Monday, 23 January 2012

Getting to the point.....

The big racing news of the weekend was trackside, rather than having anything to do with horseflesh - Ascot's spot of bother with its new dress regulations.  However, just up the M40 a few thousand people were having much more fun - and all dressed impeccably.

The Heythrop point to point was held at Dunthrop for the last time on Sunday, with the organisers citing the inability to water as the key reason.  This essentially means they have no choice but to meet early in the season, and hence restrict the number of races on the card because of the limited amount of daylight. Next year, they're moving to a new site in Aldsworth, so it was a last chance to experience the extreme silliness that a point to point 600 feet above sea level in January has always been....

A general lack of rain recently meant that the going was at least firm, and the car parking didn't resemble quite the Passchendaele of some past years.  There were a variety of decent stalls, some of which will be familiar from elsewhere on the circuit, offering the chance to stock up on everything from hunting prints to the works of Dick Francis.  I made a beeline straight for the cider stall, where £3 purchased an incredibly dry scrumpy at around 8%.  Once the initial shock had burned off a few tastebuds, the flavour settled down to a very crisp note; even so, it took nearly an hour to drink...

As ever, a good crowd had been drawn from the surrounding area.  Obviously a large number had come across from Chipping Norton, two miles to the west, but there were a fair few of the usual suspects from the hunting world.  The Heythrop were  out in force, but there were also contingents from the Christ Church & Farley Hill Beagles and Four Shires Basset Hounds as well.

So to the racing.  Prices were pretty keen along the run of bookmakers, but what reputation I may have had as a judge of horses was in tatters by the end of the afternoon following a steady procession of three legged horses, fallers, and non-stayers. Nevertheless, I'm sure someone somewhere had some success (probably the chap with the chalkboard).

Point to pointing has been undergoing something of a renaissance lately, as people seek out less costly ways of entertaining themselves than the corporatised experiences at the big racecources.  It's part of a wider trend that has seen attendances up at agricultural shows throughout the country - if only the Royal had held on for a couple more years it might still be with us!

As ever, there's a lot going on out here in the countryside if you scratch the surface.  An awful lot of the point to point was only possible because land owners and hunt supporters had donated their time, assets and experiences.  It wouldn't be possible without this sense of community, and of place.

Dunthrop was always a cold experience, and some years I certainly wondered what on earth I was doing there, but it will be sad not to be there next year.  Aldsworth is going to have a lot to measure up to, but I'm sure in 20 years time it will be every bit a part of the local calendar as its draughty but wonderful predecessor.

Next up, the Bicester with Whaddon Chase at Whitfield on 18th March (HS2 permitting...) - well, strictly the Bullingdon at Kingston Blount's before then, but who in their right mind wants to go to a point to point on the last Saturday of the hunting season?

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