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Barbury Castle, 26/11/17

Point-to-Point Owners’ & Riders’ Club

The whole December pointing season is a mess. Firstly, two of the fixtures are in November. The opening meeting had to change the course on which it was staged at short notice due to land sale. A military exercise has led to a move of date for Larkhill, which lashes with Cottenham and the small but committed (or should be) band of south-eastern early season racegoers have to choose between them instead of attending both. And finally it turns out that on the day of this meeting the M4 has a scheduled weekend closure at Reading. It is enough to make people go flat racing… only kidding. That would be an absurd response.

Going: Good/Good To Soft

Race 1: Dodson & Horrell PPORA Club Members, Novice Riders

1: William Money     2: Just Cause     3: Vaillant Creek

Winner owned & trained: David Brace, trained: Conor Brace

A new season, a new crop of people that you have never heard of riding some horses that you may have heard of, and in some cases might even think are still functional athletes. William Money fitted that bill, having finished first or second in his last seven chases and squeezed in a sighter at the Bishops Court mixed open last week as well. There were moments that he appeared ready to make hard work of things, but he forged clear from the last and ended up reasonably impressive. Just Cause, in contrast, had been struggling a bit in Ireland but found this level a bit more of his cup of tea. As he is still only seven, there is time to make up into quality pointer – as long as his stamina holds up. Two contenders that should have been capable of getting seriously involved were the not proven to stay Mr Burgees (unseated at fence twelve when in arrears) and Cloud Creeper, who had been off since mid-2016 and ran sluggishly. He pinched fourth on the line, but was an awful long way behind the winner.

Race 2: The Jockey Club and NAF Mares & Fillies Open Maiden

1: Pique Rock     2: Act Like You Know     3: Sackable Offence

Winner owned: Mrs Juliet Minton, trained: Philip Rowley, ridden: Alex Edwards

There was a long delay to the start of this race as River Dun, who was going to post early, unseated Darren Edwards and whatever the injury was, it was serious enough to see him carted off in the ambulance. And when the race started it did not get any more sedate. Elska flung herself wildly at the first, crashing into favourite One Big Love and causing her to lose her rider. At the next, Elska refused and unseated her own pilot. From then on Pique Rock had a fairly easy time of it, not seeing her uncertain stamina challenged. She used to be trained on the course by Alan King and her bumper form is not the worst that has ever been brought into the pointing arena, so Pique Rock is not totally hornswoggled by an early progression into Restricted company.
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In an ideal world Pique Rock would be nearest the camera and The Spider Catcher on the far side, but sometimes life intimidates art. The back of a car would also not be seemingly attached to The Spider Catcher’s head.

Race 3: Equine Health Centre Ltd Mixed Open

1: Iberico     2: Lilbitluso     3: Big Casino

Winner owned: CJ Bennett, trained & ridden: Sam Jukes

This was a very difficult race as the whole prelims were rushed after the much delayed second race and racegoers had nineteen (yes, nineteen in an Open!) runners to get their teeth into. There were at least two cases of heads exploding, plus the odd over excited dog and a flurry of two different announcements being made at the same time. Possibly inevitably, the field, once underway, were soon strung out over a considerable distance – some needed advice that going around in single file is not mandatory. Vaguely returning to relevance, Iberico was a very impressive winner as he only hit the front three out, but left the challengers really floundering from there. His record of 9/19 in Britain is not out of the ordinary, but he does tend to win first time. The second race of the season often ends up rather less amazing. The chances of Lilbitluso (also none too shoddy first time out) were ruined by a bad error four fences from the finish, but it is perfectly possible that without it he just loses by less. Big Casino was comfortably dismissed on this pointing debut, but he has always been an occasional winner. At least he will normally find this new career less challenging that this initial experience. By finishing fourth Sacre Toi missed out on the first three for the first time since he returned from France a year and a half (and a bit) ago. He did not seem too distraught by the setback. There is a real chance that one or two of the clump that finished, all the way down to eleventh, can find a much better result in smaller fields imminently – Deadly Sting, who missed last season and needed the run, is a appealing candidate. Flop of the race was John Corbet Cup holder Now Ben, who was in the mix for a place only to tie up quickly four out, and be eased down. He did get beaten first time last season, just not as feebly as this.

Race 4: Surrey Cook PPORA Club Members, 8 year olds and up

1: Sentimentaljourney     2: Rendezvous Peak     3: Shangani

Winner owned: Mrs Lucie Varnham & Robert Varnham, trained: Robert Varnham ridden: Solomon Wood

An innovative race condition limited the qualification to horses that had not won in the last two seasons. There are plenty of them around, so it was disappointing that only six entered, but all of them turned up for the fun to be had. With the best form and the champion jockey, Rendezvous Peak having the best fitness level (or so it looked) was rubbing salt into the wound. Going into the final bend he was four lengths up and going well, but he found absolutely nothing for pressure and Sentimentaljourney breezed into the lead. The winner is himself not the most prolific seeker of success, but even Gordon Elliott could not get Rendezvous Peak to turn performance into glory more than once, so he does look like one to take on, especially having dropped into a theoretically easier tier of racing and initially shown zero appreciation of what has been offered to him. Shangani has been off for more than a year and a half and just noodled round for third. He probably requires softer ground, but stamina needs to be proven – one run under Rules is a) encouraging and b) is outnumbered by sub-standard three mile attempts.
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Rendezvous Peak getting into a comfortable rhythm, which allows him to concentrate on bringing terror and despair to the masses

Race 5: Tony Kemp Memorial Intermediate

1: Chasforgold     2: Palmaria      3: Robin De Boss

Winner owned: CJ Bennett, trained: Emma Alvis, ridden: Sam Jukes

The finish of this was the best of the day, with barely a length between them. Chasforgold did really well to hold on under pressure as he did look notably portly in the paddock and a late race implosion seemed on the cards, but never materialised. Palmaria held on to second by a neck from Robin De Boss, who caught the eye for travelling extremely well after the third last, only to not pick up as expected – a bad mistake earlier may have drained too much energy. As failures go, it hardly deserves a verbal lashing, but he has now run in thirteen points, winning twice and ending up second or third in eight. That is a record that is earning him a reprimand. Paddock pick was Air Glider, who has only been out of the first three on two occasions since April 2015, one of which was a fall over hurdles. He neither flew, nor soared, nor glided, and ran a thorough stinker. Enough that it would be hard to expect a vastly improved result on a quick reappearance. At the other end of the scale was Flights, who definitely needed the run. She was in the first three for all seven pointing runs last season and can be better than this fifth place soon.
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Minella Friend (11) and Ballyfore Cross try, and fail, to steal the limelight here, because chubby Chasforgold has a prime spot on the nearest side of the back rank. Palmaria is on the far side, with the citrus colours of Flights separating them. Robin De Boss (13) is about to clout the eleventh fence hard and Dancing Royal (5) drifted out of the race from soon after this photo.

Race 6: ValleyEquine Hospital Open Maiden, 4-6 year olds (2m 4f)

1: Lily’s Got Wings     2: U No Like     3: Troed Y Melin

Winner owned: Mrs AP Bird, trained: Julie Wadland, ridden: Jack Andrews

A finale that unfolded in less than expected style. There were plenty of runners, standards of fitness were quite high and in general they did not look like the most ungainly bunch to ever line up for a youngsters maiden – even if bringing to the party form that did not get the adrenalin rushing. The elements added up to a race due a tight finish and plenty of horses completing, but instead Lily’s Got Wings galloped nearly all of them into submission, and the win was confirmed when four year old newcomer The Sting spoiled an otherwise excellent debut by falling at the last. The winner showed almost nothing in three Irish efforts, but as a measure of the standard this time, Troed Y Melin finished a neck second in this race in 2016, on his racecourse debut. Thanks to his affinity with second place he was able to bid to put the record straight and got beaten by more than thirty lengths. Having been imported from Ireland with three prominent runs in unexceptional company (but better form than Lily’s Got Wings!), U No Like did a fair job, but would only have been third had The Sting had a bit more luck.
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