Micky Hammond continues to rattle-in the winners from his base in North Yorkshire. Not quite prolific, but there’s no doubting the trainer’s ability in extracting the max from the horses under his care and tuition.
Just Cameron is one of the stable stars, and during a particularly successful Christmas period for the yard, the 10-year-old landed Wetherby’s prestigious Castleford Handicap Chase. It was a mighty performance under top weight, as the 10/1 shot got the better of Duke Of Navan in a thrilling finish. Joe Colliver was doing the steering, fresh from his Grade One success for Jedd O’Keeffe on the talented staying hurdler Sam Spinner.
Hammond is a dual-purpose trainer with more than 60 horses at his Oakwood Stables in the beautiful town of Middleham. O’Keeffe is another local handler, though his yard lies a few miles from the town. More than a dozen trainers are based in and around the town, with Flat exponents Mark Johnston and Karl Burke the highest profile names.
But for the moment it’s Micky Hammond that is flying the flag, having racked-up half a dozen winners over the Christmas holiday period. Along with success at Wetherby, there were victories at Sedgefield and a pair at the local track, Catterick.
A talented jockey during the 1980s, Hammond landed the Scottish National on Hardy Lad in 1986. Having moved north in the mid-80s, he rode for many Middleham trainers, but was forced into retirement after a pair of leg-breaks at the end of the decade. He turned his attention to training and made an instant impact during a period at Tupgill Stables alongside the Low Moor, a short distance from the town.
Hammond was at the peak of his powers in the late-90s, and during that time moved to his current home at Oakwood Stables, just a short stroll from the Black Bull Inn, on the edge of Middleham town. The yard is in the midst of a major revival, with the upturn highlighted in 2016 when assistant Gemma Hogg became Employee of the Year at the Godolphin Stud & Stable Staff Awards in London.
If you are fortunate enough to visit Middleham, head for the streets in the early hours, and watch a procession of equine talent heading for the gallops. Horse breeding and training in the locality can be traced back to the monks of nearby Jervaulx Abbey; however, it was during the 18th Century that racehorse training began to flourish, with wide-open spaces of Middleham High and Low Moors providing the perfect natural facility.
The growth in racehorse training brought prosperity to the town and it was not long before a racecourse was laid out on High Moor, with races being held until June of 1873. Middleham remains a major northern centre for thoroughbred training, aided by the proximity of so many racecourses.
The town is also of huge historical interest, with the magnificent Middleham Castle being the childhood home of Richard III. The remains stand proud above this stylish town, cared for by English Heritage. Visitors are well catered for, with a variety of hotels, guest houses, and welcoming watering-holes. There is a well-stocked village store along with a pleasant café.
Those wishing to learn more of the town’s most famous industry can pay for a guided stable visit. Experts are on hand to escort race-fans to local yards and to the gallops above the town. Those interested can visit middlehamracingbreaks.co.uk or middlehamracingtours.co.uk. A two to three hour tour costs from £12 to £20. The operators are very accommodating, and can often be quite flexible with the starting times and length of visit.
The surrounding area also has so much to offer. The town is set amid the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, with popular attractions such as Bolton Castle and the Wensleydale Creamery on the doorstep. Hawes, Richmond and Leyburn are very popular destinations, and the whole family will enjoy a visit to the Forbidden Corner, a unique attraction on the Tupgill Park Estate, just a five minute drive from Middleham. The estate is also home to the wonderful Saddle Room. This stylish bar and restaurant with accommodation, is well worth a visit.
Both Micky Hammond and Jedd O’Keeffe are raising the profile of Jump racing in Middleham. If you are yet to visit this fabulous town, I’d strongly advise a short-break in the near future. It’s a trip that all racing fans should take at least once in their lifetime.