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Andrews equals Gundry record

Having a champion trainer elect, together with a champion lady rider and champion jockey on your patch brings plenty of opportunity for headlines. And whilst Sister Bridget , and more recently brother Jack, have both graduated to the professional ranks, Gina Andrews continues to dominate the Point-to-Point scene.

The season is still in its early stages, but for those that have attended local meetings at Knightwick, Barbury and this week's Harkaway fixture at Chaddesley, there have been plenty of clues for the months ahead.

And we saw at least two Cheltenham Foxhunter candidates in action earlier this week, as the weather gods looked kindly on the Harkaway fixture for relatively mild conditions and soft ground. Rewarded by some 150 entries, the fixture also attracted strong pre-event sales from the public, even some from those in Wales denied the opportunity to go racing west of the Severn.

Dubai Quest, winner of the Ladies Open, and creator of a new record for Gina Andrews, equalling Polly Gundry's long record of 303 Point-to-Point winners is pencilled in for a trip to Cheltenham after winning the Ladies Open. As our champion lady rider, it seems a foregone conclusion Gina will become the new record holder before another fortnight has passed.

In this race, Tango De Juilley, Dubai Quest and Red Indian dominated the market, with the latter most people’s idea of the winner. Tango de Juilley and Flora Guy had galloped a Ffos Las Mixed Open field into submission and set out to achieve the same objective in this race. They were soon in the box seat, while Dubai Quest sat in the leader’s slipstream, whereas Red Indian was a lot further back, until making a forward move at half way.

Tango de Juilley started to stretch his lead entering the back straight, but tried to walk through the 13th and having lost several lengths as a result of that mistake this left the door open for Dubai Quest and Red Indian who reduced the leaders advantage a few fences later. These three horses then galloped clear of the field with Andrews’s mount drawing level at the third from home, but just when it seemed Tango de Juilley would pay for his earlier endevours, Miss Guy’s mount showed remarkable battling qualities and soon got back on level terms, while Alice Stevens and Red Indian were struggling to pick up the leaders.

Andrews got down into the drive position at the second from home and settled matters with another prodigious leap at the last and Miss Guy accepted defeat halfway up the run in.

Gina Andrews levels the score with Polly Gundry on Dubai Quest
Gina Andrews levels the score with Polly Gundry on Dubai Quest

While the winner received the plaudits and was earmarked for a potential engagement at Cheltenham in March, the runner up deserves some credit as he finished two and a half lengths in front of Red Indian.

Questioned afterwards about equalling the record Andrews replied modestly “I am pleased to reach this total and match what Polly did. I watched the seconds previous run and was a bit nervous but was confident when I got on level terms”.

This was the first in the series of races run in memory of Lorna Brooke and she would have been pleased to see a race of this quality dedicated to her memory, with most impartial observers predicting “this was the race of the season”.

Last year’s Cheltenham Foxhunters winner Porlock Bay put his reputation on the line against the 2021 Dudley Cup winner Premier Magic in the Men's Open.

Rider Bradley Gibbs was content to let Complete Sizing cut out the donkey work and the latter was still in front with half a mile to run but both Porlock Bay and Premier Magic were primed to launch their attack which Biddick and Gibbs did up the final hill.

There was little between the three horses at the 16th, but approaching the final bend Premier Magic and Porlock Bay quickened clear and made their bid for glory with both jockeys firing their horses into the penultimate obstacle. Premier Magic held a narrow advantage approaching the final fence but Porlock Bay quickened into the fence and started off up the run in with a slender lead before Gibbs forced his mount's head in front again approaching the line to claim a length victory.

It's a long 12 weeks to Cheltenham, which will also be run on very different ground, but if this is what we can expect to see, we have a treat in store.

Porlock Bay (far side) out jumps Premier Magic at the last but succumbs on the run-in
Porlock Bay (far side) out jumps Premier Magic at the last but succumbs on the run-in

If you're looking for precocious young riders, then perhaps the latest youngster to try her hand is the youngest daughter of champion trainer Paul Nicholls, scoring her debut winner on Virak for Worcestershire owner Clive Hitchings.

Accompanied by her father, Olive Nicholls teamed up with Virak which Nicholls owns in partnership with Worcestershire based Clive Hitchings. After early skirmishes the race became a battle between Dounikos, Virak and Looksnowtlikebrian with Doc Carver a further 12-lengths back in fourth, with that gap widening even further with half a mile to run.

Virak started to edge clear climbing the final hill and had seen off the challenges of Looksnowtlikebrian and Dounikos, but Rebecca Pugh and Doc Carver swept past those two rivals and looked a big danger on the home turn.

Doc Carver momentarily got his head in front between the final two fences, but Virak then showed his class and settled the issue with another quick and efficient jump at the last that allowed his young rider to push her mount clear as they raced towards the judge.

Owner Clive Hitchings leads in Virak with Olive Nicholls
Owner Clive Hitchings leads in Virak with Olive Nicholls

Nicholls explained the Virak was “the ideal schoolmaster” and how the sport has helped his own career progression and “is vital as it provides jockeys and stable staff for the future”, while his daughter described the occasion as “amazing and thrilling” and stated how the horse had “helped her out all the way”.

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