JOCKEY Jonathan England and his horse look a picture of health ahead of today’s 188Bet Rowland Meyrick Chase – the traditional highlight of Wetherby’s Boxing Day meeting.
Up to 12,000 racegoers are expected at the West Yorkshire track – advance ticket purchases are up on last year – to watch a three-mile stamina test which has attracted horses of the calibre of Cheltenham Gold Cup fourth-place Holywell.
However, England is no stranger to success in a race which will be broadcast live on Channel Four – the Guiseley rider was victorious two years ago aboard Cloudy Too for the Grand National-winning team of Sue and Harvey Smith, who will be represented by course specialist No Planning.
Distime, who is owned and trained by the family of England’s fiancee Samantha Drake, heads to Wetherby following a fine third earlier this month over Aintree’s Grand National fences.
And the jockey, who rode out his claim earlier this month, relishes Boxing Day’s unique atmosphere. “There’s a real good buzz Christmas time – everyone is in a festive mood,” England told The Yorkshire Post.
“It’s good to be racing because there are so many families there. It’s also special because Cloudy Too was my first big win and really helped to get me going. Distime is in good order and we’re running him because he came out of the Aintree race so well. My only worry is if the ground is gluey and holding.”
Like all National Hunt devotees, England also can’t wait for the prestigious William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton which is the centrepiece of a packed Boxing Day programme and which has attracted the top steeplechasers from Britain and Ireland.
Though the Emerald Isle has a strong hand with Don Cossack and Vautour, England would like to see his good friend Paddy Brennan win the race aboard the resurgent Cue Card who was imperious when winning Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase and Haydock’s Betfair Chase. “He’s back to his best and the one they all have to beat,” he added.
Cards and preview: Pages 6-7