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10 Feb 2020
For sporting fans across the region, Wincanton’s Betway Kingwell Hurdle takes centre stage next Saturday (Feb 15).
Widely regarded as a stepping stone ahead of the ultimate goal for the country’s star hurdlers, the Unibet Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival™ presented by Magners next month, it’s a race that attracts a wealth of talent, as well as a meeting that’s a high point on the winter social calendar.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who trains less than ten miles from the course at Ditcheat, has saddled four winners of the race, inclu
ding last year’s victor Grand Sancy.
He said: “It’s a very good meeting, with excellent prize money and we’ll have plenty of runners there. It’s a really good day out with a big crowd and lots of atmosphere and it was a sweet day when Rigmarole won in 2004 as he was owned by the then Wincanton chairman Mark Woodhouse.”
“It’s always great for Somerset racegoers to see horses of this calibre on their doorstep.”
Nicholls, who could run either Diego Du Charmil or Quel Destin in the race, knows just what it takes to train top class hurdlers, having handled one of the greatest hurdlers ever, Big Bucks. The gelding was unbeaten in 18 runs and won four consecutive World Hurdles.
Nicholls said: “Horses who run in the Kingwell have to have enough class and ability to wing around Wincanton at this time of year, when the ground tends to be soft. We always do plenty of schooling with ours at home to ensure they are very good jumpers, and that they are confident too.”
The Betway Kingwell Hurdle has a rich history. Since 1961, it has attracted the best two mile hurdlers in the business - much loved racehorses that have lit up their era with their lightning speed and athleticism.
The great Fred Winter had a stranglehold on the race from 1971 training successive winners for six years in succession, including Bula, who followed up his wins in 1971 and 1972 with Champion Hurdle success with Lanzarote following suit in 1974.
Kribensis in 1990, Alderbrook in 1995, Hors La Loi in 2002 and Katchit in 2008 all lifted both trophies in the same year.
Richard Dunwoody, the three-time champion jockey who rode 1699 British winners, has booted home more winners of the race than anyone. Floyd, Valfinet (twice), Dreams End and I’m Supposin all landed the spoils with Dunwoody on board.
The seven-time champion jockey John Francome won the race in 1976 on Lanzarote.