CHELTENHAM Festival 2024 proved to be another successful showcase for point-to-pointing in this country.

The headline undoubtedly being the eight winners that they accrued across the four days, with crucially five of them coming at the highest level, but the impact was strong across all levels.

Excluding the two juvenile races, 35% of the runners at the Festival started their careers point-to-pointing here, which is the highest measure of this metric, a notable jump from 30% a year earlier.

Donnchadh Doyle was responsible for the most individual runners of any one handler, with 15 horses that had previously been under his care featuring at the Festival, six more than the reigning champion handler Colin Bowe, with Pat Doyle and Sean Doyle all responsible for seven runners.

The Monbeg Stables proprietor was also the only point-to-point handler to produce two Festival winners thanks to the Grade 1-winning exploits of Fact To File in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase and Stellar Story in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

The defection of both Jonbon and, in particular, Constitution Hill did significantly reduce the chances of former pointers claiming one of the championship races, however, there were still admirable performances in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup from both Gerri Colombe and Corach Rambler, with the pair filling the placings behind Galopin Des Champs.

If it was a flatter note in the championship races from a pointing perspective, the future could well be paved with riches as there was a clean sweep of success in the novice hurdle division.

Prior to the aforementioned Albert Bartlett success of Stellar Story, which had seen him lead home fellow ex-pointers The Jukebox Man, Dancing City and Spread Boss Ted to claim the first four positions, Slade Steel had struck in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, while Ballyburn claimed the Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle.

Following a disappointing 2023 in this particular category, which had proven to be a real blot on the trend of recent times when only one of those three races was claimed by a former point-to-pointer, this year’s Festival saw a welcome return to the particularly impressive status quo.

That is one which has seen pointing exports win 12 of the last 15 Grade 1 novice hurdles at the Festival since 2020.

Ballyburn, in particular, put up one of the undoubted performances of the Festival last week with his 13-length triumph in the Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle, earning him the highest Racing Post rating ever for a winner of the race, and one that was 9lb higher than the 10-year average for the race’s winner.

The six-year-old had opened his account at the first time of asking in a four-year-old maiden at Loughanmore last season for Colin McKeever and Wilson Dennison.

While that long-standing partnership underwent a change pre-Cheltenham, with the stable’s regular rider Cormac Abernethy now listed as the handler for the 28 horses with a hunter certificate at Loughanmore Stables, the constant of point-to-pointers delivering at Cheltenham remains unchanged.

Grade 1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Slade Steel (Pierce Power)

Ultima Handicap Chase

Chianti Classico (Colin Bowe)

Grade 2 Maureen Mullins National Hunt Chase

Corbetts Cross (Eugene O’Sullivan)

Grade 1 Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle

Ballyburn (Colin McKeever)

Grade 1 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

Fact To File (Donnchadh Doyle)

Grade 1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper

Jasmin De Vaux (Stuart Crawford)

Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

Stellar Story (Donnchadh Doyle)

Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle

Better Days Ahead (Warren Ewing)

Pointers still there for all

THE fallout from the Cheltenham Festival successes of Irish trainers, and in particular the success of Willie Mullins, has kicked into overdrive in recent days with everything from considered reflections to the more irrational opinions being voiced.

One view that has been expressed, particularly from those based across the Irish Sea, has focussed on the perceived head start that trainers here had over their British counterparts by being able to buy young horses and, in this case, the pick of the Irish point-to-pointers, before they were offered publicly.

In the case of Mullins and his team of scouts, headed up by bloodstock agent Harold Kirk, their approach certainly does seem to favour getting in and buying horses privately.

This season, 148 point-to-pointers have been sold at public auction, with the Kirk and Mullins name appearing beside just one of them – Denis Murphy’s Borris House victor Port Joulain – when the Cokoriko gelding was offered at the December sale in Cheltenham.

It was a similar situation last season when Kirk and Mullins signed for just three of the 460 point-to-pointers that were offered at public auctions.

That should not suggest that he is ignoring the point sphere. In all, Mullins ran 17 horses that started off their careers pointing at Cheltenham last week, with three of his nine winners coming from that cohort of point recruits.

Public sale

Interestingly, none of those three winners, Ballyburn, Fact To File or Jasmin De Vaux, featured at a public sale after winning their point-to-point, further highlighting the approach of the Mullins camp, a fact likely to frustrate those in the British ranks.

However, Mullins is not alone, and the practice is not limited to trainers here, with Teeshan, one of the stars of the most recent autumn campaign, having been snapped up privately by Tom Malone to join Paul Nicholls.

One of the best gauges as to how the pick of the crop is being sourced can be gained from looking at those horses that have been winning the best of races this season.

Since October, 93 blacktype races have already been won by horses with point-to-point form, and it is a near 50:50 split between those blacktype-winning horses who have appeared in the sales ring post their point runs and those that have not.

That shows that there are a large number of future blacktype performers being offered publicly for any trainer to secure, but undoubtedly the recent rhetoric from some commentators would suggest they will choose to take their own interpretation of those figures.


O’Neill sidelined

THE reigning champion rider Barry O’Neill was expecting to discover on Friday how long he is facing on the sidelines following a fall at Knockanohill last Sunday.

The Wexford native was unseated at the penultimate fence from Colin Bowe’s newcomer Kate Of The Lodge in the mares’ maiden at the Cork venue.

The seven-time champion was yesterday due to have a consultation with orthopaedic surgeon Paddy Kenny to determine how many weeks his back injury would keep him out of action for.

Point-to-Point Ratings

Kid and Mossy head weekend ranks

THERE were no hiding places in the five-year-old geldings’ maiden at Ballyragget with the strong tempo in the conditions accounting for eight of the 12 starters pulling up.

Small Town Kid (90+) thrived in the test as he outstayed the proven Rock On Jet to look a nice staying chaser in the making.

Donnchadh Doyle also claimed the four-year-old equivalent with Mossy Fen Road (91++) who looked value for more than his four-length winning margin.

At Durrow, Gillespie Road (89+) was particularly swift over his obstacles, which was impressive for the newcomer, and he got the better of a horse with a previous run under his belt.

Parish Quiz (90+) at Knockanohill did have that advantage of a previous run, and he appeared to be effective over the longer trip as he came out of a tight tussle as the pair were the only finishers from the four that set out.