• Posted: Tuesday, 14th June 2022
  • Author: Granville Taylor
  • Photo: Tim Holt

THE Torrington Farmers brought down the curtain on the 2021-22 British point-to-point season on Saturday (11 June)...

This fixture has taken place at Umberleigh for the past 51 years and has held the closing slot of the season since 1975.

Most of the National championships had been settled, but the Novice Male Riders’ title, sponsored by Highflyer Bloodstock, was still in the balance with Charlie Sprake and 16-year-old Freddy Gordon entering the day on 12 winners each.

It was 19-year-old Sprake who came out best on the day, securing a double to add the National novice title to this year’s Devon & Cornwall area award. The local title has been won in recent years by such as Liam Harrison, Bryan Carver and Rex Dingle, all now making their mark under rules, which will be the next career step for the young Somerset jockey.

“I will be going to Alan King’s stable in late July and turning conditional,” said the rider, who has had the benefit of working under the wing of seven times champion point-to-point jockey Will Biddick.

Charlie Sprake’s Umberleigh double was set up when Benny’s Miracle won the Tim Forster Memorial Restricted sponsored by Kivells, and completed with a Men’s Open success on I’m Wiser Now.

Eight-year-old mare Benny’s Miracle has had a frustrating time since winning a Bratton Down Maiden a year ago, but was left clear here when Polly Sans pulled up sharply before the open ditch. The winner is trained on the Quantocks by Teresa Honeyball for owner Michael Rowe who farms at Cannington near Bridgwater. The mare had been bought privately in Ireland as a five-year-old from Benny Walsh, hence her name.

Charlie Sprake had already edged one ahead of his novice title challenger thanks to Benny’s Miracle, and sealed the issue when the two young jockeys came head to head in a match for the Azets Business Advisors Men’s Open. Although Freddy Gordon’s mount Highway One O One started 1-3 favourite, he gradually lost tabs on Sprake’s mount I’m Wise Now climbing the hill and was eight lengths adrift at the judge. Jake Slatter’s charge had won a couple of Stratford hunter chases last season before disappointing in that sphere at Cheltenham and Stratford recently. He found the drop-in class at Umberleigh a shade easier.

Charlie Sprake’s day was not all sweetness and light. He took a nasty fall from Mahler Style when leading in the opening Conditions race before finishing on the wrong end of a match when odds-on favourite Ninth Wave just failed to cope with sole rival Hitdroadjack in the Intermediate.

Warwickshire based James King had already sealed the National jockeys’ title and went on to partner his 62nd winner of the season on the aptly named nine-year-old Hitdroadjack in the Barum Stud Intermediate. John Mathias trains the winner at Manorbier near Tenby. After his 200 miles journey from Pembrokeshire, Malcolm Price explained that his joint owner Trevor Nicholas is the trainer’s grandfather. “He is 99 years old and couldn’t make the trip today, but it would be nice if he could celebrate his 100th birthday seeing his horse win next season.”

The Torrington Arms sponsored Conditions race went to the veteran pointer Eric The Third, giving Darren Andrews his 14th point-to- point winner of the season to add to his two hunter chase successes. Eric The Third was left in the lead when Mahler Style fell and gamely shook off the sustained challenge of runner up Golden Poet (Alice Procter). John Heard trains the winner near Okehampton for a small local syndicate and said, “I put him away after Upcott Cross (May 28th) and he was out for three nights. Anyway, he has come here and we took the blinkers off and put cheek pieces on which seems to have rejuvenated him. He will be retired now.”

Monsieur Gibraltar walked over for the Pilton Auctions Ladies’ Open under 16-year-old Olive Nicholls, who had already clinched the Highflyer Bloodstock National Lady Novice Rider’s title. Joint owners Paul Nicholls and John Bolton promptly donated the winner’s £400 prize to the Injured Jockeys’ Fund.

The Smallridge Brothers Ltd Maiden brought the British season to a close as Businessman and Darren Edwards readily saw off their five opponents. Runner up Local Drama threatened briefly at the third last, but the winner went away up the hill to score by 12 lengths. Businessman was giving Payhembury near Honiton trainer Leslie Jefford his ninth winner of the campaign. The Milan eight-year-old is owned jointly by Amanda Hill and Axe Vale point-to-point secretary Shirley Cork who said, “He had been placed a few times but has been frustrating. The tongue tie helped today.” Jefford also saddled third placed Kesa Great in this race on whom Anna Johnston clinched the area lady novice title.

So that was it for another season apart from presentation of some of the area awards and the traditional end of season Umberleigh parties which seemingly never end.