Why point to point racing is fast becoming one of Yorkshire's most popular spectator sports

Horse racing run in rural locations minus grandstands and posh frocks is one of the countryside’s fastest growing spectator sports. Following top Yorkshire point-to-point jockey John Dawson’s Cheltenham Festival win on Sine Nomine in the Hunter’s Chase, it’s back to the idyllic countryside surroundings for John and fellow jockeys at Hornby Castle on Saturday April 13.

Point-to-Point racing has always been an annual event for the local rural communities but it is now becoming increasingly popular with those who just like getting out into the countryside during a weekend, in much the same way as attending an agricultural show, with an added incentive of visiting new places.

Bedale Point-to-Point Races which have now taken place for over 75 years, come just at the right time in the season when the weather and the going is usually a little kinder than the earlier months and Bedale has seen its crowds reach new highs in the recent past, particularly last year when it was estimated that over 3,000 were cheering on the horses and jockeys.

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“Many of our regulars, some who’ve been at our races for the past 50 years, said they had never seen the numbers we had last year,” says Andrew Barker, a local farmer from Scorton, who is now the Clerk of the Course having stepped up from his role as assistant last year.

Andrew Barker, who is Clerk of the Course for Bedale Point to Point Races at Hornby Castle.Andrew Barker, who is Clerk of the Course for Bedale Point to Point Races at Hornby Castle.
Andrew Barker, who is Clerk of the Course for Bedale Point to Point Races at Hornby Castle.

“Last year’s attendance was phenomenal. I think social media has helped the Point-to-Point world because up to 10 years ago it was still pretty much only really known by countryside people or seen as races held in the back of a field. There’s now YouTube as well, so more people know about it and it has made the sport much more accessible.”

He added: “We are usually fairly lucky with racing in the spring, touch wood. We don’t have a lot of problems with frost like a lot that are earlier and because of that we probably get the better ground horses that have been saved for the back end of the season. We usually have six or seven races on the card.”

One of Andrew’s tasks is to ensure that the portable fences shared with Hurworth Point-to-Point Races arrive at Hornby Castle following their race meeting.

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“We have three permanent jumps,” says Andrew. “The rest are portable. We set them out two to three weeks before race day with local fencing contractors Watt Fences who do a lot of work on professional racecourses and Point-to-Points.

Pictured with his dog Mick at one of the jumps.Pictured with his dog Mick at one of the jumps.
Pictured with his dog Mick at one of the jumps.

Andrew says that while the number of people attending Hornby Castle Races has increased, the number of farmers riding is no longer what it was.

“There are not as many farming people either training Point-to-Point horses or riding them today. It’s just how the sport is evolving. We have local jockeys like Christy Furness who hunts with Bedale. His mum Grania was involved in the Point-to-Point for a number of years. They had a winner with us last year and are big supporters. Jack Teal had two winners here last year, and Fiona Needham Clerk of the Course at Catterick trained two winners, one of which was Sine Nomine with John (Dawson) on board.

“The annual Members’ Race has changed a bit and now includes all of the surrounding hunts. There’s still a trophy for the first Bedale Hunt member’s horse. It could finish last and pick up a trophy.”

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Andrew has trained two Point-to-Point winners, would love to give training a proper go and says he has a long way to go to match his late father David Barker’s record.

“My dad was a professional racehorse trainer. He trained about 200 winners and had a couple of Group 2’s, so I’m a bit off catching him. We still have a few horses, but I haven’t trained any Pointers for the last few years. You can’t do it half-heartedly. We had a horse with John Quinn a couple seasons ago but he wasn’t very good. He couldn’t run out of sight on a dark night.

Andrew says he and all connected with Hornby Castle Races are grateful for the continued support of Roger Clutterbuck of Hornby Castle.

Andrew feels there could be more to come for the Point to Point world on this side of the Irish Sea.

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“If we look at the Irish Point to Point system they are way ahead and are producing horses running at Cheltenham Festival every year. Our Point to Points could become the breeding ground of some Festival horses for the future.”

Bedale Point to Point Races takes place Saturday April 13 – the same day as The Grand National.

“The Grand National has been brought forward from 5.15pm to 4pm this year,” says Andrew. “We’re going to be showing it on our big screen and the on-course bookies will be taking bets.”