Point-to-Point Focus

  • Posted: Thursday, 28th November 2019
  • Author: Carl Evans
  • Photo: Carl Evans

Catch up on the latest point-to-point focus column, which appeared in the Racing Post on Friday, November 22

If at the start of November someone had said a conditional jockey with a Welsh background would win the BetVictor Gold Cup it is odds-on the names of Connor Brace or Ben Jones would have been in the frame.

Then up pops Pembrokeshire's Richard Patrick (pictured above) for victory on the mare Happy Diva, continuing the production line of young Welsh riders making a name under Rules after leaping into the challenging world of Jump racing via the point-to-point circuit. In many cases that came after a stint of pony racing.

The Bowen boys, Sean and James, now fully fledged, led the clutch of talent that has emerged over the past six years, Brace and Jones are fighting for the conditional jockeys' title and Charlie Price is not out of it, while Patrick has now put a marker down in his claim for recognition. Isabel Williams, who like Jones and Jack Tudor departed the point-to-point circuit in the summer, is tapping in the winners. Tudor won the British male novice riders' point-to-point title last season with 22 wins.

Some ten riders from Britain's point-to-point circuit have become conditional jockeys this year – others include Tabitha Worsley, who won last season's Randox Health Foxhunters' Chase on Top Wood, Luca Morgan, who was placed in the novice riders' championship, and Bryan Carver, whose services were in demand last season when he rode 25 winners from 95 rides.

There has been some debate about how long a young rider with pretensions to a professional career should remain as an amateur, and for most it is a difficult crossroads to consider let alone negotiate. One season was all that was needed by the Bowens, who are hugely talented, had opportunities coming their way via the yard run by their father, Peter, and were certain to receive backing from other trainers, too.

Some argue that one season of pointing is plenty, and that a young rider will learn more good qualities and fewer bad ones if competing against professionals. Not surprisingly you will not find me in that camp – for selfish and altruistic reasons. Firstly, the sport needs competitors. Secondly, regular racegoers like to get to know a rider, to follow them over several seasons. It would be the same for football or rugby fans. Trainers and owners like to use the services of a rider for more than one season.

So those are selfish reasons, but there are also benefits from remaining on the point-to-point circuit for several seasons, not least because the overall standards of riding and training have never been higher. Riding in point-to-points does not preclude riders from the same jockey coaching a conditional can expect, and a good, keen youngster is likely to get plenty of rides in points and hunter chases, which is good for experience and morale.

Some 16 and 17-year-olds are prodigiously talented, but most will get better, and let's face it, youngsters of that age are invariably still discovering the art of post-race analysis, which can be so useful for owners and trainers. Ben Jones, who is based with Philip Hobbs, remained in pointing for four seasons although he was tempted to switch a year earlier. During the 2018/19 season he stepped up a notch, and his strength and rhythm in a finish was noticeable. He is confident and lucid when talking to the media, and no doubt to owners and trainers, too.

Bryony Frost rode in UK points over seven seasons despite coming from a family steeped in racing, and now Richard Patrick has become another example. He has no family background in horses, let alone racing, but you would not have guessed as he and Happy Diva held off the Barry Geraghty-ridden Brelan D'As last Saturday.

Patrick had one point-to-point ride in his first season, but kept going for another five seasons and gained useful experience through good and bad until becoming a conditional jockey in the summer of 2017. No doubt he would have loved a major-race victory before reaching the age of 23, but without point-to-pointing he might never have achieved it.