Point to points are a lower level of horse racing, with all participants – both equine and human – registered with or members of a hunt. The name came about when huntsmen would race their horses from church to church, using the steeples as a guide to direction. One branch became known as steeplechasing, while the other saw the name point to point born.
The races are run over chase fences, ridden by amateurs and generally contain horses at different ends of their career. The majority of races are three-mile contests, with makeshift racecourses popping up in fields all over the U.K and Ireland. There are some points run at regular racetracks, with Bangor, Hexham and Ffos Las all hosting point to points.
How does it differ to rules racing?
The atmosphere is more relaxed than racing under rules, with the majority of those in attendance enjoying the social side of the sport, supporting the locally trained horses. Entrance is generally per car rather than per person so the cost of a day out is dramatically reduced but without any lack of thrilling and competitive action. Most tracks have local bookmakers as well as a Tote so racegoers can have a bet on the action as they would at any other horse racing meeting.
Why are they important?
The Irish pointing scene sees many smart young horses dip their toes into competitive action for the first time without being overfaced by races under rules. The market for young horses who show promise in this discipline is high, with sales rings often seeing six-figure purchases for young horses with just a debut win to their name.
Horses such as Faugheen and Samcro began their lives winning points, those with a sharp eye relish the chance to watch the four-year-old races in a bid to be the first to spot the next big thing to hit the track or in the case of bloodstock agents, to get the first chance to buy one that catches the eye before they hit the sales ring and the feeding frenzy begins.
The English pointing scene has some of the younger horses but more often they are a meeting for those who like to reminisce. A look through a point to point racecard is often a nostalgic walk through horses one remembers from racing under rules in their younger years. The quality of racing isn’t as tough as it is under rules, though horses such as Kingscliff and Earthmover made the move the other way in the past and made a huge impact under rules.
Giving a chance to both young horses to learn their trade and for the older horses to continue to do what they love when they are too far up the handicap for their age or don’t have quite as much speed in their legs anymore makes point to pointing unique and a heartbeat for the countryside community.
Where are the best tracks?
The biggest day in the English pointing calendar comes in mid-December at the famous Barbury Castle track, the only card where Irish raiders can take to the track in the U.K with the biggest prize money of the entire season on offer. Larkhill in Wiltshire and Alnwick in Northumberland are a pair of the more famous courses, with five and four fixtures each respectively, with most tracks only having one or two over the course of a year.
In Ireland, the pointing scene is huge, with close to 25% of the runners at the Cheltenham Festival starting their career in an Irish point to point. Ballysteen, Liscarroll and Belclare saw the likes of Faugheen, Denman and Best Mate win points before Cheltenham Festival success but a visit to any pointing course in Ireland gives a real chance of seeing the beginning of a superstar which is what makes them the very heartbeat of the racing industry.