THE GOOD Friday Middleham Stables Open Day was blessed with glorious sunshine which drew in crowds looking for an Easter day out.

More than 500 horses in 16 stables were on show for visitors to see, and crowds had already started together in the market place at 9am ahead of the grand opening at 9.30am.

Trooper Middleham, the Household Cavalry horse named after the famous town, had been due to open the event but was unable to attend because of injury. But another horse, Trooper Copenhagen, stood in.

Trainer Mark Johnston was also unable to make the event because of technical problems with his plane at Lingfield race course where 13 of his horses were running in the All-Weather Championships.

However, members of his team were on hand to talk to visitors at his large Kingsley House yard, which boasts an equine swimming pool – a popular feature on the open day.

Event organiser Lesley Sweeting said: “We have had around 4,000 people here today which is up on last year when we had terrible weather.

“The weather has been really kind to us and we have had a lot of first time visitors as well as people who return year after year.”

There had been concerns for the event’s future following the announcement by owners of Lingfield and Musselburgh race courses that it would mean the end of the popular open day.

Middleham trainer Chris Fairhurst said: “The open day is more important for the town than it is for trainers but it is always a great day.

“It was a real concern when Good Friday racing was introduced. It’s a worry for us because we are a small stable with three staff so if we had any runners in the future we might not be able to open up, which would be a shame.

“The big screen will help to keep the crowds, for those interested in watching the action.”

Young visitor Tamara McAuley, five, from Newmarket, said she was having a lovely day.

“A horse has just licked my head," she said. "But I quite liked it. I really like horses.”

Horse racing enthusiast Malcolm Inkles, from Sheffield, who visits Middleham every year, said he always enjoyed the open day but was concerned that in future years more race courses could set race days on Good Friday which could spell the end of the road for the event.