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YORK JOINS 300 CLUB!
by Andrew Norman

Veteran rider Phil York became the sixth rider in the history of the sport to ride 300 Point-to-Point winners at Kingston Blount on Sunday, joining Richard Burton, Julian Pritchard, David Turner, Will Biddick and Polly Gundry in the illustrious club.

"It's fantastic, another milestone," said York after guiding Ray Fielder's Merrydown Vintage home in the Hunt Members race, maintaining the gelding's perfect record from three visits to the track.

He continued: "I remember when I rode my 50th winner here and since then it's just been a case of passing each landmark. My first ever outside ride was for Ray so it's a small world to think he would provide me with my 300th winner!"

Effingham-based York, who turned 50 earlier this month, has no plans to retire from the saddle. "I've never ridden to achieve anything other than to have fun and while it's still like that, I'll carry on," he explained.

"Everyone has been building up to today saying we're going to have a big party and all the rest of it but that's not me. Today was brilliant and a lot of fun but in my mind it was always going to happen, it was just a case of when. In truth, I should have ridden more than nine winners this year and done this weeks ago but it's been one of those seasons. The ground has been too soft for our horses and we had a little virus in the yard."

Treated to a rapturous reception by fellow members of the weighing room, trainers and racegoers alike upon returning to the winner's enclosure, York will bid to add to his tally at Garthorpe next week. "The next aim is 301!" he joked, "And then it would be nice to get to 304 and pass Polly Gundry!"

York now lies just three winners behind Gundry, the winning-most lady rider in the sport. HisPhil tongue-in-cheek remark of "I can't have a girl having ridden more winners than me!" at Ascot Sales last year has travelled far and wide.

"Polly and I had a good laugh about that," York recalled, "but I remember her saying she would give me some rides to help me out. I'm still waiting for the phone call!"

After pony clubbing and dressage eventing, Phil had his first ride in 1983 aged 16. "I didn't know anything about racing!" he said, "All I knew is you had to jump fences and be the first past the post. I rode a couple of five-year-old mares that I'd broken in – I knew nothing and they knew even less! I had eight rides in my first season – six falls and two pulled ups!"

After a decade away from riding, York's first winner was aboard Paco's Boy at Tweseldown in 1995, a horse that gave the rider a valuable education. 299 victories later and York loves the sport as much as ever. It's evident he still has the hunger for the game, emphasised by the fact he's embarking on a five-hour round trip for one ride in the maiden at Chaddesley Corbett tomorrow.


TRAINER TALK: TIM UNDERWOOD
by Jake Exelby

'LAST OF THE CORINTHIANS'

Tim Underwood is – to my knowledge – the oldest jockey still riding at the age of 67. And he has no immediate plans to retire, having publicly stated his aim to ride a winner at 70! As he says, "It would be good to ride one now!" With a yard full of talent like 2014 winningmost horse Tempelpirate and recent Irish purchase Sebadee, who would bet against him reaching his ambition? I recently went to Beedon, near Newbury, to meet the livewire owner-trainer-rider and find out what keeps him going.

Cliff Richard had a Number One single in five decades from the 1950s to the 1990s, but Tim has gone one better, having ridden winners since the 1960s, his most recent being on Most Definitely at Lockinge in 2011. "Enough not to know, but not enough to count!" was his enigmatic response to my enquiry about his career total. I've counted 75 in points, but could be wrong…

Tim's interest in point-to-pointing came from his father Don, a vet who also held a professional licence and who trained useful horses under NH Rules like Mon Plaisir and True Song. Don's best horse between the flags was Preciptico, who won "About ten Opens" but, by the time Tim started, the good point-to-pointers had gone. "All I ever got were the National Hunt cast-offs," he remembers ruefully. One of these was the mare Beaumette. "She was an atrocious jumper," recalls Tim. "Every time she ran under rules she fell. One day, Ron Atkins rode her at Worcester and she took the ditch out, so Dad said 'You can have her!' I won my first point-to-point on her at Hackwood Park, in 1966. (Former Royal jockey) Bill Smith rode her and said she was 'The worst ride I ever had' If she got it right, she was OK, but if she got it wrong…"

Moving into the 1970s, talk turns to Blond Babu, another who holds mixed memories for Tim. "He was very difficult to do anything with," recalls his rider. "If you went into his stall at night, he'd have you over the door! " Tim shows me a picture of the pair taking what I would politely describe as 'a right pearler' at Stratford. "He was a wonderful jumper," protests the jockey. "He was ten lengths clear. The crowd were cheering him, so he took his eye off the fence!" As if to prove his point, Tim proudly confirms that he was in the saddle for two National Hunt wins and "Quite a few" point-to-points (five, between 1974 and 1977, to be precise!)

Tim has never been one to (how shall I put it?) follow the rules to the letter and one of his early brushes with authority came at around this time. He takes up the story. "There were lots of military races at the time, and I went to a naval school in Chichester, so I rode in them as a Sea Cadet. But after winning one, I was reported to Portman Square, where they said 'Sorry Mr Underwood, that doesn't count', took the race away and fined me £100. So I joined the Territorial Army as Private Underwood, just so I could keep riding in the military races. They've got more lenient now, allowing daughters and sons of past and present serving members to ride."

Tim describes Fred Pilliner as "The best horse I ever had, but plagued with leg trouble – he split Bregawn and Wayward Lad at Liverpool. We paid £5,000 for him from Michael Scudamore. I remember riding him in an Open at Tweseldown in 1987 against Ian Balding on Ross Poldark and David Naylor-Leyland on Reynard's Bow. We won at 33/1 and Dad had £100 on him!"

Childsway was another character. Prior to 1996, he had raced nine times with a conspicuous lack of success. Tim describes how he reformed a character the form book described as 'thoroughly mulish'. "I took him to Larkhill and he went straight on into the bushes at the end of the course. I got him back on the racetrack and he was only beaten half a length." He has fond memories of a win at Peper Harow that season. "I've ridden more winners there than any other jockey" he claims. "If you know how to ride Peper Harow, you can nick lengths. You don't do it in the straight, but wait until the last minute and nip up the inner. After I won on him that day, I sold him for a lot of money and don't think he ever completed the course again!"
(Note to readers: even 20 years ago, the annual describes Tim as 'prehistoric'!)

Toothpick was a stalwart at the turn of the millennium who, in Tim's words "Got me into serious trouble." He explains why. "I ran him at Cottenham first time out (in 1998) and thought he'd injured himself, so I pulled him up. We then ran at Kingston Blount and he bolted up. One correspondent wrote an article about incompetent stewards and me cheating. He wrote 'Tim Underwood's always got an answer…'" The saga continued in 1999 after Phil York rode him to win at Kingston Blount. Tim was meant to ride, but after weighing out, the stewards discovered his medical book hadn't been signed-off by the doctor! "We took him back there for the next meeting, I rode him and he ran like a dog. It was a Bank Holiday weekend, so we went to Chaddesley Corbett on the Monday and he won. They slagged me off again but it wasn't my fault – the horse was a rogue!"

Long Courrier has provided Tim with wins in each of the last two decades, but was also responsible for the latest in what seems to be a catalogue of horrible injuries, after a fall at Kimble. "I went to hospital in Aylesbury and was told I was just bruised," Tim says nonchalantly. "But Carolyn (Tim's partner and a professional physiotherapist) told me to go and get X-rayed. It turns out I'd broken my tibia and my fibia!"

Tim's first injury was also his worst. "It was on the same day Bill Smith rode Beaumette. I was on a Maiden and it was my own fault – coming to the last, I tried to take on the leader and turned over. I stopped breathing and they diagnosed me as dead! Mum was down by the fence and the woman next to her said 'I pity that poor mother.' Her reply: "That's my son!'"

If any injury can be described as funny, it must be the accident that befell Tim one day at Tweseldown. As he modestly puts it. "I got the end of my willy cut off. But don't worry, it was just the top six inches!" What actually happened is that Tim parted company from his mount on the first circuit. Fences weren't fully dolled-off for an injured rider in those days and, when the horses came round again, Tim caught a foot in the groin, which severed the tip of a precious part of his anatomy as well as breaking his knee. Luckily he was unconscious at the time! The tale did have two positive results. Firstly, he was successfully sewn up (!) and secondly, the incident led to the rule where a fence is bypassed to avoid harm to an injured rider or horse.

Talk of injuries leads to an inevitable question: what keeps Tim going at such a venerable age? "Nothing's changed," came the frank reply. "I've always done it. I've ridden horses like these all my life." He repeats the line that, for him at least, nothing has changed and that he still feels fine, while he says Godfrey Maundrell retired – also in his 60s – because he ached! But what do Tim's family think? "Carolyn doesn't worry too much. She saw my head-scan once and said there was nothing there! My daughter Sarah's the worst – she's always been terrified!"

Our chat so far has focused on Tim's riding career, but it's worth noting that he's a successful trainer – his ten winners last season seeing him finish second in the national 'small stable' category. Tim's yard has eight boxes, of which seven are currently filled with horses he owns himself. "I don't really enjoy doing it for other people – I keep changing my mind!" he confesses. "And when the horses go wrong…" He takes me through his hopes for the rest of the season:

Carnglave Cat
"Still eligible for Club Races and might win a Hunter Chase on bad ground."

Deise Vu
Bought from Ireland having won his Maiden, placed over hurdles and in winners company, but must have fast ground. He looks a good thing to go through the grades."

High Kite
"A winner of two chases and placed over hurdles, he ran very well at Lockinge on Easter Monday, only being beaten a few lengths. May win a race on quick ground."

Knowhentofoldem
"Won first time out last year, then after he pulled up at Kingston Blount we found out he had a pollen allergy so we backed off him. He was just beaten by Cock Of The Rock at Upper Sapey and wants soft ground. Potentially useful."

Rescue Glory
"Placed in a Maiden in Ireland, then won his maiden on his debut for me at Parham. Ran disappointingly in his first Restricted, only for us to find out he had a problem with his back."

Sebadee
"Bought from Ireland and quite smart. He jumped the third last in the lead in the race On The Fringe won at Punchestown and the jockey said he could have been a close fourth if he's been harder on the horse."

Tempelpirate
"He's in work and I hope to get him back (after missing 2015). He's a bit of a steering job – if he can get to the front three out, nothing can get past him!"

Tim has a team of two to help in the yard – Chris Buck and Kelly Etheridge. Chris, a former conditional with Jamie Snowden, rides work while Kelly is in charge of the stable management. The rides will be mostly be split between Tim, Katy Lyons (when she recovers from injury) and Chris Dennington who – with five winners – is still eligible for Novice Riders races and should get the chance to ride the prolific Tempelpirate.

Tim runs a print company – specialising in the property market - in Oxford and rides work every morning before the day job. While he canters his string in the fields around his Beedon base, Tim takes some of his horses to Lambourn to gallop and school. He is keen to explain why. "I could go to a National Hunt trainer much closer to me but Lambourn is a public gallop and you don't have to say please!" He enthuses about the range of schooling and galloping options and caps it off with "It only takes me exactly two hours for the round trip."

As you would expect for someone involved with the sport for half a century, Tim has strong views on the state of point-to-pointing. He starts with an interesting answer to the question of why he loves pointing. "I don't honestly know, because I don't miss it in the summer but I look forward to it coming back. And I hate riding out! Carolyn thinks I'm mad, but it's a means to an end. I'm quite competitive and it's all about the challenge…"

Prompted to expand, he admits "I like a horse I can go to war with! I love getting horses that haven't made the grade and winning with them. If I win with a horse from one of the bigger yards, am I lucky, or am I doing something they haven't done? No… I think it's luck!"

We get onto the subject of increasing professionalism, a trend of which he is in favour. "When I first started, you couldn't make any income from the sport. A pal of mine put himself down as a pig farmer! But the whole ethos has changed – you can't get a horse fit by cantering it round a field. All point-to-point trainers have access to proper gallops now. Tim Forster once said that people would race for a bag of chips. After all, a winner's a winner!"

"I haven't got a problem if Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson train pointers," he continues – citing well-known names to make his case. "You can't say it demoralises the real amateurs – there aren't any left. It wouldn't carry on if young lads like Sam Twiston-Davies didn't ride in point-to-points. The character of riders has changed – they're all little professional jockeys! But that's not a bad thing – if they weren't there, who'd ride?"

As I take my leave, I suspect the answer to that rhetorical question would be the galloping granddad Tim himself, sitting astride a horse he could go to war with, probably at his beloved Peper Harow, not caring if all he earned for his endeavours was a bag of chips…


TRAINER TALK: LYNN REDMAN

A CARING CONCERN

I got to know Lynn Redman in 2014, when my horse was being driven to Paxford by husband Martin on a busy Easter Monday with their own Boomtown Kat. Well known prankster Alan Hill introduced me to Martin with the words: "This is Willy, the box driver." Embarrassingly, I believed him – and haven't been able to live it down since! Luckily, Boomtown Kat won the Ladies Open and my Broken Eagle took the Restricted, so there were no hard feelings as we celebrated a double.

Lynn trains at Mount Hill Farm, Tetsworth, Oxfordshire where Martin – known as Willy "Because I'm Martin William, it's as simple as that, but Rachael Talbot calls me 'chief'" – farms about 500 acres of Oxfordshire countryside. Asked how much her husband lends a hand, Lynn's reply was unequivocal. "Oh my God! Only if he has to. All I get is 'bloody horses'. He tolerates them, but likes them if they win." She smiles as she says this and – as I've never seen Lynn at the races without Martin – the tongue-in-cheek affection is obvious.

Lynn's involvement with horses started at the age of 16, when she bought a two-year-old thoroughbred, named Tinky! Though she was a thoroughbred, Lynn did not race her. "She was just a riding horse – I broke her in and we hunted" and had no race-riding ambitions. "God no," she laughed when I enquired if she'd ever wanted to get in the saddle in points. "I admire anyone who does. It frightens me to death! I hunted, but was probably full of port!"

Like so many others, she got into point-to-pointing almost by accident. "We used to drink in the Three Pigeons at Milton Common," she recalled. "One day I was in there with Rose, who used to lead up for Owen, Chris King's father. She asked me to stand in for her one day and, once I got the bug, that was it…" Lynn trained her first winners – Kelly's Eye and Sizzling Sun – in 1994. She described the aftermath of the latter's win, in a Maiden, at Hereford. "(Owner) Maurice Thomas, my 'partner in crime' ran the whole of the last furlong with her. Then we went to the bar and he bought champagne and beef rolls for everyone. Apparently you can still see the marks in the ceiling from the popping corks!"

Maurice has been an owner with Lynn for nearly 25 years without a break and Laurie and Margaret Kimber, who owned Kelly's Eye, have been involved over the same period. Of the 11 horses currently in training with Lynn, one is wholly owned by Martin, two run for the 'Three M Partnership' ("Martin, Maurice and Margaret") in the Kimbers' blue and grey colours and eight belong to the 'Back of the Car Racing Club', so called because "Everyone is round the back of Maurice's car drinking G & T and eating beef rolls! And anyone's welcome to join the Racing Club. We have more than one horse, so if something goes wrong, you've got several others!"

Lynn is very hands-on – when I arrived she was wheeling a barrowful of muck! – but any successful yard relies on a good team, and Lynn's is no exception. Her head girl is Cara Gianni, who has been based at Mount Hill Farm for about 18 months. "She came to me from Pam Sly," said Lynn. "I knew she'd be able to ride well because she used to work in a dealer's yard!"

The rides this season are likely to be shared between Max Kendrick, Hugh Nugent, Ben Hicks and Page Fuller and Hannah Watson in Ladies Races. "Chris Loggin is my agent," laughs Lynn. "He finds me riders. Seriously, I want the jockeys on my horses to be the ones who ride out here. Max, Hugh, Ben and Page come in two or three times a week." Asked why she spreads the rides, Lynn clarifies that it's down to the individual horses. "Certain horses go better for different riders."

In addition to being a farmer's wife and training 11 pointers – "It's my hobby" – Lynn acts as a health care assistant for One to One Care of Oxford. "I work virtually full time in the summer when I'm not busy with the horses and several evenings a week during the winter." She explains how the role came about. "I looked after Martin's Mum when she was ill and wanted to do something a bit different. It's such a worthwhile job and I absolutely love it. I worry about the people, but you've got to be careful not to get too involved. However, you do get attached – some of these people are wonderful."

This attachment extends to Lynn's equine charges. "I care about horses in the same way. You have to love them else you wouldn't do it. We don't bring on young horses to sell them – it can take a lifetime to have a good horse, so when you do, you don't want to get rid of it. Maurice is the same." Cara sums up Lynn's relationship with her horses. "They're not machines. Horses are everything to Lynn – she cares for their brains as much as their bodies. And all of hers have got another job to go to afterwards."

Talk of good horses leads us to Home By Midnight, probably the best that Lynn has trained so far. "We bought her as a four-year-old from Ascot Sales for the Herringtons and didn't run her until she was six. She was very naughty and difficult to read – she had a mind of her own." Lynn remembers some of the mare's more endearing character traits. "When we used to take her to the gallops, I'd have to run and lead her in. She'd be on her hind legs, boxing me. Then after her gallop, she wouldn't come back down. Whoever was riding her would have to lead her all the way. Everything was always on her terms."

The mare, a winner of eight races, is still very much part of the family, now owned by Lynn and Maurice and currently boarding at David Brace's Dunraven Stud in Wales. "We got her after she retired," Lynn tells me, "And wanted to send her to Dr Massini at Dunraven. We think he's really good – the top living stallion in Britain. That's how we became friends with the Braces and why we have so many they've owned and bred." The success is set to continue. Home By Midnight retired in 2011 and Lynn now has her three-year-old by Dr Massini, a Brian Boru two-year-old and has just picked up her Dr Massini yearling. And the mare is in foal to… you guessed it, Dr Massini!

Before I leave, I ask Lynn one final question: what don't you like about the sport of point-to-pointing? The answer epitomises her overall attitude: "Nothing. I love it. I admire all those young boys and girls who go out and ride, and the hard work put in by everyone from trainers to yard staff. I have no negatives – I wouldn't do it if I did!"


TRAINER TALK: FRANCESCA NIMMO

BREAKING INTO THE BIG TIME

Francesca Nimmo may still be in her twenties, but she already proved herself an astute young trainer, more than capable of getting a horse ready to win first time, as last season's Brocklesby Park winner Fortunata Fashions - subsequently sold for £55,000 – showed. Francesca, whose boyfriend is National Hunt jockey Charlie Poste, is now hoping to continue to increase the numbers and the quality within her stable. I visit her at her Ettington yard to find out more about her string and her hopes for this year.

When I arrive, the yard has a real buzz to it. Seven horses and their riders are being saddled, about to go out to the gallops for second lot. Francesca and Charlie only moved to their Station Yard stables, on pointing stalwart Ken Hutsby's land, in September, from Aston Le Walls near Northampton. "We only had seven or eight last year, plus some babies and horses for breaking-in," said Francesca when asked about the relocation. "We were looking for somewhere with more facilities – what we had was incredibly limited compared to what we've got here."

What she has at Station Yard is more than 20 boxes, as well as access to the same gallops used by nearby trainer Fred Hutsby, Ken's son. "Our aim was to fill just half the barn, but we now have 23 in with hopefully around 15 to run," confirmed Francesca. Familiar faces include Clondaw Island, a mightily impressive winner at Kingston Blount in 2014 but unraced since – "We may aim him at the Cheltenham two-mile Hunter Chase. He's been leased to a syndicate for the season and we still do have a few spaces available" – and Magic Sky, the mention of whom lights up Francesca's face. "He's 16, but still madly enthusiastic," the trainer smiled when talking about the horse who has carried her to four victories in Ladies Opens. "He still runs away with me every morning, and is normally left for Charlie to school!  I hope to ride him again this season, but he has legs like glass.  Hunting him is fairly challenging – he just loves being a racehorse."

As well as her four wins between the flags from just 11 rides, Francesca has a 50% strike rate under Rules, having won a Hurdle on the Robin Dickin-trained Galactic Power at Huntingdon last season. "I was completely outpaced jumping the first three," she recalled. "But Charlie had told me to watch where Gina Andrews and Lizzie Kelly were – they were upsides so I hoped I wasn't too far wrong! In the end he bolted up at 18/1."

I asked Francesca why, with such a great win ratio, she hasn't been tempted to ride more regularly. "I didn't want the pressure of riding anything else, she admitted. "Plus Dad and Charlie weren't overly keen on me riding maidens, which we mainly had previously, and in all honesty you can't do everything. Although I have ridden more winners on Magic Sky than Charlie did, even if – as he always says – he did win more prize money!" (Note to readers: Charlie rode Magic Sky to victory back in 2007!)

"Dad" is Chris Nimmo, a key part of the team, who rides out five mornings a week. Chris is a former trainer of pointers himself and is well known for his tilts at the ring, most recently with Fortunata Fashions at Brocklesby Park last season and most famously when Over The Hill won a Cartmel Hunter Chase in 1999. "Cartmel is Dad's favourite course," laughed Francesca. "He won that race with Sands Of Gold as well. The trophy's really incredible – it's enormous, and an added bonus is that you win lots of sticky toffee pudding!" It was on Sands Of Gold that Francesca first caught the riding and training bug. "Dad used to let me ride him out when I was 11 or 12, but he was never overly keen for me to ride when I turned 16 as I was small. I always thought I wanted to train and, while I went to the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester, I spent most of my time hunting and playing polo. I rode in several hunt races, most memorably winning a Golden Button and finishing fourth in a side-saddle race."

Francesca's horses for this season are a mix of older and younger horses, with the plan being to bring on the young ones and sell them on – "Last season was a huge success (with Fortunata Fashions) but it's not always that straightforward…" A youngster she is particularly keen on is an as yet unnamed four-year-old by Scorpion. Hugh Nugent, who will take most of the rides this season, partners him as he canters with six others along the uphill all-weather gallop and – at nearly 17 hands – he's certainly an imposing individual.

Others to watch out for include Lisnagar Star – "Dad's incredibly fond of him, he says he hasn't liked one so much for years" – who will be aimed at Restricteds with James Jackson-Stops and Alittlebitless. "He's made a slow start to the season, falling when favourite at Cottenham on the first day of the season and not handling the heavy ground at all at Chaddesley Corbett, but we're confident he will show his true colours on better ground."

An expanding string needs a good team and the camaraderie in the yard is obvious, with coffee and bacon sandwiches freely dispensed. As Francesca confesses, "It's meant to be fun. Mum plays a key part in producing wonderful race day picnics and, on a Saturday morning over coffee, the barn can often sound more like a pub than a racing yard!"  An invaluable member of the team is Kerry Moore who is Head Girl, having joined in September when Francesca and Charlie moved to Ettington, and voluntarily sticks to stable duties while the others are riding out – "Having children put me off riding. I don't mind if Francesca needs me, but it's not my first port of call!" The work riders – on my visit at least – are completed by Fluffy Cain, who had five rides and two placings in points last year, Luke Scott, "the next champion jockey" according to Francesca, who at 13 has already ridden a pony racing winner, and Kate Maplethorpe, who has also progressed through pony racing.  "We enjoy having the younger members of the team in and it's great to be able to give them the opportunity to learn"

Francesca is positive about the future of the sport, in particular the introduction of two-and-a-half mile races. "While we've been slow to get going compared to Irish points, and also to have UK pointing form recognised by National Hunt trainers, everything seems to be moving with the times. Change is a good thing, as you've got to keep looking for ways to continue improving." A clear statement of intent from a young trainer destined for the top.

Francesca Nimmo's Owner-Riders
With the sport of pointing becoming increasingly professional, it is pleasing to see that the spirit of the 'Corinthian' owner-rider lives on - as Francesca confirmed, "We actively encourage owner-riders. Pointing is getting more professional, but it's still an amateur sport. While you can't send out unschooled maidens for inexperienced riders, it can still be professional with owner-riders. We've got an Equicizer (mechanical horse) in the yard and Charlie can offer a lot of help with schooling, technique and race tactics."

I talked to four owners, from very different backgrounds, who have their horses with Francesca Nimmo, to see what makes them tick.

James Jackson-Stops
Property developer James is the most experienced of Francesca's owner-riders, having ridden four winners from about 60 rides, most notably on Gidam Gidam in the Lord Ashton of Hyde's Cup in 2013. This year, he and his family bought Aintree Foxhunters third Last Time D'Albain, hoping to target a Cheltenham and Aintree double in 2016. However, after a promising second at Cottenham, the plans fell through for the most tragic of reasons, as 'Alby' had to be put down after breaking a fetlock.

"This season so far has been a tough one," admitted James. "You start with so much hope and inflate your bubbles with ambition. Then, when they burst, it's hard." James originally had four horses to ride this year – Chardonnay and Jakros with Simon Gilmore as well as Lisnagar Star and Last Time D'Albain – but he's now unsure what 2016 holds following the latest in a series of setbacks. "I started with the strongest team I've ever had and now I'm effectively down to one. But I'm trying to look on the bright side, keep soldiering on and get stuck into work." No sooner had he said these words than James partnered Jakros to win at Milborne St Andrew, so let's hope his luck continues to change for the better.

Dave Tompkins
Dave, 48, started riding just three years ago, has had one ride in point-to-points and has also completed the Newmarket Town Plate, a flat race over four miles, twice. I asked him how he caught the racing bug at a relatively advanced age. "As a kid, I wanted to be a jockey. I wanted to experience what it was like to go over fences and it never left me. I lost my father when I was 18 and worked on the family farm – I had no time or money! Then in 1998, I set up my own business – Lighthorne Lamb – selling meat to restaurants and hotels. When I sold the company, I was in a position to have my own horses. And I'll never forget the adrenalin the first time I schooled a horse over fences."

This year, Dave has two horses with Francesca – the ex-Paul Webber trained Royalracket and Champagne Rian, who came from Rebecca Curtis – and has already ridden the former twice, finishing fourth at Chaddesley Corbett and fifth at Cocklebarrow. He's well prepared for the challenge. "I go to the gym, I've got a personal trainer and I use Fran and Charlie's Equicizer," he confirmed. And his goal for the year? "To ride a winner!"

Carrie Tucker
Carrie, who works as a Chief Financial Officer in London, is also a former British champion mogul skier! She is looking forward to her first rides this season on Right Enough, a three-time winner, most recently when trained by Robert Chanin in Devon. She tells me how her new career came about. "I'm a 'local lass' and I was at Mollington last year when I suddenly thought "Why have I never done this?" Francesca and another friend agreed that they had found a suitable mount – the only problem was that Carrie was in Bolivia at the time! "So we met on an industrial estate near the M5 – that's when I first saw the horse!" Asked about her ambitions for the season, Carrie simply replied "I'd like to survive my Members race."

Annabel Willis
Annabel is just 16 and comes to pointing from the proving ground of pony racing. Her hopes will be carried by My Minds Maid, ex-Jack Barber and who also helped educate last year's Ladies Novice Champion Lara Mahon. A good omen perhaps? Unlike many graduates of pony racing, Annabel did not grow up with horses. "I only learnt to ride when I was 12 and I got sponsorship for a pony racing scheme at 13," she recalled. "Then at 14 I started a Saturday job with Ben Case. I always wanted to have a go at pointing, but I didn't have the money or the background. So I got in touch with Francesca and that's how Marge (My Minds Maid) came about."

"I'm studying at Moreton Morrell College (just up the road) so I come and ride out here every day – it helps pay for Marge!" continues Annabel, mature beyond her years. I ask her what she has learnt from the pony racing circuit. "It gives you the confidence to go pointing, and teaches you racing etiquette." She had her first ride at Cocklebarrow last month – while My Minds Maid was eventually pulled up – her rider loved the experience.

After her ride, Annabel told me "It was amazing that a dream I never thought would come true was really happening! She jumped like the old pro she is and gave me a great spin. It was a fantastic experience and I'm looking towards my next ride." And she made sure it was not just My Minds Maid who got the credit. "Without Francesca and her team I wouldn't have been in the paddock Sunday so I'm truly grateful to them too!"


TRAINER TALK: LAURA HORSFALL

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

It's quite an achievement to train a winner with your first runner, which is what Laura Horsfall did when Katnapping won at Clifton-on-Dunsmore in 2014. Laura has now taken over responsibility for the Highfields yard, near Towcester, from Heather Kemp and I visited her stable to find out what she has learnt and how she plans to do things differently…

"I've lived at Highfields for four years now," Laura told me in response to my question on how she came to take over the famous yard. "I used to work for Pauline and Doug Harkin and then worked for Heather for two years. She's always treated me like family. When I had my own pointer (Katnapping) two years ago, I got the buzz, then I trained a racing pony in the summer. Heather said she was thinking of slowing down so I thought 'why not give it a go?'"

The Highfields stables have their own history. Grand National winner Party Politics was born in the yard – formerly owned by his breeder David Stoddart – then John Upson developed the buildings when he embarked on his own training career. The likes of Nick The Brief and Zeta's Lad were housed there when he was in charge, and others who have used it as their base include Terry Casey, Frank Jordan and Julian-Smyth Osbourne, before Heather Kemp moved in five years ago.

Laura's own involvement in the sport dates from her childhood. "When I was a kid we had ponies, that were stabled with Jenny Garley, who also had pointers," she remembers. "She let me work one of them one day, and it just p***ed off with me! I didn't like dressage and eventing, as I liked to go fast!" Laura went for work experience at Caroline Bailey's when she was 14, then started working there full-time as soon as she left school. "I was always going to be involved in racing," she confirmed with a smile.

After leaving the Bailey yard, Laura went to Mike Roberts – trainer of Horse & Hound Chase winner Bitofamixup – in Sussex, then back to Northamptonshire to be head girl for Bill Warner, where she looked after 20-race winner Coolefind, "he still hunts", and Coole Glen, who gave Laura her proudest moment in racing so far. "I led him in after he'd won the two-miler at the Cheltenham Hunter Chase meeting – there's no better feeling than that." Laura credits Bill with teaching her the attention to detail that a trainer needs. "Looking at injuries, how to bandage a horse, the basic stuff. He made me what I am today," she laughs. "I have OCD and swear quite a lot!"

Many trainers have a long career in the saddle before running a yard but Laura's spell as a rider was, by her own admission, brief and unproductive. "I wanted to try being a jockey, so I got an old schoolmaster, Dook's Delight (in 2004). I had four rides on him and he looked after me, but I didn't get the buzz. I enjoyed working with horses at home, making them look pretty! And when I fell off him (Laura's words not mine) at Mollington, you can imagine all the stuff that went with my name!"

Still, Dook's Delight was – inadvertently – responsible for introducing Laura to Heather. "We were riding in the same race at Mollington. I remember seeing her in her blue mascara and thinking 'I'm too scared to talk to her!' But when we started speaking, I thought 'she's alright actually'. I still think she's more taken by my Jack Russell, Buddy, than by me though!"

Laura now looks after three horses formerly trained by Heather, as well as her own Katnapping. She tells me how she came to acquire the mare. "She came from the Waley-Cohens, where she was placed over hurdles. A friend was looking for a horse for dressage so I rang Katie Mawle, their "head lad", who said they had a mare who was crying out to go pointing and who jumped for fun. My friend didn't want a mare, but I couldn't get her out of my mind, so I spoke to Heather, went to see Katnapping, rode her on the gallops and picked her up that afternoon!"

"I didn't tell my parents," continued Laura, "I thought I might have to sell Katnapping if she turned out not to be any good, but the first thing my Dad said after she'd won was 'When are we getting another?'" Having only run once since her debut success, the plan is for Katnapping to reappear in January.

The other three horses in the yard are more experienced. Edgar Henry, owned by local butcher Roy Hunt, is a winner of three races. "He had a year off after winning at Barbury Castle in 2014 and has legs of glass," admitted Laura. "Roy is desperate to win the Oakley Members – they didn't have one last year so he had to run in the Confined – and he'll have a couple of runs beforehand."

Treacyswestcounty, owned by Roy Hunt's wife Bridget, was second in three Restricteds after winning a Maiden at Guilsborough and will come on for his first run of 2016 at Higham last weekend. "He's qualified with the Pytchley so we'll be targeting the Members there after a Restricted," confirmed Laura. "He's come on over the summer and he was a nervy horse – it took a lot for him to gain our trust. When we got him, the vet's certificate said we couldn't lunge him due to a nervous disposition. He's got a really distinctive high-pitched whinny when I come to feed him – it probably wakes Heather up!"

The nine-year-old Bay To Go, owned by Heather and leased for the season to a group including rider Lucy Wheeler, pointing stalwart Steven Astaire and Laura's parents, has scored six times in all. "He's got so much ability, but he's quirky and I'm trying to sweeten him up," said his new trainer. "I take him out in a lorry once a week and he needs company – he can't work on his own. We're hoping to pick up a little race," she continued when pressed on plans for the season, now he no longer races with penalties after a winless 2014/2015. "And he may go Hunter Chasing. He's a sound jumper and took Lucy round Cheltenham last year."

Lucy will take most of the rides this season, although Sam Davies-Thomas will have first refusal on Katnapping after partnering her to her Maiden victory. Laura is a firm believer in loyalty. "You've got to help the people who help you. Lucy comes here to ride out two or three times a week and deserves her opportunities. She had a great season last year (Lucy was second in the National Female Novices Championship). And Bay To Go and Treacyswestcounty seem to go better for girls."

Laura laughs when I mention staff. "I've only got four horses, so I do most of it myself, but my Mum has learned to muck out! She comes in twice a week." She also praises Lauren West. "She works in the yard next door with eventers and comes and rides out occasionally before work and I'm trying to convert her from eventing to racing. I've persuaded her to come up the gallops, so I'm getting there." And Heather? "If I need her, she's there but if not, she leaves me to it," says the independent Laura. "She's always been great at giving youngsters a chance. But I still make sure she's part of it and she helps me with the paperwork!"

Talk of the gallops leads us outside where Laura and Lucy, smartly decked out in matching burgundy – "my favourite colour since school" – are schooling Bay To Go and Treacyswestcounty up the steep five-and-a-half furlong all weather gallop. Laura has access to impressive facilities for a first-season trainer, with 75 acres of well marked out grass gallops and six schooling fences.

When we return to the yard, I ask Laura about her hopes for her small string. "Being a new trainer," she replied, "All I'm asking for is that they come back safely – that's a successful season." The horses in the yard are well groomed, with glossy coats, and look ready to race even though some of them are several weeks away from an outing. When I compliment Laura, she laughs again, keen to have the final word. "I was the official 'best turned out queen' last year, but I'd rather be known for training winners!"


TRAINER TALK: JAMES HENDERSON

FROM BELVOIR TO BUSCOT

Faringdon-based James Henderson is a cousin of champion National Hunt trainer Nicky, but – while only training a few point-to-pointers and Hunter Chases for his sons to ride – he is successful in his own right. A former master of the Belvoir Hunt, he moved from Eaton, near Grantham, at the start of last season. 2014/2015 was a phenomenal year for the Hendersons – not only did jockey son Freddie finish second in the National Novice Riders Championship, but all James' five horses won, with a total of nine victories and 12 placings from just 27 runs.

The operation is a true family affair, with many of the horses, as well as the jockeys, being home-bred. Prior to Freddie, elder son George rode his father's horses – he is currently taking a break from race-riding to study for accountancy exams but has notched up over twenty winners between the flags and under National Hunt Rules. And several of the Henderson owned, trained and ridden winners in points have been bred from the mare Arcady – including stable stalwarts Always Roses, Dream Garden and Say No.

While Arcady never set the world on fire on the track, she won four races on the flat for James and wife Lucinda when trained by "my neighbour" Jimmy Harris, although James' best memory was her close third in the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1997. "We couldn't go for the whole afternoon because George had a Sports Day at school. After that, we rushed to the races, but the Queen was leaving early that day, so all the roads were closed. Lucinda was driving, so I abandoned the car and sprinted to the paddock. She finally drove in after the race had finished!" The thoughts of his wife – who had bought a new hat for the occasion – at this lack of gallantry are unrecorded!

Fondly remembered as a racehorse, Arcady was equally loved as a broodmare. As well as the pointers, she bred all-weather winner Heaven's Gates – who was eventually sold to Belgium and ended up racing in the famous "White Turf" event at St Moritz! "Unlike many mares, Arcady didn't miss a (breeding) season," confirmed James. "All her horses are nice and easy (to ride and look after)."

It was a son of Arcady, Say No, who fulfilled a long-held ambition for James when winning the Lord Ashton of Hyde's Cup at the Heythrop meeting at Cocklebarrow last season. "My first pointing memories are of the Heythrop," recalled James, "With horses like Lord Fortune and Sparkford winning."

Talk of such 1970s stalwarts leads us on to James' introduction to the sport as a rider. "My first ride was on an old hunter called Sporting Member – he was useless – and my first winner was Roman General, trained by Henry Hill. He ran in the Grand National and was an amazing jumper, but I only rode him well after his glory days!" James reminisced. "He'd have been good if he'd stayed sound."

James won his only Hunter Chase on the former Michael Dickinson trained Prince Rowan and rode a total of 11 winners in points. His mounts between the flags included his cousin Nicky's former smart two-mile chaser Acre Hill, and Manna Bridge, who according to the form book and embarrassingly for James the rider, "dosses with learners, but goes kindly for Louise (sic) Henderson." James and Lucinda's horses were qualified with the Fitzwilliam – "hunting came first, then pointing" – and his last winner was on 33/1 shot Highland Laird at Dingley in 1993.

His last ride, as recalled by daughter Annabel, was on a horse called Cheryl's Lad, again at Dingley, in 1999. "I was quite little and remember wanting to bet on My Shout who always seemed to win. But I backed Dad by mistake and he was only fourth out of five!" Asked if she had any ambitions to ride in point-to-points like her brothers, Annabel replied "I'd get too much advice!" "

After giving up riding, James moved from East Anglia to the Belvoir country, where Lucinda is from, and took a few years break from the pointing scene to focus on hunting and owning horses under rules. His interest was rekindled by George's desire to get going as a rider. "George started in 2010, riding five winners on Aztec Warrior, who we got from Tim Radford (owner of Somersby and Calgary Bay among others). George won seven on him before Aztec broke a shoulder at Garthorpe. He was a lazy old bugger (the horse, not George!) but so good at jumping."

Most of the Henderson horses were trained by Chris and Antonia Bealby at Barrowby, but Lucinda set up on her own at nearby Eaton in 2013, with Say No and Dream Garden. Annabel enlightens me on her mother's approach to training. "Mum had no gallops, so she used to take them on two to three hour hacks!"

Family reasons prompted the move to Buscot Park last year. Lucinda and James manage the house and extensive gardens, which are owned by the National Trust and open to the public from Wednesday to Friday and alternate weekends from late March to late September. The contents of the house are owned by the Faringdon Collection. Luckily for the equine inhabitants of the estate, the stables are set apart from the public grounds, in an old grain barn, which was turned into stables in 2014.

"There hadn't been horses here for over 100 years, although my great-grandfather bred champion pigs!" laughed James. "The old stables became tea rooms, so we had to start again when we moved here." So how did James become interested in horses and racing? "I drifted into it from hunting. Johnny Henderson – Nicky's Dad – encouraged me. He gave me Acre Hill to hunt and ride in point-to-points."

With James busy in London during the week – he is a highly-rated Fund Manager for an investment company – much of the responsibility for training the horses is down to Lucinda and Annabel, ably supported by Toni Lander and recent arrival Lucy Neilson – who will have her first rides between the flags this season. "I just do the entries and spend time reading the form book," he confesses. "Lucinda does the feed order and the bits that matter!" Annabel jumps in, worried that James is underplaying his role. "Dad does get up at six o'clock to ride out before going to London," she adds loyally.

Walking round the yard, James and Annabel give me the lowdown in the stable strength for the 2015/2016 season.

Dream Garden
"Lucinda's favourite and such a pet. He won his first two points and eight in total but is 14 now. Is he retired? That's a question for debate."

Oliver James
"Hunts regularly. Very fragile and only ran three times last year but beat Dabinett Moon (at Whitfield) and won his Members at Lockinge. A lot of people had written him off and most trainers wouldn't have him in the yard!"

Otto The Great
"Ex-Nicky Henderson and Toni's favourite. It can take longer (for them to come good) when they're from a professional yard, as it's a different experience. He's more relaxed this year, but whether that's a good thing, I don't know."

Say No
"Broke down after winning at Cocklebarrow and family opinion is divided as to whether he'll run this year. He'd be great if he had his mental strength in a different body!"

Thanks For Coming
"Another Ex-Nicky Henderson horse, he was disappointing at the start of last season, but won at Whitfield and was a good second to Gonalston Cloud at Garthorpe." Finished fourth on his first run of the season at Cottenham.

And with the James-owned and Antonia Bealby-trained Dream Mistress – who, as half-sister to Dream Garden and Say No, is another daughter of Arcady – winning impressively at Cottenham earlier this month, it looks like being another successful year for James and his team.

As the sun sets on Buscot Park, James tells me about his hopes for point-to-pointing – "what the sport needs is more horses and more jockeys" – and how he feels the new rules are addressing these needs. "It's good that they've reduced the cost of the jockey's licence, and lots of horses don't stay three miles, so the new two-and-a-half mile races will bring more in." With these words, I take my leave, full of optimism that – in an increasingly professional sport – there is still a place for a family concern.


TRAINER TALK: ROBERT WALEY-COHEN
by Jake Exelby

A FAMILY AFFAIR

Robert Waley-Cohen's Upton Viva Farm, situated just inside the Warwickshire border between Banbury and Stratford, may only house seven point-to-pointers and hunter chasers, but it contains a handful of talent that would be the envy of most professional trainers. Between them, the stablemates have won over twenty point-to-points, and more than twenty races under rules worth over £1,500,000 in prize money, including a Cheltenham Gold Cup, two King George VI Chases and an Aintree Foxhunters.

But if you think this sounds like a professional operation, out of kilter with the amateur ethos of point-to-pointing, you'd be wrong. Robert's famous chocolate and orange colours were a familiar sight on the pointing scene long before they were carried to success under Rules. "I was brought up on Exmoor," recalls Robert as he tells the story of his early involvement in the sport. "We used to go to Holnicote in early May and my father used to give us money, saying 'that's for betting, not sweets. And the bookies never turned us away, even though we were under age!"

Robert remembers being told about his father Bernard winning a point-to-point at Holnicote in the early 1950s, and the highlights of his own riding career were placings in the Cheltenham and Aintree Foxhunters. He was third behind subsequent Grand National winner Grittar at the Festival in the 1981, on his own Sun Lion – on whom he won his only race under NH Rules at Warwick – and fourth in both races in 1977 on Barouche.

Long Run is the potential star of the show. The 11-year-old is likely to be the first Gold Cup winner to run in Hunter Chases since Midnight Court in 1984, with the ultimate aim being the Cheltenham Foxhunters, a race that Robert has yet to win. Placed in two Gold Cups since his 2011 victory in the hands of Robert's son Sam, and also a dual winner of the King George alongside three other Grade One wins, he hasn't run since sustaining an injury after an abortive trip to France in May 2014, where he was unplaced under Ruby Walsh in the Grand Steeplechase de Paris, the "French Gold Cup".

"We think he panicked in the hold of the ferry coming home," according to Robert. "Somehow he got his leg over the breast-bar in the lorry and we had to immobilise him for ten months. We wrapped his leg in bandages so that it was completely rigid, so that the wound on the back of his knee could heal," continued his devoted owner, "And we have to take them off every week. The problem is that a horse that hasn't used his muscles (for so long) has forgotten how they work." Long Run is now "75% of what he ought to be" and the plan is to run in January Hunter Chases, possibly starting at Kelso – where he won his last race two years ago – leading up to a Cheltenham bid.

Warne is another Upton Viva heavyweight on the comeback trail after disappointing last season. Formerly trained in Ireland by Brian Hamilton, for whom he won the Aintree Foxhunters in 2014 with Sam on board, Warne is likely to start off in points. Robert said "Two and a half mile races should suit him as two miles six is his perfect trip – he doesn't get a yard further!"

Rumbavu is back in training after missing last season. The most prolific point-to-pointer in the yard, his 14 successes include eight Opens, including the 2014 Lord Ashton of Hyde's Cup and the other four pointers have already been out this year, with Mr Simpkins making an impressive winning reappearance in a Restricted at Larkhill last month, having been off the track since scoring on his debut in May 2014. Well-bred maiden Sing To Me had a quiet introduction on the same card, while the improving Storm Lantern and Makadamia were both placed at Cottenham on the opening day of the season.

Makadamia is a half-sister to Horse & Hound Cup winner and Aintree Foxhunters second Roulez Cool and was trained by David Pipe to win a novice hurdle at Exeter, and by Robert himself when winning a novice chase at Wetherby. She is a daughter of the mare Makounji, a "good horse but a moody cow and a particularly mareish mare!" who won seven races, including the Pendil Novices Chase at Kempton in 1999. But more importantly, she acts as the foundation mare for the Upton Viva Stud, the breeding operation that Robert set up with eldest son Marcus "about 15 years ago." Nine mares are currently resident at the stud and Robert's objective is to have "A very small number of very nice horse, it's not about volume. We're after good looking, well-bred, successful mares – and there aren't many of them."

In addition to the pointers, Robert trains a handful under permit at Upton Viva and has horses in training with Nicky Henderson, Warren Greatrex and Andrew Balding. "I get to train the babies and the old crocks," he jokes when asked about how he selects who goes where.

Much of the credit for the success of Robert's team at Upton Viva is down to, Katie Mawle, supported by Al Stewart and Becky Young. While Robert is very hands-on, being at the yard five days a week and riding out with two lots a day, he describes Kate as "More than an assistant trainer. She's with the horses every day and is in charge of all the feeding, health and fitness."

"Our horses can do dressage, showjumping, cross-country…" continues Robert. "They're complete horses. Look at Roulez Cool – he's now winning unaffiliated dressage competitions. Kate's horsemanship allows us to devise a bespoke programme for each individual horse – you can't do that in a big yard."

"When they're winning, they're all my favourite," jokes Robert when pressed as to his best memory in points and Hunter Chases, "But we had the most fun with Katarino." A winner of the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham when trained for Robert by Nicky Henderson, the horse went wrong, so was sent eventing before returning to the racecourse to run in point-to-points. He won the Aintree Foxhunters in 2005, followed up first time out in 2006 after a bout of colic and a rushed preparation and then, after missing 2007, a hat-trick bid was only foiled by Christy Beamish. "The trainer blamed the horse's age," laughs Robert, "But the jockey (Sam) blamed the trainer for not getting him fit!"

Most of Robert's winners, in points and under rules, are ridden by son Sam – a true amateur who runs a string of dental practices and only comes to Upton Viva to ride out at the weekend. Not only did Sam win the Gold Cup and two King George VI Chases on Long Run, he almost completed an historic treble in the 2010/2011 season when he also finished second in the Grand National on Oscar Time. He also has the best record of any jockey – amateur or professional – since the Second World War, on the Aintree Grand National course, having won six races over the famous fences. Robert confirms his love of the course. "Aintree is an exciting and unique place. I think it suits a horseman, rather than a jockey."

After the horses, talk turns to the sport and, as Chairman of the Point-to-Point Authority between 2005 and 2011, Robert was able to influence the direction of point-to-pointing. It was a difficult time, as his tenure started at the time the ban on hunting was introduced. "Hunting had to become a totally different sport," he recalls. "But people are still having a huge amount of fun. After all, they used to say that hunting would be ruined by the advent of the railways!"

Robert is most proud of creating the PPA, which used to be a sub-committee of the Master of Foxhounds Association, governed by the BHA. "The BHA wasn't focused on pointing, and it allowed us to take control of our fate." And what frustrated him most during his time in charge? "The politics, but I can't give you a quotable example!"

"We're as amateur as it gets," responds Robert when I cheekily ask whether it is fair for him to run such high class horses as Long Run and Katarino in point-to-points and Hunter Chases. "What could be more amateur than a father training his own horses for his son to ride? We're just lucky enough to have nice horses."

Indeed, Robert has strong views on professional involvement in an amateur sport. "I don't understand why professional trainers run non-family horses in Hunter Chases and, personally, I strongly feel that they should not be allowed to run horses in point-to-points." Another subject that vexes him is horses shifting between top National Hunt races and Hunter Chases. So would he not do that with Long Run? "I'd do exactly what the rules say," smiled Robert.

Before I leave Upton Viva on a beautiful winter's day, Katie Mawle takes me down the road to see the "old codgers in the field. The horses in question are the aforementioned Katarino, Oscar Time – a winner of the Becher Chase and twice placed in the Grand National, and the prolific Irilut, winning of 22 races and a particular favourite of mine. And as we look at the three stars shining in the sunlight, I am reminded of Robert's answer when I asked what he would change about point-to-pointing. He thought for a moment before responding "I don't think there's a single thing."


SOUTH MIDLANDS AREA PREVIEW 2016
by Jake Exelby

'STABLE SECRETS'

With the new season now upon us, the South Midlands-based trainers are looking forward to getting going. And, although the first meeting in the area – the Heythrop at Cocklebarrow – doesn't take place until January 25th, there are plenty of opportunities to travel further afield in the early weeks.

Jake Exelby has been getting the lowdown on some horses to follow in the 2015/2016 season, from familiar faces – including a Gold Cup winner –
to untapped promise. A selection of trainers have given us one or more horses along these lines:

Early Bird: a horse who is likely to run before the new year.

Shooting Star: on the upgrade. May be a real dark horse, one coming from Ireland or from National Hunt, or one that should improve this season.

Top Banana: the star of the show. The one horse they hope will hit the heights this season.

Let's hope (for the trainers' sake at least) that plenty of these live up to expectations! The author accepts no responsibility for money handed to the bookies on any of the featured horses and not returned as winning bets!

Tom Ellis

Early Bird: Midnight Rebel
All being well, will be running at the first Cottenham meeting. She missed last season through injury and has been plagued with problems, but loves good ground and will hopefully pick up a little race.

Shooting Star: Total Compliance
Got off to a shaky start last season but finished up being beaten only a head on his final run. Sure to pick up a maiden at least! He's a compact, strong horse who takes lots of graft at home and his jumping wasn't great to start with, but improved every time he ran.

Pauline Harkin

Early Bird: Velvet Cloud
Likely to run at Cottenham. She's good at keeping herself fit and will go well for a more experienced jockey.

Shooting Star: Don't Budge Me
Still a maiden. Came over from Ireland last year, but was injured in the lorry. He's come right now and is showing enormous promise for his very patient owners.

Top Banana: Out Of Range
He's a big, unfurnished type who hasn't finished progressing. He's getting better every day and has still got another year's improvement in him. He'll go pointing first and should do well in Hunter Chases.

Claire Hart

Early Bird: Argentato
Should go to Black Forest Lodge. He's Mr Reliable. Jordan Nailor will ride him again, this season for a syndicate. I don't know if an 11-year-old can improve, but he's in seriously good order.

Shooting Star: The Applebobber
A half-brother to Dabinett Moon who ran once at Kingston Blount last season. He's had a wind operation and if it's worked… well just look at his half-sister!

Top Banana: Vincitore
The best horse in the yard without a doubt. If we can pick up where we left off last year, that'll be great. He's had chips of one removed over the summer and will hopefully start off in a point-to-point in February then go Hunter Chasing.

James Henderson

Shooting Star: Oliver James
He's doing quite a lot of work and will be ready when (son and jockey) Fred is! We don't really have targets – we'll just get him fit and hope!

Top Banana: Otto The Great
I'd like to give him a go in Hunter Chases as he's won a couple of Opens and Fred is getting a licence (to ride under Rules). He's only seven, but if he's not good enough, he'll go back pointing.

Alan Hill

Early Bird: Cara Carlotta
Placed in a Bumper and bought from Philip Hobbs in the summer. She enjoyed hunting, which helped settle her as she came "with a bit of a buzz" and has schooled really well. The plan is to go for the two mile four furlong Maiden at Cottenham. Owned by a syndicate run by Carolyn Wheeler, mother of Lucy, who will ride when available.

Shooting Star: Man Of Steel
Last season, he came to us wound up. When we got him right, he won his last three, as his mental and physical attitude came together and he's come back the same. Hopefully he'll run around New Year and I'm really excited about seeing him on the track. He's won an Intermediate and a Club race so he's now got to take on the bigger boys in Opens and Hunter Chases.

Top Banana: Harbour Court
I've now got him right again. The 2014 Cheltenham Foxhunters was a horrible race – his wind was wrong and it took over a year to get him right again. He looked back to his best at Cheltenham (in April) and has come back in awesome form. May run at Barbury Castle and if the ground is good, could go back to Cheltenham for another go at the Foxhunters. He's only nine and still has a big run in him.

Fred Hutsby

Early Bird: Nashville Tommy
We're planning to go to Cottenham with him. He's a six-year-old who won a Maiden in Ireland. Not a big strong horse like a lot of mine, but a nice enough sort and he worked well with Penmore Mill recently.

Shooting Star: Kristian Gray
I think we've found the key to him and he's come back in a lot better form this year and, ideally, the aim is the Intermediate Final at Cheltenham. He wants cut in the ground and we won't be rushing him.

Top Banana: Penmore Mill
Likely to run in the Ladies at Cottenham with Hannah Watson. We've got no big expectations this year but may target the AGA Final at Stratford and, if we qualify, he'll have a squeak. Won't run more than once a month.

Chris Loggin

Early Bird: Bit Of A Barney
We're planning to run him at Larkhill but given his record of attendance, he'll probably play truant! He was fourth at Mollington last season, but has only run twice since winning at Whitfield three and a half years ago

Shooting Star: Steel Away J
Won his Maiden at Kingston Blount then ran well in fourth there before disappointing on his final outing. Hopefully there's a bit of improvement to come but he is eight.

Julie Marles

Early Bird: The Ultimate Lad
Will hopefully go to Cottenham. A changed horse after a wind operation last season. He's had lots of issues but no-one tries harder.

Shooting Star: Brake Hill
He was so green last season. It's hard when they win first time out and still have it all to learn. He's grown up and is much stronger this year.

Top Banana: All Great N Theory
Will hopefully go to Barbury Castle. It's his first run after a long absence but we think a lot of him.

Francesca Nimmo

Early Bird: Alittlebitless
Owned by The Priority SMS Partnership, he was bought over the summer from Ireland, where he showed promise in three starts last season. He has been working nicely and looks likely to run in the two mile four furlong maiden at either Cottenham or Black Forest Lodge.

Shooting Star: Unnamed
To pick one at this stage is difficult as we have a handful of exciting unraced three and four years olds that are progressing well. One with plenty of size and scope who is sure to catch the eye in the paddock is a three-year-old by Scorpion out of Derriana. He stands around 17 hands and has been schooling well.

Top Banana: Last Time D'Albain
Owned by Mrs J Jackson-Stops and Mr S Allen. Bought over the summer for owner-rider James Jackson-Stops to ride, he looks likely to start his campaign in a point-to- point in January. The aim will be the Cheltenham Foxhunters, for which he is already qualified, with the plan to then run at Aintree, where he finished third last season. He looks a very exciting addition to the yard.

Laura Thomas

Early Bird: Future Of Milan
Nicely bred five-year-old gelding by Milan, who will hopefully run in one of the Maidens at Black Forest Lodge. It won't matter distance-wise, so we will probably be guided by the entries. He is doing everything right at home and has been schooling particularly well.

Shooting Star: Berwick Bassett
Owned by the Barbury Bunch Syndicate and is a horse that really excites me. He is the only horse that can work with Full Trottle at home and one I am expecting to climb up through the grades rapidly. May run in the young horse maiden at Barbury Castle.

Top Banana: Full Trottle 
My nutty superstar who did us proud last season by finishing with a nice win at Fontwell. He has come in even bigger and stronger this season and dare I say it, a little more chilled... Johnny Bailey and he seem to really click together and his jumping has really improved with lots of steady schooling. His Open and Hunter Chase campaign should kick off with the Mixed Open at Black Forest Lodge.

Tim Underwood

Shooting Star: Knowhentofoldem
A soft ground horse. Won first time out at Larkhill then ran quite well at Lockinge but badly at Kingston Blount – he'd picked up an allergy to pollen. He was quite smart in Ireland, but had been on the go for 18 months so was a tired horse last year. Should improve this season and if he gets the rub of the green, could be quite smart.

Top Banana: Sebadee
Showed smart pointing form in Ireland and wasn't beaten far by On The Fringe at Punchestown. He goes on any ground and should be out in mid-January. I may ride him myself – I'm 68 now and my goal is to carry on and ride a winner at 70!

Robert Waley-Cohen

Early Bird: Rumbavu
We're hoping to run him in the Mens Open at the first Larkhill meeting. He's had a year off so won't get any penalities and has come back stronger this year with a better attitude, helped by hunting once a week. His leg has not been an issue and you wouldn't know he'd had a problem.

Shooting Star: Storm Lantern
Has improved no end and may go to Cottenham for the two and a half mile Conditions race. He seems more up for it this year – he's more settled in his work and has schooled brilliantly. Hopefully it'll be his season.

Top Banana: Long Run
We're still on the road to rehab with him and are planning to go to Kelso for a Hunter Chase in mid-January. We'll see how he runs and take it from there, but the obvious aim is the Cheltenham Foxhunters.


TRAINER TALK: TOM & GINA ELLIS
by Jake Exelby

COUPLE ON THE UP
Which husband and wife team have ridden over 300 winners between them, train 18 pointers from a yard they have mostly built themselves and have a combined age of just 54? If you guessed Tom and Gina Ellis (Gina Andrews until their wedding last June), you'd be right. Better known as jockeys, they are building up a stable to be reckoned with at their home in Marton, near Rugby in Warwickshire.

Gina – of course – has been champion Ladies point-to-point jockey twice, first in 2011 when she was just 19 and most recently last year, when she rode 29 winners between the flags and three in Hunter Chases, including a memorable victory in Stratford's House & Hound Cup on David Kemp's Moroman.

Gina has a background steeped in point-to-pointing. Father Simon rode 170 winners in points and landed the 1988 Aintree Foxhunters on Newnham and mother Joanna was also a successful rider on the East Anglian scene. "I sat on my first pony – Cleo – when I was three," Gina recalls. "She was horrible. I always had ponies that no one else could ride," she admitted. "You don't learn properly on a 'push-button' horse, you get good by riding the bad ones!"

Despite the success she's already had in her career, Gina still has plenty of unfulfilled ambitions. "I'd love to win the Aintree Foxhunters – it's more of a thrill than Cheltenham – but I'd also love to ride a winner at the Festival. I also want to beat Polly Curling's (1995) record of 40 winners in a season."

And what of Tom's riding career? While less high profile a jockey than Gina, he has ridden "about 135" winners in points and is best known for his association with the Fred Hutsby stable stars Penmore Mill – "I've won 14 on him" – and Rash Move, whose third in the 2013 Aintree Foxhunters is Tom's career highlight to date.

"That was the best day of my life," proclaims Tom boldly. "Yes Gina, including our wedding." He continues, ignoring the look from his wife! "It was better than winning at Cheltenham (on the same horse) as you only get one shot a year at Aintree. We knew he'd be quick and that if he took to the fences, we'd have a shot at being in the first three."

Unfortunately, Tom recently took the decision to retire from the saddle after breaking his leg on a horrible fall at Mollington in May. "I broke my ankle in 2006 and have broken collarbones and ribs, but that was the worst injury I've had. I was on crutches for 14 weeks and still have a rod from my knee to my ankle and two pins in my leg."

"It wasn't great timing," he admits. Not only did he miss a winning ride in a Hunter Chase on Full Trottle, the horse who fell with him at Mollington, and the chance to be South Midlands Area Champion Jockey, it happened just six weeks before Tom & Gina's wedding. "We'd planned a horseback safari," he reminisces with a wince. "But we ended up going to Mauritius instead. It was supposed to be thirty degrees and sunny but it rained every day and was about ten degrees cooler!"

Tom's injury also had an impact on the building of his new stable barn – "I was supposed to be doing it all myself but Dad had to help", confessed Tom. 'Dad', of course, is Tony Ellis, a well-known figure on the point-to-point scene, famous for the gin and tonics freely dispensed from the back of his Range Rover and for – usually – being last man off the course!

Happily the barn is now complete, as is the oval all-weather gallop laid last Autumn, a horse walker, schooling fences and plans to extend the gallop by incorporating a chute into an uphill That this is a training partnership going places is confirmed by the stable strength, which has increased from nine last season to 18 for 2015/2016. "It just sort of happened," mused Tom when asked how he had managed to double the numbers in his yard after a – by his own admission – disappointing 2014.

Over half the horses are unraced from their yard – some are still unnamed – and only four inmates are winners. "Last year was a huge learning curve," admits Gina. "It was our first year training as a partnership and we had lots of young horses. We're more settled now and have a new yard and a new gallop." So what do Tom and Gina hope to achieve this year?

"To train more winners than we did last season," laughs Tom. Gina gets serious. "For people to want to buy our young horses that win races, ideally first time out." They're also setting up a racing club, tentatively named the 'Ice & A Slice Partnership' – "named after Dad's car boot parties", confirms Tom. "It started on November 1st and goes on until we rough off the horses", he continues. "We're looking for ten partners at £30 a week each and for that you get an interest in two horses. It's a fun entry into the sport, while keeping the cost down."

Tom and Gina have a staff of four full-time and four part-time employees –– led by the popular Charlie Tiso. "She's brilliant," eulogised Gina. "She treats the horses like they're her own, never seems to have a day off and we can leave her in charge when we go away." When they're at home, I cheekily ask who is the main decision maker and the answer is unequivocal. "Gina's in charge," says Tom. "I'm there every single day while you go and do your thing," adds Gina. The 'thing' in question is farming over 1,300 acres, most of them owned by Tom. "I'm a farmer who trains horses," he confirms.

Finally, no visit to a young couple as immersed in point-to-pointing as Tom and Gina would be complete without their views on the sport.

Gina is particularly vociferous on of prize money. "It's appalling." Tom gives an example. "We won £130 when My Alfie won his Maiden and it only covered the cost of entry and diesel. Opens should be worth at least £500." Another bugbear is race planning. "The early season meetings need looking at," he tells me. "You run once, then there's nowhere to go afterwards – and you don't get the crowds." Gina is happy with the dates – "she just wants to start riding," laughs Tom – but would go a stage further, opening the season in October and taking a break over Christmas. Both agree that mid-June is late to finish the season.

And what about the often thorny subject of good horses switching to point-to-points and Hunter Chases from National Hunt rules? Again, Gina has a strong opinion. "If a horse has reached a rating of 140, it should automatically carry a 7lb penalty. And to run in a Hunter Chase, a horse should be qualified to run in a point." She's on a roll now… "I've got no problem with the 60-day rule (an ex-National Hunt horse has to wait this long to run in a point-to-point) but horses shouldn't be allowed to switch between rules and points in a season."

It's obvious that Tom and Gina have much to offer the sport, as top jockeys, up-and-coming trainers, and influencers. I'll leave the last word to Tom, who when asked to sum up his views on point-to-pointing, simply told me:

"I love this sport, and wouldn't change a thing."

FIVE TO FOLLOW – TOM & GINA ELLIS
Belstone - "A four-year-old filly by Black Sam Bellamy. She's unraced, but comes from a good family."

Celtic Silver - "Was a bit disappointing last season having come to us from Ireland. A six-year-old by Shirocco."

Sea Current - "Ex-Dan Skelton. Rated 112 but still a maiden. He's got a lot of ability and we may take him to Higham."

Tara More - "Another six-year-old, by Kayf Tara who has been placed in Irish point-to-points. He's a lovely big horse with a great attitude."

Total Compliance - "Fell first time out at Kingston Blount then ran well to be second at Dingley. He's six going on three – a nice horse but immature. Owned by Mrs Rogers – I think every horse she has had has won."


TRAINER TALK: JULIE MARLES & CHARLIE WADLAND
by Jake Exelby

TRAINING FOR THE LOVE OF IT

With her shock of blonde curls, Julie Marles has been a well-known figure on the South Midlands point-to-point scene since the late 1980s. She and partner Charlie Wadland have been together for "eleven years… officially" but go back much further. They first met at Pony Club, then have hunted with the Warwickshire for as long as they can both remember! And, long before they were an item, Charlie rode for Julie.

They have been training at Leamington Hastings since 2008. "There was nothing bar 40 acres of land when we arrived," Charlie recalls. "We built the barn (that stables their horses) and ran it off solar panels. Then we lived in a caravan for four years until the house was built. We've only been on the grid since Spring!"

They have a mile-long grass canter at home, with a woodchip two-furlong canter and also take their horses to Fred Hutsby, David Allen's training centre at Edgecote and Tom Ellis' all-weather gallop just up the road. "I use the grass as much as I can," confirmed Julie. "I'm old-fashioned and like to take it slow and steady." This year, with the retirement of long-time stable jockey Pete Mann, Sam Davies-Thomas will hopefully take most of the rides, supported by Steph Rogers who has moved from Wales with her horse Teenage Kicks to work in the yard. "Unless I decide to get my licence back," quips Charlie.

Julie's first runner – as trainer and then rider – was Langston, who ran until he was 16 but resolutely refused to lose his maiden status! The form book said of the gelding: "injudicious placing has prevented him gaining a richly deserved win". Julie blames herself for the veteran's lack of success. "I was so ignorant." she confesses. "I ran him in Restricteds because I didn't want to put him in Maidens, thinking he'd be bashed about."

Julie's riding career lasted just one season, with her best placing being third and her swansong in the Warwickshire Hunt Members race at Ashorne in 1990, a race won by Charlie on Scaliscro. It is a race that they both hold dear, Julie having had four successes as a trainer and Charlie riding the winner four times including on Northsprite for Julie in 2005.

Charlie's own riding career was longer – and more fruitful – than Julie's. Failing to convince me that he had his first ride in 1912, he eventually admits to starting out in 1989 later than most, as he was a serious team chaser, riding for various teams including the Marston Misfits. His breakthrough came a year later, when he teamed up with the aforementioned Scaliscro. "He came from Nicky Henderson," Charlie tells me, "And I was told he was no fun to ride." But after starting out with a second, he won four in a row, culminating in the Novices Championship at Garthorpe."

Over the course of a 20-year career in which he rode 33 winners – including an across the card double at Mollington and Clifton-on-Dunsmore in 2005 –
Charlie still rates Scaliscro as the best horse he rode. Others he remembers with affection are Madam Advocate and Anne Cockburn's quaintly named homebred Hehas, a brother to the likes of Hehad, Hemust and Shedoes!

While Charlie was building a reputation as a rider, Julie was doing the same as a trainer. Her first winner was Tumbril in 1992. "He was a seriously good horse, but had two dodgy legs, so didn't fulfil his potential. We ran two at Kingston Blount and thought we might win the Maiden, so we ran Tumbril in the Restricted for experience but he won!"

After that, "My career ticked along," claims Julie modestly. She cites her best horse so far as Midnight King. "We knew he had a problem, as he'd never delivered the goods under Rules. So we hobdayed him and gave him a soft palate operation. Pete Mann came out of retirement to ride him before he'd even won a race." So no pressure to win first time out then! Midnight King duly delivered at Cottenham and went on to win six of his ten points for Julie.

One horse's name crops up regularly and is fondly remembered by both trainer and jockey, despite his nickname of 'Northshite'! To give the poor horse his proper name, Northsprite – owned by long-standing supporter of the yard Janet Bird – was placed 14 times before finally winning his Maiden at ten. However, passing the post in front must have transformed this character, as he went on to win three on the bounce under Charlie as an 11-year-old.

"He was the most infuriating horse in the history of the world," recalls Julie. "If you gave him a slap or a kick, he'd just go mnnh?" Julie twists her head round and rolls her eyes in shock to illustrate the expression! "One day at Kingston Blount, he unseated at the first and ran nine miles across the Ridgeway. He ended up at a pig farm, and when we finally got him back, he barely had a scratch on him!"

Charlie finally called it a day in his mid-forties after one fall too many. "I'd had a fall at Whitwick Manor and was taken to hospital by air ambulance. Julie said 'no more maidens' but I rode one at Kimble and we fell at the third last. A horse landed on top of me and I was out for the count." Even now, Charlie can't resist a laugh. "I wanted to go out on a winner, but I went out on my head."

Julie turns serious for a moment. "It took him a long time to recover from that last knock on the head and from the medical advice he was given to continue race riding wasn't really an option." Her words bring home the reality of the perils involved with riding horses at speed over fences and talk turns to Victoria Pendleton, the Olympic cycling gold medallist aiming to ride in the Cheltenham Foxhunters in March. "Fair play to her for doing it," says Julie cautiously, "It's good for our sport. But is it a bit ambitious? Hasn't she only just learnt to ride? I admire her and wish her luck, but the Foxhunters?!"

Julie assures me that "Charlie gets riled by very little," but one subject on which he waxes lyrical is prize money. He's not the first to tell me that "You can't cover the cost of diesel by winning a Maiden" and believes that it's Maidens and Restricteds, rather than Opens, that need an increase. As he admits, "I'd rather win the Aintree Foxhunters and not get a penny. We love the satisfaction of doing a job and don't do it for the money… but it would be nice to get a reward."

As ever, I leave this charming couple on a positive note, asking them why they're involved in point-to-pointing. Julie's eyes sparkle. "It's about the horses, the people and friends. You either love it or you don't – we do!"

FIVE TO FOLLOW – JULIE MARLES & CHARLIE WADLAND

All Great N Theory - "Very dear to me and more honest than Jesus! He's been off since February 2014 and we hope to run him early. We'd like to go to Cheltenham – he's definitely got the ability."

Brake Hill - "He's got one brain cell which previously he shared with Pete Mann! But he's becoming a racehorse now and was fifth (in the point-to-point bumper) at Aintree. He may run first at Chaddesley Corbett and has to go left handed."

Castle Connell - "Second at Brocklesby Park on his debut then won at Brampton Bryan. He needs cut in the ground. We'd be disappointed if he doesn't win a Restricted and he could be better than that."

Glassawine - "He's got all the ability in the world but doesn't try. Seems to like female riders so he'll be ridden by Steph Rogers."

The Ultimate Lad - "Won at Garthorpe last season and has had a soft palate operation. He's no worldbeater but is gutsy and brave. We'd like to find a 2m4f Restricted."

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