Horses For Courses: Ebanour helps boost Wetherby

Jonjo Sanderson, chief executive of Wetherby Racecourse.
Jonjo Sanderson, chief executive of Wetherby Racecourse.
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Racing UK’s Graham Cunningham this week posed a pertinent question to that most commendable Wetherby clerk of the course, Jonjo Sanderson.

“Are we ever going to get back to the days when you saw rattling good horses here on a regular basis?” asked the pundit.

Let’s just hope at least Ebanour – winner of Tuesday’s Wetherby finale – may yet prove to help postively answer Cunningham’s question.

The debacle surrounding this week’s fixture at Wetherby was a sorry affair with many of the area’s leading National Hunt trainers boycotting the fixture due to a lack of prize-money.

The dosh on offer for Tuesday’s races apparently fell below The Horseman’s Group’s recommendation and consequently the likes of Tim Easterby and Malcolm Jefferson pulled their runners out,

Watery

Subsequently we were left with a hugely watery card – barren even by a Tuesday’s standards – but maybe, just maybe, Ebanour might have been a light at the end of the tunnel in the last.

Firstly though, fair play to Sanderson, for facing the television cameras prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

From personal experience, Sanderson is a very decent bloke and despite being faced with difficult questions from Tom O’Ryan and Cunningham he maintained his cool and basically told it as it is.

He admitted that while Tuesday’s prize-money may have been low – there was no magic pot to suddenly bump it up – especially with the Levy itself so low. And while it could be argued that the trainers’ boycott has worked – with more prize-money going into Wetherby’s remaining five fixtures this season – this is due largely to recent investment from Betfair which was seemingly forthcoming regardless of any protest.

Sanderson’s predicament and helplessness were plain to see and about the only possible remedy is an increase in sponsorship which as the clerk himself admitted is not a wildly attractive proposition on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-February.

The other option would be to spread Wetherby’s allocated prize money over the course of the season more thinly, but that would mean watering down feature races like the Charlie Hall Chase and nobody wants that. With the Levy so low, Tuesday’s prize money was always destined to be poor and while owners and trainers clearly want each race’s worth beefed up, you had to feel for Sanderson and the course in general amid this week’s boycott.

You can understand both sides of the story, but here’s hoping all concerned can now work together as nobody wants what we were eventually faced with on Tuesday – a seven-race card card, small on not just quantity but quality as well.

It was hoped on a personal score that Howard Johnson – one leading northern trainer who chose not to boycott the meeting – might supply the highlight of the card in Hobsons Bay – a £170,000 purchase who was sent off a 10-11 favourite for the Novices’ Hurdle at 3.50pm. But the creature failed to read the script and after a tame effort in second behind River Dragon, the Graham Wylie-owned animal is going to need to improve massively to justify his price tag. Another run of the mill affair then greeted us at 4.25pm but at least racegoers and for that matter Wetherby racecourse and Sanderson went home with something to smile about after the performance of Ebanour in the last.

At £120,000, like Hobsons Bay, this chap wasn’t cheap either and the word about the esteem and regard that trainer Donald McCain held him in was out well before Tuesday’s debut, hence is stingy price of 2-5.

However, even that looked value as far as two furlongs from home, as the odds-on jolly began to sprint clear of his rivals for an eight-length success that could have been doubled if jockey Jason Maguire had so wished.

True, Tuesday’s finale was hardly the Champion Bumper and it is debatable just what Ebanour beat, but there was no denying the visual impressiveness of the performance or the general feeling that this animal might just be out of the top few drawers.

Cunningham is essentially correct in saying that the quality of racing at Wetherby has decreased over recent years, but Sanderson made a good point in stressing that all was now in place facility-wise for a top-class venue with the course back in excellent condition, with hospitality suites and a grandstand second to few.

Sanderson hopes the star horses will eventually return to Wetherby once the prize-money debacle is sorted, but in the meantime here’s hoping that Ebanour proves to be one of them.

One Minute, ridden by Pat Cosgrave to victory in the Irish EBF/ROA Racing Post Owners Jackpot Novice Stakes at the John Smith's Cup meeting at York last month. PIC: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

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