They’re all set for Fontwell’s top race - preview and tips

National Spirit in his racing heyday - now the Fontwell race named after him is 50 years old
National Spirit in his racing heyday - now the Fontwell race named after him is 50 years old

THE BIG day is here - Fontwell Park celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Spirit Hurdle on Sunday.

A bumper crowd is expected at the unique Sussex course for the 50th anniversary of the Totepool-sponsored contest, which is Fontwell’s most valuable and prestigious race.

An inspection on Sunday morning ensured the course was okay for action in the wake of more rain over the past few days.

Those with their own 50-year celebrations are invited to join the excitement free of charge.

Established in 1965, the National Spirit Hurdle was named after the Champion Hurdle winner National Spirit. Originally regarded as a trial for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, half a century on it is still used as a stepping stone to the greatest show on turf.

With a total prize fund of £50,000, the two-and-a-half mile event always attracts some of today’s top hurdlers.

The race has an entry of five, including last year’s winner Kayf Moss, trained by John Flint and ridden by Rhys Flint.

Ones to watch will be Paul Nicholls’ Silsol, who is set to go off favourite, who has won on four of his past five outings, and Charlie Longsdon’s Kilcooley.

Simon Williams, Fontwell Park executive director, said: “We’re really excited for Sunday’s race – it attracts some outstanding horses and we’re proud to host them so close to the Cheltenham Festival.

“In celebration of the anniversary of the race we thought we’d do something a little different, so if you have a 50th birthday during February or are celebrating 50 years of marriage, you will be granted free admission to the event.

“All racegoers need to do is show their identification or marriage certificate to prove their 50th celebration. But hurry – we can only let the first 50 in for free.”

Free entry is on a first-come first-served basis on the gate only. The maximum number of free tickets on the day is 50. For further information about general ticket sales visit www.fontwellpark.co.uk.

Sports editor Steve Bone’s tips: 2.10 Wilton Milan, 2.40 Regal Flow, 3.10 Kilcooley, 3.40 Rock The Kasbah, 4.10 Minella Theatre, 4.40 Carry On Sydney, 5.10 Midnight Silver.

* The Racehorse Sanctuary will be raising funds at Sunday’s raceday.

Novellist Jilly Cooper and her husband are due to attend a fundraising event, and other well-known sporting names may also be there.

A champagne reception, lunch and afternoon tea will be hosted by Desert Orchid jockey Colin Brown.

To find out more about the Racehorse Sanctuary, see www.racehorsesanctuary.org