New guard hold sway
The 2011/12 season will perhaps best be remembered more for the mid-life crisis of Mother Nature than anything else, but that's not to say there weren't many memorable performances throughout, from the opening day to the default final meeting.
This year's crop of novice riders had an extraordinarily high number of newcomers excelling within the field, making both the male and female championships a thrilling battle throughout.
Charlotte Prichard, who only debuted in February after turning 16, quickly made her presence known within the Welsh area and surrounds, with a first win on board Alroyal that same month; one of eleven during her campaign, alongside seven placed efforts.
This winning total not only helped Prichard to the National Ladies Novice title and the Princess Royal Trophy, but also a joint-fourth place in the National Ladies overall table, alongside experienced campaigner Jo Buck.
Runner-up in the Novice award, Leanda Tickle, enjoyed a sensational season despite missing out on the title; winner of two races before this year's campaign, Tickle took up a total of 68 rides for several different trainers to post ten wins, plus her first under Rules on board Oslot in the Racing Post Weekender Ladies' Hunters' Steeple Chase at Stratford.
Joint-third in the novice title alongside Vicky Wade came Frankie Hickman, who was blazing a winning trail at the head of the board early in the season before a fall from Thenford Ryde at Penshurst in April curtailed her campaign, though a considerable tally to that point ensured her an Area title.
Day one of the season saw the arrival of Joe Hill, son of trainers Alan and Lawney, whose first ride was a winning one on board his father's Ravethebrave. The Rashar gelding was making his British debut between the flags following a Maiden win in Ireland and several outings under Rules; the switch clearly sat well with the eight-year-old, who went on to give Hill a further three wins.
The battle for leading Gentleman Novice Rider was a tough one however, with Hill only featuring among the leaders later in the calendar, helped by two doubles at his local course, Kingston Blount.
Earlier Kieron Edgar and Patrick Smith had dominated proceedings, the latter in his second season and enjoying a flourishing partnership with Brian Homewood's Flowersoftherarest. Hot on their heels however was the northern contender Harry Bannister; riding for the powerful David Easterby yard, Bannister began the season with one win under his belt, but had shed his novice tag by March following wins on the family-owned Borero.
The Hill/Bannister battle went right down to the wire, due to be settled in a thrilling climax at Umberleigh; following the meeting's abandonment however, the pair will share the title for the coming year, both finishing the season on nine wins apiece.
The overall Men's Championship was a much more cut-and-dried affair, with Will Biddick making all in the title race after an opening day win was promptly followed by a weekend treble at Barbury Castle. From this point on Biddick never relinquished the lead, fending off sustained challenges from fellow stalwarts of the sport Phil York, Darren Edwards, Mark Wall and former champion Thomas Greenall to finish on 42 wins.
With the Welsh season starting later than Biddick's regular Devon & Cornwall hunting ground, John Mathias wasted no time when fixtures got underway, winning on an almost weekly basis to finish National runner-up.
Gina Andrews was unable to regain her Ladies Championship crown following several set-backs during the season, including a broken collar bone, leaving the title free for the taking.
Riders from all four corners of the country took up the challenge, with Northumberland-based Catherine Walton initially out in front. Unlike the men's title, the lead would change on multiple occasions throughout the season, until it came down to a duel between Jacqueline Coward, daughter of trainer Cherry, and Jane Williams, winner of last year's AGA Ladies Open Point-to-Point Championship Final.
While tied at times, Williams finally got the better of Coward in the final weeks of the season, posting a double on the penultimate weekend and finishing on 22 wins to Coward's 16, though a second consecutive win at York in the Queen Mother's Cup on board Crackentorp will have provided some consolation for Jacqueline.
The pair had gone head to head at much closer quarters a few weeks earlier, when both were among the nine to line up at Cheltenham for the 2012 AGA Final. Williams was again partnered by Juliet Minton's Billyvoddan, while Coward teamed up with 2008 Foxhunter winner Amicelli. The latter clearly relishes the track at Prestbury Park, and while tiring up the famous hill, saved enough to repel the late challenge of the reigning champ, stealing his crown by just a neck.
While the rider titles may have seen a clean sweep by the new guard, a returning champion took her place at the top of the table for four-legged competitors.
Chesnut Annie, first crowned leading horse in 2008, reclaimed her title following a ten outing campaign in which Beth Roberts's mare won on seven occasions, filling the frame in the remainder.
Her final win, when the popular Pointer made a rare trip outside of Wales, helped novice title-chaser Leanda Tickle to runner-up spot in the championship. From 46 outings between the flags, the Weld mare has only twice failed to make the frame, unseating on her debut and pulling up later that season.
This ominous start to her career continued when disqualified after her second win due to a wayward weight cloth, but after making a winning return the following season, Chesnut Annie has remained a popular and consistent figure within the Welsh Point-to-Point scene.
Runner-up in the National title Misamon may hunt the same areas as Chesnut Annie on a search for wins, but with half of his six victories under John Mathias in Mens Opens, luckily the pair didn't meet. My Old Piano, another Open specialist and a regular on the northern tracks, bettered his third in last year's title to share second place with Misamon.
The pointtopoint.co.uk Young Horse Award, won last year by the outstanding Findlay's Find who went on to win the National title that same season, went to Robert Waley-Cohen's progressive Rumbavu. Ridden to all of his five victories by Gold Cup-winning amateur Sam Waley-Cohen, the Overbury gelding entered this season as winner of a Maiden and Hunt race, progressing rapidly through the ranks to win a Mens Open on his final start.
Findlay's Find returned to action this year, but didn't quite have it all his way this time around. Though finishing first or second on all his starts, one of the biggest shocks of the season came in his defeat by Midnight Diamond in a match race at Ystradowen. Paul and Myfanwy Miles's runner turned out a week later in the prestigious Lady Dudley Cup, one of four National Classic races, and though again runner-up, it was a close call between the six-year-old and David Llewellyn's Rosies
Peacock, the winner by half a length. Findlay's Find reversed that form when the pair next clashed however, putting seven lengths over John Mathias's mount.
Six outings by Findlay's Find contributed to the seasonal total of over 10,000 runners seen in more than 1,300 races. Due to various adverse weather conditions a number of meetings were lost from the original 209 fixtures scheduled, but only one entire weekend of pointing was lost over winter.
Good news for racegoers came in the form of far fewer walkovers than last season, with just 17 throughout the entire season compared to 33 in 2010/11.