The Ratcheugh Farm course, near Alnwick, had escaped the frost affecting many parts of Northumberland and Scotland allowing the 2017/18 Northern Area point-to-point season to kick off as scheduled last Saturday with the Ratcheugh Racing Club fixture.

A six race card attracted a total of 42 runners from yards as far away as Warwickshire, Oakham, Flookburgh and Fife.

Cameron Wadge ended the 2016/17 season on a high when his last two rides produced victories on Nickwillis at Balcormo Mains and Aspatria, and the youngster kept the bandwagon rolling by landing the 14-runner Ancroft Tractors’ open maiden race on Chanceiton – his first ride for new boss, Lucinda Russell.

Always going well, the six-year-old took it up four out and the favourite, Pads was left trailing in his wake down the home straight as he gradually extended his advantage to score by 15 lengths in the best time of the day. Carrying the familiar red and blue halved colours of Russell’s father, Peter, the gelding was bought after being beaten half-a-length in an Irish maiden, in January.

Wadge, who joined Russell’s Milnathort team in June, said: ‘’He’s a much stronger horse this season and quickly settled into a good rhythm. They went flat out all the way, but he still had plenty left in the tank at the finish.’’

Cultram Abbey was a first runner between the flags since April, 2012, for Greystoke-based National Hunt trainer, Nicky Richards and this 139-rated chaser easily justified odds-on favouritism in the Nicky Richards’ racing conditions race. The 10-year-old gave John Dawson an armchair ride and after leading two out, coasted home 10 lengths in front of Court Painter.

Harry Haynes, Nicky’s assistant and travelling head lad, said: ‘’That was a great confidence booster for a horse that’s probably a bit high in the handicap. We’ll probably send him hunter chasing in January.’’

Oakham raider, Bravehearted Harry, tried hard to make every yard of the running in the Chatton Trout Fishery intermediate race under Rory Bevin, but ran out of steam from three out as The Mobile Man seized the initiative under Jack Andrews and drew clear to secure a 12 lengths verdict.

Andrews (17) carried off the Yorkshire men’s novice riders title last season with eight winners and rides out every day for The Mobile Man’s trainer, Cherry Coward.

There was a fine training performance by Morpeth jockey/handler, Amie Waugh as she had Winged Crusader cherry ripe on his first start for the yard despite being off the track for nine months. Previously successful five times under Rules for Nigel Twiston-Davies, the nine-year-old was always in the leading duo and led approaching five out before registering a cosy six lengths victory over Hand Act Or Part in the Crabtree and Crabtree ladies’ open.

Coincidentally, his last win under Rules came 12 months ago to the day at Bangor-on-Dee off a mark of 105 where he made all the running in a 2½-mile handicap chase.

The last two winners on the card, Ardkilly Witness and Wayupinthebox, both endured near five-hour journeys in the horsebox to Alnwick – from Atherstone and Oakham, respectively. The former, trained by Kirsty Smith who used to live at nearby Powburn, took the Geoff Allan Catering men’s open in an accomplished ride from 18-year-old William Thirlby. Sent into a narrow lead two out, the 11-year-old kept on well in the closing stages to repel a renewed challenge from One Conemara by half-a-length.

Previously with Jamie Snowden, the gelding had finished runner-up in the Royal Artillery Gold Cup at Sandown Park, in February, but had gone almost three years without a win since landing a Class 2 Kempton Park Handicap Chase off a mark of 132 in January, 2015. The Alnwick run was the first in the colours of William’s father, Tim.

The concluding Newton Hall restricted race produced the most exciting finish of the day and saw eight of the nine runners still in contention approaching four out. Rory Bevin’s mount, Wayupinthebox held a fractional advantage at the last and in a driving finish held on by a short head from Worcester Pearmain, with Crazy Penguin a head away in third.

The victory was a family affair as the seven-year-old is trained by Rory’s mother, Louise, who has sent 11 runners to Alnwick in the last three years and returned home to Oakham with three winners and three placed.

The winner carried the colours of The Dowry Hillbillies Partnership, which is made up of a selection of family members, including Rory’s father, William, uncle and an aunt on his mother’s side. The name comes from one of the hills on his grandmother’s farm, on which a few of the partners were raised – ‘Dowry Hill’ soon became the Dowry Hillbillies.

The Northern Area season resumes on Sunday, January 7, with the West Percy fixture at Alnwick and the first Scottish action is scheduled for Sunday January 21 with the Jedforest meeting at Friars Haugh, Kelso.

LEADING placings:

Conditions race – 1, Cultram Abbey (J Dawson) 1/3 fav, 2, Court Painter (C Alexander), 3, Things Change (W Easterby), five ran, 10,10. Nicky Richards (Cumberland Farmers).

Intermediate – 1, The Mobile Man (J Andrews) 4/5, 2, Bravehearted Harry (R Bevin), two ran, 12. Simon Gospel (Middleton).

Ladies’ open – 1, Winged Crusader (Miss A Waugh) 4/6 fav, 2, Hand Act Or Part (Miss E Todd), 3, Clues And Arrows (Miss J Walton, six Ran, 6, 2. Simon Waugh (Morpeth).

Open maiden – 1, Chanceiton (C Wadge) 5/1, 2, Pads (Miss C Walton), 3, Glittering Love (J Dawson), 14 ran, 15, 20. Peter Russell (Fife).

Men’s open – 1, Ardkilly Witness (W Thirlby) 5/2, 2, One Conemara (J Dawson), 3, Killer Crow (C Alexander), six ran, 0.5, 20. Tim Thirlby (Atherstone).

Restricted – 1, Wayupinthebox (R Bevin) 3/1, 2, Worcester Pearmain (C Wood), 3, Crazy Penguin (W Easterby, nine ran, Shd, Hd. The Dowry Hillbillies Partnership (Quorn).