It was a far cry from the 60,000 race goers that saw Junior claim his landmark victory in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival nearly four years ago.
But he showed all of his trademark battling qualities and endeavour to warm the well turned out crowd in the feature race at Sheriff Hutton’s first point-to-point meeting of 2015 on Sunday.
The one time Aintree Grand National favourite headed a record number of 151 entries for the Yorkshire point-to-point club’s seven-race card which included a number of ex-National Hunt racehorses recognisable to many horse racing enthusiasts.
The former David Pipe trained Junior, now in the care of Nicky Tinkler, stole the show and the plaudits after a gutsy victory which saw the 12-year-old battle hard to fend off the well-touted and well-backed favourite Woodview Prince.
Despite being headed a number of times in the Mens’ Open Race ran over three miles and two-and-a-half furlongs, Junior, under last season’s Yorkshire champion jockey Richard Smith, refused to give up.
And after jumping the last upsides, the 10-year-old Woodview Prince, Smith extended Junior up the Sheriff Hutton hill towards the finishing post to earn a well-deserved three-length victory from his younger counterpart.
Bobs Law, who had travelled to the course from Wales, was back in third for Peter Bryant and Young Hurricane and Richard Tierney finished in fourth.
Still under the ownership of Middleham Park Racing, you could see the delight of connections as the popular ex-dual-purpose horse entered the winners enclosure to a small cheer.
‘He’s come out of the race well,’ said a jubilant Tinkler. ‘We haven’t got any long-term plans for him, the main aim is to keep him sweet and happy and we will look for another race in the next three to four weeks. I’ll probably take him hunting before he runs again.” Tinkler added.
Drama unfolded in the second race on the card as the Joe O’Shea-trained Best Served Cold seemingly got up on the line to deny the Stephanie Easterby-trained favourite Banny’s Lad.
That was only for the judge to call the latter the winner and despite grumblings from the runners-up’s connections and the on-course bookmakers, the placings remained unaltered, much to the delight of winning jockey Jacqueline Coward and keeper Easterby, who was having her first runners since giving birth to a baby boy on Boxing Day.
It was far from an unsuccessful raid for handler O’Shea as he claimed two victories and two runners-up spots from his entries.
The formerly useful National Hunt horse Cottage Oak ran out an easy winner of the second division of the opening race and O’Shea’s Missing The Babe also cruised to a comfortable success in the third race between the flags.
In the Ladies Open Race it all revolved around the prolific pointer and winner at the corresponding meeting Ockey De Neulliac, who was a very short priced jolly despite the presence of the very useful National Hunt recruit, Gansey, who is now in the care of Cherry Coward.
A winner of four of his last five races including the AGA Final at Stratford and a Hunter Chase at Cheltenham, Ockey De Neulliac didn’t have it all his own way.
That was despite leading for most of the race as the extremely talented Joanna Mason-nurtured Carlton Ryan into the race only to be denied by three lengths at the line by the Powerful Ockey under composed pilot Catherine Walton.
The day started with two divisions of Chris Hoggard Memorial Point-to-Point Club Conditions Race, where riders who were not deemed to be novices at the start of the season carried a 5lb penalty.
This is always a very popular race and after 18 declarations, division one was split on the day.
Most of the running was made by Mister Splodge and Chris Dawson, who ended up in third.
Approaching the last he was swallowed up by Fureys Bar and Sportingfriendship, with Jack Teal’s mount Fureys Bar getting up by a short head from Joanna Mason and Sportingfriendship in second.
Part B went the way of Cottage Oak, ridden by Gillon Crow, trained by Joe O’shea, the first leg of a double on the day for the Cheshire-based keeper. Minella For Streak was 12 lengths further back in second under Tommie O’Brien with Raydini and Jane Williams in third.
O’Shea’s double was completed with Missing The Babe in the Coniston Hotel Restricted Race.
Also partnered by Gillon Crow, the pair won by two lengths from According to Dan and John Dawson in second.
Drivehomeregardless was third under Leo Mahon and this horse seems to keep finding one too good.
John Dawson made a winning return to the amateur ranks by taking the Crombie Wilkinson Open Maiden on Darlington County.
Trained by Caroline Dennis, Darlington County took a strong hold to get into an early lead but was restrained and returned to the head of affairs as they went out for the final circuit and beat Norton Grove and William Easterby by two lengths.
Dido was back in third for Dale Peters and was the only other to finish.
The final race of the day was the four, five, six and seven-year-old Open Maiden race over the shorter distance of 2m4f and sponsored by Cundalls.
A full field of 16 went to post where Jack Jordan rode his first winner, owned by his mother, on The Manager.
It was very close at the last fence with the first four all looking for a good jump, however the Nicky Tinkler-trainer Morianour fell and brought down Part And Parcel, which made The Manager’s task slightly easier.
Lebanna and William Easterby were a head down in second and Anddante ran a good race to come third. Aldreth finished fourth for Joanna Mason and could improve for the run.
All in all it was an exciting day’s racing and money made on the day, including proceeds from a raffle will be donated to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.