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Monday, 24 November 2014

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Thousands enjoy the thrill of the chases at Dalston point-to-point

Part of the north Cumbrian countryside was transformed into a bustling horse racing venue as more than 2,000 people turned up for one of the region’s most popular point-to-point events.

Dalston point ot point photo
Rachael Beckett, left, with daughter Abbie Jackson and sister Emma Beckett, all from Dalston

Despite grey sky and gentle rain, the races at Holm Hill Parks near Dalston proved to be a crowd-puller.

The bookies were kept busy throughout the day as punters queued to place their bets.

The healthy turnout was no doubt a relief for the organisers, who last year had to cancel the amateur race meeting because of heavy rain.

The point-to-point is the main annual fundraiser for The Cumberland Farmers Foxhounds, so for many it was far more than just a good day out at the races.

Secretary Gillian Blamire said: “It’s an important event for us. There are seven races, with about 60 runners, who come to this site from all over the north west.”

Regarded as the first hurdle for any would-be professional jockey, or serious racing horse, point-to-point also provide an opportunity to spot up and coming talents.

“This event has a lot of followers in the northern area,” said Joanne Charlton, who is on the organising committee.

She went along with her partner Richard Robinson, and their children Hannah, seven; Sarah, six; and two-and-a-half year old Penny.

She commented on the particular suitability of the race site, a wide grassy valley which is overlooked by gentle, rolling grassland.

“It’s got a natural grandstand view,” said Joanne.

One of the event’s two judges, 36-year-old Caldew School PE teacher John Bulman, said: “Often you get some good young jockeys coming through and some go on to turn professional.”

Among those to have ridden in the event in past years was Lucy Alexander, currently the country’s only female professional jump jockey.

“It’s essentially an amateur sport, which is why you get a lot of younger jockeys who are not yet well established. It gives them good experience, riding before a crowd of a couple of thousand people.

“It’s quite high pressure.”

One of those young jockeys at the start of his career who took part yesterday was John Dixon, 20, a farmer from Thursby.

He said: “It’s nice ground.”

John was speaking just minutes after riding in the first race, the horses galloping at speeds of around 35mph on a course with 18 fences.

Asked what the attraction of being a jockey is he replied: “It gives you a good buzz.”

Debbie O'Brien, wife of the Cumberland Farmers Foxhounds kennels huntsman, commented: “It’s our main fundraiser and if it’s a good day it goes a long way towards it. It’s got a good following and it’s a lovely course.

“It takes six weeks to prepare the fences – there are 10 or 12 people down here for a day a week throughout that time.”

But for most of the punters, the event was just a good old fashioned day out.

Gamekeeper Bill Scobie, 77, had travelled to the meeting with his wife Isabel, 76, from their home in Lockerbie. He said: “It’s our first time here and it seems great. We’ll probably have a flutter.”

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