Buyers are starting to look for young horses with promise rather than current winners, says Carl Evans for Great British Racing International.
An exciting new development within the sport of point-to- pointing involves the buying and selling of young horses.
Many yards across Britain now house horses who have been bought as ‘stores’, generally at the age of three, who are then raced in point-to-points at the age of four or five as a way of advertising their ability before they are offered at public auction.This follows a pattern which has become established in Ireland.
In the past, such horses, especially those destined for point-to-pointing, were often left unbroken until they were five or six.
A spin off from this youthful policy of running younger horses in points – and then selling them to continue their careers in hurdle race and steeplechases – has been a steady rise in the number of ex-British point-to- pointers winning races under Rules at mainstream racecourses. Among British winners at last season’s Cheltenham Festival was Sky Pirate, trained in Gloucestershire by Jonjo O’Neill. Sky Pirate, who had been bought for €34,000 as an unbroken three-year-old, made his racing debut in a point-to-point at Larkhill near Salisbury and was then sold to O’Neill for €150,000.
Two of the best chasers on either side of the Irish Sea began their careers in British point-to-points. Ahoy Senor won a point- to-point at Kimble in Buckinghamshire in November 2020 for Shropshire trainer Mel Rowley, and was then bought by Scottish Borders’ trainer Lucinda Russell for £50,000. She trained him to win a Grade One novices’ hurdle at last year’s Aintree Grand National meeting and he is a leading contender for novice chase honours at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
‘This should not be missed’
Meanwhile, in a real show of confidence in British point-to- point form, the brilliant two-mile chaser Energumene was bought by Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins after the horse had won a point at Larkhill aged four. Energumene was recently involved in one of the great clashes of recent times, when he took on and was narrowly beaten by the mighty Shishkin at Ascot (to see it, play the ‘Shishkin vs Energumene | A Clash for the Ages’ video, above – it’s just over two minutes long, and incredibly
Their hoped-for rematch in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival is one that
should not be missed. Another Cheltenham Festival horse to watch out for is Third Time Lucki, who finished second in a point-to-point for Warwickshire trainer Fran Poste, and has since become a star for Dan Skelton.
A new way
In 2006 four-year- old horses were allowed to run in British point-to- points, and while their numbers fluctuated over the next ten years, a Herefordshire point-to-point trainer called Tom Lacey emerged with a game- changing plan.
Copying a form of trading popular in Ireland, Lacey began sourcing well-bred three-year- olds, breaking them in and educating them to jump with aplomb, and then selling them after they had run in one or two point-to-points.
One reason this form of trading was proving successful was a growth in specialist sales of young point-to-pointers held at several venues, but particularly at Cheltenham racecourse. These sales drew in well-heeled owners keen to buy horses who could run at big race meetings.
Lacey, who trained Sky Pirate and Energumene to win point-to-points, worked out that leading ‘professional’ trainers wanted to buy once-raced four-year-olds who had shown ability, and had physical presence and a solid pedigree, rather than older horses who had won a string of point-to- points, but whose form and pedigree was of limited appeal.
Lacey paved the way
Other trainers around Britain, often younger members of the trade hoping to build a career, took note of Lacey’s lead.
Chris Barber, who trains near Seaborough on the Dorset/Somerset border, is a grandson of the late Richard Barber, a giant among trainers of point-to- pointers.
Like his grandfather, Chris handles older point-to- pointers – but he also trains youngsters who are for sale. He says: “I became involved through following my grandfather around at the sales – he had a great eye for a young horse and firmly believed that point-to-pointing was a good grounding for a horse to go on and race over hurdles and fences. “If a young horse has shown it can race for two and a half miles and jump 16 fences a lot of the early work has been done.
“Tom Lacey paved the way for buying and selling British pointers (on a commercial scale). He was successful, and that side of the sport provides another string to our bow.
There’s not a lot of money in just training pointers, but if you can buy an unfurnished horse at a sale, and later sell it for a profit, that’s another strand of income.
“We use the same training methods, but whereas an older pointer more or less knows the job and just needs to be made fit enough to race, a younger horse needs educating.
Good riders who can give them that education are important – a bad football coach won’t get the best
out of young players, and it’s the same in our job. “I don’t believe this commercial side of pointing is bad for the sport, especially since races for four- year-olds only, and four- and five-year-olds, are now becoming established. There are races for older horses, so they are not missing out, and the commercial, younger horses are encouraging new faces into the sport.
The current champion point-to-point trainer, Tom Ellis (who is based in Warwickshire), has a big string of horses, but they include horses of all ages, so it cannot be said the sport is becoming exclusively about youngsters.
“There’s room for all, and while we are all delighted when someone sells a British pointer for a good price at auction, we are also just as pleased to join them for a drink at the back of the car if they train an older horse to win an open race.”
by Carl Evans