Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle

Tolworth Novices' Hurdle  The Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 hurdle race run over 1 mile, 7 furlongs and 216 yards at Sandown Park in January. The race is restricted to horses, aged four years and upwards, who start the season without a win over hurdles. The Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle takes its name from Tolworth, Kingston upon Thames, which straddles the Kingston bypass, southeast of Surbiton and less than 19 minutes’ drive from Sandown Park.

The Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle was established in 1976, but was not promoted to Grade 1 status until 1991. Since then, Nicky Henderson has saddled seven winners – namely New York Rainbow (1992), Minella Class (2011), Captain Conan (2012), Royal Boy (2014), L’Ami Serge (2015) and Constitution Hill (2022) – and is the leading trainer in the history of the race.

The hitherto unbeaten Constitution Hill, who won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival by 22 lengths, smashing the course record despite being eased down, could easily prove the best horse ever to win the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle. Prior to 2022, that distinction belonged to Desert Orchid who, as a five-year-old, in 1984, justified by odds-on favouritism with a convincing 8-length from Ihaventalight. ‘Dessie’ was subsequently sent off 7/1 second favourite for the Champion Hurdle famously won by Dawn Run but, having matched strides with the illustrious racemare for much of the way, started to struggle approaching the third-last flight and faded out of contention.

The 2023 renewal of the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle, scheduled for Saturday, January 7, is unlikely to feature anything as formidable as Constitution Hill, but the race has proved ‘punter-friendly’ in recent years. Look out for strongly-fancied horses, aged five or six, who have won at least once over hurdles, preferably last time out, and have raced within the last four weeks.

Greville Starkey

Greville Starkey  The late Greville Starkey, who died of cancer, aged 70, on April 14, 2010, rode 1,989 winners, including five British Classic winners, on British soil, in a riding career lasting nearly 35 years. Born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, to a working-class family, Starkey became apprenticed to Newmarket trainer Harry Thompson ‘Tom’ Jones straight from school and rode his first winner, Russian Gold, at Pontefract on June 9, 1956. The following season he became champion apprentice with 45 winners.

Starkey won his first British Classic, the Oaks, on Homeward Bound, trained by John Oxley, in 1964 and, in 1978, completed a notable ‘double-double’ by winning the Oaks and Irish Oaks on Fair Salinia, trained by Michael Stoute, and the Derby and Irish Derby on Shirley Heights, trained by John Dunlop. He also won the 2,000 Guineas twice, on To-Agori-Mou in 1981 and Dancing Brave in 1986, both trained by Guy Harwood, to whom he had become stable jockey in 1975. Indeed, it was in 1975 that recorded his biggest victory abroad, partnering 119/1 apparent no-hoper Star Appeal to victory over a huge field, which included the likes of Dahlia and Allez France, in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.

In an era dominated by Lester Piggott, Willie Carson and Pat Eddery, Starkey was never champion jockey, although he did ride over a hundred winners in a season four times in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Sadly, though, he will always be remembered for the one race he probably should have won, the 1986 Derby, aboard Dancing Brave. In a race run at a muddling pace, Starkey adopted exaggerated waiting tactics and, although Dancing Brave made up ground hand over fist in the final quarter of a mile, the hot favourite failed to overhaul Shahrastani in the closing stages and was beaten half a length. Starkey was pilloried by the press for having ridden an ill-judged race, thereby setting Dancing Brave an impossible task, and the defeat was to haunt him for the rest of his riding career, and beyond.

Jamie Snowden

Jamie Snowden  Nowadays, Jamie Snowden is an established trainer with over 200 winners to his name and, at the time of writing, is already enjoying his most successful season ever, numerically, with 43 winners from 171 runners, at a strike rate of 25%. A graduate from the point-to-point sphere, Snowden was, in his earlier days, a highly accomplished amateur rider. In fact, as ‘Mr. J. Snowden’ and ‘Capt. J. Snowden’, during a brief career in the King’s Royal Hussars, he won the Grand Military Gold Cup and Royal Artillery Gold Cup, both at Sandown, four times apiece between 2002 and 2008.

Nevertheless, having served his apprenticeship as pupil assistant to Paul Nicholls and assistant trainer to Nicky Henderson, Snowden took out a public training licence in his own right at a rented yard in Ebbesbourne Wake, in rural Wiltshire, in 2008. In his first three seasons, he saddled just 15 winners in total, but his move to Folly House in Lambourn in 2011 paid immediate dividends. His very first runner from his new yard, Knighton Combe, was a convincing winner of the Listed English Summer National at Uttoxeter on June 26, 2011.

Snowden still has just a solitary Cheltenham Festival winner, Present View in the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase in 2014, to his name, but Listed wins for Pacify and The bannerkingrebel in the latter part of 2019, not to mention a wide-margin victory for Hogan’s Height in the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase at Aintree, provide plenty of cause for optimism. Novice hurdler Kiltealy Briggs has already won two of his four starts over obstacles and finished a creditable third in the Grade Two Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, so could be another to keep an eye on. Either way, Jamie Snowden looks likely to continue his progress through the training ranks for a good while yet.