Racing: Jumping's amateurs face uncertain future

Hunting ban means new season of point-to-point may be last in present form. Mick Connaughton reports
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The Independent Online

The full impact of the ban on hunting, due to take effect from 19 February, will not hit point-to-pointing until 2006.

The 2005 season starts at 11am on Monday with the Cambridgeshire Harriers at Cottenham, near Cambridge, and all the other 208 fixtures at 117 different courses will go ahead following a meeting of the Jockey Club's point-to-point liaison committee with the sport's various associations.

However, the four meetings scheduled for the first day of the ban have been switched to 20 February as a protest. The sport looks certain to continue into 2006 but, as Mr Spock of Star Trek, sagely observed "not as we know it".

At present all horses and riders taking part in point-to-points have to be qualified with a recognised hunt, though the minimum number of days required for a horse to go out hunting has been reduced from seven to four. The whole organisational and financial structure of point-to-pointing is underpinned by hunting and though hunts are being encouraged to pursue every legal avenue of remaining in existence the fixture list looks sure to go into a quick decline unless a different method of qualifying is devised.

The manager of the Jockey Club's racecourse and point-to-point department, Fraser Garrity, said: "We are very much in a holding position and we will be having a meeting the Master Of Foxhounds Association later next month. There are around 3,500 horses that have to be accommodated and 75 per cent of points make a profit. The Jockey Club recognises that many jockeys, trainers and horses graduated from pointing to racing under Rules and the Levy Board grant to point-to-pointing has been increased this year from £210,000 to £315,000."

Simon Claisse, who ran the Jockey Club's point-to-point department for 10 years and is now Chairman of the sport's Owners' and Riders' Association, said: "I don't believe the long-term solution is to drop the link with hunting altogether, but the 2006 fixture list will have to be drawn up by the end of July. We must be clear before that stage what method of qualification will be used." It has been suggested that the way forward would be for hunts to reinvent themselves as hound "exercise" clubs, but Claisse added: "Currently only registered hunts, including drag hunts, and some military bodies are allowed to hold point-to-points. They have to prove to the Jockey Club that there is a competent body of people willing to run the meeting and that it is financially secure." While most of those involved in the administrative side are determined to ensure pointing carries on, the pessimists predict meetings will be lost. The latter include former amateur rider Di Grissell, master of the East Sussex and Romney Marsh Foxhounds. Mrs Grissell, who also trains a string of 15 point-to-pointers at Robertsbridge in Sussex, commented: "To stay within the law we are changing our name to the East Sussex and Romney Marsh Hunt and will follow an artificial scent in a form of mock hunting which allows us to keep our hounds. Pointing will probably become more professional as they will have to pay everyone. Possibly 75 per cent of hunts may survive but I think that about half the point-to-points will eventually go."

On a less depressing note, the first two-day meeting run in Britain will take place at Barbury Castle, near Marlborough in Wiltshire, over the weekend of 15-16 January. There will also be an Easter Sunday fixture for the first time, at Alnwick, Northumberland, and there is a new course in Scotland, at Netherby, near Carlisle, where the Dumfriesshire race on 27 February.

Martin Pipe's son, David, has handed over the running of his point-to-point yard in Somerset to head girl Olive Jackson who takes over a team of 18, including Lord Atterbury. The nine-year-old will again be aimed at the Grand National in which he finished third in April and Miss Jackson said: "Lord Atterbury will reappear in a hunter-chase in February. Point-to-pointing is a great education and experience for young horses, it gives them more time than racing under Rules."

Pointing also gives horses like the former Martin Pipe-trained Wahiba Sands, entered at Cottenham on Monday, the opportunity to extend their racing careers.

Burton odds-on to recapture title

As last year's men's champion Ashley Farrant has retired Richard Burton is 4-6 to retake the riders' title he won in 2003 while Polly Gundry is an even shorter price (2-7) to win the ladies' championship for a fifth consecutive season. Midlands-based Burton said: "I'll be riding for Sheila Crow, Caroline Robinson, Pam Sykes and Guy Landau and anyone else who'll have me. If I had to choose one horse I'm looking forward to it would be Fane Counsel (trained by Crow). He could prove exceptional."

BETTING: MARK HILL Mens: 4-6 R Burton; 7-2 N Williams; 8-1 J Pritchard; 12-1 S Morris; 16-1 others. Ladies: 2-7 P Gundry; 7-1 R Goschen; 10-1 J Williams; 16-1 others. MIKE SMITH (Mens only): 4-6 R Burton; 3-1 J Pritchard; 6-1 N Williams; 14-1 others.