Racing is back at Warwick on Wednesday when the course stages its third meeting of the 2014/15 season, with a seven-race card that includes a heat of the new Challenger Series, writes David Hucker.
The Challenger Series of jumps races, a joint initiative of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and Jockey Club Racecourses, involves 80 races in all, spread across five categories, culminating in a finals day at Haydock Park on Easter Saturday worth around £265,000 and broadcast live on Channel 4.
BHA chief executive Nick Rust hopes the series will help address problems that are sometimes overlooked because, while at the elite end jump racing is in fine health, elsewhere prize money and field sizes are a far cry from the big festivals such as Cheltenham and Aintree
“A look beneath the bonnet reveals that we face significant challenges, and one of those is attracting and keeping owners in the middle tier of the sport, which is a key focus of the ownership and breeding pillar of the industry’s strategy for growth,” said Rust.
“These series, with their valuable finals, offer a genuine incentive and viable end-of-season target for owners and trainers of those horses who are very talented, but just below Cheltenham and Aintree level.”
To qualify for a final, a horse need only finish in the first eight in any qualifier. A £50,000 bonus fund will be shared between any horses that add a final victory to an earlier qualifier success in the same distance category.
There are 15 qualifiers in each series, with the first of the two-mile hurdles at Kempton on Monday.
Warwick will stage a three-mile chase heat on Wednesday with the running of the £10 Free At 32Red.com Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Chase, the second race on the card.
It will also host a three-mile hurdle at its popular New Year’s Eve fixture and more races are expected to be run at the course when the 2016 programme is finalised.
Racing gets underway on Wednesday at 1pm with the 32Red Handicap Hurdle over two miles and concludes with the George Mernagh Memorial Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.