Nobody knew as they enjoyed eight competitive races at Buckfastleigh on Sunday that the Dart Vale and Haldon Harriers would be staging the final point-to-point meeting of the 2020 season.
Executive decisions taken just the day after sounded the death knell for the sport, joining the many other events similarly affected by coronavirus.
This time the meeting managed to beat the wet weather, but heavy going put a premium on stamina at this most picturesque, historic track. The final fence had to be omitted leaving a very long run in from the top of the hill. The reigning Devon & Cornwall champion jockey Darren Edwards, together with up and coming Fergus Gillard, each rode doubles.
Darren Edwards teamed up with prolific pointer Navanman (pictured) to win the featured Westcountry Men's Open Champion Chase for which the Totnes & Bridgetown Races Co Ltd had put up £1,000 in prize money. A quality field of six faced the starter, but Navanman had sauntered 20 lengths clear by the end of the back straight, and coasted home by a distance ahead of Gloucestershire raider Big Georgie, with the well fancied mare Fishy Story well held in third. "That was very straight forward," was the succinct remark of the jockey who was partnering his ninth winner of the season. Navanman's preparation had not been easy though after he had lost his unbeaten record for the season at the Western meeting last month. . "He cut himself and opened up an old wound at Wadebridge. He was lame and had to have it poulticed," explained his relieved trainer John Heard, who has done so well with this ex-hurdler for his eight strong syndicate of owners.
Stevan Steel had initiated the double for Darren Edwards, justifying favouritism when making all the running to beat his 11 opponents in the Luscombe Mayo Open Maiden. "He ran well at the Beaufort recently and likes the mud," said trainer Janet Ackner who shares ownership with John Spall, having acquired the nine-year-old by King's Theatre at Ascot sales after he had been placed in an Irish point-to-point
35-year-old Darren Edwards, with 270 career winners in the bag, is one of the senior riders on the circuit, but his Sunday double was matched by the promising Fergus Gillard, who is based with David Pipe, for whom he had ridden a winner at Uttoxeter on the previous day. The young jockey had to work quite hard to score on Millanisi Boy in the Winston Pincombe Novice Riders' race, driving the his mount home to fend off Raddon Top. Trainer Neil McLean, who handles the winner for a 15 strong syndicate put together by Kayley Woollacott, described the 11-year-old as, "a lovely old chaser who was fed up with National Hunt and needed to be sweetened up."
The Point-to Point Flat Race, sponsored by M I Plant Engineering, had to be divided on the day. Fergus Gillard completed his double on Gerry Supple's four-year-old filly Sandaroc, who strode on down the hill to score convincingly from the favourite Charlottes Way. The winner's dam won a bumper on her debut from David Pipe's yard and Sandaroc looks a genuine prospect for further success. "A great ride," was the reaction from the owner/trainer.
The other section of the Flat Race went to another newcomer, Sun Rising Hill, who had travelled from Francesca Nimmo's Ettington, Warwickshire yard. Sun Rising Hill took the lead round the top bend under Alice Stevens and ran on strongly in the final half mile to deny Darren Edwards a treble on runner-up Fevertre. The winner, a four-year-old, by Mahler, is owned by the Walnut Hill Partnership headed by Henley-In Arden vet Bridget Gatehouse, who said "I am so proud of him. I bought him privately as a two-year-old and he was broken in by Fran and Charlie (Poste).
Master Baker followed up his recent Badbury Rings win as he overhauled front running Dicky Bob in the home straight to take the Skinner's Ladies' Open. Regular jockey Jo Supple, nearing her century of career wins over jumps, gets on well with the Lisa Jefford trained gelding and made good use of his turn of foot. Owner Jackie McCullough's plan for the 11-year-old to follow up last year's Newbury hunter chase victory at the end of the month has obviously been scuppered. Bred by Stewart Pike, she described Master Baker as, "the horse of a lifetime."
The Galloping Bear stamped himself as one of the most promising pointers in the area in recording his seasonal hat trick at the main expense of Nickelsonthedime in the Exeter Racecourse Intermediate. It is unfortunate that his bid for the Exeter final (hunter chase) in April is likely to be denied by the suspension of racing. Ben Clarke trains the winner for owner Adrian Paterson and reported, "He was bought as a store at Doncaster. He hadn't run for eight weeks after carrying a few niggles." Jockey Darren Andrews, enjoying his best season, said, "It was a good training performance. He jumped well but does need better ground."
The Welch family had good reason to celebrate Ragged Dream's win in the Members' race sponsored by Ashburton Motor Works. The seven-year-old family gelding is trained by Hannah Welch and was a first pointing winner for her brother Tamby, another graduate from pony racing. In a good finish, Ragged Dream just outstayed Skylander (Anna Hylands) with Tarrytown (Tom Dixon) close up in third. The successful 17-year-old jockey is an A level student in Taunton and hopes to pursue a career in the RAF.