A truly unique event will be happening at Exeter Racecourse on the first day of its new season, Thursday October 9 when paralysed former jockey Sarah Gaisford rides a full circuit of the racecourse.
It will be an emotional journey for Sarah who suffered her life-changing fall at the course in 2007 when the horse she was riding fell in a hurdle race.
Since then, Sarah, an enigmatic and immensely popular part of the Westcountry racing scene, has re-built her life from a wheel chair. She now devotes much of her time to fundraising for the Injured Jockeys’ Fund, with the help of her sponsor, Liberty Trails.
Sarah would like everyone to join her on this momentous occasion by taking part in a two mile sponsored walk on the service track inside the racecourse while she rides on the course accompanied by her two staunch supporters John Francome MBE and Richard Pitman.
The occasion is set to be both emotional and triumphant as Sarah makes her way down the home straight through an avenue of jockeys and trainers and comes full circle since her accident.
Please support Sarah in her quest to smash her fund-raising target of £20,000 for the Injured Jockeys’ Fund. She has already raised nearly £10,000.
Mella Wright’s family sponsored a race at Newton Abbot on Monday – the Mella’s Biggerthanusual Celebration handicap chase in honour of her 70th birthday. Mella, is pictured here handing over the prizes. The race was won by Going Concern, owned by Paul Langford and trained by Evan Williams.
Winners pop up regularly from Neil and Keri Harris’s yard near Brompton Regis, Dulverton where they have two stables at the house and five more in a rented yard nearby.
Neil got involved in point to point racing when he joined Mike Trickey at the age of 18, breaking in horses.
Neil said: “Mike gave me my first ride at the age of about 21 on Anna’s Spirit. My first winner was Size Hill (for Mike) about two season’s later. I had no background in horses but I started riding my uncle’s ponies when I was about 16. I loved my hunting though and would often bunk off school and go out with the Tiverton Foxhounds on my motorbike!”
Neil became a very successful amateur jockey and, of his 246 career wins, around 200 were between the flags.
Keri has ridden since she was two years old and had her first ride in a point at 16 on her own horse Oneovertheight. She rode for a couple of seasons with some success but didn’t put her racing boots back on after foot and mouth disease called a halt to the sport in 2001.
The Harris philosophy on training is to work hard and to try and keep a very open mind. Neil said: “There are no set rules and you never stop learning. If you can’t give it 100 per cent you might as well stay in bed.
Their training regime is far from strait-forward and very much based around their young family so it varies a bit from day to day according to what child care they have.
They have two boys, Luke, 5, and Charlie, 9 months. Keri added :”In the morning, one of us goes out and feeds/ mucks out while the other gets the boys fed, dressed and sorted for the day. Luke catches the bus at the end of the drive to school, which is great. As for Charlie, we are lucky enough to have our families to help us look after him while we go and ride some horses!”
“On a run of the mill day, we do a couple of lots for Jeremy or Camilla Scott and then get our own ridden out and done up before putting our parent hats back on again! Fortunately a few of Jeremy’s staff (including point to point jockeys Vicki Wade and Tom Humphries) will come and ride a lot for us in their lunch break when we are pushed.”
The Harris’s try to both be home with the boys by 4pm, then, after tea one of them will go and finish up the horses while the other does bath and bedtime duties. At least that the plan!
The couple mainly have young horses in training as they love bringing on youngsters and seeing them go on to do bigger and better things, so they tend to have a lot of new faces each season.
However, this season they are very pleased to have What About Will back in for Keith Wade. The horse spent a lot of last season under the weather with a virus so did well to get a close second and a win from his four runs. He has plenty more to come and, with a clean of health, he shouldn’t have too much difficulty finding his way back to the winners’ enclosure.
King of Alcatraz ran admirably in ground that he hated for most of last season, and ran arguably his career best in the ladies’ hunter chase at Cheltenham. Amazingly after three years, the Harris’s are still learning about him. He has been a smashing horse for his owner Roy Smith who has been incredibly loyal and supportive. Neil and Keri look forward to having the horse back in the spring.
Keri said: “We also have the pleasure of Jump to the Beat joining us again for our dear friends Jenny and Roger Perry. She is a big strapping mare from the family of Ambion Wood and had two educational runs last season. Having summered well back with the Perrys, she should really make her presence felt in a maiden in the new year.”
Of the newcomers, they have Paul Gillbard’s home-bred 3yr old by With the Flow, a half brother to Alright John and Cadeaux George, both of whom won their maidens from the yard before going on to win for their new connections.
The couple also bought a couple of stores out in Ireland this Summer, both of which they are very pleased with and the plan is to run them in maidens before selling them on at the end of the season.
With the odd one in to pre train they will have a pretty full house!
Keri said :” We are very lucky to have established a strong support team, without whom we would not be able to function at all. As already mentioned,our families are always at hand to help with the boys. Jeremy and Camilla Scott are very generous in allowing us to use their facilities, which are excellent, and offer help and advice along the way. The horses get first class care and attention from our farrier Ed Menon, and vets Phil Browne and Tom Gliddon at White lodge in Minehead.
Richard Barber, one of the two most successful trainers in the history of Point-to-Pointing and Hunter Chasing – the other being the late Joe Turner – has decided to call it a day. “I didn’t want to compete against Jack [his grandson, who made such a fine start to his own training career last season],” he explained solemnly, adding “I might have come off second best!”
His initial winner was Gerry Doyle, who scored under Jacqui Thorne at Nedge in 1986, and he signed off with Whataknight (Will Biddick) at Bratton Down in June.
Rimpton Boy and the evergreen Barneys Mate rank among his most prolific winners, while the innumerable young horses which have begun their racing days under his tutelage before switching to Paul Nicholls and making their name under Rules include See More Business, the Cheltenham Gold Cup hero of 1999.
Multiple victories in a day have been commonplace, the most notable being when he saddled seven winners at Castle Of Comfort in 1998.
He won the Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase four times with Fantus (twice), Rushing Wild and Earthmover, and he sent out Trust Fund to take the Aintree equivalent in 2009.
The many jockeys who have enjoyed a fruitful time through their connection to the Barber stable include Justin Fathing and Tim Mitchell, plus champions Polly Curling, Rachael Green and Will Biddick, while eight times champion Polly Gundry got her foot on the ladder to success at the Seaborough yard.
The other retirement in the Barber family is that of Jack, who has hung up his racing saddle at the age of just 23 to concentrate on training, having booted home over 60 winners since opening his account on Thisthatandtother on his debut in 2009.
The majority of his grandfather’s horses have transferred to his own neighbouring yard, and he is taking on the responsibility for the Nicholls youngsters. He currently has over 30 in, with more to come. Will Biddick and Josh Newman will share the riding duties.
Richard will not be idle, as twice a day he will be tending to the gallops which are utilised not only by his and Jack’s Pointers but by the strings of Harry Fry and Anthony Honeyball. He has also awarded himself a new title, announcing “I’m now Chief Criticiser!”
Rose Loxton, who finished the season as the National Connolly’s Red Mills Trainer Champion (training seven horses or less) with a total of 17 wins, is based deep in the heart of Somerset at Whaddon Farm in the village of Bruton, writes Donna Harris.
She also has a full time job as assistant head lass for Paul Nicholls, whose Ditcheat yard is six miles away and, with her husband Sam, also runs a beef suckler herd, on 130 acres of hilly land, ideal for training racehorses.
Loxton originated from the west coast of Ireland, by the sea in County Galway, where she rode as a child and hunted with the Galway Blazers and the North Galway hounds. She said: “I worked at a flat racing yard on the Curragh, some 30 years ago. That’s where I met an English guy called Sam, came over to the UK on holiday and never returned. We were soon married. Sam used to ride point to point and rode a couple of winners. In the early days we had a dairy farm and milked cows.”
The couple now have three children, Martina, 28, Freddie, 26 and Polly, 24. Rose has a granddaughter, Millie Rose, and is delighted that her son Freddie is also due to give her another grandchild soon.
While her children did not really take to riding, Loxton had a hunter, Oslot, which she trained to have two seconds and a win at Bratton in 2012 under Leanda Tickle, after he had won a hunter chase. But the horse sadly fractured his shoulder in a hunting accident. “I was all set to give up training,” Loxton explained. “I just couldn’t face it, but then Paul Nicholls offered me a horse called Gwanako, who had lost his way in the National Hunt races, having previously won eight chases and five hurdle races. Paul was looking for a schoolmaster for his daughter Megan to graduate from pony racing onto point to point and I agreed to give him a go.”
“Sam helps me feed and muck out at 6.15am. I travel over to Ditcheat, help out there and come back to ride out at lunchtime. Gemma Groves rides Gwanako out every day come rain, hail or snow. I couldn’t do it without her or Sam. I would also like to thank all the owners for giving me the opportunity, and especially Paul who has also taught me the knack of how to keep a fit horse ticking over and staying fit.”
The Loxton’s farmland is an ideal location for training horses in a quiet environment, with more than 100 acres to ride around, plenty of hills to work up, and regular daily turn out, Gwanako soon started to enjoy his work again. Loxton was able to use Paul’s gallops to gauge how well he was coming on. She said: “I would think he would be blowing a bit up the hills, but when I took him to the gallops, he started to fly up them.”
Gwanako gave Megan her first point to point ride at the Cornwall Hunt Club meeting at Wadebridge in December. The pre-Christmas meeting always has a buzzy atmosphere, with an indoor market and plenty of spectators enjoying the fresh winter air. Loxton said: “We could hardly watch. We were really worried, as the conditions became a bit slippery after a shower of rain. I hadn’t wanted Gwanako to be too fit for Megan’s first ride, I just wanted him not to over jump and for them both to get around safely. Paul was there and we were both worried that if Gwanako and Megan had a fall, it could put them both off racing.” But they were delighted with the result, four lengths second to the prolific winning Byerley Bear. Megan had ridden a steady race in the sticky conditions, and had made an effort to catch Byerley Bear over the last.
Gwanako, owned by the Stewart family, went on to clock up six consecutive wins in Ladies’ Opens, and the combination were unlucky to finish second at Kingston Blount to Ravethebrave, having led until two out, which ended their winning streak.
The Loxton string is completed by two other horses – Join Together owned by Wendy Fogg, and the youngest on the yard and Current Event jointly owned by J Gane. I Fogg and Paul Nicholls.
Join Together, a nine year old gelding, is previous winner of two novice chases at Cheltenham in 2011, and a hurdle race. He had lost his form but was, this season, unbeaten in six points, three in the Devon and Cornwall Area. “His Bratton Down win was one of my favourite moments this season,” Loxton claimed proudly. “Megan led over the last, and drew clear up the hill to win by six lengths.” The horse could be targeted at the Cheltenham Foxhunters next year.
Current Event also had good form behind him, with five chase wins and a hurdle victory but seemed to have lost his confidence after running over Aintree fences. On his first outing pointing with Megan, he fell at the seventh fence at Paxford. But with much TLC from Rose, he was back jumping well again, with a win two weeks later at Little Windsor, in the Novice Riders’ race. The combination went on to win five consecutive races, which included two D&C Area meetings, Upcott Cross and Bratton Down.
The three horses saw Megan Nicholls win the National Ladies’ Novice Riders’ title, the Princess Royal Trophy (national lady novice riders U21), the Devon & Cornwall Ladies’ title, the Wessex Area Ladies’ title, the Wessex Novice title and a third place in the National Ladies’ title – not bad for a first season! Rose intends to continue to support and travel to the Devon & Cornwall Area meetings
Megan’s aspirations for the coming season are to bid for the national ladies’ point to point title. She said: “Rose has done a fabulous job with the horses. They looked great and ran amazingly last season. I will have, hopefully, two extra runners next season, based with Jack Barber – Aerial and Prospect Wells.”
Thank you to Tracy Roberts of www.turfpix.com for the photograph of Join Together and Tim Holt for the photograph of Current Event.