A woman is to be in charge of the Aintree Grand National for the first time. The new head of Jockey Club racecourses in the north-west, including Aintree, is to be Sulekha Varma, aged 34.
She has progressed through racing ranks to be appointed as clerk of the course at Aintree, where she will take over from Andrew Tulloch. Andrew had been in charge of the Grand National for almost 25 years, and is relinquishing his role after the Becher Chase meeting at Aintree, this Saturday, December 7.
Sulekha Varma’s current role had been racing manager and clerk of the course at Hamilton Park.
Sulekha Varma told reporters the she was ‘honoured’ to be appointed to one of the most senior roles in racing.
She added: “While British racing has faced and will face challenges, I hope Aintree will continue to be at the forefront of addressing many of those and showcasing our wonderful sport to an ever-wider audience.”
Sulekha originally began as a trainee clerk of the course with the Jockey Club at Haydock in 2009, and one of her concerns is opposition to racing because of equine deaths.
Sulekha has extensive experience to her credit, having been clerk of the course at Nottingham, Market Rasen, Warwick and Huntingdon between 2010 and 2016. she is already a familiar face at Aintree, having worked closely alongside the team for the past ten years during the Grand National festival.
PLENTY of competitive jump racing rewarded a good crowd at Plumpton yesterday, when there were seven races on the card and the ground was soft, and heavy in places.
The opening maiden hurdle saw an excellent win for Suzy Smith’s Lewes stable,with Oscarsman winning in determined style under a good ride from Micheal Nolan. It was an impressive performance and this five-year-old won at 11-1, beating 5-6 favourite Bean In Trouble, trained by Jonjo O’ Neill and ridden by Jonjo O’ Neill junior.
The winner should continue to progress, for Oscarsman jumped well throughout the race and put in a strong finish to win.
The Novices Chase, run over two miles and 214 yards, was won by an impressive three-year-old, Lisp. Trained by Alan King and ridden by Thomas Bellamy, the 2/13 favourite justified his price, taking the lead four out and going on to win by a margin of 19 lengths from Flaminger, trained by Gary Moore and ridden by Leighton Aspell. Back in third, sent off at 4-1 and beaten by 30 lengths overall, was De Plotting Shed, trained by Suzi Best and ridden by Jamie Moore.
Four runners were pulled up in the nine-runner field which contested the Tysers Mares’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 3) over three miles 207 yards.
Miss Tynte, a seven-year-old trained by David Pipe and ridden by Tom Scudamore stayed on well to win by over three lengths from The Wicket Chicken, a 10-1 shot, trained by Neil Mullholland and ridden by 7lb claimer Miss Millie Wonnacott. The consistent Ding Ding, trained by Sheena West and ridden by Marc Goldstein was four lengths behind in third place.
Sullington based trainer Richard Rowe saddled up a good 16-1 winner when Tzar De L’Elfe, a nine-year-old gelding, owned by Lord Clinton and Captain Adrian Pratt won the Tysers Handicap Chase over three miles one furlong. It was a fine performance with James Davies getting up by a nose to win from 7-2 favourite Tractor Fred.
Another impressive winner on the day was when Adicci, 11-8 favourite, won the IEP Financial Novices Hurdle over two miles for trainer Jonjo O’ Neill , ridden by Jonjo O’ Neill junior by a neck.
There is a blank day for racing today , Sunday, in Britain with meetings cancelled because of icy conditions.
Today’s meeting at Carlisle has already been called off due to frozen ground, leaving a blank Sunday of racing in Britain. Leicester was cancelled on Friday due to waterlogging on the track.
Musselburgh’s Monday fixture is the latest meeting to be in danger of being cancelled , with extreme icy conditions crossing Britain. An inspection is planned there at 8.30am on Monday.
The chances of racing at Musselburgh on Monday were described as “60:40” by clerk of the course Harriet Graham, who said: “We’re currently frozen and wouldn’t race today, but the track could recover overnight as cloud cover increases.
“The Met Office has indicated temperatures should be 4 degrees C first thing Monday morning, getting up to a possible 7C tomorrow. The track could thaw quickly at 4C,” she added.
The first race of seven is scheduled at the East Lothian track at 12.15pm and this early winter start, because of limited daylight hours, could mean the track would struggle to race because of early darkness.
But course officials estimate that currently the chance of racing is 60:40.
There are unlikely to be problems on Monday at Plumpton, where the going is soft. The only other meeting is on the all-weather at Wolverhampton, which should go ahead.
Meanwhile Fairyhouse Winter Festival is set to go ahead for a second day today, providing the only racing of the day, following the cancellation of fixtures at Leicester and Carlisle.
Carlisle passed its Saturday afternoon inspection but the meeting was not confirmed to go ahead with another look scheduled for 8am on Sunday morning.
However, course officials made the early call just prior to 7am to cancel the meeting at the Cumbria track, which was set to feature the Listed Houghton Mares’ Chase.
Speaking on Sunday morning, clerk of the course Andrew Tulloch said: “It’s disappointing because we were raceable yesterday but it went down to -6C.
“A couple of the crossings are frozen solid and even the fences are frozen. The forecast is for it to get to 0C today so it may come out a bit, but not as much as we need.”
HICKSTEAD has fine new cross-country schooling facilities, which opened last month, and are available for use at £36 per horse per hour. They are in two vast all-weather arenas connected with a surfaced track and have brought the largest facility of its kind to the South of England.
There is also a large water complex with a range of combinations jumping in, out and through the lake.
The obstacles range from 80 cm to advanced and are all marked – with purple for fences up to 80cm, orange for those up to 90cm, pink for fences up to 100cm.
Fences up to 105cm will have a yellow marker, and those over 105cm, a green marker.
Opening hours are: For the remainder of November: 0800 – 1500; December: 0900 – 1500.
CLOSED December 24th 25th 26th
January: 0900 – 1500; February: 0800 – 1600; March 1st – 30th: 0800 – 1700; March 31st: 0800 – 1800 (Clocks change) April 0800 – 1800
The surface is proven for the full range of Olympic and Paralympic disciplines and endorsed by the FEI. The 2012 mix is a very hard wearing surface and capable of supporting the highest levels of equestrian competition indoors and out.
80 cm – Fences up to 80cm will have a purple marker; Fences up to 90cm will have an orange marker; Fences up to 100cm will have a pink marker; Fences up to 105cm will have a Yellow marker aND ADVANCED FENCES OVER 105CM, A GREEN MARKER.
CLOSED December 24, 25, 26; January: 0900 – 1500;February: 0800 – 1600; March 1st – 30th: 0800 – 1700; March 31st: 0800 – 1800 (Clocks change); April 0800 – 1800.The surface
The Andrew Bowens syrface 2012 mix is made from multi-washed silica sand, three types of polypropylene fibre and a synthetic binder, delivering a huge step forward in performance surface technology.
Riding hats that adhere to the current BE safety standards, with no fixed peak must be worn.
- Body protectors that adhere to the current BE safety standards must be worn.
- Failure to wear correct safety equipment will void any insurance and result in the rider being ejected from the facility.
- Each booking is for one hour, starting at the time stated in your booking confirmation.
- Pre-paid advanced bookings only. NO cash on the day.
- Riders must be accompanied by an adult over 18, either on foot or mounted.
- No dogs in the arena.
- Dogs must be kept on leads at all times when on the showground.
- Users must thoroughly poo pick after using the facilities, tools and skips are provided.
- Parking is on the hard standing car park only. NO parking on the grass.
- No mucking out lorries or trailers anywhere on site.
- Car parks must be poo-picked.
- Riders and their companions must co-operate with other riders sharing the facility.
- Any bad behaviour or language towards other users or staff will not be tolerated and will result in an immediate suspension or ban.
- Damage to fences must be reported, you will not be charged.
- Fences must be checked before they are jumped, to check they are safe and the rider understands the obstacle.
- Flags must be replaced when knocked out.
- Do not jump a flagged obstacle in the wrong direction.
- Do not jump a fence with crossed flags.
- Do not jump a fence that is beyond your capability.
- Hickstead Ltd reserves the right to close the facility with no notice and stop any current hire, for reasons including, (but not restricted to): Health and safety, adverse weather conditions, emergency circumstances.
- Hickstead Ltd has taken all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of the horse and rider. It is your responsibility to take precautions to prevent accidents. Hickstead Ltd reserves the right to remove riders from the facilities. Money will not be refunded. Hickstead Ltd does not accept any liability for any loss, damage, accident, injury or illness to horses, riders or any other persons or property whatsoever. No rider will be allowed on to the course unless these terms and conditions are accepted.
AN International Jockeys Challenge in Barbados this weekend saw the British team put in a fine performance, going under to Team Barbados only in the final stage.
Held at Garrison Savannah, the four-race event proved to be an extremely tight battle, decided only in the last race.
Team GB was captained by Jamie Spencer, with the remainder of the team consisting of Danny Tudhope, Luke Morris, Seamie Heffernan, Stevie Donohoe and Louis Steward.
Stevie Donohoe won the first race over 1570 metres, riding Provence, with Luke Morris runner-up on board Graceful. Fonohoe was thrilled to win his debut at Garrison, where he described the track as ‘much sharper than Chester’.
Jamie Spencer, on board Eyecatcher went to the front two furlongs from home in the 1100 metre second race but was passed at the post by local apprentice Eric Daniel on board Mischief Maker.
It was a very close contest and with only two races to go the two teams were level on points. Then Louis Steward brought his mount Sing Sing through to win.
This gave the British team a one-point advantage, but they were out-ridden by their opponents who were the first three past the post, with Rightontime, ridden by N’Rico Prescod winning the race.
Even so, the British team won two of the four races and Jamie Spencer praised his team, saying everyone played their parts, but the local jockeys deserved their victory.
Captain of Team Barbados, Rasheed Hughes, said his team had enjoyed competing against some of the world’s top riders. He added: ” We look forward to renewing the rivalry next year.”
HICKSTEAD showground in Sussex is not only renowned for show jumping, but also hosts top class arena polo, which takes place there during winter.
The All England Polo Club was founded in 2006, and quickly became established as one of the premier Arena Polo venues in the country. It hosts tournaments throughout the winter season, including the International Arena Polo Test Match each March.
USA 10-goaler Tommy Biddle, who came to Hickstead for the first time in 2014, instantly became one of Polo at Hickstead’s biggest supporters: “This is the best surface I have ever played on. Hickstead has the best arena in the world!”
Founder member Jack Kidd attributes this success to the huge surge in popularity of arena polo in recent years: “In the past ten years the science of arena polo has evolved to create the most passionate, gladiatorial, fast game that I have ever played.”
The difference between summer and winter Polo is akin to that of football and five-a-side football. Arena is played with three team members, using a larger and softer ball than traditional polo, and shots and angles can be played off the boarded sides of the arena.
It is an ideal way to bring on young horses or improve those that are too much of a handful on the bigger summer pitch.
Make sure you are in the crowd to experience one of the highlights of the global winter polo season, as England takes on an international rival in the hope of winning the Bryan Morrison Trophy.
Head to Hickstead for an unbeatable winter day out, and enjoy a drink on the clubhouse viewing deck as you are treated to the spectacle of fierce, world-class polo action unfolding in the arena below you.
Another huge selling point of Arena is that it requires less horse power, thus eliminating the need for a large string of ponies. A club member could happily play with two ponies throughout the season, only having to rent an additional one or two for tournament days.
“The best way to understand Arena Polo is to experience it, after which players guarantee you will stop thinking of it as just a ‘winter fill in’ and grow to love it as a sport in its own right,” said a player.
For more information about Hickstead’s arena polo programme for the winter and spring seasons see https://www.hickstead.co.uk/polo
Working Hunter supremo Rory Gilsenan was the winner of this year’s Roger Stack Award at Hickstead.
An Oxfordshire-based show producer. Rory was announced as the recipient of the Roger Stack Award at Hickstead’s Showtime Ball on November 16.
The award is presented in honour of Hickstead’s former Showing director Roger Stack, who died in 2016, and is given in recognition of the standout showing performance of the season.
Rory was an extremely worthy winner of this year’s award, having completed the HOYS/Hickstead double by winning the Charles Owen Supreme Working Hunter title at the Longines Royal International Horse Show in July, while battling an aggressive brain tumour.
The popular Irishman had celebrated winning his first Working Hunter title at the Horse of the Year Show in October 2018, when his diagnosis came just a few weeks later. Following months of arduous chemotherapy treatment, Rory showed his tenacity by returning to the saddle in time to win the championship at Hickstead.
Following a period of remission, unfortunately the tumour returned and Rory has recently undergone another operation. Sadly, he was not well enough to attend the ball in person, but his close friend Lee Middleton from Equine America accepted the award on Rory’s behalf.
“We cannot think of a more deserving winner of the Roger Stack Award than Rory, who spent five years working for Roger at the start of his career,” said Hickstead Director Lizzie Bunn. “Rory’s performance this summer with Atlantic Slim was pure perfection, especially considering how he beat the odds just to compete at Hickstead, let alone pick up one of the most coveted championship titles of all.”
Now in its fifth year, Hickstead’s annual Showtime Ball saw around 130 members of the showing community gather to celebrate the end of another successful season. Profits from the Ball are put towards improving the showing facilities at the showground, with a total of £9150 raised during the fundraising auction.
This year, a decision was made on the night to put the £2,000 proceeds from the raffle towards the #RootingforRory fund, which has been started to help Rory Gilsenan during his treatment.
Findon trainer Nick Gifford has his string in fine form at present at Downs Stables, where recent runners have been in peak condition.
Theo’s Charm, which has always shown potential, put in an excellent performance at Lingfield . Running in the Class three handicap hurdle over two miles three furlongs, he tackled the heavy ground well.
Ridden by Leighton Aspell, and owned by Michael O’ Shea, he was carrying almost two stone more than the winner of the race. Nick Gifford said Theo’s Charm had benefited from a wind operation, enabling to finish his races well.
Nick added: ” One day soon hopefully he will get his head in front. He deserves to win as he is so honest. Head lad Andrew Tony Veale led up Theo’s Charm today and congratulations to all the connections.”
Nick followed up with a fine victory, when homebred Paddy’s Poem, owned and bred by Mrs T Brown, won impressively at Fakenham, on his first run after a break.
Nick said:” He will improve for the experience. James Davies gave him a brilliant ride as always. His jumping got better the further he went. Congratulations to all the connections. Paddy’s Poem is ridden everyday at home by Vova and was led up by Vova too.”