HORSE RACING - Stars of yesteryear gather to celebrate 50th anniversary of the Classic Chase at Warwick - The Leamington Observer

HORSE RACING - Stars of yesteryear gather to celebrate 50th anniversary of the Classic Chase at Warwick

Leamington Editorial 19th Jan, 2023   0

WARWICK Racecourse pulled out all of the stops to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their most prestigious race – the Wrigley Group Classic Handicap Chase – in front of a record crowd on Saturday afternoon (January 14).

The three-mile and five furlong contest has enjoyed a colourful history in that time and has grown a reputation as a race that’s more than capable of throwing up a serious challenger for the Grand National – as it showed when it was won by subsequent Aintree hero One For Arthur in 2017.

And as part of its anniversary celebrations three jockeys who have won the race in years gone by were guests of honour of the racecourse – Ian Watkinson (on Jolly’s Clump in 1976), Gerry Gracey (Colonel Christy in 1981) and Kevin Mooney (Bonum Omen in 1983) – and they were joined in the parade ring by none other than One For Arthur.

All three jockeys had fond memories of riding at Warwick, though no story was more remarkable than that of Ian Watkinson, who was victorious on Jolly’s Clump despite suffering a broken collarbone in the week leading up to the race.

Watkinson said: “What happened was I broke the collarbone on the Tuesday and when I got home I rang the boss (trainer Tom Jones) and told him.

“He said to ride the horse out in front of him on the Friday and he’d make a decision then, so I rode him out and if there’s one horse you can ride with one hand it’s Jolly’s Clump.

“On the Saturday morning my friend Neil Doughty – who was working in Newmarket at the time – drove me to Bury St Edmonds hospital where I knew a surgeon as I was a regular there!

“He pushed my collarbone back in and wired it up and filled me up with some painkillers and Neal drove me up to Warwick. Believe me that drive was something else!

“On the way to the start the horse stumbled and just pulled my collarbone apart a little bit. There wasn’t any real pain but I could certainly feel it. Anyways I won the race and we were off home again. Simple as that!”

He may now be retired, but One For Arthur still has plenty of exuberance and enthusiasm and he remains the apple of trainer Lucinda Russell’s eye.

The 14-year-old is enjoying a second career as part of the Retraining of Racehorses programme with Ailsa McClung in Canonbie, Dumfries and he was full of enthusiasm in front of the record crowd of 4,449 – who provided him with a warm welcome.

And when asked to relive her memories of his Classic Chase victory here in January 2017, Russell explained that his six length victory very much laid the foundations for his finest hour.

Russell said: “We’d gone to the Becher Chase at Aintree the previous month and we were excited by his run to finish fifth there, but we had to get him up in the handicap to get him into the National for sure.

“We brought him here and I remember half way round and behind the trees he was right out the back and it was just kind of embarrassing!

“All of our dreams were about to be shattered but in typical Arthur fashion he made up ground as he jumped down the hill and won going away when you look at it afterwards.

“On the Monday afterwards I called Phil Smith the handicapper and he said that he was expecting my call! He said he’d be high enough to get in and we went running off to the nearest bookies.

“We were at Ayr and it was absolutely throwing it down with rain and we rushed in and put some money on. I got him at 35-1 that day and actually still have the betting slip with me!

“It was the start of a really big dream and we owe Warwick a lot as he loved it and it was an ideal timing for the Grand National.”

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