The Northern Area Point-to-Point season kicked off in style with 74 runners on Sunday's Ratcheugh Racing Club card at Alnwick - the highest total at any Northern Area meeting since February 2016.
Former 167-rated Grade 1 winning chaser, Don Poli had endured a barren spell since December 2015 but showed that the fire is still burning with an impressive fifteen lengths success over Dark Mahler in the British Racecourse Bookmakers Association Men's Open Race.
Given a positive ride by Tristan Durrell, the ten-year-old went on after four out before extending his advantage down the home straight. Durrell, 18, and Alcester-based trainer, Nick Pearce, who made the 520-mile round trip for a first visit to Alnwick, reckoned that this stayers track played to the gelding's strengths.
Durrell, who has worked for Dan Skelton since leaving school, rides out Don Poli in his lunch break. He said: ''I wanted him to be handy and was able to let him fill up his lungs coming up the final hill. He stays all day and there was still plenty left in the tank at the finish.''
The winner, who has accrued career earnings of almost £450,000 under Rules, is being aimed at the Cheltenham and Aintree Foxhunters' Chases in 2020.
Buck Dancing (Jess Bedi) also the Cheltenham Foxhunters' Chase on his radar following his seventh victory of 2019, including two under Rules, in the PJR Blewitt Ltd Ladies Open Race. Cheshire raider, Irish Anthem tried hard to make all the running under Harriet Tucker but had nothing more to give when headed at the last by Buck Dancing, who forged clear on the run-in to score by five lengths in the best time of the day.
Bonchester Bridge handler, Joanna Fox and novice rider, Isaac Woods teamed up for a memorable first winner with former 125-rated chaser, Sharney Sike in the Chatton Trout Fishery NPPA Conditions Race. Always close up, the thirteen-year-old defied a 7lb penalty as he stayed on strongly from three out to beat Roderick Random (Charlotte Dun) by one and a half lengths.
Joanna said: ''I used to ride him out when he was trained by Stuart Coltherd, so got to know him well. Since being retired eighteen months ago, he had several homes before we rescued him. He has done a lot of dressage and cross country work and gets turned out as much as possible. We decided to run him without any headgear and that has worked.''
Following this win, Woods, 18, who has been based with Hawick trainer, Alistair Whillans for two years, is the early leader in the NPPA-sponsored Northern Area Novice Riders Championship. Another debutant, Ben Smoult, who works for Rose Dobbin, is in third place after finishing two lengths 3rd on Worcester Pearmain in the same race.
The final mile of the Geoff Allen Catering Conditions Race was dominated by Yorkshire raiders, Manitowoc County (Jack Andrews) and Point The Way (Joe Wright), with the former eventually edging a thrilling duel by a short head.
The seven-year-old winner, now owned by Bob Woodhouse and trained by Cherry Coward, had form figures of 4368 under Rules in 2017 from Brian Ellison's yard but had previously landed a Tinahely Maiden in October 2016 under Jamie Codd. Coincidentally, Alone No More, who took the concluding Restricted Race here, held every chance in second place that day when falling at the last.
This was only his third start for Cherry Coward, who said: ''He has been a bit of a head-case at home. All our horses have been desperate for a run and it's great to get a winner but it means he is no longer eligible for a Restricted.''
Take Your Time initiated a double for Malton jockey, Jack Teal in the first division of the Cook And Barker Inn Open Maiden Race. After making smooth headway from five out, the four-year-old debutant was still six lengths down at the next but cruised up the hill and settled the issue in a matter of strides after heading Classic Lady approaching two out. He finished full of running and was a distance in front of Liar's Dice at the line.
Teal commented: ''He improved each time I schooled him and today was just a steering job.'' Owner/trainer, Tony Ross plans to send his Dubai Destination youngster back to the Sales in January.
Dynamite Kentucky completed a great start to the season for Teal when getting off the mark in the second division of the Cook And Barker Inn Open Maiden Race. The last three fences were omitted in this contest due to low sun, resulting in a run-in of approximately half a mile from the usual four out. Given a patient ride, the four-year-old made up a lot of ground on the second circuit to lead as they bypassed two out before keeping on well to beat Rio Des Echanault (Nick Orpwood) by three lengths. The youngster was bought privately from County Kildare blacksmith, Liam O'Donavan, who has been a proven source of winners for Teal's yard in recent years.
The unlucky horse was another debutant, Franks Fancy (Kit Alexander), who held every chance when taken out by a loose horse as they bypassed three out and in the same incident, Ultimate Getaway was also badly hampered.
Will Ramsay, 50, partnered a winner on the opening day of the Northern Area season for the second year in a row as his new recruit, Alone No More struck gold in the Northumbria Print and Distribution Restricted Race. The seven-year-old took a strong hold in the early stages before settling well and was always up with the pace. After taking it up four out, he repelled all challengers down the home straight and found extra when it mattered to secure a three lengths verdict over Buzzkillbob.
After getting off the mark on his 10th Pointing start in Ireland at Taylorstown in May 2017, the gelding joined Rose Dobbin's yard and had form figures of 88P8 over hurdles. Ramsay said: ''He was always travelling well and dropping back into this grade seems to have rejuvenated him.''
The Northern Area season resumes on Saturday 11th January with the West Percy fixture at Alnwick, where a six race card starts at 12.30pm and includes a Point-to-Point Flat Race.