Britain's most popular Point-to-Point course is under threat of permanent closure at the end of 2023, which would bring to a close some 75 years of racing on Salisbury Plain.
The future of racing at Larkhill has been uncertain for some time. The existing 21-year MOD lease ends on 31st December 2023. The racecourse committee has been in discussions with the MOD Defence Training Estates organisation for the last three years to obtain a new lease. The committee was informed in June this year that the lease would not be renewed because the racecourse represented an obstacle to training, particularly armoured manoeuvre training. Accordingly, the course will close at the end of 2023 and the forthcoming 2022/23 season marks the last.
The racecourse committee believes this decision to be deeply flawed. The MOD has overturned the findings of a review it commissioned in 2019 to consider the future of Larkhill. In essence the review recommended that Army training and the racecourse should continue to share the land concerned, as it has done for 75 years, with flexibility and cooperation on both sides. It emphasised the value of the racecourse to the people of Wiltshire and to point-to-point racing throughout the country. It further highlighted the importance of the racecourse to a range of equestrian activities, notably the nationally-recognised cross country course, to both military and civilian users.
The MOD has undertaken no public consultation about the closure of a much-loved and much-used amenity on its land. The villages around Salisbury Plain tolerate noise and disruption from Army training and in return its residents have always welcomed the opportunity to go racing at Larkhill. Many may see this unilateral decision to close the racecourse as a breach of faith by the military, notwithstanding the short notice period for hunts staging fixtures to find alternative venues.
Peter Wright, speaking to Horse & Hound, said, “If the demise of Larkhill proves correct, it will be a real problem for the sport. Larkhill is, of course, one of the great point-to-point courses which has begotten many superstars,” giving examples of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner See More Business and the 2022 Queen Mother Champion Chase victor, Energumene.
“But perhaps more importantly still, it is the backbone to our national winter programme, providing six of 12 fixtures that can run however much rain falls, and is also the link between the South West and the Midlands. As such, it would be a disaster if we lost it. However, we have not given up hope and I am hopeful that a practical solution can be found to keep it open, even with some compromises, perhaps on dates and the course itself.”
Andrew Ritchie, chair of the Racecourse committee, added, "Rest assured that we will be campaigning vigorously at the national level, through the Point-to-Point Authority and other organisations together with the media. But lobbying at local level is vital to our success and I do hope racegoers, hunt members, racing enthuiasts and professionals will take up the fight.
"Please write to your County Councillor, your local MP and other opinion formers in Wiltshire setting out your objections to the MOD’s decision. You will have your own points to make but we believe the key issues are the importance of the racecourse to the local civilian and military community, the significance of point-to-pointing at Larkhill to racegoers and the racing industry nationally, the lack of public consultation and the impact on Hunts and other users of closing at such short notice".
It's no faint threat to say the closure of Larkhill would have a serious impact on the sport at large across its heartlands in the South-West and Midlands. The course draws runners from across half of England and by dint of its position as a mid-winter course, would leave potentially irreparable gaps in the winter calendar. Notwithstanding that, since the disappearance of Barbury, this would leave Wiltshire without any Jump racing venue at all.
Battle has been joined. Time for racing folk to stand up and be counted.
145 fixtures look set to comprise the 2022-23 season of Point-to-Point racing starting in November and concluding in early June. The season will start at Knightwick on Saturday November 5th and conclude with the Torrington Farmers on June 10th.
With the exception of Easter Monday, no date will stage more than 5 fixtures. There has been a continued migration away from the peak period post Cheltenham to the end of April, but a majority of dates are static.
You can see the full list here.
The 12 planned fixtures for the East Anglian Point-to-Point Area abridged to 11 with the abandonment of our own fixture at Northaw, but the mild and dry winter meant a full programme of the other fixtures starting at Higham in November.
The loss of Cottenham resulted in consolidation of the race programme around Higham and Horseheath, which between them staged 50% of the fixtures.
The season started inconspicuously with a Higham card on Good to Firm ground that attracted just 14 runners. It's difficult to put a brave face on that sort of turnout.
However, matters improved over the Christmas break when the programme resumed at Horseheath, punctuated by the Area's leading trainer, David Kemp, winning two of the seven programmed races with Rebel Dawn Rising and How To Get Away.
Nine days later, one of the season's multiple winners graced the Ampton turf, when Precious Bounty , already winning his third race of the season, was a 6l winner for owner Joanne Callwood and Tom Ellis.
It was back to Horseheath at the end of January, where How To Get Away won the Intermediate for David Kemp, whilst trainers from outside the Area cleaned up in the other races.
Kemp however kept the home fires burning at Horseheath 3 weeks later for the Puckeridge fixture, with a double courtesy of How To Get Away and rebel Dawn Rising. The eight year old followed up in a hunter chase at Leicester on March 1, beating the Tom Ellis - trained Benefaktor by 3/4l in a 5 runner field.
Kemp kept up the good work with Stick With It, a winning maiden at Fakenham's point-to-point fixture in early April, whilst stable star Law of Gold, notched a hunter chase at prestigious Ascot the previous week.
The Kemp stable went mob-handed to Cheltenham's Hunters' evening with four runners, where Caryto des Brosses was a 6l runner-up to dandy Dan in the Ineos Grenadier Final, and Law of Gold a neck second to Coup de Pinceau for Syd Hosie.
April concluded however with a double at Garthorpe on April 30 with Clara Sorrento and Ballinagore, before Law of Gold was again outpointed at Stratford by the previous season's John Corbett winner Vaucelet, by 4l in the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter.
David Kemp's seasonal record stands at 11 winners from 31, an outstanding record, but it sits against a weakening number of horses trained within East Anglia, and he is currently a rare beacon of excellence among a diminishing support group. There's no danger presently of East Anglian trainers or riders challenging for the leading honours, won by Tom Ellis as leading trainer, and James King and Gina Andrews, leading gentleman and lady riders respectively.
Norfolk's David Kemp is not to be underestimated in Hunter chasing's biggest prizes, and his Law of Gold returned to Stratford on Friday seeking back to back victories in the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter Chase, a race he so comprehensively won in 2021.
But the prize went west, not east, as David Christie captured two of the sport's most prestigious prizes for the Point-to-Point community on the country's most valuable night of hunter chases. The County Fermanagh trainer showed a clean pair of heels to his British counterparts in the last of the three British Foxhunter chases and the Novice Championship.
As if to re-inforce the fixture as the Go-To event for aspirant pointers, Vaucelet, winner of last year's Pointtopoint.co.uk Champion Novices' Chase John Corbett Cup, stepped up a grade into full open company to displace David Kemp's Law of Gold, the previous year's winner, in the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunters Chase.
A muddling pace early allowed Vaucelet to take a leading position with Le Breuil and Dandy Dan, winner of the Ineos Grenadier Intermediate Final at Cheltenham last month, Law of Gold taking the shortest route. In truth, the slow pace made for plenty of jumping errors, which diminished as the pace stepped up on their final circuit, when Law of Gold pushed Le Breuil for the lead.
Three out, Le Breuil had given way to Law of Gold, Vaucelet, Solomon Grey and Downtown Getaway, but the first two, with Stratford form already on their record, had drawn clear, and Vaucelet asserted at the last to run out a 4l victor over the gallant Law of Gold.
Half an hour earlier, Christie's other runner, Ask D'Man, had looked an improbable winner in the Champion Novices Hunters Chase, hunting around the first circuit, and only showing his hand 4 out, when making some headway. Turning into the straight with one to jump, Ask D'Man still had 7l to make up on long time leader Go Go Geronimo, but despite a less than perfect jump at the last, showed some good speed to take the inner berth and get up by 3/4l. Kemp's Rebel Dawn Rising was prominent until 4 out and faded to a distant fourth.
Both winners were ridden by Barry O'Neill.
The double allows Christie the admirable position of three of the UK and Ireland's leading hunter chasers, given he also trained Winged Leader to be second behind Billaway in the Cheltenham Foxhunters.The three runner Nimrod Veterinary Products Ladies Championship Hunters' Chase produced another close finish despite the small field. The Waley-Cohen team, represented by father Robert and recently retired Sam, watched Igor just come off worse against dual hunter chase winner Fumet d'Oudairies, representing the Ellis-Andrews partnership that dominates the amateur division, and the drop in class from the heights of the Cheltenham Foxhunter allowed the Tom Ellis-trained gelding to regain a winning thread over regulation fences.
The White Swan Hotel Handicap Hunters Chase is the only handicap in the hunters calendar, but Zamparelli, trained by Victoria Collins in Broadway and ridden by leading Novice rider Freddie Gordon, made the race into a procession, extending a 7l lead at the final bend to over twice that distance at the line.
The long trip from Devon proved well worthwhile for connections of Say About It, qualified with the Torrington Farmers, whose Point-to-Point fixture is the traditional closer to the season in a fortnight. Only 4 of the seven declared faced the starter, and that field was down to two by the closing stages, where Say About It was pressed by Spanish Jump, trained by former rider and At The Races presenter Luke Harvey. Three lengths separated the two at the line for a delighted winning rider Vincent Webster.
The opening PPSA Chase over the minimum distance had spectators with their hearts in their mouths as locally-trained Azzuri, trained by Nick Pearce, assistanct to Dan Skelton and Clerk of nearby Shelfield Park point-to-point course, teamed up with stable amateur Tristan Durrell, but just failed to hold on against Across The Line, trained by Syd Hosie in Dorset. Syd enjoyed success at Cheltenham's hunters' evening, but his current crop of Rules horses are back with Joe Tizzard after running his own training operation with Nick Mitchell, then Ralph Smith.
There's plenty of evidence that British Point-to-Point owners are buying in Ireland. Three of the five runners in the concluding Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Champion Point-to-Point Bumper are Irish-bred, and in keeping with the theme of the evening, it was the Irish-bred Patanita, confidently ridden by Peter Bryan, who took the honours for Georgina Nicholls and the splendidly-named G & T Partnership.
Last weekend heralded the final hurrah of the French Jumps season in a grand weekend that includes the French equivalents of the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup. For older readers, this latter race is the one in which Fred Winter steered Mandarin to victory without a bit.
Auteuil is a big galloping track to the south west of Paris, and stages some magnificent fixtures, even if very few seem to know about the venue. The French have never been avid racegoers, more's the pity; in fact, of the crowd that attends the annual Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October, at least a third are English. Frenchmen are envious of our crowds, if not our prize money, which is poor in comparison to the Paris-mutuel funded French model.
In recent years, globe-trotting Willie Mullins has sent runners successfully to Auteuil, and British trainers like Tom George have been afforded temporary licences to train to capitalize on the superb training facilities and excellent programme of racing.
And true to form, one W R Mullins sent a strong team over to Paris this last weekend for a tilt at the Grande Course de Haies, including Klassical Dream, Kemboy and King George winner Tornado Flyer. Klassical Dream ran on well in the soft ground to come second in the €350,000 hurdle over 5,000m, more an equivalent of our Stayers Hurdle.
Earning more publicity was Mullins' attempt on the Grand Steeplechase de Paris, in which Franco de Port, Burrows Saint and Al Boum Photo were joined by RIchard Hobson's Lord du Mesnil. Al Boum photo disappointed but Franco de Port will be aimed at the same race in 2023 after finishing a 25l third behind Sel Jem, a seventh victory in this race for Guillaume Macaire.
Mullins and Hobson were not the only trainers from the British Isles to tilt at Auteuil riches however. One Nick Littmoden, formerly of the Hamilton Road in Newmarket, now training at Moulins near Vichy, landed a valuable listed handicap on Saturday with Captain Speaking. Always handy, he took closer order turning into the final bend, and picked off long time leader Starko at the final fence.
This was Littmoden's biggest success since his move, the ninth of 2022 from just 47 runners. To paraphrase an old BA advert, he's one of ours, doing rather well over there.
Tom & Gina Ellis secured their largest triumph when prevailing in a tight finish to the Randox Foxhunter Chase over Aintree's imposing fences earlier this afternoon.
The 18 fences of the Foxhunter, whose magnificent trophy of a near full size fox should prevent any politically correct removal of the title of the race, are the ultimate challenge for the amateur riders who are the core of the sport. Riding round Aintree is on every self-respecting rider's bucket list.
Gina, who rides under her maiden name Andrews, is the foremost amateur in the sport, with over 300 Point-to-Point winners to her name, and nearly 80 winners under Rules, which include a Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir 5 years ago at the Festival. This will rank right up there with the best of those winners, not least as her mount, Latenightpass, was able to overturn a 2 1/2l deficit on last year's winner, Cousin Pascal, to secure the winner's berth.
All the leading candidates were in the vanguard of the field as they headed out into the country, with Cousin Pascal leading from Cat Tiger, Jett, Clondaw Westie and Latenightpass handy. Clondaw Westie was a faller at the Canal Turn, by which time the leading candidates had defined the race for the final mile.
Porlock Bay's rider-trainer Will Biddick had swerved Cheltenham to have last year's Cheltenham Foxhunter winner in the best of form for Aintree, and that decision looked very wise as they turned in, although his chance was not helped by dropping his stick. Cousin Pascal called time at the second last, where Latenightpass went on, pressed by that most game of Corinthians, David Maxwell, on Cat Tiger. The winning distance was a just 1 1/4l, with a further 1 1/4l back to Porlock Bay, running on gamely into third.
The race was a triumph insofar as 18 of the 23 runners finished, and the win and placed horses were a true reflection of the form of the best hunter chasers in Britain. Stand UP And Fight was the nearest Irish contender, a full 39 1/2l behind the winner.
To say that trainer Tom Ellis was fizzing would be an understatement. The leading Point-to-Point trainer heads up a truly family affair in Warwickshire, with a horse owned by his mother, and ridden by his wife. This is the stuff that makes our sport so unique.
A fair-run race, a just winner, and no real hard luck stories. What better reflection of Aintree.
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