The Heythrop point-to-point meeting – sponsored by Savills – at Cocklebarrow on Sunday has been well supported by owners and trainers, with 111 horses (the highest of the weekend fixtures) entered in the seven races, which are run over a range of distances from two-and-a-half to three and three-quarter miles. Clerk of the Course Nick Phillips told me on Sunday, “The going is now Good, Good to Soft in places. With the forecast of a dry week ahead, I expect it to be Good all round come race day.”
Centrepiece of the meeting is the Charles Stanley Lord Ashton of Hyde’s Cup Mens Open Race over three miles, six and a half furlongs, where staying will be of the essence. This race – the first of 2020’s four point-to-point “classics” – has a long and illustrious history, and looks as competitive as ever this year with 12 entries.
Sausalito Sunrise won the last running of this race, in 2020. Now 14, he will be making his seasonal debut here – as will another relative veteran, 12-year-old Sugar Baron, who won a Warwick Hunter Chase and was second at Cheltenham last season. Four of the entrants have already visited the winners enclosure this season – Vivaldi Collonges, whose Horseheath success was franked last weekend, Cheltenam De Vaige, Knockaderry Flyer and Looksnowtlikebrian (who is also entered in the Novice Riders contest) – while Fifty Shades won three last season and was second on his reappearance.
Alan Hill’s Polydora – the mount of Harry Myddleton – is an interesting newcomer to pointing, having won a chase for Tom Lacey last season. “He reached a rating of 142,” Alan recalled, “So would be one of the classiest horses I’ve had, but he got tired of being in a big yard. He’s not overly big, but he’s got talent and seems in fine fettle. We’ve set him up for this race since last month but whether he’s good enough, I don’t know. I’m optimistic rather than confident!”
Max Comley said of 13-year-old Knockaderry Flyer, “He’s rock solid, tries his heart out, gallops all day and always runs his race. 3m6f may seem a step up in trip but we ran him in the four-miler at
Cheltenham a few years ago and he finished a good fifth. If he can run to that form, I’m hopeful – he won last time out but one and has run some good races in defeat.
The Christian Fleming Architects Ladies Open is also over an extended distance, this time of three miles four furlongs, and has attracted a high-quality entry of 15. The field is headed by another 14-year-old, in the shape of Sara Bradstock’s gallant front-runner Southfield Theatre, who is two out of two this season, and she also has Myth Buster entered. Phil Rowley also has two entered and either Champagne Lilly or Optimised will bid to give Michaela Tallett a well-deserved first winner. Agamemmon is owned and trained by four-time champion jockey David Tatlow and gave his grand-daughter Alice Homer a debut success at Kimble last season, Virak did likewise for Olive Nicholls – daughter of champion trainer Paul – at Chaddesley Corbett recently, while Welsh raider Sam Red is an interesting contender. He may have more placings than wins to his name, but is a proven stayer who ran a cracking second in a Cheltenham Hunter Chase last April.
“Myth Buster will want three-and-a-half miles, but this may come too soon after his Higham second on Sunday,” advised Sara. Southfield Theatre will run somewhere this weekend – he’s also in at Larkhill – and would prefer the trip here, but it’s hard to give the likes of Virak 10lb. He’s 14 now – although he doesn’t know it – so I don’t want him to have a lot of hard races.”
The highest entry of the day – 26 – has been received for the Kings Head PPORA Club Members Race for Novice Riders and rider Olive Nicholls holds the key with two potential mounts in Virak and Old Guard. The latter, trained by mother Georgie, won impressively on his pointing debut at Mollington in April. Kelvingrove gave a first win to Evan Griffiths at Pyle in October and a number of the entries have shown useful form between the flags this year without winning – including Doc Carver and Rebecca Pugh, Killaro Boy for the promising Daniel Ellis, Ellie Caldwood’s Wounded Warrior and Mr Caffrey for teenager Freddie Phillipson-Stow. Of those coming from the professional game, Stacks Mountain had form for Henry de Bromhead in Ireland and would be a first mount for Grace Knowles, while Dounikos gave a race-riding debut to Carlos Baird at Chaddesley Corbett having won several races in Ireland for Gordon Elliott.
Georgie Browne admitted, “There needs to be some chatting, but the plan is for Olive to ride Old Guard in this race and Virak in the Ladies Open. Old Guard is also entered at Larkhill on Saturday but she’ll probably ride Monsieur Gibraltar there.”
The Spratt Endicott Restricted Race has attracted 11 entries. Clear top-rated, following two seconds – including in a Conditions Race – is Philippa Taylor’s Idee De Garde, the likely mount of
daughter Phoebe. Another with form outside Maiden company is Morehurrylesshaste while both Bloodstone – at Horseheath – and Patch Me Up – at Pyle have won Maidens this season and are stepping up in grade. Goldenbrave will have needed the run in a competitive event last time following two years off and is definitely one to consider and Drumlee Getaway represents Francesca and Charlie Poste’s powerful Station Yard Racing operation, having not shown much under rules for Olly Murphy since winning an Irish point.
Charlie said of the mare Drumlee Getaway, ”We’ve obviously got a close relationship with Olly and James King recommended we buy her. The form under rules doesn’t amount to a lot and Bloodstone will take the beating, but this is a good place to start.” The latter’s owner James Henderson told me, “We’re keen to come here and (trainer) Dale Peters is pleased with how well he’s come out of his race, when he was running on again at the finish. My son George will ride again – the boys debate it and (other son) Freddie will ride Frisson Collonges in the Maiden.”
The opening contest is the Knight Frank Heythrop Hunt Members Race. Events of this nature often attract small fields, but Sunday’s race may likely to buck the trend, with eight entered, all from different yards. Moratorium looks the pick of the pack on this season’s form, his three wins including a Mens Open last time out at Larkhill. Trainer Myles Osborne said, “We’ll either come here or go to Warwick for a Hunter Chase, and I’m leaning towards Cocklebarrow. We like to support the Hunt and the track and ground should suit. Nathan Green (who’s won two on him this campaign) would ride.”
Two of Moratorium’s main rivals are veterans with useful form under rules representing professional yards – Lord Scoundrel for Graeme McPherson and Raven’s Tower (entered elsewhere on the card) for Ben Pauling. Melekhov – at just eight – won three races for Philip Hobbs and is now in the care of Claire Hart. 2020 winner Pomme De Nuit represents Christopher and Fran Marriott and the former confirmed, “I rode her this morning with Charlie Longsdon’s first lot and she gave me a fine feel. She fell at the first at Larkhill last time – it was neither her fault nor the jockey’s – and galloped round the course twice so she’ll be fit! Since then, she’s schooled brilliantly with Will Thirlby, who I hope will ride on Sunday.”
The card closes with three Maidens, each of which have 13 entries. The first of them is sponsored by Carter Jonas and – for four, five and six-year-olds, is run over the shorter distance of two-and-a-half miles. As is often the case in this type of contest, punters should consider following the market, particularly where horses making their first appearance on a racetrack are concerned. Two fit the bill here for trainers who know the time of day – Station Yard Racing’s Top Wood
Bareliere, the only four-year-old entered, and Victory Club for Harriet Dickin. Of those with form, Caballo Diablo is top-rated, having been placed twice in Irish points, while River Llynfi has disappointed since his Pyle second. Two who should improve are Barbury flat race fifth Epitafio and Doctor Tom, whose stable is in blinding form.
“He’s by Dink, a new British sire,” confirmed Charlie Poste of Top Wood Bareliere. “He shows plenty of toe at home and two-and-a-half miles round Cocklebarrow should suit. While he’s only four, he’s always been earmarked to run early.”
The quaintly (and tongue-twistingly) named Wurzel High Speed Broadband Maiden, for seven-year-olds and above over the full three-mile trip, has already been divided and there are a number with live chances in each heat. In Division One, Francesco Du Clos had placed form between the flags in Ireland and Precious Bounty would have been second but for falling at the last at Horseheath.
Champion trainer Tom Ellis intends to run Precious Bounty – who is also entered at Chipley Park – saying, “The ground will suit him and the more it dries the better. He’s got proper form (under rules in Ireland) and is more than capable of winning, as is the jockey (novice Ellie Callwood). She came off him last time out but the winner there looks a nice horse.”
Max Comley rates Finnick Glory, “Probably my best chance of the day,” telling me, “She’ll run in the Maiden rather than the Members. Her rules form is pretty good and she jumped terrifically at Knightwick until she ran out of gas, then again at Larkhill, where she was hampered twice. The easy three miles should suit.”
Division Two – headed by Go Geronimo, who must be one of the unluckiest pointers in training, having finished second five times and third twice from seven starts, some in tight finishes – looks the stronger. Special Buddy – who’ll be ridden by novice Megan Fox – was placed four times under rules last summer for Ben Pauling, James Henderson’s Frisson Collonges showed form for Dan Skelton, Station Yard Racing’s The Whiskey Man was placed twice in points in 2020 but has not run since, Anabel Murphy’s Whatya On About gained a rules rating of 105 for husband Olly, Flying Colum has twice placed second in Maidens this season and Westhill would have placed on his pointing debut for falling at Chaddesley Corbett.
Alan Hill said of namesake Kingsfort Hill, “He’s owned by Diane O’Connor, mother of my novice jockey Sean, and we didn’t know a lot about him when he came into the yard. He was running on when fourth at Charing, his jumping has improved at home, and I hope the penny’s dropped.”
Racing over fences kicks off at midday and there is plenty to do both before and during the afternoon with three pony races sponsored by Warwick Racecourse and GX Landrovers, starting at 10.30am, terrier and lurcher racing, a massive shopping hall, a free kids zone – including a bouncy castle, face painting and a bungee run – and the return of the popular Tough Farmers challenge. In addition to the race sponsors, the meeting will again feature the Dubarry Outstanding Performance Award, where the trainer, rider or stable staff adjudged to have made an extraordinary contribution to the day's sport will receive a £500 voucher to spend with Dubarry.