Alice Stevens, 19, became Britain’s Fuller’s national novice women’s champion when riding a winner on the final day of the 2017/18 season.
Stevens had been level with Glamorgan's Isabel Williams on eight wins, but victory on the Fran Nimmo-trained Rendezvous Peak at Umberleigh in North Devon proved to be a title decider. Twelve months ago the same championship had produced another nail-biter when Lucy Mager rode a winner on the final day to share the title with Izzy Marshall.
Both Marshall and Mager were in the seven-runner line-up for the Nancekivell & Co Ladies' Open Race, but they could not lay a glove on the Stevens-ridden Rendezvous Peak (4/1, pictured below), who was smartly away at the start and made all around the undulating track, scoring comfortably from the odds-on favourite There's No Panic under Vicky Wade.
There were scenes of joy in the winner's enclosure as Stevens was greeted by Nimmo, the trainer's partner Charlie Poste, and members of The Picnic Club winning syndicate, but the occasion was muted by the medical attention required for rider Jo Supple, who took a heavy fall at the third fence. The Air Ambulance was summoned and racing delayed while she was treated – Supple reportedly suffered a dislocated hip.
Stevens had ridden five winners prior to the start of the season, right on the mark which enabled her to remain a novice, and she finished in April last year to retain that status – not expecting it would take almost another year before she rode her next winner. As the realisation of her victory sunk in she said: "I cannot believe it, especially after the slow start I had to the season. I didn't ride a winner until Heated Debate won at Higham [on April 7]. I then won on Derksen [at Knightwick] and when Heated Debate won again at Cold Harbour, Fran said 'Let's give the novice title a go'.
"It becomes such a pressure situation trying to win a title – Isabel was leading and there was a group of us trying to catch her. Every week you want to know how other riders are doing and it becomes an obsession.
"I came here today hoping, but not expecting to win. I knew if this guy [Rendezvous Peak] enjoyed himself he would go well and he did the whole way round. The blinkers probably helped – he hadn't even schooled in them."
Stevens becomes the latest graduate from pony racing to win a championship, although her record in that sport was a modest one. She said: "My pony was the coolest dude, but also the slowest and we finished last every time, but it was great fun.
"As soon as I rode my first pointing winner [in 2015] I wanted to be novice champion."