The East Anglian Point-to-Point season got off to an inauspicious start at Higham over the weekend as the continued dry spell kept all but 14 horses away from the course. The result was a day which included 2 walkovers amidst 2 and 3 runner fields.
Oh but had it all started as the first race played out. Five went to post for the Conditions race, and in the style of many a Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner, Will Featherstone secured a back to back victory with Minella Beat, who had won here for the final event of last season's abridged calendar in April. Featherstone is on work placement with Jamie Snowden, also enjoying a good run of form under Rules.
Alex Chadwick was a winner of the Open Maiden on Abunchofmemories, in a 3 runner field, owned and trained by Brian Dowling. Meantime, in the PPORA Club Members Conditions race, a match neatly set up Sam Lee to win by 3 1/2l on Lords Park Star.
In the closing Restricted Race, Alan Hill's Frank And Honest took command over Alex Chadwick on Le Pogues Storm to win by 7 lengths.
The small numbers are not unique to the Point-to-Point scene. Only 47 went to post for Huntingdon's last fixture on Saturday, but I never heard any winning trainer complain about a lack of opposition!
Pam Sly was on the mark once again with a youngster in the concluding Bumper when Special Cadeau made a winning debut under Rules. He';s impeccably bred out of Pam's own Speciosa, who won her a Guineas, by Nathaniel, a Derby winner, so I suspect he may be a late developer. Start as you mean to go on, however.
Also on the mark was Toby Bulgin with his second winner in as many runners, starting a fresh career as a trainer after a break stretching back to 1989. Operating from a base at Methwold, outside Thetford, the second attempt has started well. How appropriate that the winning horse should be named Luckofthedraw.
It's been a good start to the Pointing season fro Bradley Gibbs, who has set off like a scalded cat in pursuit of a first Leading Rider award.
Five rides to date have resulted in 4 winners and a second, using connections with Pyle owner - trainer David Brace to secure a treble at the Llangeinor 3 weeks ago, and a maiden winner at Knightwick on Sunday.
It would be legitimate to argue that Sunday's maiden winner on El Diablo was somewhat fortuitous as leader Festin du Soir apparently had his measure until blundering two out and unseating rider Arron Butterfield. However, it's an old adage that you have to jump round to win.
Patch Me Up, who opened the current Point-to-Point season by winning the Young Horse maiden at Pyle on October 31st, showed a game attitude to win. By contrast, a different ride was required in the Restricted race won by Post No Bills, when left effectively running his own race after the 13th of the 18 fences in a match race. This is every jockey's dread; a showjumping hack around to win leaves no excuse, and often horses' concentration can waver when effectively schooling on their own. In these circumstances, it's as well to have a rider of the experience of Gibbs to see you home.
The four horses that made up the field in the third leg of Gibbs' Llangeinor treble didn't put up much of a challenge to winner Chimes of Dylan, trained by Robert Llewellyn. The 25l winning margin may not necessarily be repeated once more runners are flushed out as the season progresses.
Meantime, under Rules, Lucy Wadham enjoyed a day to remember at Fakenham yesterday when her three runners elicited 2 winners and a second. Six year old mare Sorbet put in a clear round to assert in the British Racing School Course 356 Handicap Hurdle, whilst earlier in the afternoon, four year old Terresita opened her Jumping account at the first time of asking in the 2m novices' hurdle.
Meantime, former Newmarket trainer Nick Littmoden continued his successful transition to French racing with a winner at Lyon's all-weather course. His eleven winners and 24 placed efforts from 65 runners to date this year makes an impressive winner-runner ration that is attracting French owners as much as those that migrated to Vichy with him. This is the new face of global racing post Brexit.
Small fields are plaguing all levels of the sport, and the weather is certainly being painted the culprit. With no rain for a fortnight or more, the opening of the heavens would be welcome, as much to allow horses to use the grass at home as to ease going on the track.
But watch this space. In another month, clerks and trainers will be remarking the ground is too deep! Sometimes, there is no pleasing people.
It's been a quiet few months for trainers and riders in the eastern counties with all the headlines cribbed by the likes of Fergal O'Brien. Certainly, there's no indication of a John Jenkins-like phoenix rising from the ashes of the East Anglian scene, like 35 years ago.
However, all is not lost. Amy Murphy's string looks as if it is running into some form after a winner today at Kempton. Not that anyone was there to see it; Kempton on a Monday takes a little selling, even if it were a Jumps fixture. It may produce beautiful ground, but it has none of the rural charm of a Plumpton or Fakenham.
Chase fields now are a little sparse just presently, and one has to hope that Covid hasn't left lasting damage on the desire of owners to participate in the sport. In the short term, that won't worry connections of Hawthorn Cottage, a handsome pillar to post winner by 12l of a Mares handicap chase.
Meanwhile East Anglian Pointing fans have just two weeks until the Waveney Harriers starts the area's 12 fixtures at Higham. With the sad closure of Cottenham, there are now just six venues to stage the sport, dominated by Higham and Horseheath, with three each. Whilst it makes perfect sense to join forces around shared costs, a little of the unique charm of one-off venues - like Northaw - is lost every time another of our country tracks disappears.
Support them! They may not be around forever.
Here we go again!
It was a sense of déjà vu at Dunraven Stud on Sunday as the weather, which had already done for the East Devon fixture at Bishop's Court the previous day, took its toll on the Llangeinor. This was no reward for the speculative fixture switch from early April to launch the season. There were shades of the wet winter that preceded our first Covid lockdown in the inter of 2019-20: Soft with heavy patches resonates more of mid December than balmy late October.
The sense of déjà vu also extended to the results. Welshman Bradley Gibbs, back on his stomping ground in South Wales, although now an honorary Hertfordshireman, was king of the castle, training one winner and riding three.
If you own the land on which the racing takes place, then it's only good manners for the rest to cede you at least one winner. And now that son Connor has graduated to the professional ranks, it was to Gibbs that David Brace turned to get even money favourite Patch Me Up home in the opening young horse maiden. The race always looked likely to stay at home, as Brace had engaged the services of James King to ride his other horse River Llynfi, a length second.
The Restricted produced what amounted to an exhibition round for the Gibbs trained and ridden Post No Bills. The only other runner Sergeant Brody pulled up.
And in truth, Gibbs' third winner wasn't much more competitive. Eight year old Chimes of Dylan, trained by Robert Llewellyn, was a 25l winner over Harriet Tudor's High Hatton in the Conditions race.
Nevertheless, despite the travails of the weather, it was good to be back. 150 fixtures to come, weather permitting!
The Point-to-Point Authority is delighted to announce INEOS Automotive as the new title sponsor of its Mixed Open Series, which will get underway in November 2021.
The three-year national partnership coincides with the launch of the widely anticipated INEOS Grenadier 4X4 in July 2022. The British-designed, rugged and uncompromising off-roader is being built to meet the extreme demands of its customers. Perfect for towing a horsebox and tackling challenging terrain, the highly capable vehicle is an ideal fit for a countryside-based sport with strong ties to Britain's farming and rural communities.
Gary Pearson, Head of UK and MENA at INEOS Automotive, said: "The desire to build a vehicle with the versatility to meet the needs of those who live, work and play in the countryside has been at the forefront of our ambitions since the early development stages of the Grenadier. Engineered to be a capable and reliable workhorse, it’s fitting that the Grenadier will be forming such strong ties with the Point-to-Point Authority, not only to provide financial support for the sport, but to also build stronger relationships with a community this vehicle has been designed for.”
Peter Wright, Chief Executive of the Point-to-Point Authority, added: "This is a very welcome new national partnership, focusing on a series of mixed open races leading to a valuable final and involving some of our leading horses. The Grenadier 4X4 is a perfect fit for point-to-pointing and the wider countryside community."
INEOS Automotive will be sponsoring 16 mixed open point-to-point races at venues from Scotland to Cornwall, and West Wales to East Anglia, with each race worth £1,000 in prize money. The first four horses from each INEOS Grenadier Mixed Open race, plus the first two from any other mixed open contest, will qualify for the £10,000 INEOS Grenadier Mixed Open Hunters' Chase final, to be run at Cheltenham on Friday, May 6.
Somerset-based Will Biddick, who trains Britain's top-rated hunter chaser Porlock Bay, said: "Our first aim is to get Porlock to the Cheltenham Festival, but he had a light campaign last season, and a race like the INEOS Grenadier Mixed Open Hunters' Chase in May could well become the next target. It's good to have a decent pot to aim at, and it's marvellous that such a big company is supporting the grass roots of horse racing."
Shropshire trainer Philip Rowley, who has won Cheltenham's Mixed Open Hunters' Chase three times, said: "Most sports need a bit of a lift after disruptions caused by Covid, and for a company like INEOS to come in is great news. I'm hoping we have a horse good enough to run in the final and Salvatore might be the one. His owners are point-to-point people through and through, and he's a horse who wants a bit of decent ground, which we should get at Cheltenham in May."
Pam Sly is enjoying a red hot streak of form presently, the latest indication of which is a winner in today's conditional jockeys handicap hurdle at Huntingdon with Takeit Easy, ridden by Paul O'Brien.
Takeit Easy was one of just four individual winners for the yard last season, in which Eileendover had the sages talking of the Champion Bumper briefly. The six year old has enjoyed a good summer, winning at Ludlow in late May, and just missing out at Stratford the following month, both when ridden by Gina Andrews.
But when a yard runs into form, sometimes even the most surprising horses will win. And by anyone's standards, Pam Sly is in red hot form right now with four winners from six runners in the past fortnight. Winners at Pontefract, Leicester and Yarmouth may not raise the pulse of TV Viewers looking for clues to this weekend's Qipco Champions Day, but they advertise the claims of this much understated senior trainer in Newmarket.
Also this week, Sarah Humphrey continued her reacquaintance with winner's enclosures around the country. Last month, we reported on Railway Muice providing a first winner in more than 700 days, and on Tuesday, the same 8 year old gelding continued his streak of form with a third winner in the racingtv.com Handicap Hurdle at Huntingdon's second fixture. Making all under Nick Scholfield, he went clear at the second last and maintained a 2l advantage over the runner-up from the vaunted yard of Jackdaws Castle.
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