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POINTING PEOPLE: Beverley Thomas

Beverley Thomas has been a leading figure on the Welsh pointing scene since her association with the useful mare Baby Whale in the late 1990s. A farmer, former trainer, owner – most notably of this year’s Cheltenham winner Captain McGinley – and West Wales Area Secretary (now joint-secretary of the new merged Wales Area with Liz Egerton), there doesn’t seem to be an aspect of the game in which Beverley isn’t involved. Jake Exelby talked to her about time in pointing and her views on the state of the sport from the Welsh perspective.

How did you get into point-to-pointing?

Eventing was my sport growing up, although some of my family were involved in pointing. I became really interested when I returned to Pembrokeshire after a break – I bought Baby Whale, trained her to win three in my first season and was hooked.

Tell me about your training career. Why did you stop for a time?

I used to train on the farm for other people and had over a dozen horses. I could either get bigger, put in gallops and take out a licence or stop altogether. Staying the same wasn’t tenable – the horses were trashing my farm! And you don’t make money training pointers, so I stopped.

I then started again after a break because the people who’d bought Moral Hazard decided they didn’t want him and gave him to me. I asked John Mathias to ride him and he won his first two, and seven in total. Captain McGinley followed.

Beverley (second left) with Moral Hazard after a win at Howick

Did you ever ride in points?

No, and I sort of regret it. An uncle once asked me to but Mum said, “You’ve got Badminton in four weeks and if you break a leg, that’s off!”

Who have been your favourite horses?

That would be like trying to choose between your children! I loved Seaniethesmuggler and Puntingbud was a gutsy little superstar, who didn’t achieve as much as he should have done due to bad legs, and who I named the farm after. Captain McGinley obviously has a special place – he’s been retired now to go hunting. He was never easy to train – he was off for a year with an injury before this season – so we thought, “You’ve given us so much fun. Thanks very much – now go and enjoy yourself!”

Captain McGinley schooling before his Cheltenham victory

Which jockeys have you most admired?

I have been privileged that my horses have been ridden by some of the best jockeys, starting with Evan Williams who rode my first runner and winner. Also Jamie Jukes, Tim Vaughan, James Tudor, John Mathias and today, Bradley Gibbs. They’ve all been outstanding for different reasons and I’ve had complete faith in every one of them.

I really admired Jodie Hughes who gave me several winners - she was fearless and determined and a joy to have around, because she was so enthusiastic. Going further back, Isabel Tompsett and Pip Jones were top lady jockeys.

I tentatively suggest that the standard of Welsh jockeys exceeds that of their horses – bad idea!

I’m not taking that one! Everyone runs Welsh pointing down, but look at our results – we’ve won lots of big races and have multiple winners like Chesnut Annie and Lady Myfanwy.

Why do you think so many Welsh jockeys have been so successful?

It’s down to our culture of pony racing. Take Conor Brace – he got so much experience that he was ready to win over fences straightaway.

What are your favourite courses and why?

Redlands Park at Bonvilston – stunning parkland setting with really good viewing, a big crowd and a wonderful atmosphere, which owner Tudor Harris looks after incredibly well. I also love Cheltenham - the Hunter Chase evening in May is one of my favourite days racing.

Racing at Bonvilston

What do you love most about pointing?

Being amongst friends and getting really close to the track and the gorgeous countryside in which point-to-points are held.

What's been the highlight of your time in the sport?

The day I trained a four timer at Pentreclwydau in 2008. However, the one I most fancied that day fell!

What are your pointing ambitions?

To enjoy myself as much as possible and see the sport flourish in a changing rural world.

What changes have you seen during your time, for better and worse?

The emerging dominance of the sales yards dominating pointing, as a result of changes in the sport’s planning that have been influenced by the bloodstock industry. Our reliance on them has driven out the amateur owner and I think we’ve probably gone too far down the road to turn back.

I think the Oriental Club series is great and would like to see more races like that.

What would you do if you were in charge of the sport?

It would be very difficult to improve on the amazing job Peter Wright is doing. However, I would be keen to regulate the part played in the sport by licenced yards, and try anything which would encourage amateurs back into pointing.

What do you think the effect of lockdown on pointing will be?

I am worried that it will have a really detrimental effect in Wales. We won’t know how serious it is until we start racing again but I’m concerned we may see a drop in the already diminishing numbers. I think a few people who haven’t had horses for a couple of years won’t come back – don’t forget we haven’t had any racing in Wales for two years.

We’ve also lost trainers and you’ve got to look after the trainers – because it’s they who bring in the owners.

Did you watch much live streaming? Do you think we should continue with it?

Yes I did, but have reservations about it and am not sure it will be a realistic option in Wales because of the cost.

What are you most looking forward to about next season?

Racing again in Wales and being back out at point-to-points all over the country with a proper paying public.

Which jockeys, trainers and horses do you expect to do well?

I think Bradley Gibbs is an outstanding jockey but think he will make an even better trainer and think he will build on an amazing first season. I hope Highway Jewel will live up to the expectations sparked by last season’s performances.

Bradley Gibbs: outstanding

What are your non-horsey hobbies?

I love working my sheep dog and desperately trying to find time to do some gardening.

Who would be your ideal dinner party guests?

Captain McGinley’s co-owner Adrian Simpson would get the party going, I’ve often thought Henrietta Knight would be good fun and imagine Boris Johnson would be hilarious company.

Hilarious company?

What are your life ambitions?

To retire as soon as possible and spend my time racing and gardening.

Where is your dream holiday destination?

I don’t do holidays!

Do you have a nickname you're willing to share?

When I was training, everyone on the yard called me Boss and it seems to have stuck.

Who else should I do one of these features on?

Jan Mathias, South Pembrokeshire secretary for longer than I have been involved in the sport, mother of John and wife of Phil.

Tell me something I wouldn't know from asking these questions?

When I evented, I represented Britain at Junior and Young Rider level and won gold at the European Championships. I also completed Badminton four times and won the award for the best round by a rider under 25. My horse, Divine Intervention, was really special across country but had no respect for coloured poles!