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."
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