Sport of Kings seeks closer ties with everyman

Martin Hannan on moves being made by Borders horse trainer James Ewart

THE Scottish Borders has always been a bastion of horse racing, especially over the jumps, and trainers such as the late Ken Oliver and recently retired Len Lungo became known across the UK for their successes.

The Borderer most tipped to follow in their footsteps is James Ewart, who, with a dozen winners at the time of writing, is well on course to beat his own seasonal record of 16 winners.

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Based at Craig Farm, Westerkirk, near Langholm, Ewart, at 33, is one of the best young trainers of National Hunt horses in Britain, and though his career is really only at the start, he has already had experience of working with some of the very best stables in racing – Jonjo O’Neill, Nicky Henderson and Guillaume Macaire in France would be on anyone’s list of top mentors.

“I started off at the age of 15 by going to Jonjo’s stable at Ivy House and it went on from there,” says Ewart. “I spent five years with Guillaume Macaire in France and I was champion amateur jockey over there in 2000-01.”

Ewart always wanted to train racehorses, and among the legacies of that stay in France was Ewart’s decision to create a five-furlong sand gallop at Westerkirk, based on those he saw across the Channel. He has also installed a horse “walker” – a machine that allows horses to be trained and kept fit all year round – which is the biggest in Europe, according to manufacturers Monarch Equestrian.

Ewart is therefore certainly ambitious, but he himself would tell you that he and every Scottish trainer needs more people to get involved in racing north of the Border, especially in horse ownership.

His enthusiasm for the sport should be bottled and sold by the British Horseracing Authority. Ewart says: “Racing is about entertainment that allows people to get away from the mundane tasks of their everyday lives and join in a wonderful sport.

“Perhaps they might want to enjoy a nice day out and have a meal, and most courses have good restaurants now. Or perhaps you might want to do some business and hire a box and give hospitality to your clients.

“Yet owning a horse or having a share in a horse adds an involvement and excitement in the sport. You get caught up in the preparation for your horse running, and hopefully in the winning of a race. “It’s something you can enjoy with family and friends or work colleagues and is open to anyone.”

Ewart’s website, which can be found at, gives more information about the facilities at Westerkirk and his future plans. He is certainly a name to watch out for in the years to come.

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• RACING at this time of year is dominated by the approaching National Hunt Festival at Cheltenham in March, with some courses arranging special “prep” races for Cheltenham-bound runners.

At Catterick, Musselburgh (pictured) and other National Hunt courses over the next few weeks, you will be able to see horses that might well become stars at Cheltenham.

Musselburgh in East Lothian may not be the UK’s biggest course, but owners and trainers like it as a place to prepare horses for a tilt at the huge prizes at Cheltenham.

There’s high quality racing at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day and then on 13 and 25 January before the John Smith’s-sponsored Scottish Cheltenham trials on 5 February.

In Yorkshire, they are hoping for quality fields for their upcoming races. Catterick racecourse’s general manager Fiona Needham says: “We are racing tomorrow and on New Year’s Day, and hopefully there will be big crowds. And on 12 January we have the North Yorkshire Grand National.”

The latter, the longest race of Catterick’s jumping season, is a tasty prelude to the main event at Aintree in the spring.