The curtain came down on the Wessex Area Point to Point season at Cothelstone on Wednesday evening when the Weston & Banwell meeting staged an excellent card. The highlights were a first win on English soil for Irish jockey Georgie Benson, a winner for the recently injured Will Biddick training for his father-in-law, a riding double for leading rider James King and a one-two in the last for local trainer Teresa Clark.
Twenty-two year old Georgie Benson had been starting to doubt herself and a fall in February which resulted in a broken vertebra did not help. But encouraged by her employers, Alan and Lawney Hill, she returned to race riding and notched up her first win in the UK when taking the Novice Riders race on Knight Bachelor by a stylish 5 lengths. Having been told to stick to the inside by Alan, she had wisely moved to the outside and avoided being carried out when Bouggietopieces crashed out through a wing. An ecstatic Georgie said "He jumped like a proper horse – it was just amazing!" and was quick to thank owners Gillie & Richard Cranfield who had driven down from Suffolk to watch. She also thanked Dr Jerry Hill and Jennifer Pugh for the help she had received when injured. Georgie had previously ridden a winner when in her home country, Ireland, for top trainer Gordon Elliot and explained that she had first got into racing via her cousin Danny Benson who was now involved preparing breeze-up horses.
Another jockey to be on the side-lines is Will Biddick who fractured his ankle in a fall at Upcott Cross at the weekend. This didn't stop him training a winner for his father-in-law, Rupert Nuttall who took the second division of the short Maiden with his home-bred Lassue. The mare is out of Annie Fleetwood who won multiple times for the Nuttall family, and she followed her encouraging debut run here in April when second. The first division was won by Risk and Co for Welsh trainer, Gareth Moore under jockey Evan David. Gareth explained he had missed last year due to Covid and he had jumped poorly on his reappearance at Maisemore. Some intensive loose schooling had improved the horse's confidence and he ran out an easy 6 length winner from Coastal Capers with favourite Evron back in third.
The first race of the day, the Conditions race, was won by Famous Clermont for trainer Chris Barber with jockey Tommie O'Brien deputising for the injured Will Biddick. An impressive winner here last time, he again showed he has plenty of talent and won a competitive race by a cosy 6 lengths with Country Legend in second. This win secures the Print Concern Restricted Championship for his delighted connections and includes a prize of £1000. Chris had planned to put the horse away for the season but with the rain arriving the opportunity was too tempting to miss.
Another horse who looks as though he could be winning a National Award is Thumb Stone Blues who took his tally for the season to 4 when winning the Men's Open under James King. His owner Jason Warner is also leading the Owners Championship and this was a tenth winner for him this season. With the persistent rain getting into the ground, Chameron and Thumb Stone Blues pulled well clear and although both horses were tired coming over the last together, James was able to squeeze a little more out of his game mount to record a length and a half victory.
The Ladies Open was won in convincing fashion by the favourite Virak under Natalie Parker for trainer Sam Loxton. Virak is jointly owned by Paul Nicholls and Clive Hitchings and it was good to see Paul there to support his horse. Paul explained the horse had a leg problem at the end of last season and praised Sam who had done a remarkable job to get him sound again. He thought he may go to Stratford and if he stayed sound for next season, there was a possibility that his daughter Olive would be able to ride him as she would be 16 having graduated from Pony Races.
James King notched his second win of the evening on Staple Head for trainer Mickey Bowen in the Restricted race gaining some compensation having been carried out by a loose horse on him at Holnicote on Saturday. Despite jumping markedly right for most of the race, it didn't stop him and he was 18 lengths clear at the line. Mickey confirmed that the horse would stick to right handed tracks in future and would hope to take in an Intermediate with him before sending him back under Rules with his father who owns the gelding.
With the fading light and rain making conditions harder for the commentator and spectators, the finale was a local affair when trainer Teresa Clark had the first and second in the Maiden Conditions race, although possibly not in the order she was expecting! When regular pilot Will Biddick was injured, she replaced him with Robert Hawker on the more fancied of her two, Jasmin des Bordes switching Robert from the eventual winner, The Kitchenmechanic. Darren Andrews came in for the ride on The Kitchenmechanic and in a close finish just edged out stable mate Jasmin des Bordes.
There were two Pony races for jockeys of the future that preceded the main racing. The first for ponies 138cm and under was won convincingly by Katherine Sprake riding Little Replacement while Taylor Fisher took the 148am and under a stylish ride on Buddy's Girl.