Wetherby Racecourse back in the hunt as new season begins

Wetherby Racecourse’s National Hunt season starts on Wednesday, with its annual charity day in aid of spinal injury.

Spinal Research return for their 32nd annual raceday and are the UK’s leading charity funding medical research around the world to develop effective treatments for paralysis caused by spinal cord injury.

Jonjo Sanderson, clerk of the course, said this week’s meeting gives the course chance for a “trial run” ahead of its two-day Charlie Hall Chase meeting at the end of the month.

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He said: “The first meeting is always good to have a little trial, having been shut down for four months, before the Charlie Hall to see how we are going internally and infrastructure-wise.

Runners and riders at Wetherby, where racing returns on Wednesday (Picture: PA)Runners and riders at Wetherby, where racing returns on Wednesday (Picture: PA)
Runners and riders at Wetherby, where racing returns on Wednesday (Picture: PA)

“It’s a good fixture in its own right and our annual charity day in aid of spinal research and one we have done for a number of years with a big marquee charity lunch and auction which is always good fun.”

This year’s Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase will be held on Saturday, October 29 and some of the recent winners - the likes of Cue Card, Bristol De Mai and Cyrname - have used it as a stepping stone to bigger successes later in the campaign.

Last year’s renewal went to Nicky Henderson’s Fusil Raffles who capitalised on a fall by Dan Skelton’s Shan Blue who looked all over the winner.

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“Hopefully that will be another good renewal and we get some rain. I didn't think I’d ever be saying ‘we had such a dry autumn’ again after last year – but it looks like we might!

“But hopefully if we get some more rain in the next few weeks and keep watering we will see some of the top class hurdlers and steeplechasers coming our way.

"We have heard Shan Blu’s trainer Dan Skelton has said he has unfinished business at Wetherby, so hopefully we will see him again.

Paul Nicholls said last year he would be back as he had a couple lined up already, so all being well we will get some top class horses from the top yards here - the crowd love it as we have only got ourselves, Doncaster and Catterick (staging National Hunt in Yorkshire) so they don’t get to see those horses on a regular basis like the Midlands and the South do.”

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Like many other sports, horse racing is finding its feet again after the pandemic, but Sanderson has been pleased by the public’s response.

“This time last year Covid was still around and the Omicron hadn’t even surfaced, but we were absolutely blown away with how busy we were, especially in the high value areas like hospitality and restaurants which were sold out and people were desperate to get back."

The course has held its admission prices for a fourth year and Sanderson is hopeful for another successful season.

“Now we have the economic crisis and I thought we are not going to beat last year but we are in a similar vein to last year with hospitality and restaurant up to Christmas off the scale again.

"It’s absolutely fantastic and we are grateful for people wanting to come and support us again.”