Racing Post P2P Focus

  • Posted: Thursday, 19th November 2020
  • Author: Carl Evans
  • Photo: Tom Milburn

A chance to catch last week's Racing Post point-to-point focus column, which was published on Friday, November 13.

A second Cheltenham Foxhunter Chase-winning rider joined the Point-to-Point Authority Board earlier this when Fiona Needham began sitting or Zooming with Alan Hill and six fellow members.

Needham added the role to a busy list. At 5.30am she starts the process of training the five point-to-pointers which are kept at her parents’ Yorkshire farm, then proceeds to her day job as general manager and clerk of the course at Catterick, with additional race-day clerk duties at Redcar, Thirsk, Hexham and Wetherby. “Have stick will travel” is her mantra. She is also chair of the Yorkshire Point-to-Point Association.

Her knowledge of racing and pointing was filtering in as a toddler from her parents, Pat and Robin Tate. He was a leading rider on the Yorkshire circuit, although Needham says: “These days Dad doesn’t ride out much before Christmas. He doesn’t like the roadwork, he likes going fast,” which is fair enough when you are 83.

Of her place on point-to-pointing’s top table she says: “It was suggested I should apply and a couple of other people said it would be a way of giving a view from the north. It’s been an unusual year, and since there could be further disruption to the fixtures’ list it’s good to have views from around the country.”

Independent member Needham and a fellow newcomer, Stratford Racecourse Manager Ilona Barnett, who represents the Point-to-Point Secretaries’ Association, have provided unexpected early value by advising PPA chief executive Peter Wright of the ways licensed courses have dealt with Covid.

Needham says: “Covid has been trying for lots of reasons, but it’s given everybody a shake-up. We’ve had to work together for the good of the sport. I count myself as a traditionalist, but we have to embrace new ideas, and technology has a role to play.” Examples would include e-ticketing and live streaming of meetings.

Giving back to the sport is a byword in many rural households, and Needham was secretary to the Bilsdale meeting while still a rider. “I was counting the cars while cantering to the start to get an idea of how much money we were making,” she says.

“My first winner came at Witton Castle on Waminda, who was owned by Ralph Dalton, the breeder of [Grand National winner] Mr Frisk. It was obviously very exciting, but I got a good bollocking off Dad, who said ‘The horse won in spite of you’.” Another 80 point-to-point winners followed, plus 55 under Rules, headed by Last Option’s 20/1 victory in the 2002 Foxhunter Chase.

For casual bystanders the occasion was marked by the winner’s colours, more accurately described as an aged and often-darned woollen jumper knitted decades earlier by her granny, and worn many times by her father. Ruefully, she says: “There were times when I thought I would always be remembered for wearing that jumper, rather than riding the Foxhunter winner.”

The move into racecourse administration brought about her retirement from the saddle, but ten years later she returned, inspired to ride a horse in her yard she felt was failing for want of a good rider. She rode a winner and was set for another season until a broken leg ended the plan.

Of the sport’s future she says: “There are people working so hard behind the scenes, and that has become really apparent this year. The early start to the season was very positive. It has been a reminder that we have to adapt.

“The sport is becoming more commercial, and while some grumble about that we have to roll with it. The owner/trainer and veteran horse series are great initiatives – anyone who is in racing long enough will tell you that money doesn’t always buy the top horses.

“There should be room for everyone – and the sport seen as a valuable link to mainstream racing.”