Racing: 12 That wasn't the number of runners in just one race on Saturday - it was the number at an entire meeting!
ONE of Britain's most prestigious point-to- point meetings was reduced to a 12-runner farce on Saturday when owners and trainers refused to run horses on a surface they deemed frozen.
The Duke of Beaufort Hunt's annual meeting at Didmarton in Gloucestershire was put back by the stewards as they waited for frost to come out of the ground, but after they gave the green light owners voted with their feet.
Two horses ran in the opening members' race' the next two events were walk-overs' the fourth race was void because no-one wanted to run' and two four-horse contests completed a wretched card. Of the 178 horses entered, only a dozen were saddled, and two of those had merely to hack past the post in order to win.
The meeting was already under fire before action commenced because the stewards called an inspection for 1pm, only half an hour before the first race.
The fiasco is bound to raise eyebrows at Shaftesbury Avenue, as the Jockey Club monitors all point-to-point meetings.
Richard Burton, the national men's champion rider, who added to his tally with a walk-over, said: "They made a mistake in getting everybody there for a 1pm inspection.
"By that time the crowd had turned up and they were under pressure to hold the meeting, but there was frost in the ground and people didn't want to run. It's a lovely course and they tried hard. It was very sad."
Cynthia Higgon, the chairman of the five-strong stewards' panel, said: "We walked the course twice in the morning - that's four of the stewards and clerk of the course John Tuck [a licensed trainer].
"We had to think of the safety of horses and riders, and after our final inspection we decided the ground was safe. We didn't think there would be an abundance of runners, but we didn't expect what happened.
"After the first race we asked the two riders whether they felt the ground was safe and they said yes. It was firm, but there were prints of half an inch.
"People didn't walk the course - they just decided not to run. Those whose horses were running in later races [and who had to declare 45 minutes before their race] saw the ground was okay and we had a few runners in the final two races.
"It was my worst day stewarding in 20 years, but people were very understanding and we didn't get any flak."
Nick Bush, a fellow steward, said: "We discussed postponing, but the schedule is so full at this time of year. I'm not aware that anyone asked for their money back. People still enjoyed being in the countryside on a lovely sunny day and the bar was full."