THE first of three late season fixtures at Bratton Down proved quite an occasion.for the British point-to-point world.
Will Biddick has held the National point to point title for the past three seasons. After beating his previous best seasonal total of 42 winners this year, the next natural objective was to better the previous British record of 56 winners in a season held jointly by brothers Tom and Oliver Greenall.
The Cornish rider lost little time in breaking the record on Sunday by winning the opener on Bernshaw, but why stop there? Biddick went on to partner four more winners as the pressure came off during a memorable afternoon.
"My aim this year was to hold on to the National title but I soon picked up more winners (22 since Easter) and the record became a reality. Ollie and Tom went all the way to Umberleigh when they did it (last meeting of the season in June), but I have done it with four weeks to go at one of my favourite tracks," said a clearly relieved jockey.
Bernshaw took the 13-runner Restricted in good style for the local yard of Claire Hitch, as a prelude to a trio of successes saddled by Jack Barber, who has supplied the majority of the champion jockey's winners this year.
Bugsie Malone was the first of these in a 16 strong Maiden . This promising five-year-old, owned by Graham Roach, was making his racecourse debut and held on well when challenged by The Mystro up the final climb. "He came in late and we have had to do a lot of jumping with him. He is green and will improve," reported the young trainer.
Six-year-old Whataknight is more the finished article and after opening his account on this course last year has now added a hat trick of wins this season. The Midnight Legend gelding looks a fine prospect and took the Members' Conditions race for his owners Terry Hamlin, Martin Dare and John Snook.
The Barber stables tally was completed when Queens Bay was given a typically patient Biddick ride to win the Mares and Fillies race. "She has had time off and didn't come in until February," said Barber who trains this former bumper and hurdles winner for owners Lucy and Robert Dickinson.
Suzy Berry saddled the other leg of the five-timer when her father's nine-year-old Otis Tarda just got the better of a spirited battle with Fourstar River in the Intermediate.
The Bob Pittard Memorial Maiden provided a major shock when the unconsidered outsider Highland Thistle prevailed in a tight finish under Merv Woodward. Bought as an unbroken four-year-old, the sturdy gelding is trained for owner Andrew Pope by Julie Pocock at Stolford on the edge of the Quantocks. "First time blinkers have made all the difference," said the trainer as her charge finally put a string of disappointing efforts behind him.
It was a case of dispensing with headgear which has rejuvenated the four miles Mixed Open winner Bellflower Boy. Bryony Frost conjured a storming late run out of this multiple winning chaser who stayed on up the hill to hold the equally strong finishing Cecile De Volanges. "He loves galloping and is as tough as old boots," exclaimed Culmstock based trainer Stuart Sampson who handles the 12-year-old for owner Ben Robarts, and was completing his first training double as he greeted his fourth winner of the season.
Top Chief was the first leg of the stable double in the PPORA race limited to riders who have won less than 10 races. Jake Bament, who was partnering his fifth winner of the season, works for the Harry Fry yard, and had his mount out in front from half way before shaking off Barneys Mate up the gruelling final hill. John Gardener and Terry Hamlin share ownership of Top Chief who was bought at Doncaster last September after winning twice for Irish trainer Gordon Elliott.
After such jubilance, spare a thought for popular local point-to-point jockey Ed Barrett who has recently been transferred to the spinal injuries unit at Oswestry hospital. Ed is improving slowly from serious injuries sustained in a fall at the Eggesford meeting last month.