Winning brew on Knavesmire despite the cuts

AS horse racing comes to terms with its funding crisis, York Racecourse intends once again to buck the prevailing trend with an extension to the Flat’s longest-running sponsorship and the addition of another top race to the Knavesmire calendar.

The John Smith’s Cup, first run in 1960 and won last summer by the super Wigmore Hall for trainer Martin Bell and champion apprentice Martin Lane, will be sponsored by the Tadcaster brewery.

Prize money is being maintained at £150,000 for the July 9 spectacle, despite cuts in Levy funding, and John Smith’s will also sponsor, on the same day, the £30,000 City Walls Stakes for five furlong sprinters.

Acquired from Chester, it means York will stage a record 26 listed or pattern races in 2011, with the fixture list headed, once again, by the Juddmonte International.

The race, the centrepiece of the first day of the ‘Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival’, will be the richest race in York’s history with a prize fund of £700,000. It was won last year by Rip Van Winkle, whose late surge denied Henry Cecil’s Twice Over.

These announcements follow a record-breaking 2010 attendance at York and a desire by course officials to reinvest this increased revenue in prize money and continuing improvements to spectator facilities.

It is a winning formula, judging by the quality of racing at York and increased spectator numbers, that the rest of racing would be advised to follow. Last year, 20 horses competed at York before enjoying Grade One success around the world.

But, as the countdown to the 2011 season continues, it is the John Smith’s deal that is providing racecourse officials with the greatest grounds for optimism in these austere times.

York chief executive and clerk of the course William Derby said: “Already the longest-running sponsorship of a Flat race anywhere in the world, we are grateful for the ongoing support of John Smith’s as it allows us to keep developing what is always a very popular day.

“Racing fans can now look forward to seeing some of the best sprinters as well as the stars of the John Smith’s Cup itself.”

That view was echoed by the brewery’s trading director, John Gemmell. He said: “Racing and John Smith’s go hand in hand and approaching two million of our trade customers and loyal drinkers have enjoyed this day over the years. We are delighted to continue our long and treasured association with York and so help them invest in the quality of this fine sport.”

MALCOLM JEFFERSON will bring his smart stayer King Fontaine back to the boil in time for another engagement at Haydock after being frustrated by the weather.

The winner of his last four races, the Trevor Hemmings-owned eight-year-old is now being aimed at the Grand National Trial on February 19. Recent engagements at Haydock and Doncaster were frozen off, leaving the rapidly-improving gelding without a run since November.

“I’ve eased back off him,” said Malton-based Jefferson. “We’ve missed four races now and you can’t keep bringing them back up, getting them ready and then letting them off.”

NO stone will be left unturned in the preparation of Grands Crus for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The David Pipe-trained grey has been a revelation this season and is as low as 9-4 to thwart Big Buck’s in his bid for three successive wins in the staying championship. Big-race jockey Tom Scudamore can hardly wait for March 17 after Grand Crus won the Cleeve Hurdle.

“I’ve been thinking about it every day,” said Scudamore. “As always before Cheltenham I’ll have a sit down with David at Pond House and Martin Pipe as well and we’ll come up with plans A, B and C and watch all the videos of previous races.”

BRIAN ELLISON is praying for a little rain to aid Marsh Warbler’s prospects in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham next month.

The North Yorkshire trainer reports his Festival hopeful, a 10-1 chance, to be in top form following his Grade One victory at Chepstow last month. “He’s never stopped improving,” said the Malton handler.

“He’s going for the Triumph and we want a bit of cut in the ground for him. He worked on Saturday and is in great form.

“I don’t think he wants fast ground, ideally I’d just want a bit of juice in the ground for him.”

A CHELTENHAM preview night, featuring top trainer Richard Phillips and Yorkshire commentator Malcolm Tomlinson, will be held at the Beverley Arms Hotel on March 9.

Tickets can be obtained from the Beverley Arms or from Ken Brooke on 01964 551335.

CHAMPION jockey Paul Hanagan will be one of the guests at the Middleham Stables Open Day on April 22. He will be taking part in a star-studded question and answer session with leading trainers Mark Johnston and Ferdy Murphy, plus racing legend Jack Berry.