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Behind the scenes point-to-point

A treasured tradition of the country scene, point-to-points, have become an intrinsic part of our rural heritage.

No one knows that better than current chairman of Eyton-on-Severn’s South Shropshire point-to-point committee, James Tanner. James’ great Uncle, Craig Tanner, was instrumental in bringing the fixture to the well matched topography where the racecourse boasts to be the longest in the country, with a natural grandstand from the steep bank, carved under the Wrekin. Today James leads the South, while Ben Shaw is chairman of Eyton’s North Shropshire point-to-point committee

James explains: “Craig Tanner had moved to farm on the Raby Estate in 1917, six years later, a passionate horseman, he had brought the event from its previous home at Sundorne to Eyton,” His great nephew reflects, “apparently he won all the races on one day at Eyton, he competed in the Grand National and also he won the Aintree Foxhunters. His farming included breeding Hereford cattle and Shropshire sheep, though he almost certainly rode too many horses and died in 1936.”

The 7,000 acre Raby Estate remains home to Eyton race course thanks to host, Lord Barnard. This means that twice each year land farmed both in hand and by tenant farmers is taken over by the North and South Shropshire Hunts, with each alternatively host the Easter Monday and the May Day bank holiday fixtures.

Says Lord Barnard, whose home for ten years overlooked the course: “The track is part of the Estate – and part of a great tradition, it provides a wonderful day out for all those who enjoy country pursuits – and I am pleased to say that, contrary to some point-to-point’s Eyton seems to be thriving.

Behind the scenes managing agent, Richard Jones-Perrott, of Balfours, ensures that the grassy bank and facilities surrounding the paddock are fit for purpose come race days, with grazing licences working around the dates. “We receive a facility fee so that tenants can be recompensed for the disruption to their farming practices,” Richard explains.

Quality of the track is critical, at two and a half miles and crossing 12 fields, it is a course which endorses the original sentiments of huntsman pitting their skills at the end of the season, from “point-to-point.” However this also brings its own challenges, dealing with different tenants and crops.

Clerk of the course, Jonny Cornes, who farms at Lythwood, is painfully aware that without a good track, albeit on a temporary basis twice a year, race entries would be in short supply.  He leads a team of more than 20, from fence builder Jim Squires, to vets, fence stewards and secretaries.

Having himself been in the saddle, riding twelve winners at Eyton between 1988 and 2000, including the remarkable achievement of winning four consecutive men’s open races, on the same horse, Chip ‘n Run, Jonny admits: “It’s a big responsibility, which I took on four years ago from the late John Beddoes, who had been clerk for twenty years. It is my job to make sure that we adhere to all the rules and regulations; thankfully much of which has been in place for many years, but every year health and safety goes a step further. While the racing is amateur, the horses and of course jockeys are riding at great speed therefore it is critical we have optimum conditions.”

Weather and ground conditions vary from week to week and year to year, so for one meeting the ground may need aerating to allow the water to sink in giving better penetration and a more consistent turf, while on another occasion rolling may be sufficient. The two point-to-point committees share a storage building on the estate where the necessary ropes, railings, flags and other race paraphernalia can be stored from year to year.

BRAMPTON BRYAN

A similar situation prevails for the Teme Valley and United point-to-points, with the Harley Estateand its tenants hosting the fixtures at the Brampton Bryan racecourse, which provides a natural bowl setting in the landscape. “The setting is wonderfully picturesque giving excellent viewing on the course along the undulating banks of the River Teme,” observes the Estate’s agent, Paul Segrott, of Balfours, who is also on the point-to-point committee having been master of the Teme Valley for six years, retiring in 2012.

Paul observes: “Regulations have certainly challenged many point-to-points in recent years, to hold one day at Brampton Bryan now costs around £18,000. We are finding increasing pressure to leave fences, posts and rail supports in situ to save erection time, but this in turn impinges on the Estate and its tenants carrying out routine agricultural practices.”

Currently point-to-points are rated for business rates by the local authority, but happily fall below the threshold for payment of business rates. However Paul warns that if this allowance were removed it would add a further burden to the sport and rural activity which is treasured by so many.

He adds: “It is a day which provides everyone in the country with the most magnificent facilities; there is the opportunity to walk the course by the beautiful river, with the hub of the event providing food, bars, stalls, the bookies and of course a fair. Everyone is pulling together to put on a fabulous day, the trainers, course stewards, plus of course the jockeys and their mounts. Significantly the track is free draining, so even if we have had snow in the morning, it doesn’t actually mean we won’t be racing in the afternoon.”

So pack a hamper, the binoculars, take a weather check for sunscreen or thermals, and amid the smoked salmon quiche, burgers, or trip to the fair ground, don’t forget the horses. The amateurs’ steeplechase, should not imply a lack of quality; owners, trainers, jockeys are all there for the love of the gallop, three miles or so over fences producing quality racing and exhilarating sport.

Fact file

  • New Hunt Scurry: Last year Brampton Bryan introduced a highly successful, Hunt Scurry. A truly amateur race, this year South Shropshire is following on the same track. The hunt scurry is not under rules and is open to budding jockeys over 16 years of age; neither the horse nor the jockey can have competed under rules, underlining the original end of hunt season competitive hurrah.
  • Point-to-points are governed by Weatherbys www.pointtopoint.co.uk.
  • Volunteers’ help, is the backbone of each event, from programme selling to car parking.
  • Sponsorship is the life blood which enables each fixture to maintain and stay the right side of regulations, staging a happy memorable day for owners, jockeys and spectators alike.
  • The first Steeplechase ever was over 250 years ago. Chasing from 'steeple to steeple' or point-to-point began when neighbours challenged each other to race across country from church to church and to jump stone walls, ditches and hedges as they presented themselves. By keeping the steeple of the church in sight (steeplechasing) both riders could see their finishing point.
  • The first reference to a hunt holding a point-to-point came in 1875, when the Sporting Gazette contained a detailed account of a Monmouthshire Hunt Point-to-point chase held on 12 January from Llansaintfraed to Tykin-under-Little-Skirrid, which Captain Wheeley won easily from his thirteen rivals.

Dates:

April 1, Ludlow Hunt, Bitterley, Shropshire

April 9, Teme Valley and United Pack, Brampton Bryan

April 17, South Shropshire Hunt, Eyton-on-Severn

May 1, North Shropshire Hunt, Eyton-on-Severn

May 7, Brampton Bryan - A walk in the park

Sunday 4th June – Brampton Bryan Park Fun Ride

More details www.harleyestate.co.uk and www.eyton-races.com

 

Craig Tanner eyton1920s

Brampton Bryan  200mm wide

James Tanner blue Alastair Crow orange

Jonny Cornes

RJP and Lord Barnard

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