Newmarket trainer Nick Littmoden is back on the winning trail over Jumps, recording his third winner from just 14 runners at Doncaster with 4 years old French import, Imperil. The 4 year old held off Graeme McPherson's challenger in the Novices Handicap Chase to win by 1 1/4l.
It's good to see Nick enjoying success again. As an enthusiastic amateur, I worked with him at Gerry Enright's yard in Sussex, before he branched out on his own from a satellite yard at Wolverhampton in the early days of the All-Weather there. When he moved back to Newmarket, and concentrated solely on the Flat, winners began to flow well, including a personal best in 2002 when his near 700 runners achieved 80 winners and £627,545 in prize money.
During those halcyon days, Listed and Group races proved that with the right firepower, the talent was there to exploit them. The Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot and Doncaster's Flying Childers promised a sunny future, as well as the Ayr Silver Cup.
This decade though, the going has been much tougher; so much so that Nick even had a spell outside the sport.
Nick's actually a Sussex man, brought up on the edge of the downs less than a mile from the old Lewes Racecourse. Yet despite its rural outlook, and despite the powerhouse of Goodwood within the county boundary, Sussex doesn't shout racing like some other counties. And dare I say it, since the disappearance of Josh Gifford and John Dunlop, the only major flagbearer in the county is the irrepressible Gary Moore, as versatile under either code.
Newmarket, of course, is predominantly a Flat town, but there's plenty of interest in the Jumps, more so now with some hefty prizes to be won in the upper reaches of the game. Kribensis, winner of the Champion Hurdle in 1990 was a brief and playful foray into Jumping for Michael Stoute, but nowadays, it tends to be among the younger trainers looking to make their mark that dual purpose yards are to be found.
Nick would be the first to admit that he's unlikely to be troubling the market leaders just yet, but his stats are worthy of note. A 21% strike rate is better than many larger competitors. There are always some gems to be found in the smaller yards, and no guarantee that small will remain small forever. This is a man who was Champion Trainer on the AWT no less than 5 times.
It says something for the tenacity of Pointing folk that this season has begun at all in the extraordinary circumstances in which we find ourselves. A creative approach to the earlier start of the season allowed 3 fixtures to get underway at the end of October, usurping Cottenham's usual start to the season, before the latest Covid lockdown called a halt.
But encouragingly, despite the difficulties of staging race fixtures behind closed doors, or with restrictions applied by the British Horseracing Authority to comply with Covid protocols, there will be plenty of Point-to-Point fixtures to enjoy over the coming months.
Sadly Cottenham will not be among them, with too much uncertainty surrounding the three early dates that are already concluded before many have even begun their planning. Sharing a fixed cost between three fixtures, two involving hunt clubs, puts too much additional risk on the last man standing after Covid and weather abandonments are taken into account.
However, enthusiasts for the sport need not fear. The East Anglian season will start at Horseheath on Saturday January 30, followed by 8 further fixtures to the start of May at venues as diverse as Higham and Northaw.
The two fixtures at Ampton for the Dunston Harriers and Suffolk have consolidated into one on Saturday March 6, whilst High Easter will take a similar approach, staging just the Essex With Farmers & Union on Saturday April 10.
Subject to the prevailing economic and Covid conditions, there may yet be further changes.
Despite this, there has been a reassuringly constant application for Hunter Certificates which augurs for a competitive season ahead providing we can all keep well.
Through this blog over the next few months, we hope to keep you appraised of news around the area, specifically around Pointing but also a wider perspective on National Hunt racing in East Anglia. You can also keep abreast of local Pointing news on the Area site.
Enjoy your racing!