I was looking forward to reporting on the Dartmoor point-to-point at the idyllic setting of Flete Park last weekend. For one reason, it was to be the 40th anniversary year of the first meeting at that venue.
The majority of Dartmoor point-to-points for the first half of the 20th century had taken place at Wrangaton near Ugborough, and Stippadon, near South Brent, which closed in 1962. The old Buckfastleigh racecourse hosted the fixture from 1963 until 1977. It was held at Kilworthy in 1979. The inaugural fixture at Flete Park in 1980 was a joint meeting of the Dartmoor and Modbury Harriers. In current circumstances we will have to be content with a few reminiscences from that first meeting.
A dry spell meant that the ground at Flete in 1980 was officially “hard”, hence a scarcity of runners, plus the fact that 11 other point-to-point meetings took place on that Saturday, just three days after the Axe Vale at Stafford Cross.I had alternatives of Bratton Down or Larkhill on that Saturday, and it was probably curiosity which took me down to the new course of Flete Park. It must be said that watering at Flete these days ensures decent going for every fixture there. The hill side overlooking the splendid parkland course of Flete Park is generally packed, and the late spring dates for the two fixtures now held there are ideal for picnics.
One or two changes have taken place to the actual track over the years, including a wider downhill run after the third last, but the course still goes round the tiny cricket field just past the winning post where I always visualise myself smacking a few sixes. David Trundley’s limited edition entitled “Catching the sun, Flete Park” superbly illustrates the ambience of Flete Park races, including the cricket pavilion in the background, doubling nowadays as the weighing room, declarations area and lady riders’ changing room.
DARTMOOR & MODBURY HARRIERS 26 APRIL 1980
1 Hot Fancy (George Welch)
2 Helset (Jimmy Frost)
3 Wistman (Elizabeth Pinsent)
6 ran; 2l; 5l; SP 2-1
1 Langton Way (John Britton)
2 Frevolity (Nick Fell)
3 Double Lodge (Jimmy Frost)
6 ran; 1/2l; 8l; SP 4-1
1 Devon Spirit (Keith Pook)
2 Quisloo (Nick Fell)
3 Grey Granite (John Symons)
4 ran; 7l; 1 1/2l; SP evens jt fav
1 Hidden Treasure (Miss Pip Fisher)
2 Goodness Me (Miss C Warwick)
2 ran; 8l; SP 1-2 fav
ADJACENT HUNTS’ MAIDEN
1 Beelzebub (Jimmy Frost)
2 Mary Felicity (Reuben Chapman)
5 ran; only two finished; won by a distance; SP 4-6 fav
I cannot remember what the weather was like on 26th April 1980, but I distinctly remember the weather the previous year when the Dartmoor & Modbury Harriers raced at Kilworthy. It was absolutely atrocious with the tents almost taking off in high winds and lashing rain which was sometimes par for the course on Dartmoor in April. Such luminaries as reporting colleagues Iain MacKenzie and Terry Selby gave me a lift that day, as we saw Hargan at his best lifting Pip Fisher towards her ladies’ title; Village Mark and Grant Cann win their second Maiden in three days (yes it was possible then); Moonstep and Mike Biddick, and Joe’s Farewell all successful.
That grand campaigner Devon Spirit was pulled up with an injured foot that day, but Diana Pook’s 15-year-old took the Open at the opening Flete Park meeting in 1980 under his regular rider Keith Pook. They don’t make them like Devon Spirit any more. Home bred, by Spiritus out of the winning mare Seventh Stmphony, he had won a total of 33 point-to-points and five hunter chases and was in the places 89 times when he retired as a 16-year-old.
The other star on show in 1980 was the Frost mare Armagnac Princess, who had already achieved her hat trick that year but showed her disdain for fast ground at Flete and was pulled up. She went on to win the prestigious Jeep Christie Mens Championship Hunter Chase (£4,425) at Chepstow the following year under a masterful ride from Jimmy Frost.
Paul Tylor’s mare Hidden Treasure was on the downgrade in 1980 after being near top class in her heyday, and did not have to be at her best to beat Goodness Me in a match.
Although Langton Way was only small he was very tough and won over a dozen points for the Britton family. Now a veteran, he ran on like a train down the hill and got up to beat Frevolity close home. Double Lodge was a well bred promising youngster from the Paul Tylor yard who sadly lost his life at Crimp on his next appearance
The Hunt race winner Hot Fancy (George Welch in the saddle) won her share of points for the Welch family ( won this race again two years later) and it is good to see George and his family so well involved today in Westcountry pointing and National Hunt racing.
I cannot leave these notes without reference to Lord Mildmay of Flete. He was without question the best amateur National Hunt jockey of his generation. His first winner in the saddle came in the Dartmoor Members’ race at Wrangaton when he was an undergraduate at Cambridge University. He came close to winning the Grand National in 1936 when his mount Davy Jones ran out when leading at the penultimate fence with a broken rein. After war service with the Guards Division he finished third in the 1948 Grand National on Cromwell.
Anthony Mildmay had inherited the title of Lord Mildmay and the ownership of the Flete estate when his father died in 1947. Dividing his time between his Flete estate and his trainer Peter Cazalet’s stables in Kent, he rode many winners after the war. including at the local tracks such as Buckfastleigh, Newton Abbot and Devon & Exeter. Sadly, Lord Mildmay drowned when taking his regular swim off the local coast in May 1950. He had ridden his last winner on his hunter chaser Prince Brownie at Wye a few days before he died.
His nephew Anthony Mildmay-White is still involved today with Dartmoor point-to- points, and rode the winner of the Dartmoor Hunt race in 1970 on Gold Dust VI before a successful career as an amateur under rules. His brother Richard was narrowly beaten on Ross that day, but went on to win on the same horse at the Mid Devon on the day that Devon Spirit won his Maiden.
As an obituary to Lord Mildmay, brief extracts from a leading article in The Times stated:- ….”All over the country, thousands of people who have never even betted on a steeplechase, let alone seen one run, are vaguely aware that by his death the country has suffered a particular loss…There never was a harder rider, a better loser or a more popular winner….”
- Hunter Chasers and Point to Pointers- various years, Iain MacKenzie, Terry Selby & David Phillips
- Horse and Hound Year Books – various years
- Buckfastleigh & South Brent Races- Peter Wakeham
- The Pointer
- The Times
- Anthony Mildmay-White
- Michael Kutapan (Jumping for Fun Forum)