Long Mile Road & Byron Moorcroft

GRANVILLE’S REMINISCENCES – TORRINGTON FARMERS

“The roar of the race-course died behind them, in front were their fates, they rode to find them….”

John Masefield, 1878 – 1967, poet laureate from 1930 – 1967

So that’s it then. A point-to-point season of two halves. It all started well in Devon & Cornwall with the opening of the new Dunsmore course on November 17th 2019. However after some exciting racing the final whistle was blown at Buckfastleigh in mid March, culminating in the loss of 15 area fixtures and of course the remainder of the British season.

This is the last of my personal reminiscences of days gone by, albeit presented as a rather tepid substitute for some of the lost meetings in the Devon & Cornwall area. The Torrington Farmers Hunt has traditionally brought down the curtain at their course at Chapelton Barton, Umberleigh for many years. My first visit to the course was in 1977 when the country was celebrating the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Here are my comments on one of the early Umberleigh meetings:-

10th June 1978 – Going Hard

HUNT

1 Black Ace (Andrew Congdon)
2 Courageous Kate (Penny Ogden)
3 High Brooks (A Milton)
3 ran; 2l; dist; 5m 18s SP 7-4

OPEN

1 Zingarella (Eddie Whettam)
2 Cefn Solomon (Paul Hamer)
3 Last Gesture (Richard Mann)
10 ran; 1/2l; 4l; 5m 4s SP 14-1

LADIES OPEN

1 Oakey Coakey (Jenny Hembrow)
2 Torrid (Miss A Allard)
3 Money Penny (Katie Halswell)
9 ran; neck; 2l; 5m 2s SP 5-4 fav

RESTRICTED OPEN

1 Lady Maxine (Ron Treloggen)
2 Petit Homme (Robert Alner)
3 Running Rose (R Hicks)
10 ran; 10l; dist; 5m 2s SP 6-4

ADJACENT HUNTS

1 Moorland Venture (Sue Reynard)
2 Mistic Code (Penny Ogden)
3 Zauditu (Martin Keenor)
3 ran; 8l; 1l; 5m 11s SP 4-5 fav

ADJACENT HUNTS MAIDEN

1 Kensal (Mike Williams)
2 Royal Bella (Stuart Kittow)
3 Golden Flyer (Jimmy Frost)
4 ran; 4l; 7l; 5m 14s SP 4-1

The Hunt race winner Black Ace improved steadily throughout the season. He ran on well here and survived a mistake at the last A tiny gelding by the Schweppes Gold Trophy winner Rosyth, Black Ace gave his owner / rider Andrew Congdon a lot of fun over the years. His daughter Jenny was to follow in his footsteps in this race in later years

Cefn Soloman, in the colours of popular Welsh owner Dilwyn Thomas, was all the rage for the Open after his recent solid effort in a Stratford hunter chase. He was out jumped at the last by the winner Zingarella and had to settle for the runner up spot despite rallying near the post. Eddie Whettam was a very good rider and his family owned mount Zingarella was a useful pointer who found the ground and short trip ideal.

Oakey Cokey owed his solitary win of the season in the Ladies’ to Jenny Hembrow’s jockeyship. Taunton based Jenny was one of the most stylish riders in those days and won this with a sharp race winning move on the blinkered gelding on the final circuit.

The grey mare Lady Maxine enjoyed a profitable season and was scoring for the third time in the Restricted under Ron Treloggen. As a brood mare in due course Lady Maxine produced another pointing winner called Maxine’s Lass. Runner up Petit Homme was a fair pointer in the same Newman colours which can still be seen today, but he was ill at ease on the hard ground.

The consistent mare Moorland Venture was odds on and made all for Sue Reynard in the Adjacents’ before Kensal (Mike Williams) upset the favourite Royal Bella in the Maiden after Misty Express had fallen three out. Kensal was owned by Maurice Maude, one of my press colleagues in those days, and of course the father of Chris Maude. I seem to recall that Maurice told me that Kensal was from the family of 1950 Grand National winner Freebooter, but the memory is less sharp than it was and Maurice passed on many years ago.

From a historical point of view, the Torrington Farmers raced at Cranford St Giles from 1950 until the final meeting there on 27th April 1960. Their 1961 fixture was lost due to foot and mouth disease, and the fixture moved to Horwood, near Bideford the next year, where a succession of late April evening meetings took place throughout the 1960’s. I would think that Horwood was the shortest point-to-point track in the country with times regularly under five minutes.

The 1970 meeting was held at Crimp, Morwenstone, but on 28th April 1971 the long association with Chapelton Barton, Umberleigh began with an evening meeting. Mike Trickey rode the first winner on Barber’s Piece and other successful riders on that night were Chris Popham, Carol Handel, Tony Hartnoll and Charles Micklem.

A significant event happened in 1975 when after a postponement from April 15th the meeting was re-arranged to become the final meeting of the season (on 7th June). At that meeting four times lady champion jockey Sue Aston rode a double on Perfidia and Golden Scot, beating seven pounds overweight Robert Waley-Cohen into second place in the Adjacent Restricted. Sue Aston was an exceptional talent, light years ahead of her time.

From that time in 1975 the Torrington Farmers has retained the June date, with end of season festivities becoming the norm. If I remember correctly, when I first went to Umberleigh the start was near the top of the steep hill on the far side and there was usually some arable ground. The race times in those days suggest that the course length was about two and a half miles. The midsummer date naturally brings variations in ground conditions, mainly very dry, but occasionally very soft. In later years the course has been aggravated when necessary to ease the going. To be honest, it is not the best viewing course and to get a fair view you have to move around the top of the hill, rather like at the old Tweseldown course. The atmosphere is however second to none and it makes you wish the season could go on.

It would take a book to describe the happenings in the past 49 years. Some of the random highlights include a ten-race card in 1983, the year when the course was lengthened to three miles, featuring wins for Cheekio Ora (ridden by four times champion Peter Greenall) and Frevolity (Janine Mills); a Gordon Edwards treble in 1984; a Polly Curling treble in 1993. The little gelding Tijuca gained five Hunt race wins up to 1993. You might be sure that I backed him on another occasion when he unseated with the race at his mercy.

A lot of horses came from far afield over the years to run at the finale and quite a few Umberleigh fixtures decided the National and Area jockeys’ awards. In 2002 Evan Williams took champion jockey status when his Open win on Bonny Boy was enough to take the title from Julian Pritchard by 38 to 37. I remember that year well because when we arrived at the local pub that night, the Rising Sun, the Welsh boys were still singing and had eaten all the food. We ended up with bags of crisps to accompany champagne. It rained all the way home.

I remember chatting in the changing tent with Peter Greenall on the day he retired, not knowing that his sons Oliver and Tom would pick up champion jockey titles in future years. They were all quite regular visitors to Umberleigh, followed in due course by Jake. Quite a family dynasty.
Polly Gundry, who won the Ladies’ title eight times, and the late Richard Woollacott, who won the Men’s title in 2010 were also successful at the course, but young Michael Heard stole the headlines with a treble in the first three races in 2011.

Recent champions Will Biddick and Gina Andrews farmed the titles in very recent years and it was good to see them in action at Umberleigh. Local riders Darren Edwards, Jo Supple and Millie Wonnacott all won area titles in the past few years and celebrated in style at the track.

We look forward to a fantastic double celebration at Umberleigh in June 2021 – 50 years since the beginning of racing there and hopefully the end of the dreadful virus. It should be quite a party.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

  • Hunter Chasers & Point-to-Pointers, various years
  • The Pointer
  • Sporting Life
  • Sporting Chronicle
  • Michael Kutapan – Point-to-point History & Research, Jumping For Fun website