The popularity of Point-To-Point racing in East Anglia was vividly illustrated at Cottenham on Sunday where a huge crowd of approaching five thousand enjoyed the Cambridgeshire Harriers Hunt Club meeting.

The fixture was the only one nationwide on the opening weekend of the 2004 season and attracted many of the best amateur jockeys (including both the reigning Men’s and Ladies’ champions) and trainers in the country.

It was also blessed with superb weather – Friday night’s hard frost was mercifully absent and the assembled throng was able to bask in winter sunshine through much of the afternoon.

The feature event was the most valuable of the entire East Anglian season, the £500 Men’s Open Race, and was a highly competitive affair with eight or nine of its 13 runners still in with a chance jumping the third from home.

Victory eventually went to Guilsborough Gorse, trained at Sheriff Hutton in North Yorkshire by Gill Walford and ridden by her son, Mark. Best of the East Anglian contingent was Marcus William, who made a promising debut between the flags for Wymondham trainer Simon Stearn to finish fifth.The Ladies’ Open saw a dream introduction to the training ranks for Juliet Minton as Dusk Duel,  her only horse, proved five lengths too classy for Winter Gale.

Minton’s husband, David, used to be based in Newmarket and was the regular race commentator at Cottenham, but the couple now live at Much Wenlock in Shropshire. Formerly a high class performer under rules for Nicky Henderson, Dusk Duel may be aimed at Cheltenham Foxhunters in March.

The combination of Cottenham’s incredibly well-drained turf and the remarkable lack of rain over the last ten months meant that the ground was pretty slick and some very speedy winning times were clocked.

The Restricted Race produced the fastest of them all and went the way of top jockey Polly Gundry, who is based in the west country and is going for a record-breaking fifth consecutive national riding championship.Her prowess was well demonstrated here as her mount, the Gloucestershire raider, Fertile Valley,  was very keen in the early stages yet still had enough in reserve to hold Oneminutetofive by four lengths.

Oneminutetofive, who would have won but for a bad blunder at the second last, is trained in Somerset by David Pipe, son of the many-times champion National Hunt trainer, Martin.

Pipe junior gained compensation in the very next race – the Countryside Alliance Novice Riders Race – when the hot favourite, Tictac, who had been nursed back to fitness after a three and a half year absence, came home 15 lengths clear.

The three Maiden Races were also devoid of local successes – indeed East Anglian runners were few and far between and the only really fancied home hope, Mister Ringa, came to grief at the fourth last in the second of a pair of two and a half mile Maidens.This was won by Oxfordshire visitor Viscount Bankes, while the other short Maiden went to a second raider from the same county, Gray Knight.

The long journey from Scotch Corner was made worthwhile for trainer Chris Dennis when Minster Sunshine  took the three mile Maiden, but much of the gloss was taken off the victory when the winner pulled up lame..The one bright spot for local yards came in the very first race as The Red Boy, trained at Bishop’s Stortford by Christopher Sporborg and ridden by Newmarket’s Andrew Braithwaite, defeated The Kings Fling by three lengths in the Club Members’ Race.

Sporborg insisted afterwards that he was responsible for The Red Boy’s  disappointing 2003 campaign as he had failed to realise that this gelding needs a sharp track such as Cottenham.

Overall it was a fabulous start to the season – 94 runners and spectators and competitors from all over the country helping to create a great atmosphere. The biggest celebrity in attendance was dual Gold Cup winning jockey, Jim Culloty, who skipped racing at Plumpton in order to lead up Garolo, who was ridden by his fiancee, Susie Samworth, into third place in the Ladies’ Open.


Race One (CHHC Club Members Race):

1 C H Sporborg’s The Red Boy (Puckeridge) (A Braithwaite),

2 A West and Countess Goess-Saurau’s The Kings Fling (VWH) (Miss P Gundry),

3 Mrs K Digweed’s Pendle Hill (East Sussex and Romney Marsh) (A Hickman).

Also: Colonel Conca (pu), High Mood (ur), Merry Minstrel (f), Noble Colours (pu), Pacon (ur). Three lengths, five lengths. 5m 55s W £4.80. DF £3.80. SP 9-2 (The Kings Fling 7-4 fav).

Race Two (Restricted Race):

1 C J Bennett’s Fertile Valley (Teme Valley) (Miss P Gundry),

2 D Pipe’s Oneminutetofive (Taunton VH) (A Farrant),

3 Lady Green and T L Buxton’s Jims Belief (Essex Farmers and Union) (G Cooper).

Also: Hessac (4), Teeton Fizz (5), Donrico (6), Give Him A Chance (7), Imperial Prince (8), Teach Altra (9), Magnus Veritas (10), Templenoe Hare (11), Ginger Bug (12), Run Monty (pu), Zafan (ur). Four lengths, a distance. 5m 54s W £6.10. DF £3.40. SP 7-1 (Oneminutetofive 8-11 fav).

Race Three (Men’s Open Race):

1 P L Craft’s Guilsborough Gorse (Middleton) (M Walford),

2 M S Gorman’s Cape Stormer (Crawley and Horsham) (M Gorman),

3 Reddal Racing’s Hotters (N Ledbury) (W Hill).

Also: Silver Lake (4), Marcus William (5), Grand Gousier (6), Little Worsall (7), Gallant Glen (c/o), Glemot (pu), La Colina (pu), Real Value (f), Sheila McKenzie (ur), Shiny Bay (pu). Two lengths, two lengths. 6m 02s. W £24.90. DF £10.10. SP 10-1 (Real Value 5-2 fav).

Race Four (The Countryside Alliance Club Members Novice Riders Race):

1 D Pipe’s Tictac (Taunton VH) (T Eades),

2 B Belchem’s Aughmor River (East Essex) (R Stearn),

3 P Andrew’s Storm Forecast (Fernie) (owner).

Also: Crackrattle (pu), Mosscroft Jack (pu), Mr Lowry (f), Pampered Gale (pu), Red Channel (pu). Fifteen lengths, a distance. 6m 03s. W £2.40. DF £3.80. SP 5-4 fav.

Race Five (Ladies Open Race):

1 A Speelman’s Dusk Duel (Wheatland) (Miss J Williams),

2 Mrs J E Eddery’s Winter Gale (Middleton) (Miss L Eddery),

3 Miss S L Samworth’s Garold (RA) (owner).

Also: Buckland Lad (4), Sea Tarth (5), Village Copper (6), Balisteros (7), Dellone (8), Solo Gent (9), China Lal (10), Colquhoun (f), Polar Flight (pu), Step In Line (pu).  Five lengths, eight lengths. 5m 56s. W £5.10. DF £119.10. SP 2-1 fav.

Race Six (Open Maiden Race for 8 yo and over):

1 P A Hill-Walker’s Minster Sunshine (Zetland) (N Tinkler),

2 R H York’s Morph (Staff College) (P York),

3 Miss E J Baker’s Jolly Jake (N Cotswold) (E Walker).

Also: Beat The Retreat (4), Ski Pass (5), Greenkeys (6), My Native Land (7), Going Primitive (8), Manhatton Storm (9), Coddington George (10), Artic Snip (pu), House Colours (pu), Igloux Royal (f), Society Scandal (pu), Spring Promise (ref), Street Smart (ur). Three-quarters of a length, a distance. 6m 01s W £6.10. DF £15.40. SP 6-1 (Ski Pass 3-1 fav).

Race Seven (Open Maiden Race – 2½ miles, 5, 6 and 7 yo Division One):

1 I Mann and A Hill’s Gray Knight (Vale Of Aylesbury) (J Tudor),

2 J T Hunt’s Tooley Park (Pytchley) (A Sansome),

3 R Waley-Cohen’s Krac De Mirande (Warwicks) (S Waley-Cohen).

Also: Cousin George (4), Beacon White (5), Lakeland Prince (6), Lance Feather (7), Cash n’ Carrots (f), Donnini (f), Groovejet (ro), Rash Moment (f). Ten lengths, half a length. 4m 41s W £5.10. DF £102.10. SP 7-2 (Cousin George 9-4 fav).

Race Eight (Open Maiden Race – 2½ miles, 5, 6 and 7 yo Division Two):

1 Mrs R Gasson’s Viscount Bankes (Farmers Bloodhounds) (A Martin),

2 B and Mrs A Watts’ Big Brendan (Weston and Banwell H) (A Charles-Jones),

3 M Power’s Drumdowney Lad (Staff College) (P York).

Also: Cimmaroon (4), One For Olly (5), Mister Ringa (ur), Moratti (pu), Potters Wheel (pu), San Malo (pu), Shallee Term (pu), Terimon’s Dream (pu). Fifteen lengths, three lengths. 4m 36s. W £29. DF £9.60. SP 14-1 (Mister Ringa 2-1 fav).