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by Ian Marshall

The hunting ban has done little to dampen the enthusiasm for point-to-point racing in Yorkshire and 2006 was remarkable for both the quantity and quality of horses taking part. Ground conditions were generally on the soft side and three meetings were lost to the weather. Hornby Castle and Charm Park attracted the biggest fields, as is often the case, while specialists on firm going were at least catered for by the two fixtures at Easingwold.

On the riding front, a new star was crowned the Ladies champion by a considerable margin. Jacqueline Coward may be part of a famous racing family (she is Mick Easterby’s granddaughter), but her talent was plain for all to see as success after success came her way. The Mens title was a much closer affair and went right down to the last race of the Yorkshire season. It was a titanic struggle between Ben Woodhouse and Guy Brewer, with the former coming out on top in the end to give him back-to-back championships.

The point-to-point year in Britain got underway at the traditional curtain raiser on Bank Holiday Monday 2nd January at Cottenham. Several Yorkshire-based travellers made the trip south and their endeavours were not to go unrewarded. Quite a competitive ladies open saw seven of the eight runners with a chance at the final fence and it was Physical Force trained by William Fife that got his head in front at the post at the generous odds of 40-1. Freya Hartley got off the mark for 2006 at the first opportunity and Physical Force turned out to be a radically improved proposition with 11 stone on his back, compared to his form from 2005 when he appeared not to get home over three miles.

The even longer journey to Barbury Castle was fruitful for jockey Tom Greenall and handler David Easterby when the quirky and notoriously difficult to handle Reasonably Sure was cajoled to victory in a maiden. The next meeting at Cottenham drew a blank, but a strong contingent went north to Alnwick and fared much better. Former showjumper Kiora Bay carried off a restricted, the classy Sikander A Azam took the mens and the two divisions of the 2m4f maiden went to Freds Heir and Charlies Memory respectively. The latter was embarking on a greatly encouraging campaign, whilst his pilot Jackie Coward was soon on the scoreboard. Thorpe Lodge was nearer to home territory, but although there was a good deal of promise, “our” runners returned empty-handed. In fact, the performance of Lambhill Stakes caught the eye for all the wrong reasons when a rather injudicious ride left him far too much to do as he flew up the run-in. The opening hunter chase at Wetherby took place on unsuitably soft ground for the very smart Mister Friday and there was no joy at Friars Haugh either.

The Yorkshire meetings commenced in February at Witton Castle and as usual plenty of owners chose to get a run into their charges at the first opportunity. Polar Gale was the winner of the opening maiden, but Ellie Bee caught the eye in the intermediate, fending off Sams Way after the final fence. Ellie Bee has a fine turn of foot and once her racing career is over her progeny are likely to be hot property. Wilfie Wild got the better of Mister Bromley, perhaps surprisingly, in the ladies open, which set the tone for a successful campaign for Wilfie Wild. A former Great Yorkshire Chase victor when in the care of Martin Pipe, Barryscourt Lad was expertly produced by Ben Woodhouse to collect the mens open. As his coat was unclipped, Barryscourt Lad looked like a woolly bear, but he still retained a lot of ability where it counted. Garden Shed Spider was sold for some serious money following a victory in a maiden. Although he did have two future winners behind, whether he would have beaten ex-selling hurdler My Sunshine when that one broke down just prior to the last is open to much debate, so a price tag of £35-40,000 appears quite steep. Another maiden provided probably the best formline of the entire year, with Green Admiral taking the honours under a very cool Richard Tierney. With several of the beaten horses getting their head in front at some stage of the season, the form is rock solid. It was a notable training feat to prepare Green Admiral after three years on the sidelines.

Brocklesby Park receives plenty of support from Yorkshire trainers, with Skew Whip making a highly satisfactory pipe opener behind the hugely impressive Sea Ferry in the confined and Ledgendry Line not being disgraced in going down to the prolific Upham Lord in the ladies open. Green Admiral made a swift reappearance in the restricted, but the result was exactly the same as he sauntered home, seemingly without breaking sweat. A David Easterby debutante, Royal Return, only found one too good in the mares maiden. A real looker in the paddock, she went into many notebooks as possessing a large amount of potential. It was certainly no shock in the finale when a more prominently ridden Lambhill Stakes came out on top, to indicate what could have been at Thorpe Lodge in January.

In hunter chases, Queenies Girl was placed at Sedgefield, then a one-two at Newcastle saw The Butterwick Kid lead home Reasonably Sure. The Butterwick Kid has been a grand servant to the Tate family over the past few years and owes them nothing as he continues to find his fair share of these races.

The Sinnington at Duncombe Park was a strong card and began with an epic tussle between Emperor’s Son and Iron Express in the hunt members that the former won by a neck. The veteran Mr Pendleberry showed that he was no back number in the confined on a course that he loves, with Sams Way again filling the runner-up berth. Ben Woodhouse found the key to Just A Man as he caressed him to take the restricted in a tight head bob with Kindle A Flame, while Mister Bromley reversed the placings with arch rival Wilfie Wild from a fortnight earlier and had three other big players further back in the ladies open. It was sweet revenge as Mister Bromley tenaciously held on. Persistence paid off for Ben Woodhouse in the mens open as Mr Mahdlo asserted in the final quarter mile on the flat having been off the bridle since before halfway. Robber excelled himself in second to indicate he was a force to be reckoned with and Junior Fontaine was a never nearer third. Serena Brotherton completed a treble on Master Jackson in the first maiden as he put his best hoof forward and second home Gunner Royal stepped up on Witton Castle to seemingly begin an upward curve. Alfie Twofourtwo took the second maiden as four horses finished clear, to further enhance Green Admiral’s Witton Castle maiden. A reformed character, Alfie Twofourtwo suddenly became a horse to watch out for. Chasing him hard was Ask Bobby, a progressive type who has moved up a notch with each race. Two more nice sorts, The Poser and Alpha Lima, were third and fourth.

The highlight of a number of hunter chases was Tina Jackson persuading Red Striker to pull out all the stops at Ayr. It was some comeback on his second start following a long layoff with injury after his earlier life handicap chasing, but sadly tragedy struck for Red Striker later in the season.

Another injury victim, Claire’s Nomad, was quickly back to winning ways in the ladies open at the Market Rasen points meeting. A multiple winner in 2004, Claire’s Nomad had missed 2005, but 2006 saw him again in a favourable light on several occasions, this time at the expense of Physical Force. Fit from his outing at Brocklesby Park, not even the sharp circuit could prevent Skew Whip from opening his account on his first foray in open company in the mens. A mighty leap at the last sealed success from Major Shark. Division two of the maiden was low on quality, which allowed Rare Presence to pass the post at the head of affairs. The Marley/Tierney duo can never be discounted and they clinched the maiden finale with Karantaka, who was obviously none the worse for a tired fall at Brocklesby Park. Over at Bangor-on-Dee, there was a welcome double for Oliver Greenall, the second aboard Trooper Collins, an acquisition by his father from Grant Tuer. Trooper Collins isn’t always easy to catch right, but at his best is more than a match for most opponents.

Catterick was the venue for a hot little novice hunter chase featuring some useful up-and-coming young horses including the much-touted Rebel Army, partnered by Richard Burton. A very wet afternoon though was enlightened by Skew Whip adding to his already growing reputation. With Richard Wakeham at his best in the saddle, Skew Whip stamped himself a horse to follow, whilst five of the vanquished bolstered their credentials in chalking up at least one win before the year was out. Unfortunately, pulled muscles in the course of this performance ended his season.

Barryscourt Lad made the long journey to Ayr worthwhile with a clear-cut hunter chase victory. Exuding authority, he made mincemeat of the opposition in a manner that suggested similar races would be well within his capabilities if he can stay healthy, even at the age of 12.

The programme in March was cut short by the loss of both the Derwent and Hurworth fixtures. The Holderness at Dalton Park had no such problems, just that four races took place in a blizzard! Full credit must go to participants and organisers alike for an excellent afternoon’s entertainment. Just Fluster gave his all to come out on top in the confined and Charlies Memory disposed of Master Jackson in the restricted with aplomb. Gunner Royal kept heading in the right direction to lift the maiden, giving jockey Jacqueline Coward and her trainer mother Cherry a double. Winnie Wild made every yard in the mares maiden. The ladies open saw Duchess Account pip Claire’s Nomad after a battle royal on the run-in and the mens open found Robber at the top of his game to turn round placings from Duncombe Park with Mr Mahdlo in typically gritty fashion. Rare Presence finished alone in the hunt members.

Robber only just failed to follow up at Friars Haugh and Mister Bromley went down at Corbridge, but Lincolnshire is often a happy hunting ground for Yorkshire horses and a rare excursion between the flags for The Butterwick Kid paid off in the mens open. Just A Man was produced as late as possible to score in the confined and Gollinger thoroughly deserved to finally get off the mark in the older horse maiden. The three divisions of the younger horse maiden came back to “God’s own country” too with Ask Bobby digging deep to secure the first of them. The other two went to the Gill Walford-trained pair of Luke Lively and Harwood Dale, well-ridden by son Mark. Both required a power-packed drive to claim the spoils, but equally the geldings stuck to their respective tasks well.

Handler Steve Wiles had a double with Gipsy Wood and Denby at Welbeck, but most attention was on Mordon, where fine work from John Wade and many others meant the meeting went ahead after an awful lot of rain. Donnybrook used his vast experience at 13 to slog through the mud in the confined, while Noggler never gave an inch to gain the day over the equally game Purple Jean in the intermediate. Once an eventer, Sessay Miller relished the gruelling conditions to land the maiden, making a winning debut in the process as a nine-year-old. There were some solid performers on show in the mens open, none more so than Sikander A Azam, who stayed on best of all to take the plaudits in impressive fashion. The day belonged to Abby Hutchinson though, as she steered Alfie Twofourtwo home in the restricted on her first ever ride. It was perfectly judged as Alfie Twofourtwo came right away in the closing stages with the minimum of fuss.

There was disappointment all round at the beginning of April as the area’s premier meeting, the Middleton, was called off due to the track at Whitwell-on-the-Hill being waterlogged. There are always top quality horses on this card and the races are keenly fought, with the 4m 1f Grimthorpe Cup the feature. Prior to the abandonment though, there had been controversy when the entry conditions for the big race were changed to a mens open from a mixed open. Naturally, several female riders were up in arms and three prospective starters among the horses weren’t even entered because their regular pilots were ineligible. It is with great dismay that an event of this magnitude is devalued to an extent by needless tinkering with the conditions of entry. All other alterations to the fixture list have been largely well received, but the vociferous arguments against this inexplicable decision are likely to run and run. There are mystifyingly no plans for the race to revert to a mixed open in 2007.

Four Yorkshire-trained runners were declared for the Aintree Foxhunters, with Junior Fontaine in fifth ending up the best of them, having given Jackie Coward a thrilling six minutes over the big fences.

Following the week long break, near perfect ground was laid on for the Bedale at Hornby Castle and the course was the receiver of totally merited praise. Charlies Memory had been bogged down at Mordon, but had no such concerns here as he put his rivals to the sword in the confined. Gunner Royal gave the Coward team a double in the restricted when given a fine patient ride. Although it is not often the case, the hunt members was a competitive affair that went to Scenic Storm from Sajomi Rona and Alfie Twofourtwo. Scenic Storm acquitted himself very well in hunter chases and was perhaps unlucky not to find a race in that sphere this year. Having improved with every run in points, Plutocrat turned the mens open into a procession to lift the honours by a wide margin in a scintillating performance against a decent lot. The ladies open also had the cream of this year’s crop, with Wilfie Wild leading in Physical Force, Iron Express, Duchess Account and Mister Bromley. In the three maidens, thorough stayer Thatlldoya found extra at the business end, Primitive Rhythm was coaxed home and perennial bridesmaid Kappillan lost his unwanted tag at last.

Senza Scrupoli upheld the favourable impression he had given at Dalton Park last year by coming out on top in a maiden at Dalston and he was followed into the winners’ enclosure there in the next by Chris Dawson’s Oscar Octavius who also displayed a sound attitude.

The Cleveland at Stainton Vale opened Easter weekend and was held in somewhat more clement conditions than twelve months previously. The plucky mare April Spirit gained just reward for some consistent efforts by hacking up in the confined by a country mile and Wilfie Wild picked up another ladies open without too much trouble. Alan Jackson was the owner of hunt members winner Londolozi Lad as well, whose poor jumping failed to halt him here. John Wade and jockey Chris Dawson combined to take the restricted with the progressive Polar Gale and the young horse maiden with the promising Victor One, but the yard was undone in the mens open when Donnybrook defied Sir Alf.

Ground as good as could possibly be produced greeted visitors to Charm Park’s sole afternoon to beat the weather. The Staintondale is usually a great draw on Easter Monday and 2006 was no exception. There was a bumper field of 17 for the very open restricted and Hattie got her act together to prevail in a stirring finish as five jumped the last with a chance. Riot Act was given a superb waiting ride to collar Protecting Heights close home in the maiden and Trooper Collins again starred in the confined. Barryscourt Lad is imperious at this level and not even a revitalised Imps Way could prevent him collecting the mixed open. The maiden conditions to conclude proceedings may well have seen two potentially smart performers unleashed to fight it out in the final stages and it was Guy Brewer’s perseverance that ensured Sunday Lunch did enough to hold The Howardian at bay by a neck. The Howardian fetched

Easter Tuesday attracted the crowds to the mudbath that was Flagg Moor, where it was nearly as difficult for vehicles to find their way around the car park as it was for the horses to navigate the circuit in tremendously stamina-sapping conditions. The main focus from our point of view was the ladies open, in which Jacqueline Coward and Freya Hartley displayed their intelligence and know-how to save energy on Iron Express and San Francisco until the death. There was a worthy one-two for Yorkshire and a real war of attrition, the outcome of which was in favour of Iron Express.

Easingwold isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but the York & Ainsty fixture was well supported. Protecting Heights went one better in the young horse maiden, but Hardy Oliver had little to beat in the open maiden. Astral Prince was a popular winner in the confined, while track specialist Hadeqa kept up his record here that is second to none. Victory in the hunt members on Noggler gave Charlotte Brown a double and Oliver Greenall did likewise due to Junior Fontaine in the mens open. The restricted was not without incident and had a dramatic conclusion. Mackoy came with a rousing finish to pass Magic Route in the shadow of the post, however jockey Katy Hill weighed in light, which meant disqualification was inevitable. Magic Route seems to prefer the shorter circuits, while promoted to second was Willywont He, whose poor fencing cost him dear, even though he has a good engine.

Thatlldoya wasn’t beaten far in the long distance hunter chase at Perth and Scenic Storm went closer still at Hexham. In the next Hexham hunter chase though, Jupiter’s Fancy, Imps Way, Robber and April Spirit made it a one, two, three, four for the Yorkshire area. Jupiter’s Fancy is always happiest when there is some rattle underfoot and she gained her just desserts following largely consistent efforts.

Watering ensured a decent turnout of horses for the Pendle Forest & Craven at Heslaker. David Coates was first once again in the hunt members, this time with old stager Victoria’s Boy, and afterwards immediately signalled his retirement from the saddle. Gunner Royal remained in good heart and crowned a fine year by catching Purple Jean on the run-in in the confined, whilst Mile High City was all out to just hold on from the fast-finishing Shannahyde in the restricted. Robber was unfortunate when a slipping saddle put paid to his chance in the mens open. Snizort loves it here and seems to save his best for this venue. Sally Scally’s mistake at the last gave him a sniff and Freya Hartley’s mount didn’t need a second invitation to land the spoils. Duchess Account wasn’t burdened with any penalties in the novice riders race and, with amazingly generous odds on offer, punters went home happy as she was barely extended over the trip that is a long three miles and therefore right up her street.

At Witton Castle, the Zetland meeting had a major talking point when Just A Man was adjudged to have crossed the line a head behind Wild Edgar. Many observers felt that Just A Man’s late thrust had allowed him to bag the prize, but the judge ruled otherwise. The brilliant Wilfie Wild mopped up another ladies open ahead of Mister Bromley and a peach of a ride from Richard Tierney got Gollinger’s head in front at the lollipop by the tiniest of margins from Victor One in the restricted. The in-form Astral Prince built on his success in the Easingwold confined by despatching a fair bunch with ease in the mens open, which was a chink of light in a difficult season for Nigel Tutty, although he was helped by favourite Sir Alf slipping up on the flat. The first division of the maiden featured Bob Woodhouse’s much-vaunted Brightwell and he certainly lived up to expectations in the manner of a young horse with a bright future. He pounced on the leader Toms Party at the final fence and quickened up nicely in the last 100 yards with the pair clear. An enterprising ride from Guy Brewer ensured Whisky In The Jar was never headed in the second division.

The Cheltenham hunter chase card is a popular evening and Mister Friday has stamped himself the horse to beat at this fixture as the requisite good ground is normally prepared. He had various valid excuses on his previous starts in 2006, but everything fell into place this time and he ran out a convincing winner. Mister Friday is an exceptionally tricky adversary when in this sort of mood.

Small fields were the order of the day for the Bilsdale at Easingwold in early May. Badr looked good to take the young horse maiden and Steve Charlton doubled up convincingly on Rigadoon in the confined. In the mens open, Queenies Girl gave her all to touch off Civil Gent and Astral Prince, coming on the back of some useful placed efforts this year. The consistent Sajomi Rona just got home in the restricted to go one better than on recent occasions. Removing his usual blinkers worked wonders for his confidence. The whole place nearly erupted in the ladies open, but the flying grey Silver Groom was denied by Wynyard Dancer, who pulled out all the stops for rider Freya Hartley, who had met her for the first time in the paddock. Following a long lay-off, Caribbean Lad managed the lucky last, but he didn’t have much to beat to do so.

Dingley was the venue for the prestigious Fernie Four Miler that attracted a field of 20, right on the safety factor limit, including five Yorkshire-based contenders. Having stamina in abundance, Duchess Account was a ludicrously short price, but the bookmakers were proved spot on as this fantastic mare came with her trademark late flourish to collect the cup. The locals must have taken her to their hearts as a massive cheer rang out when she entered the winners’ enclosure. Her capable partner Emma Brader piloted a course up the inside that saved a lot of ground and probably the gutsiest horse in training was not going to be denied once she got into top gear.

The Yorkshire Point-to-point Association hunter chase at Wetherby is always worth winning and Imps Way did it nicely under Clive Mulhall. She wasn’t hard pressed to defy Plutocrat and The Butterwick Kid. Kiora Bay caused a shock in the novice hunter chase at Aintree, but more expected was Spring Margot, although no less meritorious, brushing aside Telemoss and others at Perth. In the long distance event at Huntingdon, April Spirit profited from the leader’s last fence fall to hang on grimly, with Thatlldoya staying on strongly to be runner-up again. Polar Gale continued to improve and Chris Dawson guided him to victory at Sedgefield from Sajomi Rona, during a race in which Queenies Girl was a late casualty when challenging.

In the concluding meeting of the Yorkshire season at Mordon, Sir Alf landed the long odds-on in the hunt members and there was a swift double for Chris Dawson in the confined as Polar Gale held off the spirited challenge of Iron Express. Noggler got up on the run-in to beat Major Shark in the mens open, while Texas Ranger wasn’t for catching in the ladies open to return to something like his best. Ben Woodhouse seemed to have grabbed the gentleman riders championship when he produced the sloppy jumping Willywont He to perfection in the closing stages of the restricted to pass the admirable duo Sessay Miller and Brown’s Beck in the final furlong. Nobody will forget the last race of the card though, the maiden. The dramatic events could have been part of a novel! With the ground fairly chewed up by this point, the pace was strong. Ben Woodhouse’s mount Red Snow pulled up legless four from home, which meant Guy Brewer would take the title if he could guide Toms Party over the last three fences as the favourite Fifth Column was running on empty. Galloping on relentlessly, Toms Party had shrugged off all pursuers and was clear. However, at the penultimate obstacle he ran out through the wing to hand the mens championship to Ben Woodhouse. In third, Crake Way took a tired fall and it was left to Top Pack to overtake Fifth Column and claim the spoils. Having been tailed off, Rising Whip came from another county to be nearest at the finish in third.

At Garthorpe, two likeable sorts really put themselves on the map. In the novices contest, Ask Bobby held off all comers with a determined display. Owner Mike Sowersby has always thought a lot of this fellow and the best could still be yet to come. Opponents came from far a field, but Ask Bobby was too good. He strikes me as a horse that won’t ever win by far, but once he has his head in front is extremely difficult to pass. Maxine Stirk’s Good Evening was bidding to become only the country’s second four-year-old winner in a point-to-point in the young horse maiden. He did himself proud, but bumped into the potentially smart Barton Star. Good Evening didn’t go down without a fight and was far from disgraced as the runner-up.

At Hexham points, Texas Ranger was allowed to dominate in the ladies open and Tessa Clark’s tactics paid off when he sluiced home by a distance. Sessay Miller is not to be trifled with when the mud is flying and he drew right away to destroy his restricted field. A horse that is worthy of consideration in 2007, The Artful Fox went down narrowly in the younger horse maiden. Over at Tabley, Denby held on determinedly to beat a big field in the restricted. Victoria’s Boy was a popular winner at Aspatria when he found extra reserves to secure the mens open.

The admirable Spring Margot picked up another hunter chase with ease, this time at Stratford. Two to two and a half miles is his optimum trip and Tom Greenall has found the key to ride him, which makes Spring Margot a formidable opponent at this level. At Cartmel, Sessay Miller was perhaps unfortunate, but ran well nevertheless, staying on steadily over the less than ideal distance of 2m 5f to be second.

Back at Garthorpe, Ask Bobby just refused to give in and repelled all raiders in the confined. Steve Charlton had the widest smile of the afternoon when his Twin Bay Cruiser did enough in the older horse maiden. A shrewd piece of horsemanship from Guy Brewer ensured he bagged a double on the day with Toms Party. The jockey made certain that Toms Party kept his mind on the job and used his undoubted talent to good effect.

Given the success of the Yorkshire competitors in hunter chases, it was quite apt that the last one of the year, at Hexham, should go to Sajomi Rona. He has shown signs of waywardness in the past, but there is a serious horse inside. Sajomi Rona’s end to the season has been sparkling and Ian Smith can look forward to 2007 with relish.

Even after the point-to-point season had been completed, several horses that had taken part turned their attention to summer jumping. Texas Ranger, Heather Lad, Dannymolone and others performed with great credit, but pride of place went to Civil Gent. On his favoured top of the ground and at distances of less than three miles, the likeable chestnut picked up two handicap chases and went close twice more. It could well be that even more horses are drawn from the point-to-point field in the years ahead in search of lucrative prizes in this sphere. In addition, Magic Route managed a handicap chase, which vindicated Tina Jackson’s decision to try him at less than three miles.

With the West of Yore fixture missing from the calendar for the time being, a new meeting has been arranged for 2007 and will be staged under the auspices of the Yorkshire Area Point-to-point Club. Forward thinking such as this means that the future of pointing still looks bright.

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