All roads lead to Wetherby for the traditional, popular two-day Sky Bet Christmas Meeting on Boxing Day Wednesday and Thursday (December 26 & 27), followed by a seven-race programme on Thursday, January 3.
With prize money of over £150,000 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 sixth year, the meeting is supported by Harrogate-based Sky Bet – one of the leading horseracing, gaming and sports betting companies in the U.K.
Racing on Boxing Day Wednesday begins at 1-00 p.m. and the principal race is The skybet.com Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase. This Grade 3 race for staying chasers over three miles and one furlong, with a total prize fund of £50,000, continues to be part of The ‘Order of Merit’, a series consisting of the leading races over Jumps in the UK promoted by The British Horseracing Authority. Synonymous with Wetherby’s Christmas Meeting for many years, this race commemorates a former clerk of the course, who officiated between 1919 and 1947.
Recent winners of the ‘Rowland Meyrick’ include Gunner Welburn in 2003, who had finished fourth in that year’s Grand National, and Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Truckers Tavern in 2004. The latter was trained at West Witton in Wensleydale by Ferdy Murphy, who was responsible for last year’s winner, Leading Man.
There’s a 12-50 p.m. start on Thursday, the feature race being The skybet.com Castleford Chase, a valuable £30,000 Handicap contest for chasers over the specialist, distance of the extended two miles, with the contenders attacking the fences at speed. Course specialist Mister McGoldrick, trained in West Yorkshire by Sue Smith, is set to bid for his third win in this race, having won eight of his nine starts at Wetherby.
Former Dunkeswick-based trainer, the late Tony Dickinson, is once again remembered with a race for Novice Chasers held in his memory on Bank Holiday Thursday.
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.
On both days, ‘Cyril The Squirrel’ and his racing terriers will entertain racegoers prior to racing in the Parade Ring, as well as on the track midway through the racing action and also in the Course Enclosure during the afternoon.
Musical entertainment during the Meeting is provided by ‘LA Jazz’ and The Endeavour Ceilidh Band, while ‘Musical Ruth’ – the singing nun – will be giving a rendition on Boxing Day. 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.
Accompanied children under 16 years of age are admitted free of charge into all enclosures.
The action on Thursday, January 3 starts at 12-25 p.m. and the feature races of the afternoon are The Wetherby Millenium Stand ‘Dine & View’ Handicap Chase (three miles, one furlong) and The Wetherby Racecourse & Conference Centre Handicap Hurdle over two miles. The giant totesport screen will be in use, along with the display screen adjacent to the parade ring.
The Wetherby Trainers’ Challenge, now in its fourth season, offers bonuses totalling £10,000 to trainers and stable staff depending upon winners and placed horses during the season. It is led by Ferdy Murphy with 156 points, followed by Howard Johnson (149) and Sue Smith with 131 points – both previous winners of this competition.