Positive reports on the course following the inaugural meeting at Edgcote last month have been reflected in a large increase in entries for the second fixture to be held at the Northamptonshire venue. 122 entries – over half as many again as the previous meeting – have been received for the Grafton point-to-point, which is on Sunday 20th May, with the first race at 2.00pm. Clerk of the Course Graham Tawell and his team are sure to do their usual excellent job preparing the ground, and Graham confirmed on Monday morning that the going remains Good to Firm, Good in places and that watering will take place if necessary.
Highlight of the day is the John White Funeral Directors Mixed Open, which qualifies the first two for the Skinners Ladies Open Final at Stratford on Friday 8th June. 20 have been entered, including two of the most popular competitors in the area, Alan Hill's 15-year-old veteran Consigliere and Fran Marriott's game little mare Dabinett Moon. Alan said earlier this week, "There's a fair chance he'll run if the ground is good and we'll see how he is after his walkover last weekend. I think the course will take a bit of getting." Dabinett Moon is also an intended runner – if she takes part, it will be her first run in a Mixed Open, so it will be interesting to see how she copes with the extra weight. A more speculative entry is Pauline Harkin's We Never Give Up, who may come here after an unusual preparation in last weekend's Silver Spur Hunt Race!
Carlisle Hunter Chase winner Jimmy The Jetplane, trained by the in-form Fran Nimmo, is another local horse in with a chance after his recent Punchestown fifth, while the main dangers on ratings appear to be two raiders from the West Midlands. Gabrial The Great had useful form under rules and scored impressively on his pointing debut for Tom Murray over a shorter trip at Bitterley, while long-distance specialist Green Winter – representing the up and coming Max Young – won the four-mile Crudwell Cup at Coldharbour for the third year in a row last time and will appreciate the stiff uphill finish here.
Novice Riders races are usually competitive events and 15 entries have been received for the Beachborough School sponsored race on the card. Ground holds the key for Alan Hill – if it's fast, he'll run Higham winner Ballybough Gorta, "A good horse on top of the ground", while slower conditions will give the nod to Kashmir Peak, a recent arrival from Nick Pearce's yard. "(New owner) Dan Cherriman was offered the horse and he arrived this week," Alan told me. "Dan will ride him in Novices Races and, hopefully, Hunter Chases." Tim Underwood's battle-hardened Tempelpirate is likely to turn out again following a third last weekend, while Fred Hutsby prefers this contest to Conditions Race for course winner Thyne For Ruda, saying, "I'm hoping that Alfie Jordan can win the Area Novices Title, so he may ride all three of mine, including Kinlochspelve in the Restricted and Grove Field in the last." Chris Loggin's Kimora is another to keep an eye on, following her success at Andoversford last month.
The card opens with the Heygates & Sons Hunt Members race, which has attracted five entries. Simon Gilmore has been trying to win this race throughout his long career and will rely on his improving mare Come On Harriet. "She ran flat at Hackwood Park – it was too soon after Edgcote – but she's come out of the race well," Simon told me. Her trainer first rode in the race as an 18-year-old and laughed, "You know me – I've got to go for the Grafton Members. I've had a runner in it for the last 20 years and, if she wins, we'll have a do!"
However, she will need to improve to beat another mare, trained by an old friend of his, in the shape of Richard Pringuer's Aunty Joan, another on the upgrade. "She won last year, she's well and I'm reasonably hopeful of doing the double," admitted her trainer. "She beat She's Real by ten lengths at Dingley and that mare won at Garthorpe last Sunday, so the form's good. Her owners, John and Sylvia Busby, are massive supporters of the Grafton." Welstonedruid and Tiger's Eye make up the potential field.
The second race, sponsored by Savills, is an Intermediate over the shorter distance of two miles five furlongs. Joint top-rated of the 23 entries are Lake Balaton and Mirs Choice, but two more – Claire Hardwick's recent recruit Exclusive Rights and Dale Peters' improving Benefit Of Luck – are rated just a point behind and, indeed, over half the field are rated within ten points of the top two. Bleu Et Or, in the care of another young trainer to follow, Bridgend-based Carlie Packwood near Bridgend, has not been seen since winning well at Chaddesley Corbett in December, but would definitely be of interest if making the journey, while fellow long-distance traveller, Shropshire-trained Skyhill Allstar, is on the upgrade having won his last two starts.
Velvet Royale has been knocking on the door this year and this, rather than the Conditions Race, is her likely target. Her in-form trainer Richard Pringuer explained how her season has been unfolding. "She was third on her debut at Kingston Blount behind two horses rated 100, second there in a quick Confined, then ran well in fourth at Mollington in another good race." Another South Midlands handler whose horses are running well is Karen Lawther, who could run recent Northaw scorer Titans Approach.
20 have been entered for the Bagforce Open Maiden. Almost half the entries have placed form this campaign but – as is often the case in late season Maidens, it could pay to look for the winner from among the lightly raced types. First Goodnight and Here Comes Molly owe their joint-top ratings to a second at Dingley and a third at Woodford respectively and veteran rider Geoff Barfoot-Saunt could face a dilemma in choosing – he rode them both last time and his wife trains the latter! Max Young's Ask The Guvnor will come on for his Lower Machen debut last weekend, John Benfield's Whiskey Moon has been placed on both starts and should go well again, while Richard Pringuer – who is gaining a good reputation for training mares - was upbeat about debutante Manor Maid, telling me, "She's a nice mare and will run well if it all goes right for her."
The Jackson-Stops & Staff Restricted has 14 entries, headed by James Owen's Full Batten, who has been running consistently in this company since scoring on his pointing debut at Cottenham in December. Two recent winners hoping to make an immediate step up from Maidens are Iconic Star (trained by Andrew Pennock, who is always to be feared on his trips from East Anglia) and Katie Lee's Mollington winner, It'll Be Grand, while Barrafahona has been running consistently in this grade this season
Simon Gilmore's Mr Conductor ran his best race for a while last time at Hackwood Park and Simon said, "I was absolutely delighted with his run. It was a good race and he ran well until he blew up." Pauline Harkin is always keen give opportunities to novice riders and could run two here. "Don't Budge Me was a very close second at the last meeting under Claire Angus before slipping up when in the lead at Garthorpe. Claire's a proper hunting girl and very brave. She'll ride him or Velvet Cloud and Will Thirlby – a lovely young lad and a nice rider – will be on the other."
The final contest is a Conditions race for ten-year-olds and over who have not under rules or an Open since 2016, sponsored by Framptons Planning, which has attracted the largest entry of the day – 25. Alan Hill will probably run two, Brian's Well and Velvet Cognac, whose latest defeat he puts down to trainer error! "Gina Andrews gave him a cracking ride, but I gave her the wrong tactics," Alan confessed. "If he doesn't go to Fontwell, he'll run here if the ground is good or softer."
This type of race is often tricky for punters and this event looks no exception, with half the field being rated within ten points of top-rated Mr Syntax. The consistent 14-year-old is just one of the half a dozen entries who have scored this season, including recent winners Dandan and Knockedoutloaded, and Hackwood Park Open second Done A Runner. Bedrock Fred, Broughtons Bandit, Gowanauthat and Presenting Beara are very consistent and Farmer Matt has a better chance than his form figures suggests. In short, not an ideal race to have as the "getting out stakes!"
Before the racing over fences commences, activities start at 12.30pm with two pony races sponsored by Ben Case Racing. The meeting is being promoted as a Country Day for families, with Vintage Cars, Birds of Prey, a Childrens Corner, and Artisan Food Market, a Licensed Bar and plenty of Trade Stands.
Edgcote is about six miles north east of Banbury, near the A361. The postcode is OX17 1AG but this covers the whole estate and following the sat nav will take you to the main house, not the racecourse. The best way to arrive is to come off the M40 at junction 11, follow the A361 to Wardington then turn right at the Hare & Hounds pub and follow the road round to the right. Cross the pond then turn right at the electric gates for Lodge Farm and Trafford Bridge stables. It is also possible to arrive coming from Culworth or Eydon and the course will be well signposted.
Edgcote, which is wide enough for fresh ground at each meeting, is a right-handed nine furlongs, with seven fences. The back straight is undulating and there is a noticeable climb up to the finish. Renovated frames and re-birched fences, built by Andrew Clarke, and running rails have been taken from the former course at Whitfield and, as the course has been in use as gallops for many years, it has good grass cover and it is wide enough for fresh ground at each of the three meetings.
Cars will be parked alongside the home straight, with the paddock and tents at the top of the course. Viewing should be good from almost anywhere, and you can see virtually the entire course from the 750 yards of running rail along the home straight.
Entry is £10 per person (free for under 14s). There is a 20% discount for booking an e-ticket in advance online at www.edgcoteraces.co.uk
Visit www.pointtopoint.co.uk for a full list of entries for this meeting.