Competition & Events

    Un de Sceaux showed spirit at the Tingle Creek

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    Saturday’s Tingle Creek was a vintage race, and for a race that has a pretty amazing roll-call of vintage renewals, that is high praise indeed. It wasn’t simply the victory of Un De Sceaux that warmed the heart (if not the wallet), it was the realisation that racing in winter has a glorious capacity to surprise you.

    I always had Un De Sceaux down as a highly talented, highly charged speed merchant. His Arkle win 18 months ago was bloodless and all his wins either side of the Festival success have been done with a minimum of muck and bullets.

    When he was beaten so memorably earlier this year by Sprinter Sacre, the lights went out immediately. Un De Sceaux wasn’t supposed to be a scrapper, a grinder, a gutsy-as-heck battler. And yet when Sire De Grugy headed him over the last on Saturday, back came Un De Sceaux under Ruby’s driving hand.

    It was the street-fighter we’d never before seen, and despite doing my brains on the race it was a pleasure to see!

    Supersire Moore

    Sire De Grugy lost nothing in defeat. Stablemate Ar Mad couldn’t quite live with the pace of more chiselled rivals, but he too will be back for more. The pair falls under the care of Gary Moore.

    Moore is a sire and a half, having Ryan and his talented siblings in the family stable. I wouldn’t be in a rush to upset Gary as he has a stare that could melt mountains, but a little like last week’s trainer Colin Tizzard, he is shot through with tough mettle and the soft touch of a man in tune with his animals.

    Moore’s daughter Hayley is dating a top man and broadcaster, Martin Kelly, and they make a wonderful couple destined to make their mark in international broadcasting for many years to come. I’ll wish Kelly well should he ever decide to approach Moore for Hayley’s hand in marriage: that will be an interview and a half in reverse!

    Three Hs to cherish

    Hayley Moore co-hosted the Annual Horserace Writers and Photographers Association Awards yesterday, alongside the talented John Hunt.

    It’s a festive jamboree with some 500 folk or so talking parish gossip and anointing their own favourites to coveted titles including best snapper, racing reporter and broadcaster.

    As the lunching season enters its peak fortnight, it was a privilege for me to be drawn next to the great Hugh McIlvanney, whom I could listen to for ever.

    McIlvanney first went racing with the Observer in 1962 and was a dear pal of the late, great Sir Peter O’Sullevan.

    Yesterday, McIlvanney, and his wife Caroline, who joined us later, were on blistering form. He talked of this being a golden age of sports broadcasting and, in particular, racing broadcasting: in Nick Luck, who took the top gong for an umpteenth time, we have a diamond in our midst, but the commentating triumvirate of John Hunt, Richard Hoiles and Simon Holt are right up there.

    McIlvanney makes no secret of his admiration for the three Hs – and that is the highest of high praise.

    In with the old

    We’re off to Cheltenham this Saturday for what used to be known as the Bula. It is likely to see the return of The New One who seeks to add to his 2013 and 2014 haul before setting off on a novice chase career.

    The New One could run into Yanworth and My Tent Or Yours in what would be a sensational renewal for this time of the year, but if last year’s winner Old Guard turns up at the current 9/1, I’ll find him irresistible to back on the day.

    Image: Un de Sceaux at Sandown, by Carine 06 via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

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    Christmas songs for horsey people

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    If you’re singing along to festive classics this Christmas, spare a thought for horsey folk, who may have an entirely different take on seasonal songs.

    “I wish it could be Christmas every day…”

    That’s because you don’t have to get up at 5am to do the horses.

    “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…”

    The horse owner’s worst nightmare.

    “All I want for Christmas is you…”

    Actually, another horse would be nice.

    “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…”

    I’ll have to go and break the ice in the water trough.

    “Santa baby, just slip a sable under the tree, for me…”

    How impractical. A Musto and a pair of Dubarrys please.

    “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth…”

    Because I knocked them out falling off the darned horse.

    Little donkey, little donkey, on a dusty road…”

    Someone call the RSPCA.

    “And I believed in Father Christmas…”

    Until, aged seven, I got a paintbox instead of the pony I’d asked for.

    “It’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you…”

    If you think I’m tacking up the horse in this!

    “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away…”

    I gave mine to my horse. And he has it still.

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    Why exciting times are in store for British eventing

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    Eventing in Britain has much to be cheerful about as one door closes on 2016 and another one begins to open out into a new year.

    In early January 2017, Christopher Bartle takes up the newly created post of eventing performance coach, which forms part of a new structure for World Class eventing training of horses and riders through from ponies to Olympic glory.

    If this new structure delivers as much as it promises, more young talent, both human and equine, will be nurtured and supported down the years, constructing a pyramid with a far wider base than before and a sport built on more substantial foundations.

    After 16 gloriously successful years with the German eventing team, which he turned from also-rans into an unbeatable winning machine (on most occasions), there is no better man (or woman) than Bartle out there for this particular role.

    The Germans, who under his leadership were Olympic champions in 2008 and 2012, World Champions in 2014 and European Champions in 2011, 2013 and 2015, must be desperately sad to lose him.

    Bartle has blue riband credentials, not only as trainer, but gleaned from his experiences at the ‘business’ end of horse sports. He is a former winner of Badminton Horse Trials and, prior to that, he was a member of the British dressage team, finishing sixth individually at the Los Angeles Games with Wily Trout.

    There are few trainers who are so steeped in equestrianism, who can boast such in depth knowledge and yet who also have that knack of successfully passing on what they know to other riders.

    Richard Waygood joins Bartle on the team as performance manager, a role that Yogi Breisner occupied for 17 years. A former event rider and riding master of the Household Cavalry and, for the last seven years, performance manager for British dressage during what can be regarded as that sport’s zenith, Waygood, too, has the perfect credentials for the role.

    David Holmes, chief executive of British Eventing, has confirmed that Bartle will be undertaking the lion’s share of the training, but he wouldn’t be drawn on whether, as under Breisner, discipline specific coaches will also be brought on board.

    “The performance coach/performance manager structure is something that we’ve seen done in other sports,” said Holmes. “As the job titles suggest, one will be coaching [Bartle] and the other will be responsible for performance [Waygood]. Richard may do some training, but we haven’t gone into the detailed planning yet.”

    Holmes has confessed himself delighted with the personnel that are in place.
    “I’m very pleased,” he said. “The interview process has been a lot of work, as has coming up with a structure that works.”

    Image: Christopher Bartle by Trevor Holt, courtesy of the FEI

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    Cue Card wins, Brough Scott returns to ITV and all is well with racing

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    This time last week I returned from a very welcome break to the Canaries to find a sport in the most peculiar time warp. Jim Best and the BHA were at loggerheads over the allegations around the former’s conduct, just as they both had been for seemingly years; Cue Card was winning a Grade-1 staying chase, just as he has been for seemingly years; and Brough Scott was looking forward to a career on terrestrial TV, just as had done so many years ago.

    There is something mildly depressing but also largely reassuring about the rhythm and flow of the racing news flow. Scandal might sometimes darken our door but we can consider ourselves relatively blessed that our own sporting house appears to be in better order.

    In the main, however, this is the time of year when pulsating Saturdays give way to celebratory lunches and the relentless thudding thump of excitement clicks up a gear as we move firstly towards the sensational jamboree that is Boxing Day before we dust ourselves and our wallets down in time for Cheltenham.

    Tiz the season

    One man who has only relatively recently found himself thrust into the limelight of tier-1 trainers is the wonderful Colin Tizzard.

    At Newbury, on Saturday, I was standing behind Tizzard as he was waiting to collect his owners and trainers badges for guests. He remonstrated — with good humour — with the girls on the desk to try to secure a couple of extra food vouchers and two more racecards that weren’t part of his allocation.

    He smiled his way to success, of course. It gave a glimpse into the charm of this utterly straightforward farming man: he gets a little bit more out of his stock, cajoles a bit extra, gets results, keeps it simple, and goes home to his livestock when all around are getting excited.

    He won the Hennessy, of course, courtesy of the uber-game Native River, barely an hour after his mighty Thistlecrack had turned his latest outing into yet another procession.

    Racing, not schooling

    A bugbear I have at this time of year are small field sizes: I know I don’t command total support when I complain that the sight of four or five (or fewer!) horses barely constitutes a race.

    Trainers like to educate their horses, especially novice chasers, but we, the audience, are drawn to it for the racing element rather than the schooling. We want battles. The quantum of the fixture list is only part of the problem, although the high-quality feature hurdle at Ascot last weekend has been decimated by a similar race at Haydock, which makes no sense whatsoever.

    The BHA should re-examine the terms of the novice chase programme to reduce the proliferation of small field eyesores, at the risk of upsetting a few folk along the way.

    Wait for a crack at the Big One

    Talk remains rife that Thistlecrack might take on stablemate Cue Card in this year’s King George.

    The sport fan in me wants it to happen, and I have been a critic of keeping horses apart from each other until Cheltenham; but the Tizzard fan in me wishes them to take their time and stick to the Feltham where Thistlecrack’s undoubted class is more likely to be honed and oiled en route to the Gold Cup on 17 March.

    I feel a bit of a coward for favouring the so-called easier route but at Newbury on Saturday it was evident that Thistlecrack remains a chasing work in progress, albeit a masterpiece. The gruelling guts of a King George might be a step too soon.

    Flattering the imitators

    Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to attend the Peter O’Sullevan annual fundraising lunch. Almost 500 guests met at the Dorchester, not only to raise many thousands for O’Sullevan’s charitable foundation, but also to laugh at Rory Bremner’s priceless impressions of politicians, O’Sullevan and co.

    Later that evening, a group of us were lamenting our inability to mimic the great Bremner when the absurdly talented Nick Luck gave a sketch featuring John Francome, Mick Fitzgerald, Martin Pipe, John Gosden and Anthony Oppenheimer.

    It was every bit as brilliant as Bremner and, while clearly more parochial, had those of us who flit around the fringes of a wonderful sport in stitches. If you ever bump into Luck, ask him to give you a sample!

    Sire to emulate Flyer

    We head to Sandown and Aintree this coming weekend for the Tingle Creek and the Becher Chase, respectively.

    It’s difficult to get a handle on the former as it’s been re-opened at the time of writing, but Gary Moore’s pair of former winner Sire De Grugy and the improving Ar Mad have to be on the shortlist.

    My preference will be for the former, as he owes me absolutely nothing and might not have deteriorated as rapidly as some of last year’s form might suggest.

    It will be difficult, of course, not to conjure memories of the late, great Moscow Flyer taking on Well Chief and Azertyuiop a decade or so ago in what was the most thrilling two-mile chase I’ve enjoyed outside of the Festival.

    If Sire De Grugy can summon another great performance, he’ll be pulling on my heartstrings in much the same way that the Flyer did when I fell in love with this great game.


    Image: Cue Card by Kate via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

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    Vote for equestrianism in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award 2016

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    This year, not one but two equestrian athletes have made it to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist: Olympic individual-gold medallist Nick Skelton and eight-time Paralympic gold medallist Sophie Christiansen. Both

    With 2016 having seen so many triumphs for British sport, however, the two riders face stiff competition for the prestigious accolade. The 16-strong shortlist also includes tennis world-number-one Andy Murray, long-distance runner and multiple Olympic-gold-medallist Mo Farah and Olympic gold-medal-winning triathlete Alistair Brownlee, who, last September, helped his exhausted brother, Jonny, across the finish line at the Triathlon World Series in Mexico.

    Andy Murray, who has already claimed the title twice (in 2013 and 2015), is the odds-on favourite to win this year, too, followed by Brownlee and Farah.

    By contrast, history is somewhat stacked against Skelton and Christiansen as only four equestrian athletes have won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in its 62-year history: showjumping champion David Broome (in 1960), eventing’s Princess Anne (in 1971) and Zara Phillips (in 2006), and racing’s A.P. McCoy (in 2010).

    Paralympic Gold Medalist Sophie Christiansen is shortlisted for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year

    However, as Christiansen pointed out in a Facebook post, riders across the country can help her and Skelton improve their chances of getting to the top. That’s because although the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year is picked by a panel of experts, public vote on the night of the award ceremony determines the winner.

    “I know that many of the British public won’t know who I am because I compete in a minority sport,” Christiansen wrote in a humorous post where she asked for help not to come last.

    “I want to be voted for by the people because I stand for more than just an athlete. So please vote for me if you have ever overcome a challenge, believe in the benefits of sport, studied maths, have a disability but never let that stop you, work in an office, love riding and horses, went to university, always strive for better, go to festivals and gigs, are a computer geek and proud of it, fight for things you believe in or just like to support the underdog!”

    So make sure you get online (or on the phone) on 18 December. Whether you cast your vote for Skelton or Christiansen, you’ll have voted for equestrian sports.

    Images: Nick Skelton by Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans, and Sophie Christiansen, by Liz Gregg, both courtesy of the FEI

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    Top tips for choosing the right saddle

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    Choosing a saddle can be a minefield and is not something that should be undertaken without expert advice. Saddle fitter Debbie Richardson tells Julie Harding how, by enlisting the services of a qualified professional, you can actually save yourself money and avoid pitfalls.

    Fit for the job

    There are several ways that you can find yourself a qualified saddle fitter. Log on to the Society of Master Saddlers website and search for one in your area, or ask local knowledgeable horse people and find one via word of mouth. By using a Society of Master Saddlers’ registered qualified saddle fitter, you will be assured of a high quality service.

    What type of saddle do I need?

    There are many variables, but generally if you are an inexperienced rider who will be trying lots of different things with your horse, a general purpose (GP) saddle may fit the bill. Discipline-specific saddles, such as for show jumping, eventing or dressage, tend to be more suited to experienced riders who regularly practise their chosen sport.

    Should I buy a saddle off the Internet?

    A lot of people do and you can sometimes bag a bargain — but you can also end up with a nightmare. You may have spent in excess of £1,000 only to be told that the saddle is totally unsuitable for your horse. This happened to a customer, who burst into tears when told that she would have to sell on what was now a white elephant.

    What about buying through a saddle fitter?

    After discussing the rider’s and horse’s requirements over the phone, and finding out about the shapes of both horse and rider, sometimes via a photograph, the saddle fitter will be able to bring a range of new and second hand saddles in different price options to your yard for you to try. The fitter will not only check the fit on the horse, but he will watch it being ridden in. If you have problems, he will no doubt pay you a repeat visit to help resolve any issues. You may pay around £100 more for a saddle purchased in this way, but that will have bought safeguards and expert advice.

    What else does the fitter do on a visit?

    He will look for many things, such as the fit, angle of the points, shape of the tree to the horse’s back, length of saddle, clearance above and each side of the withers and, most important of all, does the horse work well in the saddle. He will also assess whether the rider feels stable, comfortable and secure.

    What can affect saddle fit?

    Horses can change shape due to numerous factors, such as moving to a new yard or having their workload increased. Regular visits from your fitter are advised for this reason, but yours may already have sold you an adjustable gullet saddle, in which case some simple adjustments are all that will be needed.
    Some riders use the wrong type of numnahs, which can affect fit, as can putting the saddle on too far forward over the withers — a common mistake. Also don’t become fixated on a certain saddle brand — it just may not work on your horse.

    Synthetic versus leather

    Leather is softer for the horse, but there is no doubt a market for synthetic saddles, due to their lower price point.

    For more information about Debbie Richardson and the saddle fitting process, visit www.djrichardson.net.

    Image: tack by UpSticksNGo Crew via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

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