For our first National Hunt feature this season, we paid a visit to the jumps-only course at Wincanton in the West Country, which was hosting their annual Charity Day on 25th October.
Devon and Somerset host most of the top jumping yards, the damper climate and softer undulating ground being perfect for training the stronger, heavier type of jumping thoroughbred. Local meetings are well supported by a keen and very knowledgeable following. Of several courses, Wincanton has been voted the 'Best Small Racecourse in the South West' eighteen times in nineteen years by the Racegoers’ Club, so they must be doing something right!
The top local trainers, Champion NH trainer Paul Nicholls from nearby Ditcheat, and Philip Hobbs who trains near Minehead, supported the meeting and were in attendance, as were other local yards including Simon Burrough from West Buckland and Bob Buckler from Crewkerne who both had winners on the card.
The feature race of the day was the valuable Class 2 Desert Orchid Handicap Steeplechase, generously sponsored this year by Somerset motor vendors FJ Chalke, and run in honour of the late great grey chaser who so loved a flat track. The prize fund totalled around £22,500 with over £14,000 to the winner and prize money down to 6th place. A few old favourites and some up-and-coming types fought out a thrilling race, which was won in style by Toby Jug, completing his hat-trick for owner/trainer Mrs Sara Humphreys. The horse, unbeaten since she bought him, gave her fledgling Cambridgeshire operation a great fillip since she broke her back in a gallops accident soon after she took out her full licence 18 months ago. We wish her every success in the coming season: given the ammunition she clearly has the skills to add to the ranks of top lady trainers.
The supporting card comprised the usual mix of handicaps and novice races, with popular wins for the yards of Colin Tizzard (Dorset), Tim Vaughan (Vale of Glamorgan), and the local yards of Burrough, Buckler and Nicholls. The Champion Trainer rather cheekily won the closing ‘Paul Nicholls Racing National Hunt Novice Hurdle’ with Pepe Simo, taking home his own sponsorship money – but it seems this is something of a tradition seeing he’s won most of the recent runnings; and he got a good round of applause including from the Chairman, as he accepted the trophy from his daughters and nephew!
In 2006 Paul was the only trainer ever to win six races on the Wincanton card, and he loves to support his local course where his runners are well backed. On the day he also signed copies of his eagerly anticipated autobiography Lucky Break, which had just been published – it was his only regional public book signing this year.
Other sponsors for the day were Nene Milling, manufacturers of Vixen Horse Feeds; Thales Naval, suppliers to the world’s navies; totesport; and the ‘Who Do You think You Are’ TV production team Wall to Wall.
There are several meetings scheduled at Wincanton before the very popular Boxing Day fixture and Kingwell Hurdle Day in February. Full details are on the course website: http://www.wincantonracecourse.co.uk/Home.htm
Find out more about the day’s charities or donate here:
You can also follow St Margaret’s fundraising efforts on Facebook: