HOW ironic if Richard Guest saddles the winner of the very first Flat race to be staged at Wetherby in the 124-year history of the racetrack.
He is a former Grand National-winning rider who won many races over obstacles at the West Yorkshire racetrack before taking out a training licence.
His Ingmanthorpe Racing Stables, close to the A1M are just a short canter from the racecourse which hosts the first of four Flat meetings tomorrow.
“I think it is a brilliant concept,” said the enthusiastic Guest. “They have a wonderful stand and a wonderful facility.
“If it helps to preserve and enhance jump racing in the future, so much the better.
“It’s better being used for racing purposes than any other.”
Guest is double-handed in the first race, a 15-runner contest over a mile, with Polar Forest – the mount of up-and-coming Doncaster apprentice Jordan Nason – and Roayh after signalling his intention at the turn of the year to win this contest and a place in racing’s record books.
Polar Forest won his comeback race at Musselburgh earlier this month and Guest is hoping for further improvement. “I thought he was a couple of weeks short when he went up to Scotland, but he won and, hopefully, will improve again,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “Roayh was running on at Pontefract, the race was not run to suit, and both go there fit and well.”
Guest also runs Caeser The Gaeser in the seven-furlong maiden. This three-year-old only raced once last season becaue he needed time to mature, but the trainer says the horse could be one to follow and will go well for former champion apprentice Jason Hart who, in his opinion, is vastly under-rated.
He is not the only trainer local to Wetherby supporting the track – Rebecca Bastiman, whose father Robin trained star sprinter Borderlescott, runs Gone With The Wind in the fierecely competitive opener while Jed O’Keeffe, who was born in the town and now trains in North Yorkshire, runs Dark Ocean.
However, they will not have it their own way – the seven-race card has attracted 91 entries and the number of runners would have been even greater if the track had sufficient stables to accommodate more horses.
Among the major yards sending runners are Saeed bin Suroor, Andrew Balding, Barry Hills, Ed Dunlop, Michael Bell and William Haggas, who was born in Skipton and who used to spend his childhood Boxing Days at Wetherby watching top-class steeplechasing.
As for the riders, the star names are headed by six-times champion jockey Kieren Fallon as the enigmatic 50-year-old looks, once again, to resurrect a career which has stuttered in recent times.
However, Wetherby chief executive and clerk of the course Jonjo Sanderson is delighted with the entries – and hopes this will be replicated at future Flat meetings on June 22, July 13 and July 21.
“It’s about using the facility and making the most of the space we have,” he said. “I was delighted when the initial entries on Monday totalled 241. When we had the final declarations, about 158, the only sad thing was that there were over 60 horses not able to get a run.
“That’s part of the racing game. You sometimes get horses balloted out, but to have the number of runners we’ve got on the day we are very pleased indeed.”
Sanderson reports the track in fine condition, with the going described as good, good to firm in places. “The track is in good order. We’ve been watering all week as we’ve had summer-like conditions,” he said.
A crowd of at least 4,000 attended this meeting when it was a jumps fixture and about 1,000 more are expected this year. “Ticket sales are about 50 per cent up on last year, and that’s a good indicator of the interest in coming to see our first Flat fixture,” added Sanderson.
David O’ Meara is yet to make a decision as to where he will start talented sprinter G Force this season. The Nawton handler is considering races at York or Haydock for his four-year-old, who came to prominence when winning a Group One sprint last September.
O’Meara’s Custom Cut dug deep to win yesterday’s bet365 Mile at Sandown under stable jockey Danny Tudhope, who said: “He’s every jockey’s dream as he travels well and gives you everything.”