IT'S the 50th anniversary this year of racing at Kingston Blount, which holds the first of three meetings with the Kingston Blount Racing Club fixture on Sunday.
With Covid-19 restrictions meaning the action will take place behind closed doors, the Oxfordshire course plan to celebrate the milestone at the Berks & Bucks Draghounds fixture on May 30 when it's anticipated spectators will be back.
The go-ahead venue has also stepped in to stage the final meeting of the season on June 13 under the South Oxfordshire Hunt Club banner after the Torrington were forced to call off their end-of-term jamboree at Umberleigh.
Although there is no public admission this Sunday, owners who enter a horse will be admitted subject to a small charge. They should register and buy tickets for the Amber zone, while officials and participants should do similar for the Green zone. Point-to-point enthusiasts can follow the action through live streaming.
Back on May 5, 1971 the first winner at the course was Periscopic Angle, ridden by Chris King for owner-trainer Peter Wilsdon, in the Adjacent Hunts Race at the Vale of Aylesbury Hunt meeting.
King recalls: "Coming down Crowell Knoll was like jumping off the edge of a precipice, and there used to be a fence at the bottom of it. I cannot emphasize enough how much Colonel Clerke-Brown and Alan (Hill) did to get the course as it is now.
"It was an easy win. As long as I stayed on its back I knew I would win. I thought at the time it was a bit of a landmark."
Much has happened over the last 50 years at Kingston Blount - which staged the prestigious Anglo-Irish Challenge in 2017 - and the picturesque venue has attracted a 98-strong entry this weekend.
The going on Tuesday was described as Good, Good to Firm in places, with the aim to maintain or improve on it, while taking into account more rain is forecast on Saturday.
There are 11 contenders for the Skinner's Ladies Open, including Back Bar and Changeofluck, trained at nearby Aston Rowant by Alan Hill.
Back Bar, winner of the ladies' open here on the corresponding weekend two years ago, was only third to Agamemmon at Kimble last time, but has had an operation since to improve his breathing.
Hill said: "Hopefully we will see the Back Bar we have seen before."
Champion trainer Tom Ellis admitted to stamina doubts over Deans Road as the 12-year-old steps up in distance following his 2m 4f win at Chaddesley Corbett.
He said: "I don't think he is the strongest stayer and three miles will stretch him, but the idea is to get him qualified for the ladies' final at Stratford."
Zamparelli, who landed a Ludlow hunter chase for Victoria Collins before departing at the sixth fence at Cheltenham last Friday, is top rated.
Georgie Nicholls has the option of saddling Mollington winner Old Guard here or in the 'Start Royal' Men's Open, sponsored by Stewart and Hilda Nash in recognition of their great servant, who won 27 point-to-points and two hunter chases.
Vivaldi Collonges could bid to follow up his runaway success in the Edgcote Gold Cup for trainer Phil Rowley, while More Buck's is unbeaten in two starts between the flags since switching to Mickey Bowen's yard.
Hill has three entries, but is more likely to run Hawkhurst and The Brassmoulder than Diplomate Sivola, who is set to be aimed elsewhere as Ben Sutton chases the Novice Men's Championship.
Hawkhurst reportedly downed tools when finishing second at Dingley on Sunday, with the trainer commenting: "He came out of his run very well, even though he was a bit of a so and so."
Tempelpirate is the course's winning-most horse with 10 victories, and the 14-year-old could line up in the Tony Naylor Memorial KBRC Conditions Race (Level 2), sponsored by the family of the late Kingston Blount gateman.
Tim Underwood's charge holds entries elsewhere, and will run where his handler feels he has the best chance.
"He could go round Kingston blindfolded," said the owner-trainer. "He beat Hawkhurst round there once, although that was all tactics and not ability."
Hill plans to run Sparkleandshine, who was second to General Arrow at Charing at the end of March, and probably Namako.
"Sparkleandshine is a horse that we feel always runs a bit better fresher," he explained.
Grageelagh Girl won at Edgcote for Hannah Lewis under an inspired ride from Vicki Sollitt, which makes the 10-year-old mare a leading contender.
Fox Valley's bid for a hat-trick after wins at Higham and High Easter is ground dependent with Ellis reporting: "If they get a lot of rain she would be an unlikely runner because she needs it good to firm."
Hill feels a sound surface will be key for impressive High Easter winner Normofthenorth in the David Hutchins and Denys Moylan Intermediate.
The trainer, who has also entered Captiva Island and Stage One, said: "He does need this better ground, and when he won at High Easter he had a set of cheekpieces that helped him concentrate a bit better."
Chief dangers look to be Fran Nimmo's hat-trick seeker, For Rita, and Gerald Bailey's Garthorpe runner-up Easythingsarebest.
Fiddler of Dooney is also engaged here, and a pointer to his chances could be provided by his High Easter victim The Bonny Boy in the preceding Woodway Farm Restricted over 2m 5f, sponsored by Alan and Lawney Hill Racing.
Nimmo's Mollington winner Fan Club Aulmes and Aldington runner-up Man of Means, from Nigel Padfield's yard, are other leading fancies.
Oscars Fame is on a retrieval mission for Ellis after finishing fourth at Edgcote. "He has a few questions to answer," he commented.
Underwood is hoping the drop back in trip is in Papal Present's favour. "I don't think he quite gets three miles," he said.
Hill is looking to execute a plan with Quick Sharpener in the French Horn Maiden, which opens the card at 2pm.
Bought at the Goffs UK Summer Sale at Doncaster last year, he reported that the unraced four-year-old son of Sageburg had been pleasing them in awayday gallops.
"He has been targeted to go to Kingston for quite a while," he said. "We are looking forward to Sunday and are excited."
Hill is hoping the race will divide, so he can also give Tommie O'Brien the leg up on Le Grand Fromage, who would be making his pointing debut having shown fair form under rules for Tom Lacey.
Other likely contenders are Whotheman for in-form Bradley Gibbs, the Dale Peters-trained Mountain Assault, and the debutant Night Duty from Nimmo's yard.
The course is located at Kingston Grove, Kingston Blount, OX39 4SG, approximately eight miles north west of High Wycombe, and well signposted off the B4009 towards Chinnor, leaving the M40 at Junction 6.