Forest of Dean - based Sophie Leech is putting the French to the sword presently with a record that bears sharp contrast to her performance on this side of la Manche.
Her 46 runners from 19 individual runners have netted 4 winners and 11 placed efforts in France, and nearly €100,000. As any trainer competing in Britain's summer racing programme will attest, you need to win at least double that volume of races to get close to that sort of return over here.
A strong run of form this past week has seen winners at Clarefontaine in a valuable handicap hurdle, and today in a conditions hurdle at St Malo. McGroaty, rated just 115 over hurdles in the UK, was driven out by Nathan Howie to win a £45,000 hurdle at Clarefontaine by 1 1/2l in a 17 runner field on soft ground. How enviously must British clerks of course look at that!
Today's effort at St Malo by 5 year old John Locke under James Reveley leaves plenty of scope to follow up in other similar races around France's provincial circuit.
Sophie is among the UK's leading exporters of British training expertise, and arguably the most consistently successful British Jumps trainer on the French circuit. She and husband Christian have consistently bought well and improved horses, enabling their owners to win back the purchase price and then some in valuable races across France.
Success in France is a matter of identifying the connections to help. It's little different in distance to get to Dieppe than to Carlisle or Perth, aside from the Channel in between. However, being able to base their overseas runners with Michel Seror in Lamorlaye gives them access to a range of public gallops and schooling facilities unmatched even by Lambourn or Newmarket. Add to that the advice of a trainer well used to success in his own country and success is given a hefty leg up.
Leech runners are well respected in France after several seasons of plundering well endowed prizes at eclectic venues from Auteuil to Dieppe, and her regular visits are not sufficient yet to draw the requirement of France Galop to take out a permanent licence in France.
A quiet-spoken success from the Forest of Dean. Vive l'ecurie Leech!
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.
Former Point-to-Point rider Adrian Wintle is now a more familiar figure at flat racecourses, running just 34 horses last season for three Jumps winners.
However, a welcome National Hunt winner in the opener at Stratford yesterday advertised his claims as a dual purpose handler. Ennistown took up the running two out in the Allan Atkonson Memorial Handicap Hurdle, and maintained an advantage to the line, winning with a little in hand under Tom Bellamy.
This is the first Jumps winner this term from the Westbury-on-Severn trainer from just 10 runners. By contrast, there are 4 winners on the board from Flat runners.
Also successful at the same Stratford fixture was D J Jeffreys, formerly assistant to Charlie Longsdon, who took the plunge with a licence of his own to train three years ago. Establishing oneself as a new trainer is far from easy, but operating from a new base at Hinton-on-the-Green near Evesham, DJ has accumulated 4 winners from 29 runners to date this season, and the horses are running especially well at present. Even if the sport is currently operating quietly, with small fields, the Jeffreys stable has plenty of placed efforts, an excellent sign of a healthy enterprise.
David Christie was the toast of Stratford on Friday night, capturing two of the sport's most prestigious prizes for the Point-to-Point community on the country's most valuable night of hunter chases. The County Fermanagh trainer showed a clean pair of heels to his British counterparts in the last of the three British Foxhunter chases and the Novice Championship.
As if to re-inforce the fixture as the Go-To event for aspirant pointers, Vaucelet, winner of last year's Pointtopoint.co.uk Champion Novices' Chase John Corbett Cup, stepped up a grade into full open company to displace David Kemp's Law of Gold, the previous year's winner, in the Pertemps Network Stratford Foxhunters Chase.
A muddling pace early allowed Vaucelet to take a leading position with Le Breuil and Dandy Dan, winner of the Ineos Grenadier Intermediate Final at Cheltenham last month, Law of Gold taking the shortest route. In truth, the slow pace made for plenty of jumping errors, which diminished as the pace stepped up on their final circuit, when Law of Gold pushed Le Breuil for the lead.
Three out, Le Breuil had given way to Law of Gold, Vaucelet, Solomon Grey and Downtown Getaway, but the first two, with Stratford form already on their record, had drawn clear, and Vaucelet asserted at the last to run out a 4l victor.
Half an hour earlier, Christie's other runner, Ask D'Man, had looked an improbable winner in the Champion Novices Hunters Chase, hunting around the first circuit, and only showing his hand 4 out, when making some headway. Turning into the straight with one to jump, Ask D'Man still had 7l to make up on long time leader Go Go Geronimo, but despite a less than perfect jump at the last, showed some good speed to take the inner berth and get up by 3/4l.
Both winners were ridden by Barry O'Neill.
The double allows Christie the admirable position of three of the UK and Ireland's leading hunter chasers, given he also trained Winged Leader to be second behind Billaway in the Cheltenham Foxhunters.
The three runner Nimrod Veterinary Products Ladies Championship Hunters' Chase produced another close finish despite the small field. The Waley-Cohen team, represented by father Robert and recently retired Sam, watched Igor just come off worse against dual hunter chase winner Fumet d'Oudairies, representing the Ellis-Andrews partnership that dominates the amateur division, and the drop in class from the heights of the Cheltenham Foxhunter allowed the Tom Ellis-trained gelding to regain a winning thread over regulation fences.
The White Swan Hotel Handicap Hunters Chase is the only handicap in the hunters calendar, but Zamparelli, trained by Victoria Collins in Broadway and ridden by leading Novice rider Freddie Gordon, made the race into a procession, extending a 7l lead at the final bend to over twice that distance at the line.
The long trip from Devon proved well worthwhile for connections of Say About It, qualified with the Torrington Farmers, whose Point-to-Point fixture is the traditional closer to the season in a fortnight. Only 4 of the seven declared faced the starter, and that field was down to two by the closing stages, where Say About It was pressed by Spanish Jump, trained by former rider and At The Races presenter Luke Harvey. Three lengths separated the two at the line for a delighted winning rider Vincent Webster.
The opening PPSA Chase over the minimum distance had spectators with their hearts in their mouths as locally-trained Azzuri, trained by Nick Pearce, assistanct to Dan Skelton and Clerk of nearby Shelfield Park point-to-point course, teamed up with stable amateur Tristan Durrell, but just failed to hold on against Across The Line, trained by Syd Hosie in Dorset. Syd enjoyed success at Cheltenham's hunters' evening, but his current crop of Rules horses are back with Joe Tizzard after running his own training operation with Nick Mitchell, then Ralph Smith.
There's plenty of evidence that British Point-to-Point owners are buying in Ireland. Three of the five runners in the concluding Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Champion Point-to-Point Bumper are Irish-bred, and in keeping with the theme of the evening, it was the Irish-bred Patanita, confidently ridden by Peter Bryan, who took the honours for Georgina Nicholls and the splendidly-named G & T Partnership.
Considering the swathes of pasture and undulating hills, the Berkeley Vale is no epicentre of racehorse development and training. Given the county's predominance in so many equestrian sports, the torch is being carried by a small band of enthusiasts and professional handlers, who are nevertheless representing the area very well.
John O'Shea is one such. Not in the first flower of youth any more, John is no mug when it comes to training from his base near Coleford in the Forest of Dean. And following him just recently would have brought smiles all round.
His latest winner, Fight For It, in the opening novice hurdle at Ludlow yesterday, is the fourth winner in less than a fortnight after a clutch of winners on the flat.
Indeed, Fight For It was bred for the Flat too, being a son of Camelot, a Derby winner, and bred by the dominant Coolmore organisation that is a world leader in graded winners. Fight For It is one who slipped through the net. A slow learner, he has been schooled over hurdles by none other than Henrietta Knight, now no longer training, but using her expertise to mentor young horses or those that have lost their way.
The former Gold Cup winning trainer has certainly worked her magic, as Fight For It ran out a convincing 8l winner, and has plenty of scope to win again.
He follows up on a brace of winners at Chepstow on April 28, hard on the heels of a winner on the clifftop at Brighton 2 days earlier. Indeed, John has a sparkling 29% strike rate from his older horses presently, right up there on winner-runner ratio with the leaders of the pack.
Fran Poole’s success on Bouggietopieces in the Berkeley Members at Woodford on Saturday afternoon epitomized the true Corinthian spirit on which the sport was founded. The 12-year-old is the only horse the family have at their Frampton Cotterell base and they were rewarded for their efforts when Bouggietopieces made all the running under his 31-year-old rider.
Poole had scored her only previous success on One to Note in the Members at this meeting back in 2014 and they were runner up on two subsequent occasions in 2015/2016.This partnership were having their 10th race together and they had advertised their chances with a prominent run at Bitterley a few weeks ago.
With doubts about the stamina of some of their rivals, Miss Poole made her intentions clear from the start and was soon 5-lengths clear. The leader began to jump right at some of the fences but the opposition were never in a position to take advantage of Bouggietopieces' jumping deficiencies.
Always on the Run's effort petered out early in the home straight and it was left to Nuova Vita to offer token resistance over the final two fences but Miss Poole’s mount extended his advantage as they raced towards the judge.
The winning rider was rewarded by picking up a majority of the silverware and was also awarded the TCEH Novice Ride of the Day for her enterprising tactics.
Tommie O’Brien and James King started the day tied at the top of the leader board to become the Area's Leading Rider, but King travelled down to West Sussex to team up with the late Jason Warner’s Ahead of the Game.
O’Brien took advantage of his rival’s absence although he was beaten in both the PPORA Club Members and the Jockey Club sponsored Mares Final, but managed to add to his points total and with had the bonus of riding the winner of the Maiden which consolidated his position at the head of the table and that will stand him in good stead during the closing weeks of the season.
7 horses lined up for the PPORA Club Members, but that number was reduced to six when Frank and Honest declined to take part.
Welsh’s Castle and Ivor Herbert set a strong pace and maintained their front running position until making the long run for home. The complexion of the race changed racing towards the second from home where the riders of Lagonda, Blue and Yellow and Island Master all fancied their chances but the favourite Bawnmore moved up smoothly and mounted his challenge over the remaining fences.
Lagonda blundered at that obstacle but was soon back on levels terms, before the favourite eased clear on the flat to prevail by a length in the hands of multiple Ladies Champion Gina Andrews. The winner is trained by the riders husband Tom at Marton, near Rugby for a quartet of owners including Jenny Hayward, Ray Randerson, Lynn Redman and Maurice Thomas.
O’Brien also had to settle for the runner up spot on Felicie du Maquis in the Mares and Fillies Final behind the hot favourite Walkin Over.
The favourite ran and jumped with enthusiasm and gusto throughout, while it seemed the other runners were just there to make up the numbers. Martin MacIntyre’s mount increased his already substantial advantage at the far end of the course, but to her credit Felicie du Maquis began to reduce the leader's advantage approaching three out.
The favourite was still well on top as they came to the last but O’Brien started to get a response and his mount began to eat into the favourite's lead as they raced towards the judge. Although beaten she came out of the race with great credit as she was conceding weight to all her rivals and 9 lbs to the winner and future events may prove that was an impossible task. The winner was bred at Robert Waley-Cohen’s Upton Viva Stud and purchased by his current connections at Arqana Sales in March 2022.
There was some interesting betting in the Restricted where Giants Table was installed as favourite despite his last success being back in Ireland 2019 while Gamalou D’Alene also came in for support.
The latter lost ground quickly at the 10th, while Giants Table began to drop back at the far end of the course.
Gottagottagetaway held a clear lead over Vic the Vandal jumping four out but James Jeavons' perseverance started to pay dividends on the second horse and they were on the leader's heels by the next obstacle. That effort was short lived and Tom Broughton managed to kid and cajole Lucy Smith's runner who finally put the race to bed by drawing well clear of his rivals over the remaining obstacles.
Twig won his fourth race of the season by getting the better of a close finish with Tuff Nano in the Men's Open. Multiple Champion Will Biddick was determined to grab the lead on runner up and succeeded in doing so and they maintained their advantage until challenged by Twig in the home straight.
Beau Morgan’s mount was always travelling that little bit better than his rivals and confirmed that by quickening clear on the flat.
Gina Andrews and Master Templar headed the market for the Ladies Conditions but they could make no impression when asked for an effort in the home straight.
Acitvail and Danseur de Large made the running until Knight Batchelor took over as they went out onto their final circuit and were joined by Grageelagh Girl and Wotzizname, with these three dominating proceedings from this point.
Katie Sinclair had to push along Grageelagh Girl to maintain their advantage approaching three out but Megan Bevan and Wotzizname soon took their measure and stayed on well to claim victory. The winner had finished runner up to the Mens Open winner Twig in his previous race and that should have been a clue to his chances.
Tommie O’Brien teamed up with Fran Poste to win the concluding Maiden with the 4-year-old Presenting gelding Also Known As.
Let’s Getaway and Immy Robinson jumped superbly in the lead and continued to travel well when they reappeared at the far end of the course. There were still 6 or 7 horses in with a chance as they turned back towards home where Lets Getaway, Also Known As, Kalabana and Straightupsnicket were in the box seats.
Also Known As held a commanding lead between the final two fences and was yet another winner to come off the Poste production line at Ettington, and had obviously benefitted from his experience at Edgcote as he proved far too strong for Straightupsnicket who held Kalabana’s challenge over the final obstacles to claim the runners up spot.
Tom & Gina Ellis secured their largest triumph when prevailing in a tight finish to the Randox Foxhunter Chase over Aintree's imposing fences earlier this afternoon.
The 18 fences of the Foxhunter, whose magnificent trophy of a near full size fox should prevent any politically correct removal of the title of the race, are the ultimate challenge for the amateur riders who are the core of the sport. Riding round Aintree is on every self-respecting rider's bucket list.
Gina, who rides under her maiden name Andrews, is the foremost amateur in the sport, with over 300 Point-to-Point winners to her name, and nearly 80 winners under Rules, which include a Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir 5 years ago at the Festival. This will rank right up there with the best of those winners, not least as her mount, Latenightpass, was able to overturn a 2 1/2l deficit on last year's winner, Cousin Pascal, to secure the winner's berth.
All the leading candidates were in the vanguard of the field as they headed out into the country, with Cousin Pascal leading from Cat Tiger, Jett, Clondaw Westie and Latenightpass handy. Clondaw Westie was a faller at the Canal Turn, by which time the leading candidates had defined the race for the final mile.
Porlock Bay's rider-trainer Will Biddick had swerved Cheltenham to have last year's Cheltenham Foxhunter winner in the best of form for Aintree, and that decision looked very wise as they turned in, although his chance was not helped by dropping his stick. Cousin Pascal called time at the second last, where Latenightpass went on, pressed by that most game of Corinthians, David Maxwell, on Cat Tiger. The winning distance was a just 1 1/4l, with a further 1 1/4l back to Porlock Bay, running on gamely into third.
The race was a triumph insofar as 18 of the 23 runners finished, and the win and placed horses were a true reflection of the form of the best hunter chasers in Britain. Stand UP And Fight was the nearest Irish contender, a full 39 1/2l behind the winner.
To say that trainer Tom Ellis was fizzing would be an understatement. The leading Point-to-Point trainer heads up a truly family affair in Warwickshire, with a horse owned by his mother, and ridden by his wife. This is the stuff that makes our sport so unique.
A fair-run race, a just winner, and no real hard luck stories. What better reflection of Aintree.ck here to edit.
This past week has been a pretty critical one in the final preparation of home-trained contenders for the Cheltenham Foxhunter, run in the name of St James's Place, on Friday March 18th. A spate of hunter chases, along with the accelerating momentum of the Pointing season, aspire to set the scene for one of the few races at the Festival the British can hope to win.
The West Country is always well represented in the Cheltenham Foxhunter, and don't expect 2022 to be any different. There's Porlock Bay to return for a second tilt, whose sparing runs since last March have been a second to Premier Magic at Chaddesley's Harkaway fixture in late December, and a 2 1/4l second to Salvatore at Bangor on Friday.
Biddick was also successful for Anthony Honeyball at Ffos Las last Thursday on Pure Vision, whose owner J P McManus always enjoys a Festival runner. And as a trainer in his own right, Biddick may well put forward others, like Monsieur Gibraltar, who gave Olive Nicholls a winner at Larkhill in December.
Warwickshire's Tom Ellis can be expected to put forward at least one candidate, and Gina Andrews is a plus for any combination. Sadly we learnt little from Dubai Quest's canter round Wetherby on Saturday last, beating Le Breuil 5 1/2l, with the remainder of the 5 runner field pulling up. However, his reputation is pretty much unblemished, this being his seventh consecutive winning performance.
Ellis also has Latenightpass, second in the Aintree Foxhunter in 2021, and winner of an Alnwick Open in December. He has subsequently fallen in a comparable race at the same venue a fortnight ago. In addition, don't rule out a rule for Fumet d'Oudairies, second in the John Corbet Cup to Vaucelet at Stratford last May, and winner of two Opens at Horseheath this term.
Mark and Sara Bradstock have plenty of experience of Cheltenham after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Coneygree in 2015. Nine year old Mythbuster won an open Hunters Chase at Musselburgh on Saturday for their daughter Lilly, and likely merits an entry too. It's not every day a small stable gets to field a Festival runner, so they may be tempted to tilt at windmills, but it's not inconceivable this cast-off from de Bromhead could figure in the finish.
Meanwhile, James Owen's Pont Aven put in the most eye-catching performance at Ludlow last week, dismissing his opponents with ease.
Hot favourite remains Billaway, second to Porlock Bay in '21, and subsequently fifth to Cousin Pascal at Aintree. He prepped up with a second at Thurles last month, and will be one of a strong team from Closutton after winning easily at Naas on Saturday. Cousin Pascal has been carefully prepared this season, and will come on for his opening run behind Wagner at Hereford last month.
The other Irish challenger comes from north of the border, where David Christie trains in Fermanagh. Vaucelet was a convincing winner of the Stratford Foxhunter last May, and has subsequently burnished his credentials in a Portrush Point-to-Point and a Hunters Chase at Fairyhouse.
And not to forget the Hertfordshire representative, Premier Magic, winner of that splendid open race at Chaddesley over Christmas, and now fully launched into the major league.
The Foxhunter is one field that won't be found wanting, and in five weeks we'll be a little wiser, if not necessarily richer!
Emerging online auction house Thoroughbid has introduced an innovative Point-to-Point bonus, called Point2Rules. The scheme offers horses aged 4, 5 and 6 sold in a ThoroughBid auction the chance to land a £5,000 bonus for their new connections if going on to win their first start under rules. In addition, any graduate of a British Point-to-Point winning on their rules debut will qualify for an extra £10,000.
Leading Point-to-Point trainer Charlie Poste was delighted with the news and said: “I think it’s a fantastic incentive. To say to buyers that there’s a very realistic chance they can recoup a good chunk of their purchase price within 12 months is a big carrot, and even more so if you’re buying British.
“Fair play to ThoroughBid for throwing their weight behind the Point-to-Point scene and coming up with something innovative. It’s definitely something I’ll look to support.”
To qualify for the bonus, horses must not have run in any race other than an English or Irish sanctioned Point-to-Point Steeplechase or Point-to-Point Bumper and the subsequent win under rules, Hunter Chases excluded, must fall within 12 months of the date of the ThoroughBid sale in which the horse was sold. Bonuses to be split: 60% owner, 20% trainer and 20% stable staff.
ThoroughBid’s next auction, the first sale where the new Point2Rules Bonus will apply, is the Christmas Sale on Sunday 19th December and entries close on Friday 10th December, just two days before the International.
Will Kinsey, co-founder of ThoroughBid, said “In recent years the Point-to-Point market has seen huge growth, not only in sales but also its importance within the industry. These bonuses are borne out of ThoroughBid’s desire to support vendors and provide another avenue for them to sell their stock."
ThoroughBid’s presence in the bloodstock world continues to grow, most recently successful in selling Grade 1-winning hurdler Belfast Banter for £130,000. The winner of the County Hurdle and Aintree's Top Novices is headed to the USA to continue his career in east coast steeplechasing.
Nimrod Veterinary Products is an innovator in medicines and other veterinary products for horses. The company is to embark on a new partnership with National Hunt Point-to-Point fixtures across the West Mercian counties, including the Berkeley at Woodford. The partnership will provide veterinary care at each of the 21 fixtures of the West Mercian Point-to-Point Association, covering meetings across six counties: Gloucestershire, Hereford & Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Cheshire, and Warwickshire. The grand finale of the Point-to-Point season at Stratford Racecourse in May 2022 is built largely on the support of the West Mercian counties.
The Nimrod organization was founded by David Renney, a veterinary surgeon and former Point-to-Point rider. This experience provides Nimrod with a unique insight into the world in which horse vets are working. Nimrod’s products for horses comprise pharmaceuticals, and fluid-therapy and diagnostic products.
The West Mercian Point-to-Point Association, chaired by Jim Squires, who is Clerk of Course across multiple West Mercian fixtures, and whose secretary is Nickie Sheppard, wife of Ledbury National Hunt trainer Matt, has been a market leader in innovation in the sport, from introducing digital ticketing to creative partnerships.
Jim remarked, ”Our fixtures have largely been largely side-lined during two seasons when first weather then Covid contrived to thwart us. Yet there remains an undercurrent of enthusiasm for grass roots racing of this kind that remains undimmed, whether you are an owner of horses, rider or trainer, or a fan. We look forward to Nimrod’s support helping us get these events back to full strength this winter.”
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