Young riders get taste of the big time

The finals of the East Anglian point-to-point pony flat races took place at Fakenham on Sunday, immediately after the last race of the National Hunt fixture.

The finals of the East Anglian point-to-point pony flat races took place at Fakenham on Sunday, immediately after the last race of the National Hunt fixture.

Georgina Wales, age 14 from Marham, who had previously won at Cheltenham, Marks Tey and Garthorpe, admitted to being extremely nervous due to Smoking Gun suffering an injury in the field the previous week. However, she needn't have worried as 'Gunny' took up a fierce pace in the 148cm and under race and it really was neck and neck with Pepsi and last year's winner Gemini.

The longer one mile trip didn't deter them and it was an exciting finish with a good win for Georgina, who attends Wymondham College and is a member of West Norfolk Pony club. The race was sponsored by the British Racing School and Georgina will now compete in the Charles Owen Series starting at Newmarket this weekend.

On the day only three ponies faced the starter, with Georgina Andrews riding Pepsi. The 15-year-old Gemini, last year's winner had also qualified again. Mark Marris was in the saddle and the field was completed by Smoking Gun.

From the outset the mare Smoking Gun, at five years-old the youngest pony in the field, kept up a relentless pace, with Derek Thompson, from the Channel 4 racing team, providing the commentary.

Turning into the straight for final time, Smoking Gun still had the lead. For a brief moment it looked as though Georgina Andrews and Pepsi would mount a challenge but Georgina Wales had other ideas and won by three-quarters of a length from Pepsi with Gemini a further three and a half lengths adrift.

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The mare was bought in Ireland a year ago with the specific intention to contest these races and all dreams are well on the way to being realised, judging on this performance.

Another local rider, Rohan Plumb from Wacton, near Long Stratton, won the 138cm final on Buster.

The race saw 10 ponies line up for the Gibson Saddlers Ltd sponsored final. The race was run over a distance of six-and-a-half furlongs and straight from the start, last year's winner, Clonross Star and Georgina Andrews were smartly away and looked to have their rivals toiling. However Rohan and 16-year-old Buster were alive to these forcing tactics and the pair had made up the deficit by halfway. Having taken the lead they stayed on strongly to win by four lengths from Clonross Star, with Cwyt-Y-Bettws-Vocalist and Daisy Taylor a further three lengths adrift in third place.

The winning rider was elated by his victory and gave the enthusiastic welcoming crowd a flying dismount in the winner's enclosure. Rohan, 12, a pupil at Long Stratton School, is four years the junior of his pony, who he has owned for about nine months. The pair ride out every evening and it was clear to see from the style of their victory, that all the hours spent together, including those in the hunting field, had moulded a winning partnership to lift the prize on offer, the Hunter Rowe Memorial Cup.

Rohan is a member of Thetford Chase Pony Club and rides regularly with The Dunston Harriers. He trained on Wacton Common in preparation for this event and his family is grateful to all the local farmers who let him use their land for training.

Pony racing has been an integral part of the local point-to-point season, as well as in other areas, for the past few years. This format, which has been a feature in Ireland for some time, offers young riders the opportunity to experience the atmosphere of race riding together with all the preliminary and post-race involvement.

All competitors had benefited from visits to the British Racing School at Newmarket and have nothing but praise for the venue.

Thanks are due to Jacqueline Hodge for her tremendous efforts in not just the administration role but in her enthusiasm and encouragement given to all competitors whose careers she will follow with the utmost pleasure.