The races began informally as members of the hunting community kept their horses fit by racing from one steeple to another, over whatever hedges and ditches lay in their path. The name point-to-point, which alludes to the points of steeples, was coined in the 19th century and was initially synonymous with steeplechasing. There is still an overlap between the two names although point to points are contested by amateurs on horses, which qualify for races in the hunting field and steeplechases refer to races run under National Hunt rules.
To be eligible for point to points horses must be registered thoroughbreds and hold an official passport, except in Hunt members races, and have to obtain a hunters certificate from a Master of Foxhounds, stating that they have hunted for at least four days in a season.
Anybody can own a point to pointer as long as they are a member, subscriber or farmer of the Hunt that issued the Hunters Certificate for your horse. To spread the costs syndicates are becoming more popular thus allowing more people to be involved in the sport and enjoy a day out. You then need to decide on a set of colours – the top worn by the jockey in a race – and these only need to be registered with Weatherbys if the horse is going to run in Hunter Chases. These are then listed in the racecard under the horse's details.
With regards to the training of the horse, the owner can train it themselves, but many people do prepare horses for point to point owners and are referred to as trainers with their name appearing in the racecard.
When it comes to entering a point to point, these must be made by the owner or a chosen representative. Entries must by made on the official entry form and sent to the entries secretary, although telephone entries are becoming more popular and need to be paid with a credit or debit card. This season has seen the launch of online entries, which can be made at www.pointopointentries.co.uk , where owners will receive a unique username and password. Each meeting will have a date and time, when all entries have to be received – after this time entries are closed.
Before entering you have to decide which race is most suitable for your horse – the categories being members, confined, intermediate, ladies and mens opens, maiden and restricted. There can be additional factors to some races eg novice riders, so check conditions carefully beforehand.
Races are generally run over three miles but maidens can be run over shorter distances (2m 6f) or opens over further (4m).
The weight carried by each horse also varies depending on the age and gender of the horse with the top weight being 12st 5lbs and the minimum weight must not be below 10st.
The next step is to have a jockey for your horse and again there are certain requirements before you are allowed to ride in a race. Jockeys have to be at least 16 years old and the holder of a riders qualification certificate, which is issued by the Point-to-Point Authority. They also have to be a member of a Hunt and all first time riders need to submit a medical form that has been completed by their GP.
Once all the paperwork is completed you just have to make sure you and your horse are fit to enjoy the thrill of taking part in a point-to-point. Many of our leading riders under Rules, such as Ruby Walsh, Timmy Murphy and Sam Twiston Davies graduated through the point-to-pointing ranks, so you never know what the future holds!
The point-to-point season runs from December to June in the Northern Area and you don't need to be involved in a horse to go racing. The day can be a great outing for all the family but wrap up warm and take your wellies. There are always bar and catering facilities, though an enjoyable part of the day, is the picnic and drinks out the boot of the car. Most grandstands are the side of a hill so take a pair of binoculars to watch the races and to keep the children amused there is often a bouncy castle and sweetie stall.
National Hunt trainer, Lucinda Russell, has been a great ambassador for starting several jockeys off in the point to pointing field before they turned conditional – namely Craig Nichol, Steven Fox and Grant Cockburn – who are all winning races under Rules. This season she has handed over the training of the pointers to assistant head lad, Mark Ellwood, who has eight in training. These include Seeyouthere and Quws law, who will give 17-year-old Hamish McNeill and Nick Orpwood respectively, their first rides of the season on December 16 at Ratcheugh, Alnwick.
Hamish, cousin of the late Campbell Gillies, has been with Lucinda since June and Nick joined the stable last season after a spell with Rose Dobbin. Twenty-one-year-old Rachel McDonald, runner up in the ladies championship last season, is still based with Lucinda and has two in training for herself. Other jockeys associated with the yard, who hope to point to point this season, are Joanna Walton, Jamie Lyttle and Tom Greenwood.
Second season trainer, Dan Ockenden, who has moved to a new yard at Leslie in Fife, has nine horses to point-to-point. Dan, 27, who show jumped to grand prix level before turning to racing in 2008, also rides out in the mornings for Nick Alexander. To help him with the horses at home he has taken on 17-year-old Blair Campbell, last season's novice champion, who will be partnering most of the horses in their races so Dan can concentrate on training. He hopes to have three runners at the first meeting – Drumgrey, Whoslaughingnow and Comeonskinnylove, who was bought by Campbell Gillies and who Dan owns jointly with Campbell's mother, Leslie. Other horses include ex Nick Alexander trained The Paddy Premium and Amulree, which will be first rides for 21-year-old Gemma Cochrane, daughter of Alistair, who owns the yard. All the horses enjoy a trip to the beach at St Andrews once a week to give them a change of scenery and a splash in the sea.
Fixtures for the forthcoming 2012/2013 season. (in box)
16 Ratcheugh Racing Club, Alnwick
20 West Percy, Alnwick
27 Jedforest, Friars Haugh
10 Dumfriesshire, Overton
17 Percy, Alnwick
3 Tynedale, Corbridge
10 College Valley & North Northumberland, Alnwick
16 Duke of Buccleuch, Friars Haugh
23 Lanark & Renfrewshire and Eglinton, Overton
30 Berwickshire, Friars Haugh
1 Cumberland Farmers, Dalston
6 Morpeth, Tranwell
21 Braes of Derwent – Corbridge
27 Fife – Balcormo Mains
5 Lauderdale – Mosshouses
11 Cumberland – Aspatria
19 Haydon – Hexham
25 Border – Hexham