GETTING out after Christmas Day is for many either a walk in the countryside, preferably finishing at a warm and well stocked hostelry; an often bracing stroll by the sea with the same end result; or attending the races with friends.
It’s a Berry family tradition to venture to Wetherby for the Boxing Day meeting, part of the two-day Christmas-meet that goes into tomorrow.
We will be there aiming to back a winner and have a great time, but for the likes of Malcolm Jefferson, it’s strictly business. His string at Newstead Cottage Stables on the edge of Norton near Malton has enjoyed a successful start to the jump season and although he couldn’t confirm he would have runners either day at Wetherby when I visited, he’s had his share of big winners at the Yuletide meetings.
“It’s been a track and meeting where we’ve been pretty lucky. We’ve won the two big races, the Rowland Meyrick on Boxing Day (with Cape Tribulation 2012 and According to Pete 2011) and the Castleford Chase on the 27th (with Calatagan 2006 and 2007). We usually do okay in the better races and the best thing for us about Christmas and New Year is having a winner or two. That’s our Christmas present.
“The saying about the going at Wetherby is ‘if it isn’t soft, it’s off’. It’s very rare you get good ground at this time of year.
“We have our oldest horse currently in the stables, Firth of The Clyde that might go for the Rowland Meyrick as he likes the soft ground and I’d hope he’d have a bit of a chance as he’s always been consistently placed. I’ve also a little horse called Grey Life that might go for the Castleford if it’s really soft.”
Malcolm was born in Skelton near Penrith and found his passage into the racing world having worked on a farm that had a milk round delivering into trainer Gordon Richards’ Greystoke Stables.
“As a kid I loved horses and was fascinated just watching them eat grass. All farmers had them in those days and my brother and I used to work on farms for pocket money.
“The farmers would often chuck us on to their workhorses coming home. I got to know one or two of the lads at Gordon’s stables through delivering milk and when a job came up I managed to get it.
“Not long afterwards his head-man took ill and the lad who drove the horse box took over. I did the driving from then on and was travelling head-man for the next 13 years.”
It was while at Greystoke that Malcolm also met the girl he was to marry.
“Sue worked as a stable girl. She came with me to York for the racing and as it was her birthday and there was only the two of us I took her out. That’s how we started and 40 years on we’re still together and have four children.”
Malcolm and Sue’s move to Yorkshire came 34 years ago when they took on Newstead Cottage Stables.
“After 13 years with Gordon I wanted to train in my own right. Sue and I decided that if we could find our own yard then we would give it a go.
“One of the lads who lodged with when we were at Greystoke was Peter Caldwell and his father Terry was keen on racehorses. He said he’d give us a hand to get started.
“We came over to Norton to take a look at two other stables but neither was right for us. We drove into Malton had a look in Cundalls’ window and saw this. We liked it straight away, Terry helped us and Peter ended up riding our very first winner.
“We started here with 13 boxes and now have 48. We’ve had some good horses over the years.
“Everybody will remember Dato Star. He was the top rated hurdler in Britain for two years winning the Champion Hurdle at Haydock Park; the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton; the Festival Bumper at Cheltenham; and two Fighting Fifths at Newcastle.
“We’ve an exciting mainly young string at present and the start we’ve had this season has been very good. Almost half the horses we have run have won races.”
Previous Wetherby winner Cape Tribulation has now retired. Malcolm doesn’t believe in racing horses indefinitely.
“We don’t abuse our horses. He was very good to us and he’s now having a very good life near Filey with a lady who loves him to bits.”
COURSE BACK ON TRACK
Malcolm believes the Wetherby course has started to come right again after having lost some of its ground when the A1 was being upgraded and also switching the chase and hurdle courses.
“The chase courses were put on the inside and the hurdles to the outer and with changing the ground it took a long time to regain its standard,” Malcolm said.
“The ground now has a bottom back into it. I would now like to see Wetherby run a few more top grade races over the two days and make it along the lines of a Festival meeting.”
The Rowland Meyrick held today was named after a former clerk of the course.