The curtain came down on the 2016 Northern Area point-to-point season with the Haydon fixture at Hexham Racecourse on Sunday. A total of 51 runners faced the starter, including 21 from Yorkshire, on good to firm going which had been watered for several days.
The feature event on the seven race card was the £1500 Graham Reader Motor Engineer Men's Open, the most valuable contest ever staged in the North with £1000 to the winner. It attracted a field of 7 and produced a thrilling climax with 4 horses still in with a chance coming to the last.
Last month's Tranwell scorer, Carlos Gardel was prominent from the outset before being sent on at the sixth by Joe Wright. Maintaining a relentless gallop, the 11 year old jumped superbly and was always at least one length up on the final circuit until collared 100 yards from the finish by Ross Wilson's mount, Hurraboru, who swiftly gained the upper hand to win, going away, by two and a half lengths with the gallant Great Gusto a further six lengths away in third.
The winner, a 115-rated chaser, is trained at Bolam near Darlington by David Thompson, who bought him for only £800 out of Donald McCain's yard at Doncaster Sales in November 2013. After getting jarred up on quick ground at Southwell in July 2014, he was absent for 20 months before making a winning comeback under Joe Wright in the Hurworth Men's Open at Hutton Rudby, where he overhauled Things Change in the last 50 yards. Spare a thought for Wright, who had the choice of Carlos Gardel or Hurraboru but picked the wrong one. Wilson, who is based at Middleham with Karl Burke, said: "He was going so well I took a pull approaching two out as I wanted to make sure I didn't hit the front too soon with him. It's great to pick up a spare ride like that and rounds off my best season to date with three winners in the last few weeks,"
Sir Watty landed the two and a half mile Stanegate Shooting Syndicate Intermediate Race under a positive, front-running ride from Johnny Ferguson, to give Ayrshire handler, Raymond Gibson his first training success. The 12 year old pulled his way to the front at the fourth and from that point didn't see another rival. Teviot Prince tried hard to get on terms from four out and was closing with every stride on the run-in but still had a neck to find at the line. Ferguson, 48, has just finished an eight month stint working full-time for Galston near Kilmarnock trainer, Michael Smith and is now heading back to the north of Scotland to resume work as a shepherd near Kirriemuir. This was Ferguson's first 'proper' winner as his only other success was a walk-over on Salmatian Knight in the Berwickshire Intermediate at Friars Haugh on 1st April 2012. He said: "I had planned to give up after today but I'm having second thoughts now. Sir Watty often burns himself out and this shorter trip was ideal for him."
Fergus Jestin's lightly raced home-bred 8 year old gelding, Coote Street was a comprehensive winner of the Hadrian Electrical Engineering Ltd Open Maiden Race under Tristan Davidson. Travelling well on the heels of the leaders heading out on the final circuit, he changed gear down the far side to go three lengths clear three out and turned the closing stages into a procession, coasting home twenty lengths ahead of Millfirth with Corolynn a further ten lengths way in third. The victory ended a lean spell for Jestin's yard stretching back eight years when Hapthor landed the Cumberland Members Race at Aspatria.
Jestin, who has a 1000 acre farm near Wigton, has been involved in point-to-point racing in the North for at least 40 years and said of the winner: "He's a late maturer like the rest o his family but has plenty of ability."
The experienced For A Finish, who recorded the last of his 6 wins in Ireland in November 2012, struck gold on his 64th career outing in the Chesterwood Bastle Holiday Cottage South Northumberland Hunts Club Members Race to give Phil Moore, 48, his first winner. Sent into the lead three out, the 13 year old never looked like being caught in the home straight and easily beat Crafti Bookie by six lengths. This was a remarkable achievement by Moore, a very late entrant into hunt racing, who only made his competitive debut at Dalston eight weeks ago.
Nick Orpwood took his seasonal tally to nine with a double on R Theveryman and Fight Away Boys. The former swept past Twelveoclockhigh on the run-in to take the Warrens Nothing Wasted Restricted Race by two lengths. Orpwood said of the Jacqueline Coward-trained gelding: "He was a bit keen early on but he was toying with the leaders at the business end and I was very confident he would win jumping the last."
Fight Away Boys is in the form of his life and supplemented a recent Aspatria success in the WMH Farm Fresh Meats NPPA Club Members Race. After taking it up from Barachois Silver two out, he stayed on strongly to score by five lengths. Orpwood said: "He got a great run on the inner rounding the home turn and had loads in hand at the finish."
Battle Range followed up the previous week's Border victory in the Ryecroft Glenton Ladies Open Race to give Jacqueline Coward a winner on her final ride between the flags. The 9 year old, back to his best after breaking down at High Easter in April 2013, produced his customary late thrust to cruise past Damiens Dilemma at the last and score by two and a half lengths. This was Coward's 153rd career Pointing winner and, having sent out 17 winners this season, she is currently applying for her full trainers licence. She is looking forward to a final spin on former Royal Ascot hero, Pevensey in the Injured Jockeys Fund Charity Flat Race at Kelso on Sunday 29th May.
Kit Alexander, 24, was a worthy winner of the Albert Bartlett (Airdrie) Ltd Northern Area Men's Jockeys Championship for the first time with 64pts. He partnered 9 winners with the highlight being an Overton treble. 2014 Champion, Tom Hamilton finished runner-up on 49pts, with 2015 Champion, Nick Orpwood in third place on 35pts.
Catherine Walton, 28, carried off the Northern Area Ladies title for the sixth season in a row with 45pts. Rachael McDonald was runner-up on 24pts with Kelly Bryson a further 2pts away in third.
Connor Wood (8pts) landed the NPPA Novice Riders Championship from Cameron Wadge (8pts) by virtue of his two wins on Badger Foot, while Wadge's tally comprised one win on Nickwillis and four placed rides. Phil Moore finished third on 7pts.
The Percy were runaway winners of the Buccleuch Arms, St Boswells Hunt Awards with 120pts, from the Fife 59pts and the Jedforest 57pts.
The £500 prize, sponsored by George F White, given to the Area's Champion Horse went to Sharivarry, while the leading novice horse was Catchamat, who also landed the Northern Area PPORA Young Horse Award.
For the record, the 14 Northern Area meetings attracted a total of 660 runners, with an average of 7.02 runners per race and 47.14 runners per meeting. Almost 58% of the 1142 entries faced the starter, the second highest ratio in the Northern Area in the last 25 years.