Donna Harris’s 2015-16 season preview

With only a few weeks to go before the start of the point to point season at Black Forest Lodge, Kenton on  Sunday, November 29 , Donna Harris caught up with a few of the area’s up and coming jockeys to whet racegoers’ appetites.

Hot news this season is the ‘switching saddles’ project which has seen Olympic Gold Medal cyclist Victoria Pendleton swap a bike for a horse, with the aim of riding in the Foxhunters’ Chase at Cheltenham next March. She has ridden in three races already on the flat but her first foray over fences could well be at Black Forest.

Sponsored by Betfair she has three potential mounts According To Sarah, Sedgemoor Express and Join Together and is based at Alan Hill’s yard.

Of the local novice jockeys, Jennifer Davenport received the area award  last season for the rider gaining the most points as an owner/trainer/jockey. She juggles training her horse with busy work life as a mixed-practice veterinary surgeon.  She can spend a night on duty calving cows or treating horses with colic and still be up early to muck out and ride Mic’s Delight. The combination won two of their eight starts last season, finishing in the frame on all bar one, when the ground became too firm.  It will be interesting to see how they fare again with their front-running style, against the youngsters snapping at their heels.

One such jockey hoping to get off to a flying start is Hannah Welch, 18, a pony racing graduate who enjoyed an impressive 48 pony race wins before she started point to pointing. She said: “I was lucky enough to ride some amazing ponies, including Bronze Lawrance (CORRECT spelling) in 138cm, Vadlawalkover and Total Eclipse in the 148cm races.”

Hannah was ‘born in the saddle’ and gained much of her riding confidence hunting her first pony, a Dartmoor called Camilla.

Now studying for her A Levels, Hannah relies on her mum Rebecca to train her horses at home. She added: “My first pointing win was on Vertige Dore, trained by Sam Holdsworth, at Flete Park. I also scored three out of three on a promising youngster called Beuvron, another horse trained by Sam.” Hannah is hoping for the ride again on Beuvron, along with Great Camanoe, Carumba and Polo The Mumm.

Pippa Glanville, 19, is another is relying on mum to help train the horses, as she is studying at the Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester

A  pony racing graduate who has settled well into Pointing, she is now into her fourth season and has clocked up four wins on her horse Ambitious Pursuit. Pippa also has Miss Weld, a homebred who was second three times last season.  She said: “I had some good outside rides last year and hope to have some more this time, including a couple of nice horses for trainer Alex Ede. I would love to be leading lady novice this season.”

Pippa has spent much of the summer riding out for champion National Hunt trainer Paul Nicholls, where she admits she was lucky enough to ride top class horses such as Dormello Mo, Copain De Classe and Boa Island. She is currently riding out for Sam Thomas.

Nineteen- year-old Ella Pickard has a small yard in Torrington where she takes on youngsters for breaking and pre-training. Ella took up riding from the age of 11.

She said: “Lisa Smale taught me to ride and took me hunting, she has been a great support and still helps me.”

Ella, who also pony raced in the area, took on Vertige Dore last season and enjoyed two seconds on him. She hopes to compete with him again, along with a horse which she has from Martin Hill’s yard called What Will We Do Next, which she hopes to compete in Restricted races.

Heidi Lewis, 19,  is just one of three novice jockeys based at Kayley Woollacott’s yard at Rose Ash, near South Molton.

Her first win was on a 37-year-old pony called Poppy “We won a lead rein class and were Reserve Champion, ” she joked.  Pony racing then set Heidi up with an appetite for racing proper, having won three pony races.

When graduating onto horses, Heidi enjoyed her first win on the Kayley Woollacott-trained Pasternak Jack at Flete Park, doubled up the same day on Nudge The Nugget, and had a third win at Vauterhill.  Heidi added:  “My mum, Maria Lewis,  trains our own horse Kawana Cove and we won at Umberleigh, and I hope to compete on him again this season along with our new maiden horse Sullivans John.”

Another recruit from Kayley Woollacott’s yard is 21-year-old Sam Ellicott. Sam works full time for the team, and is looking forward to earning some rides this season. He previously owned and trained his own Pointer called Come On Pops and although they never won, he believes he learnt a lot from the experience.

Having ridden for Liz Scott on horses Cloudy Coma, Firmount Beach and the horse that gave him his first winner Took My Eye, Sam looks to be one that could catch the spectator’s eye this season. As could Lewis Ormston, another talented young lad working for the Woollacott team.

A couple of dark horses to note from the Devon & Cornwall area are Bronwyn Buttery, who had her first rides last season and starts the new term  with a new horse Doctor Henry, and

top show rider Millie Wonnacott, daughter of former jockeys Claire and David, who tries her hand between the flags on the veteran Coombe Hill, which she trains herself.

Along with Victoria Pendleton, there is no doubt that a few ‘outside raiders’ will want to join the party. Mitchell Bastyan is a young man with great ambitions. Based at Seaborough working for Jack Barber, 17 year old Mitch has an impressive CV of competing on the flat as well as Point-to-Point rides on horses such as Kostaquarta. With Jack Barber having 45 horses in training, there should be plenty of opportunity for Mitch to gain some good rides. With his ambition being to ride at Cheltenham, he looks to have the determination to get there.

Fergus Gregory is based at the Alan Hill yard, and he too will be hoping to pick up some good rides. Fergus came through the pony racing route, rode on the flat and then enjoyed his first Point-to-Point win at Easingwold on a 33-1 outsider called James Wyatt.

Roll on the season