The track at Kelso is in perfect condition for the valuable fixture this Sunday, October 6 – as might be expected from the racecourse which has just won he Racecourse Association Jumps Track Groundstaff Awards 2019.
Jonathan Garratt, managing director of Kelso Races Ltd, said: “Everyone here is immensely proud that the efforts of our groundstaff have been recognised in this way. They are an excellent team, always open to trying something new and, above all, dedicated to presenting the track in the best possible condition for our participants.”
Head groundsman Brian Meikle said: “The team have worked hard in all weather conditions and we take a lot of pride in everything we do.
“It’s great that we were nominated for the award by trainers who have run their horses here and it is humbling that the judges have singled out Kelso Racecourse for the award ahead of so many other hard-working tracks.”
In addition to providing a consistently good surface for racing, the groundstaff at Kelso have been complimented on their eagerness to innovate. Four seasons ago, the track was an early adopted of the new style of padded hurdles, which have since been brought in at some larger racecourses, including Ascot.
Last winter, Kelso became the first racecourse in the country to deploy a lighting gantry to stimulate grass growth on the track during the darkest part of the year.
The Borders track worked with specialist equipment providers Bernhard & Co, as part of an innovation project which was supported by Scottish Enterprise. Similar lighting gantries have since been used at other racecourses to aid the recovery of damaged turf after race meetings.
A quality field will assemble for the feature race on Sunday, the £40,000 Belhaven Best Handicap Steeplechase, including the winners of each of the last five runnings of the two-mile event.
Last year’s winner Nuts Well, trained in Northumberland by Ann Hamilton, will take on Theflyingportrait, who won at Kelso’s latest fixture in September, as well as this race in 2016.
Simply Ned, who won the race in 2014 and 2015 and who has been placed in each year since, will be making his seasonal debut on Sunday, while 2017 winner Forest Bihan also looks likely to line up.
The first race on the card is the Scottish Racing Supporting Alzheimer Scotland Handicap Hurdle but it is possible that more than one charity could benefit from the race.
All prize money collected by Royal Reserve, trained by Lucinda Russell, will benefit the Doddie Weir Foundation for Motor Neurone Disease. The charity was set up by Doddie, who was capped 61 times by Scotland at rugby union before being diagnosed with MND in 2017.
Donald McCain won the William Hill Bookmakers Novices Hurdle Race last year and the Cheshire handler will fancy his chances of retaining the spoils with Onthefrontfoot, who is two from two over hurdles after wins at Ayr and Cartmel back in the spring.
The Kelso Groundstaff Champions Novices Hurdle has produced a number of decent horses in the past, the race was won most recently by Harriet Graham’s progressive hurdler Aye Right.
Lucinda Russell could hold the key this time as Scotland’s leading jumps trainer is four-handed with A Ladies Man, Looks Like Murt, Lucky Flight and Speak Of The Devil.
Dual Borders National-winning jockey Rachael McDonald, of Selkirk, has already been booked for the ride on Pena Dorada by Hawick trainer Alistair Whillans in the NSPCC School Service Handicap Chase. Rachael has won five races under Rules and between the flags on the 12-year-old and gets on with him really well.
The final race on the card is the Racing TV Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, in which James Moffatt is likely to give Charlotte Jones an opportunity to enhance her already excellent record over hurdles aboard Mondlicht, who has dropped to an attractive handicap mark for the Cartmel-based trainer.
The seven race programme, starting at 2.20pm, is preceded by the annual Town Principals Race at 1.30pm.
Nominees from the local town festivals will race down the track representing their towns, after which the riders and their supporters will celebrate throughout the afternoon in a marquee adjacent to the parade ring. Niamh Dobie from Annan was last year’s winning rider.
The gates open at noon.