The determination of the Maisemore Park race committee saw them overcome major challenges before their first fixture went ahead on 25th October. It is hard to imagine that 23 weeks later the second meeting at this popular riverside venue faces similar problems with both National and Local restrictions still in place.
Point-to-Pointing is not alone in facing the challenges of the Covid Crisis but what is remarkable is that an “amateur sport”, run by volunteers has overcome every obstacle placed in their path to ensure it survives and emerges stronger in the future.
It is even more remarkable that meetings are held behind closed doors but this does allow the sport to emerge from its enforced hibernation. Each race committee has shown co-operation and adaptability and combined with Peter Wright’s leadership has provided a viable program for the remainder of the season.
This meeting was originally scheduled for Sunday 28th March when the meeting could not have taken place, but to provide opportunities for owners, trainers and riders that have been lacking since the New Year lockdown it was quickly rearranged for Tuesday (30th March), when the rules were relaxed.
Due to the large number of entries (187) the start time has been brought forward to 12 noon, with the first Pony Race at 10-30 a.m. Point-to-Point Races will be run at half hour intervals to accommodate potential divisions after declarations have taken place.
Four meetings are scheduled for the two-day period immediately after lockdown, but the Ledbury entry is more than double the total received by the other three meetings, Hurworth (76), Revesby (87) and Charing (79).
The programme starts with a combined Members Race featuring horses qualified with the Ledbury, Cotswold, Cotswold Vale, Heythrop and Monmouthshire and this has proved popular with 21 entries from the five organisations involved.
The Ledbury look to hold a strong hand with Ballyboker Breeze, Trio for Rio, Chase Me, Miss Seagreen and No Limitations colours nailed to that mast.
Ballyboker Breeze lack of a recent run could prove problematic, whereas Trio for Rio holds Miss Seagreen on their running in a Ludlow Hunter Chase a few weeks ago, and that form is better than most.
The Heythrop have two worthy representatives in Blackwater Bramble and Pithivier but this looks a tough race so they may struggle, while Thumb Stone Blues looks the best of the Cotswold Vale representatives.
A lot has happened since the last West Midland Area meeting on 6th December with Alex Edwards turning professional, while the Area’s leading trainer Mel Rowley now has a Rules license.
Both hold substantial leads in their respective championships, but with four meetings remaining, their rivals have the opportunity to claw back the deficits – whether they are able to do so is another matter.
Phil Rowley has reassumed responsibility for the Point-to-Pointers at the family’s Morville yard and normal service should quickly be re-established in the 4 & 5-Year-old Maiden.
This race is dominated by runners from “sales” stables who use these events to market their wares, and that includes Rowley’s representative No Authority who is sure to give a good account of himself.
Only one of the fourteen runners have any racecourse experience which means that the Fran Nimmo trained Adjournment has an advantage over most of his rivals. He sets the standard as he was narrowly beaten on his racecourse debut at Larkhill last March and looks to have a major chance.
The Lacey’s Woolhope yard took the honors at the Wiltshire venue and they also have a runner in this race. They have an impressive strike rate in this type of event but other stables have got on the bandwagon and these races have become more competitive. Algesiras could join the long list of winners to emerge from the Herefordshire yard.
Lacy’s near neighbor Clive Boultbee-Brooks has proved adept in his new role of training Pointers and will be hoping that Guinness Village proves better than his rivals with the market providing the best guide to his chances.
Tom Ellis saddles Another Mystery and any runner from this yard must be treated with respect, while West Country trainer Chris Barber has four horses entered in the Boundary Stables Partnership colours.
Hindlip trainer Tom Weston relies on Stumps or Slips and Walk in Clover, while the Peter Mason trained The Eminent Goose is another that catches the eye.
The 6-year-old and upwards Maiden has attracted 56 entries but the organizers have decided to wait until declarations before contemplating divisions.
This race is likely to prove a mine field for punters as the race looks a lottery. Most of them have similar profiles and if you ran the race 10 times you would probably get 10 different results.
Barley Hill finished second over the course in October but has been pulled up twice since, while Brother Byrne was racing prominently and going well until he fell at Barbury and must go close with a clear round.
Congalolo (Tom Ellis) has many things in his favour, while Jason Warner’s newcomer Finley’s Eyes has several placings to his credit.
Jimmy Snipe could make his racecourse debut and it will be interesting to see how he fares against these opponents, whereas Largy Mountain has been knocking at the door on his last four outings.
Master Sam Bellamy’s recent runs show that he is progressing in the right direction, while the ex-Irish Post No Bills will need to step up on recent efforts to prevail.
Rose Illand finished third over this course 5 months ago, and looks sure to be well supported, but Shamilan’s form stands up to the closest scrutiny.
George Daly did little wrong when this partnership was last seen out at Chaddesley Corbett but they came out the wrong side of a long and protracted duel with Rising Snake and were a short head behind the winner at the finish. The horse’s connections have a long association with this meeting so it is a pity there will not be a partisan crowd to cheer them home.
Entries for Open races at these early meetings have proved disappointing and only 13 horses have entered at Maisemore.
Bradley Gibbs pairing of Rio Bravo and Highway Jewel can add to their tally, although Diplomate Sivola won well for his new connections at Barbury but may not have the skill set to trouble Gibbs’s selection, while Benefit of Luck’s form has gone downhill over the last 12 months.
Mickey Bowen is a chip off the Peter Bowen block and it will be interesting to see if he can revive the careers of More Buck’s and Phoenix Rock, while Phil Rowley will be hoping to get Vivaldi Collonges back to winning ways.
The Skinners sponsored Ladies Open looks at the mercy of the Gina Andrews ridden Dubai Quest who is unbeaten in his last four outings. Master Baker had good form last season but has struggled to maintain his high rating but will be there to take advantage if the favorite has an off day.
Aqua Dude and Court Minstrel are potential mounts for Eleonor Williams but both look on the downgrade which means the likes of Hey Bill, Hit the Highway and West Hardin could pick up one of the minor placings.
Shiskin impressed at the Cheltenham Festival and her half-sister Shometheway is an interesting entry for the Ladies. She was pulled up on heavy ground at Leicester and will appreciate less testing conditions and we all know that Clive Bennett likes to have a winner at Maisemore.
Waterloo Warrior never runs a bad race but has suffered two narrow defeats this season including one over this course in October. He is sure to give you a good run for your money but a 10 lb penalty tips the scales in his rivals favour.
These include Daly An Sceil who has to be feared if making the journey down from Yorkshire, while any horse owned by Judy Wilson and trained by Stuart Morris has to be placed on the short list.
Ryans Fancy scored on the opening day of the season and is capable of taking the next step up the ladder while the odds are in No Limitations favour in connections sidestep engagements earlier in the afternoon.
The Conditions (42 entries) is another race that is likely to require division, although several entries have other options elsewhere on the card.
Big Casino scored for Emma Alvis at October’s meeting when this gallant veteran showed the exhuberence of a horse half his age and back on familiar terriority he could regain the winning thread.
Chase Me has been kept on the go in Hunter Chases while Point to Pointing has been shut down so it would be no surprise if the return to smaller obstacles proved beneficial.
Diamond King finished third behind Trio for Rio in a Ludlow Hunter Chase so he could be one to follow, while According to Harry, Azure Fly, Ballykan and Midnight King all look capable of taking a hand at the finish.