BHA Senior Racecourse Judge Nick Bostock is also a mover and shaker on the British pointing scene, not just in his native North West (now merged with the West Midlands and Welsh Borders into the new West Mercian Area) but nationwide. Jake Exelby spoke to him about a love of pointing that dates back to when he was a “babe in arms”.
How did you get into point-to-pointing?
I’ve been going since my early childhood and it’s always been a way of life. My grandfather had a useful pointer – Clodhopper – in the early 1960s, my Dad was a farmer, and a regular racegoer and punter, and I went to pony club and hunted.
Clodhopper in action
I trained my first pointer – Ballylough VI – when I was 16 and had my only ride on him a year later, at Garthorpe. I was far too inexperienced as I’d graduated to him from a 13.2 hands pony and had only jumped three schooling hurdles in my life. I was a danger to myself and everyone else, lost an iron and pulled up instead of causing carnage! At least I had the sense to do the right thing… and ticked the box for riding in a race. (The annual describes Nick’s experience as “Rider lost control, and went rushing up a hill whilst everyone else turned downhill”!)
I then went to work for local pointing trainer Sid Taylor – at that time, if you were paid to work in racing, you couldn’t ride in points – and then became entries secretary for the Pendle Forest & Craven meeting in the late 1980s when I was working for Robert Leyland. I met Richard Ford at about the same time when he started pointing and used to saddle his horses. When I gave up working with horses because I needed financial security (!) I kept up my interest in pointing.
And racecourse judging?
Through a friend who was doing it, Mark Ritchie-Noakes. I was racing one evening at Kelso when he asked me into his box and I thought, “I fancy doing this myself.” It took 18 months for me to get a foot in the door working for the Jockey Club – as a flag man – then two years later there was a vacancy for a part-time judge and I was lucky enough to be offered the position. My first meeting was Market Rasen on Easter Monday 2000, I became the Team Principal (to give me my correct [email protected]!) in 2009 and now I manage a team of ten.
I first judged at a point-to-point at Eaton Hall later that same season and still do it if required – I think I’m the only person who judges both under rules and between the flags.
Who have been your favourite horses?
Richard Ford’s Nenni – who I was once lucky enough to hunt – was my favourite pointer. He won at the Vale of Lune meeting for nine years in a row and didn’t retire until he was 17.
Of those that I was involved with myself, Hornblower, who won plenty of races for Richard’s wife Carrie and – most importantly – Tortula, who I trained myself for my late wife Barbara. Richard won on her just a few days after he’d won the Aintree Foxhunters on Rolling Ball.
Hornblower wins again: a younger Nick (second right) with wife Barbara (holding trophy) and jockey Carrie Ford (right)
Tortula winning with Richard Ford at Flagg Moor
What are your favourite courses and why?
Flagg Moor stands out, as it did for a lot of people. Clodhopper won there, as did Tortula. It was a unique venue with great scenery and on a nice day, it was God’s own country, but it could throw anything at you and it wasn’t easy to get runners there, as it could become very testing.
Which jockeys have you most admired?
When I first started going, it was the people who used to ride for my family – men like Sir John Barlow and his twin brothers George and Mark and ladies like Margaret Bourne. She later owned Madge Hill (ridden by Kirkland Tellwright, who’s now Clerk of the Course at Haydock Park).
More recently, Caroline Robinson – as the first lady jockey to win at Cheltenham and Aintree – stands out, along with Richard Burton, our perennial Area champion.
Who's inspired you most in the world of pointing?
Peter Wright has been an absolute star in recent years for what he’s done to keep pointing going – it could have died. It’s not just what he’s done, but the way he’s approached it.
What was the rationale behind the new West Mercian Area?
We used to have 15 meetings in the North West but are now down to six and just four courses – Bangor-on-Dee, Eyton-on-Severn, Sandon and Tabley. Some of our courses became unviable – we lost Weston Park because they held the V Festival there, which was a shame because it was a great venue and Whittington had two meetings and a huge crowd at its Easter meeting.
We also have fewer trainers. Sheila Crow has retired and the likes of Sam Allwood, Oliver Greenall and Gary Hanmer have gone under rules and taken their owners with them.
What would you do if you were in charge of the sport?
I think we still need to lose meetings but we’re losing them from the wrong part of the calendar. The horse population’s contracting but because the Easter and late season meetings make money, you have crowds but not enough horses, whereas at the early season meetings you have quality racing, but not the weather to attract spectators.
However, I’m a realist and don’t have the silver bullet. The hunts control the fixture list and it can’t be centrally managed. Take the North Staffordshire – they’ve raced on Easter Saturday since the 1950s and wouldn’t hold a meeting if they couldn’t have that slot.
What changes have you seen during your time for the better, and for the worse?
As a former entries secretary, I really think the Weatherbys entry system works. I’m a centralist – which can be controversial – and a big fan of Conditions races. I was the first person to put on a race for trainers who’d had fewer than three winners that season and having the flexibility to innovate produces races that don’t cater for the same people week-in, week-out. You have to try new things.
On the downside, it’s lost some of its local feel. You used to do everything in your own area and local farmers had a pointer, which their sons rode. The next generation doesn’t come along as much any more – Caroline and Immy Robinson are exceptions to the rule in our area.
Do you have hobbies outside racing?
Apart from walking the dog, sadly not! I even go racing on my days off.
What's been the highlight of your time in the sport?
Two years ago, I was given the Sir Michael Connell award for my contribution to the sport – a personal highlight that I was flattered to receive.
I wonder what Nick's saying to startle PPA Chair Andrew Merriam as he receives his award? (photo: David Simpson)
What do you think the impact of lockdown on pointing will be?
Next year will be interesting and a turning point in how the sport recovers from COVID. Will Easter still be the golden egg, or will Joe Public spend his leisure pound somewhere else?
What are you most looking forward to about next season?
The new area, getting to see more courses and working with the likes of Nicky Sheppard – she’s a driving force!
What do you love most about pointing and what motivates you to do so much to help?
It’s the personal involvement with like-minded people – win, lose or draw, you have a good day out.
I’ve grown up with pointing and, while I only rode once and have had limited ownership opportunities, I want to give something back. Racing’s always been my hobby – I used to pay to go and now I’m privileged to work in the sport, so I like to help out so that other people can enjoy the sport I love.
Barbara – who I lost this time last year – was a true point-to-point fan who loved having a horse to own and train. She’d have wanted me to carry on.