NICK PHILLIPS will be wearing two hats when Britain’s newest point-to-point racecourse opens for business on Sunday.
A jockey’s crash hat as he is due to ride in two of the races and something a bit more sartorial, perhaps, for his other role as Cocklebarrow racetrack’s clerk of the course.
Phillips and his father before him had been tenants at Cocklebarrow Farm, between Aldsworth and Northleach, from the 1950s almost until the present day.
He therefore has an intimate knowledge of the land so, given his point-to-point riding experience, who better to create a new point-to-point course for the Cotswolds on the arable farm owned by his former landlord John Wills.
When the Heythrop Hunt required a new venue for their annual race meeting, point-to-point enthusiast Wills offered to build the track from scratch on his farm.
Three years in the making, Cocklebarrow is now ready to make its debut as a racing venue – backed by main sponsors Savills – this weekend.
Wills was the prime mover in the project along with Charlie Brooks, the former leading National Hunt trainer whose greatest success came in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury with Couldn’t Be Better.
Brooks, these days well known as a member of Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Chipping Norton set’, is chairman of the Heythrop point-to-point committee.
At a recent Open Day at Cocklebarrow when some professional jockeys had a spin around the embryo track, Brooks said: “This course could be the jewel in the crown of point-to-point racing in years to come.
“John Wills has put his heart and soul into the project and Nick Phillips and the committee have done lot of work.”
NH jockey Kielan Woods enthused: “It's better than a lot of ‘proper' racecourses,” while former pro jockey now TV racing pundit Luke Harvey said: “You couldn’t fail to be impressed – the layout is fantastic.”
It certainly looks the part with fences ‘birched’ by Tony Howland formerly groundsman at Cheltenham racecourse.
‘Build it and they will come’, was the memorable (slightly paraphrased) line from the movie Field of Dreams in which the farmer played Kevin Costner built a baseball diamond to attract past legends of the game.
Early indications are that the enterprise shown by Wills, Brook and Phillips will also be rewarded at the meeting which fatures the 3m6f Lord Ashton of Hyde's Cup Mens Open around the galloping left-handed circuit.
“We have 232 entries for our maiden meeting so we have had to bring the start forward to 11am from noon,” said Phillips, who hopes to tap into the huge crowds which traditionally visit the annual VWH meeting at Siddington towards the end of March.
Owners have clearly been attracted by the early feedback that this potentially classic point-to-point course has wonderful going.
Despite the almost biblical deluges that have seen professional race meetings abandoned due to waterlogging, Phillips described the ground of his free-draining course on Monday morning as a near perfect ‘good to soft’.
Phillips could conceivably end up in the winners’ enclosure himself as he partners four-time winner Posh Trip in the Members Race. He will also partner the maiden Cousin Pete in the final race of the day.
And he does not only have the advantage of having designed the course, he has also schooled around it on his horses!
Like Brooks, Phillips sees a great future for Cocklebarrow but he is keen to walk before they can run.
“Obviously, we want to race here on more than one day a year, but let’s get the first one out of the way,” he said.
“The grass has to settle and the new course has to bed in so one meeting will be enough for 2014.
“In time, we hope that local hunts and the point-to-point authorities will approach us to put on their meetings.
The organisers are certainly going all out to make a visit to Cocklebarrow it a fun day for all the family.
There will be the usual bars and outlets for hot food including a pop up cafe run by the Burford Garden company.
And there will be a designated children’s area, the KidsZone, sponsored by Neptune Investment Management.
This heated area will feature two mechanical horses, on which children can experience their first taste of race-riding, with former National Hunt jockey Ollie McPhail.
In addition there will be diversions like face painting and a fancy dress bazaar.
The address is Cocklebarrow Farm, Aldsworth, GL54 3PU. Entry will be £20 per car with the gates opening before 10am and punters are advised to approach the course from the A40
Further updates on the track’s Twitter feed @cocklebarrow.