It's not so often we host the leading national Point-to-Point owner in the Three Counties, and I put this down largely to the competitive nature of our racing that doesn't allow one stable or person to dominate.
However, this season, with all its difficulties, has seen one of our own climb to the dizzy heights of Leading Owner. Step forward Jason Warner, aka Secretary and MFH of the Cotswold Vale.
Brookthorpe-based Warner took the title courtesy of 9 winners, of which 3 came via Los Alamos, trained by Luke Price. Jason trained four winners himself in between other tasks.
The leading riders and overall Leading Trainer were more predictable. Tom Ellis ran up his third national Trainers' Championship courtesy of 30 winners.
James King cemented his career path with a Leading Gentleman rider with 33 winners, and has been prominent under Rules too, whilst Gina Andrews remains pretty unassailable in the corresponding Ladies title.
Ben Sutton, son of former PPA Board member Nick Sutton, was also crowned Novice Champion Rider after a spectacular treble at Kingston Blount on Sunday to round off the season.
Lucy Smith enjoyed her first Cheltenham winner on Friday when Marcle Ridge showed his liking for the track when winning the final race of Cheltenham's virtually spectator-free season. With the exception of the International meeting in December, all the racing at HQ has been behind closed doors, or limited to owners only.
Marcle Ridge is owned by Clive Bennett, one of the staunchest supporters of Pointing, winning at the corresponding meeting for the second consecutive time in 3 years (there being no meeting in 2020), this time over the shorter distance of 2m4f. Under Tommie O'Brien, the second leg of a double for the rider, Marcle Ridge had plenty in hand to win by 11l, a second win this season following a win in the Open at the Barbury International in December.
Meanwhile, Lucy's stable in the south of the county wasn't the only one celebrating on Friday. David Wintle's Flat string is more used to frequenting the all-weather surfaces at Wolverhampton and Southwell, but 7 year old Tawaafoq notched a first winner of the turf season earlier in the afternoon at Chepstow. Apprentice rider Georgie Dobie was also enjoying a first winner of the year,
And not 30 minutes later, John O'Shea, based at Elton in the Forest of Dean, also struck at his local track with a last gasp victory in the 5f handicap from 4 year old Flip Mode.
Gloucestershire's not a county where we celebrate much during the Flat season, so it's good to know our handlers from north to south are as capable at the minimum distance as at the longer distances.
Keep it up, lads!
Ben Pauling bought the top-priced British pointer at last week's Tattersalls April sale to race under Rules next season.
Scotch on Da Rocks, a four year old, was sold to Tessa Greatrex of Highflyer Bloodstock, from Tom & Gina Ellis, leading proponents of improving horses through the Pointing field. Scotch On Da Rocks was a winner at Mollington earlier this month, contributing to the unassailable lead Ellis has built up in the Trainers' Championship.
At £80,000, he was some way the most expensive of the British Pointers sold through the day. Ellis bought him last summer for just £15,000.
Other horses of note to arrive at Gloucestershire yards included Marton Abbey, trained in Yorkshire by Cherry Coward, headed for Kim Bailey, knocked down for £24,000. Cotswold neighbour Charlie Longsdon will train Dingley winner, Lyrical Genius, sold out of Chris Barber's Somerset yard for £32,000.
Meanwhile, after a week's reflection, the counter drops back to zero for the professionals when the season restarts at Uttoxeter on Saturday.
Berkeley winner Stay Out Of Court achieved his first Rules victory in a Novices Handicap Chase at Exeter this evening for Adrian Wintle, who trains the other side of the river bend from Woodford.
The former Irish Pointer, who came to the UK on the back of two promising seconds in Ireland, won his Maiden at Hereford's Point-to-Point course in April 2018, before graduating to a victory in a Restricted at the Berkeley the following year when ridden by Zac Baker.
This time, ridden by Ciaran Gethings, the 11 year old gelding, a Rooney cast-off, tracked the leaders from the off, took close order in second half way through, and was ridden to lead on the run-in to win by 1/2 l.
Wintle is enjoying a good April following a winner at Wolverhampton earlier in the month.
Meanwhile, horses from the area are well represented in the last of the Point-to-Point classic, at Chaddesley tomorrow. The Lady Dudley Cup is the most prestigious of the classics, outside the three principal Foxhunter races at Cheltenham, Aintree and Stratford.
The rules on attending have recently been relaxed so owners are now able to attend, which is good news for those who hold entries in the centrepiece of the Worcestershire fixture, where all bar two of the 20 entries have a rating of over 100.
Phil Rowley has won this race three times in the last decade and holds a strong hand as he attempts to do so again with Hazel Hill, Salvatore and Vivaldi Collonges. Hazel Hill has the highest rating but was surprisingly beaten over the same course in December before winning a Hunter Chase at Ludlow and running fifth in the Cheltenham Foxhunters.
His long-term partner Alex Edwards is now professional and his replacement will do well to match Edwards' exploits on a horse he knew so well. Hazel Hill did better than his stablemate Salvatore who was pulled up in the Cheltenham showpiece, but the latter has an exemplary record between the flags and could atone here.
It is time the Welsh had another winner of the big race and their hopes rest with Premier Magic who caused a surprise at the Wheatland before Christmas and subsequently won a Hunter Chase at Leicester. With Bradley Gibbs stable in such fine form, he has to be added to the short list.
Ballyboker Breeze was favourite to beat Wishing and Hoping back in 2019 and his recent run at Maisemore shows he is no back number. Zac Baker, successful this evening at Exeter in another Hunters Chase, has every confidence in this horse and their combined strengths will be useful in a close finish.
Barney Dwan went down on his sword at Barbury last December but is held by Salvatore on their running at Didmarton back in March 2020 but Cotswoldian Sally Randall knows what is required to land this prize, and some of the Fergal O'Brien magic may yet rub off on Barney Dwan.
Ennistown won a Hunter Chase at Fakenham but struggled behind Hazel Hill at Ludlow and it is difficult making a case for him on what he has done so far and that remark also applies to Igor although the Waley-Cohens will be keen to repeat their win in the big race following Irilut’s success back in 2007.
Sausalito Sunrise won The Lord Ashton of Hyde Cup when it was last run in 2020, so stamina is not an issue and he showed his well-being with an easy success at Sandon recently. The Smith-Maxwells are another family keen to win this fabulous trophy so don’t be surprised if John Smith-Maxwell tests his rivals’ mettle and kicks on a long way from home.
Jason Warner, a man with strong Cotswold credentials, has run into a seam of form over Easter that is the envy of even the professional yards in our sport. Warner, also secretary of the Cotswold Vale Farmers Point-to-Point, is enjoying a purple patch as an owner and trainer with four winners since Good Friday at three fixtures.
A double at Higham on Friday afternoon, another winner less than 24 hours later during the North Staffordshire meeting at Sandon before finally causing one of the biggest upsets of the season at Dingley on Monday concluded a memorable weekend that saw the sport stage its first fixtures since before Christmas.
“Keep yourself in the best company and your horses in the worst” is an old racing adage but one which Warner is comfortable with as he explained after French Piece had completed his hat-trick following wins in a Pyle Maiden and a Llwyn Du Restricted in 2019.
“He was ready to run last year but needs good ground and then Covid struck”, Warner said later. “He came to me from David Bridgwater about three years ago. He was very immature but Luke Price has done a good job with him and he will come on for the run. He is not the easiest horse and that is why we do not have him at home. I am not sure how long this run will last, but we will enjoy it while we can”.
The winner made the running until going a couple of lengths clear of Donjon with a circuit to jump. Byron Moorcroft quickened the pace down the back straight and the partnership had more than doubled their advantage as they turned back towards home. Donjon tried his best on the climb to the second from home but French Piece had the race in his pocket despite running down the final obstacle.
As well as training himself Warner has horses based with others including Thumbstone Blues who is with James King. The 11-year-old won on the heavy at Cothelstone in 2020 but was not inconvenienced by firmer conditions when he became the first leg of a double for Gloucester owner in the Essex and Suffolk Veterans race at Higham on Saturday.
He was prominent throughout before leading at the 13th and had his rivals measure approaching the penultimate and had no difficulty holding the challenge of the favourite Mercers Court from that point.
Connections struck again in the Maiden, with Warner listed as the trainer of Ahead of the Game. King was content to bide his time on the ex-Paul and Claire Rooney gelding but after leading at the 15th went away to score easily by 12-lengths.
Warner seemed to ignore his own advice as he chose to take on the “red hot favourite” Fumet D’Oudairies in the 2-1/2 mile Mixed Open at Dingley on Monday. That policy paid off when Always Lion made it four wins from four runners for the owner when James King’s mount brought off one of the biggest upsets of the season.
All seemed to be going to plan for Andrews’ mount as Always Lion tracked the long-time leader Knockoutloaded before taking over the baton approaching four out, while Andrews was waiting to deliver his challenge.
Passing the three-mile start Fumet D’Oudairies had to be driven to maintain contact with his rival, who had secured the vital inside berth around the final bend. They challenged again approaching the final obstacle but Always Lion was quicker away and inched clear as his rival’s effort petered out in the final 50 yards, with Andrews explaining “the horse did not like the ground”.
As well as being the winning jockey, James King is also the trainer and he went on to explain “The horse has only had 10 runs in his life. He missed 2016 and 2018 and there were no obvious excuses for the runner up. Although he is 11-year-old he is still learning and he had run well at Larkhill earlier in the year.”
All power to a Gloucestershire owner-trainer enjoying his moment in the spotlight.
Pete Mansell is a Point-to-Point enthusiast who reports on all our fixtures in the West Midlands area.
Dymock-based Lucy Smith keeps hitting the bar with her Irish nine year old Pointer/hunter chaser, and so it was again today at Stratford, as Gottagottagetaway had no answer to another Gloucestershire novice in Fergal O'Brien's I'm Wiser Now in the point-to-point.co.uk Novices Hunters' Chase.
There were more folk in the paddock to see this race than almost all the other races put together, illustrating the pent-up appetite for Point-to-Point racing to return at the end of the month. And in truth, it was a pretty eventful race, even before flagfall.
13/8 favourite Golden Tabouggan, trained by Julie Wadland, sweated up in the preliminairies and was taken to post early by Alex Edwards. Even so, he did a very successful job of winding up the rest of the field, even to the extent of kicking smart maiden pointer Maitre Express, owned by Robert Waley-Cohen, which was withdrawn with a sore shoulder. The starter was glad to have them away.
Golden Tabouggan made the early running with Tom Barton, and Lightonthemountain, Gottagottagetaway was well placed in mid division by Paul O'Brien, but took closer order as runners began to fall away from 4 out. Three out he'd gone second, but was outpaced as they rounded the turn toward the final fence, where I'm Wiser Now took the inner berth to overtake long time leader Golden Tabouggan and go on to win by 5 1/2l. Gottagottagetaway was 1/2l back in third.
The nine year old seems destined always to fill the minor berths. In four runs this season, he's never finished out of the frame, but there's always one too good in front. One can't help but feel that when Point-to-Point racing returns on March 29, an opportunity will arise if the fields start thinning out. At the moment, no-one quite knows how many horses will remain to fill the 50 or so fixtures scheduled to mid June.
Lucy however, is no stranger to the sport, having understudied Sam Jukes for some time. With Jukes now tilting at the professional game, Lucy has taken on the pointers at the Dymock yard that has sent out so many Clive Bennett winners in recent years. And you can't improve on the yard's 100% record in Point-to-Points this season - 1 from 1 at the Avon Vale last December, before lockdown 3 forced a switch to Hunter chases.
Adrian Wintle is the archetypal farmer's son who enjoyed a successful career in Point-to-Points and became a trainer to diversify the farm. The family farm, based in the loop of the Severn near Westbury-on-Severn mixes arable with 150 sheep and 50 or so racehorses running under both codes.
Born into a horsey family, it was virtually an inevitability he would pursue a career among thoroughbreds. His uncle David was a shrewd trainer who over 20 years trained close on 200 winners, and a master in laying a horse out for a long-priced success. Brother-in-law Chris Broad also trained, but latterly is better known as agent to some of the top jockeys on the circuit.
Adrian began his amateur career in Point-to-Points in the early 90's, riding locally. And it was at Maisemore in the mid-nineties where he rode a double that a fresh opportunity arose. Terry Biddlecombe was Judge that day, and espied a new talent on the block. The result was an offer to join Henrietta Knight as stable amateur which provided a wealth of new opportunity, additional rides and connections.
Some 200 or so winners later, having eschewed the opportunity to turn conditional as he was too heavy, Adrian retired from riding after breaking his back in a fall at Maisemore. Yet for all that, the local track next to the Severn remains his favourite.
Training was a logical next step after rehab, first with a permit, latterly with a full public licence since 2011. But whilst his heart might be in Jumping, the maths of training require a focus on the Flat.
Put simply, " It's easier to find a cheap Flat horse," remarks Adrian. Last year, their 86 runners in largely unremarkable races around the less fashionable flat tracks of the UK resulted in 13 winners, a highly respectable 16% strike rate. Over 50% of last year's Flat runners reached the frame.
But finding winners, whatever the level, is never easy. Inexpensive cast-offs from the big yards make for great fairy tale stories, but they don't happen often enough generally to pay the bills. There have been successes though; a £3k purchase - far less than you'd pay for a Pointer nowadays - has now won over £50,000 in prize money over 3 years, whilst a meat money horse is now a five time winner.
There is a viable business to be made with lowly rated horses from 55-80, given the lower overheads of training on the family property. "Dad's now in his eighties, so I am taking a closer interest in the farm business," adds Adrian. "But racing is our passion". He's in good company with partner Louise, minding the family full-time, comprising Pippa (9) and Leo (3). Both are already on the horsey treadmill, with ponies around the farm.
Are there highlights, I ask? Of course, one wouldn't expect any less. On the riding front, riding round Aintree three times was a big thrill, even if only finishing the once; there was a treble at Bredwardine in May 2008 comprising Sparklinspirit in the Men's Open, Ole Maestro in the Open Maiden, and St Reverien in the Confined, the latter for Andy Hobbs, source of nearly half his winners between the flags; and of course, winning the John Corbett Cup at Stratford on Philtre for Helen Needham were all big moments.
But the greatest satisfaction has come since retirement. A first ever winner took a season or two to materialise, but when it came, courtesy of Silver Coaster in a novices handicap chase in August 2012, ridden by great friend Dickie Johnson, it was the start of a growing stream of winners under both codes.
Flat handicapper Kenstone is another favourite. Winner of 6 of his 55 races, including a sparkling 2017, when he ran 12 times, winning at Chelmsford twice, Thirsk and Chester, improving his mark from 52 to 87 en route.
Today's winner at Chepstow, a belated first Jumps winner this term, is another example. Baratineur, a French-bred 10 year old was notching a third career win from 33 runs.
Wintle is a well-recognized name in racing circles around Gloucestershire, and for that matter beyond. And it looks like in Adrian, the Wintle reputation is set to continue through another generation.
Following Monday's timetabled relaxation of restrictions, Point-to-Point racing will resume again in the UK on March 29 with a totally fresh fixture list.
The remaining 12 weeks of the season will see a total of 54 fixtures stretching across the entire UK, amid which the Three Counties is well represented. The Berkeley moves on a day to Sunday April 25, whilst 4 other fixtures also take place across Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, starting with Maisemore on March 30.
A notable switch is the move of Shelfield Park from the third week in March to April 11, a slot vacated by Andoversford. No Cotswold fixture will take place at all, following the withdrawal of the North Cotswold at Paxford, Andoversford Races and the Cotswold Vale at Maisemore.
For the time being at least, all fixtures will remain behind closed doors with an intention to live stream all events. Further relaxation of restrictions will be at the direction of DCMS depending on the speed of infections falling and the vaccination roll-out.
A full national fixture list may be seen here.
Following the Prime Minister’s Announcement yesterday, the Point-to-Point Authority is planning to restart the sport in week commencing March 29.
Peter Wright, CEO, reported, "We are working hard to create a new fixture list which reflects the situation, and hope to have one available by the end of this week – there is no shortage of volunteers.
I realise that this will be disappointing news for some as we are inherently safe with very low densities, no fomites and no ventilation problems - apart from it sometimes being too windy. However, we do not operate in a bubble, and we have to be on the same page as other amateur sports."
This will still leave 11-12 weeks of the season remaining, including the two major Foxhunter chases at Aintree and Stratford.
In terms of the paying public and Owners, the government position is not yet clear but racing will restart behind closed doors until April 12 at the least.
The Berkeley Hunt has been in existence in some fashion or other since the C12th, but in keeping with the growth of organised sport, and capitalism in Victorian Britain, the hunt branched out into racing in the middle of the C19th, setting up an annual race day about a mile out of Berkeley in February 1859, which lasted until the 1870s.
At that time, there was stiff competition for racecourses. Virtually every small town had its own fixture, some over multiple days, and ready fruits of Victorian labour were pushed into racecourse construction all over the UK. Bristol having done very well from the Industrial Revolution, as witnessed by the quantity of elegant houses within easy reach of the city, it saw plenty of competition for racing.
The Bristol & Counties Races Company, of which more later, was, at least temporarily, better funded, to the extent that the Berkeley Races died out in the 1870s for around 10 years, before returning in April 1885 on a course of 2 1/2 - 3 miles. Whilst the meeting was well received, including a Yeomanry Cup restricted to riders from the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars that would make Rollo Clifford very proud, it couldn't be sustained and died a death the following year.
Bristol, by contrast, continued to spawn racecourses hither and thither, even though none sadly survive now.
The first recorded chase was somewhere in Bristol in 1832, and another is mentioned at Marshfield 2 years later. There were also races on what is best known as Clifton Downs, or Durdham Down, between the Zoo and the halls of residence for the university on the western side of the Common, but again, these died out by 1838.
A further fixture was held at Patchway, between the RAC Call centre and Cribbs Causeway Shopping Centre to viewers on the M5, in 1856, and a meeting west of Keynsham 3 years later, at Knowle. These were all, of course, rural areas before Bristol had grown to its current size.
But it was at Knowle that Bristol set up its biggest chance to make a racecourse of which to be proud. Just off the Wells Road, and south of what is now Redcatch Lane to Bristolians, land was leased by owner Sir Greville Smyth to the Bristol & Western Counties Racecourse Company.