Monday, 30 November 2015
A Day At The Races: The weather forecast was for rain, wind and overcast skies; nor really a day for a walk. But there was a point-to point meeting though at Cottenham, just north of Cambridge, so I decided to re-visit an event I hadn't been to for years.
Point-To-Point: For those who haven't worked it out from the pictures it's a type of horse racing over fences. The oldest record we have for anything like it is from Ireland in 1752 when two neighbours raced each other across country from one church to another. Riders could take any route they wanted to, using the church steeple as a marker. Consequently such races became known as "steeplechases".
The phrase "point-to-point" was not used till 1875, though the rules seem to have been much the same. All this is rather academic anyway since people have surely raced on horses for as long as they've been riding them and if things got in the way they must have jumped over them.
The Way It Is Now: Over the years things have become more organised. Nowadays there is a roughly oval racecourse, specially built fences, rails where they are needed to guide the horses on the correct course. There are facilities for spectators and jockeys though often they're quite basic. But the days of farmers racing against one another on their hunting horses are largely a thing of the past
Point-to-point still maintains close connections with the world of fox-hunting and is an amateur sport. It's a lot more low-key than the professional circuit, which is known, a little confusingly, as National Hunt racing. In National Hunt racing the races can be over various distances and can be over fences or hurdles, point-to-point races are over fences and usually over a three-mile course.
In The News: Point-to-point meetings don't usually get much coverage in the papers, but this year there have been stories that Olympic cycling medallist, Victoria Pendleton, in a bold attempt to switch sports, was going to make her debut over jumps at Cottenham, but in the end she decided to race elsewhere. It didn't seem to detract from the days entertainment and several leading jockeys, like Gina Andrews (above), served up some great racing.
The Bookie: Many people attending the meeting examined their racecards in great detail in an attempt to find the winners and defeat the on-course bookmakers. It adds a little spice to the day, but if you understand the mathematics then you'll know that it's the bookie whose bound to win out in the end. There was a whole row of them for you to give your money to. None of them ran out of money and went home during the afternoon!
The Winner: Although the sport is amateur there are small prizes for the winners, though I doubt they would even pay for the feed for very long. However the joy for the jockeys, owners, trainers and all those connected with stable is still clear to see.
The Weather: In the end the pessimism of the Meteorological Office was ill-founded. Although it was cloudy and windy it stayed dry - so many more days out are ruined by bad weather forecasts than are ever spoiled by bad weather!
I did have doubts when I saw the runners in the first race however; they included horses called Storm Lantern and Weather Warning!
Goodbye: Racing was all finished by three o'clock, though leaving was delayed for a few minutes while they rounded up horses that had fallen and lost their riders during the last race. If you want to find out about point-to-point meetings this winter then you can find them here: https://www.pointtopoint.co.uk/fixtures