his recent performance. A mere 14l was the winning distance this time around.

Even J P McManus doesn’t know how many horses he has in training at any one juncture. The sport’s longest-standing owner remains hugely popular, despite having started life on the racecourse as a bookmaker. And in Gitche Gumee, he has a well-regarded youngster to take to Saturday cards under the expert eye of Barbury maestro Alan King. Taking up the running 2 out in the EBF Novices Hurdle qualifier, he soon asserted and won head in chest, 13l ahead of Swapped. Keep an eye out for third, Iceman Dennis though. He may yet earn connections a dividend.

Gitche Gumee and Tom Cannon win at Stratford. 27/10/2022 Pic Steve Davies

A muted welcome hailed the winner of the second, the 22/1 Copperfasten, who turned over warm favourite Fancy Your Chances from Philip Hobbs in the mares’ maiden hurdle. This wasn’t the strongest of races, but by comparison with others the same day, the 8 runner field and 4 1/2l distance at least presented a contest to raise the blood pressure.

Hereford’s Ryan Potter clocked up his fifth winner of the term in the concluding handicap hurdle with 7 year old Fazayte. Potter is a graduate of the Point-to-Point field, climbing the greasy pole of professionalism. Under an energetic and forceful ride from Kevin Brogan, Fazayte broke his duck at the 16th attempt, seeing off Guguss Collonges by 3 1/2l. No need for binoculars this time around.

Stratford is put to bed now until March, when one year in five, we are under water. That seems improbable given the driest summer since 1976, but the weather is about as predictable as British politics nowadays, so who knows.

Not so long to wait anyhow.

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