Riders and handlers leading charge
There will be a feast of National Hunt racing over the festive season with four-day festivals at Leopardstown and Limerick featuring a host of top jumpers, along with in intriguing King George Chase at Kempton next Thursday among a plethora of British meetings. It will be a big test for the TV coverage.
However, there is so little to work on a week in advance of this action with many entries still to be finalised, so this week I am concentrating on a mid-season review on the point to point scene where Wexford is in a dominant position.
Seven times champion point to point handler in the past decade, Colin Bowe from the Milestone Stables in Kiltealy, is leading the way once again with a total of 13 winners throughout the autumn season, 10 of them in four-year-old maidens, and most of his major challengers are also from the county, filling the top four and eight of the top ten places.
Denis Murphy from Ballyboy Stables, The Ballagh, is in second place on 9 winners, followed by a revived Sean Doyle, Monbeg Stables, Ballindaggin on 8, and the unrelated Ellen Doyle from the Baltimore Stables, Coolgarrow, Enniscorthy, on 7.
In fact, Wexford handler fill eight of the top ten positions, also including Sean Doyle's brother, Donnchadh, Michael Goff of Clondaw, Ferns, Michael Murphy from Redbridge Stables, Duncormick, and Vincent Devereux from Rostoonstown, Broadway.
And the story is repeated in the riders' table with reigning champion Barry O'Neill leading the way on 16 winners, three ahead of former champion and nine-times Cheltenham Festival winner, Jamie Codd, with Rob James from Killanne third on 10 winners. Young riders Jamie Scallan and Tiernan Power Roche are just outside the top ten.
Bowe had just six winners at this stage last season but went on to amass 45 by the end in early June, just two behind Robert Tyner's all time record. He will surely be aiming at that record come next June.
Denis Murphy has fielded one of his biggest autumn teams to date, with 23 individual horses running a total of 37 times for him. His nine winners could have been many more with a bit more luck as he also had nine seconds and six thirds. Sean Doyle had a lean time of it last year with just five winners for the season and he has already surpassed that by three. His seven year old My Story, formerly trained by his brother Donnchadh, has been a three-time winner since returning from a spell in England with Tom George. Ellen Doyle has had a remarkable autumn campaign with a 47% strike rate, getting 7 winners from just 15 runners, including three on the last day before the break on December 8. She only began as a trainer last season, and she runs the Coolgarrow Stables with her brother, James.
Congratulations to a third and youngest Doyle brother from Monbeg, Cormac, who had a Points winner in England with his first runner over there at the international meeting at Barbury on Sunday. One True King (out of Getaway), appropriately ridden by James King (Thurles), made most of the running in a four and five year old maiden and won it by over four lengths.
The season resumes on Monday Dec. 30 at Dromahane in Cork and from then until the closing card at Ballingarry near Roscrea on Monday June 1 there will be 80 meetings run off - a mammoth undertaking by Hunt committee all around the country.
There is a new addition to the programme in Co. Wexford with the Ballinagore Harriers from Oylegate staging their first point to point at Ballycrystal, Kiltealy, on January 19.
Other local meetings to be noted in the diary are:
Jan. 12, Shillelagh and District at Tinahely;
Feb. 2, Wexford Hunt at Knockmullen House, near New Ross;
Feb. 23, Bray Hunt at Tinahely;
Mar. 1, Carlow Farmers at Borris House;
Sun. Mar 8, Killinick Harriers at Lingstown;
Mar. 29, Bree Hunt at Monksgrange, Rathnure,
Apr. 5, The Island Hunt at Ounavarragh, Courtown;
Apr. 19, Bree Hunt at Monksgrange.