The 2018/19 Northern Area Point-to-Point season started on a positive note with 56 runners on the Border's six race card at Hexham Racecourse on Sunday. Following 38mm of rain in the previous seven days, the going was soft and, with five contests over the full three and a quarter mile trip, it proved to be an afternoon to follow proven stayers and those who had the benefit of a recent outing.
After being off the track since March 2016, the former Venetia Williams-trained chaser, Relax (Will Ramsay) made a promising comeback in the Par Petroleum NPPA Conditions Race. The 13 year old quickly established a big lead over his five rivals and was still fifteen lengths clear three out. However, the odds-on favourite, Pieceoftheaction (right, Jack Andrews) began to reduce the deficit with every stride and, after getting on terms two out, left the opposition toiling in the closing stages. He had seven lengths to spare at the line over Lough Derg Island (Alex Chadwick), with the gallant Relax a further two lengths away in third place.
Andrews said: ''That was a piece of cake and I wish I could ride a few more like that.''
The ultra-consistent Worcester Pearmain (left) provided Nick Orpwood with a 70th career winner between the flags in the Border Hunt Restricted Race. The 8 year old home-bred mare tracked the leaders on the final circuit before taking it up three out. Ardenlee Lad was still close up when falling at the next and Orpwood's mount had to dig deep to repel a late challenge from Hardrock Davis (John Dawson) by half a length.
Orpwood said: ''I knew she was fit enough on her reappearance and she gained ground over her rivals at every fence.'' Her dam, Granoski Gala landed the 2007 Heart Of All England Maiden Hunters' Chase on the adjoining National Hunt track under Rose Dobbin and also won 11 of her 17 Pointing starts.
Nantwich trainer, Joe O'Shea was rewarded for making the 370 mile round trip with Irish Anthem's (right) victory in the Le Petite Chateau Ladies Open Race. Given a positive ride by Immy Robinson, the 10 year old was never headed on the final circuit and gradually extended his advantage from three out. He finished full of running and had far more in hand than the official eight lengths winning margin over Knocklong (Charlotte Crane). However, the latter was disqualified after Charlotte failed to weigh-in, resulting in Iron Chancellor (Jess Bedi) being promoted to second spot and Nicki's Nipper (Amie Waugh) acquiring third.
The winner was bought privately in September just before he was due to go to Doncaster Sales and is the first venture into horse ownership for Steve and Gill Roach. Their daughter, Hannah, 16, is enjoying her first season as apprentice groom for O'Shea, who has made his best ever start to a season with five winners from six runners.
After winning his first two starts last season in Ladies Open company, Shantou Magic (left, Will Ramsay) proved again that he goes well fresh when taking the Carrs Billington Men's Open Race. Always in the leading trio, the 11 year old regained the initiative from Wayupinthesky (Joe Wright) two out and stayed on strongly to beat Black River (William Easterby) by four lengths. Wayupinthesky, who was returning from an eighteen months absence, finished a further four lengths away in third.
Ramsay said: ''I got a breather into him coming down the hill and as soon as I pressed the button approaching two out, the response was immediate. He will probably run next at Alnwick on January 6.''
More than seven and a half years after making his debut in a Loughbrickland Maiden, the versatile Ted Veale ( right, Kit Alexander) proved that he still retains plenty of enthusiasm for the game with a comfortable three lengths success over U Name It (Stephanie Lawton) in the two and a half mile Rose, Andrew and Friends of the Border Hunt Conditions Race. Always prominent, he was sent on five out and never looked like being overhauled in the closing stages.
Alexander said: ''He took a good grip all the way and really enjoyed it. He was getting a bit lonely out in front but I was always confident. I'll probably ride him with a bit more restraint next time over a longer trip at Alnwick on January 6.''
The first three in the concluding Ward Hadaway Open Maiden Race were the only four year olds in the contest, and they all carried 7lb less than their eleven rivals. The superior race fitness of Uptown Harry (left), who had run twice in Ireland in October, made the difference as he kept on strongly from the last under Tom Strawson to beat the promising Enry Iggins (Joe Wright) by three lengths with Major Minus (William Easterby) also shaping well in third.
The winner, bought privately in Ireland in October, now heads to Ascot Sales on December 10. He finished 10 lengths third behind Golden Nomad in a Toomebridge Maiden on October 6 and it is worth noting that the runner-up that day, Braeside was subsequently sold for £105,000 at the Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham Sales on November 16.