Venture to ensure a stable future

Log cabins at Ann Duffield's stables.
Log cabins at Ann Duffield's stables.
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An exciting new initiative in North Yorkshire catches the eye of the Yorkshire Post’s racing correspondent Tom Richmond.

THESE are momentous times for Yorkshire racing which is continuing to enjoy a renaissance on the track – this year’s well-backed Grand National and Dante winners, Auroras Encore and Libertarian respectively, were trained locally for the first time in decades.

It is the Yorkshire winners which have been receiving the loudest cheers at the Ebor festival that ends today.

Horse racing, the sport of kings, also helps to underpin the rural economy – academics at Sheffield Hallam University recently calculated that the sport is worth £230m a year to local coffers and that racing, in particular the staff employed in stables and at the region’s nine racecourses, is directly responsible for 2,300 full-time jobs.

Yet the financial margins are slender – closer than the photo-finish to a major race – and stables are looking to diversify in order to safeguard jobs during lulls in the racing season, or when the winners are proving to be even more elusive than usual.

One such example is Ann Duffield whose husband George – from Stanley, West Yorkshire – became one of this country’s most successful ever Flat jockeys and who will always be remembered for his association with the brilliant User Friendly who won four Classics, including Doncaster’s St Leger, in 1992.

They are just putting the finishing touches to four luxury log cabins at their picturesque Sun Hill Farm stables at Constable Burton near Leyburn. Their idea is a simple one – they want to bring visitors closer to racing and the holiday chalets are adjacent to the gallops where the couple train their 35 horses.

The whole project is costing in the region of £500,000 – but the Duffields will be able to recoup around one third of the costs after receiving a special grant from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs after they demonstrated how the log cabins will benefit other local businesses.

Top holiday company Hoseasons are now marketing the log cabins as part of special ‘racing packages’ that will also enable people to watch horses being groomed; visit the iconic gallops at Middleham at daybreak to see top trainers exercising their string and following centuries of tradition; meet retired jockeys like Jimmy Bleasdale and then receive racecourse badges where they will be able to meet leading personalities – or enjoy behind-the-scenes tours.

“Yorkshire is rightly proud of its racing heritage and our racecourses rank amongst the best in the country. Places like Middleham and Malton are national training centres,” said Mrs Duffield who has been training at Constable Burton for 14 years.

“We couldn’t have done this without Defra. The idea is groups of people can come and get a better idea about racing, particularly if they’re interested in investing in the sport as a potential owner. You can’t get much closer than a log cabin next to the gallops!

“We can tailor each package to suit the needs of each party – whether it is booking lunch at racecourses or local restaurants or making picnics made from freshly-grown Yorkshire produce.

“We already have two holiday cottages so we’re not new to this business, but hopefully the log cabins will mean greater financial stability for the stables. I employ 10 people – and they all work tremendously hard – but we need to look at ways to innovate. Stables are no longer just about racing; they’re businesses too and many enjoy absolutely stunning views that visitors will fall in love with.

“As part of the criteria for getting the Defra grant, we will be able to show that the local economy will benefit by £500,000 from multiplier benefits – that is money which the area can’t afford to miss out on.”

Furnished to the highest specifications, the log cabins vary in size from a one-bedroomed chalet to a three-bedroomed mini-apartment.

Sun Hill, once part of the Wyvill estate, was still a working farm however, when purchased by the Duffields in 1999.

There was an immense amount of effort and not inconsiderable financial outlay required to convert it from a farm to the first class racehorse training yard it is today – football manger Harry Redknapp has horses at the stable – but the end result certainly justifies all of the hard work.

Mrs Duffield designed and built it all from scratch with help from the hard-working building contractors who only took two days off (Christmas and New Year’s Day).

Yorkshire born and bred, George Duffield entered the world of horse racing (earning the princely sum of 18 shillings and six pence a week) at the age of 15 in 1962 when he joined Heath House stables, the yard of trainer Jack Waugh, based at racing’s HQ, Newmarket.

He rode his first winner – Syllable – on June 15, 1967, at Yarmouth and went on to ride over 2,500 more in a career that spanned over 40 years, before retiring from the saddle in March 2005.

For more than 30 years George was stable jockey to Sir Mark Prescott who took over the licence from Jack Waugh at the Heath House stables.

A true servant of racing

george Duffield’s MBE in the 2002 Queen’s New Years Honours list came in well-earned recognition of his services to racing and is a tribute to the respect with which he is held in the weighing room and amongst racing’s hierarchy.

In retirement, he really enjoys gardening after riding out each morning and has spent many hours landscaping Sun Hill Farm.

Any visitor to the yard cannot fail to be impressed by the grounds and is quite likely to bump into one of Yorkshire’s racing greats in his new workwear of overalls, wellingtons and flat cap.