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Mulholland's no Rookie as Pointing's early entries show no loss of appetite

It was a busy day on Wednesday for Bath trainer Neil Mulholland, fielding 9 runners across the fixtures at Hereford and Fontwell, and the blanket approach paid handsomely with a treble on the card at the Sussex figure-of-eight course.

Wrapping up both divisions of the opening Maiden Hurdle with Lord Accord and the inaptly named Rookie Trainer, Mulholland followed up with Chirico Vallis in the Handicap Hurdle to underscore his team's wellbeing as the opening Cheltenham fixture ramps up the pace of the season this weekend.

Three runner-up positions at Hereford show that the team from Conkwell Grange is primed for action for the big autumn prizes, yet sadly there is little prospect of anyone seeing these in the flesh for a while yet. The British Horseracing Authority has published its fixture list for the first quarter of 2021 in anticipation of little change in the current circumstances.

Today's news that prize funds under Rules have been underwritten at pre-Covid levels until April is good news for all who follow the sport. Yet it begs the question whether this isn't the very opportunity when racing should be reassessing its congested fixture list to match its resources.

Ironically, it's the amateur sector that has taken the lead on this, precipitated by incentivizing pre-Christmas fixtures to stage events that satisfy a growing number of quasi-professional handlers that are preparing young horses for a future under Rules. Fourteen fixtures are planned before January 1, and the fixture list, which previously often staged anything up to 8 fixtures on a day, has been massaged into a more manageable form. Even Easter Monday, that previously staged no less than 16 fixtures, is down to a mere 9 spread right across the UK.

The numbers of hunter certificates registered is very pleasing, as indeed is the number of riders' licences, which augurs well for very competitive racing this weekend at Bishops Court and Maisemore, in two highly experimental fixtures behind closed doors. And there's a meeting every weekend until Christmas, although the latest lockdown news from Wales may scupper Howick's chances on November 22. Wiltshire keepers and riders will be able to take part at the Avon Vale fixture at Larkhill on November 29, and the International at Barbury on December 13.

All in all, it is reassuring that the sport's constituents are showing a remarkable resilience to keep their sport going, adapting to circumstances in the most creative way.

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