HERE is growing concern among point-to-point organisers in the north that the recent return of the Stormont assembly could lead to a ban on hunting and the knock-on consequences that this could have for point-to-pointing in the region.

Last month, the power-sharing devolved government in Belfast returned following a two-year hiatus, and one of the newly elected deputy speakers of the assembly has re-affirmed his commitment to have hunting banned.

John Blair, the Alliance party Agriculture and Environment spokesperson, stated last December that he intended “to re-table my Private Members’ Bill to outlaw the practice at the earliest given opportunity,” when Stormont got up and running.

The MLA for South Antrim first tabled a private members’ bill seeking to ban hunting in December 2021, which was rejected by Sinn Fein and most DUP MLA’s, by 45 votes to 38.The makeup of the Northern Ireland assembly has since changed with the 2022 elections, which saw Blair’s party more than double their number of representatives.

Most likely support

This could alter the voting arithmetic should a new vote be called, with a spokesperson for the UUP, telling the News Letter last December, that it would “most likely” support Blair’s proposal, as it had done in 2021.

Currently, there are nine hunts in the region that run a point-to-point, and their fixtures account for close to one in five of the point-to-points on the calendar here.

Fox hunting has been banned in Britain without a significant impact on point-to-point fixtures there, as hunts are still permitted to chase artificial scents.

That in itself has received recent mainstream attention in Britain when Steve Reed, the shadow environment secretary, told The Times that the Labour Party will implement a “full ban on trial and drag hunting,” if getting into power at the next general election.

Given the close ties between hunting and point-to-pointing, with the volunteer manpower that this sport receives in order to put on fixtures each week, how these developments play out could have significant implications for this sport and will therefore be keenly observed by those charged with running it.

Hopes high for more pointing Festival success

AS the countdown to the start of this year’s Cheltenham Festival enters into the final 72 hours, anticipation is high that the four days at Prestbury Park will once again shine the spotlight on the equine talent that point-to-point racing here is producing each year.

At the time of writing, there was a point-to-point export at the top of the ante-post betting for exactly half of the 28 races despite the defection of the star name, Constitution Hill, at the beginning of the week.

His absence from next Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle will likely lead to the end of the consecutive successes that former pointers have had in the top two-mile hurdle prize, having won the last three editions courtesy of Honeysuckle and Nicky Henderson’s top seven-year-old.

Despite that particular disappointment, with so many leading contenders across all distances and disciplines, hopes are raised entering next week’s festival, that further success will be added to the bumper returns of recent renewals.

In the past five years, 46 races at the Cheltenham Festival’s races have been won by horses that started their careers between the flags, with a further 85 of the placed finishers also benefitting from the same education here.

Before those in point-to-pointing can fully turn their focus to next week’s events, there is a bumper weekend of action between the flags to take in first.

Bumper winners

But in the context of the looming festival, there could be particular interest in the four-year-old maiden races, because on this corresponding weekend 12 months ago, two horses that could clash in next Wednesday’s Champion Bumper, were both among the winners.

Jalon D’Oudairies made a winning debut in the four-year-old geldings’ maiden at Lingstown for Donnachadh Doyle’s Monbeg Stables, before his stablemate Romeo Coolio matched the feat 30 minutes later in the four-year-old maiden at Belclare.

Both youngsters were snapped up by Gordon Elliott following their respective debut successes, and the pair are now leading contenders for that Grade 1 contest next week, having remained unbeaten since.

Pointing enthusiasts will have a particular eye on next Friday’s St. James’s Place Festival Hunter Chase, which has attracted a particularly small field.

Despite 24 places being up grabs in the starting lineup, just 19 initial entries were received last week for a race which has only fielded fewer than 20 runners twice in the past two decades.

With Irish-trained runners accounting for almost half of the entries for this year’s race, the fall-off in entries would seem to have come on the British side.

That is backed up in the betting, as Irish challengers fill five of the first six places with Ferns Lock, Its On The Line, Billaway, Samcro and Vaucelet, as they seek to bring one the largest trophies in racing across the Irish Sea for the third time in the last seven years.

Tip-top prizes at Tipperary auction

THE hard-working point-to-point committee of the Tipperary Foxhounds will be glad of the break after they have staged their third and final fixture of the season later this month.

The March 24th fixture will also feature an auction that will be held between races, which is sure to prove popular with a host of items up for grabs.

The auction lots include:

  • A trip for four people to the McKee Army Barracks with lunch.
  • Four schooling hurdle or bumpers at Tipperary Racecourse.
  • A visit to Henry de Bromhead’s yard for four people including the opportunity to meet Grand National-winning jockey Rachael Blackmore.
  • Vetting for one horse by Walter Connors.
  • Three work riders who will ride out at a yard within a 20km radius of Fethard, Co Tipperary, for one morning.
  • A day’s hunting with the Tipperary Foxhounds, including the hire of a horse.
  • A Liam Clancy print.
  • 32 large round bales of straw.
  • Point-to-Point Ratings

    Silence gets them talking

    THERE was no shortage of notable performances across a range of categories at Ballycahane on Sunday, kickstarted by Echoing Silence (85+) (pictured above) in the four-year-old mares’ maiden. She cruised into the lead at the entrance to the home straight, and despite showing signs of greenness, she accounted for a race-fit rival.

    In the geldings’ equivalent, In The Age (92+) looks like a very pacey individual, as his lead was whittled down notably on the run-in, and he will be expected to make his mark over shorter trips.

    The year elder Pierrot Jaguen (94+) was always holding his rivals, whilst The Big Westerner (83+) beat a very strong benchmark to complete a quartet of winners to note. At Borris House, Shuffle The Deck (94+) still had six rivals to pass jumping three out, but he finished out the race very strongly, in a contest that should pay to follow a number of the finishers.

    His stablemate Baldwin The Brave (91+) put his experience to good use 24 hours earlier at Tyrella to become the first of this year’s four-year-olds to win on their second start, whilst Little Ajay (90+) was the star at Bandon with a winning debut as he came from behind to win by a wide margin.