Team effort a theme at night of champions

Izzie Marshall’s run of memorable highs saw her collect the women riders’ title when the National Point-to-Point Awards Dinner and Dance was held at Hatherley Manor Hotel on Saturday evening.

On Friday she marries Joe Hill before an overseas honeymoon and then a return to Oxfordshire and the first steps towards the 2024/25 season. In it she will defend a title she won against the odds, for few expected her to beat the ten-time champion Gina Andrews. Doing so by a score of 24 to 21 added hugely to Marshall’s achievement.

“I can still hardly believe it,” the new champion told joint-compere Charlie Poste in front of a sell-out audience and after collecting her award from George Stanners of sponsors Goffs (the pair pictured above). Being based in the same South Midlands region as Andrews meant the two women “went eye to eye a lot” which added to the tension, but Marshall added: “I’m really proud of myself and the team, particularly Joe, [and his parents] Alan and Lawney.”

The theme of team work had earlier been touched upon in a welcome by Paul Miller, the new chief executive of the Point-to-Point Authority who many attendees were seeing for the first time. “No one gets onto this stage by themselves,” said Miller, adding: “It’s a team effort.” He conceded the sport faces fresh challenges, but it has done so in the past because “it’s a sport made up of so many great people”.

At the top of their game - women's champion Izzie Marshall and men's champion James King

James King stepped onto the stage twice, initially to receive the JRL Group Point-to-Point Flat Race award from the sponsor’s Lottie Ingleton for being leading jockey – Will Easterby won JRL’s trainer title – and then for regaining the national men’s championship which he had won twice in the past. King said: “I had an unbelievable season and I owe thanks to everyone who supported me. You cannot count your chickens before they hatch, but I’ll give it another go next season.”

King’s champion rider award was presented to him by Point-to-Point Authority Board member Darren Edwards, whose own superb time as a rider in the sport reached a conclusion last month with more than 350 winners on his CV. To his surprise Edwards was presented with the Outstanding Achievement award.

Paul Miller, chief executive of the PPA, joins in a round of applause for Outstanding Achievement recipient Darren Edwards

Members of the audience stood to applaud Edwards, who said: “I’ve been lucky to ride for 24 seasons and I’ve ridden for a lot of people in this room,” before singling out trainer Dean Summersby and his wife Emma for their support. Edwards added: “I shall miss riding massively, but I’ve got to grow up some time. I’m a great believer in giving something back, so I’ll still be around.”

Point-to-Point Authority Board member Fiona Needham – who also trained this year’s Cheltenham Festival Hunters’ Chase winner Sine Nomine – stepped forward to present the Highflyer Bloodstock novice rider titles. Anna Johnston, who lives near Wells in Somerset, and who is currently riding out for top Flat trainer Richard Hannon, collected the women’s title and spoke fondly of the mare Walkin Out, who is trained in Devon by Leslie and Lisa Jefford. Johnston, who won four races on Walkin Out last season, said: “She’s a fabulous mare and I am very lucky to ride her – and hopefully next season as well.”

Anna Johnston collects the Highflyer Bloodstock novice women riders' award from Fiona Needham

Ed Vaughan, who lives near Cowbridge in South Wales, received the novice men’s award and said: “To have done as much as I have is all down to Mum [Abi] and Dad [Tim]. It’s something you dream of doing. Now I’ll keep my head down and see how next season goes.” When asked if there was a piece of advice he had been given by his father, who is a noted trainer under rules, Vaughan said: “Don’t take anything for granted.”

PPA board member Alan Hill hands the Highflyer Bloodstock novice men's title to Ed Vaughan

His father, who despite holding a trainers’ licence, can train point-to-pointers owned by himself or members of his immediate family, collected the award for being the Point-to-Point Racing Company's leading owner. This was presented by the sponsor's Nick Wilson who is retiring from Weatherbys after 40 years during which he became head of its point-to-point department.

Vaughan Snr said: “I feel I’ve won this award by default. I started in this sport, but I came back to it to get my son going. I thoroughly enjoyed my time riding in points and to go around the country last season, and to see so many faces and people I recognised, was great fun. Of course I’m immensely proud of my son and what he achieved.”

At an event which had a very busy schedule there were also a group of awards presented by the Point-to-Point Owners’ & Riders’ Association. Josh Parker took the leading rider award, while the fabled Wilkinson Sword for novice male riders, which has been won by some outstanding talents in the past, went to Ed Vaughan. The novice women’s award for the Princess Royal Trophy was presented to Shropshire’s Abi Henry who rode a winner and four placings on her mare For Rita. Giving full credit to the horse, Henry said: “She just carried me around.”

Gunshot Paddocks Racing, a group of friends which has horses in training with Rob Varnham, was presented with the PPORA’s leading owner award.

Len Vickery (left) presents the PPORA's leading owner title to Rob Varnham (holding trophy) and members of Gunshot Paddocks Racing

Varnham saddled five winners for the syndicate during the season from his stables near Guildford, and that was enough to gain him the Oriental Club champion trainer title for yards with five or fewer horses. On collecting his award the trainer spoke of the loss of Keagan Kirkby, a rider he used regularly, but who died in a fall in February. “We had a tough time after Keagan died, but this award is for him,” said Varnham.

John Mathias of Foran Equine and Connolly’s RED MILLS presented trainer awards to Dean Summersby and Josh Newman. Summersby, who plans taking out a full trainers’ licence later this summer, received the award for yards with six to 14 horses and then reflected on the highs and lows of his profession. He said: “It’s a funny game – you try your best and everything goes wrong, but when you get it right it seems nothing goes wrong.” He thanked hunts, their committees and volunteers for staging fixtures and spoke of the long association which he enjoyed with Darren Edwards, saying: “We spent ten years with Darren [as the yard’s first-choice rider] and he made my life so easy. He’s a tremendous jockey and will be greatly missed.”

Summersby’s family will continue to train some point-to-pointers and will use the services of upcoming novice Rian Corcoran, who Summersby described as “definitely one to look out for”.

Josh Newman landed the title of champion trainer with yards of 15 or more horses and said: “The team worked very hard during the season. The weather was horrendous and we lost a lot of meetings, but we are grateful to all the organisers of those that went ahead. Our horses were in great form and seemed happy and healthy.”

John Mathias (right) presents Foran Equine's champion trainer award to Josh Newman, who headed the category for yards with 15+ horses

Mathias also presented Joan and Clive Hitchings with the CRM leading horse award gained by their six-time winner Grace A Vous Enki, who is trained in Herefordshire by Nickie Sheppard. She also handles their very smart six-year-old Ihandaya. Clive said: “We had a fantastic year with some really nice horses. We enjoy going point-to-pointing.”

The evening commenced with former PPA board chairman Andrew Merriam receiving the Sir Michael Connell Award for his services to the sport, and in similar vein the Cynthia Higgon Award was presented to Beverley Thomas, who is joint-secretary of the sport in Wales. Jim Squires, who chairs the West Mercian area – and provides turf management and fence building at several courses in his patch – was given the Jim Mahon Special Recognition Award. “It’s a great honour to win this,” said Squires.

Former and current PPA chairs Andrew Merriam and Caroline Bailey after she presented him with the Sir Michael Connell Award - and a caricature memento from board members

Two new categories saw awards for the Tattersalls Jockey Club Champagne Moment of the Year and for the Equine Products UK Ltd Stable Employee of the Year. The bubbly winner announced by the sponsor’s Shirley Anderson-Jolag, went to Martin ‘Fly’ McIntyre whose champagne moment came when riding his 100th point-to-point – there were consolation prizes for Ben Durrell and Geoff & Harvey Barfoot-Saunt.

Ben Godfrey collects the Champagne Moment award on behalf of Martin McIntyre from Shirley Anderson-Jolag of Tattersalls

Short-listed for the stable employee award, which was handed over by the sponsor’s Alice Porter, were Harry Greasby who works for Max Comley, Ruben Marshall, an employee of Teresa Clark’s, and Ali Oliver who is based with the Cookson family. Marshall came out on top and said: “Teresa taught me everything about point-to-pointing and I love it.”

Two further horse awards were given to the owners of Imperial Pride, who won the Jockey Club Maiden Mares’ Final, and to Simon Paynter, owner of the Barry Denvir-trained 12-year-old Golan Fortune, who was victorious in The Jockey Club & Retraining of Racehorses veteran horse series. Paynter acquired the horse as a nine-year-old with a heart problem, but after two seasons of untroubled hunting he decided to support his Oakley Hunt meeting with a runner at Brafield-on-the-Green and asked Denvir to handle the preparation. A win there and two more at Kimble and Dingley carried the now 12-year-old Golan Fortune to the title.