The weather did not dampen spirits at Edgcote on Saturday with jockeys and trainers full of praise for the brand-new racecourse, which hosted the Farmers Bloodhounds Point-to-Point.
Leading rider Jack Andrews, who rode a double on the afternoon, said of the new venue: "I'm very pleased with it. I walked it beforehand and was a bit dubious as it appears quite a sharp track, but it rides extremely well. Fair play to everyone involved in creating it."
Andrews opened his account by guiding seven-year-old Rock Home Late to victory in the Bagforce Maiden. The son of Scorpion, on just his second British start having contested a void race at Garthorpe last May, travelled well and quickened up when Andrews asked him.
Melton Mowbray trainer Liz Harris, continuing her excellent runners-to-winners strike-rate, said: "He's so chilled out at home so we put the blinkers on to sharpen him up, which seem to have worked a treat. We may send him to the May sales at Doncaster, but he could go for a Restricted first."
After three winners the previous weekend, Andrews carried on his purple patch by coaxing the recently regressive Toby Lerone back into the winner's enclosure in the Conditions race. Now stationed with West Haddon-based Stuart Morris after transferring from Dan Skelton, the eleven-year-old had refused at the fifth fence at Revesby Park last weekend but showed no signs of reluctance here.
"This was the perfect opportunity for him off level weights," said Morris. "Jack said he had an armchair ride. Today was important for his confidence. He still retains plenty of ability and works like a demon at home but it's whether he wants to do it on the track. We'll probably give him another entry this year but I'm really keen to sweeten him up by hunting him well before next season."
Fledgling rider Tristan Durrell rode his second Point-to-Point winner, just six days after his first, as the sixteen-year-old again teamed up with the in-form Kashmir Peak in the Novice Riders contest.
Durrell, who aspires to turn conditional, and the nine-year-old gelding bounded clear of favourite Bayley's Dream to dramatically turn around form with that rival from earlier in the season. Another former Dan Skelton inmate, the grade two-winning hurdler is handled by Nick Pearce, who trains horses to provide Skelton's work riders with race-riding opportunities.
Pearce, flanked by stable professional Harry Skelton and Cheltenham Festival-winning rider Bridget Andrews, said: "The horse is full of confidence and that's a good turnaround from Brafield. That's three wins on the bounce now. He's got a great constitution and looks after himself so you can run him regularly. It's great for Tristan, hopefully he can progress and have some rides under rules like Willy Marshall."
Alfie Jordan became the second rookie rider to double his overall tally as Thyne For Ruda prevailed by a short-head in the RJV International Restricted.
Jordan, 17, said: "It's great to have a winner at the new course. I work for Martin Keighley. I love it there and hope to get some flat and hurdle rides for them as an amateur over the summer."
"That was great fun!" said Claire Angus, rider of the runner-up Don't Budge Me, still looking for her initial success.
Winning trainer Fred Hutsby added: "I thought it would be easy-peasy but Alfie drifted off the racing line up the run-in, which made it close, but he's still learning. His riding is continuing to come on so much and that will have given him a lot of confidence. We may run the horse again in our members race at Mollington next Monday."
Dunara Castle, formerly in the care of Hutsby, took the first race at the new venue - the George Brown and Hydramex Hunt Members race. Now trained by Tom Brockett, victory looked in doubt for the odds-on favourite up the straight before he swooped to claim We Never Give Up close home. A delighted Brockett, who guided No Panic to success at this meeting five years ago, was rewarded with an early birthday present - turning 32 the following day.
Rider Sam Lee, extending his lead in the South Midlands Area Riders' Championship, said: "It's great to ride the first winner at the new course. Hopefully people remember it! I'm very pleased with the track. The fences rode nicely."
"That's my sixth winner of the season, which equals last year's total. I've not had the same Hunter Chase rides, but there's still time. I'm trying to target the Area title a bit. Joe Hill has been injured for a part of the season so I'm trying to make the most of it."
Western Diva sauntered to success in the Grafton Spa and Wellness Ladies Open. It was little more than a school round for Claire Hardwick's nine-year-old mare, who jumped with relish to win head-in-chest.
Hardwick said of her nine-year-old, who was winning for the third time in four starts: "She was great today but she's still a lunatic! I kept having to tell her that she didn't need to go any faster! She was a nuisance at Andoversford last time and ultimately, she's a quirky madam who either wins or decides she doesn't want to play! We might look to go back to Cothelstone as she won well there last year but I'm toying with the idea of a novice hunter chase. She's eligible as she's only won a hurdle race under rules."
Aunty Joan, trained by Richard Pringuer for Sylvia and John Busby, walked over in the Cox & Robinson and NFU Buckingham Intermediate.
The Harley Equestrian Pony races were won by Kelsie Beilby (14) on Veno Star and George Case (15) on Tiny Dancer respectively, while the winning riders of the Brooks, Ambler and Cullinan Farmers Bloodhounds Challenge ride were Liz Shipley (Nexius, thoroughbred) and Anna Hall (Jack, non-thoroughbred).
Colin Wesley, chairman of the Farmers Bloodhounds, said: "We're very pleased to have kick-started racing at Edgcote. Jockey feedback has been excellent. Today was a good start but we will get together over the coming weeks and see what we can improve for the Grafton."