Flocking to see woolly jumpers

Cannon Hall Sheep Stakes.  David Mellony (left) and David Nicholson (right) fix a rider to one of the runners in the Cannon Hall Sheep Stakes.
Cannon Hall Sheep Stakes. David Mellony (left) and David Nicholson (right) fix a rider to one of the runners in the Cannon Hall Sheep Stakes.
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AND they’re off!

The sheep at Cannon Hall Farm, at Cawthorne near Barnsley, usually spend their days munching grass - but now they’ll be spending their summer racing down a track and clearing hurdles in the Cannon Hall Sheep Stakes.

The races are happening daily until September 4, and are modelled on the Grand National, with a special course constructed for the contenders featuring fences like Bechers Brook, The Chair and The Canal Turn.

But the horses at Aintree don’t need to worry about any competition - as farm director David Nicholson said the sheep need a little encouragement to reach the finishing line.

“We’ve got a man with a bag of food, rattling it so they go in the right direction,” he said.

“The sheep like it and it’s quite good fun - they can run as fast as a person, especially once they get to the finish line where they know a cereal treat is waiting, they want to get there first.”

The sheep are ‘ridden’ by teddy bears velcroed to their backs. The pretend jockeys will also be wearing different coloured jerseys, so visitors know which runner they’re supporting. All winners will enter a draw for free family tickets.

“There’s quite a few sheep races, but more down south,” David said.

“I just thought it would be a good thing to do and would give customers an extra activity on their day out.

“It’s the first time we’ve trained sheep for racing. We’ve found it quite challenging getting them to go in the right direction,” he added.

“Sheep can be a little bit stubborn sometimes. They’re getting the hang of it now, though.”

The sheep were in training for a week and a half, and four animals will be taking part in each race.

David said a mix of breeds have been chosen as contenders - South African zwartbles, French bleu du maine, Suffolk sheep and blue-faced Leicester males.

“They’re very good jumpers, they go over the hurdles lovely, a lot better than you would expect,” he added.

“The fences are around 20 inches high.

A member of staff will be giving a commentary as they go round, and we’ve also got our sheep dog following them to make sure they keep on the straight and don’t double back.”

David said the course will be put into storage when cooler weather arrives in Autumn, but will return again for races next year. The races are happening hourly from 12pm until 4pm every day. There’s no extra charge to enter but normal admission prices apply.

Visit www.cannonhallfarm.co.uk for more information.