The 2014/15 Northern Area point-to-point season got off to to a great start in Sunday's well supported Ratcheugh Racing Club fixture at Alnwick with 65 runners on the six race card, including 17 from Yorkshire and a further 7 raiders from yards as far away as Waltham-on-the-Wolds, Denbigh, Kelsall and Derbyshire.
The Ratcheugh Farm course had missed the worst of the wintry weather which swept across many parts of North Northumberland earlier in the week and racing took place on ideal jumping ground described as Good to Soft, Soft in places.
After finishing runner-up in last year's Northern Area Men's Jockeys Championship, Nick Orpwood's bid to go one better got off to the best possible start with a double on Crazy Diamond and The Falklander, both trained at Lanton near Wooler by Jessica McKie.
Victoria (Tocky) Mckie's home-bred 10 year old gelding, Crazy Diamond upset more experienced rivals when making a winning debut in the G A Smith Ltd Open Maiden Race. After taking it up approaching three out, Orpwood's mount was left well clear at the next before beating Way Over by a distance. Daughter, Jessica said: "I have evented with him up to Intermediate level and knew he was a good jumper but wasn't sure whether he would stay three miles", while Orpwood added: "He found plenty down the home straight but it was still anybody's race when Mickey Miller fell two out."
After scoring first time out at Alnwick in January, The Falklander did the business again on his reappearance in the Stockdale & Reid Solicitors Men's Open Race. Always going well, he went on two out and forged clear on the run-in to secure a five lengths verdict over the favourite, Cottage Oak. This completed a noteworthy training double for Jessica with her first two runners and she said of the 10 year old: "I'm pleased we turned him away after a heavy fall at Corbridge in March and gave him plenty of time to recover. I've done five or six days hunting with him this season and knew he would go well."
Watching Ockey De Neulliac in full flow is like poetry in motion and the 12 year old did not disappoint his many supporters as he once again made every yard of the running in the Northumbrian Quality Feeds Ladies Open Race to provide regular partner, Catherine Walton with her 50th career success between the flags. Beggar's Velvet kept on well in the closing stages to finish ten lengths 2nd with the promising Dannanceys Hill a further length away in 3rd on his comeback outing. After seeing his stable star make it seven wins from his last ten starts, West Witton trainer, Neil Mechie said: "He needed that today and will come on a lot for the run. He goes next at either Sheriff Hutton or Kelso on Sunday January 11."
Less than three weeks after celebrating his 16th birthday, Selkirk schoolboy, Sam Coltherd made a dream debut as a point-to-point jockey by steering his father, Stuart's gelding, Darsi Dancer to victory in the Banks Group NPPA Club Members Race. The 6 year old gradually reeled in the leaders throughout the final mile before getting the better of Tambour Major from two out to score by a neck. After sending out his first two winners of the current National Hunt season at Hexham last Wednesday, this rounded off a great week for Coltherd Snr, who said: "He won twice in six days in April at Corbridge and Balcormo Mains and I couldn't believe he failed to attract a bid when sent to Doncaster Sales in September." A delighted Sam added: "He was off the bridle most of the way and probably hit the front a bit too soon but when I gave him a reminder on the run-in he picked up again immediately."
William Easterby, 20, a second year Agriculture Student at Newcastle University, produced Ardenlee Lad with a well-timed challenge after the last to collar Darlington County and land the two and a half mile Thornton Hickey Open Maiden Race by half a length. Bought for £15,000 out of Phil Kirby's yard at Doncaster Sales in May, having finished runner-up in a Sedgefield Bumper one month earlier, he provided Great Habton-based owner/trainer, Sarah Easterby with success in this race for the second year in a row. She said: "He is still a bit green and babyish but travelled well and that was an impressive effort for a 4 year old on his jumping debut carrying 11st 12lb."
Winning Irish pointer, Master Butcher came up trumps on his first start for Nick Alexander's Kinneston yard in the concluding Northumbrian Leisure Limited Restricted Race. Under a well judged ride from Kit Alexander, the 7 year old led throughout the final circuit and cruised home ten lengths in front of Ashtonmore. The winner was bought for £10,000 at Doncaster Sales in May and Alexander said of him: "That surprised me a bit as I thought the tank was getting empty coming up the hill from four out but when I gave him a squeeze he took off again."
The Northern Area season resumes on Sunday 18th January with the West Percy fixture at Alnwick.