There is just over a month until the 2005/06 all-weather season begins and Britain's three all-weather tracks - Lingfield Park, Wolverhampton and Southwell - continue to raise the profile of what was once deemed the poor relation of British racing.
The three courses, all owned by Arena Leisure, have had £14 million invested in them over the past three years alone.
The new all-weather season runs from November 7 through to March 18, 2006, with almost £5 million in prize money and will culminate at Lingfield on Saturday, March 18, with the day's card carrying £270,000 in prize money, headlined by the £100,000 Listed betdirect.co.uk Winter Derby.
The very prestigious and valuable Littlewoods Bet Direct all-weather championships are presented at the awards' dinner that night at Lingfield.
The four trainers's awards are worth a total of £32,000, with an extra £16,000 going to their stable staff, while the four leading jockeys share £24,000. A new apprentice jockey award has been created for this season, with £6,000 to the winner and £2,000 to the second. Readers of the Racing Post vote for the all-weather Horse Of The Year.
Britain's first all-weather Group race was staged at Lingfield Park in July when the mile Group Three Ladbrokes Silver Trophy took place.
The Geoff Wragg-trained Autumn Glory prevailed by a neck in a thrilling finish from Ed Dunlop's Court Masterpiece who has since won a Group Two contest at Goodwood and the Group One Prix de la Foret at Longchamp, France, on October 1.
The Ladbrokes Silver Trophy attracted five previous Group winners including Chic, subsequent winner of the Group Two Celebration Mile. Major stables represented included those of Sir Michael Stoute, Henry Cecil and Clive Brittain.
Arena's three all-weather tracks offer a programme that prepares horses for both global and domestic campaigns. The Gerard Butler-trained Jack Sullivan benefited from a race on Lingfield's Polytrack ahead of his trip early in the year to Dubai where he won two races, including the Group Three Maktoum Challenge (Round II) at the Dubai International Racing Carnival, as well as finishing fourth in the world's richest race, the Dubai World Cup.
Eccentric, one of the success stories of the last all-weather season, has shown the merits of racing on Polytrack through the winter months. Trained in north London by Andrew Reid, Eccentric was voted all-weather Horse of the Year by Racing Post readers after four Polytrack victories that culminated in the betdirect.co.uk Winter Derby and went on to win the Group Three Winter Hill Stakes at Windsor in August.
Arena Leisure is committed to staging a race programme that provides opportunities for all horses, offering the incentives of excellent prize money and being able to accommodate horses early in their careers, allowing them to progress.
The advent of Polytrack has changed the face of all-weather racing. Arena was the first operator in the world to install the much-praised surface in 2001, spending £3 million to do so at Lingfield Park, followed by Wolverhampton last year.
Polytrack is safer, more consistent and does not create the same level of kick-back associated with dirt and sand tracks. Following the tremendous success of the Polytrack surface at Arena Leisure's tracks, Kentucky's Turfway Park in the United States started racing on it on September 7 this year, something which was very well received by trainers, jockeys and the media.
Other tracks in the US are planning to follow Arena Leisure's lead and Keeneland, which installed Polytrack on a training track last year, is expected to race on the surface by September, 2006. The positive response to Polytrack in the US means that Arena Leisure's commitment to the surface could be of great significance in an increasingly global sport.
Equally, the different surface at Southwell, Fibresand, means that horses in Britain have an alternative all-weather surface to race on.
Ian Renton, Arena Leisure's Racing Director, commented: "All-weather racing at Lingfield, Wolverhampton and Southwell is going from strength to strength and we are committed to improving the quality further.
"The 2005/06 all-weather season will be the best ever and we are looking forward to it immensely."
2004/2005 Littlewoods Bet Direct All-Weather Championships
Champion National Trainer - Paul Blockley
Owner of the Year - Nigel Shields
Champion Regional Trainers:-
Lingfield Park - Andrew Reid
Southwell - David Barron
Wolverhampton - Mark Brisbourne
Champion Jockeys (National)
First - Neil Callan, Second - Eddie Ahern, Third - Chris Catlin , Fourth -Jimmy Quinn
Leading Amateur Jockey - Scott Dobson
Racing Post All-Weather Horse of the Year and Winner of the Winter Derby - Eccentric, owned by Gary Tanaka & trained by Andrew Reid.
Please note that all the trainers' awards this season will be decided on a national basis.
ALKAASED PRIMED FOR CHAMPION CHALLENGE
Luca Cumani today reported Alkaased, who was a late absentee from last Sunday's Arc after a small cut became infected, back to full health and all set to run in the £350,000 Emirates Airline Champion Stakes (Group 1) at Newmarket, the highlight of Champions' Day on Saturday, October 15.
“He's fully recovered, in great form and is highly likely to run in the Champion, though not if the ground came up soft,” said Cumani, who added that he was not at all concerned about the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (Group 1) winner dropping back from 12 to 10 furlongs, a distance which he has never actually raced over before.
The five-year-old showed significant improvement throughout last season when he won the Old Newton Cup at Haydock and a Listed race at Goodwood. He started this season with a victory in his first Group 2 race, the Jockey Club Stakes, at Newmarket in May. He was second to Yeats in the Vodafone Coronation Cup at Epsom prior to his Saint-Cloud victory and, following a break, warmed up for the Arc with second place in the Prix Foy at Longchamp last month.
Newmarket's Clerk of the Course, Michael Prosser, commented: “The Champion has the makings of a cracking contest, with Oratorio looking to win another big 10- furlong race following his victories in the Eclipse and Irish Champion, and the likes of Motivator and Rakti also still possible contenders. It's our biggest raceday of the year and overall the highest class raceday in the British calendar, with two Group 1s, two Group 2s and two Group 3s, plus the totesport Cesarewitch.”
GARY CARTER REACTS TO JOCKEY CLUB’S FIVE-YEAR BAN ANNOUNCED YESTERDAY
Gary Carter, now based in Spain, reacted in a statement to the Jockey Club’s five-year ban and £2,000 fine: “I am very disappointed to hear the outcome of this case and believe this penalty is very harsh, although I am not surprised given the financial and logistical problems that meant I was unable to put forward my case.
“Since the original charges were published in July 2004, I have in effect been serving a ban and then again, when those charges were dropped and modified in April this year, the renewed press coverage helped to finally kill off the last few years of my career. I have a right of appeal but those same barriers exist.
“In the first set of charges, I was accused by the Jockey Club of stopping eight horses. The original charge was withdrawn this year and the Jockey Club even went so far as to confirm to the disciplinary panel that it was not part of the case that I prevented any horse from winning. This was the opinion of their own stewards and then their own race-readers. I am obviously stunned that this appears to have been ignored.”