More Saturday meetings – but fewer pre-Christmas fixtures – and three new courses, are elements of Britain’s 2019/20 point-to-point fixtures’ list, which has been published.
The early announcement of likely meetings and their dates should benefit owners and trainers, particularly those hoping to target early-season fixtures.
Cottenham, which for many years opened the season, has regained the curtain raiser, coming forward by two weeks and sharing the start date of Sunday, November 17, with a new venue in Devon. Called Dunsmore, it is on a farm near the village of Silverton to the South West of Cullompton, and should provide easy access from the M5.
Overall the fixtures' list appears set to fall by five to 167, and there is a decline in pre-Christmas meetings from 12 last season to nine. From that period has gone a meeting at Eaton Hall, which hosted the North Hereford fixture, from Barbury Racecourse, which will hold one December meeting following the Vine & Craven's decision to relinquish a fixture and focus on its February slot, while the Atherstone's course at Clifton-on-Dunsmore in Warwickshire was unavailable due to a possible change of ownership.
Financial incentives to create a better spread of meetings has gained most traction in regard to Saturday meetings, which have increased from a scheduled 54 last season to 64, although there are none planned before the New Year. In decades past the vast majority of meetings were held on Saturdays and there were a handful of midweek fixtures, but the introduction of Sunday racing with betting in 1995 led to a gradual swing away from the traditional race day.
Midweek meetings will effectively gain two fixtures following the Stevenstone and Warwickshire Hunts' decision to race on Friday, May 8, at Vauterhill and Mollington respectively. That Friday replaces the May Bank Holiday Monday as a national holiday due to the creation of VE Day, or Victory in Europe, which sparked celebrations at the end of World War II on the same date in 1945.
Easter Sunday will be blank – the Cleveland raced alone at Witton Castle on that day this year, but in 2020 will go to post the following weekend – while Yorkshire meetings have been cut by the loss of the South Durham fixture at Sedgefield.
Also missing from the fixtures' list is the popular course at Lower Machen, which staged meetings of the Gelligaer Farmers and Tredegar Farmers in South Wales. Neither hunt has so far been able to find a new venue, while Coldharbour in the neighbouring Welsh Borders' Area, has also closed. The loss of the Radnor & West meeting at that fixture, of the North Hereford's Eaton Hall meeting and of the North Ledbury at Hereford Racecourse has resulted in Welsh Border race days being reduced from six to three.
In that region the Ludlow meeting at Bitterley is one of four around the country that will be held on Grand National Saturday, although with the big race going off at 5.15pm many racegoers will be able to reach home in time for the action.
Joining Dunsmore as a new venue for the 2019/20 season are Chilfrome in Dorset and Shelfield Park in Warwickshire. The last-named will stage the Croome & West Warwickshire meeting long-held some 24 miles west at Upton-on-Severn. Former rider Nick Pearce has been piloting moves to reinstate the Croome's meeting, which did not take place last season.
Chilfrome, which is some nine miles northwest of Dorchester, will host the Cattistock meeting which has moved from now-defunct Littlewindsor. The Seavington, which also used Littlewindsor, has found a base at Cotley.
National sponsors Timico and Connolly's RED MILLS have yet to be replaced as sponsors of the mixed open and intermediate race series, while the JRL Group has stepped down as backers of point-to-point Flat races. However, auctioneers Tattersalls Cheltenham and Goffs UK have got behind plans for a series of races restricted to four and five-year-olds, the Oriental Club, which dipped its toes into the sport in the South East region, is sponsoring an owner-trainers' series, while The Jockey Club, which is continuing to support its maiden mares' series, has joined forces with Retraining Of Racehorses (ROR) to back a group of races for 'veteran' horses aged ten and over.
Peter Wright, chief executive of the Point-to-Point Authority, said: "There are some disappointments which become apparent in the fixtures' list, not least in the loss of meetings in the Welsh Borders, but we move forward and welcome the new courses and national sponsors.
"This is a challenging time for many sports, but I detect a lot of fresh thinking, and a lot of forward thinking, coming from fixture secretaries, many of whom are relatively new to their role. They are putting together ideas which will hopefully sustain and grow their meetings, and that should be applauded."