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  1. "Quality will out" is a watchword for racing at Aintree nowadays, where the era of long-priced unfancied horses has largely been put to bed by changes to race conditions and the shape of the fences. And perhaps the racing over the National fences is better for that. 

    That quality was proven yesterday when 3/1 favourite It's On The Line, trained by Emmet Mullins, and ridden by Derek O'Connor, outstayed the other 9 finishers in the 22 runner field that faced the starter in the Randox Foxhunter Chase. 

    Rated 140, It's On The Line was rated 6lb higher than any other horse in the field bar third placed Annamix, a contender from Closutton. Second, Benny's Hill, trained by Dan Skelton, took up the running 5 out, but was run out of it on the elbow and finished 4 1/4l adrift, Annamix a further length behind. 

    Time Leader, prominent throughout, briefly disputed the lead on the lead-in, but couldn't maintain the advantage for Huw Edwards, and was the only amateur-trained runner to finish in the money.

    Not everyone is pleased to see the sport's biggest owner scooping up a prize designed for the amateur division. Whilst there is much to admire about the contribution J P McManus has made to the sport at every level, the amateur ethos of this type of race, and the Cheltenham Foxhunter last month, is being eroded by horses trained by licensed trainers attracted by the relatively large prize funds. The £50,000 on offer here compares to £5,000 or less for an ordinary hunter chase, £1,000 or less for a point-to-point.

    It seems manifestly unfair that of the 22 runners, only three truly amateur -ridden horses finished the race, outpointed by better quality animals that could as equally be running in proper Rules races. This is one reason why Sine Nomine's victory at Cheltenham, and Premier Magic's the previous year, were so well received. Fiona Needham's horse represents the true grass roots of the sport.

    The counter-argument is of course, that the quality of the races has improved overall. that is not in dispute, but the number of horses rated 130+ in hunter chases and point-to-points is modest, and these potential competitors are being crowded out by professionals - trainers and riders too in all but name. Perhaps a rating cap is required to allow more point-to-pointers to take part without feeling over-faced, but this approach is also counter-intuitive.

    In the much smaller US steeplechasing scene, the programme for point-to-point and mainstream Jump fixtures is now largely combined, but this is not currently the case in the UK or Ireland, although fixtures like the Barbury International tried to achieve it.

    No easy answers, but surely an issue race planners might seek to address.

  2. Time Leader and Spyglass offer the best chance of continued home-grown success on the Randox Foxhunter Chase, the second of the three "classics" of the amateur season tomorrow at Aintree. 

    Twenty-two runners line up for the thrill of a lifetime - a circuit of Aintree's Grand National fences, but rarely nowadays, the ground will be soft or heavy, which always throws up some imponderables.

    Time Leader has enjoyed a successful season to date for trainer Hannah Roach and his owners from the North Staffordshire. A faacile win at the Portman in mid-November was followed by an uncharacteristic pull up at Chaddesley in the Wheatland 3 weeks later. He prepped neatly for Cheltenham with a bloodless 7l win at Hereford before running an excellent race to finish 6 1/4l behind Sine Nomine, 5l adrift of It's on The Line, who re-opposes. 

    Spyglass, a product of the de Bromhead yard, is now trained by Regan Pallas in Bridgend. His 1/2l beating of Iskander Pecos in the Walrus Hunters Chase at Haydock in February has been paid a compliment by the latter horse's recent Hereford win. Leading rider James King takes the ride.

    Both, however, will have their work cut out to match the quality of the two leading Irish candidates in It's On The Line from Emmet Mullins, and Annamix, from Willie Mullins Closutton winner machine.

    It's On The Line was touched off by Sine Nomine in the Cheltenham Foxhunter and is a justifibale favourite to go one better. Barring that Cheltenham second, he is unbeaten in three runs this season at Drumahane, Dromore and Naas. Emmet Mullins is of course no stranger to Aintree success, having farmed the Grand National with Noble Yeats.

    Annamix was pulled up behind It's On The Line at Naas but has won since at Gowran Park. The younger It's On The Line may have the legs on him though.

    Emmet Mullins also saddles Romeo Magico, a winner at Limerick and Dromore this term. However, the Limerick race was a maiden; this is an altogether tougher ask. 

    Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero saddles Gaboriot, a winner at Catterick. Formerly owned by Peter Daresbury, who is no stranger to Aintree, that sales may in itself give an answer. I can't see Daresbury giving up an opportunity to win a Foxhunter at the racecourse he chaired for so long. Gaboriot has 18lb to find on the ratings with the top-rated It's on The Line.

    Paul Nicholls always relishes this race, and the prize money is sufficiently large to keep him interested to sustain his Trainers' Championship claims. French-bred Cap de Methan has had a sparing campaign, with just one winning run at Leicester in March. Daughter Olive Nicholls will be in the plate.

    Championship rival Dan Skelton fields Bennys King, also a Leicester winner but well beaten behind Sine Nomine at Wetherby in February. He has something to find, unless Aintree's fences bring out something extra. That Leicester win should rule out Gordon Elliott's Hardline, 23l behind that day.

    A satellite yard of Ditcheat, Sam Loxton has entered Espoir de Guye. A winner at Wincanton when beating Famous Clermont, a previous winner of this race, he was more recently behind Captain Tommy at Ludlow and reopposes. Both have something to find to be in the finish.Also from the Loxton yard is Drop Flight, an Exeter winner.

    Lieutenant Rocco was behind Espoir de Guye at Wincanton, and there's no reason to suggest he can reverse that form for trainer Syd Hosie.

    Given a clear run, Time Leader is preferred to keep the race at home

  3. GINA Andrews enjoyed the perfect tonic ahead of her Randox Grand National bid with a dominant triumph aboard Loughan at the Vine & Craven Hunt meeting at Kingston Blount, near Chinnor, on Sunday.

    The 10-time ladies' champion rider, who will partner Latenightpass for her trainer-husband, Tom Ellis, in the Aintree spectacular on Saturday, made virtually all the running on the nine-year-old in the Savills Auctions Mixed Open.

    The son of Yeats went clear on the second circuit in the 2m 5f contest and had enough in hand to hold off the staying-on Drakes Well and Tom Hutsby by four lengths.

    Reflecting on riding a winner before her Aintree adventure, Andrews, who also trains Loughan at Marton, near Rugby, under her married name, said: "It does my confidence good I suppose. I have been getting a bit of stick about whether I should ride between now and then. It has got to me a bit. I always said nothing's changed. I carry on as normal and treat it like any other race.

    "It is a chance of a lifetime for people like us and please God we have a safe run round and anything else is a bonus."

    Loughan was completing a hat-trick after front-running victories at Dalton Park and Garthorpe, and Andrews explained: "The change of tactics seem to be working the oracle. I have been lucky in that the races we have found for him have not been particularly competitive, but he has still got to jump the fences and he is a superb jumper."

    The gelding, owned by Will Wales, Stuart and June Spence and Brian and Susie Campbell, could now go for the two-mile race at Cheltenham's hunter chase meeting on May 3.

    With wet weather leading to abandonments across the country, Kingston Blount was the only course to race at the weekend with the team receiving plaudits all round for producing ground officially described as Good, Good to Soft in places.

    Archie Loweth shone on Pym to snatch a thrilling victory in the Jockey Club & Retraining of Racehorses Veteran Horse Conditions Race (Level 2).

    Having made much of the running on the Claire Sherriff-trained 11-year-old, the teenager's mount was swamped by the rest of the field as the pace quickened after the fourth-last.

    But Loweth, 19, kept his cool and Pym came again to collar Secret Cargo (Katie Featherstone) and Benefaktor (Gina Andrews) at the last and win going away by two-and-a-half lengths and a length and a half respectively.

    Pym, who was formerly smart under rules with Nicky Henderson, had given Loweth his first winner at High Easter last month.

    "He is an out-and-out stayer and took time to get going through the gears," he said. "Coming to the last I knew I would get there. He is as game as anything. Mr (Tim) Talbot is a big owner in the yard and it's really good to get a winner for him."

    Sherriff, who trains at Lemsford, near Welwyn Garden City, added: "I am just happy to see the horse is enjoying racing again. The cheekpieces seem to have worked and helped. Archie didn't panic and knew what he was sitting on."

    Devon trainer Dean Summersby and rider Darren Edwards's first visit to Kingston Blount paid dividends when Jet Smart ran out a convincing winner of the Print Concern Restricted.

    The six-year-old was left clear to record an 11-length victory over For One Night Only and Gina Andrews after Subtle Fortune crashed out through the wing at the third-last when still in contention.

    Edwards said: "We came here understanding it was a flat track, so we were a bit surprised when we got here and saw the rolling hills. The horses have hit form in the last two or three weeks and we are desperate to go racing now. Thanks to everyone who has got the course in great nick."

    Summersby, who trains the ex-David Pipe inmate for owners Belinda Fuller, Les and Shirley Roberts and Eileen and Tony Worth at St Giles on the Heath, near Launceston, was delighted that the four-hour and 450-mile round trip had been worthwhile.

    "He is so easy to train and just does it so easy," he commented. "I was amazed how he has done it."

    Owner-trainer-rider Ben Durrell admitted Bonamargy exceeded his own expectations after the 10-year-old showed the benefit of a wind operation to take the J Passey & Son Ltd Conditions (Level 1) for Novice Riders.

    The gelding put in a fine round of jumping at the head of affairs under his 48-year-old rider, and with Count Simon blundering his chance away at the third-last, came home seven lengths ahead of For Rita and Abby Henry. 

    Durrell, whose son, Tristan, a conditional jockey now with Dan Skelton, won on the son of Arcadio at Kingston Blount two years ago, said: "He has had a wind operation and I thought I would bring him here today to have half a run, but he went the whole hog.

    "I used to point a bit before Tristan rode and I gave up riding points. When he finished, I had itchy feet and I started again."

    Bonamargy is owned by the DurrellDry Partnership consisting of the Durrell family, who are based at Chapel Brampton, near Northampton, and Pam Dry, while the horse is now trained out of Kelly Morgan's Waltham on the Wolds yard, near Melton Mowbray.

    Max Comley and James King, the season's leading trainer and rider, teamed up to take the LT Security Ltd Vine & Craven and VWH Hunt Members, Subscribers & Farmers Race with Ryans Fancy.

    King sent the 10-year-old past Learntalot at the fourth-last, and with the only other runner, Wireless Operator, going through the wing at the next, he went clear before holding off Izzie Marshall's rallying mount by three-quarters of a length.

    The former champion rider said: "I probably got there plenty early enough, but the opportunity was presented to him. He was just pulling up a bit in front and had enough left in the tank."

    Cheltenham handler Comley saddled the winner before dashing off to Exeter where he had a runner, and he explained: "He is owned by Rebecca Bell, who led him up. He is an owner-rider horse, who has been round the block, and she will have some fun with him."

    Bell, who heads the Bardie Bell Bones Partnership which owns the gelding, added: "It is thrilling. He is such a cracking horse, and it makes me proud to be doing everything with him."

    Court Cian had been let down by his jumping but got his act together to take the Simpsons Subaru Six Years Old and Over Maiden in good style for Michael Kehoe, who trains at Stewkley, near Leighton Buzzard.

    The six-year-old went clear under Charlie Case on the second circuit and, despite a slow jump at the last, he still had 14 lengths to spare over Our John and Immy Robinson at the line.

    Formerly trained by Gearoid Patrick Brouder at Newbridge in Co Kildare, the son of Court Cave was bought through JD Moore.

    Kehoe, who owns the son of Court Cave in partnership with Mark Barlow, said: "He is very keen, and his jumping is not great. He went hurdling once and got struck into and we had to stop.

    "At the start of the season his form figures were FFU and then he jumped round Larkhill and went back there and finished third."

    Case added: "He has got plenty of ability. He just needs to put it all together and the last few runs have helped him."

  4. Paul Miller will replace Peter Wright as CEO of the Point-to-Point Authority on 3 June. However, he will be at point to points most weekends for the rest of the season.

    Born and bred in Scotland, Paul spent almost 20 years in London before moving to the countryside in 2012. For the last 25 years he has been involved in recruitment solutions and resource management through his own company. Working across numerous sectors and with various businesses, his focus has been on the development of people, team structures, processes, marketing and commercial strategy, all of which are directly applicable to point to point today.

    Although only being introduced to pointing 7 or 8 years ago he has quickly become a huge enthusiast. He has been immersed in the sport through syndicates, shared ownership and racing clubs, whilst he developed an in depth understanding of the trends within the sport when carrying out a study for PPA on how to attract more horses; several strands from which are already successfully in place today.

  5. THE Vine & Craven Hunt point-to-point is back after a five-year hiatus with a new home at Kingston Blount, near Chinnor, Oxfordshire, on Sunday (1pm).

    Previously staged at Barbury Racecourse, which has now closed, the Sandhurst Area fixture hasn't taken place since 2019 due to a combination of reasons including Storm Ciara and the pandemic. However, the organisers are delighted to see the meeting return to the programme and are looking forward to some competitive action with 64 entries received for the six-race card.

    It's the first of three fixtures at Kingston Blount this spring with racing also taking place on May 12 and 26. The going on Tuesday was reported to be Good to Soft, although fence four (under the wood) will be omitted due to wet ground.

    The Savills Auctions Mixed Open over 2m 5f has attracted 11 entries with Gina Ellis responsible for the top-rated pair, I'm Spellbound and Loughan, who is also engaged at Bitterley on Saturday.

    Ellis opted to swerve Lockinge on Monday with I'm Spellbound, and the hint may be worth taking as the eight-year-old was poised to win at Larkhill last time out only to fall at the last.

    Enchanted Magic finished fourth that day for Hannah Clarke and could renew rivalry.

    "He is a very talented horse," said the Milton Abbas trainer. "He has had a lot of problems hanging violently left in every run. We think we have fixed that, but you don't know until they get on the track. He could be very exciting."

    James Henderson plans to run Frisson Collonges, who missed Lockinge in unusual circumstances.

    "He was stung by a bee," explained the Buscot Park owner-trainer. "He is all right now, but he wasn't able to do anything for a few days."

    Definite Dilemma, second to Kaproyale at Charing for Ella Gillings, before unseating at Higham last Friday, also enters calculations.

    Two hunts combine for the opening LT Security Ltd Vine & Craven and VWH Hunt Members, Subscribers & Farmers Race.

    Clarke is hoping Wireless Operator and owner-rider Ollie Chamings will be on the same wavelength after having their ups and downs before finishing fourth to For Rita at Badbury Rings.

    The trainer said: "They are definitely getting more together, which I think is key. If Ollie listens to Wireless, it is usually fine. We are really hopeful they will go well."

    Alan Hill is keeping his fingers crossed that less testing conditions will see Learntalot in a better light under Izzie Marshall after the eight-year-old was well beaten at Brafield-on-the-Green.

    The Aston Rowant trainer said: "He ran very well on soft ground under rules, and I just got it into my head that is what we should be doing. He went and won first time out on soft ground, but watching him run last time at Brafield, and talking to Izzie after the race, I think I am barking up the wrong tree."

    Henderson plans to run Bloodstone. "He has been disappointing," he said. "He won a Restricted at Lockinge last year and then one or two little things went wrong with him. Hopefully, he will be all right next weekend."

    Max Comley, the season's leading trainer, has entered Ryans Fancy, who was fourth to Killinkere at Higham on Friday, and Monday's Paxford winner Burtown. The line-up is completed by George Edgedale's Guilsborough third Kilpin.

    Clarke believes Monmouth Hill is ready to do himself justice on his seasonal appearance in the Jockey Club & Retraining of Racehorses Veteran Horse Conditions (Level 2) for Nine Year Olds and Over.

    The 11-year-old, who broke his maiden here in 2022, hasn't been seen since scoring at Milborne St Andrew last March.

    Clarke said: "He needs better ground, and he had a little injury last season. It has taken time getting him back and back on fire."

    Hill will speak to owner Richard Cranfield before deciding whether to let Back Bar take his chance after the 12-year-old finished fourth at Higham on Friday.

    The Woodway Farm handler said: "It was quick ground, and he could never really get into the rhythm we would expect. He is A1 and I will talk to the owners."

    Top rated is Mitchouka, who was second to All The Ammunition at High Easter for Michael Kehoe, while Pym, who won on the same card for Claire Sherriff, is another leading contender among the nine-strong entry.

    Hill is upbeat about Larkhill maiden winner Carryonaway in the Print Concern Restricted.

    He said: "We are really looking forward to running because he has run two very nice races for us, so we are excited by him."

    Five of the 12 entries won last time out, including Right Hand Of God, who landed a Charing Restricted by six lengths for Clarke.

    She said: "It has taken a little bit of time to find the key to him. He won last season and had other opportunities to win but he is not the most straightforward."

    Subtle Fortune, who romped home at Bangor-on-Dee for Phil Rowley, Dean Summersby's Kilworthy winner Jet Smart and For One Night Only, who claimed a short-head success at High Easter for Gina Ellis, also have strong claims. 

    Tim Underwood is set to be double-handed in the Simpsons Subaru Six Years Old and Over Maiden with Kyler Kane, the mount of Phil York, and Echo Gate, who is to be ridden by Walter Barnett.

    He said: "If I had to get on one of them, I would get on Kyler Kane because he is willing. The other horse isn't willing.

    "The trouble with Kyler Kane is he is a bit neurotic at the races. We found after he ran at Charing that his blood was all wrong."

    Clarke is looking for an improved showing from Timino Road, who has been pulled up on her last two starts under her partner, Charlie Marshall.

    The trainer said: "She ran a great race at Charing and was bang there two out before finishing sixth. Charlie thought she would win next time out but she turned out to be in season."

    Court Cian, third at Larkhill for Michael Kehoe, and Clare Lloyd Davies's Badbury Rings runner-up Trendy Lady will also have their supporters.

    Barnett is due to ride Count Simon for Robert Varnham in the J Passey & Son Ltd Conditions (Level 1) for Novice Riders.

    The 10-year-old performed with credit when second to Lusitanien at Charing in early February.

    With Monday's Lockinge winner Cusp Of Carabelli set to miss the race, Abigail Henry's For Rita looks a danger, while Methodtothemadness, a winner of four chases and a hurdle for Lucinda Russell, is an interesting recruit for Lee Moulson.