It was a day of ‘firsts’ on Friday 10 February 2023, with the inaugural running of the RPM North Wales National Handicap Chase the main highlight of Bangor-On-Dee’s first meeting of the year, also coinciding with the first raceday as General Manager for Patrick Chesters at the Welsh track. Ground conditions were Good to Soft (Good in places), with cloudy and sunny spells throughout.
Race 1 – John Hewitt Memorial Open Hunters’ Chase (Class 4, 6yo+, 3m)
Keeping it simple proved the key in the opener, with hot 4/11F Secret Investor keeping Dieu Vivant at bay by 1 ¾ lengths to record a first win since claiming the Denman Chase (Grade 2) in February 2021. Making all from the outset, Natalie Parker was happy to lead the way aboard Secret Investor for the entirety of the contest, jumping well in the main ahead of former Cheltenham Festival winner Mister Whitaker in the early stages. As the quintet rapidly became more strung out between the final two obstacles, Secret Investor accelerated away from his rivals with ease and despite a slight stumble after the last, always looked comfortable in holding off Dieu Vivant in the final 100 yards. Already off to a flyer in 2023, winning trainer Paul Nicholls also recently claimed Grade 1 honours with promising novice hurdlers Hermes Allen and Tahmuras; congratulations to Team Ditcheat!
Race 2 – Matthias Moran EBF Mares’ Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase (EBF Mares’ Chase Series Qualifier) (GBB Race) (Class 3, 5yo+, 2m 4 ½f)
Responding positively to the better ground than when pulling-up last time out at Ffos Las on Soft, Fable ran out a game winner of the second race under Nico De Boinville at odds of 4/1. Unconvincing from the outset having been hampered at the first, Miah Grace (7/4F) proved the disappointment of the race when only managing to finish a very well beaten fourth place of five runners (trainer Jedd O’Keefe stated that she ‘ran flat’ on this occasion). Racing behind Irish raider and recent Welsh Champion Hurdle heroine Effernock Fizz for much of the contest, Fable made her move when switching to the outside at the second last, and under a determined drive from Nico De Boinville, gradually edged ahead of the long-time leader over the last. Kept up to her work out in front, Fable stayed on well in the closing stages and held off a late rally from Effernock Fizz to secure the victory for trainer Nicky Henderson. Another trainer with recent Graded success, Henderson’s trio of Marie’s Rock, Epatante, and City Chief have all scored at Grade 2 level since the start of 2023!
Race 3 – RPM North Wales National Handicap Chase (Class 4, 5yo+, 3m 5 ½f)
The very first running of the North Wales National went the way of Bretney, who showcased a remarkable upturn in form (having pulled-up after a bad mistake at Hereford just 5 days prior) to score by a cosy 3 ½ lengths under Tom O’Brien at odds of 10/1. A race where those who raced prominently had the best of it, the lead was mostly shared throughout the contest, with No Cruise Yet and Bretney setting the pace during different stages of the contest, with Event Of Sivola and Morozov Cocktail also racing prominently throughout. As the field gradually became more strung out and many of those in behind struggled to live with the increase in tempo, Bretney slipped the field with three to jump and bounded clear as the runners made the turn for home. Although the well-backed 5/2F The Questioner steadily crept closer under pressure from Henry Brooke as the runners approached the penultimate fence, Bretney showed no signs of relenting out in front and responded gamely when coming under the whip shortly before the final fence. Over and clear with no immediate dangers, Bretney was simply not to be denied, and kept on readily in the closing stages to see off a rallying No Cruise Yet and an eye-catcher in The Questioner. Another potentially decent recruit for the Slater Stockwood Nicholson Partnership, winning connections tasted Grade 2 success at Haydock in 2019 in the Altcar Novices’ Chase with solid race mare Castafiore!
Race 4 – Bill Pusey Memorial Handicap Hurdle (Class 4, 4yo+, 2m ½f)
It did not take long for McCain and Hughes to strike at Bangor-On-Dee in 2023! Prominent from the outset under a confident Brian Hughes, progressive 6-year-old Hidalgo De L’Isle ran out a taking winner of the fourth race, scoring by an eased-down 5 ½ lengths from the consistent Rewired in second. Keen to set the pace at the head of affairs, Rewired maintained a healthy advantage throughout, followed closely by Hidalgo De L’Isle on the inside, in company with Gwennie May Boy (5/2F) and Imac Wood. On the run down to the second-last flight of hurdles with the race now beginning in earnest, Rewired was soon joined for the lead by Imac Wood and Hidalgo De L’Isle, with Gwennie May Boy fading badly in the home straight. With the field now reduced to seven after a heavy fall from recent course winner Feel The Pinch at the second-last, Hughes seized the initiative aboard Hidalgo De L’Isle upon jumping the final flight and quickly asserted under hands-and-heels to extend away in the closing stages, leaving Rewired behind to fight off Barnabas Collins for second place. A brutal combination, Hughes and McCain claimed Grade 2 honours recently with previous Bangor-On-Dee winner Maximilian in the River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster; well done to all involved!
Race 5 – Vogelberg Family EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle (Qualifier) (GBB Race) (Class 4, 4yo+, 2m ½f)
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the 8/11F Crambo in the fifth race of the day, but not for the first time, his class saw him through in the end, eventually going on to score comfortably by 4 ¼ lengths under Connor Brace for trainer Fergal O’Brien. In a race where few got seriously involved, the trio of Waspy, Donnacha, and Crambo were barely out of the first three for the entirety of the contest, with the remainder of the field always a few lengths in arrears. On the turn into the straight, Crambo looked to be in trouble, with Connor Brace squeezing his mount along to keep tabs on the leaders with just two flights left to negotiate. Despite coming under the whip after another unconvincing leap at the second-last, Crambo finally started to respond for pressure and quickly challenged Waspy for the lead on the run down to the last. Having stolen a couple of lengths on the long-time leaders after a sketchy jump from Donnacha, Crambo extended away nicely after the final flight and eventually ran on strongly through the line, leaving Waspy to eventually hold off Donnacha for second prize. A winning trainer firmly on the rise in the jumps racing scene, Fergal O’Brien has his string in fine fettle, also taking out the Sidney Banks Hurdle (Listed) on Thursday with Marble Sands!
Race 6 – Basey Family Novices’ Handicap Hurdle (GBB Race) (Class 4, 4yo+, 2m 7f)
Another winning favourite that didn’t have it his own way, Horacio Apple’s duly applied for local trainer duo Oliver Greenall & Josh Guerriero in the penultimate race of the day, scoring by a head under a strong Henry Brooke drive to return at odds of 2/1F. Struggling from a long way out after some suspect jumping, Imperial B G and These Happy Daze soon reduced the field to four runners, both having been pulled-up when unable to sustain the pace down the back. The remaining quartet were all also under firm pressure rounding the home turn, with Horacio Apple’s holding a narrow advantage upon jumping the second-last flight alongside early leader Ramo. With Rouge De L’Quest having no more to offer on the run down to the last, three runners jumped the final flight in unison, with Basford now staying on stoutly under Sean Quinlan to challenge Ramo and Horacio Apple’s on the inner. After a less fluent jump than required, Ramo was the first to wilt in the final 200 yards, leaving Basford and Horacio Apple’s locked in a tremendous head-to-head battle all the way to the line, the latter eventually coming out on top in a power-packed finish. Operating at a 15% strike-rate and having already surpassed £400,000 in prize money in 2022-23, Henry Brooke is in grand form!
Race 7 – Morogowsky Family Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 5, 4yo+, 2m 3 ½f)
More joy came for odds-on backers in the final race of the afternoon, when improving race mare Well Vicky (10/11F) brought up her second victory in a row, eased down at the finish under Tom O’Brien (his second winner from as many rides at the meeting). Kept quiet for much of the race, Well Vicky raced in touch with the leaders along the inside rail, a couple of lengths behind pace-setters Esme Shelby and My Granny Lily, with Drash On Ruby also prominent on the outer. Attempting to slip the field around the home turn My Granny Lily quickened a couple of lengths clear under Tom Buckley, only to be reeled in by the strong-travelling Drash On Ruby and a staying-on Well Vicky upon jumping the second-last. Having made a shuddering error at the penultimate flight, Drash On Ruby soon had little more to give and quickly found herself a couple of lengths behind Well Vicky with just one left to jump. Dialled-in and readily responding to Tom O’Brien’s urgings, the odds-on favourite kicked clear in impressive style on the flat to secure victory for trainer Alastair Ralph, a feat she also replicated just three days later when scoring at Plumpton under Jay Tidball to secure three wins in only eight days; it’s safe to say that Well Vicky is a rapidly improving mare. A trainer in flying form, Ralph also trained recently claimed victory in the 2023 Edinburgh National with Magna Sam!
Race report by Adam Perkins