By Peter Burgon

The earliest ever start to a Northern Area Point-to-Point season saw the Border card at Hexham Racecourse, Sunday, December 1, being followed on Sunday, December 15, by the Ratcheugh Racing Club fixture at Alnwick.

As usual, more than a quarter of the Area’s 14 meetings will take place at the latter venue. The fences will all be moved after the West Percy on Saturday, January 11, providing fresh ground for the Percy and College Valley and North Northumberland cards. Point-to-Point Flat Races will conclude the action at both the latter fixture and the West Percy.

A £500 bonus will be awarded to the horse that wins the Percy Open Maiden Race on Sunday, February 2, if they have also declared and run in the previous month’s West Percy Point-to-Point Flat Race.

The Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire and Eglinton Men’s Open at Overton Farm, on Saturday, March 21, will be the Northern Area Feature Race for the first time, with a prize fund of £1500 and a first prize of £1000.

More than 23% of the area’s entries and runners came from Yorkshire last season, and some good fixture planning sees only four of the 14 meetings in the 2019/20 campaign clash with one in the White Rose county. In a further boost, 75 of the season’s scheduled 90 races are open to horses from all areas.

For the first time, a brace of two and a half mile contests (Conditions and Open Maiden) will be held at the Lanark and Renfrew, Fife and Haydon fixtures. The Lauderdale, on April 19, and College Valley & North Northumberland, on March 8, fixtures will stage one of the new Oriental Club Conditions Races, while the Jedforest on January 26 and Morpeth on April 5 meetings are hosting a qualifier for the £1000 Jockey Club and Retraining of Racehorses Veteran Horse Series Final.

Last season’s National Champion Horse, Winged Crusader, is on target for his reappearance next month under Amie Waugh and could run at both Hexham and Alnwick as long as the ground is not too soft, while two of the North’s most experienced amateur riders, Will Ramsay, 50, and Jamie Alexander, 54, look set for another fruitful campaign.

Ramsay’s stable stars are Mr Mercurial and Kilcrea Vale. The former was a dual hunters’ chase scorer at Perth last term, while former 142-rated chaser, Kilcrea Vale was bought for £37,000 out of Nicky Henderson’s yard at Ascot Sales in June.

Alexander will again be partnering his own geldings, More Madness and Racing Pulse, both trained by his brother, Nick. Although More Madness hasn’t won for a while, the 12-year-old proved that he still retains plenty of ability by finishing runner-up on his last two starts at Tranwell and Balcormo Mains.

Former 139-rated chaser, Racing Pulse lost his form in Ireland but was a revelation after joining Nick’s Kinneston yard in March, winning all three starts including the Northern Area Feature Race at Balcormo Mains and the £12,000 added Corinthian Spirit ‘Grassroots’ Hunters’ Chase Series Final at Kelso on Sunday, May 26.

Pony racing remains as popular as ever and will feature at seven of the 14 Northern Area meetings, including the Duke of Buccleuch’s at Friars Haugh on Saturday, March 14 for the first time.