Whitwell on the Hill says farewell to the Middleton Point-to Point

PUBLISHED: 17:16 28 May 2014

Monsieur Jourdain and William Easterby, winners of this years Grimthorpe Gold Cup (photograph: Louise Pollard)

Monsieur Jourdain and William Easterby, winners of this years Grimthorpe Gold Cup (photograph: Louise Pollard)

Archant

Sarah Todd reflects on the end of an era in Yorkshire point to point racing

Lord Grimthorpe, William Easterby, Sarah Easterby, Thomas Easterby, William Beckett and Peter Easterby (photograph: Louise Pollard)Lord Grimthorpe, William Easterby, Sarah Easterby, Thomas Easterby, William Beckett and Peter Easterby (photograph: Louise Pollard)

Stiff upper lip is the mantra of most in the grass roots world of point-to-point racing.

Every day brings disappointments and physical challenges from lame horses and frozen water buckets to the inevitable trips and tumbles.

Yes, brave faces were put on, but the air was thick with emotion as the horses got under starter’s orders for the very last time at the landmark Whitwell on the Hill course near Malton.

Middleton Hunt has held its annual race meeting here, on land adjacent to the main A64 road and its gear-crunching Whitwell Hill, since 1929.

Major Guy Cunard leads over the last fence at Middleton Point-to-Point in the mid 1960s. (Photograph by Alec Russell)Major Guy Cunard leads over the last fence at Middleton Point-to-Point in the mid 1960s. (Photograph by Alec Russell)

The juxtaposition between modern cars whizzing by to the coast in the east or York and Leeds in the west and this historic meeting was impossible to ignore.

Back when Lieutenant Colonel AEJ Wilson’s Newton Seagull won the open race at the first Whitwell meeting in 1929 – known as Lord Grimthorpe’s Cup since 1932 – the car had yet to become king and horse-drawn vehicles were still the main mode of transport for many.

But back to the final 2014 meeting, where the weather reflected the mood with a chill in the air and heavy rain overnight leaving the legendary course distinctly claggy.

Middleton Hunt Pony Club followed in the footsteps of previous generations selling racecards. But rather than the dustbin, what’s the betting that copies of this particular publication will have been tucked away in drawers and cupboards with that peculiar poignancy that nostalgia ignites?

Surely not, but was there a glint of a tear in the eye of the pony club’s long-serving district commissioner Trish Russell as she sent her young charges out for the last time from the top of Whitwell Hill, armed with boxes of racecards and leather satchels for keeping the takings safe?

She won the four-mile maiden race at Whitwell and her nieces, the Mason girls – Jo, Becky and Laura – have all taken up the mantle, as have many other former members of the Middleton Pony Club. William Easterby, of the legendary racing clan, won the big race, the Grimthorpe Gold Cup; Jack Teal was third in the Restricted; and former member Will Kitchman also rode out.

It was déjà vu in the Grimthorpe Gold Cup, one of pointing’s classic races, which was won for the second year in a row by young Easterby and Monsieur Jourdain.

It’s the gruelling hill that has for all those 85 years sorted the winner from the rest of the pack in this race, which is revered and respected among the point to pointing community from one end of the country to the other.

The gold cup was given by the present Lord Grimthorpe’s grandfather after he won the open race in 1923 and 1925, when the point to point was held on land at nearby Howsham.

Keeping everybody up-to-date with jockey changes and other announcements from the commentary box was Charlotte Russell, sales and marketing manager for Yorkshire Agricultural Society.

Professional to the last, it was only those who knew her family’s long-standing involvement with the meeting who realised what a challenge the day was for her.

Charlotte’s farming family, the Braders of Thixendale, has had a long association with the Whitwell meeting. In 2008 her twin, Emma, became one of the handful of women to win the Grimthorpe; riding the family’s home-bred Duchess Account.

Nobody could have had a heavier heart, or appreciated the moment more, than Charlotte, herself a former pony clubber, when everybody was wished a safe journey home for the final time.

Landowner David Brotherton, whose own daughter Serena won the Grimthorpe on Across The Lake in 1994, has decided to step away from hosting the event. It will move to racehorse trainer Mick Easterby’s Sheriff Hutton course in 2015.

But before the litter was picked there was the final ever race, the Savills Open Maiden, and it couldn’t have provided a neater finish.

TC Spitfire, a seven-year-old bay gelding owned and trained by Lady Susan Watson, took the race by half a length from Raasay, the only other finisher.

The cheer that went up could probably have been heard at her Bossall Hall stables, which can be seen (by the eagle-eyed) in the distance from the winner’s enclosure. A lifelong supporter of Middleton Hunt and assistant district commissioner of its pony club, there could not have been a more fitting winner.

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