The Croome & West Warwickshire Point-to-Point will always be associated with Ryalls Court, Upton-upon-Severn, the meeting's home for over 130 years until the course’s closure in 2017. That venue was allowed to develop and mature at a time when fixtures were not in the public gaze, but the replacement was never going to be allowed that luxury.
The answer came at the Lawnswood Farm Shelfield, home of the Croome & West Warwickshire’s long serving Joint Master Patty Allen, which had all the attributes required for setting up a new course. As work progressed a temporary move was made to Maisemore Park in 2018, while alternative arrangements could not be made for the 2019 meeting. The course was due to open in 2020 but suffered a last-minute cancellation when heavy rain rendered the course un-raceable.
Twelve months later and Covid cast its shadow with the 20th March meeting falling foul of Pandemic regulations, but the Croome and West Warwickshire were determined the meeting would go ahead, even if it was behind closed doors, and it was rearranged for Sunday 11th April.
New courses always encounter teething problems, but Shelfield Park received many favourable comments during its Open Day last year, so it will be interesting to hear from the jockeys regarding their thoughts and if any adjustments are required.
Seven horses have entered for the Members in the hope of getting their owners' names in the record books for winning the first race over the new course. These include Tom Britten who has the option of riding Orange Nassau, State of Origin or Toowoomba and claiming this honour.
Master Sunrise will relish the conditions but has to concede weight to his rivals but Mervyn Jones' gelding is an experienced campaigner who has run consistently throughout his long career and could cause a surprise. Chu Chu Percy is a consistent performer between the flags, but may be hampered by a long absence, although Jo Priest has proved she can overcome these challenges in the past.
It may be too much to hope but all the clues point in Workbench’s direction, but is it too much of a fairy-tale to expect the 13-year-old to land the spoils for two people who have been instrumental in the course’s development. He is due to carry the colours of Clerk of the Course Nick Pearce, who works for Dan Skelton at nearby Lodge Hill and the course’s owner Patty Allen. It is a shame the public is not allowed access to show their appreciation as Workbench would be a very appropriate winner.
Twenty horses hold entries in the Conditions for which the Gerald Bailey trained Early Retirement is among one of the more fancied contenders. Captiva Island carries the hopes of Alan Hill’s stable, while Fox Valley and General Arrow hail from the all-conquering Tom Ellis/Gina Andrews yard, which enjoyed a fruitful Easter.
The West Midlands have two worthy representatives in Chase Me and Waterloo Warrior but both have to concede weight to their rivals. Neither of them sparkled at Maisemore last week, but probably needed that outing to get them race fit. Chase Me has an alternative engagement in the Men’s Open where the boot would be on the other foot and he would receive weight from the likely favourite Vivaldi Collonges.
Black River is sure to go well, while Chahuteur was pulled out of a race at Dingley on Monday and Port Melon was going well when he ran out at Sandon. Robin des People won well at Maisemore, whereas Silvergrove will benefit from a recent run at Doncaster and a liking for sounder surfaces.
Vivaldi Collonges only had to beat two rivals at Gloucester Races but did so in emphatic manner and could win despite his penalty.
Agamemmon was the surprise winner of a Kimble Ladies last weekend and could strike again in the Skinners sponsored Ladies at this meeting, where the opposition includes Changeofluck who has the advantage of being trained by Alan Hill and ridden by Izzy Marshall.
Pass the Hat could spring a surprise but Summer Sounds showed signs that he is coming back to his best by chasing home Newsworthy at Revesby Park and that horse won again at Dingley on Monday.
Potential runners in the Novice Riders include Bramble Brook and Fox Valley, but one that catches the eye is a horse called Nesterenko who is owned and trained by Venetia Williams and used to carry the colours of Grand National winning owner Vida Bingham, owner of Mon Mome. Jockey plans are undecided and there is no obvious candidate but if it is anybody associated with the trainer's Ross on Wye yard, they should be more than capable of steering the gelding to victory.
Gats and Co will be all the rage for the Print Concern Restricted on the strength of his recent win at Gloucester Races and it is difficult to look beyond Bradley Gibbs’s mount. Aclassagold and Love Around both have similar profiles, while Round Robin ran well on his seasonal debut.
Midnight Frensi has struggled to regain the form shown two years ago, while Phoenix Park’s effort behind Premier Magic at Didmarton 12 months ago would give him a good chance in this event.
Andrew Campbell has a Cheltenham winner to his name and not a lot of Point-to-Point trainers have that on their C.V. Mykonos Ammos struggled in two runs for Nigel Twiston-Davies but Campbell has shown he is capable of succeeding where others have failed so it will be interesting to see how he fares. This horse always holds an engagement in the concluding Maiden, but on paper this looks stronger than the Restricted.
Between You and Me and Jail No Bail are based with Chris Barber down in Dorset and come from a batch of 10 Irish horses sent over when Pointing closed down the other side of the Irish Sea. Connections have already struck winning form with three of them, so that gives you some idea about their level of ability.
Leading trainer Phil Rowley could saddle the un-raced No Authority, while Tom Weston’s Hindlip yard relies on Yellow Bay. Add Guinness Village from Clive Boultbee-Brookes Herefordshire yard and the picture becomes even more clouded.
Rose Iland has been placed twice at Maisemore but has looked a little one paced at the finish, while Shamilan was beaten a short head at Chaddesley before running out at Gloucester Races recently.
Maiden races always provide this challenge, with experienced horses up against those with untapped potential and it is always a guessing game as to which one comes out on top.