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Barbury Racecourse preview: Vine & Craven point-to-point promises strong entries, competitive races & local interest

A total of 144 entries have been received for the seven race Vine & Craven point-to-point fixture on Sunday, February 12 at Barbury Racecourse high on the Marlborough Downs.

Earlier this week Clerk of the Course John White reported the going was 'Good to Soft, Soft in places'. Since the last meeting, the fences have been moved, and the majority of the racing line will be on fresh ground.

The Mixed Open at this fixture last year was one of the most competitive of the season with 19 runners and sponsors Timico will be hoping for more of the same this year.  Their contest - a qualifier for the series final at Cheltenham in May - has attracted 31 entries.

Joint top-rated on pointing form are Full Trottle – already twice a winner this season – and Ballytober winner of the April Hunter Chase, however the former’s trainer Laura Thomas was guarded about her eight-year-olds prospects of running: “I’ve put him in and will see what the race is like. He’s got plenty of options.”

Her circumspection can’t be faulted, as among potential rivals are impressive Larkhill winner Caesar Milan and last year’s Cheltenham United Hunts Cup hero Cousin Pete.

Another national sponsor – now into their third year – are Subaru, whose 19-entry Restricted race is a qualifier for their final at Stratford on Friday, June 9.

Early season contests of this nature are usually highly competitive and this race is no exception, with six entries having scored last time out. Among them is Tim Underwood’s Cheltenham Mati, who took the Mares Maiden at the last meeting at Barbury: “I’ve bought out Martin Oliver’s share since she won.  If she gets stuffed, I’ve made the wrong decision! But I think she’s good and I’ve bought her to keep her – she’s come on leaps and bounds since her last run. Zak Baker rides again.”

Highest-rated is another one from Laura Thomas’ local yard: Very Intense. Laura, who has also entered Billy Biscuit for PPA Chairman Tim Curtis, admitted: “I want to run them both but I won’t. I’ll probably run Very Intense for his local owners who’ve been travelling the country to watch him run! He didn’t do a lot wrong last time and he’s been knocking on the door and should win one.”

In contrast to Subaru, Chepstow Racecourse is a new sponsor at Barbury and has been rewarded for its support of the Novice Riders race with 31 entries. It’s quality as well as quantity.  Tim Underwood groaned when I reeled off the names of some of the opposition to his prolific winner Tempelpirate - 2014’s Leading Horse.

“He definitely goes,” Tim confirmed. “Laura Dennington takes the mount – she rides well and knows the horse, having ridden his work last week. He’s straightforward – and he’s fit enough if good enough.”

Laura Thomas (left) on the gallops (2014)Laura Thomas (left) on the gallops (2014)Barbury-based Laura Thomas has enjoyed a great start to the season and will be hopeful of another good performance from Karinga Dancer. She’s already scored twice on the 11-year-old and the pair were unlucky when carried out at Black Forest Lodge last time. “He’s had physio since his last run, is bouncing and wants to run."

Claire Hardwick has entered three and is most likely to rely on Orange Nassau – second last time at Thorpe Lodge: “He’s come out of that fine and if he runs like he did there he’ll go well. I’m always hopeful of anything I run at Barbury!”

Just 11 have been entered for the Countryside Alliance Mares Conditions race, but this time it’s quality rather than quantity. Possible runners include two hugely popular mares in Popaway and Dabinett Moon, as well as the useful She’s Real and Lostin A Fog, winner of the first ever point-to-point bumper at Barbury last month.

The two-and-a-half mile Fullers Brewery Maiden for four to six year-olds is a qualifier for the Goffs Aintree bumper and 20 are entered. Those with the best form on paper are Troed Y Melin, a fast-finishing second here in December and Emtidaad, second here in January.  Emtidaad was trained in Ireland and subsequently bought by Bill Hawkins to run from Julie Mansell’s yard.

Yet to see a racecourse are two locally-trained Black Sam Bellamy mares. First, Dibby Brown’s Bella Luna - a half-sister to Cousin Pete: “She’s a lovely little mare. She’s been schooling superbly, worked well at the weekend and Nick (owner-rider Nick Phillips) is keen to run her.”

Secondly, Laura Thomas was planning to run Black Sam Bella in the bumper here last month, but the mare was held up by a minor niggle. “I like her a lot,” confirmed Laura, “And she’s done everything right at home.”

25 are entered in the three-mile Ramsbury Vodka Open Maiden, which on paper at least, does not look as strong as the young horse contest. Sophie Lacey’s newcomer Amadoue catches the eye, while Jack Barber’s Ballyjim and Caroline Keevil’s Mrs Winchester are two from top yards who are sure to improve for their debut. Tim Underwood is keen on the chances of Cnoc Sion – the mount of Phil York: “He’s working like a demon at home, absolutely flying.”

The meeting closes with the seven-entry Sporting Agenda Hunt Members race and, for once, meeting Chairman Richard Fuller – who took this last year with Grand Gold - doesn’t have a runner. His daughter Page, who rode Grand Gold to victory, will be riding either Peeping Thom or Romantic Composer - but it's difficult to predict the line-up with five of the seven engaged elsewhere on the card.

The Meeting Secretary, Karen Hobbs told me: "We're looking forward to another great meeting at this very popular venue whose reputation as a premier Point to Point course continues to grow, further enhanced by the well-received International Meeting held on 14th January. With the predicted forecast, we are expecting near perfect ground on race day."

The first race is at 11.30am and entry is £10 per person. Advance bookings online receive a free race card.

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