Britain’s national champions and sponsors gathered at The Belfry Hotel near Birmingham on Saturday night to celebrate the 2017/18 season.
The new season, which opens on Sunday (November 18) at Buckfastleigh in Devon, was also a topic of conversation as compere Luke Harvey interviewed award winners, looking back on past achievements and ahead to the action which is about to unfurl. Peter Wright, the Point-to-Point Authority's new chief executive, made the opening address, and asked the audience to remember Godfrey Maundrell, a byword for longevity as a rider, who passed away earlier in the week.
Friends and staff from Phil Rowley's Shropshire yard were in great voice as the boss stepped up to receive the Foran Equine trainers' title for yards with eight or more horses, and while Harvey's attempts to extract the size of the new champion's team for the 2018/19 season were skilfully side-stepped, he did suggest a filly called Do The Honours might be one to follow when she makes her debut for the stable, possibly at Ffos Las or Barbury Racecourse before Christmas.
There were further loud cheers for Alex Edwards (pictured above with Richard Fuller), Rowley's stable rider, who was handed both the Fuller's men's champion title and the Point-to-Point Racing Company's hunter chase award, one he shared with Lorcan Williams and David Maxwell. Will Biddick, a familiar face at the event, was excused for his absence, since he was on honeymoon with new bride Harriet, but he was acknowledged for finishing runner-up in the Fuller's men's championship.
Kelly Price, representing her father, Kieran, collected the Foran Equine-sponsored trainers' award for yards with seven or fewer horses, and Gina Andrews, the outstanding woman amateur of this generation, was presented with the Skinner's women's championship which she has now won five times. Andrews needs just two winners to become only the fifth woman to reach a double century of point-to-point victories, while Claire Hardwick – who was runner-up for the women's title with Izzie Marshall – has the goal of five more successes to reach 100 winners.
Skinner's Hiedi Hutchinson with Gina Andrews
One year earlier Marshall had stepped onto the stage to collect the Fuller's novice women's title, which on this occasion was handed to Alice Stevens, while Connor Brace became the latest in a line of brilliant Welsh teenagers who collected the Fuller's novice men's title. Brace has since become a conditional jockey, and he arrived at the ceremony after riding at Wincanton earlier in the afternoon.
He thanked his grandfather, David Brace, for the support provided in terms of race-fit horses last season, and David himself was in good form when collecting the leading owner title and the Connolly's RED MILLS champion horse award won by William Money, who he owns and trains. Jess Fortt, who is head groom at Brace's yard, spoke eloquently about William Money as a much-loved member of the team.
Brace senior, like many in the audience, wearing a poppy with pride, told Harvey he would be maintaining a string of pointers for the new season, despite running a handful of horses under Rules to support his grandson's fledgling career.
Kirsty and Oli Rawlings, who work for David Bond and Helen Pease's Withyslade Stud in Wiltshire, represented The Withyslade Partnership which owns One Big Love, winner of the Jockey Club's Maiden Mares' championship. The Sally Alner-trained mare, who won three point-to-points last season, gained her owners a cheque for £500 from the Jockey Club, and should she ever run under Rules she will double any prize money she wins on her first start at a Jockey Club-owned racecourse.
The Greenall Russell Trophy, given to the leading hunter chase trainer, was won by Paul Nicholls, while Shirley Turner, a meeting secretary in South Wales for more than 40 years, was a popular recipient of the Cynthia Higgon Point-to-Point Secretaries Association Award. There was also appreciative applause for Richard Wilson, who was presented with the Sir Michael Connell Award for his work as a steward. Wilson accepted his memento, but said he did so on behalf of all the volunteers who enable point-to-point race meetings to take place – and he was loudly clapped for his gesture.
Left to right, Alex Edwards, Alice Stevens, Luke Harvey, Gina Andrews, Connor Brace
For more information on the Belfry Hotel & Resort, please visit www.thebelfry.co.uk/en-gb