Chelmsford leads the way with £100,000 heritage handicap Saturday's richest race
Chelmsford yesterday expressed its delight at staging the richest race in Britain or Ireland this weekend, when the Chelmsford City Cup will carry heritage handicap status for the first time.
Chelmsford’s £100,000 handicap over seven furlongs is comfortably the most lucrative race of the day, with the Betway Atalanta Stakes at Sandown next best with a prize fund of £70,000, although as part of an evening meeting at the Essex track it will not feature on ITV4’s Saturday broadcast.
Masham Star won the inaugural Chelmsford City Cup in 2017, with the prize-money boosted to £100,000 (from £80,000) for last year's race won by the Jeremy Noseda-trained Cenotaph, who could be back to defend his crown for new trainer Simon Crisford on Saturday.
Most valuable races this weekend in Britain
£100,000 Betfred Chelmsford City Cup
£70,000 Betway Atalanta Stakes
£65,000 William Hill Beverley Bullet Sprint Stakes
£52,000 William Hill Silver Cup Handicap
£50,000 Betway Solario Stakes
£46,000 Sportpesa Handicap
Cenotaph is among 40 entries – up from 37 at this stage last year – and Fraser Garrity, racecourse manager at Chelmsford, is delighted with the growing profile of the most valuable evening race of the year run in Britain.
He said: "We’re really pleased with the entries again. It was an early closer this year and it’s a heritage handicap for the first time, so that was something new.
“When people talk about developing a race, they sometimes say races need five years to bed in properly and our race has found quite a nice niche in a fairly short space of time. To have the heritage handicap tag and to get that level of support of both quantity and quality, is another feather in our cap.
"We’re still relatively new but we’ll always try to keep on improving. The standard of this race is testament to that."
The Essex track, which reopened in 2015, is set for more terrestrial television coverage next month on St Leger day, but is open to the idea of the Chelmsford City Cup being aired on terrestrial television, although that may be dependent on the return of regular evening coverage to ITV.
Asked if Chelmsford would like to see the £100,000 contest on ITV, Garrity said: "Absolutely. We've got a terrestrial TV race this year on ITV1 for the first time, it’s a six-furlong £60,000 handicap on St Leger day, so that’s something we’re very pleased about.
"For something like this [Chelmsford City Cup] it would be ideal, but it’s an evening fixture and I’m not too sure where that will place us in getting coverage on there. I know ITV had some evening racing last year but they haven’t had any this year. But we’re very pleased with the status it’s got and the position it holds already."
With prize-money levels under scrutiny, Garrity is keen for Chelmsford to maintain its strong reputation for investing considerably above the norm, with £178,000 on offer across the track's seven races on Saturday evening.
Garrity added: "We’ve already made our mark on that [prize-money] so once you make your mark on something, you certainly don’t want to get into a position where people's view on that is altered.
"We’ve worked hard to get that reputation. The post FOBT climate has made things quite tricky, but we will do our best to still stay ahead of our competitors on prize-money.
"We’re happy some of the races we’re putting on are not one-dimensional types of races. For instance, on Thursday we’ve got one of the BHA developmental races for staying fillies. It hasn’t filled particularly well but I think the principle is right to support those sorts of initiatives because it’s an industry initiative.
"We have to look at these races on an annual basis and we will do that working with the BHA. If there are any races, for whatever reason, where even with the best intentions they’re not quite getting as many runners as everyone would like, then I think it’s just good practice for everyone involved to review that."
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