Fresh from his stunning double at the Cheltenham Hunter Chase evening on Friday, Hertfordshire-based trainer-rider Bradley Gibbs was again the star of the show, bagging another brace at the Warwickshire point-to-point at a wet and windy Mollington on Bank Holiday Monday. The meeting saw 77 runners in the eight races, for which the going started Good, but was closer to Soft by the end of the day.
Bradley opened his account on Rio Bravo in the six-runner Claydon Horse Exercisers Mens Open, over two-and-a-half miles. The ten-year-old, sent off the odds-on favourite, made virtually all in what is fast becoming Bradley's trademark style and – though headed by market rival Capitaine jumping the downhill fence three out – he soon fought back to retake the lead and came home fifteen lengths clear, with outsider Graasten plugging on for third the same distance away.
With Bradley rushing off to ride in the next event, partner Claire Sherriff gave the post-race debrief, telling me of Rio Bravo, three times a winner this season now, "He's so keen at home that Brad can't hold him, but you can't stop him once he gets into his rhythm and – when they kicked on going down the hill, it gave him his second wind. We've had him four years now and he's never done anything wrong – apart from his debut and when he wasn't right at Chipley Park, he's unbeaten for us."
With nine wins between the flags and four Hunter Chases at a strike rate better than 50%, it's been an annus mirabilis for Bradley and Claire. "The move to my father Julian's place near Hatfield seems to be working," she smiled. "I can't believe the season we're having – we thought we'd just have a few runners for Dad but we've had up to 15 in this year and have space for 24."
Bradley completed his double in the first division of the Maiden sponsored by Topspec and again over two-and-a-half miles, on favourite Gareth Cael, who had shaped with such promise on his debut here last time. The free-running Bon Calvados led his eight rivals a merry dance and skipped ten lengths clear after the open ditch, four out. However Gareth Cael, held up in the early stages, made steady progress after a mistake at halfway, went second before the penultimate fence and was closing when Bon Calvados took a heavy fall (thankfully he got up unscathed) at the last. This left him 15 lengths clear of Felino De Bersy with Howitsdone 30 back in third.
"I'm not sure if I'd have won," admitted Bradley afterwards. "I was catching Bon Calvados but was still four or five lengths back." Claire confirmed that the five-year-old 'Jim' (named after Jimmy Kelly, who buys horses for the couple) had been sent to them from Ireland when Irish pointing went on hold and is for sale.
Another trainer-rider having a great campaign is James King. He notched up his 17th success of the season – all since pointing resumed at the end of March and taking him four clear of Jack Andrews and Will Biddick in the race for the jockeys championship – when Thumb Stone Blues took the Retraining of Racehorses & Jockey Club Conditions race for ten-year-olds and over, which had 13 runners. The 11-year-old, another to make virtually all, jumped well throughout and stayed on to beat seasonal debutant Green Winter – who was always prominent – by eight lengths, with Generous Ransom a never-dangerous 30 lengths third.
James trains Thumb Stone Blues from Charlie and Fran Poste's Station Yard at Ettington (where he is based) for his uncle owner Jason Warner and Jason – who himself is duelling for the leading owner title with Julian Sherriff – told me afterwards, "Things are going really well this season – I've got horses with James, with Luke Price and seven at home at Brookthorpe in Gloucestershire. It's all about teamwork and having good people – my daughters Rhonda and Marita are a vital part of it too."
"We're not doing anything differently this year," admitted Jason – a farmer who "just does pointing for fun" and has been involved in the game for over 30 years – when quizzed about his success this season. "They had last summer out at grass and some horses need time and patience. Some of our horses came from Paul and Clare Rooney and I'm very grateful to Jason Maguire for sourcing them. It also helps having probably the best jockey riding for you!" he concluded fondly of James.
The other race on the card to be part of a national sponsorship was the 7-runner Skinner's Ladies Open. General Arrow was made a hot favourite and – after making most of the running – looked set for success when going clear three out, particularly as Southfield Royale seemed to be back-pedalling having made ominous progress on the final circuit. However Lily Bradstock and Southfield Royale – who started as a 14/1 outsider – found a second wind to lead after the last and quicken clear up the run-in to score by four lengths. Chu Chu Percy was a close three-and-a-half-lengths third but never threatened.
Southfield Royale had been useful for Neil Mulholland in his younger days, but seemed to have lost his way under rules as winning owner-trainer Derek Laverty confirmed. "His owner Angela Yeoman gifted him to me two years ago for Hunt races and team chasing, but Covid put paid to that so I thought, 'Why not run him in a Ladies Open?' He's been ready to run for a while." The 11-year-old is the only pointer trained by former jockey Derek at his Loxwood, West Sussex base. "I mostly do breaking and pre-training," he told me. "Gary Moore's my main client and I do about 40 for him."
Winning rider Lily said afterwards, "He travelled easily and is a fantastic jumper, although he did jump to the left a bit, so may go left-handed next time." She also confirmed – after the second race on the card – that the ground was already riding on the soft side of good.
Tom Ellis – trainer of General Arrow – suffered a frustrating afternoon after his treble at the last meeting here, drawing a blank despite saddling six runners, all of whom were favourite and three of whom were odds-on. However, wife Gina Andrews and brother-in-law Jack Andrews ensured the family did get on the score sheet by riding a winner apiece for other trainers.
Gina's victory – the 296th of her already stellar career between the flags – came in the second division of the Maiden, which Newbury Commercial Glazing stepped in to sponsor when it was divided on declaration, on David Phelan's Ivebeentold. The eight-year-old had been well-beaten on both starts this season, hence his starting price of 20/1 as one of the outsiders among the ten runners (not many that Gina ride go off at those odds!) but he raced prominently throughout and got the better of pointing debutante Festival Dawn by a head after a battle up the run-in. Heron Creek, who had looked the likely winner when taking the lead two out, was just a length away in third in the most exciting finish of the day.
"We bought him 18 months ago from Stuart Penny," confirmed winning owner Sally Bowman. "While my husband Nick and I train some ourselves, we sent him to David because he's quite hard to handle. I thought his two runs this season were quite good, but Maidens are so competitive this year – how do you win one?" asked a happy Sally rhetorically. She and Nick – stalwarts of the South East pointing scene who made such an effort to get their meeting on at Charing after lockdown – were reluctant to confirm plans for Ivebeentold, saying only, "You'll have to ask David."
Title-chasing Jack's sole success came in the Butler Sherborn Hunt Members. Six faced the starter, including two 15-year-olds, and it was one of these – Midnight King – who took the honours and provided probably the most emotional result of the day. After a prolonged duel up the run-in, Jack pipped his sister on the front-running eight-years younger odds-on favourite Bawnmore by half a length. The other veteran, the always-prominent Big Casino, was eight lengths third.
"He'll be retired now," confirmed trainer Julie Wadland afterwards. "I thought he was gone after Revesby Park (where he ran disappointingly last time) but we didn't want to finish like that, so thought we'd give him one more go. He's won 12 times – ten when trained by me – including his first race, back in 2011, and his last. He's my best friend, even though he decked me a couple of weeks ago, and has hardly ever run a bad race. I thought he'd had enough after his last run and we didn't have any expectations, but he did a great piece of work on Saturday."
"It's been a good season," continued Julie. "Golden Tobouggan was second in two Hunter Chases and will be aimed at Aintree again next year, while we sold The Golden Rebel after he won at Doncaster." Asked what Gina said to him after the race, Jack was succinctly humorous. "Bastard!" he joked. "Mind you, she's done me like that enough times!"
The Sir James Shuckborough Bt Conditions race (Level 2), which had 12 runners, was also over the shorter distance of two-and-a-half miles and saw another Warwickshire qualified winner, in the form of Robert Waley-Cohen's improving Maitree Express, winning for the second time this season having taken a Larkhill Maiden in December. Held up by Robert's son Sam Waley-Cohen on the first circuit, the seven-year-old made steady progress over the final mile and – once he took the lead from Blairs Cove jumping two out, the result never looked in doubt as he scored by a comfortable eight lengths. Trojan Star made late progress to be two-and-a-quarter back in third.
"He's a home-bred out of Shatabdi, who won on the flat at Chantilly for me and who I also bred," explained Robert afterwards. "He ran well when third at Chaddesley Corbett last time and we'll finish for the season with him after today." Asked why he eschewed a Restricted in favour of this event for more experienced types, Robert confirmed that he thought the horse would be better suited by the shorter trip, before recalling this meeting back in 2014, where he and Sam had a four-timer, winning with their entire stable strength!
The final race was the F N Pile & Sons Conditions race for Veteran and Novice riders. Not only did it have the biggest field of the day – 14 – but also the highest priced winner on a day of surprises, 25/1 Brown Bear, a second career winner for Fleur Worsley (nee Allcorn). Well behind early, the pair gradually picked their way through the field, jumped to the front at the final ditch and – despite being harried throughout the final half-mile, held on by three lengths from Mister Dick with Occupied eight away in third.
"That was a surprise," laughed Georgie Howell, representing winning trainer Caroline Kirby-Pulford, who was busy with Brown Baby post-race. "I was thinking 'What's the point in coming?' based on his form this season. Nick Gifford gave him to Caroline and she trains him out of my yard but does everything with him herself. He's done a lot of work with (Georgie's Grand National runner) Sub Lieutenant recently, including schooling with Fleur over the Aintree-style fences." Winning rider Fleur is her daughter-in-law, being married to former pointing jockey Hector and sister-in-law to professional rider Tabitha Worsley.