Death Duty’s return to action on Tuesday reminded us that the new Jumps season is beginning to gather pace. With the Arc now behind us, thoughts will soon be turning to the likes of Wetherby’s Charlie Hall, Cheltenham’s Paddy Power (yes, I know it’s the BetVictor Gold Cup nowadays) and the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
The Skelton’s continue to set the pace, and were yesterday amongst the winners thanks to a double at Bangor-On-Dee. Today National Hunt fans are to be treated to the Autumn Meeting at Warwick. The West Midlands racecourse is a favourite of mine, not least because I can get there in little more than an hour.
It’s a cracking course, set on the very edge of the market town. The town itself is quite small, but has enough to occupy a visitor prior to racing. It is of course famous for the castle, something that really shouldn’t be missed while you’re visiting. Dating back to the time of William The Conqueror, it’s a truly magnificent structure, with towers, ramparts, mottes and a dungeon. Open all-year-round, the kids will love it.
But back to the reason for this article, the racecourse. It’s one of the oldest in the country, with racing dating back to the late 1600s. When established, it was hoped that the sport would attract wealth to the area following the devastating fire of 1694. In the early 1800s the first stand was built, parts of which remain to this day.
One of racing’s greats, Red Rum, ran at the track in 1967. And it proved to be a year to remember, with the course being purchased by The Jockey Club. The group had acquired Cheltenham in 1964, with Wincanton following in ’66. The purchase would help ensure the long-term prosperity and ongoing investment in the course.
Warwick has plenty in common with another Midlands favourite of mine, Uttoxeter. Relatively small yet beautifully formed, both have great facilities for the racegoer, are flattish tracks with slight undulations, and are easily accessed by road or rail.
Warwick possibly has the edge on the quality of racing throughout the winter. The Betfred Classic Chase Meeting in January attracts high-class staying chasers for the main event. One For Arthur took this year’s renewal and went on to win the Grand National at Aintree. Willoughby Court was also a winner on the day, and he went on to success at the Cheltenham Festival, when capturing the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle in thrilling fashion from the ill-fated Neon Wolf.
In February the course play host the Kingmaker Chase, a two-mile novice event that over the years has gone to Flagship Uberalles, Voy Por Ustedes, Long Run and Finian’s Rainbow. Willie Mullins has also taken to sending horses to the meeting, with talented hurdlers Open Eagle, Arbre De Vie and Glens Melody all successful in recent years.
One of the stars of today’s action is sure to be novice chaser Sceau Royal. Alan King’s hugely talented five-year-old was a high-class hurdler, winning the Elite Hurdle last November and putting in a solid performance to finish sixth in the Champion at Cheltenham. He sports the familiar silks of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, a duo that are gathering a formidable battalion of National Hunt horses. They are responsible for the likes of Bristol De Mai, Top Notch and L’Ami Serge.
Sceau Royal has a look of Top Notch about him, and I’m sure Alan King would be thrilled if he was to have such an impressive first season over fences. Nicky Henderson’s young chaser stepped-up in trip during his novice chase campaign, finishing a terrific runner-up to Yorkhill in the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival. Sceau Royal may well possess a few more gears, and there’s every chance that we could see him back at Warwick in the spring contesting the Kingmaker.
It could prove a fruitful day for King, with Sego Success favourite for the stayers’ chase, and a JP McManus owned favourite running in the opening novice hurdle. With Hobbs, Tizzard and Twiston-Davies all in attendance, those making the trip to Warwick look set to be rewarded with a fine day’s racing. Don’t forget The Castle.