ll eyes may be on the relaunch of Cheltenham's season tomorrow, but as Arthur Stephenson famously remarked when sticking to Hexham in favour of seeing The Thinker win the Gold Cup, "Little fish are sweet".
And so it proved today at Ludlow, when Forest of Dean trainer John O'Shea turned in his third winner of the new term with Just The Man in the Vera Davies Handicap Hurdle at Ludlow.
Just The Man is a Rooney cast-off, a five year old grey gelding who joined the O'Shea stable from Clive Cox in October of last year. Since then, he's tried his hand over obstacles and middle distances on the flat without success, but the penny dropped today to good effect, driven out to win going away, by Adam Wedge.
The O'Shea stable is self-confessedly more focused on the flat nowadays, with 13 winners since the start of the year, but the occasional jumper moves the soul. Just The Man may be no world beater off a rating of 111, but now he's proved he can end a race in front at the right moment, who knows what may incentivize him inside?
Meantime, the Tattersalls National Point-to-Point Awards for last season are handed out tonight, led by Men's Champion James King and Lady's Champion Rider Gina Andrews. Gina was also successful this afternoon at Ludlow for John Groucott in the Amateur Riders Chase. James clinched the title at Bratton Down in June although in reality, it was a done deal half way through the season, with a double that included Jason Warner's Los Alamos.
Leading Trainers are Tom Ellis in the category above 8 horses and Luke Price for the smaller stables. Luke, of course, trains several for Jason Warner, Master of the Cotswold Vale, secretary of their Point-to-Point back at Andoversford in 2022 and leading owner in 2020-21, but also very ill presently. There'll be plenty a glass raised in his honour and to his good health this evening.
The Point-to-Point Authority is delighted to announce INEOS Automotive as the new title sponsor of its Mixed Open Series, which will get underway in November 2021.
The three-year national partnership coincides with the launch of the widely anticipated INEOS Grenadier 4X4 in July 2022. The British-designed, rugged and uncompromising off-roader is being built to meet the extreme demands of its customers. Perfect for towing a horsebox and tackling challenging terrain, the highly capable vehicle is an ideal fit for a countryside-based sport with strong ties to Britain's farming and rural communities.
Gary Pearson, Head of UK and MENA at INEOS Automotive, said: "The desire to build a vehicle with the versatility to meet the needs of those who live, work and play in the countryside has been at the forefront of our ambitions since the early development stages of the Grenadier. Engineered to be a capable and reliable workhorse, it’s fitting that the Grenadier will be forming such strong ties with the Point-to-Point Authority, not only to provide financial support for the sport, but to also build stronger relationships with a community this vehicle has been designed for.”
Peter Wright, Chief Executive of the Point-to-Point Authority, added: "This is a very welcome new national partnership, focusing on a series of mixed open races leading to a valuable final and involving some of our leading horses. The Grenadier 4X4 is a perfect fit for point-to-pointing and the wider countryside community."
INEOS Automotive will be sponsoring 16 mixed open point-to-point races at venues from Scotland to Cornwall, and West Wales to East Anglia, with each race worth £1,000 in prize money. The first four horses from each INEOS Grenadier Mixed Open race, plus the first two from any other mixed open contest, will qualify for the £10,000 INEOS Grenadier Mixed Open Hunters' Chase final, to be run at Cheltenham on Friday, May 6.
Somerset-based Will Biddick, who trains Britain's top-rated hunter chaser Porlock Bay, said: "Our first aim is to get Porlock to the Cheltenham Festival, but he had a light campaign last season, and a race like the INEOS Grenadier Mixed Open Hunters' Chase in May could well become the next target. It's good to have a decent pot to aim at, and it's marvellous that such a big company is supporting the grass roots of horse racing."
Shropshire trainer Philip Rowley, who has won Cheltenham's Mixed Open Hunters' Chase three times, said: "Most sports need a bit of a lift after disruptions caused by Covid, and for a company like INEOS to come in is great news. I'm hoping we have a horse good enough to run in the final and Salvatore might be the one. His owners are point-to-point people through and through, and he's a horse who wants a bit of decent ground, which we should get at Cheltenham in May."
Small training yards across the region are stretched when sending runners as this takes staff away from the morning's work and puts more upon those left behind. These tasks are part of the accepted routine of a racing yard, and easier to accommodate when the horses are running well.
So you can imagine the mood will be pretty chipper in Westbury-on-Severn this afternoon and for the rest of this week after a rare double for the dual-purpose yard of Adrian Wintle after a double at Newton Abbot and Bath today.
Hurdler Espinator has already done the yard proud this year, with 3 wins and four placed efforts from seven starts since April 1st, and she notched her second victory this month in the Racing Partnership Novices Handicap Hurdle at showery Newton Abbot's meeting today, winning by 8 1/2l. There's more to come from this game 7 year old.
Eighty minutes later, and 111 miles north-east at Bath, Blue Hero followed up his course win of a fortnight ago in a mile handicap; that's also two from two in September. The same stable's Kenstone finished runner-up in the first division of an identical race 30 minutes earlier.
The Wintle team is in flying form presently. The last 6 runners have finished no worse than third, so autumn conditions clearly suit all.
And they make evening stables a great deal less arduous when short-handed!
You'd think there'd be a legion of trainers in Berkeley country, given the widespread grassland and rich heritage of hunting. The reality is something different: our leading - and almost only - trainer is Adrian Wintle at Westbury-on-Severn.
It would appear that a majority of trainers have migrated to the hill country of the Cotswolds, where the cluster of Jumps trainers and their phalanxes of high quality thoroughbreds between Cheltenham and Oxford grows each year.
But there's certainly nothing wrong with Adrian's methods, or his results, as this afternoon's results from Uttoxeter illustrate. A clever half length victory in the St Leger Guide At attheraces.com/leger Novices Handicap Hurdle over the higher-rated Champagne Noir from the opposite end of the Cotswolds is a perfect example.
Espinator, picking up a second consecutive handicap win off a light weight, is earning his keep in the best possible fashion, earning his owner £7,952.68 in six runs since April 1st.
But whilst any winner is to be celebrated, and many owners will say it was never about the money, it's a stark reminder of the competition we face when horses under Rules are running into place money for little more than the travel expenses. Small wonder some of our trainers are voting with their feet for a better lifestyle and easier rewards in France.
Adrian Wintle is enjoying an excellent start to September, Espinator providing a second winner within a week after Plansina won a middle distance handicap at Bath last week.
Meanwhile, as the harvest season draws to a close, Berkeley Pointing enthusiasts are in good company thinking about what to campaign this winter and next Spring at Woodford and elsewhere. The fixture list is nearly complete, and allows for a better balance than in any recent season, with many fixtures opting for autumn or winter racing.
Check out the new Season Ticket to all the fixtures in the West Mercian area that include Woodford next Spring. At £130, it represents excellent value for an early sight of horses, riders and trainers on the upgrade.
Some 30 years ago, my first ever visit to Woodford for the Berkeley Races was to follow a good friend enjoying a ride in an Adjacent Hunts race, predecessor of the Confined race type now.
James Grassick, formerly of the parish of Winchcombe, was born into a racing family, and used to ride out one lot before heading for school each day. His father had come across from Ireland as a teenager and built a family and a livery business, to which he added a trainer's licence.
And a happy day it was too at Woodford, when New Lord demolished his opposition to win - the very essence of Point-to-Point racing.
James enjoyed another first yesterday. Irish-bred Glockenspiel won a claimer at St Malo in Normandy, a first winner for a trainer who has now set up shop on the other side of the Channel. There's nothing remarkable about the horse, but the story of the trainer is one that is growing currency on this side of the water, where young and ambitious trainers find the start-up costs of a training business prohibitively high.
You know the old adage; if you want to make a small fortune in horseracing, start with a big one and go training. There's not a trainer in the land who won't tell you there's no money to be made in training. The margin is all in the buying and selling. Keeping horses is a marginal business, not least because of the cost of property now.
One thing we don't do well in this country is support fledgling training businesses to flourish. A worthy innovation at Wolverhampton and Southwell many years ago offered start-up trainers the opportunity to rent a barn (ie up to 20 stalls) on the racecourse, where they could use the all-weather surface for work. It's a model in common usage in the USA, not just at racecourses, but at training centres too. Sadly, it was discontinued at the two ARC tracks.
The only remotely comparable model to that here is the new-ish stable yards on the Hamilton Road in Newmarket. Nothing like that exists at any other training centre - or racecourse. And this seems an opportunity missed: horses trained at the racecourses are as likely to race on the premises as go elsewhere.
Instead, Grassick Jnr is one of a growing band of trainers seeking a better quality of life in France, where lower costs combine with generous prize money (you still have to win it, mind) and travel allowances to encourage new handlers into the sport. The cost of property, whilst rising, bears no relation to the feeding frenzy that is the UK market.
You may justifiably remark that the loss of one middling trainer is neither here nor there. If this were an isolated incident, I would agree, but James is not alone. Nick Littmoden, Louisa Carberry, Andrew Hollinshead and others have done similarly. Add to this a growing band of well-established trainers sending teams over for short 3 month spells (the maximum duration of a temporary licence), among which most prominent is Tom George, and there is not just a brain drain, but a horse drain too.
It's a lesson British administrators and racecourses should be learning. Exhorting the professionals to "Buy British" on its own is not enough.
Westbury-on-Severn trainer Adrian Wintle is enjoying a purple patch at present, Espinator at Newton Abbot today providing a third winner within a month.
Keepers Choice, a seven year old mare who doesn't know how to run a bad race, started the sequence at Bath in a 6f handicap on June 4, following up a second time at the same venue 8 days later. Lightning doesn't often strike three times, but she was only narrowly beaten by the better-bred Arctic Emperor from Archie Watson's 10 days later when returning to Bath a third time. I'm sure she'll be winning again there; she certainly knows her way around.
As if to show his versatility, Adrian produced Espinator to win at Newton Abbot this afternoon in division II of the 2m5f handicap hurdle. Leading into the final bend, the French-bred gelding was challenged and found more to win by 1 1/4l, ridden by Kevin Brogan. Having broken his duck at the eleventh attempt, you'd hope he'd be slightly ahead of the handicapper.
Newton Abbot was also the scene for another Point-to-Point graduate triumph this afternoon, when Claire Hitch, former secretary of the Dulverton West at Bratton Down, trained her second winner of this term, and third overall, in the opening maiden hurdle, with a ten year old called Every Breakin Wave. He's a Johnny-come-lately at that age, but there's a first for everything.
Claire's no stranger to success between the flags; 37 winners and counting to date.
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.
Now the Point-to-Point season nearly upon us again, we must content ourselves with summer jumping and some of the highlights of the flat season, including the Arc this weekend.
But if truth be told, many Jumps enthusiasts put the sport to one side for the summer and return when the leaves are turning brown. Were it not for Covid restrictions, we'd all be rushing abroad for some hot sun and sangria. And I always top up my racing library during the summer with new and old publications to enjoy with my feet up.
Here are a few personal favourites among recently published books and one not so recent:
The Sure Thing (Nick Townsend)
To say Barney Curley was a legend in his own lifetime is no exaggeration. Loved by racing folk for his mentoring and feared by bookmakers used to outwitting punters, Curley, who died last month, was the archetypal bookie basher.
In the summer of 1975 the late lamented trainer and charity worker, a fearless and renowned gambler, masterminded one of the most spectacular gambles of all time with a racehorse called Yellow Sam. It cost the bookmakers millions of pounds. They said that it could never happen again. But in May 2010, thirty-five years after his first coup, Curley staged the ultimate multimillion pound-winning sequel. The Sure Thing tells the complete story of how he managed to organise the biggest gamble in racing history - and how he then followed up with yet another audacious scheme in January 2014.
In the Shadow of Cleeve Hill (Bernard Parkin)
Bernard had already been Official Photographer at Cheltenham for yonks when I appeared at Cheltenham as a fresh-faced youth in my twenties in 1988. Every bar, every award we ever gave, was full of images he had captured since the fifties. He's Cheltenham-bred through and through, growing up in a time when Prestbury and Woodmancote were training powerhouses in their own right, and Cleeve Common was a veritable Newmarket Heath at a certain time of the morning.
Bernard's imagery, captured through his trusty Leica, extended to Ascot and other courses too, to the extent he received a royal warrant. It was only his reluctance to adopt digital cameras that allowed others to supersede his dominance of the scene.
This entertaining gallop through life in Woodmancote, racing and plenty else is a perfect trip down a memory lane of great Cheltenham events of the past 70 years.
Steeplechasing (John Hislop)
Even allowing for the difference in riding styles nowadays, this is essential reading for any aspiring rider over fences. With illustrations by John Skeaping, the book is the nearest the sport has to a textbook of how to learn the art of race riding. A definite must-have for any entrant to the sport despite the 51 years since its first publication.
For wannabe flat riders, there's a companion book entitled Flat race Riding.
Thrills and Spills: celebrating Irish Jump racing (Donn McClean)
Given Irish dominance of the Festival and for that matter Aintree too, this may be too sore a topic for British racing fans. However, Sunday Independent writer Donn McClean, erudite as ever, has teamed up with the photographic luminary of the Emerald Isle, Pat Healy to produce this selection of 200 magical Irish jump racing moments. Nostalgia eat your heart out; this is yet another advertisement for the charm and ambiance of the Irish scene.
Enjoy your reading!
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 Races news brings you articles about racing folk and events in and around the Berkeley country