Exactly 100 competitors stepped up to the oche for the Barbury International Racing Club point-to-point at Barbury racecourse on Sunday and it was The Dellercheckout – named after a famous moment in darts – who hit the bullseye when landing the feature race, the 13-runner Plusvital Mixed Open. Caroline Robinson's six-year-old, given a clever and patient ride by daughter Immy, made gradual progress from mid-division on the final circuit and hit the front from long-time leader Don Bersy two out. However, the jockey didn't want to hit the front too soon so took a pull, keeping the front-runner in her sights before overhauling him on the run-in to score by a cosy length. Inchcolm, always prominent, was two lengths third.
"I bought him at Doncaster in May from the Paul Nicholls yard," Caroline told me afterwards. "I thought he looked a lovely horse in the ring, but he's only six and was sold for a lot of money after winning his Irish point as a four-year-old, so I thought 'Why have they sold him again so soon?' Luckily I haven't found any issues with him so far and he's easy to train." Caroline admitted to being hopeful beforehand and agreed that the plan was to hold The Dellercheckout up. "He can be spooky," she admitted, "So I told Immy to hold on to him."
Quizzed on plans for The Dellercheckout, Caroline – who was the first lady rider to win at Cheltenham when winning the 1983 Foxhunters on Eliogarty in the same colours as were carried today – smiled. "We can dream… I'd love to aim big and I've always wanted another horse to go to Cheltenham, but we'll take it step-by-step." Asked what he's like to ride at home, Immy laughed, "I never ride him because Mum adores him! He's got ability, but is still a bit of a baby so we won't rush him." She confirmed what he mother said about riding tactics, saying, "I wanted not to hit the front too soon, but not to be too far back either."
The performance of the day arguably came in the Jockey Club and Retraining of Racehorses Conditions race, which saw 17 – the largest field of the day – go to post. Having pulled up – after nearly refusing – at Cottenham on his reappearance after a two-year absence, Horizontal Speed was friendless in the market, despite trainer Alan Hill's excellent record. However, the 11-year-old and Charlie Marshall were always prominent and drew gradually further clear on the second circuit. Despite a blunder two out, the pair were unchallenged to score by 25 lengths and three-and-a-quarter from Western Diva and The Dapper Fox, both of whom came from a long way back.
"He was entitled to run well on his old form," said Alan of Horizontal Speed. "Cottenham was a good race on a sharper course and we hoped it would be a stepping stone for today. I've been riding him myself at home in a hunting saddle to sharpen him up and he schooled well this week. I told Charlie to pop him out and stretch them going down the hill and he rode to instructions. It's not just his first winner for me, it's the first time he's got round!" Alan was complimentary about this new series of veterans race, but while patient owner Graham Henderson suggested the final at Garthorpe in May could be on the agenda, the trainer would only say. "Next plan? Go to the bar!" Charlie – whose ride won him the Dubarry Performance of the Day Award – eulogised about Horizontal Speed's jumping. "He was incredible from the start, winged the cross-fence and kept winging them as he stretched out along the back straight," and excused the mistake at the penultimate with, "He was getting lonely out in front!"
The Highflyer Bloodstock Novice Riders race was run in two divisions. The second, with 11 starters, looked hotter on paper and so it proved, Sally Randell's Call Me Vic winning in a ten second quicker time than the first event. With rider Albi Tufnell declining the early frenetic pace, the 12-year-old – who ran well in a good Open at Larkhill last time – shadowed market rival Ballykan behind the early leaders and went second four out before hitting the front at the last and holding on by a comfortable length and a half. Ueueteotl (I'm glad I wasn't commentating) was the length of the run-in back in third.
Sally was represented by Fergal O'Brien – for whom she works, who joked, "She's at Carlisle – I sent her there as it's too far for me! Albi was very good tactically today as they went too fast in front." Owner – and the jockey's father – Mark Tufnell explained, "Sally bought Call Me Vic from Tom George for Albi to ride and it's his third win on him. We weren't going to run today as we thought it would be too soft, but we're glad we decided to have a go." It was a fifth success – including a walkover – for the 18-year-old jockey, who is studying for A-levels at Radley College. "It's my third season pointing," he confirmed. "I ride out at the weekends and in holidays and keep fit at the gym during the week. I'm planning to go and work for Fergal next year."
Division one went the way of Trojan Star, a debut success for rider Kyran Tompkins and a welcome first since 2017 for trainer Simon Gilmore. In the leading group throughout, he quickened to lead on the final bend and always looked to be holding runner-up Little Windmill and eventual third Drumhart – two others who raced prominently – by three-and-a-half lengths and nine.
"The Hales magic must be working," laughed former licence-holder Simon, who is now head lad to Edgcote-based Alex Hales, having his best season as a trainer. "I've just got the two horses these days and train them in my lunchtime. We bought Trojan Star from Kim Bailey and he can be a bit of a monkey and a bully but seems happy now. He ran well at Ampton in January but has been off since and I thought it would be too soft for him today. I'm pleased for owner Richard Jeffrey – he's had horses with me for years." Kyran explained how he came by his first winner. "I had a couple of rides two years ago for Gerald Bailey then gave up race-riding. But I started riding out for Alex two months ago and Simon asked me to ride here. I managed to lose seven pounds and only got my licence yesterday!"
The opening Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Point-to-Point Flat Race had 11 runners and went the way of the favourite, Phil Rowley's Raffle Ticket, enjoying a fifth winner of the fledgling season. Former champion – and early leader in this campaign's title race – Alex Edwards always looked to be going well in mid-division and moved smoothly to lead four furlongs out, holding on easily by one-and-a-half lengths and three-quarters of a length from the held-up Fix The Bill and Vain Girl, who raced up with the pace.
In the absence of Phil and Alex, who were saddling their runner for the next race, I spoke to owner Countess Cathcart, for whom Raffle Ticket is a first horse trained by the Bridgnorth handler. "We bought him at Doncaster as a three-year-old and Louise Allan broke him before sending him to Phil. He was too big and backward to run last year so we waited." The Countess, who also has horses in training with Gerald Bailey that are ridden by her son George, deferred to her trainer when asked about future plans for her five-year-old, but did admit, "He might be exciting."
Eugene O'Sullivan was responsible for five of the six Irish raiders, but was out of luck – Fix The Bill's "bumper" second being his best result. However, the other runner from Ireland – Cormac Doyle's One True King – took a trophy back across the sea when winning the nine-runner Goffs UK Open Maiden in the hands of James King. Sent into the lead at the second, the four-year-old was never headed thereafter, quickened clear in the back straight and held on by four-and-a-half lengths from Young O'Leary, who seemed to run in snatches. The always-prominent Lagonda was four lengths third.
Graham Breen, representing the trainer who was "busy at home in County Wexford" was in good spirits after the win, admitting to having backed One True King at prices down from 12/1. "I didn't know James, but Charlie Poste and bloodstock agent Hamish Macauley recommended him," beamed Graham, who confirmed the riding instructions were simply, "Win!" The horse, who costs €40,000 as a three-year-old, obviously benefitted from two recent runs in Ireland where he was well-beaten, although Graham only offered "No comment!" when asked to compare the standard of Maidens in the two countries. "We decided to give the race a try the Friday before entries closed," he added, "The international meeting's a great initiative." James said afterwards, "He had half-decent form in Ireland and the plan was to bowl along. He galloped, got into a rhythm, kept on and won with a bit up his sleeve."
11 faced the starter for the Alan King Racing and the Jockey Club Mares Maiden and the spoils went to Lady Sally, a first-ever pointing runner as a trainer for professional pilot Mark Grant. Held up in mid-division by Zac Baker, she went second and the penultimate fence, led at the last and held on by one-and-three-quarter lengths from fellow jumping debutante So Socksy, who had kicked on after three out. Janeslittlevoice finished eight lengths away in third.
"She's a home-bred," said Mark of his five-year-old. "My Mum owns her and she runs in my mother-in-law's colours. I fancied her," he continued of Lady Sally, who was backed from 20/1 in a place into 5/2. "She works well at home, she was nearly good enough to win a bumper last year and she's strengthened since. I may run her in a Novice Hurdle next – she jumps well and will improve – but she's for sale." Mark, who has one other filly to run between the flags as well as ten breeze-up horses – "That's my main business," – joked, "I've got a 100% record in points, so might leave it there!" "Mark told me not to hit the front too soon," confirmed Zac, "So I hunted her round the outside and didn't put her in the race until two out. She had loads left and wants quicker ground," before telling me that he got the ride through his and the trainer's mutual connection with Nigel Twiston-Davies. The fact he concluded with, "I was asked to ride her a month ago," indicates the mare was expected to go well!
Proceedings concluded with the Tattersalls Ireland Open Maiden, which had 14 runners, and gave a happy ending to the day for Ryan Potter following two earlier seconds. Held up by Bradley Gibbs and fit following a recent Dunsmore third, Family Man hit the front two out and won by two lengths from Clever Des Assence – who was always in the firing line – with The Minkle, making an encouraging return from nearly four years off and one to watch next time, three further back in third.
"He burst a blood vessel and stopped when looking likely to win," explained Ryan of Family Man's Dunsmore performance. "He's ex-Nigel Twiston Davies and I only bought him, for just £800, as a companion for Little Windmill. He's not the easiest to train, so I can see why he didn't do well in a bigger yard, but works brilliantly at home with Don Bersy. He stayed well today, although he's more of a two-and-a-half miler, so we'll look for a Restricted over that trip." Ryan, who trains 12 pointers with partner Emma Yardley at Caradoc Court, from where John Edwards sent out big race winners such as Pearlyman and Yahoo, has ambitious plans, saying, "I'm hoping to take out a licence in the summer – Emma will train the pointers – and so the horse will hopefully go through the ranks in points then race under rules."