Point to point course looks to future as others face possible closure

AMIDST predictions that a number of point to point courses in the South East are likely to close in the next five years, Jamie Hawksworth, chairman of the Crawley and Horsham Hunt’s point to point committee, firmly believes that the popular Parham track, near Storrington, has a secure future.

Jamie said: “Five years ago at Parham, five of us joined together and bought land other than the car parks and paddock, and have realigned the course successfully.

“We have another 20 years to go in the agreement, ensuring that the course is secure for that period.”

He said that Parham’s two traditional fixtures put it in a good position financially, compared to some courses in the South East which only hold one meeting.

The two meetings are held later in the year than at many other courses in the region, and as a result are less prone to bad weather or cancellation.

In 2012 the Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray Hunt is welcomed back to Parham for the second fixture, for which the Countryside Alliance had stepped in to keep racing going during the last couple of years.

Racing will take place on Saturday March 23 (Crawley and Horsham Hunt) and on April 27 ( Chiddingfold Leconfield and Cowdray Hunt).

“The biggest problem facing point to pointing today is ownership of horses.

“Twenty years ago we used to have 20 runner fields in Maidens at Parham. Often we had so many runners that we had to split these races into two divisions,” added Jamie.

But he said the number of farmers having point to point horses had dropped, as many of then were struggling to farm in the current economic climate.

“Costs all the way round have risen and we have set up a Crawley and Horsham Point to Point Club with two horses, each with 15 members.

“It costs them just £55 a month each instead of £800 to keep that an individual owner would face,” he explained.

The two horses, Peplum owned by Heart of the South Racing, and Crazy Eyes bought by point to point trainer Ian Cobb from Doncaster sales, are being trained this season for the new racing group.

The Crazy Eyes group currently has 15 members out of a maximum of 20. Crazy Eyes is due to run on December 30 at Cottenham. Anyone wanting a share should contact Crawley and Horsham Hunt.

“I have no doubts at all that Parham will be one of the courses to survive, even though the costs of running a meeting are high.

“Our income stems from car parking and the enormous goodwill of the public in continuing to support our fixtures.

“It costs £500 to have a doctor at a meeting, and we have two there, while the paramedic team is another £2,800.

“We aim to replace a fence a season, to keep the course to a high standard and that is an enormous cost. But last year Ed Arkle at Fontwell Park Racecourse enabled two of our lads to learn how to a build a fence to a high standard, and that reduces are outlay significantly,” added Jamie.

Recently the new chairman of South East Point to Point, Peter Webb, had suggested that in five years time, the number of courses surviving in the area could be as few as four or five in the whole of the South East.

He has pledged to try to overcome issues currently threatening the future of the sport, during his forthcoming three year term of office.

He cited declining revenues for the early meetings and a remorseless rise in expenses, particularly associated with health and safety where the requirements of the newly-formed PPA had to be rolled out as major factors threatening the sport.

“Most people are now aware of the new medical and veterinary obligations and the seminars which all the professionals have to attend, as do the point-to-point stewards.

Stewards, incidentally, have been reduced in number so that those remaining get to attend more meetings and thus become more conversant with form and other ongoing issues, and this will be particularly evident from 2014 onwards,” he said.

Reviewing the last season, Peter said that it was most unusual that reasonable weather for all the early meetings has enabled them made a profit while the rest of the season had five loss-making meetings, culminating in one which lost more than £10,000.

He continued: “For the forthcoming season and beyond we now need to consider that the time will come when hunts would no longer run point-to-points.

“Already the number of meetings is diminishing, with seven less for 2012-13.

“Losses include Wales (the Pentrych and Vale of Clettyr), East Anglia (the Union meeting at Marks Tey on Easter Monday) and the Granta Harriers, Grove and Rufford fixtures in Lincolnshire.

“Nearer home we have lost the Tweseldown Club meeting and those in our own area.”