Barbury's first point-to-point of the season attracts punters, a chill wind and some strong fields
The day started clear and sunny, with a keen over-the-downs-wind making it very cold last Sunday (November 27) for the first of the Barbury Racecourse's four meetings this season. A fair-sized crowd was rewarded with an excellent turnout – of 85 horses entered, 65 took part in the Point-to-Point Owners and Riders Club meeting.
The highlight of the card, both on paper and on the day, was the Mixed Open – sponsored for the first time by Equine Health Centre Ltd.
Nineteen of the 25 entries ran, including Ericht - a useful under rules for Nicky Henderson, who was present to watch daughter Camilla ride.
The spoils, however, went to Iberico, following up last year’s success in the same race and opening a double for rider Sam Jukes and owners Clive and Eileen Bennett. Always handy in mid-division, the 11-year-old made smooth progress to lead three out and score comfortably by five lengths from Lilbitluso. Big Casino was eight lengths back in third on his point-to-point debut.
“It was worth cleaning the cup after all,” laughed a delighted Clive. “When we saw the entries, we thought we had no chance this year, but that was extraordinary. He’s 11 going on 12, but he’s still improving.”
Iberico is likely to stay pointing, but the winning trainer-rider refused to be drawn on plans: “We’ll see how he comes out of the race. He’s direction-dependent – he wants a flat left-handed track and soft ground is best.”
After Sam and the Bennetts, the hero of the day was 16-year-old Connor Brace, who rode his first winner over fences just seven days after having his first point-to-point rides.
He was successful on William Money for his grandfather, long-time pointing supporter David Brace, in the 12-runner Dodson & Horrell Novice Riders race.
The contest looked to have got away from the odds-on favourite after Tim Gredley kicked Just Cause into the lead at the ninth and went clear three fences later, but Connor showed he has a cool head, staying in touch with the leader and heading him two out, winning in the end by eight lengths. The fast-finishing Vaillant Creek was a further 15 lengths back in third.
“The plan was to jump off handy and blitz the others but I just sat quietly as I knew he’d keep galloping,” was Connor’s verdict on the way the race unfolded. David had two entries and Connor admitted: “I wanted to run the other one but Grandad told me to run William Money.”
Despite his youth, Connor has plenty of experience, having been riding in pony races since the age of nine and having ridden 45 winners in that sphere. He has spent time with Philip Hobbs, but is back with David for the pointing season, where he hopes to follow in the footsteps of James Bowen as champion novice rider: “I’ll see how I get on. I’ll probably do a second season pointing before turning conditional – Mr Hobbs will let me know when I’m ready.”
Unfortunately local trainer Laura Thomas' entry Express du Berlais and his rider Kate Gowing parted company at the second fence.
All six entries faced the starter in the Surrey Cook Conditions Race, for eight-year-olds and over who hadn’t won for two years, and there was a red-hot favourite in the shape of Fran Nimmo’s Rendezvous Peak, with multiple champion Will Biddick in the saddle.
Long odds-on punters looked likely to collect when he hit the front at the eighth and quickened clear, however Solly Wood on Sentimentaljourney tracked the leader throughout, heading him two out and going on to score by 12 lengths, with Shangani eight lengths further back.
“It’s the first runner in my name, and our first winner,” confirmed owner-trainer Robert Varnham. “I ride the horses out, but my wife Lucie does all the hard work!” The Varnhams have four horses at their yard at Bramley, near Guildford.
The first of the two Maidens on the card, for Mares and Fillies sponsored by the Jockey Club and NAF, had just seven declarations but plenty of early incident. River Dun unshipped Darren Edwards going down to the start and was withdrawn.
This led to a big delay as the ambulance that came to collect Darren Edwards had to park on the course while he was attended to and then driven off to hospital.
Then Elska jumped into odds-on favourite One Big Love at the first – causing her to unseat – before refusing herself at the second.
This left just four to race two circuits and Pique Rock took full advantage of the early departures, tracking pacesetter Act Like You Know before jumping to the head of affairs at the final cross fence.
Five-year-old Pique was always in command and went on to win by an easy eight lengths, with Sackable Offence third, ten lengths behind her stablemate.
The next meeting at the track, the Barbury International point-to-point, is on Saturday, 20th January and advance tickets can be bought online
You can see more of Phil Britt's photos of the meeting here