The long wait is finally over as the 2017/18 Northern Area Point-to-Point season kicks off on Saturday December 9th with the Ratcheugh Racing Club fixture at the Ratcheugh Farm course near Alnwick, where a six race card with 90 entries starts at noon. The list includes 49 entries from outside the Northern Area and their support is much appreciated.
The 20 entries for the opening Nicky Richards Racing Conditions Race are headed by Cheshire raider, Lilbitluso. Joe O'Shea's charge was very impressive when winning at this meeting in 2015 and completed a five-timer that season in the Connolly's Red Mills Intermediate Final at Cheltenham. He had his first run for more than ten months when five lengths 2nd of 19 to Iberico at Barbury Castle on November 26 and would have finished even closer that day had he not walked through three out. He has come out of that race well and can get back to winning ways.
Of the others, Battle Range won his last four Points in 2016 but has been absent for almost seventeen months after being pulled up with a tendon injury at Cartmel. Cultram Abbey, a 139-rated chaser for Nicky Richards, was last seen when pulled up in the Class 2 City of Perth Gold Cup on June 4. Tim Gredley's Just Cause also ran recently at Barbury Castle where he finished eight lengths 2nd to William Money. Lough Derg Island was an easy ten lengths winner of an Intermediate Race on soft ground at Friars Haugh in March on his first start for Joan Hollands and looks open to further improvement. Oscar Stanley (12st 7lb) and Royal Chatelier (12st 6lb) both face stiff tasks conceding weight to all of their main rivals.
The 5 entries for the Chatton Trout Fishery Intermediate Race are Bravehearted Harry, Emkae, Indigo Island, The Mobile Man and Weston Flame. The former finished fifteen lengths 2nd to Lilbitluso here in December 2015 and scored twice in April 2016. Indigo Island was six lengths 2nd to For A Change on his reappearance here last December and landed a Bangor-on-Dee Restricted in February. The Mobile Man landed a Holderness Restricted and South Durham Confined last season while the one to beat is Weston Flame, who had plenty in hand when winning at the first two Alnwick meetings last season but has been absent for ten months since pulling up injured after the second fence in the Percy Club Members Race.
The Crabtree & Crabtree Ladies Open Race has 13 entries, including the aforementioned Battle Range and Oscar Stanley. The latter has recorded at least one win in each of the last four seasons with the most recent coming at Hexham in May. The former Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained gelding, Winged Crusader, the winner of 5 of his 26 starts under Rules is now owned by Simon Waugh, while proven stayer, One Conemara is a class act on his day and scored over 3m5f at Corbridge and 4m1f at Sheriff Hutton last term. It is hard to see anything lowering the colours of Alnwick specialist, Knocklong. Justin Landy's charge has won all five completed starts at the track and would be unbeaten there had he not unseated three out in January when fifteen lengths clear. The gelding also landed hunter chases at Southwell and Catterick last season.
The 3 mile Ancroft Tractors Open Maiden Race has 24 entries and, on paper, looks a competitive affair. Fair Exchange kept on well in the closing stages when finishing nine lengths 2nd of 8 to This Breac at Cottenham last Sunday. A quick reappearance beckons and with this stiffer track more to his liking, Gillon Crow's mount should be right in the mix again. Bite The Biscuit finished seven lengths 3rd of 9 in a Lisronagh Maiden last December before being placed once from five starts under Rules for Philip Hobbs. Chanceiton was only beaten half a length when 2nd of 8 to Flemens Story in a Nenagh Maiden in January but was then pulled up twice over hurdles on heavy ground in March for Lucinda Russell's yard. French Ticket caught the eye when beaten a maximum of five lengths in bumpers won by Golden Jeffrey and Schiaparannie (both have won again since) earlier in the year and was a non runner at Newcastle Races last Saturday due to unsuitable ground. Koala Keel was beaten a maximum of ten lengths in Maiden Races from his previous yard. Left Back proved disappointing over hurdles last season for Nick Alexander's yard, while Matthew Man and Sam Says finished runner-up at Dalston and Overton respectively last term. Sir Lonica was placed in two of his three Irish Maidens in 2016 and should go close on his English debut. Others to note are The Dapper Prince, Treliver Manor, Worcester Pearmain and the unraced Westend Leader.
There is plenty of quality among the 14 entries for the Geoff Allan Catering Men's Open Race. Executive Benefit goes well fresh and has a great record since joining Joe O'Shea with 11 wins and 8 placed efforts from 21 starts between the flags. Of the others, Always Tipsy won all 4 Pointing starts last season, including 3 at Alnwick. Southern raider, Ardkilly Witness was not beaten far when runner-up in the Royal Artillery Gold Cup at Sandown Park in February. For 'N' Against's yard had a winner at Cottenham last Sunday. Nick Alexander's recent acquisition, Killer Crow recorded 3 of his 4 Irish wins on soft or heavy ground. Exciting 5 year old prospect, Path To Freedom graduated from Maiden to Open company last season with 4 wins, while the former Venetia Williams-trained 131-rated chaser, Relax should appreciate the drop in class.
Cultram Abbey, One Conemara and Royal Chatelier are also double entered here.
The concluding Newton Hall Restricted Race has 14 entries. Monsun Storm had very solid form last term, winning a Hurworth Maiden and being placed on three of his other five outings. Play Practice has not been seen since scoring at Friars Haugh in March. Minella For All has changed hands since landing a Banwen Point-to-Point Club Maiden under James Bowen in May. Lord Usher got off the mark at Corbridge in February, while Great Anticipation showed improved form when scoring over a shorter trip at Tranwell in April. Active in Milan made virtually all to beat Crazy Penguin by a length here in February and again ran well when four lengths 4th to Asheanymoney in the Tynedale Restricted three weeks later. Bentons Lad was a model of consistency last term for the Andrew Nicholls yard with one win at Askham Bryan and eight placed efforts from his ten outings between the flags. The aforementioned Crazy Penguin deservedly opened his account when beating Yoohoof at Dalton Park and rounded off his campaign when eight lengths 5th of 13 to the useful Path To Freedom at Sheriff Hutton.
The post code for SatNav users is NE66 3AE and the course is well signposted from the A1.