Racing: Point of return for hunt coffers: Greg Wood retraces blood sports' links with point-to-point

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A NEW point-to-point season will open tomorrow with its devoted chroniclers, Mackenzie and Selby, in optimistic mood. 'Last year broke all records,' they write in the introduction to Hunter Chasers and Point-to-Pointers 1994, 'and 1994 looks like repeating the dose with a record 210 meetings scheduled and five new meetings, including the (inaugural) National Point-to-Point Festival at Bilsdale.'

To some, point-to-pointing is the final stronghold of the sporting amateur, whose only reward is excitement. For others, a meeting can be a social focus in a scattered rural community. And then there are those who will seize upon any excuse to pack a hamper with enough champagne to float their Land Rover.

Yet one image which does not enter the minds of even some regular point-to-point spectators is its association with fox hunting. 'There are a lot of people who go point-to-pointing, especially on bank holidays, who are totally unaware that it has any link with hunting at all,' Lucinda Greenwood, of the British Field Sports Society (BFSS), said yesterday.

It is a rare point of agreement with the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). 'Most people who go point-to-pointing have no interest in hunting,' Kevin Flack, its spokesman, said yesterday. The dispute arises over the reason for such ignorance. 'It's a clandestine way of channelling money into hunting,' Flack said. 'We feel that they should be more up front about the fact that it's a fund-raiser for hunting.'

Greenwood, however, claims that points can be a valuable source of new members. 'We've got a new BFSS poster which aims to make the link,' she said, 'partly as a recruitment drive, and partly to increase awareness.' Nor does she believe that a wider appreciation of the role of hunting in point- to-points would deter racegoers. 'Hopefully, it will work the other way around. They will have a good day, visit the BFSS stand and find out the facts about hunting.' The facts according to the BFSS, anyway.

The sums raised are not trivial. A rough estimate (by Greenwood) of the takings per meeting is pounds 6,000, which even allowing for abandonments adds up to at least pounds 1m for the country's hunts each season. Overheads are close to zero since hunt supporters - sometimes as many as 100 - staff the meetings free of charge.

Whether they would do so if hunting were abolished is open to question. Greenwood does not believe that pointing would survive abolition in any meaningful form, but Simon Claisse, the Jockey Club's point-to-point controller, disagrees. 'I think there's enough strength of feeling among point-to-point supporters to continue without the hunting connection,' he said yesterday. 'It would continue in some form or another.'

'There is no reason why, if hunting is banned, point-to-pointing should stop,' Flack said. 'They use this as a scare tactic to try and get everyone who goes point-to-pointing in behind hunting. We see drag hunting as the ideal solution, if they went over to drag hunting they could continue and probably get even more support.'

As an antidote to the prison-camp stuffiness at some major tracks, the local point-to-point certainly has much to recommend it. 'There's a great atmosphere that you don't get on a racecourse,' Claisse said, 'It just has a good feeling about it.'

It is an atmosphere which draws spectators whatever their view of blood sports. Though point-to-pointing was conceived to raise money for local packs, it may be that hunting now needs pointing rather more than pointing needs hunting.

Hunter Chasers and Point-to- Pointers 1994, Chase Publications (Tel: 0258 840650) pounds 29.50.