On the eve of the Cheltenham Festival, over 1500 racegoers came through the gates at Bangor-On-Dee to enjoy an afternoon of racing, featuring the Proactive Personnel Mares’ Handicap Chase (Challenger Mares Staying Chase Series Qualifier) at 2:38pm. The weather was mostly overcast and the going was Soft on course, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of the racegoers, who were entertained by close finishes, impressive winners, and a few familiar winning connections.
Race 1 – The Broxton Gates Handicap Chase (Class 4, 5yo+)
It was a bad start for favourite backers as Crack Du Ninian, sent off at 9/4, made a telling mistake and unseated Sean Quinlan from the saddle at the fifth fence. With the race now there for the taking, Harry Reed made no mistake aboard Antunes, who quickly cruised clear to win by an eased-down 17 lengths. This provided trainer Milton Harris with yet another winner in what has been a very successful season for the Wiltshire-based team. Congratulations to Milton and his team!
Race 2 – The Proactive Personnel Mares’ Handicap Chase (Challenger Mares Staying Chase Series Qualifier) (Class 3, 5yo+)
Race 2 provided some reprieve for favourite backers as the Even money favourite Wouldubewell delivered when it mattered. Emma Lavelle’s eight-year-old mare cruised into contention coming to the second-last fence, swooping by Schiaparannie who produced a tired leap at the final fence and unseated Aaron Anderson, then merely had to be pushed out by Tom Bellamy to beat the staying-on Methodtothemadness by 4 lengths. Belle De Manech finished in 3rd place, 30 lengths behind the 2nd.
Race 3 – The Broxton Gates Handicap Hurdle (Class 3, 4yo+)
Harbour Lake, sent off the 6/4 second-favourite, produced a strong late challenge to fend off the long-time leader and recent course winner Jungle Jack by just under 4 lengths in Race 3. Having looked in trouble when shaken-up by Tom Cannon after the penultimate flight of hurdles, a bad mistake from Jungle Jack at the final flight provided a golden opportunity, and he duly obliged. The winning owners collected the trophy on behalf of the Late Trevor Hemmings; a man much missed, whose name is synonymous with racing and had 3 Grand National winners with Hedgehunter in 2005, Ballabriggs in 2011, and Many Clouds in 2015.
Race 4 – The tote.co.uk Free Cheltenham Placepot Everyday Handicap Hurdle (Class 4, 4yo+)
There was a minor shock in Race 4, as the Fergal O’Brien-trained eight-year-old Feel The Pinch prevailed at odds of 5/1, having been held up for much of the race. Recent locally-trained course winner Gamester’s Icon, the 7/4 hot favourite, disputed much of the lead with Romeo’s Bond throughout the race, but were both overtaken at the penultimate flight by Feel The Pinch, who despite hanging left in the final 50 yards, ran on well to win by 2 ¼ lengths under Connor Brace. Growing in strength every season, Fergal O’Brien has now trained over 100 winners in consecutive seasons for the first time in his career. Congratulations to Fergal and the team at Ravenswell Farm!
Race 5 – The Jean Hough 85th Birthday Celebrations Novices’ Hurdle (GBB Race) (Class 4, 4yo+)
Just the three runners participated in Race 5, but there was no shortage of drama! Silver Flyer, sent off as the 5/6 favourite, was bidding to give local trainer Donald McCain yet another winner at Bangor-On-Dee, but was soon swept aside by the 9/4 second-favourite Bridge North. Fresh off the back of wind surgery having pulled up in the Grade 2 River Don Novices Hurdle at Doncaster, Bridge North made his move to lead coming into the home turn and ran out an impressive winner by just over 7 lengths. This provided The Exors of the Late Trevor Hemmings with a double on the day, and a winner for Shropshire-based trainer Henry Daly, who is enjoying a very healthy strike rate this season, including plenty of success with stable stars Hillcrest and Fortescue.
Race 6 – The Visit Irish Store Sales With ITM Novices’ Hurdle (Novices’ Championship Hurdle Series Qualifier) (GBB) (Class 4, 4yo+)
Race 6: McCain Strikes Back! Having had two SP favourites beaten into second place on the day, Donald McCain had the last laugh when Red Vision got up to beat the 4/9 favourite Risk D’Argent by a neck in the final strides. There was very little to separate the pair jumping both the 2nd last and the last flight of hurdles, but the determined style and drive of Brian Hughes ensured Red Vision poked his nose to the front at the opportune moment. Earlier in the season, Brian smashed his personal best record for winners in a season and is currently under 20 winners away from achieving 200 for the 2021/22 season. Everybody wishes Brian the best of luck for the remainder of the season!
Race report by Adam Perkins