Point-to-Point: Flags out for first December start to season

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The Independent Online

The 2007 season starts this December for the first time with the opening meeting, the Black Forest Club, at Black Forest Lodge, five miles south of Exeter, a fortnight tomorrow.

Three other fixtures, in Cornwall, Devon and Hampshire, which are all additional meetings and have not been moved from later in the calendar, will also take place before the traditional curtain-raiser at Cottenham, near Cambridge, on New Year's Eve. An autumn season of point-to-point racing, beginning in October, has taken place Ireland for some time now but the December kick-off in this country is regarded as experimental.

The earlier extra month will hopefully provide better going than has often been the case in recent years during the closing months of May and June.

The change has been broadly welcomed and Champion rider Richard Burton, who won the title for the third time last season, said: "I'm all in favour of an earlier start to the season. It will be much safer for horses and riders to race on decent ground, which you are more likely to get in December than in the summer."

After Cottenham on 31 December the fixture list follows broadly the same pattern as last year, concluding, as usual, with the Torrington Farmers at Umberleigh, north Devon, on 16 June. However, there are more Sunday meetings than ever with just one fixture on each Saturday in January apart from 20 January which is blank. The structure of point-to-pointing is still based on hunting and the ban, which came into force in 2005, has yet to impact on the sport. A more serious threat appears to be the sheer cost - between £20,000-£22,000 - of holding meetings as one hunt, the Mid Surrey Farmers Draghounds, which used to begin the south-east season, has dropped out this year. The Mid Surrey has barely broken even on their February date in the last five years despite staging the most competitive racing in the area.

New fixtures: 3 December: Black Forest Club at Black Forest Lodge (Devon); 10 December: Tweseldown Racing Club at Tweseldown (Hants); 16 December: North Cornwall Club at Wadebridge (Cornwall); 30 December: South Devon Hunts Club at Ideford Arch (Devon).