Inaugural Barbury International Point-to-Point draws a big crowd - and scores a number of welcome firsts
It did not snow. It tried to rain a few times - but failed to bother anyone. All the weather talk was of the wind blowing fierce and cold across the top of the Marlborough Downs for the first ever Barbury International Point-to-Point Steeplechases (Saturday, January 14) at the Barbury Racecourse.
As one punter said as he tried to get his cold fingers to tear up an unlucky betting slip: "It's bloody cold, but it's bloody good racing." One race had seventeen runners, another had fifteen and none of the races had fewer than seven runners - and there were some tight finishes.
This was the first British point-to-point to bring in international runners - and they came from Ireland. And to back up this welcome Irish invasion Sir Anthony McCoy was present - chatting in the ring and presenting prizes. Though many people missed him under his woolly hat.
Nigel Bunter, the former owner of the Barbury Castle Estate who brought this new international element into point-to-pointing, called it a “unique and innovative race day in the point-to-point calendar.” He told Marlborough.News he was delighted with the size of the entry, the number of entries from Ireland, the size of the fields and the size of the crowd.
There were, of course, bookies and food stalls and a bar and lots and lots of dogs. There was live coverage of the races on two big screens - and re-runs so you could check where your money had gone and why.
Another first for the Barbury International was the inclusion in the eight race card of a 'bumper' - a two-mile flat race for four and five-year-olds that have not run under rules or won a point-to-point race (except a Maiden race.) In the spirit of National Hunt bumpers, it was to introduce horses to racing or give them some more competitive experience.
The race attracted 22 runners and was split into two divisions. It seemed only right that the second division of the bumper (the last race of the day) was won by four-year-old New List who is trained by John 'Shark' Hanlon.
BBRY INTL P2P BOOKIES Sir Anthony McCoy 'Shark' Hanlon (left) receives an award from Nigel Bunter Novice riders winner Lilly Pinchin
Shark Hanlon trains in County Carlow and had been instrumental in bringing Irish entries to the meeting. He was delighted that the unraced chestnut gelding won in such grand style.
Looking for other firsts we lighted upon Lilly Pinchin - she owns and trains ten-year-old Allerton and rode him to victory in the novice riders race which was sponsored by Highflyer Bloodstock. She rides out regularly for jumps trainer Fergal O'Brien at Naunton and trains her horse on the family farm near Cheltenham.
She was delighted at her win: "It means everything to me", she said afterwards as she faced the post-race interviews. It turned out this was not her first win - but from her pleasure at this victory it might well have been!
This meeting certainly bodes well for the future of equestrian events on the Barbury Castle Estate under its new - and as yet anonymous - owners.
A full report on this ground-breaking point-to-point will be published here soon. [Click on photos to enlarge them]