Britain’s first maiden race restricted to horses aged four years old, which is set to take place at Chaddesley Corbett in November, has been given a thumbs up by two leading competitors.
Will Biddick, the sport’s most successful rider in Britain with more than 500 winners under all codes, called the race “a brilliant idea”, while former champion trainer Philip Rowley said: “If there is a time to introduce a race for four-year-olds this is it.”
Rowley has a vested interest in the race for he will be acting as clerk of the course for the fixture staging the race, the Wheatland Hunt meeting on November 8. It is a departure for the organisers, who usually race at the Worcestershire venue of Chaddesley Corbett in May.
A maiden race, the contest will be run over two and a half miles with the weight carried by geldings set at 11st 12lb with a 7lb allowance for fillies. Races for four- and five-year-old pointers enjoyed a comeback last season when sponsored by the bloodstock sales companies Goffs UK and Tattersalls, but Britain has not staged a race exclusively for four-year-old pointers since horses of that age were reintroduced to point-to-pointing in the 2006 season. Such races are commonly held at Irish point-to-point fixtures.
Restricting the race to four-year-olds enables the weights to go up, which will suit many amateur riders and those owners and trainers whose first-choice riders are unable to ride at lower weights. In races restricted to four- and five-year-olds held after January 1 the younger geldings carry 11st and fillies 10st 7lb, but in races open to six-year-olds and over those weights drop a further 7lb meaning a four-year-old filly carries 10st.
Biddick, who is among a large number of senior riders who rarely ride four-year-olds in races because of the weights, said: “It’s very hard to have five or six rides in an afternoon when you are trying to do 10st 7lb to ride a four-year-old gelding. You’re just not as effective when you diet so hard.
“There are horses I’m associated with who are being targeted at the race, and if it’s on I’ll be there.”
At a time when the mental wellbeing of riders has been a topic of conversation, Biddick said: “It’s not great seeing lads struggling with weight, and it’s easy to get depressed about it. You bust a gut to lose weight, then you don’t ride so well, the horses you ride get beaten and you get down about it. It’s a vicious circle.
“I know this from point-to-pointing and from my time in the weighing room [Biddick was a conditional jockey before reverting to amateur status]. I’m pleased to say I’ve never been depressed, but I’ve had bad days.”
Biddick does not see a problem in putting higher weights on four-year-olds, and said: “This is not something new – they carry that weight in Ireland, and it’s about time we gave it a go on this side of the water. If it gets good reviews from the riders, and the owners and trainers like it because they can use their chosen rider, rather than having to search for someone who can do a light weight, then this type of race has a future.
“As ever in these situations people help each other out. If a young horse gets tired under an inexperienced rider the senior riders will have a word back in the changing room.”
Rowley, who hopes to enter several horses for the race, said: “There has never been more four-year-olds in training, and many didn’t get a run in the spring because of the shutdown [caused by Covid-19]. The timing is ideal, because if anyone has a four-year-old they would like to sell there are two auctions at Cheltenham in the weeks ahead, and for those people who want to race and keep their horse the ground is very unlikely to be heavy at that time of year.
“Jim Squires, who does such a professional job of maintaining the course, is fully supportive of the idea of staging both the four-year-old race and a Flat race which will be run at the end of the card on fresh ground.”
With Covid-19 remaining an issue for the staging of every sport, Rowley added: “It’s quite a departure for our meeting to be held so early in the season – we usually race in May, but there is a lot of enthusiasm for the November date.
“We race in an open field and there is just one building that we can easily police, so we hope we can stage a normal meeting with a crowd, but if we have to race behind closed doors we are ready. We would be able to save on a number of overheads, including racecards and marquees, and the volunteers who would normally be used in those areas could be utilised in other ways, such as fence stewards.”