A huge crowd descended on Dingley last Sunday for its popular Fernie meeting – and witnessed one of the best fixtures held at the natural amphitheatre racetrack for many years. Held under glorious blue skies, this annual occasion hosts the most prestigious amateur race in the Midlands region, the Fernie Four-Miler – for which the winner collects the Fernie Gold Cup – but much of the picnic gossip in the car parks focussed not only on that race but also the much-improved racecourse conditions. After a litany of earlier point-to-point cancellations in the region, the meeting showed the sport at its very best and the huge crowds were rewarded with plenty of raceday attractions beyond the racing itself.
Two exciting pony races got the afternoon started. The first, for novice riders was won by Alice Cooke on her pony Over To Kerry, beating Harry Lee and River Dancer into second and Fifi Buxton and Guto into third. The second race was for more seasoned combinations and this was won by Violet Barton and Miss Wonderful. Henry Main and Madame Mimi were second, Caitlin Stocks third with Indian River. The enthusiasm of the younger generation set the scene for the quality of sport that followed.
Following the parade of Fernie hounds, and the presentation of a £1,550 cheque to Headway, the brain injury charity, following collections raised by members of the Fernie Hunt earlier in the year, the first horse race of the day was the Watling-JCB PPORA Club Members Conditions race which provided a stirring finish. Favourite She’s Real (Tom Chatfield-Roberts) set a fast pace but Aunty Joan (James Martin) was able to close the gap in the final lap and they were very close as they came round the final bend towards the last fence. As is so often the case, the best jump from the two challengers at the last was sufficient to land the spoils, and this time it was Aunty Joan who gained ground in the air accelerating away to beat the Helen Connors-trained She’s Real into second by nine lengths. Willflywontsink and Gina Andrews very nearly caught the second placed horse in the run in, getting third by a neck, while Bawden Rocks finished fourth.
The second race was for maiden horses, over the shorter distance of 2m4f under the banner of Sharnford Tractors. After setting a very good lead for a good part of the race, Dickie Collinson was unseated following a jink from favourite Parsons Avenue on the final bend, leaving well-fancied Mine’s A Pint to come through the chasing pack and lead the field home. First Goodnight (Geoff Barfoot-Saunt) was only four lengths behind, with Philip Armson and Speed Lord in third. The winner was ridden and trained by Dale Peters who was only just beginning his champagne-fuelled afternoon, as it turned out.
The novice rider races this season have been hotly contested, with a number of the aspiring jockeys showing their skills with wins around the country. The Charles Stanley Novice Rider race attracted some excellent entries and ten runners came to post, including Meisha Micklewright and L’Eldorado who have three wins already this season and went off as odds-on favourites. Having unseated his jockey, Glory Hunter decided to continue and, after a near miss at a previous fence, jumped across L’Eldorado and unseated Micklewright, who had little chance. The field were quite spread out at the finish, with 12/1 shot Pantxoa (Jacob Pritchard Webb) taking an impressive first-ever race victory for his jockey by eleven lengths from Dusk Till Dawn (W. Marshall) and Nightscape (Charlie Buckle) in third.
The feature race of the day, and the Midlands Area Association seasonal highlight, was the Welland Valley Feeds Mixed Open Fernie Four-Miler. Four miles is a test of stamina on any ground so this is always a highlight of the national point-to-pointing season. The two most fancied horses in the race were Legal Legend, piloted by Nick Meek, and Man Of Steel, with Gina Andrews in the plate. Neither had it all their own way as the lead went to and fro throughout the race. Gina Andrews began to control the pace from the three mile mark, and when the inevitable final challenge came from Legal Legend towards the penultimate fence, it was Man Of Steel who had something left in the tank to hold them off and take the race in thrilling fashion. Demood (James Martin) produced their usual stirring finish to take second by only a couple of lengths, demoting Legal Legend to third in a renewal of the highest order.
The Hewitsons Restricted race saw a second victory of the day for Dale Peters, who trained and rode the winner Bi Quini Tiep to beat Cornerman (Jack Andrews) and Inmyday (Gina Andrews) into second and third respectively. The winner was impressive in his ability to take the race on early and maintain that pace. Favourite Top Garry (Page Fuller) never seemed to have quite enough pace on this faster ground and finished fourth.
Having hit the deck in an earlier race, Dickie Collinson was more determined than ever when piloting a very impressive winner with Angelsea Lace in the Jockey Club and Deene Park Mare’s and Fillies Maiden race. They set a relentlessly fast pace from the outset and kept it going, taking the course in their stride to win by the distance between fences. Babbiloora (Page Fuller) and Act Like You Know (C. Todd) were the only other finishers.
The concluding race of the day provided the closest of finishes for an enthralled crowd in the Summit Engineering and Matthew Teece Open Maiden race, this time over three miles. The favourite was Better Hand (Olly Finnegan) but he was soon in a ding-dong battle down the back straight with the energised Dale Peters and The Unmentionable for the majority of the second half of the race. As the crowd encouraged both horses to the line, it was the rider/trainer/part-owner Dale Peters on The Unmentionable who just managed to fend off the surging finish of Better Hand to take the race on the line by a head. It completed a three-timer for Dale Peters on the day, and was a considerable tonic for him after a bad fall when riding at Hexham the previous evening.
Although the weather may have stalled the excitement of amateur racing in the Midlands in the last few months, this meeting demonstrated that is plenty of firepower left in the ranks of many trainers – which bodes well for the remaining meetings at Dingley on Saturday 26th May and the evening meeting on Saturday 9th June. With many racegoers lapping up the wonderful racing and fabulous setting with impromptu picnics and parties long in to the late evening sunshine, it was a day that many will remember for a while to come.
The next race meeting in the Midlands Area is the Melton Hunt Club meeting on Sunday 13th May at Garthorpe. Tickets for that meeting are available online at midlandspointing.com in advance for £10 but will be £13 on the gate on the day (Under 16s free).