The Point-to-Point season is winding down, and summer fixtures are rarely making the heart beat faster, but a former inmate of Newmarket did British racing proud, when Imperil stayed on into fourth in France's richest Jumps race, the Grand Steeplechase de Paris at Auteuil yesterday.
Recently, this has been a fixture largely ignored by British and Irish trainers, yet with eye-watering prizes and soft ground, it's worth hanging out for. The Irish were as strong-handed as they could have hoped, with Willie Mullins fielding several, Emmet Mullins Noble Yeats and even a Czech runner hoping to sneak some euros.
But the French are at their best against horses they have bred and sold abroad. Daniela Mele became the fourth lady trainer to lift the coveted prize with Rosario Baron under Johnny Charron, whose effort at Cheltenham in the Stayers petered out. It was a tight finish, with another French horse, Gex, runner-up a second year in succession for Emmanuel Clayeux, a neck down at the line.
Imperil, a graduate from handicap company and winner of France's richest handicap at Auteuil a few weeks ago, ran on to be a creditable fourth. Nick, who has been training in France little more than a couple of years, told France Galop, "What a fantastic horse! I knew he would cope with the extreme distance. I was delighted with his last performance as the distance was too short for him. We'll be back next year! Maybe we'll mount a cross-Channel raid with him!" He chuckled, "This is great for a young French trainer like me..."
And so it is, Nick. We're dead proud of you.
Former Newmarket trainer Nick Littmoden moved to France less than 2 years ago, enjoying a lifestyle change that is alien to so many British trainers, for whom numbers of horses are the only way to make training viable.
Littmoden, who trains under both codes at Moulins, near Vichy, has already achieved more success than many of his counterparts shifting to France, but came good in spectacular style on Sunday when winning the €225,000 Prix du President de la Republique at Auteuil with Imperil, a race commonly known as the French Grand National, over 2m 7f.
The 7-year-old gelding, carrying 66.5kg, was gradually brought forward to dominate fairly clearly in the run-in a quintet formed by top-weight Ecoute en Tête (Ballingarry), who finished fourth, the finisher Echo de Champdoux (Saddler Maker), third a nose behind Fanfaron de Spécial (Gentlewave), the winner of the 2021 edition of the race and always in contention here. The fifth-placed Motu Fareone (Getaway) briefly looked like he might be in the running for the frame after making good headway on the rail.
Imperil had been claimed for €17,106 € by Tobiah Jones on behalf of Littmoden at Nîmes, where he'd unseated his rider at the last with the race at this mercy. Moved from Christian Scandella's stable to his current trainer in England, he won twice there and returned to France with Littmoden when the handler moved to Moulins at the beginning of the 2021 season. Since then, the horse has won four races in five outings and amassed €162,690, thanks to the €114,750 promised to the winner of the "President".
It was a first ride at Autueil for Jack Quinlan, who'll surely be looking to return.
Littmoden, meantime, has an admirable strike rate to date this year, with 5 winners from just 27 runners.
'ritish-trained pointer Premier Magic kept the home flag flying last week in retrieving the St James's Place Capital Foxhunter for England, and, as importantly, for an amateur-trained team.
The Foxhunter prize fund has grown so large as to encourage professional trainers to enter horses to the extent that two horses in last week's field were rated 155 - an extraordinary quality of horse for the Festival's amateur championship.
Nevertheless, the true triumph of Bradley Gibbs and Premier Magic is that the horse has been solely qualified for the race through the Point-to-Point field, giving solace to those that stage Open races that you can see the best quality even despite the volume of Irish competition and pot-hunters among the Hunter chases on licensed tracks.
Gibbs opened the season's account in a hot Open race at the Harkaway between Christmas and New Year. Chaddesley has long been associated with good quality Point-to-Point races and the 14 runner field was just reward for perfect under-foot conditions for a 3 1/2l victory over Myth Buster. A repeat exercise at Garthorpe in early February completed the preparation.
Premier Magic came to Cheltenham last March well fancied but didn't get a clear view of his fences and after being hampered at the ninth, pulled up shortly after. This undistinguished run was an aberation in an otherwise unblemished season populated by nothing but victories.
Happily though, punters have short memories, and a majority of the Gold Cup day crowd is gloriously (but also sadly) oblivious of the Point-to-Point scene. In any other race, no sane person would have allowed the sport's leading Pointer and one of its most efficient riders to face the starter at 66/1.
Gibbs gave Premier Magic a textbook ride, from the outer, with plenty of space to see his fences, and the rest is history.
Sadly though, the victory was only witnessed by his father-in-law and owner of premier Magic, Julian Sheriff. His partner was stuck at home unable to find a babysitter. Let's hope he's not superstitious or she'll be minding the baby for every major raceday henceforth.
Premier Magic is unlikely to head to Aintree, but Stratford's Foxhunter looks a distinct possibility on June 2.
It's not often that a race winner from Stratford goes off favourite for a race at the Cheltenham Festival. Winners, by dint of race quality and summer time racing tend to be aimed at different targets. But that is exactly what has arisen today as Vaucelet stakes his claim to be the leading hunter chaser in Britain and Ireland.
Twice a winner at Stratford, first in 2021 of the John Corbett Cup for novice hunters, which is generally accepted as the championship for the upcoming aspirants of the hunter chase genre, then a 4l winner of the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunter last year, Vaucelet hails from the specialist Point-to-Point yard of David Christie in Ulster. For that reason, but perhaps that reason alone, he may count as a rare British winner at the festival in the glut of Irish tricolors flying this past week.
Fifty acres of pastureland near Derrylin in Co Fermanagh on the road between Cavan and Enniskillen finds a veritable powerhouse of Point-to-Point and hunter chase excellence, and Vaucelet is the apple of David's eye. Winner of a modest £51,200 in career earnings, this son of Derby winner Authorized has graced the amateur scene for 3 years, since transferring to Christie in March 2021, just in time for a maiden victory over fences in a geldings only maiden at Portrush in May '21. The rider that day was one Ben Harvey, who rode Seddon with such coolness this Wednesday at Cheltenham.
It's not a fait accompli however. Like every other race at the Festival, the competition is stiff and numerous. The Foxhunter is perhaps the only conditions race to generally reach maximum numbers at the annual championships, and other contenders are lined up alongside.
Prominent among these are last year's winner Billaway, from the dominant Mullins yard, Chris's Dream for Henry de Bromhead, and The Storyteller for Gordon Elliott, all bidding to take the festival's largest trophy back to Ireland. Billaway has yet to finish outside the first two in 3 runs in the race, but at 11, perhaps age may be his worst enemy. Chris's Dream has obvious claims on form and would continue a hot streak for the de Bromhead yard that has suffered such ghastly personal misfortune these past months. The Storyteller won't need directions around Cheltenham either.
But the biggest challenge may, for the first time in a while, come from British-based horses. Famous Clermont hails from Chris Barber's Somerset yard, which lives and breathes the amateur code. The eight year old hasn't put a foot wrong this winter, winning a Larkhill Open on New Year's Day, and prepping up with victory at Wincanton in February and a comprehensive 18l demolition of Envious Editor in Haydock's Walrus Hunters Chase last month also - a well recognized prep for this race.
Corinthian David Maxwell fields Cat Tiger and Bob & Co, who bids to give Alice Stephens a memorable ride on the biggest stage.
From East Anglia, Premier Magic has a second try in the Foxhunter after pulling up behind Billaway in 2022. His preparation has been faultless this season, with victories at the Harkaway and then Garthorpe in February, the last beating Law of Gold 14l. He is no slouch for Bradley Gibbs and worth an each-way bet at 50/1.
However, if you're looking to oppose the favourite, French-bred Le Malin might be the one. He ran to his best recent form in mid February when going down just a half length to Billaway in a hunters chase at Naas in February and has won since. Francois Nicolle doesn't let many go but this one has more to prove.
Reassuringly, there are a number of amateur-trained British entries, pushing back the invasive reach of professional trainers into the race these past few years. It's a race to savour, and there's every chance we may see many of the competitors back her in early June.
Oh, and by the way, the previous race that day looks mildly interesting too.
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.
Northaw Racing News
Welcome to the News page. Here you will find the very latest information about Northaw Races and race course conditions
If you'd like to submit content to this site, please email here for details