I was disappointed to see the Point To Point season in Ireland suspended last week. Not only because I do some work with the point to point but because of its central and possibly underappreciated role in Irish racing.
Obviously the current Covid-19 situation demands it and nobody wants to pick up or spread such a dangerous illness with the horizon of vaccination in sight. However, while point to pointing may be considered an “amateur sport” for the purpose of Covid regulations, it is very much an essential business within the world of horse racing.
Sometimes this is obvious to racing fans when they realise Envoi Allen, who picked up his 11th win last weekend at Punchestown, got his start winning a point to point. Or when they read the headlines about Jonbon being bought for £570,000 after his debut point to point win. You only have the look through a list of recent Graded winners to see how many come from point to points.
But let me explain how much deeper it goes.
Horses are purchased from breeders by point to by point men, specifically to build them up to win a point to point and get sold on for a career in professional racing. The point to point race is the shop window for selling horses in the spring.
Getting a horse to a point to point race requires a significant investment. Store horses (young, unbroken horses bred for jumping) are bought for perhaps 40 or 50,000. The overall investment may have risen to 80,000 or more by the time they get to race with the costs of breaking, paying people to ride him, paying people to school him, veterinary fees and all of the usual day to day costs. So, you can see how those investing in store horses to make them ready to race, really need to re-coup their investment. It is a business and if they are unable to sell one year’s crop, they won’t have the resources to invest in the next year’s.
The point to point men produce these horses that are ready to go and win straight off the bat. They are ready to go and win their bumpers. People want to buy these ready-made winners with a good portion of the risk of trying to develop the horse removed. The point to point men are the ones making that investment to develop these horses. The risk is massive for them.
Without the point to point, there is no market for these horses and the business model can’t function.
There is a similar knock-on effect for breeders. A breeder may have a nicely bred horse they feel is worth, say 50,000, but if they are not being bought as point to pointers, who is going to buy them? And if the breeders can’t sell their horses this year, what happens next year?
Aside from the economics there are other impacts too.
The loss of the point to point also means a lack of opportunities for amateur riders. Many amateur riders make a life out of it, working with horses during the week and then riding the horse in a race on a Sunday. It’s a brilliant breeding ground for young National Hunt riders. There are also some well-established riders like Derek O’Connor, Barry O’Neill and Jamie Codd who could easily be professionals riding these races.
There are also the hunt club volunteers who have kept things going behind closed doors for almost a year now for the love of it. With no spectators, the clubs have collected no entry fees.
So though it is classed as an amateur sport, the development that it fosters, the sums of money and trade involved all make the point to point a massive cog in the racing industry. And the top class racing we watch on TV every weekend will feel its loss.
For the punters reading, I saw a horse called Here Comes The Man win his point to point impressively at Boulta in December. He put in a very strong performance on heavy ground and I will be keeping an eye out in future to see what becomes of him.