A bumper crowd of more than 2,000 racegoers made their way to Bangor-On-Dee for the 2023 edition of the Christmas Special Meeting, sponsored by Corbettsports, to enjoy a quality seven-race card. The feature race of the day came in the 1:30pm ITV-televised Alfa Aggregates Products Golden Spurs Handicap Chase, on an afternoon where the going remained Heavy, and the weather stayed dry and sunny throughout.


Race 1 – Corbettsports Handicap Chase (Class 5, 4yo+, 2m 1 ½f)

Routing the opposition without batting an eyelid, Force De Frap (7/2 JF) stormed away by 15 lengths to claim the spoils in the opening race of the day, eased down at the finish by James Best to score for trainer Emma-Jane Bishop. Setting off in last place, Force De Frap raced alongside fellow market rival Yellow Jacket (7/2 JF) throughout the opening mile of the contest, the pair gradually working their way into a more prominent position as the early leaders gave way on the run towards the final four obstacles. Taking over the lead having negotiated the third-last nicely, Force De Frap travelled strongly under James Best around the home turn and quickly had his rivals under the cosh on the approach to two-out, Yellow Jacket doing best of those in behind as he broke away from Ballybeg Boss (4/1) in third place. Moving sweetly on the bridle, the leader sailed over the second-last with aplomb, James Best merely having to nudge his mount to go further clear with one fence to jump. Clearing the last in emphatic style, Force De Frap was very soon in another league to Yellow Jacket, eventually eased down in the closing stages to record a taking first victory over fences. Having ridden Walk In The Mill to back-to-back Becher Chase victories in 2018 & 2019, December must surely be James Best’s favourite time of year!


Race 2 – Weatherbys nhstallions.co.uk Handicap Chase (Class 5, 4yo+, 2m 4 ½f)

Taking the drop to a Class 5 in his stride, Horacio Apple’s (6/4 F) readily added a second course victory to his name in Race 2, cruising clear by 12 lengths under Toby Wynne for the local Greenall & Guerriero team. Content to race towards the tail end of the field, Horacio Apple’s jumped well throughout the first circuit of the second race, sitting a handful of lengths behind early leaders Lady Of The Night (22/1) and Henry Gray (9/2) in a well bunched field. As the runners made their way to the third-last fence, Horacio Apple’s creeped ever closer on the outside of field, racing in the slipstream of Henry Gray and Our Friend Mo (12/) as Lady Of The Night came under pressure upon entering the home straight. Ridden along to challenge new leader Henry Gray over the second-last, Horacio Apple’s soon looked to be travelling best of all on the run down to the final obstacle, readily kicking clear when push came to shove from Toby Wynne. Steadying into it and popping over safely, Horacio Apple’s rapidly extended away up the straight after the last, eventually coming well clear of a staying-on Our Friend Mo in second place, and Henry Gray back in third. Having his best ever season in the saddle so far, Toby Wynne has now scored 21 times this year; a great achievement!


Race 3 – Alfa Aggregate Products Golden Spurs Handicap Chase (Class 3, 4yo+, 3m)

Another Venetia Williams-trained gelding with a preference for softer ground, Hold That Taught (5/2 F) provided favourite-backers with more joy in the third race of the day, the 8-year-old staying-on well under Brian Hughes to score by 5 ½ lengths at the finish. Always to the fore through the first couple of miles, Hold That Taught travelled comfortably under Brian Hughes, racing in close proximity to early leaders Yes Indeed (7/2) and First Lord De Cuet (100/30) for the most part, with the locally trained pair Good Work (13/2) and Dieu Vivant (40/1) bringing up the rear. As the tempo increased down the far side of the track, a couple of runners gradually began to fold under pressure, First Lord De Cuet eventually pulling up having set the initial gallop out in front. His mount moving stylishly on the approach to the three-out, Brian Hughes took the opportunity to nudge Hold That Taught into a narrow advantage having popped over the obstacle, the new leader now chased down his inside by the rallying Good Work and Tiger Orchid (7/2) on the turn into the straight. Three virtually in line jumping two-out, Tiger Orchid was the first to crack under the pressure, leaving the new leaders to fight it out down the home straight. However, despite briefly looking likely to challenge for the lead, Good Work soon tied up after the last, thus leaving Hold That Taught clear to bring home the spoils in tidy style. An owner having plenty of success with Venetia Williams trained horses, Mr P Davies also won valuable chases in 2022 with Frero Banbou and Fontaine Collonges!


Race 4 – Corbettsports Handicap Hurdle (Challenger Stayers’ Hurdle Series Qualifier) (Class 3, 3yo+, 2m 7f)

In a case of déjà vu, Venetia Williams was at the double in Race 4, taking the middle race on the card with Tanganyika (5/2 F) by just ¾ of a length under Shane Quinlan, having responded well for pressure in the final furlong of the contest. Racing prominently alongside previous course winner Butler’s Brief (9/1) for the most part, Tanganyika was always to the fore under Shane Quinlan, jumping well in the front rank as the other course winners in the line-up Samuel Jackson (8/1) and Chris Cool (3/1) raced towards the middle of a well grouped field. Pushed along after a mistake over the fourth-last flight of hurdles, Tanganyika briefly looked to be in trouble around the home turn, hard-ridden as Astronomic View (3/1) set sail for home with just the two flights left to jump. However, rallying under firm pressure from Shane Quinlan, Tanganyika suddenly found himself in a slender lead over two-out, challenging Astronomic View strongly on the approach to the last. Flicking through the top bar but landing with enough momentum, Tanganyika toughed it out resolutely in the final 100 yards to hold off the dead-heated pair Astronomic View and a rallying Chris Cool. Now with 4 winners from her last 5 runners, Venetia Williams is in flying form in 2023!


Race 5 – Corbettsports Novices’ Hurdle (GBB Race) (Class 4, 4yo+, 2m ½f)

Following up a smooth success at Fontwell last month, Classic Lord (5/2) once again benefitted from racing on heavy ground, sailing through the mud to record a smart 5 ½-length victory in Race 5 for jockey Alan Johns and Welsh trainer Tim Vaughan. Straight into the lead from flag-fall, Classic Lord set a steady pace at the head of affairs during the opening mile and a half of the fifth race, holding sway out in front from consistent flat racer Two Auld Pals (5/1) for the most part, with market leader Just Gino (9/4 F) sticking to the inside rail in third place. Always travelling comfortably, Classic Lord soon had many of his rivals under pressure down the far side of the track, still holding a narrow lead as the runners made their way over three-out and around the home turn. Effortlessly gliding through the rain-softened turf, Classic Lord negotiated the second-last much better than Two Auld Pals, the eventual runner-up having landed awkwardly after a novicey jump. Now in splendid isolation and simply having to be pushed out to make sure, Classic Lord extended away impressively up the run-in having hopped over the final flight, coming home a stylish winner ahead of Two Auld Pals in second, and Catch Him Derry (18/1) in third. A fruitful partnership, Vaughan and Johns also teamed up to take the 2022 Masters Handicap Chase with smart chaser Le Milos, a horse who then won the Sir Charles Lowther Plater here a Bangor before winning the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury!


Race 6 – Weatherbys & Birdie Calendars “Hands And Heels” Handicap Hurdle (Conditional & Amateur) (RE Series) (Class 5, 3yo+, 2m ½f)

An Irish raider with a game attitude, Mullins Cross (5/2) provided John Joseph ‘Shark’ Hanlon with a smart success in the sixth race of the afternoon, the 7-year-old mare kicking clear after the last to secure a 9-length success under Mr Paddy Hanlon. Settling towards the rear of midfield through the first couple of furlongs, Mullins Cross initially sat a good 15 lengths behind runaway leader Whitehaven (5/2) on the run towards the far side of the track, keeping company with Book Of Verse (66/1) as the tempo briefly levelled out towards the fourth-last flight of hurdles. Throwing in a couple of sketchy leaps over the fourth and third-last obstacles, Mullins Cross didn’t look likely to challenge at one stage, ridden along to stay with the leading trio as the home straight came into view. With Whitehaven having to be scrubbed along to maintain the lead and market leader Rolypolymoly (9/4 F) unable to go with him, Mullins Cross latched onto the back of the leaders to make her challenge after two-out, squeezing through on the inside to join Whitehaven with a furlong to go. Seemingly with stamina to burn, Mullins Cross responded well for Paddy Hanlon’s urgings in the closing stages, jumping the last economically and kicking clear in smooth style; Whitehaven stayed on for second ahead of a rallying Book Of Verse in third. A fourth winner in Great Britain this season, Shark Hanlon is currently operating at a 16% strike-rate with Irish raiders!


Race 7 – JBF Group Open National Hunt Flat Race (GBB Race) (Class 5, 4-5yo, 2m ½f)

Grinding out a second course victory in a row, Guard The Moon (11/4) stayed on determinedly in the closing stages of the final race to score by ½ a length under Toby McCain-Mitchell, providing yet another winner for the in-form Nigel Twiston-Davies yard. Racing in second place throughout the first mile of the contest, Guard The Moon was always in a forward position under Toby McCain-Mitchell, sitting a length off the leader Josie Alice (7/2) and towards the outside of market leader Grand Albert (11/10 F), with Lawrenny (17/2) and Mivvi (50/1) completing the quintet towards the rear of the pack. The complexion of the race still yet to change, Derek Fox pushed the button aboard Josie Alice around the home turn, pushing his mount along passing the 3-furlong marker as Guard The Moon made his challenge out wide. Readily quickening past the weakening Josie Alice upon entering the final furlong and a half, Guard The Moon responded kindly for pressure, keeping on well enough in the shadows of the post to ultimately hold off the staying-on Grand Albert by just under a length. Only his second win under rules, Toby McCain-Mitchell looks to have a bright future!

Race report by Adam Perkins