Blazing sunshine, big fields and a massive crowd – those were the ingredients that combined to produce a New Year treat for amateur steeplechasing fans as the Point-To-Point season got under way with the Cambridgeshire Harriers Hunt Club fixture at Cottenham on Monday.

As usual, East Anglian winners were hard to come by on a day where eight races were contested by 90 runners from as far afield as Scotland and Wales. And, for the third year running, the home team managed a solitary success, this time provided by Bewleys Newlands.Trained at North Weald in Essex by Perry Harding-Jones (ably assisted by Terry Hide), Bewleys Newlands was ridden by Matthew Mackley, who hails from Oakham but is qualified for the East Anglian Jockeys Championships this term as he has a Cambridge University Draghounds riders’ certificate.

Bewleys Newlands was probably a fortunate winner, as favourite Olivier was bearing down on him when slithering to the deck at the second last. Even then, he was all out to hold the late charge of Euro Craft by two lengths.

But, as a lightly-raced nine-year-old having his first start since arriving from Ireland and his first since May 2004, he is open to plenty of improvement.

The meeting began with a sense of deja vu as Rhythm King, trained in Wiltshire and ridden by his veteran owner, Godfrey Maundrell, repeated last year’s Members Race victory, scorching home a distance clear of the 2003 winner, Rob Mine, in a very fast time.

The biggest shock of the day came in the Ladies’ Open where the outsider of the field, the 40-1 chance Physical Force, defied the punters’ lack of confidence to beat Del Trotter by three lengths in a thrilling contest in which seven of the eight runners were still in with a chance approaching the last fence.Both the first two are trained in Yorkshire and winning handler William Fife was left to thank his lucky starts that he even made it to the course. Having got up at four o’clock, he left at six only to suffer a blow out and initially be told that a new tyre would involve a five-hour wait.

That delay was actually halved and, although his box missed the first race, it arrived in time for Physical Force,  who appreciated the lower weight of this Ladies’ race and the stylish assistance of Freya Hartley, to strut his stuff.

Fife was close to a double in the first section of the two and a half mile Maiden. But, having hit the front at the last, his Four Melons was outpaced by the Gloucestershire-trained Alpine Racer, who scored by two lengths.

Another Gloucestershire triumph came when Full Minty  took the Mens Open – the first race in a long series for new national sponsors, Volkswagen Touareg. It was an especially fitting success for the racecourse commentator, David Minton, who is universally known as Minty, as the horse was named after him some years ago when he was racing under rules.

Jockey Jamie Snowden enjoyed a remarkable day, winning on both his rides – one at Cottenham and the other in an Amateur Riders’ Chase at Folkestone! He guided Knighton Combe, trained in Wiltshire, to a hard-fought success over Tallow Bridge and Lawman in the Restricted Race before jumping in his car and dashing down to Kent.

That was a good finish, but the very best was saved for the finale, the second short Maiden, where Phil York, from Surrey, and Dai Jones, from Wales, produced a whip-cracking duel before York’s mount, Benny, prevailed by half a length.

Finally, the day’s happiest competitor was undoubtedly Sharon Firmin, who rode her first winner after 16 years of trying when Simber Hill  landed the Countryside Alliance Novice Riders’ race. Firmin, from Oxfordshire, gained added pleasure from the overdue success as she is also Simber Hill’s owner and trainer.


Race One (The CHCC Club Members Race):

1 G Maundrell’s Rhythm King (Royal Artillery) (owner),

2 C Sporborg’s Rob Mine (Puckeridge) (A Braithwaite),

3 G Norman and J Richardson’s Wings Of Hope (Beaufort) (D Jones).

Also: Palmers Peak (4), Village Copper (5), Cmewin (6), Just Fluster (pu). A distance, two lengths. 6.00. W £2.40. DF £7.60. 4-5 fav.

Race Two (Restricted Race):

1 I Snowden’s Knighton Combe (Blackmore & Sparkford Vale) (J Snowden),

2 Mrs J Wilson’s Tallow Bridge (Pytchley) (S Morris),

3 Mrs K Lawther’s Lawman (Berk & Bucks Drag) (J Tudor).

Also: Gumlayloy (4), West Coaster (5), Twist Of Faith (6), Moscow’s Return (7), Northern Breeze (8), Rockfield Lane (9), Shining Knight (10), Ballykilthy (f), Ben Ross (pu), Greet You Well (f), Midnight Arrival (pu), Saffronto (bd). One length, half a length. 6.10. W £13. DF £30. SP 7-1 (West Coaster 9-4 fav).

Race Three (Men’s Open Race):

1 Mr & Mrs R Stafford’s Full Minty (Cotswold) (G Disney),

2 D Plunkett’s Moscow Court (Heythrop) (I Howe),

3 Mrs E Clarke’s Galway Breeze (Suffolk) (M Mackley).

Also: Cape Stormer (4), Viscount Bankes (5), Philson-Warrior (6), Broughton Knows (pu), Khaladjistan (f), Now And Again (pu). Fifteen lengths, five lengths. 6.05. W £6.20. DF £4.10 winner with any other horse. SP 7-1 (Cape Stormer 6-4 fav).

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

1 Miss S Firmin’s Simber Hill (Bicester with Whaddon Chase) (Miss S Firmin),

2 R Nearn’s Noble Affair (Cottesmore) (owner),

3 I Bostock’s Bold Hunter (Oakley) (owner).

Also: Workaway (4), Jimmy Jumbo (5), Tis She (6), Winter Gale (7), Colombe D’or (ur), Demasta (f). Fifteen lengths, 10 lengths. 6.19. W £10.30. DF £10.10. SP 5-1 (Workaway 5-2 fav).

Race Five (Ladies Open Race):

1 Mr & Mrs M Hill’s Physical Force (York & Ainsty South) (Miss E Hartley),

2 Mrs J Eddery’s Del Trotter (Middleton) (Miss L Eddery),

3 Miss J Wicken’s Abalvino (Kent & Surrey Bloodhounds) (owner).

Also: Sing High (4), Titus Bramble (5), Guignol Du Cochet (6), Find Me Another (7), The Wiley Kalmuck (pu). Three lengths, half a length. 6.07. W £17.10. DF £15.80 winner with any other horse). SP 40-1 (Titus Bramble 5-4 fav).

Race Six (Open Maiden Race – 8-y-o & over):

1 D Harding-Jones’ Bewiley’s Newlands (Puckeridge) (M Mackley),

2 R Mapp & Mrs P Price’s Euro Craft (Albrighton) (A Wadlow),

3 Mr & Mrs D Sansome’s Letsgeton (Belvoir) (P Cowley).

Also: Devine Mist (4), Alston House (5), See More Joy (6), Ben The Grass (pu), Billy Coleman (f), Irish Prince (pu), Merlots Mystery (pu), Noble Deed (f), Olivier (f), Padamul (pu), Stop The Pigeon (pu), Valley Boy (ro), Victim (pu). Two lengths, 10 lengths. 6.14. W £11.80. DF £27.70. SP 7-1 (Olivier 6-4 fav).

Race Seven (Open Maiden Race – 2½ miles – 4, 5, 6 and 7-y-o), Division One:

1 T Warner’s Alpine Racer (Berkeley) (Miss C Allen),

2 D Chapman’s Four Melons (York and Ainsty South) (R Clark),

3 Mr and Mrs A Martin’s Nailed On (Heythrop) (A Martin).

Also: She’s A Terror (4), Harwood Dale (5), Inch Over (6), According To This (ur), Charlie Chapel (co), Giveusawave (ur), Mandanjoe (pu), Marino Wood (f), Master Jackson (ur), Wheeltapper (f). Two lengths, eight lengths. 4.48. W £17.10. DF £20.70. SP 7-2 (Four Melons 5-2 fav).

Race Eight (Open Maiden Race – 2½ miles – 4, 5, 6 & 7-y-o Division Two:

1 R York’s Benny (Staff College and RMAS Drag) (P York),

2 D Brace’s Cape Teal (Llangeinor) (D Jones),

3 S Flook’s Howard Howard (Teame Valley) (A Wintle).

Also: Lightning Conductor (4), Ballards Boy (5), Mr Mogul (6), Corkscrew King (7), El Bee Bee (pu), La Folichonne (ur), Lewis Du Montceau (pu), My Countess (pu), Reasonably Sure (ur), Solar Sun (pu). Half a length, a distance. 4.45. W £4.90. DF £39.50. SP 4-1 (Reasonably sure 6-4 fav).