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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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’!
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!