The point-to-point graduates that are ready to rock at Cheltenham and beyond *H&H Plus*

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  • Gold Cup winners See More Business and Cool Dawn, and 2020 runner-up Santini all began their journeys on a British point-to-point field. Lucy Elder looks at recent graduates who could be the rising stars of Cheltenham

    If you were to stick a pin in the entries list for the Cheltenham Festival, chances are the horse’s first racing experience was at a point-to-point. The progressive six-year-old Grade Two winner Does He Know, trained by H&H columnist Kim Bailey, has already twice proved himself at Cheltenham this season and holds a selection of Festival entries. His racing journey started with a win at Charm Park, piloted by John Dawson, for Jacqueline Coward.

    “My grandad Mick Easterby bred him. I rode his dam, Diavoleria, and won a bumper on her at Ludlow,” she says.

    “He was at my grandad’s. My uncle David [Easterby] said, ‘Bob’ – my nickname – ‘go and get that horse out the field, don’t worry about grandad, just take him and do what you can with him.’ So I did.

    “I didn’t tell them how I was getting on. I kept it under wraps because I thought he was a nice horse. I still hadn’t told them when he went over the winning line.

    “He moved beautifully and was always a fantastic jumper. Whatever I asked him to do, he did easily – nothing was a problem for him.”

    Kim remembers buying him with Aiden Murphy at the 2019 Cheltenham April Sale.

    “He struck me as an athletic horse,” he says, adding he looked “a nice sort of horse”.

    “He gets worked up in the paddock, so the fact there have been no crowds has suited him. But once you are on him, he’s as good as gold.

    “He wouldn’t be the biggest horse, but he has tremendous spring, and I don’t mind smaller horses if they have that spring.”

    Another graduate of the British pointing circuit to score impressively for the Bailey yard in recent weeks is Kyntara. The five-year-old, who won his maiden point by eight lengths at Bishops Court in October for the Rowleys, continued his 100% strike rate with a 17-length winning Rules debut at Warwick (15 February). Cheltenham is not on the cards this year, but Kim adds he is a “nice horse for the future”.

    For Charlie Poste and Francesca Nimmo, Third Time Lucki holds a special place as a horse who has helped put them on the map as an academy for young talent.

    The six-year-old, trained by Dan Skelton, was fourth in the 2020 Champion Bumper and has three wins from five starts on his record this season.

    “What you are looking for [at the age he was with us] is horses that have athletic quality and stand out – and he certainly had that,” Charlie said, adding he was sharp, but not difficult. “He found jumping easy and every step along the way he found comfortable.

    “He is an exciting prospect and, as it stands now, he has the highest success of horses to have come from our yard. He’s a horse we hold dearly.”

    The Poste/Nimmo operation values talent, but Charlie adds that giving horses the foundation to become “well-rounded” and nice to be around is the aim.

    “It’s no different to children – if you get a good start in life by people who are patient and willing to invest time to teach those life skills, it 100% bears fruit down the line,” he says. “They are at such a sensitive stage in their education – they are like sponges, taking everything in.”

    Irish Arkle hero Energumene proved rumours of his ability on that cold Larkhill January day in 2018 were more than to be believed.

    The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old is one of the most talked about novice chasers this season, and heads to Cheltenham unbeaten in his last five starts.

    “We always knew he could gallop, but to gallop and jump the way he does over fences is exciting,” said Willie at a press conference.

    “You buy horses hoping they can do something like that, but it usually takes two or three years to find out by the time you’ve won a bumper and gone over hurdles before chasing – and they don’t all turn out like that, so it’s nice to have one like him.”

    Energumene, like stablemates Blackbow who was third behind him in the Irish Arkle and Champion Bumper contender Ramillies, started out with Tom and Sophie Lacey.

    “Good horses [like them] give people the confidence to believe in English point-to-pointers, but you have to have the right animal in the first place. The day you buy is the day you sell,” says Tom.

    He adds English point-to-pointing does not have the depth of the Irish sport and is frank in his opinion that some rule-making decisions have set back progress.

    But he adds, as a sport, “there is no better starting place” for young horses.

    “Everything is done at a slower tempo, the horses don’t have hard races and they learn to jump properly,” he says, likening it to a child starting at primary school.

    “It is a fantastic foundation. You don’t have the pressure, the races aren’t run at the same tempo as on the track, so horses have more time. They learn what racing is all about at a more relaxed tempo than under Rules.”

    If that imaginary pin did land on a horse who started his career between the flags, there is a high chance again that he came from the Laceys. Looking ahead to Aintree, Classic Chase winner and Grand National favourite Kimberlite Candy is a special horse.

    Tom says: “I bought him as an unbroken store. He was unsold at the Derby sale in June that year. I had my eye on him then and he was on my list to see again at the August sale.”

    He won his point-to-point at Woodford 2016 and went on to make a victorious Rules debut in his maiden hurdle debut at Ascot for then owner Dermot Desmond in the famous Commanche Court colours, before moving to JP McManus’ ownership.

    With two runner-up spots over Grand National fences, could it be third time lucky?

    “He ticks an awful lot of boxes. He’s the right age; the last eight out of 11 winners have carried between 10st 10lb and 11st 6lb; he’s proven over the fences, and he hit the line hard in the three-mile Classic Chase, so there’s no concern over him staying,” he adds.

    The Foxhunter is intrinsically linked with the pointing scene and, while amateurs aren’t allowed to ride this year, the connection continues.

    The career of 2019 winner Hazel Hill, owned by Diana Williams and trained by the Rowleys, started in Ireland and blossomed on the British circuit. Odds are around 20/1 for the 13-year-old to reclaim his Cheltenham crown.

    Champion point-to-point trainer Tom Ellis’s sole entry in the Foxhunter, Latenightpass, bred by his mother, is another stalwart of the pointing circuit.

    “I actually rode the mare Latenightdip and won three point-to-points on her. She was injured at Garthorpe and we put her in foal, and that’s him,” he says.

    “He is a classic example of a horse who needed a bit of time.”

    Bridget Andrews riding Latenightpass (right) on their way to winning the Willoughby De Broke Open Hunters' Chase at Warwick Racecourse. Picture date: Wednesday February 3, 2021.

    Bridget Andrews riding Latenightpass

    He explains it took six goes to win his maiden. The horse has only finished outside the top two places once since his first victory.

    “We’ve done everything with him from the word dot. The nature of our business is starting and producing young horses, so it’s nice we are benefitting from our own nursery.”

    The eight-year-old gelding’s CV includes a hunter chase victory at Cheltenham, and he won first time out this season in a hunter chase at Warwick.

    “He likes to get on with life and he’s a happy little horse,” he says. “He’s always looking out over his stable door, loves his work, loves being ridden and loves his racing. He’s just a nice person. Kim, who looks after him, absolutely adores him.”

    Eurobot, Commanding Presence and Striking A Pose are among the former pointers making waves under Rules who started their careers with the Ellises.

    Robbie Power riding Striking A Pose (L) clear the last to win The Racing TV Profits Returned To Racing 'National Hunt' Novices' Handicap Hurdle at Wincanton Racecourse.

    Robbie Power riding Striking A Pose

    The latter of these, now with Colin Tizzard and victorious on his last two starts, was the 25-length winner of his maiden point-to-point at the Brocklesby last year.

    “He ticked every box for me, I loved him when I bought him as a three-year-old and the day we sold him [at Tattersalls Cheltenham February sale for £95,000], I expected him to go for more,” says Tom.

    “He just found everything easy, the easiest four-year-old we’ve ever had. He’s a lovely big horse, he was 16.3hh when we sold him, good looking, a great temperament, light on his feet for his size and floated along in his trot. I’m hopeful we’ll see good things from him in future.”

    Also published in H&H 11 March 2021

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