Our 2018/19 season got off to a tasty start with the Cider & Sausage Race Day last October. Arty Campbell furnished Champion Jockey Richard Johnson with his 100th winner of the campaign, after which he was presented with his height in cider courtesy of Westons Cider. The champ soon made it 101 on Atlanta Ablaze and Oliver Sherwood also had a double whilst Marble Moon won for the fourth time in a row.
The start of the season also saw some notable enhancements on site including the refurbished Owners & Trainers entrance in partnership with the ROA and a new presentation podium designed and built by former Jump jockey Tony Evans’ Equestrianprojects.co.uk
The sun shone for Locals Race Day on 5 November. A new bar, The Major, named in honour of former racecourse chairman Major Philip Verdin and opened by his widow Juliet.
Richard Johnson rode another double and What’s Occurring, who won at the first meeting, scored again for the Sherwood stable. Deise Vu was a popular winner for Roy Brotherton, who trains the horse, rides him and all his work and led him up.
Eight days later it was Robbie Dunne who was in double-winning form, one of them a 25/1 shot for local trainer Richard Price. In the dramatic finale Jaboticaba was first past the post by a nose, but was demoted due to interfering with the runner-up, World Premier.
We acquired an extra fixture on the 19th from Leicester, who had to abandon due to hard ground. Backers of short-priced favourites did well, as did Alan King and Wayne Hutchinson, who completed doubles. Most impressive in the Beginners’ Chase was Style De Garde, previously runner-up in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham. He overshot the start and ran keenly but jumped brilliantly.
The 28th saw our fifth meeting in six weeks, Countryside Race Day, featuring a host of early Christmas shopping opportunities as well as displays of rural activities and animal shows. It brought success for Leominster trainer Steve Flook, whose Centreofexcellence made all the running to win the Visit Sri Lanka Novices Handicap Chase.
It was appropriate that Star Of Lanka won a race that afternoon, and he went on to win at our next meeting on 15 December. Though it was cold and wet, it was a day full of interest and incident. The £35,000 George Smith Horseboxes Mares Final feature race was the culmination of a new series initiated by Hereford Racecourse last year, was won by Evan Williams trainers Still Believing, who, since bought by the trainer for £5,000 in 2012 has won ten races and earned £100,000. The odds-on Style De Garde disgraced himself by ducking away from the starting tape, refusing to race and carrying out one of the other runners in the process.
Richard Johnson, awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List, was not present on 2 January but was recognised with the racecard front cover celebrating his honour. A fantastic holiday crowd watched four Welsh-trained winners with one of them, Dai Rees’s Gardiners Hill, achieving his third course success. Another, Liberty Bella, bolted up for the small stable of owner-breeder Brian Eckley just over the border in Powys.
The next meeting, scheduled for 23 January, was frozen off, and the following fixture two weeks later was a casualty of equine flu, whereby all racing was stopped for six days.
There were blue skies and another big crowd for Cotswold Hereford Ladies Day on the Saturday before Cheltenham. Herefordshire based Kerry Lee had a winner, and Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch had two winners. Aidan Coleman rode a double in the last two races, warming up for his victory in the Stayers Hurdle on Paisley Park, a Hereford winner the previous season.
By 26 March we were watering from the new reservoir for our final meeting of the season. Leading jockey agent Chris Broad presented the prizes for a race celebrating the recent retirement of top Noel Fehily, whom he represented for 19 years, and Kerry Lee saddled four runners and rode in the inaugural St Michael’s Hospice Charity Race at the end of the day which raised £47,000 for charity.