by Brian & Gill Armstrong

The first Point-to-Point meeting in the Wessex area, the Army, took place in squally conditions at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain on Sunday, with 73 horses contesting the seven races. There was a double for trainer Richard Barber and a highlight was the achievement of Dominic Alers-Hankey, who rode two winners on his first day back after missing the whole of 2003 with a broken leg.

Alers-Hankey initiated his double in the Army Saddle Club Members race on Strong Tea, who forged well clear of dead-heaters Norski Lad and Puzzleman from two out. Strong Tea, who has a fine record at Larkhill, is trained at Bishopstrow by Sarah Waugh for Lt Col Martin Lilley, currently serving in Brussels with the Royal Logistics Corp but present to see his horse’s success on Sunday.

The Ladies’ Open went to Rimpton Boy and Rachael Green, who kicked on three out and just held the strong challenge of Mrs Be and Polly Gundry, with Bosuns Mate in third. Rachael, 20, works at winning trainer Richard Barber’s Seaborough stables, while Rimpton Boy is owned jointly by Barber and Elaine Hutchinson and runs in the colours of the Axe Valley Racing Club.

Barber completed his double in the 15-runner Land Rover Men’s Open with Always On The Line, who was prominent throughout and held off favourite Red Brook Lad by four lengths. Arnold Sendell’s Aberfoyle Park ran a very promising race to finish third. Always On The Line is owned by Mrs Michael Merriam and was ridden by her 19-year-old grandson Alex, winner of the 2003 National Award for the leading Under 21 Novice Rider when based in East Anglia, and now studying Equine Science at Bristol University.

Division One of the Open Maiden went to Free Gift who led two out for a comfortable 20 length success from dead-heaters Preacher Boy and Up The Pub. This was a first point-to-point winner for rider Darryl Jacob, 20, who joined winning trainer Sally Alner’s Droop yard last summer. Free Gift is owned in partnership by Tom Chadney, Doug Guyer, Penny Tozer and Valerie Howard, who was also enjoying her first point-to-point success. Division Two went to Rilly Goschen aboard Spiers Peace who came from off the pace to lead entering the straight. Spiers Peace is owned by Steeple Ashton farmers Pat and Jill Awdry who bought the horse at Doncaster Sales last summer.

Dominic Alers-Hankey completed his double when Kerstino Two was a very impressive winner of Division One of the Restricted race. Kerstino Two, from the family of 1958 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kerstin, is one of 10 horses trained by Caroline Keevil at Charterhouse and is owned by Chew Stoke farmer Lindsey Suerson-Taylor, who bought the horse and half-brother Cruisewell from Hereford breeder David Powell. Division Two went to Choc who led throughout and resisted a determined challenge from Love At Dawn and Peter Mason. Choc is owned and trained at Banwell by Venetia Kenney-Herbert and was a third career win for her 20-year-old son Ed, who is in his second year studying Engineering at Oxford University.

The next Wessex Area meeting is the Royal Artillery at Larkhill on Saturday 31 January. Between times, the PPORA race at Barbury Castle, near Marlborough, on Sunday 18th.