Warwick top of the Premier League for attendance growth

Dolatulo is among the entries for the 188Bet Willoughby De Broke Open Hunters Chase.
Dolatulo is among the entries for the 188Bet Willoughby De Broke Open Hunters Chase.

Betfred Classic Chase Day, Warwick’s richest fixture of the year, saw another big crowd flock to the course and general manager Andre Klein will be hoping to keep the momentum going at Thursday’s meeting which gets underway at 1.20pm, writes David Hucker.

Racing was very much on the up last year as, despite the number of meetings lost nationally increasing from 37 to 56, just under six million people went through the turnstiles, the third highest figure in the last ten years, putting the sport back into second place behind football.

At Warwick, despite some downpours impacting on crowd numbers, the weather was generally kind with all 17 meetings run during the year.

Much to the delight of Klein and his team, the course produced the biggest like-for-like percentage increase in attendances in the country with a 28 per cent growth from 32,379 to 41,604, helped by a record New Year’s Eve crowd of more than 6,500.

Top of the bill on Thursday is the Class 3 Premier League Betting At 188bet Handicap Hurdle over three-and-a-quarter miles which has attracted 22 entries.

The lightly-raced For Instance won a National Hunt Flat Race over the course back in April 2015 before finishing a close runner-up behind Ballinure under a penalty the following month. After finishing second in his two novice hurdles, this would be a first foray into handicap company.

First up is the Cameron Smart Rainbow Race Juvenile Hurdle over two miles and trainer Alan King has two entries in the shape of Sandown Park winner Dino Velvet, who has the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival as a possible target, and the experienced Timoteo, who had three races over jumps in France before coming to England, but did not get into a winning position in either of his two outings here.

Dual winner Happy Diva must be held in high regard by connections, having been given an entry in the Grade 1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at The Cheltenham Festival and, if she is to have any realistic chance in such lofty company, would have to win the following 188bet.co.uk EBF Mares’ “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle, even though she has to concede weight to most of her rivals.

Her official rating of 137 would have been good enough to see her challenge for a place at last year’s Festival, but it is well below the 154 of winner Vroum Vroum Mag and, if there is a chink in her armour, then Al Reesha, who won a National Hunt Flat Race by a staggering 23 lengths before scoring on her only outing over hurdles, could win it for the Dan Skelton stable.

Among the entries for the 188Bet Willoughby De Broke Open Hunters’ Chase is Dolatulo, runner-up in controversial circumstances at Carlisle last time out. Jockey Dougie Gittins, who works as PR and marketing manager for the horse’s trainer Ben Pauling, was banned for ten days after mistaking the winning line and easing his mount down too soon.

This race gives Gittins a chance to qualify Dolatulo for the St James’s Foxhunters Chase at the Cheltenham Festival before his ban kicks in, although the pair could face stiff competition from Benvolio, who was trained by Paul Nicholls when winning at Newbury last April off a rating of 136.

Looking further ahead, the course has announced that online bookmakers Betway will sponsor its Kingmaker Chase to be run on Saturday February 11, a race which has proved a stepping stone to Cheltenham Festival success with Finians Rainbow, Flagship Uberalles and Voy Por Ustedes all going on to become champion two-mile chasers and Long Run winning the Gold Cup.