AND so ends another season of point-to-pointing. After such a bright start to the season through the autumn term, and with hopes high that the previous season’s greatest challenge of insurance had been put to rest, it was ultimately the weather that dominated most of the season’s headlines.

The weather woes began in the peak weeks of March and continued right through April, with hunt committees valiantly attempting to beat the elements. All the while, handlers were forced to patiently hold out for suitable opportunities to take the wraps off their four-year-olds.

In the end, 94 fixtures took place, just five fewer than last season, which is a testament to the efforts of those involved. Thankfully, a number of those cancelled fixtures were able to be rescheduled right up to the final weekend of the season.

The one positive aspect of the wet weather was the benefit that some committees experienced in terms of revenue generated from entries. As handlers waited for suitable conditions, the rollover of entries from one week to the next boosted some committees in the peak of the spring term, as just shy of 11,000 entries were made throughout the season.

Catalyst of the sport

Driven by the large number of multiple entries each weekend for four and five-year-old horses, this age cohort of horses continues to be the driving force of the sport.

In all, there were 2,890 hunter certificates issued, which is just a small reduction from last year’s 2,973, but four and five-year-olds now account for over two-thirds of the hunter certificates.

This season is also the first where the number of hunter certificates from Wexford hunts has inched above 1,000, further highlighting the concentration of so many of the sport’s horses in this one county. Incredibly, this also marks an increase of over 50% in just five years.

While the number of older horses continues to be dwarfed by the commercially focused four and five-year-olds, one positive has certainly been the modification that the authorities made regarding the eligibility of horses to compete in the spring term.

The directors of the INHSC elected to push the qualification cut-off date for track horses looking to compete between the flags back by a month.

Narrowing the gap

This allowed horses who had run on the track up to the beginning of December to go point-to-pointing in the spring, bringing the cut-off date in line with the autumn, and thereby reducing the gap that track horses would have to sit out before they would be permitted to run between the flags.

In this first season, and with little notice in advance of it, 24 horses who ran on the track in November, and who previously would have been ruled out of point-to-pointing this season, received a hunter certificate.

Crucially, the majority of these horses were aged six and older, the age cohort that the sport has been struggling most with.

While an extra 24 horses is not going to dramatically transform the sport’s fortunes, the authorities do have to be commended for testing the water with this rule change to attract more older horses, and hopefully, it might encourage them to be braver in their efforts in this area next season.

Private purchases shape the markets?

DESPITE all the challenges that were thrown at handlers, particularly during the weather-disrupted spring terXm, the importance of point-to-pointing to the wider economic cycle of the racing industry was again clear.

Ahead of the additional point-to-point sale that was staged this week by Tattersalls Ireland on the eve of their May Store sale, this season’s point-to-pointers have realised the not-insignificant sum of £26million in the sales ring.

Last week’s Goffs Spring sale alone turned over just shy of £6million from the extensive band of pointers that were offered, which will have been a timely boost to the coffers of handlers as they have begun the process of restocking ahead of next year.

However, this season’s haul from the public sales arena is down significantly from last year, with a 20% or £6.8million dent in what handlers have taken compared with last season.

That headline figure may trigger instant alarm, but the fall may not be as stark as that initial figure could perhaps suggest, particularly if you look at the very top of the market.

A big hit

Last season, 36 horses were sold for £200,000/€200,000 or above at public auction. However, the number of horses reaching that same threshold this season has more than halved, with just 17 managing to break that barrier. That in itself represents a loss of over £5million.

Where has it gone? Well, in recent months, it has been notable just how few of the standout four-year-old performers from the spring term have been offered in the public arena.

Changing trends

This can be illustrated by focusing on the 12 highest-rated four-year-old geldings in 2024. After removing the two J.P. McManus-owned horses from this cohort, just two of the remaining 10 horses were offered at the sales.

This was John Nallen’s Ballindenisk winner Minella Premier, who topped last week’s Goffs Spring sale when bought for £400,000, and the Aintree sale top lot, Rob James’ Monksgrange victor, He Can’t Dance, who was snapped up for £300,000.

The remaining eight have not featured in a sales catalogue since their respective impressive pointing performances, and many, if not all, have likely changed hands privately at this stage.

Whether this is a short-term trend impacted by the specific circumstances that this season has presented, or part of a focused shift remains to be seen, but it is certainly something to follow through to next season.

Point-to-point horses are the foundation of future success

ON the track, the season provided further evidence of why point-to-pointers continue to be such a rich source of future success.

From the beginning of October up to last Sunday, pointing exports won no fewer than 1,252 races under rules, including a notable 129 blacktype races.

Perhaps of most note, the influence of the grassroots sport was at its strongest at last March’s Cheltenham Festival.

Here, the number of point-to-point graduates as a percentage of all runners at the meeting, excluding the juvenile hurdlers, inched above a significant 35%.

They came away from Prestbury Park with five Grade 1 successes, thanks to Slade Steel, Ballyburn, Fact To File, Jasmin De Vaux and Stellar Story.

That quintet featured as part of 29 top-level successes throughout the season, which also included Hewick in the King George and Gerri Colombe in the Aintree Bowl.

The aforementioned Ballyburn was one of three ex-pointers to scoop a trio of Grade 1 prizes during the season, with his feat matched by Dancing City and Jonbon.

They are a trio of former autumn four-year-old maiden winners, showing what could lie ahead when action in the pointing fields resumes in October.

Seasonal Titles 2023/2024

The Irish Field Champion Rider – Rob James and Barry O’Neill Champion Lady Rider – Susie Doyle and Maxine O’Sullivan

TRI Equestrian Champion Under-21 Rider –Shane Cotter

INHSC Champion Senior – Derek O’Connor

Horse Racing Ireland Northern Champion –Noel McParlan

Horse Racing Ireland Eastern Champion – Jack Hendrick and Rob James

Horse Racing Ireland Western Champion – Derek O’Connor and Alan O’Sullivan

Horse Racing Ireland Southern Champion –Darragh Allen

Race Displays Ireland Leading Handler –Colin Bowe

Tattersalls Ireland Horse of the Year – Its On The Line*

ITBA Champion Mare – La Feline*

Connolly’s Red Mills Champion Pointer – Winged Leader

Goffs Leading Sire – Soldier Of Fortune

Weatherbys Leading Breeders Award - TBC

Healy’s Personality Award – Announced June 8th

* Horse of the Year and Champion Mare awards will be confirmed following the final hunter chase of the season at Listowel on June 3rd.