The conclusion of the Point-to-Point season at Umberleigh in Devon on June 11 brought to a close the longest season in the sport's history, the first fixture having been staged at Bishops Court, also in Devon, on October 30.
The Midland counties of Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Hereford & Worcester and Staffordshire remain a key heartland in a sport where keen interest and sufficient horses in training are becoming increasingly regionalized.
Trainers within the midlands are prominent in the Trainers' Championship, sponsored by Foran. The peerless Tom Ellis is in a field of his own, with 62 winners from 30 individual winners. Highlights of the season included Latenightpass in the Randox Aintree Foxhunter, and the four victories of Fumet d'Oudairies, the last at Stratford's Hunters' evening at the end of last month. The eight year old Precious Bounty, owned by Joanne Callwood, ran up a sequence of 5 consecutive wins at Cocklebarrow, Charing, Ampton, Brafield and Dingley before being touched off on his final run back at Dingley in early May.
However, the top 10 also included Fran Poste, whose 115 runners brought about 25 winners, and Phil Rowley with 19 from 75. These represent the core of our sport in the shape of professional handlers running a yard full of owners, rather than owner-trainer-riders, who are thin on the ground.
Among the riders, Warwickshire-based Andrew King won the Gentleman Rider's Championship for a second time, with 62 winners to Will Biddick's 51, and it barely bears mention that Gina Andrews remains at the top of the Lady Riders' Championship with 43 winners. In this age of egalitarianism, perhaps it's time these two were amalgamated for a single championship.
The sport is now largely focused on fixtures in Yorkshire, the far South-West and Wessex, and the midland shires. The number of horses in training in the home counties is tiny, and even the normally enthusiastic Welsh have met with setbacks to their fixtures this year. That said, a reduction in the fixture list would be no bad thing. With an average 3.5 horses per race, the sport needs to lose some opportunities in order to improve the competitive element of those that survive.