Pointing the way forward
Katherine Fidler returns with a preview of the forthcoming point-to-point season which gets underway at Cottenham.
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The 2011/12 season was one very much of ups and downs, the ups as always courtesy of some outstanding performances from our runners and riders, young and old, but a cruel hand dealt by Mother Nature saw March's drought transform into an Easter flood as relentless rain enveloped the country before finally claiming the season's traditional finale at Umberleigh.
While harbingers of doom are already scattering predictions of a mini ice age disguised as winter ready to disrupt the calendar once again, pointing is preparing to go on as normal until such apocalyptic weather arrives, commencing with two meetings this weekend.
As last year, the regular curtain-raiser at Black Forest Lodge, the Black Forest Club, will be joined on day one by the Cambridge University United Hunts Club at Cottenham.
It was at the former 12 months ago that eventual Champion rider Will Biddick launched his campaign, and also proved the venue that joint leading novice Joe Hill made a victorious debut on board Ravethebrave, a former Irish pointer who notched up four wins throughout the season. A sense of déjà vu may be felt around the course this weekend as Hill could be set to return with another regular partner, Ocean Du Moulin, who enjoyed a successful summer under Rules and could line up for Sunday's mixed open, though the French-bred is also entered at the afternoon's other venue.
A healthier entry than last year looks set to ensure an afternoon of competitive racing at the popular Cambridgeshire track, attracting runners from as far afield as Northumberland, the base of 2011/12 joint-leading owner Victor Thompson.
Thompson, who also trains his charges, has a number of potential runners for the long trip south, though dual Hunter Chase winner Tommysteel is not on the list; stablemate Monogram instead fills the role of open contender, against the likes of Divine Intavention, Oaklands Bobby and 2010 Aintree Fox Hunters' winner Silver Adonis.
November and beyond
This weekend's opening meetings mark the earliest ever start to a season, though with the Hursley Hambledon returning to a spring date and the Point-to-Point Owners' and Riders' Club shrinking to a one day fixture, only nine meetings will see out 2012. The loss of several meetings has resulted in a total of 199 meetings set to take place in 2012/13, though as always the Easter and May Day bank holidays remain a popular calendar spot for many.
One change to the former weekend sees the Croome & West Warwickshire move from their traditional Easter Tuesday spot to the busier Saturday, but for those enjoying an extended weekend break the High Peak at Flagg remain on course to Point that day, weather permitting unlike last year.
A sad loss to the sport as a whole is that of Tweseldown Racecourse, which was forced to close at the conclusion of 2011/12, resulting in the Chiddingfold, Leconfield & Cowdray relocating to Parham, and the Hursley Hambledon hosted by Larkhill.
On a more positive note, the fixture list welcomes back the Holcombe, who return to their Whittington home after a one year absence.
While there may be fewer points overall, particularly in the early in the season, fans of the amateur sport are also treated to a handful of hunter chases in January as last year; Kelso hosts the first of 112 races scheduled, while Stratford's Hunter Chase evening has been moved back to June 7th, enabling the meeting to act as the season's final curtain call. The W + S Recycling Stratford Foxhunters Champion Hunters' Chase is one of the many highlights of this card, and last year saw the Irish raider Salsify complete the Cheltenham/Stratford Foxhunter double, a feat not achieved since Rolls Rambler in 1980.
Chasing a winner
The 2012 hunter chase season produced some exciting horses and thrilling performances, including a double posted by Her Majesty's Barbers Shop, who met his only defeat at Cheltenham when a well-beaten 14th behind Salsify.
Subsequent Aintree Fox Hunters' hero Cloudy Lane also beat the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding home on that day, and though on the brink of turning 13, looks set for a repeat bid under the watchful eye of Donald McCain.
Another British hopeful looking for further success in the amateur code under Rules hails from the yard of leading Hunter Chase trainer Steve Flook, that being pointtopoint.co.uk Champion Novices' Hunters' Chase winner Rumbury Grey. Claiming five of his seven starts last season, a return by the son of Overbury will be eagerly awaited.
Connolly's Red Mills Intermediate Series final winner Doctor Kingsley reappeared last season as an entirely reformed character, his often hit and miss form replaced with an unbeaten run culminating in a mens open victory at Whitfield which the gelding reportedly found so easy, it was necessary for connections to take the ten-year-old for another gallop before he would settle for the box journey home. A return to Cheltenham could well be on the cards following a proposed seasonal debut at Whitfield on December 2nd.
Support for the sport continues
Once again a wide range of area and national sponsors will kindly provide essential support for individual races and series throughout the season.
The success of the AGA Total Control Ladies Open Series last year was well publicised, culminating in a thrilling final at Cheltenham. Their generous sponsorship will again see qualifiers throughout the coming months, though a change of venue to Stratford for the final will add to an 'end of season' party atmosphere.
Stalwarts of the sport Dodson & Horrell have been a key sponsor for over quarter of a century, and continue their long-standing sponsorship Novice Riders' series, as do Connolly's Red Mills, who in addition to their popular intermediate series, are sponsoring a National Point-to-Point Trainers' Championship.
From up and coming young horses and riders, to close fought championships and roaring battles to the line, the eve of a new season brings with it the potential for a vintage year. Come back next week for a round-up of all the action between the flags.
The Point-to-Point Racing Company is delighted to announce the launch of Pointing 2013 - Point-to-Point & Hunter Chase Form and Stats, a brand new publication designed not only to act as a practical form guide, but also celebrate the sport and commemorate the previous season.
Reviewing the calendar through exclusive editorial content, Area chapters and full results, the inclusion of in-depth horse analyses adjacent to each runner's form for 2011/12, including comments in running and a final rating, ensures punters are ahead of the game as the new season approaches.
In addition, colour photographs, an extensive statistical section and Championship results ensure Pointing 2013 provides all fans of the sport with a book which is a pleasure to read and a memento of the season to cherish in years to come.
Pointing 2013 is available for just £39 from The Point-to-Point Racing Company on 01933 304792 or via weatherbysshop.co.uk.