Wetherby prize money for 2016 hit as rain forces abandonment

OFFICIALS at Wetherby have played down the financial repercussions of the abandonment of its two-day Christmas meeting because of unforeseen flooding.

Wetherby chief executive Jon Jo Sanderson.
Wetherby chief executive Jon Jo Sanderson.

Even though the West Yorkshire track expected up to 15,000 spectators on Boxing Day and yesterday, the course never includes the profits in its annual budget forecast because the fixture has always been vulnerable to inclement weather.

However, the consequence means that the course will have less funding to invest in prize money in 2016 – a setback on a weekend when the prestige of the flagship Charlie Hall Chase was advertised by this year’s winner Cue Card winning a thrilling, and dramatic, King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

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Chief executive Jonjo Sanderson says the rain was so relentless – Wetherby received 56mm in a 23-hour downpour – that the meeting had no chance of surviving the deluge.

“We have lost an opportunity to have a successful two days of racing,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“Put that in perspective, people have lost their houses and possessions. In the grand scale of things, it’s nothing.

“We have lost our busiest day of the year (Boxing Day) but we couldn’t run our business if we relied on that money year on year.”

Though yesterday’s feature Castleford Chase is unlikely to be rearranged, there’s still a possibility that the Rowland Meyrick Chase – the Boxing Day highlight and a significant Grand National trial – could be held on January 16 weather permitting.

However Sanderson said this would require the consent of the British Horseracing Authority, and financial support, and that discussions would take place this week.

Meanwhile Chepstow’s Welsh National, another weather 
casualty, will be staged on January 9.

Though Catterick foresee no problems ahead of today’s fixture, inspections today will determine the prospects for jump meetings at Kelso tomorrow and at Haydock on Wednesday.

In the meantime, a revitalised Cue Card will head straight for the Cheltenham Gold Cup following his thrilling victory in the King George.

The horse’s fourth run in the race, the nine-year-old got up on the line to deny Irish raider Vautour by a head in a scintillating renewal of the esteemed Grade One.

Following wins in the Charlie Hall, and then Haydock’s Betfair Chase, trainer Colin Tizzard is now keen to give his stable star a break before preparing him for a tilt at the blue riband in March.

Cue Card will pick up a cool £1m bonus if he can add the Gold Cup to the Betfair Chase and King George, a hat-trick completed by the late, great Kauto Star in the 2006-07 campaign.

Tizzard said: “When they put the money up I thought it was an impossible task, but it’s getting closer.

“If we win a King George and a Gold Cup that would be something to live on for the rest of my life, anyway.

“We’ve all seen Cue Card making all (of the running) in the Ryanair and bolting up, but this is a completely different horse now.”

The only sour note to a magnificent race was the fact winning jockey Paddy Brennan was handed an 11-day suspension and fined £4,200 for using his whip above the permitted level, while Vautour’s rider Ruby Walsh was also banned for two days.

“I hope the whip thing doesn’t take over from what was a fantastic race,” added Tizzard. “The two jockeys involved got caught up in the excitement and broke the rules and ended up having a fine and a ban. There’s not a mark on him – he’s absolutely A1.”

Brennan, who won the 2010 Gold Cup on Imperial Commander, hailed this win as “the best feeling of my whole career”.

He hustled young pretender Bryan Cooper who could not get the favourite Don Cossack to settle. The favourite crashed out at the second last when poised to challenge while Cue Card reaffirmed his status as the most popular horse in training after battling back from career-threatening breathing difficulties.

Once a tearaway, the champion appears to have been tamed by Brennan who took over the riding reins this season and who believes that the horse will handle Cheltenham’s formidable three and a quarter mile test in march.

“It’s the best feeling of my whole career. I can’t take it in. I’ve beaten one of the best horses in training and beaten one of the best jockeys I’ve ever ridden against,” he said.

“I’m not going to lie and say there was loads there, I got to the bottom of the tank but if any man is going to get him back in that sort of form for the Gold Cup it’s Colin Tizzard.

“The best day of my life, unbelievable.”