Another AGA cracker at Larkhill as rising star Megan Nicholls puts in a sparkling performance on Gwanako

I admit it, when the alarm went off at 6am on Sunday morning I struggled, and for a few brief moments I really did not want to get out of bed. It didn’t help that my trusty sidekick stayed firmly under the duvet – she was put off by the forecast of torrential rain at Larkhill – although she did comment later that I made rather a lot of noise while getting ready to leave. Guilty as charged!

Frosty (and very cold) AGA van
Frosty (and very cold) AGA van

I should imagine that there will be more than a few people reading this and thinking ‘drama queen, we get up at 6am every day of the week’, so, enough about the early start, lets concentrate on the racing!

Alan Hill (far left, hands in pockets) enjoys a rare day off
Alan Hill (far left, hands in pockets) enjoys a rare day off
Will Biddick after winning the Larkhill Racing Club Members Conditions race
Will Biddick after winning the Larkhill Racing Club Members Conditions race

The classy Poquelin was our first winner of the day, with Will Biddick up, who was fresh from his starring role on Channel 4 Racing on New Years day! For those of you who didn’t see it, Will gave ex-pointer Mendip Express a cracking ride to win the Foundation Developments Ltd Handicap Chase. That was impressive, but he also appeared in the opening credits wearing his navy blue AGA hat!

Betting for the AGA Ladies Open
Mike Smith shouting the odds before the AGA Ladies Open

Our race was next and the 8 declared runners included two previous AGA winners, Quedillac & Extra Bold, as well as former Topham Chase winner, Gwanako, who is trained by Rose Loxton and runs in the famous Stewart colours (Big Bucks). I had a small wager on the race, hoping to end a losing run that stretches back to the AGA final in June 2013.

L-R Boomtown Kat, Vincitore, Gwanako (red cap), Parstara, Quedillac (red cap) and On Borrowed Wings (obscured)
L-R Boomtown Kat, Vincitore, Gwanako (red cap), Parstara, Quedillac (red cap) and On Borrowed Wings (obscured)

For a while now I have been raving about how lucky we are to have so many talented lady riders involved in the AGA series. As well as the established names we also have an unbelievable number of young riders, all of whom are good enough to be around for years to come – which is great for point-to-point racing.

Heading away from the stands in the AGA Ladies Open
Heading out on the final circuit in the AGA Ladies Open

One of those promising young riders – Megan Nicholls – gave Gwanako a peach of a ride to win her first ever point-to-point race, and the pair weren’t stopping at the finish. And neither was I as my new fitness regime saw me cover the distance between the paddock and the last fence in record time – at a canter – and I also managed to make it back up the hill without too much trouble.

Winners!
Winners! Gemma Groves leads Meg and Gwanako in after their win in the AGA Ladies Open race

I was back up the hill just in time to welcome Megan Nicholls and Gwanako back to the winners enclosure, where proud dad Paul Nicholls (seven times champion National Hunt trainer), was on hand to offer his congratulations.

Congratulations from a proud dad
Congratulations from a proud dad

Megan is yet another graduate from the pony racing scene and looks a real star in the making, she’s also incredibly nice and the 10 points for today’s win puts her firmly in the mix for this season’s AGA lady riders’ championship!

David Simpson (AGA) presents a new AGA rug to Meg Nicholls after she had won the AGA Ladies Open race
David Simpson (AGA) presents a new AGA rug to Meg Nicholls after she had won the AGA Ladies Open race
David Simpson (AGA) presents Paul Nicholls with the Woolwich Perpetual Challenge Cup
David Simpson (AGA) presents Paul Nicholls with the Woolwich Perpetual Challenge Cup

Without wishing to state the obvious, Megan’s dad – Mr P F Nicholls – is a high profile figure in the world of horse racing and is a regular on our TV screens. Whenever I have seen him on the TV I have always thought that he seemed a decent bloke and I’m pleased to say that he is! He was in good form for the post race presentation and we were to see a bit more of him before the end of racing, but we’ll come to that shortly.

Sam Loxton (husband of trainer Rosie), Paul Nicholls, Meg Nicholls and David Simpson (AGA)
Sam Loxton (husband of trainer Rosie), Paul Nicholls, Meg Nicholls and David Simpson (AGA)
Gemma Groves and Gwanako, who is modelling the new AGA fleece cooler rug
Gemma Groves and Gwanako, who is modelling the new AGA fleece cooler rug
Go On Henry (Josh Guerriero)
Go On Henry (Josh Guerriero), 2nd in Div 1 of the Open Maiden
Winning connections of Flan The Man
Winning connections of Flan The Man

The next race was won by Flan The Man and Will Telfer, trained by Sally Randell, a lady with ‘previous AGA form’. Sally finished 6th on Lady Myfanwy in the first ever AGA Ladies Open final at Cheltenham and she has also won two AGA Ladies Open races, both on Chesnut Annie, and both at Howick.

It's a bit wet!
It’s a bit wet!
Seven times champion National Hunt trainer Paul Nicholls and David Simpson from AGA
Nice hat! Seven times champion National Hunt trainer Paul Nicholls asks me where I bought my pink jumper!

Megan popped over to our van for a few additional photos, along with her dad, and his assistant trainer Tom Jonason, as well as Chloe Newton. Chloe just happens to be Pupil Assistant at Seven Barrows, the home of Paul’s main championship rival Nicky Henderson, so there was a little bit of banter while the photos were being taken. All friendly I might add, and all in good taste. I’d also like to point out that it was Paul’s idea to wear the bottle green AGA bobble hat!

Meg Nicholls has her eye on the aqua AGA
Meg Nicholls was quite pleased with her new AGA jacket
Tom Jonason (assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls), Chloe Newton (Pupil Assistant for Nicky Henderson at Seven Barrows), Meg Nicholls, Paul Nicholls, Dan Walden (3)
Tom Jonason (assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls), Chloe Newton (Pupil Assistant for Nicky Henderson at Seven Barrows), Meg Nicholls, Paul Nicholls, Dan Walden

The new AGA bobble hats are proving quite a hit with the point-to-point community, and the boys seem to like them just as much as the girls. All good fun, and it’s providing some great photo opportunities!

Jockeys Toby Betambau and Pete 'Shep' Mann love their AGA hats
Jockeys Toby Betambau and Pete ‘Shep’ Mann love their AGA hats
Tom Ellis and Toby Betambeau
Tom Ellis and Toby Betambeau
Georgie Armstrong suggested AGA dog coats should be the next cool AGA fashion item!
Georgie Armstrong suggested AGA dog coats should be the next cool AGA fashion item!
The steps of the Queen's Building provide the most sought after vantage point at Larkhill
The steps of the Queen’s Building provide the most sought after vantage point at Larkhill
Jeremy Barber and Mike Smith chat in the paddock
Owner Jeremy Barber and bookie Mike Smith chat in the paddock – my bet in the AGA ladies open was a contribution to the ‘Mike Smith retirement fund’, in other words it was a loser!

Young Chester Williams won the 2nd Division of the Open Maiden on the smart Un Ami, before Sam Waley-Cohen took the Mens Open on Rumbavu. As you can see from the pics the weather had taken a turn for the worse (good for AGA hats), but having said that it wasn’t as bad as predicted.

Un Ami, winner of the Open Maiden (Div 2) 567&8yo
Un Ami, winner of the Open Maiden (Div 2) 567&8yo
Commentator Nick Child chats to jockey Joe Hill
Commentator Nick Child chats to jockey Joe Hill
Brian Armstrong (left) interviews Robert Waley-Cohen after Sam Waley-Cohen had won the Mens Open on Rumbavu
Brian Armstrong (left) interviews Robert Waley-Cohen after Sam Waley-Cohen had won the Mens Open on Rumbavu

The Restricted provided a popular winner as Alskamatic (Claire Hart) got the better of Boardwalk Empire (Tom Ellis) to win the race for the second year running. There was a rapturous reception for the pair as they entered the winners enclosure, and the photos afterwards provided us with an early contender for this seasons ‘most owners in a photo award’!

Happy connections
Happy connections
How many owners?
How many owners?
Alskamatic
Alskamatic

Another cracking day and the phone didn’t stop on the journey home or during the evening as social media was buzzing with tweets and facebook updates from many of the people who had enjoyed the day. They included a fair few from our AGA ladies winner (example below), and the fun has continued throughout the week. I also have lots more photos and they can be viewed on our AGA Point-to-Point facebook page, which is here.

We’re off to Yorkshire this weekend and we know that we will get another competitive AGA Ladies Open race at Sheriff Hutton, we also know that we will receive a warm welcome. I look forward to telling you all about it next week!

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