Musselburgh stage their biggest ever meeting over jumps this weekend when top trainers and jockeys from all over Britain will fight it out for a share of £260,000 in prize money.
For the first time the Cheltenham Festival Trials fixture will be staged over two days – Saturday and Sunday – with 15 races in all and every one of them sponsored.
Eight races are scheduled for Saturday when Bet365 – the UK’s leading on-line bookmakers – will sponsor for the first time on the East Lothian track and they are backing all eight races with two races set to be covered live on terrestrial TV as part of the ITV racing programme.
The highlight will be the first running of the Edinburgh National – a £40,000 handicap chase over just in excess of 4m and a trial for the real thing at Aintree in April. The start will be directly in front of the stands with the field completing three full circuits of the seaside track.
The £50,000 Scottish County Hurdle and the £25,000 Scottish Triumph Juvenile Hurdle both carry Listed-race status and top trainer Nicky Henderson is expected to saddle Charli Parcs for the latter event.
The gelding won his only start in France before changing hands for 250,000 euros and was an impressive winner on his British debut at Kempton. A leading candidate for the festival in March, he was withdrawn from a race at Cheltenham on Saturday because of the easy ground and is being re-routed to Musselburgh.
Henderson has been a great supporter of this fixture and is again expected to field a strong team, but Musselburgh boss Bill Farnsworth feels there will be plenty of opportunities for the local trainers too.
“Being able to run over two days has given us the chance to expand things and add to the programme to give everyone a chance to make it to the winner’s enclosure” he said, “and not just have the prizes going south to the big stables.
“The team here have done extremely well to have got the whole meeting sponsored especially as the dispute over the Authorised Betting Partner scheme means we are unable to approach the major betting firms such as Ladbrokes and William Hill.
“The 7mm or so of rain we had at the weekend has left the track in perfect condition, but we have frost covers ready just in case it turns cold”.
Totepool are loyal supporters of Musselburgh and back four of the seven races on Sunday, including the Scottish Champion Chase and the Scottish Future Champions Novices’ Chase while the card also includes the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle Trial.
On-line bookmakers Skybet sponsor the Scottish Supreme Novices Hurdle Trial on what promises to be an excellent afternoon of jumps racing.
“It is a fixture for the true winter racing enthusiast” says Farnsworth. “We aren’t expecting a huge crowd like the 6500 we had here on New Year’s Day as there are other attractions like the international rugby at Murrayfield this weekend. “
It is 30 years since jump racing was instigated on the East Lothian circuit and Farnsworth is delighted with how the winter programme has progressed.
“That big attendance at our Hogmanay fixture was very satisfying and we have enjoyed really good weather at all our fixtures. We strive to put on the best possible racing here at Musselburgh and sometimes tend to stick our neck out a bit, but this winter certainly looks like making it worthwhile” he added.