Unique point-to-point pitches Irish horses and riders against British here for first time this weekend
Ireland has long been breeder, owner and exporter of quality horses. Irish bred horses and riders compete in every equestrian discipline in the top flight. Now there’s a new opportunity for Ireland to showcase its prowess with the advent of a brand new fixture in the Point-to- Point calendar at Barbury Racecourse, near Marlborough in deepest Wiltshire, this Saturday January 14th.
The event is the Barbury International Point-to- Point, featuring the Masterson Family Trophy.
Point-to-Point racing is just like the steeple-chasing you see on TV or in the betting shop. In fact, it is far closer to the roots of the sport, which all began with one match race between the Tipperary villages of Doneraile and Buttevant, in 1784.
Most races are over three miles and the tracks tend to be in rural locations. All the riders, trainers and owners are amateur; so nobody is paid to ride or train horses. There is no £1m Grand National here, with prize money generally very small. The maximum permitted prize money is generally £1,000, which doesn’t go far between the first four, generally enough to pay the diesel for the lorry that brings the horses.
So this is authentic sport by those who love it for what it is, not what they can earn which proves with fans to be quite refreshing in an age of professional big money sport. It is a sport where tomorrow’s champions, horses and riders, cut their teeth – Jump racing’s nursery if you like.
The Barbury International Point-to-Point is something of a change for the sport and unique in many ways. It is the first time that Irish horses and riders have been permitted to compete against their British counterparts at this level and also a first time that licensed trainers can enter horses they don’t own themselves.
There is also a Bumper (the slang for a flat race to introduce young horses to the sport) not previously run on a Point-to-Point course in the UK.
Nigel Bunter, the brains behind the initiative and a successful owner himself, takes up says: “We wanted to encourage more young horses to use the Point-to-Point sector as a route into Jump racing proper in the UK. Our races are largely for young horses with the exception of our feature event, which is for older horses, and sponsored by Borehamwood enthusiast Michael Masterson, whose construction business can be seen all over London.
“In Ireland, the Pointing scene is dominated by young horses, most of which are sold to the UK. If we can achieve something of the Irish model, which is 80 per cent business and 20 per cent fun, against ours, which is 20 per cent business, 80 per cent fun, we’ll have improved the volume of horses being brought forward this way, and improved the level of competition in our racing here in the UK. It could be very exciting.”
Richard Pugh, director of world-famous bloodstock auctioneers, Tattersalls, adds: “This event excited us as we’re always looking for innovation especially where young horses can be bought and sold.
Wild Card Entry
“That’s why every winner on Saturday will receive a wild card entry to our Select Sale at Cheltenham, home of the sport, at the end of January.
“This is a mark of the quality we’re aiming to attract from Ireland and for that matter the rest of the UK too.”
Point-to-Point racing is also a place to see young upwardly mobile jockeys. Some of the sport’s best performers started between the flags including Richard Dunwoody, Peter Scudamore, Sam and Willie Twiston-Davies, Lester Piggott, and current champion Dickie Johnson.
The quality of riding nowadays is remarkable and to the untutored eye, indistinguishable from racing at Cheltenham or Warwick. The Barbury International is something of an experiment with top prize money and a level of competition rarely seen on a Point-to-Point course in the UK.
But of course, a day’s Pointing isn’t just about horses. It’s a chance to catch up with friends, to picnic from the back of your car, to enjoy the bustling trade stands and blow away January blues in the fresh air of north Wiltshire.
There are of course bookmakers, a public bar and the chance to get close up and personal with racing at the paddock, by the fences, and to meet the jockeys. Stand by the last and hear the thunder of hooves and the cursing of the jockeys and feel the excitement of the chase yourself without the risks.
Better still, you’ll probably bump into a racing hero. Top trainer Alan King, who won the Christmas Hurdle last year at Kempton with Yanworth, trains behind the course, and Lambourn is only 25 minutes away. So this is racing country, yet not much more than two hours from central London.
And the chances of you seeing the next A P McCoy? Well, who knows…
Seven races start at 11am and conclude at 3pm, early enough to get much of the way back home before dark, for crumpets and tea. And all for a tenner, with U-18s free, and your dog on a lead.
• For further information and to book tickets at reduced rates, visit www.barburyraces.co.uk