AGA series is off and running on an action packed day at Cottenham that turned out to be a real Qracker!

First AGA race of the season lives up to expectations, huge crowd enjoy nine quality races, lots of talking points, Khyber Kim brings a touch of class, the sun shines all day and new AGA hats are all the rage!

The weekend edition of Pointing Plus (an 8 page pull-out in the Racing Plus) had given the AGA Ladies Open top billing, this included an excellent preview and a full page colour racecard. The ‘Big Race’ tag was well deserved and the huge crowd enjoyed an incident packed race with a big priced winner, but we’ll come back to that later.

Tracey Prichard and Mrs S
Tracey Prichard and Mrs S (that coat looks familiar)

With the season a month old this was my second trip to Cottenham, although I have to admit that we set off later than anticipated and to say we were cutting it fine would be an understatement. ‘Slightly flustered’ would just about sum it up, so I was very grateful to hear that the start had been delayed by half an hour to allow the frost to come out of the ground.

Galbally King and Ben Rivett take the first
Galbally King and Ben Rivett take the first
Jockey Alex Edwards and trainer Philip Rowley (far right) after Cheif Heckler had finished 2nd in the opener
Jockey Alex Edwards and trainer Philip Rowley (far right) after Chief Heckler had finished 2nd in the opener
Sarah 'Ripper' Rippon and Camilla Henderson,with Willa the adorable pug
Sarah ‘Ripper’ Rippon and Camilla Henderson,with Willa the adorable pug

PPA board member Steven Astaire & South Midlands Area Chairman Sara Moule compare notes before the Restricted
PPA board member Steven Astaire & South Midlands Area Chairman Sara Moule compare notes before the Restricted
Toby Betambeau heading for the paddock to ride Guilty As Charged in the Restricted
Toby Betambeau heading for the paddock to ride Guilty As Charged in the Restricted

While Can Mestret was strolling to victory under Gina Andrews in the Restricted I was in the sponsors room having a cup of hot tomato soup. ‘AGA man drinks soup at a point-to-point meeting’, hardly newsworthy you might be thinking, until I tell you that this pair had also won at the opening fixture of the season – and I missed that victory as well!

Owner Cliff Myers with Jack & Gina Andrews following Can Mestret's impressive win in the Restricted
Owner Cliff Myers with Jack & Gina Andrews following Can Mestret’s impressive win in the Restricted
Mr Neale interviews Gina Andrews after her win in the Restricted
Commentator Matt Coleman interviews Gina Andrews after her win in the Restricted

A quick dash to the winners enclosure had me blowing a bit and confirmed what everyone already knows, I need to get fit in 2014!

Sam Davies-Thomas and Pete 'Shep' Mann
Sam Davies-Thomas and Pete ‘Shep’ Mann discuss their New Year party plans
Point-to-point racing and the Smith-Maxwells
Point-to-point racing and the Smith-Maxwell’s, you can’t have one without the other!
Mrs S says 'I've just ordered one of these in aqua'
Mrs S says ‘I’ve just ordered one of these in aqua’
Sunshine and a huge crowd
Sunshine and a huge crowd

Don’t forget that points can be won for the AGA Dual Control National Open Horse Championship in every open race up until 25th May 2014, with the champion owner winning an AGA Dual Control cooker!

The number board for the Mens Open
The number board for the Mens Open
Tom Ellis heads out to ride Carlicue in the Mens Open (with some encouragement from Sam Davies-Thomas)
Tom Ellis heads out to ride Carlicue in the Mens Open (with some encouragement from Sam Davies-Thomas, right)
Carlicue (Tom Ellis, white with red chevrons) lead heading out on the 2nd circuit in the Mens Open from eventual winner Brunswick Gold (Stuart Robinson)
Carlicue (Tom Ellis, white with red chevrons) leads eventual winner Brunswick Gold (Stuart Robinson) heading out on the 2nd circuit in the Mens Open

An impressive win at 14/1 for Brunswick Gold (Stuart Robinson) in the mens open earned Stuart and his co-owner Dr Caroline Hargreaves 10 valuable AGA championship points.

A packed stand at Cottenham just after the Mens Open race
A packed stand at Cottenham just after the Mens Open race
If only they could talk!
If only they could talk!
10 points for the AGA owners championship
10 points for the AGA owners championship
Jockey Stuart Robinson after winning the Mens Open on Brunswick Gold, trainer Rose Grissell (far right) holds onto the bubbly
Jockey Stuart Robinson after winning the Mens Open on Brunswick Gold, trainer Rose Grissell (far right) holds onto the bubbly

Next up we had the novice riders race with the much anticipated pointing debut of 2010 Champion Hurdle runner-up, Khyber Kim, piloted by Camilla Henderson. It’s great for point-to-point racing to have horses of this calibre competing and there’s no disputing that Khyber brought a touch of star quality to the day, the question now was could the duo produce the goods on the course.

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L’Eldorado (red, red & green halved sleeves) leads The Ferbane Man
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Advice for Camilla from Marcus Foley
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No sign of nerves as Camilla listens intently to Marcus
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Steven Astaire’s Towering Run (Katie Lyons)
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Will Milburn and Lerida (white star) and Cork Twenty Ten (Gareth Henderson)
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Dr Elizabeth Smee and Lucky Lane
Rather Curious (Tabitha Worsley)
Rather Curious (Tabitha Worsley)
As well as looking after Camilla's pug, Ripper was also busy with her camera
As well as looking after Camilla’s pug, Ripper was also busy with her camera

I decided to watch this one from the middle of the course so for the second time today I had to be nimble on my feet (an amusing sight I must say).

Alan and Lawney Hill also headed to the middle of the course
Alan and Lawney Hill also headed to the middle of the course
The stand fills up before the Club Members race
The stand fills up before the Club Members race
The best view on the course
The best view on the course?
The field pass the stands on the first circuit
The field pass the stands on the first circuit, led by L’Eldorado
Khyber Kim has pulled himself to the front
A circuit has been completed and Khyber Kim has pulled himself to the front
WINNER!
WINNER!

What was the question? Could the duo produce the goods on the course? The answer was an emphatic yes, and they strolled home 20 lengths clear of L’Eldorado for an easy win. I’m now hoping that we’ll see them in an AGA ladies open at some point this season … fingers crossed!

Smiles all round
Smiles all round
Delight for Camilla, and no doubt some relief as well!
Delight for Camilla, and no doubt some relief as well!
Class act
Class act! A smile from Camilla but Is that a smile from Khyber Kim as well? Groom, Derek doesn’t quite know what to make of the AGA man!
The first of many?
The first of many?

Next up it was the ‘Big Race’, the AGA ladies open, and with 13 declared it looked a decent contest.

The headline in Pointing Plus, which accompanied a full page racecard in colour
The headline in Pointing Plus, which accompanied a full page racecard in colour
Phine Banks told me not to take this ... so I did!
Phine Banks told me not to take this … so I did!
Pointing legend Pat Tollitt
Pointing legend Pat Tollitt
Instructions for Ally Stirling before the AGA ladies open from trainer Victoria Collins (left) and owner Sarah Dawson (right)
Instructions for Ally Stirling before the AGA ladies open from trainer Victoria Collins (left) and owner Sarah Dawson (right)
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Laura Horsfall leads up Rossbrin
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Neil Astor keeps an eye out for Carl Evans

There’s a lot of photos in this update and I think I may have overdone it, but I didn’t want to miss anything (or anyone) out.

See You Jack (yellow cap) and Now Then Charlie (black) lead the field on the first circuit
See You Jack (yellow cap) and Now Then Charlie (black) lead the field on the first circuit

Spare a thought for Jade Pringle who was taken to hospital after Strathcal (beige colours with black chevron & cap in the photo above) fell at the third fence. The good news is that she’s been released from hospital and is recovering at home with her mum and dad.

Great shot as the field head away from the stands
Great shot as the field head away from the stands
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Qrackers (Ally Stirling) streaks clear of the field to record an impressive win
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Qrackers crosses the line in splendid isolation
Emma Todd on Nowurhurlin has a look to see where her nearest pursuer is - Carey Williamson (Now Then Charlie)
Emma Todd on Nowurhurlin has a look to see where her nearest pursuer is – Carey Williamson (Now Then Charlie)
A head seperates Sagalyrique (Angela Rucker) and Latest Trend (Gina Andrews) as they cross the line
A head seperates Sagalyrique (Angela Rucker) and Latest Trend (Gina Andrews) as they cross the line

Qrackers (trained by Victoria Collins) romped home by an impressive 10 lengths, prompting joyous scenes in the winners enclosure, and both the trainer and the owner – Sarah Dawson – were celebrating exuberantly. Both were also keen to proclaim that they would like to win the new AGA Championship for owners of open horses – first prize is a brand new AGA!

DSC_0452 DSC_0453 DSC_0456 DSC_0457 DSC_0465 DSC_0470This was a third AGA ladies win for Ally – who works for National Hunt trainer Fergal O’Brien – but she only picked up the ride at the last minute as regular pilot Hannah Watson broke her ankle out hunting on Christmas Eve. Hannah will get the ride back when she is fit.

Sarah loved the new AGA rug
Sarah loved the new AGA rug
I offered to look after the bubbles
I offered to look after the bubbles
I was allowed to hold the bottle but I had to give it back!
I was allowed to hold the bottle but I had to give it back!
Ally loved the new AGA jacket
Ally loved the new AGA jacket
Love that jacket!
Love that jacket!

Qrackers was led up by Tor’s fiancé Carl Evans – a familiar face to point-to-point enthusiasts as he writes a weekly diary for the Pointing Plus, which is published every Saturday in the Racing Plus paper. He’s also very shrewd and was probably the only person on the course to have had a bet on the winner!

Tracey and Charly Prichard love those AGA hats
Tracey and Charly Prichard love those AGA hats

I’m a bit light on photos from two of the last four races as we were doing the rounds in the lorry park, catching up with people and taking one or two photos of people wearing their new AGA bobble hats. As you can see, they were quite popular!

Ally Stirling and the injured Hannah Watson (who would have ridden Qrackers if she was fit)
Ally Stirling and the injured Hannah Watson (who would have ridden Qrackers if she was fit)
A hug from Sarah Dawson for the injured Hannah Watson
A hug from Sarah Dawson for the injured Hannah Watson
Champion Versions and Joe Hill after winning Div 1 of the Open Maiden
Champion Versions and Joe Hill after winning Div 1 of the Open Maiden
Mum and son, one for the family album!
Mum and son, one for the family album!
Phine Banks and Doug Harkin
Phine Banks and Doug Harkin
Joanna Andrews, mother of Gina and Bridget
Joanna Andrews, mother of Gina and Bridget
Reigning national champion Jacqueline Coward has just spotted herself on the latest AGA mug
Reigning national champion Jacqueline Coward has just spotted herself on the latest AGA mug
Ladies champ Jacqueline Coward, mens champ Will Biddick & Hannah Lewis all have a new hat
Ladies champ Jacqueline Coward, mens champ Will Biddick & Hannah Lewis all have a new hat
Gina Andrews and Tom Ellis
Gina Andrews and Tom Ellis
Pauline Harkin (furry headband) gives instructions to Pete 'Shep' Mann
Pauline Harkin (furry headband) gives instructions to Pete ‘Shep’ Mann
Pete Mann has his hands full with Pontypandy
Pete Mann has his hands full with Pontypandy
It was a long day for the hunt staff
It was a long day for the hunt staff
Broken Eagle has just won the last under a great ride from James Tudor
Broken Eagle has just won the last under a great ride from James Tudor

Well, that was a great start for our AGA series and a great days racing, well done to everyone at Cottenham for cramming it all in, that was some effort! As you can see, we enjoyed our day, and we also had tremendous fun with the hats, and I’ve had to order some more (including lots of pink ones)! The headlights were on when we left and it was gone 8pm when we got home (we did stop for a bite to eat), but the long day was worth it and we’re going to have a good season, I just know it!

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