Ryedale trainer Tim Walford is revolving his Christmas around a trip to Chepstow in a bid to gain the biggest success of his 30-year career.

Gypsy George is the focus of Walford’s hopes as the Sheriff Hutton handler prepares “the best National Hunt horse I’ve ever had by miles” for a crack at the Welsh Grand National on December 27.

Walford has been dreaming of having a tilt at this famous long-distance steeplechase since last summer after Gypsy George, a former successful point-to-pointer, had made a sizeable impact under National Hunt rules, rattling up three wins. Nothing has happened since to alter that dream and it’s all systems go now for a big-race assault.

“He stays, he jumps, he settles well and he goes on soft ground. He’s got it all,” says Walford.

Triumph in Wales would be a real family affair. Tim, whose wife Gill plays a big part behind the scenes at Cornborough Manor, is assisted by one of their sons, Mark, who was previously attached to the John Quinn stable. In the saddle aboard Gypsy George will be their other son, Robert, who has ridden the gelding to all his four professional wins.

Robert, however, was last week very nearly denied the chance of continuing his association at Chepstow with Gypsy George. Two riding bans, both for misuse of the whip, at Doncaster last Friday, amounted to six days’ holiday for young Walford. Fortunately for him, the suspension begins the day after the Welsh National is due to be staged.

Doncaster did at least prove the Walford horses to be in good form. Motarid failed by a head to beat West With The Wind in the juvenile novices’ hurdle, while stable-mate Sheriff Hutton made no mistake in the staying handicap hurdle, winning at 9-2.

Tim Walford said: “Motarid, who would have won if he hadn’t hit the second-last, was my third runner-up in a row, while for Robert it was his sixth second in his last six rides. Sheriff Hutton wasn’t winning out of turn!”

While Walford is hoping that Motarid can develop into a Triumph Hurdle candidate at Cheltenham in March, he has more longer-term hopes for Sheriff Hutton. “You’re not going to see the best of him until he goes chasing, which will be next season. He’s still a baby, still learning his job, but he’s going to be a proper horse when he jumps fences.”

Walford already has one “proper horse.” Gypsy George, winner of his only start this season, is primed for his big-race assault. It’s exciting stuff, which could well have a fairytale ending.

For the Walfords, Christmas can not come soon enough…

Barry McHugh is finishing 2008 with a flourish.

The Ryedale apprentice swept into double-figures for the season when scoring on the John Quinn-trained Fantasy Fighter at Great Leighs last week and, the following day, he followed up with another stylish success at Southwell aboard Gayanula, trained by Julie Camacho.

McHugh’s 11 successes, which include a major handicap triumph during the summer on Knot In Wood, trained by his boss, Richard Fahey, represent a successful year, following on from his single win from limited opportunities in 2007 when he was riding as an amateur.

Alan Brown may only have a 10-strong squad of all-weather horses for the winter campaign, but two of them scored last week on the same card at Southwell. Brown’s double was achieved by Karmest, who was gaining her fifth track success, and Simple Jim, a French recruit, who was not scoring out of turn. Both horses were partnered by Graham Gibbons, who lives at Rillington.

Wilson Renwick’s loss proved to be Dougie Costello’s gain at Doncaster last Saturday when the Malton jockey stepped in for a winning spare ride in a valuable race on a horse with bold ambitions.

Merigo, trained by Andrew Parker, had been the intended mount of Renwick in the Betdaq Handicap Chase, but he was forced to stand down after aggravating an old knee injury when winning the opening race on Benfleet Boy. In stepped Costello, who duly drove home the 7-1 shot to a four-lengths victory to grab a race which carried a first prize of more than £26,000. The Scottish Grand National, at Ayr in April, is Merigo’s long-term target.

Costello again adopted a super-sub role at Ayr on Monday. Deputising for the injured Phil Kinsella, he scored on Moscow Catch, who looks yet another smart prospect within the Norton yard of trainer Malcolm Jefferson.

Judging M & M’s might sound like the sort of job any of us with a sweet tooth might jump at, but it’s not all it seems.

Far from being a candy-coated peanut, the abbreviation stands for Mountain & Moorland and refers to the wide-range of native British breeds of ponies, which will come under the discerning and expert eye of Susan Hide, come the show championship at Olympia on December 22.

“I am over the moon. It’s a great thrill and a wonderful honour to be asked to judge at Olympia,” said Susan, wife of former perennial Cock O’the North and Derby-winning jockey Edward Hide.

“There will be 33 qualifiers in the championship and they will include everything from Shetlands, the only breed to be measured in inches and not hands, Exmoors, Dartmoors, Welsh Cobs and several others, all of whom will be in the ring together,” she said.

A judge for more than 20 years, Susan, who lives at Huttons Ambo near Malton, has also shown her own home-bred ponies for even longer. Her latest assignment is unlikely to faze a lady who has judged at many of the major shows throughout Britain and who, in 2000, travelled to Australia to act as a judge at the Royal Melbourne Horse Show.

If you’re looking for a Christmas stocking-filler, then how about a novel set in North Yorkshire within a backdrop of the racing industry, and which weaves a love story amid power, glamour and plenty of twists and turns.

‘Racy!’ is a debut novel for Emma Martin and was five years in the writing. It’s not that Emma, who lives near Thirsk and who first went racing when she was a teenager, lacked inspiration. But, having started the book with a six-month-old son to look after, following a high-flying career in sales, she then discovered she was pregnant with twins, who are now four years old. Consequently, much of her writing was done at night, while others were sleeping.

The end result, however, looks impressive and, having published the book herself, she has been bowled over that 1,000 copies were sold even before it reached the shops.

One person who is convinced ‘Racy!’ is a winner is actress and racehorse owner Claire King, who joined the author for a book signing in Browns Department Store in York last week. “It’s raunchy, sexy, full of strong characters and lively action. I couldn’t put it down,” she said.

Available from online bookstore, Amazon or from www.emmamartin.com, ‘Racy!’ is priced at £17.99.