It’s been another year of great Welsh performances on the racecourse despite the challenges faced off the track by the coronavirus pandemic. This success has been recognised by the third annual ROA sponsored Welsh Horse Racing Awards arranged by Chepstow, Ffos Las and Bangor Racecourses.
The awards are being posted to the winners because this year’s presentation evening could not take place because of the current situation.
A panel of experts including owners, a trainer, a breeder and racecourse management reviewed the last twelve months and, in addition to judging the winners of each individual honour, they decided to make a number of special recognition awards.
The panel also felt that this year’s achievements justified the awards for the Jockey, Trainer and Owner of the Year being split between Flat and National Hunt. Adam Wedge was the winning most jump jockey in the last year and scored his first two Grade 1 prizes, principally one at the Cheltenham Festival on Lisnagar Oscar. He was the undisputed winner of the National Hunt award sponsored by Cotts Equine. David Probert was Flat Jockey of the Year, riding 81 winners in the truncated season, including his 1,000th British winner in June.
In view of the wide range of big-race triumphs for Welsh jockeys, four special recognition awards were made; Ben Jones, for last November’s Ladbroke Trophy victory aboard De Rasher Counter; Richard Patrick for his winning ride on Happy Diva in last season’s BetVictor Gold Cup; Jack Tudor, for Potters Corner’s epic win in the Coral Welsh Grand National; and Lorcan Williams for his success in the Midlands Grand National on Truckers Lodge.
Evan Williams and David Evans were the clear winners of the National Hunt and Flat Trainer of the Year awards sponsored by Gain Equine Nutrition, both in terms of numbers of wins on the track and prize money. Special recognition awards were made to Christian Williams for Potters Corner’s Coral Welsh Grand National victory, Rebecca Curtis for Lisnagar Oscar’s Stayers’ Hurdle win at the Cheltenham Festival, and Sheila Lewis for her amazing five consecutive winners this autumn, including a treble at Hereford, from a yard with just six horses currently in training.
The exploits of the modestly-bred Pyledriver have been highlights of the 2020 flat season winning the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Great Voltigeur at York before finishing a close third in the St Leger. Two of his three owners (La Pyle Partnership), Guy and Huw Leach, hail from Cardiff and they are deserving winners of the Flat Owner of the Year award sponsored by the ROA.
Equally outstanding for the National Hunt Owners’ award are All Stars Sports Racing and Jonathan Davies, the group of Welshmen who own the Coral Welsh Grand National winner Potters Corner – the first winner of the race owned and trained in Wales since 1965 – and Limited Reserve, who took a valuable Grade 3 handicap at Sandown.
For the reasons described above, the Horse of the Year awards go to Pyledriver as the leading flat horse; Lisnagar Oscar as the top hurdler; and Potters Corner as the champion steeplechaser. The flat and hurdler awards are sponsored by Peter Villars Sports Ground Maintenance, ICL and Floyds Turfcare – with the chaser award sponsored by NAF.
The Lifetime Achievement award, sponsored by Dragon Studios, was unanimously given to Brian Lee, the popular journalist and author who has written passionately about Welsh racing for over fifty years and is still writing for the local newspapers at the age of 84. His books The Welsh Grand National and Racing Rogues: The Scams, Scandals and Gambles of Horse Racing in Wales are musts for anyone interested in the sport.
The Breeder of the Year award goes to Usk Valley Stud, Sue Mercer and her husband Kevin owned the stud until his death in 2017. That was the year Pyledriver was foaled there, as was Baron Samedi, trained in Ireland by Joseph O’Brien. This colt won five races in a row this year, starting with a handicap mark of 65 and culminating in a Group 2 success at Longchamp. This award was sponsored by the Thoroughbred Breeders Association.
Charlie Price is the winner of the Rising Star award sponsored by Great British Racing. The young conditional jockey is attached to Tim Vaughan’s yard. He didn’t sit on a horse until he was 15, but quickly made up for lost time by becoming the Arab racing novice champion rider before turning to riding over jumps. 13 winners have come in the last year, during which he won the BHA’s Racing Excellence Conditional Training Series award. The panel also recognised the progress made by another young rider, Isabel Williams, notably her recent four-timer aboard Memphis Bell.
The Stable Staff Recognition Award, sponsored by the Arena Racing Company, went to 18-year-old Katie Powell who works for trainer Sheila Lewis. The yard has had nine wins so far this season from six horses in training and Katie schools them all as well as breaking in the younger horses.
She also has an amateur’s licence and won on her first ever ride in a hurdle race at Exeter in October aboard Knight Commander. A few days later she rode Stupid Cupid to victory over fences at Ludlow.
Charlie Liverton, Chief Executive of the sponsors the ROA said: “Never has there been a better year to highlight the talent, success and contribution of those that bring horseracing in Wales to life. Throughout 2020 it has been the sheer determination of the sport’s participants and their pure love of racing that has kept our sport going. The ROA are honoured to be sponsoring the awards again this year and look forward to seeing the many brilliant achievements and professionals being recognised for their contribution to Welsh Horse Racing. Good luck to everyone nominated and we will be raising a virtual glass to everyone who has worked so hard this year to drive Welsh Horse Racing forward.”