THE Cheltenham sales ring was the focus for the point-to-point world this week with yesterday evening’s Tattersalls November sale the first public auction of the new season.

A catalogue of 40 horses with early season point form from this side of the Irish Sea included 26 four-year-olds, and given the success that has emerged from within that division in recent seasons it is unsurprisingly the focus of attentions.

However, results of late on the track have illustrated just how competitive many of the other divisions away from the younger age maidens within point-to-pointing currently are, and how difficult it can be to compete in them.

Intersky Sunset had landed the opening winners’ race of the season with her victory in the winners’ of two race at Castletown-Geoghegan last month.

The Declan Queally-trained six-year-old benefitted for that confidence-boosting success as last Saturday she switched back to the track and won a 20-runner mares’ handicap hurdle at Gowran Park on her first start since that Castletown-Geoghegan victory.

On the same afternoon, Clonmeen, a regular in the winners’ division during last year’s autumn campaign, was a rare non-Gordon Elliott-trained horse to get on the scoreboard at Down Royal when winning a handicap chase for Willie Murphy.

Meanwhile, earlier this month Faith Loving had also made a similarly successful switch to handicaps as Intersky Sunset when he was a narrow winner of a handicap chase at Fairyhouse for Caroline McCaldin.

The eight-year-old was having his handicap debut with a mark that was gained from running in hunter chases, and he had started off his season at Portrush when finishing fourth in a winners’ of three race.

Interestingly the horse that had finished immediately in front of him in that Portrush contest, Annaghbeg, also made the switch under rules since then by finishing a promising third in a big field Down Royal maiden hurdle last week.

Their performances illustrate how favourably winners grade form in point-to-points matches up to the race track, but it also highlights the challenge of keeping these horses within the pointing ranks.

In many cases these horses will not only find it easier to win on the race track, but they will also be chasing a significantly larger pot of prize money as the gap between prize money in point-to-points and even the minimum levels offered on the race track have grown further apart across the years.

Calling the Quakerstown ladies

THE second of three ladies’ open races scheduled for the autumn campaign takes centre stage at Quakerstown tomorrow afternoon, attracting a very strong entry of 15 horses.

Female riders have enjoyed a particularly successful start to the season with eight individual riders, namely Hannah Phillips, Pandora Briselden, Erin Dunseath, Maxine O’Sullivan, Joanna Walton, Sophie Carter, Susie Doyle and Georgie Benson having all partnered at least one winner this season, with Phillips leading the early charge with two winners.

In all 17 individual female riders rode winners during the entirety of last season, so to have already reached half of that figure this year after just seven weekends of racing represents a very strong start to the season.

Going back 15 years to the corresponding point of the 2008 autumn campaign shows that just three riders – Liz Lalor, Jennifer Pugh and Katie Walsh had ridden a winner between the flags. No ladies open race took place until February of that season, and it was a time when many ladies’ open races were heavily weighted to the closing weeks of the season.

Thankfully the current more balanced programme throughout the entirety of the season has been a positive step forward, as is the growing number of new female riders coming into the sport post Rachael Blackmore’s big-race achievements of the past number of years. So far this season, seven of the 19 riders who have ridden in a point-to-point for the first time have been female, and they will all be eligible for the inaugural title of leading female rider in the INHSC novice rider series.

British point-to-pointing has already had a leading lady novice rider prize awarded, but it is a positive that the numbers on this side of the Irish Sea are now sufficient that such a prize can also be introduced here.

A €750 voucher will be presented to the female rider who accrues the greatest number of points in novice rider races this season, and encouragingly at a time when the sport recently lost Helen Bryce-Smith, one of the pioneering female riders within point-to-pointing, the signs suggest that the legacy that she and her colleagues of the time leave behind them will be long-lasting.

Point-to-point ratings

Ferns regains the winning thread

LAST season may have ended with a first career defeat for Ferns Lock when he finished third in the Fairyhouse Easter Festival hunter chase that is best known as the Joseph O’Reilly Memorial, but he certainly regained that winning thread on his return with an emphatic success at Dromahane.

This was a deep field with hunter chase winner Dinny Lacey, impressive recent open winner Wowsham and the highly-rated track pair of The Bosses Oscar and Sceaming Colours all lining up in opposition, and crucially they were a quartet that all held the edge of recent race fitness over him.

Barry O’Neill controlled the pace from the front and Ferns Lock (120++) proved to be in a different league altogether by breezing to very impressive eight and a half-length success.

The card’s two four-year-old maidens were run at stronger gallops, with Patter Merchant (93+) making a winning debut in a race that could be worth following. In the mares’ equivalent of it, Northern Air (84+) had too many gears for her rivals in a race where the front pair pulled clear.

There was also a pair of four-year-old maiden races on the Knockmullen House card, and here there was a greater emphasis on stamina.

Wednesday Addams (81+) was the clear form pick and she put that race fitness to good use by wearing down Santapietra on the run-in to show good staying prowess. Staying was certainly the name of the game for the geldings with the first two finishers returning some 80 lengths clear of the only other finisher. In the end, Arctic Lane (90+) saw out the better over an eye-catching Big Mike.