Sometimes referred to simply as ‘pointing’ or even ‘p2p’, point-to-point racing emerged from Ireland in 18th century and remains popular there.
It is a race over fences that is typically competed in by amateur riders and hunting horses, which is why both use it as a method for learning their craft before moving over to take part in National Hunt races. It is, in many way, the purest form of horse racing, finding its origins in the same sort of racing that gave steeplechasing its name. The phrase is believed to have been used for the first time in 1874.
Point-to-point events tend to take place over at least three miles, with many races being even longer. At the time of writing, the United Kingdom boasts 97 point-to-point courses across 11 regions, whilst in Ireland the point-to-point courses are managed by the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee, which is part of the Irish Turf Club.
Meetings tend to consist of at least six races, offering a more relaxed way for people to enjoy racing than in some of the more serious meetings that are held up and down the country.
What Exactly Is Point-To-Point Racing?
The name of point-to-point racing is actually even more self-explanatory than steeplechasing, insomuch as the horses taking part in the events have to run from one point to another. The other reason it is more like the racing of old is that the jockeys tend to be amateurs, using point-to-point racing in order to learn their craft.
This means that there is usually very little money involved, unlike in the big purse races that you’ll encounter at most steeplechase meetings. In truth, though, the two race types are essentially the same.
In point-to-point racing, there are fences placed at intervals around the course, which the horses need to jump in order to continue on with their journey. As with National Hunt racing, point-to-point’s season begins in November and is all but over by the middle of June.
Generally speaking, point-to-point is a much more pared back version of racing, so you’ll find that the facilities are much more basic and the course is often not a permanent one. Even the likes of the shops on point-to-point tracks won’t take card, so cash is king.
The History Of Point-To-Point
The first ever race that can be considered to be point-to-point took place in 1752. Mr Blake challenged his neighbour to a race, suggesting that the travel from Buttevant church to Doneraile church in County Cork, Ireland. The distance was about four and a half miles, with the horses needing to jump the likes of stone walls, hedges and ditches as they made their way from one town to another. The suggestion was that the riders keep the point of the church’s steeple in sight, ensuring that they could see their finishing point at all times.
This is where two race types gained their name, with the riders looking from the point of one church to the point of another and chasing each other to the steeple, allowing for point-to-point and steeplechasing to be formed.
The first time that the phrase ‘point-to-point’ was used in print was in Bell’s Life in a publication from the tenth of January 1874. A race that took place between Sutton-on-the-Forest and Brandsby was held by the 9th Lancers stationed in nearby York, being described in the publication after the fact.
In hunt terms, the first time that a reference was made to such racing came about in 1875, which was when the Sporting Gazette offered a detailed account of a point-to-point race hosted by the Monmouthshire Hunt. The race was held on the 12th of January and went from Llansaintfraed to Tykin-under-Little-Skirrid, with Captain Wheeley winning it with ease.
Many more such races took place in the years that followed, with local hunts combining in 1913 to form the Master of Hounds Point-to-Point Association, which later passed control to the National Hunt Committee and then the Jockey Club.
How It Differs From National Hunt Racing
In many ways, there is no difference between National Hunt races and point-to-point. Both point-to-point and steeplechasing involves horses jumping over obstacles during the course of a race, trying to beat the others involved to the finish line.
The biggest difference, therefore, is in the professionalism, both on and off the course. Most point-to-point races take place on farmland, with courses being laid out in time for the start of the season and then turned back into farmland when the season has reached its climax and life returns to normal.
Off the course, everything about point-to-point tends to be much more relaxed than in the more progressional world of National Hunt racing. The day is family-oriented, for a start, up to and including the fact that most courses allow you to bring your dog with you; provided it is kept on a lead, of course.
In more modern times, only racing has been staged at British meetings so as to get younger riders interested in what point-to-point has to offer. That isn’t to say that point-to-point isn’t taken seriously, of course. It very much is, with some professional courses like Bangor-on-Dee and Hexam existing.
The other manner in which professionalism plays its part in the difference between the two types of racing is that the point-to-point world is limited to amateur riders. Race days are run at the local level by either a recognised club or a hunt, with jurisdiction tending to fall to the Point-to-Point Owners and Riders Association and the Point-to-Point Secretary’s Association.
The sport as a whole is overseen by the Jockey Club, ensuring that it lines up with other racing types. Most races are over three miles, with National Hunt events often being shorter than that.
Different Race Types
As with any other form of horse racing, there are different race types in the world of point-to-point. Taking place over three miles, with some being longer and a few being shorter for maidens, there are usually a minimum of 18 fences for the horses to jump during the course of the event.
Here is a look at the different types of race that you can expect to see during the course of a point-to-point meeting:
- Hunt Members’ Race: As you might expect, this race is for horses that are qualified with the hunt or hunts that have promoted the meeting
- Maiden Race: Open to any horses that hasn’t won a race at a point-to-point meeting nor any race run under the rules of a racing authority such as the Jockey Club. A maiden horse must be a maiden at the start of the race
- Intermediate Race: This race type is open to any horse that has not won a flat race under the rules of the Jockey Club or another racing authority, unless it was a National Hunt flat race. Intermediate Races run at point-to-point meetings can be either Mens, Ladies, or Mixed
- Confined Race: In this sort of race, the horses must be qualified with the hunt or hunts that promoted the meeting and no more than 15 hunts adjoining. If not enough hunts adjoin, neighbouring hunts will need to be included
- Men’s: Only for male riders
- Ladies’: Only for female riders
- Mixed: Either male or female riders
- Hunters’ Chase: A weight-for-age steeplechase that is run under the rules of the Jockey Club but confined to amateur riders and point-to-point horses
There are some big point-to-point meetings that take place throughout the year, with this being an explanation of a few of them.
New Forest Boxing Day Race
There are few point-to-point races that are run under the original conditions of the race type, but the Boxing Day race at the New Forest is one of them. The race has a designated start and finishing point, but the riders can choose their own course between the two points.
It is run in the New Forest, with the general area of the finishing point publicised about a fortnight before the race. The starting point is kept a secret until the actual day of the race, with races run during the day for both children and older riders.
A relative new-comer on the point-to-point scene, Cocklebarrow in Gloucestershire proved to be a big hit with the amateur racing scene.
Once its popularity was established, organisers worked hard to take it to the next level by ensuring that the off-the-course nature of it was appealing to all concerned.
At the opposite end of the scale to Cocklebarrow, racing originally took place at Whittington in 1936. It is one of the most established point-to-point courses that there is, promising excellent views of the entire course from a bank that is near the finishing line.
It certainly helps the popularity of the venue that it is based in a part of the country that inspired the likes of William Wordsworth and John Ruskin, meaning that you can enjoy phenomenal views across Lune Valley and back towards the Lake District if you get yourself a good spec.
Few events are as etched into the fabric of their local sporting calendar quite like the Lockinge point-to-point meeting. Located in the East Midlands, the course promises brilliant views of the long run-in up the final straight towards the finishing post.
On top of that, there is pony racing before the main events, giving you a chance to see the next generation of riders in action. Off the course, the Lockinge farmers’ market is a sight to behold, so ensure that you get along to that if you want to experience point-to-point life.