AS 2023 draws to a close, point-to-pointing is in a brief mid-season reprieve in advance of the spring term commencing at Dromahane next Saturday, but the year has produced many successes to reflect on.

Minella Indo’s New Year’s Day triumph on home turf at Tramore at the beginning of the year kickstarted a run of 104 blacktype successes, the latest of which came with the promising victory of The Enabler in the Future Champions bumper at Navan last weekend, and with the promise of further Christmas gifts to follow, it has certainly been another hugely successful year for the exports of the pointing fields here.

Included within those 104 blacktype victories were 21 at the highest level in Grade 1 company, and notably, three handlers were each associated with a pair of Grade 1 winners during the year.

Envoi Allen and Gerri Colombe flew the flag for Colin Bowe in 2023, with the latter winning three times at the top level, in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase and Mildmay Novices’ Chase in the spring before marking his step into the open division at Down Royal last month.

Ellmarie Holden and Pat Doyle may not be in the same territory numerically as Colin Bowe, with the Milestone Stables operator regularly running in excess of 100 horses a season of late, but they both still matched his accomplishments of producing two subsequent Grade 1 winners throughout the year.

Much-trodden path

For the latter, his two top-level scorers followed the much-trodden path of subsequent graded performers to have left his Suirview Stables bound for champion trainer Willie Mullins.

Ellmarie Holden is not only associated with the most recent Grade 1-winning pointing export courtesy of Jonbon, as his success in the Tingle Creek at Sandown earlier this month was also his third Grade 1 victory of the season, but the Kilkenny handler is also associated with one of 2023’s more intriguing Grade 1 winners.

Feronily had made an emphatic winning debut for Holden’s Coolmeen Stables at Rathcannon last year, winning a five-year-old geldings’ maiden at the Limerick venue by ten lengths.

Placed twice in bumpers, including in a Grade 2 contest at the Dublin Racing Festival, in the months that followed as he joined Emmet Mullins, the Getaway gelding got his head in front for the first time on the racecourse in a Limerick maiden hurdle four months after his point success.

Within a month, he was a Grade 1 winner over fences at the Punchestown Festival. While undoubtedly an unorthodox six months, it does show how close to Grade 1 calibre horses currently competing in points are.

Within the pointing fields itself, Derek O’Connor continued to raise the bar even higher as he moved through the 1,300-winner mark at Bellharbour back in February as the sport’s all-time winning-most rider.

Bursary programme

For those riders at the start of their career, the George Mernagh Memorial Fund encouragingly announced a new subsidy and bursary programme during the summer which is targeted at encouraging more qualified riders to enter the sport.

Fifty-three riders rode in a point-to-point for the first time in 2023, and those involved in the fund will be hoping that by this point next year, that number will continue to have grown.

It would be remiss not to also mention the Avondhu committee, as their efforts in producing a brand new banks course at Knockanard back in February produced one of the sport’s most notable good news stories.

Insurance issues still in the background

NO year is ever plain sailing, and for point-to-pointing one of the biggest challenges that 2023 brought once again proved to be insurance.

The sport first encountered insurance issues in 2022 when a number of fixtures were cancelled while insurance cover was sourced.

The arrival of the National Hunt Steeplechase, Point-to-Point and Field Sports Insurance Programme (NHSPFS) ahead of last season had raised hopes of a resolution being secured to the insurance uncertainty; however, the sport hit a stumbling block in April when negotiations to renew the insurance policy were not completed in time ahead of its expiration date.

This resulted in two fixtures being moved to a Friday to be staged in the hours immediately before the policy expired.

Understandably apprehensive handlers entered their horses en masse, with two of that weekend’s fixtures unsurprisingly producing the largest number of entries and runners over the year.


Thankfully, the insurance interruption proved to be a short-lived hiccup in the spring and has not raised its head since, but it did serve as a reminder of the threat that still lingered in the background.

Earlier this week, Horse Racing Ireland released its budget for 2024 with insurance very much to the fore of their focus for point-to-pointing.

The sector has been allocated €2.6 million in funding for next year to include the IHRB’s integrity costs, with a new support of €100,000 being specifically allocated for insurance grants to point-to-point organisers.

HRI have also stated that they will lead an industry taskforce in 2024 ‘to co-ordinate an industry-wide response to ongoing insurance risks facing the industry’.

The latter is a particularly welcome development, given the importance of point-to-pointing to the wider racing industry, which generated over €36 million in public sales alone in 2023.

It could be argued, however, that it is overdue at this point.

Specific need

Last year, members of both Horse Racing Ireland and the IHRB appeared before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, where the Wexford Independent TD Verona Murphy raised the issue of insurance for point-to-pointing and the specific need for HRI to set up a stakeholder group to examine insurance.

“This sector is suffering greatly in respect of insurance costs,” she said at the time. “I asked Ms Eade’s predecessor, who told me that he had made representations to different Departments regarding the insurance difficulties.

“Whilst this may not be the remit of HRI, I believe that it should be. If the sector does not survive, HRI will have no function. At the moment, the industry is under such serious pressure securing insurance cover, particularly for point-to-point meetings.

“It is paramount to the continuation of the sector, particularly in rural Ireland. A stakeholder group should be set up within HRI to look after these issues.”

That call for a stakeholder group to be established came in September 2022, now that we are a further 15 months down the road, hopefully, the group can now begin to play catch up.