In recent years the Dulverton West fixture has been one of three late season meetings held at Bratton Down, with its moorland turf, unpredictable climate and panoramic views across high Exmoor.
I always think that when the first Bratton Down meeting takes place it signals that we are reaching the final chapter of the season. Unfortunately this season the last rites were administered as early as March 15th at Buckfastleigh.
My first visit to Bratton Down was on June 4th 1977 when the ground was officially hard and runners were scarce. There have been warm, sunnier days since then, although heavy rain once forced abandonment after four races and a few years ago wind and driving rain forced the bookmakers to conduct business in a tiny tent. It was like getting the SP’s in a rugby scrum.
From a historical point of view, the original Dulverton Hunt was formed in 1875 when Lord Portsmouth handed over the country to Mr J Froude Bellew, squire of Anstey. The first record I have of a Dulverton Hunt point-to-point meeting is on 17th April 1925 at Anstey Common. Subsequent Dulverton meetings took place mainly at Anstey Common until the 1939-45 world war.
After the war the hunt was divided into the Dulverton East and the Dulverton West. Their first joint point-to-point fixture was held on 16th April 1947 at Venford, West Anstey. This arrangement continued until their last joint meeting there on April 18th 1959.
The Dulverton East continued to race at Venford until 1983, but on April 23rd 1960 (60 years ago) the Dulverton West started their long association with Bratton Down.
I cannot resist a few lines about the course at Venford. I started to go there in the late 1970’s. It had a character all its own. My memory recalls it as like racing round the shape of a frying pan until the later years, when a slightly different layout was tried. A real jockeys course, tight bends, sharp, left-handed, undulating, adverse camber in places. Quite a few incidents took place on the bends at the bottom part of the track. The going tended to be on the quick side. I suppose it had a resemblance to the defunct Alexandra Park, except the London track was the opposite way round.
In 1984 the Dulverton East moved to Mounsey Hill Gate. This place was the forerunner of racing behind closed doors. It was hopeless for spectators as much of the action could not be seen – Mackenzie & Selby’s 1988 annual is rather dismissive: ”seemed to have been originally designed specifically to make racing invisible…” About the only personal positive memory I can relate is that it was a nice journey via Wheddon Cross which sometimes took in nearby Tarr Steps from my home in Somerset.
Racing ceased there in 2007 when the point-to-point moved to Treborough Hill, which was a little more user friendly for the paying public on the Brendon Hills with views of the Bristol Channel. In 2002 the hunt’s name was changed to the Dulverton Farmers, and they raced at Treborough until it closed in 2014. One of my memories of that course was when racing was snowed off after four races in 2013.
This year’s aborted Dulverton West fixture had been scheduled for 17th May at Bratton Down. My reminiscence covers the 1989 fixture:-
DULVERTON WEST AT BRATTON DOWN 20TH MAY 1989
1 Raid Hope (Ian Widdicombe)
2 Mr Bigwig (Linda Blackford)
3 ran; only two finished; won by a distance; SP 11-10
1 For A Lark (Mandy Turner)
2 Gerry Doyle (Julie Barrow)
3 My Mellow Man (Jenny Litston)
9 ran; 12l; 8l; 5m 58s; SP 4-5 fav
1 And Theres More (Justin Farthing)
2 Bishopric (George Turner)
3 Rashleigh Boy (Ian Widdicombe)
10 ran; 5l; 2l; 6m 3s SP 10-11 fav
1 Otabari (Justin Farthing)
2 Oak Lodge (Robert Alner)
3 Rate of Exchange (Ron Treloggen)
10 ran; 1/2l; dist; 5m 59s SP 5-4 fav
1 Admiral Benbow (Gordon Edwards)
2 River Culm (Chris Down)
3 Eagle Tavern (Philip Rawle)
8 ran; short head; 1/2l; 6m 9s SP 10-11 fav
1 Flodabay (Paul Hosgood)
2 Master Tuesday (Chris Down)
3 Isle Ornay (Linda Blackford)
20 ran; 1l; 2l; 6m 5s SP 25-1
Hunt race winner Raid Hope was quite useful in his day for owner Jenny Hayes, but was now at the veteran stage. His jockey Ian Widdicombe was enjoying his best season with nine winners. The favourite Golden Cargo lost his rider Tony Hill at the first.
The Ladies’ open was a cracker. The winner For A Lark was a legend in the Devon & Cornwall area and was in the form of his life. His owner / trainer, the late John Weldhen, bought him off the flat for 1300 guineas and he was about to be crowned Grand Marnier champion with 10 wins in 1989. Mandy Turner picked up the ride when Janine Mills was injured in March and went on to secure her fourth area Ladies’ title that year. The runner up Gerry Doyle was also a top class pointer in the colours of his Dorset based trainer Richard Barber who sadly died last June. Richard saddled his final winner, Whataknight, at Bratton Down in 2015. Out of the hundreds of the pointing winners he handled, he rated Gerry Doyle as one of his best. The talented Julie Barrow was in the saddle on this occasion. Jenny Litston, who rode third placed My Mellow Man for her father was another top class lady jockey who had won the national title in 1988. Her career was tragically cut short in a Larkhill fall in 1993
Justin Farthing was one of the strongest riders of the day. He rode 124 winners during his career, and became national champion in 1991. His double at the Dulverton West was initiated when Open winner And Theres More won his fifth successive race of the season from Keith Cumings’ yard. Most of Justin’s winners came for Richard Barber though, and the PPOA members’ winner Otabari was one of these. This sturdy chestnut had won the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot earlier in his career.
Admiral Benbow was a Bratton Down specialist and showed plenty of guts up the finishing hill to deny River Culm and Eagle Tavern after the latter pair had jumped the last in front together in the Adjacents’. Gordon Edwards, father of current Devon & Cornwall area champion Darren Edwards, was Admiral Benbow’s regular jockey.
The Adjacent Restricted winner Flodabay was a big, strong type, owned and trained by Gordon Chambers, and was one of jockey Paul Hosgood’s ten winners that season. After four successive jollys had gone in it was time for an outsider and the lightly raced Flodabay popped up at 25-1. To be fair, he was probably a lucky winner because runner up Master Tuesday had lost a lot of ground when nearly falling at the last ditch and was closing again at the finish.
- Hunter Chasers & Point-to-Pointers – MacKenzie & Selby – various years
- Horse & Hound Year Book – various years
- The Pointer
- Baily’s Hunting Directory 1934
- Michael Kutapan – Point-to-point History & Research, Jumping For Fun website
- Point-to-Point Calendar 1933 – 1938– Arthur W Coaten