THE Wessex Area point-to-point season opens at Larkhill Racecourse tomorrow (Sunday) when the course hosts the Hursley Hambledon Hunt for their annual meeting - the first of 22 fixtures over the next five months.
Sunday's meeting, dedicated to the memory of Jean Wilkinson, a fondly remembered hunting lady, has attracted a good entry of 82, with the Mens Open the highlight of the six race card.
In the Hunt race, Pateese looks the standout from the five horses entered and the Penny Lownds-trained gelding should continue her trainer’s good record in the race, having also been successful in 2014 with Billesley Road. Terra Bleu, runner up in the race last year should give Pateese the most to do.
The Ladies Open features the return of Chapoturgeon, the highly talented gelding trained by Jack Barber for his Racing Club. Only seen once last season when successful at Kingston St Mary, he now embarks on a new career in Ladies races with a new rider, Bryony Frost, and should be able to overcome his rivals. Fitandproperjob, trained by David Buckett, may be the one to follow him home.
The Mens Open looks a very competitive event with a total of 18 horses entered. David Maxwell looks to have a strong hand in the race with both No Loose Change and Out Now entered. The former, who used to be trained by Paul Nicholls, has won four chases including a Hunter Chase last season at Fontwell, while the latter won a Hunter Chase at Warwick earlier this year.
Other potential rivals include Benedictus, the likely mount of champion rider Will Biddick, who already notched up his first treble of the season last weekend, Join Together, returning after missing last season, but unbeaten in his six races the previous season, and Ballyallia Man, the winner of four chases when trained by Tom George. Man of Steel from Alan Hill’s yard and Premier Portrait, a first winner for Gus Levinson, come into calculations, but David Maxwell’s choice is preferred.
There are 16 horses entered for the Restricted race. Mr Simpkins, the impressive winner of a Maiden at Mollington in 2014 for Robert Waley-Cohen, and Mr Dinosaur, the equally easy winner of a Maiden at Woodford for Tom Lacey in 2014, both return to action. The latter, who is now in the ownership of Graham and Andrea Wylie and trained by Jack Barber, looks one to keep an eye on.
Lilbitluso a winner at Cottenham for trainer Joseph O’Shea will be fit and Sin Bin, winner of two National Hunt flat races, seeks to take advantage of the change in the rules whereby such horses are allowed to run in Restricted races. If Mr Simpkins is fully wound up for his seasonal debut he is narrowly chosen ahead of Mr Dinosaur.
The Maiden race has attracted the highest entry of 30 horses. There are numerous unraced horses, with owners Robert Waley-Cohen, David Maxwell and Tom Lacey being doubly represented.
Of the horses with form, Mr Cardle has been placed under Rules for Oliver Sherwood and is now with Alan Hill. Athreeothree, trained by Jack Barber, would be an appropriate winner as the course is very close to the road of the same name. A watching brief is suggested on this race and the betting might give more clues to the newcomers.
The meeting concludes with the TBA Club Members race for Mares and Fillies. Posh Totty may be too good for her rivals and continue the form of the Jack Barber/Will Biddick combination. Flying Gnu might be the one to follow her home.
Sunday's meeting starts at 10.45am with a charity flat race over one-mile and four furlongs, where six are expected to line up, with last year’s winner Beanie Allison seeking a repeat triumph. Six point-to-point races follow from 11.30am.
Larkhill Racecourse is found just NW of Amesbury on Salisbury Plain, easily reached off the A303, A360 or A345 (SP4 8QT). Admission is £10 per head, under 16s free.