The Ratcheugh Farm course near Alnwick had escaped the frost affecting many parts of Northumberland and Scotland allowing the 2017/18 Northern Area Point-to-Point season to kick off as scheduled on Saturday with the Ratcheugh Racing Club fixture. A six race card attracted a total of 42 runners from yards as far away as Warwickshire, Oakham, Flookburgh and Fife.
Cameron Wadge ended the 2016/17 season on a high when his last two rides produced victories on Nickwillis at Balcormo Mains and Aspatria and the youngster kept the bandwagon rolling by landing the 14 runner Ancroft Tractors Open Maiden Race on Chanceiton (right), his first ride for new boss, Lucinda Russell.
Always going well, the 6 year old took it up four out and the favourite, Pads was left trailing in his wake down the home straight as he gradually extended his advantage to score by fifteen lengths in the best time of the day. Carrying the familiar red and blue halved colours of Russell's father, Peter, the gelding was bought after being beaten half a length in an Irish Maiden in January.
Wadge, who joined Russell's Milnathort team in June, said: ''He's a much stronger horse this season and quickly settled into a good rhythm. They went flat out all the way but he still had plenty left in the tank at the finish.''
There was a fine training performance by Morpeth jockey/handler, Amie Waugh as she had Winged Crusader (right) cherry ripe on his first start for the yard despite being off the track for nine months. Previously successful five times under Rules for Nigel Twiston-Davies, the 9 year old was always in the leading duo and led approaching five out before registering a cosy six lengths victory over Hand Act Or Part in the Crabtree & Crabtree Ladies Open Race. Coincidentally, his last win under Rules came twelve months ago to the day at Bangor-on-Dee off a mark of 105 where he made all the running in a two and a half mile handicap chase.
Oakham raider, Bravehearted Harry tried hard to make every yard of the running in the Chatton Trout Fishery Intermediate Race under Rory Bevin but ran out of steam from three out as The Mobile Man (right) seized the initiative under Jack Andrews and drew clear to secure a twelve lengths verdict. Andrews, 17, carried off the Yorkshire Men's Novice Riders title last season with eight winners and rides out every day for The Mobile Man's trainer, Cherry Coward.
Cultram Abbey (right) was a first runner between the flags since April 2012 for Greystoke-based National Hunt trainer, Nicky Richards and this 139-rated chaser easily justified odds-on favouritism in the Nicky Richards Racing Conditions Race. The 10 year old gave John Dawson an armchair ride and, after leading two out, coasted home ten lengths in front of Court Painter.
Harry Haynes, Nicky's assistant and travelling head lad, said: ''That was a great confidence booster for a horse that's probably a bit high in the handicap. We'll probably send him hunter chasing in January.''
The last two winners on the card, Ardkilly Witness (right) and Wayupinthebox both endured near five hour journeys in the horsebox to Alnwick from Atherstone and Oakham respectively. The former, trained by Kirsty Smith who used to live at nearby Powburn, took the Geoff Allan Catering Men's Open Race under an accomplished ride from 18 year old William Thirlby. Sent into a narrow lead two out, the 11 year old kept on well in the closing stages to repel a renewed challenge from One Conemara by half a length.
Previously with Jamie Snowden, the gelding had finished runner-up in the Royal Artillery Gold Cup at Sandown Park in February but had gone almost three years without a win since landing a Class 2 Kempton Park Handicap Chase off a mark of 132 in January 2015. The Alnwick run was the first in the colours of William's father, Tim..
The concluding Newton Hall Restricted Race produced the most exciting finish of the day and saw 8 of the 9 runners still in contention approaching four out. Rory Bevin's mount, Wayupinthebox (right) held a fractional advantage at the last and in a driving finish held on by a short head from Worcester Pearmain with Crazy Penguin a head away in third. The victory was a family affair as the 7 year old is trained by Rory's mother, Louise, who has sent 11 runners to Alnwick in the last three years and returned home to Oakham with 3 winners and 3 placed. The winner carried the colours of The Dowry Hillbillies Partnership, which is made up of a selection of family members including Rory's father, William, uncle and an aunt on his mother's side. The name comes from one of the hills on his grandmother's farm, on which a few of the partners were raised. 'Dowry Hill' soon became the Dowry Hillbillies.
The Northern Area season resumes on Sunday 7th January with the West Percy fixture at Alnwick
and the first Scottish action is scheduled for Sunday 21st January with the Jedforest meeting at Friars Haugh, Kelso.
Ratcheugh Racing Club 9th December 2017 - By Peter Burgon