In the second of the summer “pointing people” series, Jake Exelby speaks to South Midlands Area Chair and steward Sara Moule (pictured above presenting the jockeys title trophy to Gina Andrews) about how – coming from a non-horsey background – she got into the sport and her hopes for its future.
How did you get into point-to-pointing in the first place?
I used to go to the Kimble Easter meeting and then I moved to Newmarket and started going with friends in East Anglia, getting to know the likes of Robert Abrey and Malcolm Kemp.
I then went to work in the point-to-point department of what was then the Jockey Club, working for (future pointing supremo) Simon Claisse. When I left there, I kept my hand in by helping some of the meeting secretaries with their administration, then took over as South Midlands Area Secretary from Lucy Felton in the late 1990s and went on a stewarding course. I’ve been Area Chair for about ten years now.
What does an Area Chair do, compared to an Area Secretary?
My role is to back-up the Area Secretary and be there if anything needs escalating. For example, resolving issues over dates clashing. Because I’m not as close to the detail, I can take an objective view and people can use me as a sounding board.
Who's inspired you most in the world of pointing?
(Former rider, now senior steward) Richard Russell. He’s so experienced, always measured and brings a wealth of experience to the sport.
Which jockeys have you most admired and why?
In the South Midlands, I really admire Claire Hardwick – she’s worked so hard to get where she’s got to. Katie Lyons was also very stylish. Further afield, Jacqueline Coward was a fantastic jockey – horses ran for her. Among the men, Will Biddick obviously, as well as Sam Davies-Thomas and Dickie Barrett in their day – Dickie used to throw his heart over first!
What's your favourite course and why?
In our area, Mollington. It’s a proper stayers track that often sees good finishes and usually has a good atmosphere. Elsewhere, I’ve always liked Horseheath, for very similar reasons.
What do you love most about pointing?
Most of the time, it’s really friendly – everyone celebrates everybody else’s success. It’s also not as elitist as some equestrian sports – anyone can have a go. And, for an amateur sport, it’s very professionally run.
What's been the highlight of your time in the sport?
It’s been this season, seeing how respectful everyone has been since we started racing again. Everyone’s stuck to the rules and we’ve shown that we can put on a sport during lockdown. In particular, I’ve been impressed by the way the PPA and PPSA have worked together.
Who have been your favourite horses and why?
Any Tarry horse, but Fine Lace comes to mind immediately – I remember her getting loose at Kingston Blount one day, disappearing into the woods… and still winning. Also Midnight Chill, who gave me my only winner as an owner when he won at Charing this season, and ex-racehorse Trafalgar Road, who I use to ride out at Claire Hardwick’s.
Do you have any regrets?
I’d have liked to have a go at race-riding, but I wasn’t as involved when I was younger.
What changes have you seen during your time - for better, for worse?
The new race programming seems to be working. We used to be much more area-led, but now everything’s opened up and it’s a national sport. There seems to be a willingness to listen and to provide opportunities for horses of all abilities. However, we’re fishing in an ever-decreasing pool of owners, horses, riders and officials. I have particular concerns over the lack of volunteers – it’s increasingly difficult to find people to help and we’re not nurturing this.
What would you do if you were in charge of the sport?
I’m very glad I’m not! Peter Wright has had equine flu in his first season and COVID in his second and third.
What do you think the effect of lockdown on pointing will be?
I’m optimistic that it won’t have a massive impact in the short-term, however, I don’t know about the long-term. Will people, for example small business owners, still be able to afford pointers? And there will be fewer horses – as a result of fewer mares being covered during lockdown. It’s also going to be harder to attract people back to the sport, as they’ve found other things to do at the weekend.
Did you watch much live streaming and do you think we should continue with it?
I watched a lot of it. We’re still on a learning curve, but the majority was very good. I think we should continue with it, especially in the early season, because people may decide to watch rather than attend and it would be a potential revenue stream. However, in my opinion, it has to be pay per view, as we can’t rely on people’s generosity.
What are you most looking forward to about next season?
To pointing getting back to normal, and not having to walk round a field wearing a mask! And to seeing people again – we all disappear into our own worlds during the summer.
Which jockeys/trainers/horses do you expect to do well and who do you expect to be the rising stars?
The big guns will continue to do well – the South Midlands area is unusual for having three of the biggest yards in the country. Jenny Pidgeon has a young horse – Minella Lightning – to look forward to, and I love seeing young horses winning their maiden and going through the grades, as well as the older ones who keep going. Midnight King’s retired now but hats off to Julie Wadland for what she did with him. Among the riders, Elliot England is a young jockey to watch. He’s only 17, but he’s keen to learn and epitomises what pointing’s about, coming through pony racing and having just the ones horse.
Who is your non-racing hero?
Eddie Irvine. He’s from Northern Ireland, where I grew up, and I think he talks a lot of sense. It’s hard to find heroes nowadays – they all seem to have clay feet.
Who else should I do one of these features on?
Richard Russell would be a good one. And (North West Area Secretary and racecourse judge) Nick Bostock.
Do you have a nickname you're willing to share?
No chance! (Laughs manically).
Is there anything else you wanted to say?
I think pointing’s in rude health, but it mustn’t become a sport for the few and should continue to provide opportunities for everyone, bringing in young blood as well as making the most of the experience we have. Pointing nowadays is one of many calls on peoples’ leisure time and we need to make sure we promote it properly.