This evening’s meeting at Stratford-upon-Avon, featuring three key end-of-season championship races, denotes the climax of the 2014 hunter chase calendar.
This has been a mixed season for hunter chases, with the odd embarrassingly low field number or uncompetitive event offset by some very hard-fought races, which have proven good advertisements for point-to-pointing.
While the drop in the number of such races programmed at the outset of the season — 101 in 2014 compared with 112 last year and 132 in 2004 — suggests a worrying decline. The cutback has been necessary to counter the reduced number of horses and jockeys.
Hopefully, the slow climb out of recession will bring about a U-turn in seasons to come.
Bar Cheltenham’s May evening meeting, the recent Fontwell Park (rehomed from the now defunct Folkestone racecourse) equivalent is the only other remaining all-hunter chase card on the calendar.
Having attended both, it was clear to see they can be very worthwhile for the courses that put them on — with large numbers of spectators enjoying some competitive racing. It is a shame therefore that more courses do not consider such meetings.
Many positives could be taken from the Fontwell meeting, not least good safe ground, but the majority of races only carried a £1,500 total prize-fund, which rather discouraged connections of better quality horses travelling down to the south-east.
Most people accept that money put into point-to-pointing is done so for enjoyment and rarely ever seen again, but it would increase the attractiveness of this meeting and others if the winning/placed horses covered the costs of the day out. By upping the prize-fund to, say, £2,500-3,000 per race, I have no doubt it would encourage better horses to turn up and improve the spectacle of the event.
Luckily, on this occasion, the £290 second-place prize-money just about got my mount back to Somerset before the meter ran dry…