Sabre defends crown with new partner

The East Anglian point-to-point season, which got under way three weeks ago with the first ever pre-Christmas fixture, promises some thrilling sport as many of the successful combatants from last term, both human and equine, bid to prove themselves the region's top amateur steeplechaser.

The East Anglian point-to-point season, which got under way three weeks ago with the first ever pre-Christmas fixture, promises some thrilling sport as many of the successful combatants from last term, both human and equine, bid to prove themselves the region's top amateur steeplechaser.

The action continues at Cottenham on Sunday. Thereafter, with the exception of a fallow weekend on January 13/14 and the regular Easter double-header, there will be one East Anglian meeting every week until the curtain comes down at Northaw on Bank Holiday Monday, May 5.

A welcome innovation is a new hunter chase, the Paul Rackham Champion Novice, which takes place at Huntingdon four days before that Northaw event. Run over the regular distance of three miles, it is open to any East Anglian-qualified horse that has finished in the first three in a Maiden, Restricted or Intermediate point-to-point.

It should help answer the question 'who is East Anglia's most promising horse?' and, with its total prize fund of £2,000 dwarfing anything that is available between the flags, ought to attract strong support.

Tartar Sabre, the leading horse of 2006-7, will again be among the combatants, but with a new jockey. Trained at Chediston, near Halesworth, by John Ibbott, Tartar Sabre teamed up with the Latvian novice, Marta Graholska, to win three times last spring, bouncing off the fast ground.

Graholska, who shared the East Anglian Lady Jockey Championship in a three-way tie, has now moved on to work for National Hunt trainer Nick Gifford. She will be replaced by another North European, the Swede Jennie Osterberg, who has a deal of race-riding experience in her native land but her five career victories have all come in flat races.

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Another absentee from the jockeys' tent, and one who will be much missed, is Nick Pearce, who shared the 2006-7 male riding title with James Owen. Formerly based in Newmarket, 24-year-old Pearce has taken up the chance to train for owner Simon Tindall near Tunbridge Wells in Kent and is likely to make only occasional sorties this side of the Thames.

Owen, by contrast, will again be riding for two Bury St Edmunds yards - the Timworth stable he runs with his girlfriend, Kelly Smith, and the powerful Joe Turner outfit, which is just down the road in Ampton.

His biggest weighing room rival may once more be Oakham-based Matthew Mackley alongside perennial challengers Andrew Braithwaite and David Kemp.

Among the female ranks, the aforementioned Smith is likely to mount a strong defence to her title but the third reigning champion, Clare Hobson, will be without her top mount, Scare Lotte, because of injury.

Zoe Turner, granddaughter of Joe, will be keen to make up for a modest 2007, when she managed a solitary score, and has a nice new ride in Dead Man's Dante, a three time chase winner under rules.

Fleur Hawes, from Bressingham, made quite an impact in her inaugural season aboard Va Vavoom. That partnership will be reunited while she has a second string to her bow in the form of Snob Wells, a seven-time winner under various codes.

Also worth looking out for in her second campaign is 17-year-old Rosie Chinery, from Great Yeldham, who has already impressed many good judges with her ability in the saddle.

Other horses who will be somewhere near the top of the East Anglian tree are Cosmic Sky, who has talent and temperament in equal measure; Cantarinho, who was runner-up in three hunter chases last season; and Bob Ar Aghaidh, who ended last term on a winning note.

On the training front, both Tory Hayter and the Tim Bryce/Alex Embiricos combination will continue to play prominent roles, but not as the same operation. Hayter's move to share the Bryce/Embiricos premises at Bradfield St Clare did not work out and she is now at Semer, where her mother used to train, and has an interesting maiden prospect in the French import, Siam de Baune.

Finally, two pilots set to have their first rides are Georgina Andrews and Edward Turner.

Andrews, oldest daughter of former top jockey, Simon, has been a regular winner on the pony racing circuit for some time. She reaches the minimum age of 16 in February and will be seen out soon after on a pair of wonderful old-stagers, Moving Earth and Monty's Tag, who were both born just a year after their new jockette.

Turner, another from the pointing-mad Ampton family, has only been riding for a short while. But he may make his competitive debut at Easter at Marks Tey, where his late father, David, enjoyed so many of his remarkable 345 career victories.