A RECORD £183,000 in prize money will be up for grabs at Warwick’s Betfred Classic Chase Day on Saturday, the course’s richest meeting of the season, writes David Hucker.
With another bumper crowd on New Year’s Eve, the course ended the year on a high and officials are hoping to start 2018 with a bang with the prize fund for the feature race being increased from £60,000 to £75,000.
With the fixture being the main meeting of the afternoon across the country, ITV Racing are broadcasting four races live on ITV4.
The trip of three miles and five furlongs in the Classic Chase will take a bit of getting in testing ground, but one who is guaranteed to stay is the veteran Russe Blanc, the only white horse in training, who finished ninth last year from an official rating of 134.
One of three runners saddled by Herefordshire trainer Kerry Lee, Russe Blanc has seen his rating drop to 125 since then, putting him 2lb below the mark when springing a 20-1 surprise in the race in 2016.
Another who should relish the trip is Anthony Honeyball’s Southern National winner Cresswell Breeze.
Speaking to the Racing Post on Tuesday, Honeyball said: “The Classic looks a nice race as the runners look of a similar standard to those she faced at Sandown last time, where she might have been second if she’d jumped the last fence more fluently.”
On The Road was an early faller in last Saturday’s Welsh Grand National, but has not won over this trip and of more interest is Dan Skelton’s Sir Mangan, who looks better than ever at the age of ten, having won a Class 2 handicap at Bangor-on-Dee last time out and should cope with a 4lb rise in the weights.
As well as the big one, there will be plenty of interest in the Grade 2 Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle, won last year by Willoughby Court, who went on to score at the Cheltenham Festival.
His trainer Ben Pauling has not declared either of his two entries in this year’s contest, but the prize could still head towards the Cotswolds as Nigel Twiston-Davies runs Count Meribel, who was chasing a four-timer when going down over a longer distance at Cheltenham last time.
This trip of two miles and five furlongs should be right up his street and, despite having to concede weight to his five rivals, could make all the running here.
Others to note on the card are Azzuri, Skelton’s representative in the second, the Edward Courage Cup Handicap Chase which is run over the minimum distance of two miles, and Dual At Dawn, trained by Alex Hales near Banbury, who runs in the three-mile Betfred Home Of Goals Galore Hampton Novices’ Chase (Listed Race), the first of the televised races.
The hurdle and flat races will be run on the inner course, in use for the first time this season, meaning that four of the seven races will be on fresh ground.
The racecourse will also be celebrating the rich history of racing at Warwick spanning 310 years by hosting a racing memorabilia and history event, with a display in the Paddock Pavilion, near the parade ring.
There will also be a series of talks from racing personalities between races from historian Chris Pitt and ex-jockeys Richard Linley, Mick Fitzgerald, Nicky Carlisle, Paul Leach and David Cartwright.
Racegoers are encouraged to bring their own pieces of racing memorabilia along on the day, with the opportunity to display them in the Paddock Pavilion.
Tours of the racecourse with a local racing expert will also be available for £5, an hour before the first race, for which bookings can be made in the racecourse office
“This fixture is always the standout raceday on our calendar and this year a record amount of prize money will be on offer for the high quality field in the Betfred Classic Chase,” said general manager Andre Klein.
“It was incredible to see last year’s winner One For Arthur go on to win the Grand National, his victory emphasising the high calibre horse that will be racing at Warwick on the day.
Alongside the top action on the course, we will be recognising the incredible history of horse racing with our memorabilia show. We would love for people on the day to bring along any artefacts they have to make the display even more impressive!”
Gates open at 10.40am, two hours ahead of the first race, the Betfred Supports Jack Berry House Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, due off at 12.40pm. Restaurant and hospitality packages are available, starting at £105 per person. For more ticket information call 01926 405560 or visit www.warwickracecourse.co.uk.