On an overcast day, there was still plenty of racing to brighten the festive spirits during Bangor-On-Dee’s Late November Meeting for 2022. Two of the day’s highlights came a pair of Class 3 contests, namely the Xenon Workplace Handicap Chase and the Download The At The Races App Novices’ Hurdle between 1:28pm and 2:03pm, both showcasing smart winners. Ground conditions were Heavy (Soft in places) on the Chase course, and Soft (Heavy in places) on the Hurdle course.
Race 1 – Everyone’s Turf Handicap Chase (Class 4, 4yo+, 2m 1 ½f)
An inspired ride from Connor Brace proved decisive to the outcome of the first race when the Fergal O’Brien-trained Feel The Pinch scored by 2 ¾ lengths having been waited-with in rear throughout, the 8-year-old returning at odds of 11/2. With The Big Jetaway leading the pack alongside Crack Du Ninian and Marracudja (the veteran of the field) for much of the contest, Feel The Pinch eventually settled in rear division after a couple of clumsy leaps caused him to lose his early position. As the race began in earnest with two left to jump, there were still six horses within a couple of lengths of each other, but the two appearing to be travelling best on the way down to the last were Feel The Pinch and Billingsley. Having found a second wind under strong pressure from his rider, Feel The Pinch stole a couple of lengths on the now tiring Billingsley over the final fence, and quickly put the race to bed in a matter of strides, kicking clear of a staying-on Marracudja in the closing stages. Yet another trainer improving year-upon-year, Fergal O’Brien also teamed up with Connor Brace in the 2022 Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury, the pair taking home first prize with Paint The Dream!
Race 2 – Excel Signs Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase (GBB Race) (Class 3, 4yo+, 2m 4 ½f)
Joy for favourite backers came in the second race of the day when 11/10F Harper’s Brook produced a solid round of jumping on just his second start over fences to hold on by a length under Kielan Woods and record another winner in a career-best season for trainer Ben Pauling. After a dramatic fall at the second fence from the long-absent Sir Psycho left his rider Bryony Frost with a broken collarbone and Harper’s Brook hampered, racegoers could be forgiven for thinking there was more drama yet to come. However, with the remaining quartet of runners appearing to negotiate their obstacles with more zest, the complexion of the race barely altered until Wild Romance was caught tapped for toe after the third-last fence. Travelling smoothly to challenge early leaders Barrichello and Ubetya with two fences left to jump, Harper’s Brook produced a threatening run to take a slender lead before the last, with Kielan Woods merely having to nudge his mount a length or so clear. Upon jumping the final obstacle, Harper’s Brook idled out in front under firmer pressure from his rider, but ultimately never looked anything but the winner, with Ubetya unable to close the gap to less than a length in the final 50 yards. A familiar sight in the winner’s enclosure, winning owners, The Megsons, also combined with Kielan Woods and Ben Pauling at this year’s Cheltenham Festival when Global Citizen won the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase at a massive 28/1!
Race 3 – Xenon Workplace Handicap Chase (Challenger Staying Chase Series Qualifier) (Class 3, 4yo+, 3m)
It was all too easy for Only The Bold in the third race of the day, the David Pipe-trained gelding eventually coming home a comfortable 9-length victor under Fergus Gillard and returning at odds of 5/1. Prominent from the outset, Only The Bold either took sole advantage or shared the lead for most of the contest alongside previous course winner Samuel Jackson, with Jeffery’s Cross and Foillan also up with the pace. As the increase in tempo on the run down to the third-last fence saw most of the field come under pressure from their riders, Only The Bold jumped soundly out in front and gradually extended his lead to a couple of lengths on the turn into the home straight. With no real challengers to worry about, the leader sprinted further clear over the second-last, making victory look all but certain. After negotiating the final obstacle soundly enough, Only The Bold sat well clear of the remainder and Fergus Gillard took the opportunity to ease down his mount in the closing stages with the race now secure, finishing 9 lengths to the good over Jeffery’s Cross. Another successful trainer/jockey combination in recent seasons, David Pipe also used the services of Fergus Gillard to scoop the 2020 Stayers Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) at Haydock with Main Fact!
Race 4 – Download The At The Races App Novices’ Hurdle (GBB Race) (Class 3, 4yo+, 2m ½f)
Another ready winner followed in the fourth race of the afternoon when Grain d’Oudaries carved the field apart under Brian Hughes to score by 7 lengths, returning as the 11/8F for Donald McCain. Kept on the inner in a prominent position from the flag-fall, Grain d’Oudaries seemed content to take the shortest route throughout the contest and jumped well within himself alongside recent course winner Gwennie May Boy, the pair racing closely behind the leader Maisiebella. As the field made their way down the far side of the track towards the third-last, Grain d’Oudaries travelled strongly and was soon catapulted into the lead before the turn for home, with Gwennie May Boy in hot pursuit as Maisiebella began to fade. Extending his lead with every stride, Grain d’Oudaries put in two assured jumps over the final two flights of hurdles and ultimately never looked in any danger, with Gwennie May Boy unable to land a blow in the final furlong, himself finishing just over 3 lengths clear of Duke Of Deception in third. Rarely absent from the winner’s enclosure, winning owner JP McManus also scored in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury with Champ just yesterday!
Race 5 – Rainbow Foundation Novices’ Hurdle (GBB Race) (Class 4, 4yo+, 2m 3 ½f)
Pushed out for a 5 ½ length victory, Val Dancer showed speedy improvement off the back of a recent hurdling debut, returning at odds of 11/2 under jockey Alex Edwards in the fifth race of the day, scoring for trainer Mel Rowley. Travelling strongly throughout behind the early leaders, Val Dancer settled well under Alex Edwards and jumped well in the main, something which 15/8F Haveanothergoflo struggled with overall, eventually resulting in a well beaten fourth place finish. Quick to seize the lead down the far side, Val Dancer jumped well up front and led the field into the home straight with a 3-4 length advantage over the hard ridden Horacio Apple’s and the pushed along Rockinastorm (a winner at our December meeting in 2021). Upon jumping the second-last, the lead quickly shrunk to less than a length as Rockinastorm ranged up alongside Val Dancer to make his challenge on the run down to the final hurdle, the pair locked in battle as their riders pushed the button. However, responding well for Alex Edwards, Val Dancer soon unleashed a deadly turn of foot to kick 2-3 lengths clear over the last and leave Rockinastorm trailing in his wake, the 5-year-old unable to lay a glove on the leader who accelerated away in impressive style for the Mel Rowley team. No stranger to success on the big stage, Alex Edwards also scored at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival in the St James’s Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup aboard talented hunter chaser Hazel Hill!
Race 6 – 2023 Tickets Now On Sale Conditional Jockeys’ Mares’ Handicap Hurdle (Racing Excellence Initiative) (Class 5, 4yo+, 2m 7f)
Walk In My Shoes claimed victory in the penultimate race on the card, holding on by a length under Jamie Brace in the closing stages to reward 11/8 favourite backers and trainer Jonjo O’Neill. In a race where only three of the six runners completed the course, Walk In My Shoes remained in pole position throughout the contest, making most ahead of Shesupincourt after the early departure of Rio Silva and the tame efforts of Runasimi River (fell 3 out) and Shesasuperstar (pulled up) left the pair well clear of the struggling Galante De Romay. With the remainder of the field well behind on the approach to the second-last hurdle, Walk In My Shoes held a slender lead over the staying-on Shesupincourt, but was soon challenged upon jumping the obstacle and the pair looked set to fight out an exciting finish to the sixth race. Inseparable, the two leaders jumped the final flight in unison, and it momentarily looked like it could turn out to be a very close finish. However, ridden out and very game for Jamie Brace’s urgings, Walk In My Shoes pulled out extra in the closing stages and was always holding Shesupincourt on the run up to the line, the pair eventually separated by a length in the end. A trainer often successful with mares, Jonjo O’Neill also trains talented mare Annie Mc, a previous Bangor-On-Dee winner in February 2020 before going on to score at Listed level in the Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase at Doncaster in December of the same year!
Race 7 – Christmas Meeting On 9th December Open National Hunt Flat Race (GBB Race) (Class 5, 4-6yo, 2m ½f)
Just the four runners went to post in the final race on the card, but 5/2 J2F Sole Solution turned in an impressive performance on racecourse debut for Venetia Williams, the 4-year-old eventually seeing out a 4-length victory under Ned Fox despite running green in the final furlong. The order of running changed very little during the final race of the day, with Way Out leading the way ahead of Blue Fin (6/4F), Sole Solution, and Whenitrainsitpours; all within 2 lengths of the leader at the 3f marker. As push came to shove for each of the quartet, Blue Fin took a slim lead with two furlongs left to race, scrimmaging his way ahead of Way Out as Sole Solution was pushed along on the outer. Responding well under firmer pressure, Sole Solution quickly laid down a stern challenge with just over a furlong to go, tackling Blue Fin on the outside of runners and eventually kicking a couple of lengths clear in the final furlong. Despite looking in need of experience, Sole Solution quickened away impressively in the closing stages and brought up a quickfire double for Venetia Williams, who also took the Class 1 Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle with L’Homme Presse just 20 minutes earlier!
Race report by Adam Perkins