All roads lead to Wetherby for the traditional, popular two-day Sky Bet Christmas Meeting on Boxing Day Monday and Bank Holiday Tuesday, (December 26 & 27), followed by a seven-race programme on Thursday, January 5.
With substantial prize money of over £174,000 on offer, the Sky Bet Christmas Meeting is sure to attract several of the country’s top horses as preparations move up a few gears for the Cheltenham and Grand National Festivals in the spring.
For the fourth year, all bar a couple of races over the two-day fixture are sponsored by Harrogate-based Sky Bet – one of the leading horseracing, gaming and sports betting companies in the U.K. As usual, stable staff will be rewarded, as Sky Bet will provide £100 the person who looks after both the winning horse and the best turned-out horse in each of the ten races the company sponsor.
Racing on both days over Christmas begins at 12-50 p.m. and the big race on Boxing Day Monday is The skybet.com Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase. This race for staying chasers over three miles and one furlong with a total prize fund of £50,000, has been upgraded to Grade 3 status. Synonymous with Wetherby’s Christmas Meeting for many years, this race commemorates a former clerk of the course, who officiated between 1919 and 1947.
The feature race on Bank Holiday Tuesday, The skybet.com Castleford Chase, is acknowledged as a major trial for The Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March. This Grade 2 contest for chasers over the specialist, minimum distance of two miles, also contains prize money of £50,000. Won last year by Mister McGoldrick, trained in West Yorkshire by Sue Smith, this season’s renewal could include Oneway, who ran well in the recent Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park, while another possible contender is Fundamentalist, an outstanding novice chaser last term, who could be aimed for the Cheltenham Gold Cup if he makes a successful seasonal re-appearance at Wetherby.
Both of Wetherby’s big races are once again included in the British Horseracing Board’s prestigious ‘Order of Merit’ series of races which draws attention to the top races over Jumps during the British season and which offers a prize fund of £300,000, based on a points system which operates during the series, concluding on the final day of the Jumps season – Saturday, April 29.
Former Dunkeswick-based trainer, the late Tony Dickinson – whose son, Michael, is now a leading trainer in the United States – is once again remembered with a Novices’ Handicap Chase named in his memory on Bank Holiday Tuesday.
Regular sponsors to Wetherby, the Rocom Group of Thorp Arch – leading suppliers of telecoms and I.T. products in the U.K. – support a race on both days.
The giant totesport screen will be in use during both days of the meeting, while a display screen will provide details for racegoers watching the horses in the parade ring. There will be extra facilities to cater for the large crowds expected, including additional marquee areas.
Musical entertainment is provided by The Fanfare Brass Band and The Endeavour Ceilidh Band. The gates open to the public on both days at 10 a.m., and there’s complimentary mulled wine and mince pies for the ‘early birds’ on Boxing Day Monday.
Accompanied children under 16 years of age are admitted free of charge into all enclosures.
The action on Thursday, January 5 starts at 12-15 p.m. and the feature races of the afternoon are The Snipe Handicap Chase (three miles, one furlong), The Grouse Handicap Hurdle and The Woodcock Novices’ Handicap Chase (both contested over two miles) as the race titles have ornithological connotations.
The Wetherby Trainers’ Challenge, now in its second season, includes bonuses totalling £10,000 for trainers and stable staff depending upon winners and placed horses during the campaign is led by Howard Johnson with 170 points, followed by Ferdy Murphy (132), George Moore (131) and last season’s inaugural winner, Sue Smith with 91 points.