A crystal clear blue sky, temperatures into double figures, and the return of pointto-point racing after the summer break all added to the air of expectation as the new British point-to-point season swung into action at Black Forest Lodge.

A total of 82 runners in seven races including several long distance travellers meant competitive racing to get the Devon & Cornwall season under way.

Open Maiden 4 and 5-year-olds only 2m 4f

Division 1 (Brightwells)

Plenty of drama to start the new season with the low morning sun causing the omission of two jumps on each circuit, and a pile up at the first ditch which put three of the 14 runners out of the race. Bach on Tow and Lucy Gardner made a bold bid to make all, but the eventual winner Shrewd Investment took command at the top of the hill and soon drew clear. The winner had shown a fair level of form under rules for Alan King and is now one of ten pointers trained by Laura Thomas who is based only one mile from King’s Barbury Castle yard. The five-year-old, “jumped fantastic and travelled well”, according to his young jockey Nico de Boinville, who works for Nicky Henderson. “I have ridden a couple of flat winners including one in Norway,” said the jockey afterwards, adding that he also rides out Gold Cup winner Long Run for his boss. Unfortunately the perpetual Devon & Cornwall Area leading rider Richard Woollacott sustained chest and shoulder injuries when My Runaway fell at the first ditch, forcing him to give up his remaining five rides on the day. A subsequent visit to hospital in Exeter revealed a punctured lung as one of his injuries and a day or two in intensive care. “I am waiting for x-rays to my shoulder but I am out of intensive care,” Richard told me on Wednesday this week (30 November). He is unlikely to be back race riding until the New Year.

Division 2 (Wilkinson Grant)

Will Biddick was quickly summoned as a replacement for the injured Woollacott on Sunset City and seized his opportunity by getting the five-year-old home in a tight finish. A walking wounded Woollacott at least trained the winner and said, “We got him out of a field in Ireland. I tried to sell him at my open day and he is now owned by Dick Westacott, who is one of my longest standing owners.” Sunset City was returned at 10-1 as punters went in big time for the John Heard trained Googoobarabajagal (is this a foreign language or just baby talk?) but Michael Heard’s first mount of the season ran disappointingly.

Club Novice Riders’ (Heltor)

I predict that a lot more will be heard about winning jockey Joe Hill who won this contest on his first ride in a point-to-point. Those of us of a certain age will recall his very tall father Alan winning the Cheltenham Foxhunter on Elmboy – and his mother Lawney partnering countless winners between the flags. Admittedly the sturdy seven-year-old Ravethebrave was probably a class above his seven opponents, and 16-year-old Joe Hill was able to coast home . “I probably paid too much for the horse at Doncaster in May,” quipped proud father Alan who bought Ravethebrave on the recommendation of his previous trainer Alan King for £23,000. All credit to connections who turned the gelding out as fit as a flea after a 6.45am start from their yard near Kingston Blount, Oxfordshire . “Back at my desk at school tomorrow,” sighed Hill the younger who is preparing for a different course – GCSEs at Cokethorpe School near Witney in Oxfordshire.

Restricted (Dyson, Quaintance and Strange Financial Management)

This looked a wide open 14-runner race with bookmakers going 7-2 the field. One of the joint favourites On My Living Life set a brisk pace alongside Hard To Tell as this pair raced clear on the first circuit. In the end On My Living Life gamely shook off all comers and eventually came home seven lengths to the good of Mister Trigger. The winner was found in Ireland by agent Aidan Murphy on behalf of owner James Drummond and is trained by Patrick Bryant at Motcombe near Shaftesbury. His 22-year-old jockey Dan Collins works for Paul Nicholls and was riding the 11th winner of his career. “This horse was very fit and he stretched away when I asked him. I ride out for Patrick Bryant and Caroline Keevil three days a week,” said Dan.

Mixed Open (Strutt & Parker)

Divine Intavention was clearly the form horse of the race and hardened into 6-4 on after a little 4-5. This tall gelding looked the part in the preliminaries and duly obliged after a spirited battle with runner up Khacaturian, who looks a winner in waiting. Awesome George was booked for a place until departing at the second last, and is also worth bearing in mind for the future. Divine Intavention, who won a hunter chase at Market Rasen in May, is owned and trained by Hugh Wilson at Banbury. “He shows nothing at home but saves it for the racecourse”, confided his popular jockey Mark Wall

Open Maiden 4-year olds and upwards; 3 miles

Division 1 (E Courtney & Sons, St Thomas, Exeter)

Black Forest rarely passes by without a Welsh trained winner, and this came on Sunday in the shape of the well made six-year-old Direct Line from the yard of David Brace. This shrewd Porthcawl based owner/trainer has made a habit of raiding Black Forest successfully over the years, and his Moscow Society gelding galloped on relentlessly after taking up the running with a circuit to go. Although no match for the winner, Bradley Brook ran on well and should win a maiden without too much trouble. Allerford Jack looked fit and started favourite but finished a well beaten third. “I bought Direct Line privately in Ireland and he has needed time to mature mentally,” said the winning trainer. His 19-year-old jockey Evan David works full time in the yard and was riding his eighth point-to-point winner.

Division 2 (The Farriers)

Money Tree proved to be another well backed favourite and landed a double for Alan Hill’s Oxfordshire yard. This five-year-old chestnut soon had his flashy white face to the fore and measured his jumps well. Jockey James Tudor had his mount glued to the rails throughout before easing clear to score comfortably. Formerly placed over hurdles and looking awkward on occasions for Donald McCain, Money Tree was acquired for £6,200 at Brightwells Ascot sales in July. “He was as fit as anything and that was James at his best,” enthused owner/trainer Hill who will soon seek a Restricted for his five-year-old.