Team Ireland v Team GB – a look back at the 2013 Tattersalls International Point-to-Point Challenge

12 months ago we made a memorable trip to Ireland for an International Point-to-Point challenge, as we prepare to head out there again at the end of next week, I thought it would be a good idea to remind everyone just how good last years trip was. Here’s the blog post that I published in June 2013:

We came, we saw, we conquered, but there was more to it than just the winning, much more! On paper the Tattersalls Ireland International point-to-point looked a great idea, and when Richard Pugh – known as “Mr Point-to-Point” in Ireland, mentioned it last September it looked like it could be a perfect fit, especially when you consider what AGA do in the UK with our sponsorship of the Ladies Open Point-to-Point series. Sponsoring a point-to-point race in Ireland contested by a team of lady riders from the UK was too good an opportunity to miss, and when the Point-to-Point Authority also threw their weight behind the idea it was game on!

The first photo is a little out of sequence as it was taken at the end of the second day, however, there’s a very good reason for using it as without the three people above we would not have been in Ireland. They are L-R Neil Walsh (Head of Bloodstock, Tattersalls Ireland), Niamh Flynn (Marketing & Promotions Co-ordinator, Tattersalls Ireland) and Richard Pugh (Mr Point-to-Point, Quite simply they are three of the nicest people that I have ever met and I can’t thank them enough for so many things. Starting with the engagement via social media to promote the event during the build-up, the incredibly warm welcome from the moment we stepped off the plane, and ending with the terrific hospitality that was afforded to every member of the UK contingent … I was even allowed to keep the flags!

The day was all about an ‘International challenge’ so we came prepared with a selection of Union flags – just in case they were needed, and I’m certain that I saw some Irish tricolour’s under the table in the declaration tent! My flags were ironed in the room (although obviously not the one in the photo) and we left for the course at 11am – four hours before the first race. We wanted to get there early so we could walk the course and take some photos, and Team GB – both boys and girls, also wanted to sample the gourmet burgers. With that in mind an orderly (seated) queue was duly formed.

Team GB tucked in en masse but they would not have won a burger eating contest, although it was hilarious to watch as the girls and boys both battled the wind. The award for ‘most style eating a burger’ was given to reigning AGA series champion Jacqueline Coward, with Jane Williams a close second!

Jacqueline has been waiting a long time for a jacket with AGA on it (somebody promised her one with AGA Champion on it back in November!), so once Niamh had handed the kit out she put the lot on, including the Team GB breeches! The dance moves that followed were a sign of what was to come in the Country House later that evening, although Beazo missed a glorious photo opportunity. Meanwhile the rest of the team, and the boys, gathered around to compliment JC on her style.

The group course walk was now about to begin, a walk that will go down as the longest course walk in history, EVER! That wasn’t because we got lost in the beautiful Meath countryside, it was because of the vast amount of photos that were taken, including a rather splendid team shot. After all, this was the beginning of an adventure, and we wanted to have plenty of memories to look back upon … plus we needed to show the folks back home just what they had missed!

I rounded everyone up for the killer photo but we were still one short. A quick phone call to Mark Wall solved that one as he was in the stables tacking up the apple of his eye – Theatre Queen (we all know that Axelle is really the apple of his eye). Mark brought the mare up up to the paddock, which brought a smile to Niamh Flynn’s face, although to be fair to Niamh she didn’t stop smiling all weekend. We then headed out onto the course where Theatre Queen was to be one of the stars of the show in our photo shoot, even popping a couple of the cross country fences!

I’d brought a few extra Euros to put on Theatre Queen, and I have a feeling I wasn’t the only one, but there will be other days for her and I’m looking forward to seeing her in action next season. I’m very grateful that Mark and the team brought her over as they also managed to squeeze my AGA banners and pop-up AGA into the lorry (note the strategically placed AGA sign in the photo).

Thumbs up for Beazo! Although Will and Josh missed the cue, don’t they realise that if we sponsored a mens series they would get to do stuff like this every week!

And then we were off! With plenty of stops along the way as Beazo came up with ever more inventive places to pose for photos, even though he struggled to control ‘the kids’ at times.

Once a shot was in the can he was off to the next vantage point with his silver locks flowing in the breeze, and looking like a modern day pied piper!

The flags would come in handy later in the day (and during the evening), but only one of them was to make it back to the UK as the rest were casualties of a very good night! They made several appearances in our photos, although I hear that they have been airbrushed out on the photos posted on websites over the water … only joking!

This photo took a bit of organising, and needed an intervention from Mrs S, but we got there in the end. Although we were without Mark Wall who as you can see was busy elsewhere on the course!

I was a little bit slow capturing the next few shots – too busy talking (for a change), but I’m sure Beazo will have been on the ball. It was good to watch and I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, Mark or the mare!

Meanwhile John now had his attention on the logs and another idea was starting to take shape – something which involved a bit of climbing, for the boys and the girls!

It also involved plenty of laughter, something which was to be a feature of our trip, especially when photos emerged of the AGA man on the dancefloor!

The man who likes to take the photos was desperate to join in the fun so with a big thumbs up from our AGA champ, and a smile from everyone, the AGA man stepped up to capture the moment.

Our (new) friends from Irish Horse TV, including the charismatic presenter Conan Rowan, asked if they could film some interviews for a forthcoming programme about the day, and our boys and girls were only too happy to oblige. Although the interviews couldn’t start until Alex Edwards had been groomed by Jacqueline and Gina, and as you can see Al was enjoying it!

The boys and girls were superb, born to be in front of a camera, and I’m looking forward to seeing if they all make the final cut when the programme is aired. I’m also looking forward to seeing whether my effort makes the final cut …

The girls were ready for an ice cream now, while the boys headed for the bar … the coffee bar that is! The crowd had swelled considerably while we were out on the course and there was a nice buzz among the visitors from the UK as the off time approached for the first race.

Once racing was under way the day flew by and it was soon time for the ladies challenge race, which soon became two races as it had to be divided. The tension was mounting as the girls gathered in the paddock to await the draw … although as you can see they were fairly relaxed! Gina stepped forward to join Liz Lalor while Neil Walsh flipped the coin – I think it was a Euro but I’ll have to check with Niamh Flynn (she’ll laugh when she reads that). Richard Pugh did the honours on the microphone.

Gina won the toss so was allocated the highest rated horse in the race – Connemara Kate, with Liz getting Pretty In Pumps, then the rest of the girls were allocated a horse, alternating between Team GB & Team Ireland. This prompted a mass consultation of the racecard by all of the girls, before they headed off to find their respective owners and trainers.

We watched the girls weigh out, with Harty in particular hamming it up for the camera, although like the rest of our girls she is used to the AGA man popping up with a camera here, there and everywhere!

We’ve been sponsoring ladies point-to-point racing in the UK for three seasons and the girls are almost like an extended family. Wouldn’t it be great if the Irish girls had a similar series? Although I think it would take more than one visit to Ireland for them to get used to the AGA man!

These two were in good spirits, and they would also be in good spirits at the reception as well, but more of that later! It was now time for the boys to join Neil Walsh and Richard Pugh in the paddock to make the draw for their challenge race, although they appeared to be a little more tense than the girls (or is that focussed?).

Will Biddick stepped forward to make the call for the boys as Neil Walsh again flipped the coin, meanwhile we took the opportunity to erect our pop-up AGA, leaving the boys to study their racecards.

The AGA was up in no time and it was to be the centrepiece of many a photo throughout the rest of the day, one of the photos even making it into this weeks edition of Horse & Hound!

Pauline Harkin – trainer of double Cheltenham winner Doctor Kingsley, had joined us in the paddock to choose ‘Best Turned Out’ in the first division of the ladies race, and she was introduced  by the course announcer, Mr G. J. McCoy, Esq. What a thoroughly nice man, and a real character to boot, he kept all of us entertained throughout the two days, and would make a welcome addition to any UK point-to-point meeting.

And then the moment had arrived, the real reason for our trip, the AGA race! The girls were rounded up as they entered the paddock for the first of many photo opportunities, and while I know that they know that I appreciate their co-operation, it’s nice to be able to mention it here!

We like this one, well, we like all of the photos, and the girls certainly seemed to be enjoying the banter. There was more, as before the owners and trainers could get near them the girls suddenly found themselves standing around a strategically placed AGA for the next photo – as ever choreographed by Beazo.

Lovely photos, and they’ll be great to look back in on years to come as history was being made before our very eyes. We were about to watch a team compete for their country in an amateur sport – how good is that? It was fantastic to be a part of it, a real privilege and I’m certainly proud to say “I was there”.

What a great view, and another fantastic photo from John Beasley, I wonder whether The Big Green Annual will have an ‘Irish’ section next year?

The race was won by Gina Andrews, and with Jane Williams in second place, and Jacqueline Coward in fourth, Team GB took a 21-0 lead – a pretty strong position to be in with the second division still to come. The winning connections then refused to leave the paddock until a photo had been taken containing an AGA and a Union flag … ok, I made that last bit up!

A quick change for the girls and it was straight back out for the second division, with yet another photo opportunity or two for the AGA man, one which involved a flag (I had brought plenty with me), an AGA, and some very talented lady riders.

This one was soon organised, although there was someone missing, can you spot who it is? She made it eventually and a version of this photo would soon be trending worldwide – and still is a week later! As I go through the photos and choose a selection for this blog I’m remembering just how much fun we had, smiles all round in almost every photo – we really are all very lucky!

I could hear a very familiar voice saying “she’s a good leper” and turned around to see Ted Walsh giving instructions to Jacqueline Coward – who was sporting a serious set of old colours.

Meanwhile Aine Dagg was preparing to be legged up on Little Dream for what would prove to be a momentous ride for her.

Ted found time for a quick TV interview before insisting that he had his photo taken by the AGA with the AGA man (who believes that?).

“I’m sorry to rush you but the AGA man is waiting for me and I need to have my photo taken with him …” We all know I’m only kidding but full marks to Ted, who was a great sport – what a nice chap!

Division two belonged to Ireland and was won by Aine Dagg – her first ever win, and she was elated. The sting in the tail for the Irish girls was that Aine was not part of the team so her fabulous win did not score any points, although Team GB were not complaining!

A second place for Maxine O’Sullivan and a third for Annie Bowles clawed some points back for Team Ireland, but a fourth for Jane Williams put the icing on a great performance and extended the away teams lead by 3 points. The winning score was 24-12 and Team GB were elated! It was now time for the boys to join the fray and see whether they could match the girls performance, starting with a photo opportunity by the AGA.

While the boys were legged up we prepared for the presentation to Team GB, which had to be delayed as Jacqueline had taken a nasty spill at the last fence in the home straight and was still feeling a little shaken up. When our AGA Champ did emerge from the changing tent it was minus her Team GB jacket – but she went back for it, and Beazo lined everyone up for another killer photo!

The main presentation would take place later that evening at the reception in Tattersalls Country House, however, this provided a nice opportunity for a photo in the sunshine by the AGA, and I was joined by Lucy Tucker from The Point-to-Point Authority, and Neil Walsh from Tattersalls, as well as our victorious girls!

While we were wrapping things up in the paddock the boys were doing their stuff out on the track – obviously inspired by the girls, and a win for Will Biddick on Ed’s Legacy, with a third place for Mark Wall put the gents team well on their way to victory, with the second division still to come. The return to the paddock also marked the Irish debut of the ‘Will Biddick fan club’!

While his fan club cheered Will was adorned with a Union flag by Jacqueline Coward, and was then joined by happy connections – including Niamh Flynn, for a very happy photo.

Division two brought more success for Team GB with a win for Mark Wall on Carry On Nando (great ride), and a third for Will Biddick, which gave the boys another healthy points total and a 32-13 victory. The girls – or two of them at least, took this as an opportunity to start the party and headed for the beer tent. Can you guess which two I’m referring to?

It was all a bit of a blur after that and before we knew it we were heading for the Country House for the presentations to the winning teams, which would be followed by a live band and then a disco! The pop-up AGA managed to make the journey from the course to the Country House unscathed – although Beazo and Mrs S must take the credit for that, and it miraculously appeared on the edge of the presentation area.

“How did this AGA get here, did he bring two with him?” Richard Pugh was the man with the microphone, which unfortunately didn’t work, so he had to shout (and he made a good job of it). First up was the losing team to receive their commemorative plates from a grinning AGA man, swiftly followed by our AGA ladies to receive their commemorative plates. Again, from a grinning, but rather red faced AGA man – red faced due to the sun and wind burn I hasten to add!

Our victorious boys were up next but they were spared the grinning AGA man, and had to make do with a couple of rather glum looking Irish chaps – only kidding fellas! They were followed by Lucy T and Aine Dagg, who also received gifts, and then attention turned to the dancefloor!

The dancing and everything that followed would fill a blog post all on its own so I’ll close here by saying that we all had a tremendous day, and I think I can speak for every single visitor from the UK when I say that we thoroughly enjoyed it. The organisation and hospitality were second to none and we had the added bonus of being able to cheer on two winning teams. The girls more than held their own in the party stakes during the rest of the evening (and into the early hours), with sterling performances from all four team members. Jane Williams just shaded it for performance of the night, while on the dance floor we had some all action performances from Luke Harvey, Paul Carberry, Gordon Elliot, Jacqueline Coward, Aine Dagg, Jelly O’Brien, Angela Slatter, Joanna Andrews, Pauline Harkin and a whole host of others. It was a close run thing but the overall score on the dance floor between Team GB & Team Ireland would have to be a draw. Other than that there’s really just one more thing to say, and it is quite appropriate – “thanks a million”.

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