• Mon 5 Dec, 2016
  • 16:58 GMT
  • 12:58 ET (GMT-4)
  • 18:58 CET (GMT+2)

Greatwood Charity Raceday Preview

Betrescue’s resident tipster Paul Ferguson previews the forthcoming Greatwood Charity race day on March 1 including interviews with jockeys Sasha Thorbek-Hooper and Hannah Bishop.

Broadcaster Rishi Persad maybe among those readying themselves to compete in the Cheltenham Festival charity race, but the fifth running of the St Patrick’s Derby isn’t the only race of its kind during March, with Newbury’s card on Saturday 1st set to conclude with a similar 1m4½f contest, in aid of the charity, Greatwood.

Having been fortunate enough to have spent a morning at Greatwood in October (when working for Racing Ahead) and been humbled by the work carried out at the Wiltshire based organisation, I have been keen to follow up my original feature and, as we head towards the spring, the inspirational work at the charity continues, but Newbury looms large on the horizon.

The caring of ex-racehorses and various educational programmes for local disadvantaged children and young adults with special educational requires funding and their main source of annual income comes from this race day.

I recently caught up with a couple of the jockeys who will be taking part in the charity race, one of which will be representing Greatwood itself, while the other is a recently crowned Grade 1 winning Racing Manager.  Here, find out more about the pride in helping such a worthwhile cause, what it takes to prepare for such an event, plus the excitement of riding at the home of the Hennessy Gold Cup and Betfair Hurdle – meet the jockeys:

SASHA THORBEK-HOOPER

Official fundraiser for Greatwood, Sasha graduated from Leeds University in 1998 with a BSc Hons in Animal Science, before beginning her working career at Newbury Racecourse, where she has already competed in three charity races, finishing runner-up on two occasions.

Since 1998, Sasha has successfully been managing racehorse owners and syndicates, starting with the Newbury Racehorse Owners Group and, more recently, The Perfect Day Partnership.

Sasha is also a freelance broadcaster and, in 2008, was appointed as BBC Radio Berkshire’s racing correspondent.  Just for good measure, the Mum of five combines her hectic work and home life with the enviable task of riding out for Nicky Henderson at Seven Barrows in Lambourn.

HANNAH BISHOP

Hannah started working at owner Liz Prowting’s yard in 2006, but has rapidly progressed through the ranks and took sole management of the Prowting racing company in November 2012.

Despite modestly describing her key attributes as ‘liaising with trainers and race planning, to ensure fun race days for the boss’ results in the past two seasons illustrate that things have improved drastically during her spell in charge – only twice since 1993-94 have the Prowting silks been carried to success more than 3 times in a season (4 in 2004-05 and 5 in 2008-09) yet they enjoyed 7 winners last term (from 27 runners – 26%) and, at the time of writing, this season stands at 8 winners and 11 places from 29 runners (28% win strike-rate).

This seasons total includes Feltham winner Annacotty, who was the first horse that Hannah was allowed to chose and purchase in her own right, while away from racing she looks after the stallion selection and breeding side of the operation, as well as the rehabilitating of injured racehorses.

Can you give Betrescue readers a brief overview of your riding background?

Sasha: I started riding when I was about four or 5, on naughty, hairy, muddy ponies before being given my mother’s ex-racehorse (Danish Pastry) to ride at the age of 13 after the mare had finished racing – from here my love of thoroughbreds began.

When I moved to Lambourn in 1998 I thought it would make perfect sense to start riding-out but I had no idea how different it would be from riding classically, which meant that I had to learn almost from scratch, which has been interesting to say the least! 16 years later I am as addicted to riding-out now as I have ever been and it is what keeps me sane in my crazy, busy life as a working mother of five.

Hannah: I have ridden as a hobby from a young age, enjoying pony club and competing, including Arab racing and hunting.

I worked with eventers after leaving school, training with Yogi Breisner and Lars Sederholm at Waterstock Equestrian Centre. This is where my love for racehorses began watching and then helping Yogi re-school jumpers and the odd jockey too – it is all Yogi’s fault that I am now hooked on racing!

Apart from a short break to have my children, I have always been fortunate enough to keep riding.

How did the opportunity arise to ride in the race?

Sasha: Working for Greatwood meant that I heard immediately that Newbury Racecourse had kindly agreed to allow us to stage a charity sweepstake race; it is a huge fundraiser for the charity and, as Head of Fundraising, what better way to try and hit my 2014 fundraising target than riding in the race myself.

Hannah: Liz Prowting, who I work for, suggested the idea after hearing me wish out loud too many times to have a go myself! The original dream was Cheltenham, but I am too busy with runners and Prowting guests throughout Festival week, so we looked further afield and found the Newbury race, which is in aid of such a worthy cause.  I must thank Sarah Oliver (Amateur jockeys Association Chief Executive) for letting me be part of such a great fundraising event.

What does it mean to you, to be able to contribute to such a worthwhile charity as Greatwood?

Sasha: I have ridden in three charity races previously, all for very worthwhile causes, but to be able to represent the charity that I work for, there is no greater honour. I feel utterly blessed to have found a job that I can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning just so I can get into the office to start work. My obsession with animals started almost from the cradle and included ‘Widdle’ my salt and vinegar crisp eating cat; ‘Henrietta’ the pet chicken that I insisted on coming in the car on shopping trips; pet snails; and love of all insects and spiders that usually resulted in trips to the Headmistresses office! Coupled with my desire to foster children in the future, working for Greatwood couldn’t be more perfect for me.

Hannah: There are so many racehorses that are not as fortunate as those I am employed to manage and it is vital that we try and help raise much needed funds and awareness for Greatwood to ensure they continue to re-home and rehabilitate horses after racing.  Greatwood also do so many amazing things for children that are disadvantaged or have special needs and I am proud to be part of their fundraising efforts.

On a personal note, I am hoping that I can inspire my children to think of others less fortunate than ourselves and to join in and help fund raise.

Life after racing is a side of the sport that I feel deserves huge levels of publicity and is an area I feel we have a responsibility to promote and support.  Greatwood survive on donations and fundraising, so the more I help to raise, the more horses can receive assistance when it is needed.

Obviously the main objective of this race and the day as a whole is to raise funds for Greatwood, but what are you personally most looking forward to about the day and riding at Newbury?

Sasha: Last time I rode in a charity race I only had three children, so I am so excited about all of my children seeing me race ride this time round and proving to them that I’m not completely decrepit just yet.

Hannah: Being given the opportunity to wear Liz’s famous royal blue and yellow silks is a massive honour for me, and to do so with my family watching will be a very proud moment.

I have been really fortunate to make some great friends from within the sport and to share the day with them is something I am also really looking forward to.

How have you been preparing for the big race from a physical perspective – has this meant any extra riding out responsibilities at any yards?

Sasha: It’s been 8 years since I last race rode so I thought it would be extremely sensible to start training early this time round, so in September I started making time to ride out 3-4 times a week at Seven Barrows. I’ve also been running a lot and Andrew Tinkler has given me some really good exercises to build up my leg strength.

Hannah: I do ride every day at home, but Richard Phillips has been fantastic in letting me ride out twice a week since Christmas. To ride out up short on a variety of horses has really improved my confidence.  They are a great team there (www.richardphillipsracing.com) and their support has been overwhelming.

Have you had to alter your diet or change much else in the build-up to the race?

Sasha: Thankfully I haven’t had to lose any weight and I am a really healthy eater (well, apart from my chip shop chip weakness) but I have been making myself have a decent amount of sleep to compensate for all the extra training as I always survived on 5-6hrs, but am now up to a more sensible 7hrs.

Hannah: I have started eating breakfast earlier every day in order to be properly prepared for riding out and keeping my strength and energy levels up The race weight is 12 stone, so I will have to carry plenty of lead.

So, what can we expect from the saddle from you both – an all-out ‘AP’ drive or will it be a quieter Timmy Murphy soft hands style ride?

Sasha: I’ve finished 2nd twice, both times on a maiden chaser against some pretty decent Flat types (including a past Group 3 winner) so, as this is my last time in racing breeches (famous last words), I would love to go one better and have, therefore, asked Mr Henderson if Sprinter is free!!!

Hannah: Sit still and enjoy the race is the plan!

Are you able to unveil to Betrescue readers the name of the horse you will be riding in the race?

Sasha: If I tell you I will have to kill you, so it’s under wraps!

Hannah: Prince Du Seuil has gone back into training for me to ride in this race; he is my favorite horse to have had at home in between race seasons and I am very lucky that he has come out of retirement to look after me!  He is thoroughly enjoying being back in racing work and he has the advantage of having form on heavy winter ground.

You have both been successful in your roles as Racing Manager to your respective syndicate(s) and owner – tell us about some of the horses you have dealt with down the years?

Sasha: I have been extremely lucky to have been involved with some amazing horses over the last 16 years, including Chapeltown, who held the 2m3f course record at Newbury for many years.  Nicky Henderson has trained the majority of my horses, so to be part of such an incredible yard is an honour in itself.

Papini would be the horse that I hold nearest to my heart, not because he was the first and only horse that has taken me to The Festival (2005 & 2007) but because he had the kindest and biggest heart. I used to ride him out and my children fawned over ‘Ini’ as they called him, so when he tragically broke his shoulder in a freak accident in his stable, I was devastated and it nearly put me off racing completely. Since then. I have tried not to get so emotionally attached to my horses, but it’s very difficult not to, especially if you ride them at home.

More recently Bai Zhu restored my love in the sport and gave me one of the most memorable day’s racing I have ever had when he ran in the Topham Chase at Aintree.

Hannah: I have very happy memories of race days watching Il Duce, Whistlejacquet and College Ace run for ‘Mrs P’ when I first began working for her.

As time has gone on, we have improved the quality of horse and, obviously, Annacotty winning the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on Boxing Day is by far my proudest moment.  What we have achieved with him within 12 months of his purchase is just incredible; I will never forget the adrenaline rush when we secured him at the Brightwells Sale in December 2012.

It was a dream come true, to have chosen the horse that gave ‘Mrs P’ her first Grade1 winner after 30 years in the sport.  Not only that, but to give Ian Popham his first Grade 1 winner and Martin (Keighley), too, is something I will never forget.

Equally, I find it just as exciting watching the homebred horses debut on a course – Letsby Avenue has given us so much fun so far and his siblings are proving even more spine tingling!

And, of your current string of horses, give us a youngster or two to follow?

Sasha: I only have two horses in my syndicate The Perfect Day Partnership (www.theperfectdaypartnership.co.uk) at the moment, but I am lucky to have two very exciting mares, both in training with Nicky Henderson. No Pushover (half-sister to Wishful Thinking) has already shown a lot of promise on the track and at home, and we are hopeful of big things from her as she moves from bumpers to hurdles this season. Carnival Flag is un-raced but, as a half-sister to Baby Run, you can’t fault her breeding; she is a very smart type with beautiful conformation and I like her a lot. I still have a few shares available in Carnival Flag for anybody that’s interested.

Hannah: Coyaba would be a name to watch out for.  Bred to make a chaser, he has always been very special and appears to have plenty of natural ability, winning his first two bumpers this season.

Obviously the dream is to breed the boss a Gold Cup runner and he certainly is keeping that dream alive!

If you were able to take one more ride throughout March, on any horse in any race, what would it be (i.e. what is your Festival ‘Banker’)?

Sasha: My Tent or Yours in the Champion Hurdle – I think even I could win on him!

Hannah: So as not to deprive Ian Popham of a Festival ride, I have to say Annie Power after her impressive success at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day; her unbeaten record is phenomenal and she seems to thrive on the type of ground we will be expecting come March.

Right, time for the obligatory ‘away from racing/work’ questions

(it’s not right to finish a Q&A session with anything else)….

-          Favourite Film:

Sasha: Shawshank Redemption and Top Gun

Hannah: Breakfast At Tiffany’s

-          Favourite Band / Artist:

Sasha: A toss-up between: The Cure / Stevie Wonder / Two Cellos / Nina Simone / The Stone Roses / Nigel Kennedy and My Bloody Valentine (as you can see I have quite an eclectic taste in music)

Hannah: Stereophonics

Both of you are very busy working Mums, but what do you enjoy doing to unwind away from horses/racing?

Sasha: I am a real ‘foodie’, so I spend my time cooking and reading recipes, which is quite a handy hobby when you are feeding a family of 7 every day.  Homemade bread is our latest weakness.

Hannah: I am kept busy with 2 very active football-playing sons, so, if I am not racing, I am usually found on the side of a football pitch!

A perfect day off would be to watch the boys play footy, followed by a decent pub roast and an afternoon relaxing in front of TV – be it racing or a favourite film!

And, finally, you’re allowed to invite your favourite Racing Journalist (that’s me by the way) and three others for dinner – who would be the other three and why?

Sasha:

Tim Minchin – so he could serenade the other diners whilst making us split our sides laughing.  I would have to insist on him wearing shoes though.

Anthony Hopkins – so he can pour the Chianti!

Jason Statham – obviously for his legendary acting talents and nothing else more shallow!

Hannah:

Michael McIntyre – he is so funny and never fails to make me laugh. His book fascinated me and I would love to meet him.

Gordon Ramsey – so he could cook!

Frankie Dettori – he is so full of character and he may well have a few tips on helping me ride a more stylish finish come March 1st.

If you would like to get involved in the Greatwood Charity Race Day at Newbury, there are various ways of doing so.  An online auction will kick-start things 10 days before the meeting, while there will be a Cheltenham Festival Preview held in their hospitality marquee after racing, with Richard Thomas (William Hill PR) and Champion Trainer, Nicky Henderson, already confirmed.

Alternatively, if you fancy spending the whole day in the Greatwood hospitality marquee, tickets can be bought for £125 per head and this includes:

-          Champagne reception

-          2 course lunch including wine

-          ‘Mark Your Card’ with a notable racing pundit

-          Afternoon Tea

-          And, this ensures your seat for the aforementioned Cheltenham Preview

For further details on the event, or if you would just like to find out more about Greatwood, please visit www.greatwoodcharity.org

Finally, both Sasha and Hannah can be sponsored via their respective Just Giving pages http://www.justgiving.com/Sasha-Thorbek-Hooper1 http://www.justgiving.com/Hannah-Bishop79

Paul Ferguson

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