January is a bleak month at the best of times, and racing in spectator-free courses is ebbing away the enthisiasm of all byt the most ardent fan and some professionals too. However, at lowly Bangor today, three of our lesser lights found the opportunity to shine.
Evesham's Tony Carroll is largely focused on the Flat nowadays, but opened his account for the National Hunt season belatedly when Man of the North was shaken up to win by 6l in a modest handicap chase under Lee Edwards. Half an hour later, it was the turn of Rissington-based Richard Hobson to notch his sixth of the season, and secind of the new year, when Echo Watt had enough in hand to win an only slightly higher class chase. And to conclude the card, Matt Sheppard's All Good Things delivered in the handicap hurdle.
Meanwhile, over at Fontwell, Naunton conditional Jordan Nailor kept the Championship leaders in his sights with a 17th winner of the term for Nigel Twiston-Davies, whose string is also in fine form.
Another good day, if less than inspiring, at the office, for trainers in the area, then.
Meantime, not so good news for our aspirant amateur riders, victims of a DCMS squeeze. Hunter Chases are not deemed "elite sport" by DCMS, which has resulted in BHA having to ban amateur riders from riding in any race under Rules until further notice. There are over 20 Hunter chases between now and the entry date for Cheltenham, but these races will only be open to conditional and professional jockeys.
This seems very harsh given that many of our top riders began their careers as amateurs, and that the likes of Sam Waley-Cohen and Jack Andrews rode safely against professionals earlier this week. However, just at the moment, the amateur division at large must play second fiddle to keeping the show on the road.
Nevertheless, over 1,000 Hunter certificates have been issued across the UK, so there will be plenty of horses to populate these races. Let's hope trainers opt to give more opportunities to conditionals, many of whom have turned professional from a spell between the flags first.
Spare a thought meantime for our Pointing cousins over the Irish Sea. As of today, Pointing is suspended - as here - but the Hunters programme runs to just 3 races before Cheltenham entries close on March 2nd. If you aren't qualified yet, then the opportunity is pretty limited. And Irish amateurs will presumably be barred from riding in our races just like the home team.
Let's hope this restriction is relaxed before Cheltenham, or the Foxhunter will be something of a damp squib.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)