On what was a dry and sunny day overall, more than 2,500 racegoers made their way to Bangor-On-Dee to enjoy the 2023 edition of the Spring Meeting on Saturday 25 March. The feature race of the day came at 3:08pm in the Broughton Hall Estates Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) with eight runners set to go to post, including previous course winner Jungle Jack and Grand National candidate Minella Trump. The going remained Good to Soft (Soft in places) throughout the day.
Race 1 – Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gateway To Quality Maiden Hurdle (GBB Race) (Class 4, 4yo+, 2m 3 ½f)
Despite making hard work of things, 5/6F Ed Keeper eventually prevailed in a close-fought finish to the first race, holding off No But I Will by ½ a length under David Bass and sealing victory for Welsh trainer Sam Thomas. In a race where seven of the fourteen runners eventually pulling up (all of which priced at 20/1 or more), Bass kept Ed Keeper prominent from the outset, racing in company with Present Fair and No But I Will for much of the contest. Moving well from three-out, Ed Keeper hit the front with two flights to jump, pursued closely by No But I Will as Present Fair quickly faded out of contention. Locked in battle over the final two flights of hurdles, the pair could barely be separated up the run-in. However, game under strong pressure with 100 yards to go, Ed Keeper pulled out more, forging into a half-length lead towards the line to land the odds; 125/1 shot Shuil Ceoil followed them home well-beaten in third place. No strangers to the winners’ enclosure, Sam Thomas and owner Dai Walters also combined to win the 2022 Grand Sefton Chase with Al Dancer!
Race 2 – Broxton Gates Novices’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 5, 4yo+, 2m 7f)
Showing the benefit of a recent run having been off the track for over 100 days, William Ewart turned the second race of the day into a procession under a confident Nick Scholfield, scooting clear up the run-in to score by 8 ½ lengths from Ffree Pedro at odds of 4/1. Another winner to sit close-up behind the leaders, William Ewart raced in no worse than fifth place throughout the contest, travelling well under Nick Scholfield. As long-time leader Passing Secrets began to struggle on the run down to the second-last, Scholfield made his move aboard William Ewart, the pair clear of the remainder before bungling their way over the penultimate obstacle. With no apparent dangers coming from behind, the leader extended further clear approaching the last and quickened away in stylish fashion, finishing eased-down ahead of the staying-on Ffree Pedro and Broomfields Cave, both having made significant late ground from rear division. Another winner for a Welsh trainer, winning handler Christian Williams recently claimed victory with stout stayer Kittys Light in the Eider Chase, a race Williams also won in 2022 with Scottish Grand National winner Win My Wings!
Race 3 – Stella Artois Handicap Chase (Class 4, 5yo+, 2m 1 ½f)
Sporting the Red Rum colours that have become so synonymous with the jumps racing scene, Brian Hughes produced a lovely ride aboard Blueberry Wine to claim a comfortable 2 ¼ length success in the third race of the day, the Donald McCain trained gelding returning at odds of 7/1. With only five of the ten in the starting line-up eventually completing the course, it certainly paid dividends to be close to the pace in the third race of the afternoon, a tactic employed by Brian Hughes aboard Blueberry Wine, who raced alongside Risk D’Argent and Oscars Leader in the early stages. Travelling sweetly as the runners rounded the home turn, Blueberry Wine stalked the leaders on the run down to the second-last, apparently full on running under Hughes. Negotiating the second-last fence well, Blueberry Wine soon delivered his challenge and fought his way to lead on the approach to the final obstacle, overtaking Risk D’Argent as they jumped it. With victory at his mercy, Blueberry Wine stuck his neck out in determined style in the final furlong, merely having to be ridden out to make sure of the victory in the shadows of the post; Oscars Leader plugged on for a solid second place. A stable firmly back in business, Donald McCain has now trained 100+ winners for two years running!
Race 4 – Broughton Hall Estates Handicap Hurdle (GBB Race) (Class 2, 4yo+, 2m 3 ½f)
Another race, another winner for McCain and Hughes! Still yet to finish worse than second place in any of his eight races, Jungle Jack quickened well to record his fifth victory under rules in the feature race of the afternoon, coming home 3 lengths to the good and as a well-supported 9/4JF. With Thereisnodoubt setting the pace at the head of affairs, Brian Hughes seemed content to keep Jungle Jack in a share of third place for much of the race alongside Homme Public, the pair just ahead of El Muchacho in midfield. As the tempo increased on the turn for home, the majority of the field came under strong pressure from their riders to improve their positions before the second-last hurdle. However, swinging away on the bridle, Jungle Jack was delivered to perfection by Hughes upon negotiating two-out, kicking a couple of lengths clear with one left to jump. Pinging it, Jungle Jack accelerated even further clear of the staying-on Homme Public off the back of the last, with Hughes just having to nudge his mount over the line to comfortably take the spoils; El Muchacho stuck on well for third place. Holding off subsequent Cheltenham Festival winner Stay Away Fay by a length, Hughes also recently guided Maximilian to victory in the River Don Novices’ Hurdle for McCain!
Race 5 – Broxton Gates Handicap Hurdle (Class 3, 4yo+, 2m 3 ½f)
With the 11/8F Rock Hurley disappointing in a bid for a quickfire McCain/Hughes treble, Emma Smith-Chaston took full advantage in the fifth race aboard Foster’sisland, her mount staying on strongly from 2 out to score by 8 lengths at the finish, returning as the 7/2 second-favourite. Racing in midfield, Foster’sisland sat behind the main pack alongside Willaston and Barony Legends for much of the contest, leaving Rock Hurley to take up the running under Brian Hughes. As the runners made their way over the third-last, Foster’sisland made rapid headway around the outside of the chasing pack, quickly closing on the long-time leader on the turn into the straight. As Rock Hurley dropped away tamely upon jumping the second-last, Foster’sisland and Willaston took over at the head of affairs, the latter under a strong drive to maintain his position. Full of running and quickening with every stride, Foster’sisland had no problems negotiating the final flight and soon flew clear up the run-in to record a taking victory under a stylish ride from Emma Smith-Chaston; Willaston came home in second, with Barony Legends staying-on for third. A trainer operating at a 13% strike-rate, Micky Hammond also recorded a Grade 1 victory in 2019 with Cornerstone Lad!
Race 6 – Beck’s Mares’ Handicap Chase (Challenger Mares Staying Chase Series Qualifier) (Class 3, 5yo+, 3m)
In a race where five went to post and only two completed the course, Sean Houlihan had the last laugh aboard Emmpressive Lady, the pair recording a 41-length victory over rank outsider Moon Eagle back in second place, securing victory for trainer Sue Gardner at odds of 10/1. Racing keenly and leading the quintet for a very long way, Feuille De Lune barely saw another rival throughout the sixth race, followed in the main by Emmpressive Lady and Penny Mallow, with previous course winner Methodtothemadness in rear alongside Moon Eagle. As the runners made their way around the home turn, it looked to be a two-horse race, with Feuille De Lune and Emmpressive Lady soon kicking over ten lengths clear of a weakening Moon Eagle. Ridden more firmly by Henry Brooke, Feuille De Lune landed a length clear over two-out but could not shake off the finishing effort of Emmpressive Lady, who stuck on gamely in determined style. It looked for all money as though the pair were set to fight out the finish, but an unspectacular leap at the last saw Feuille De Lune unseat Henry Brooke to the turf and gift the race to Emmpressive Lady, eventually crossing the line eased down under Sean Houlihan. On track to equal or exceed his personal best of 20 winners in a season, Houlihan’s finest hour came in the 2018 Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter aboard Regal Flow!
Race 7 – Thank You To Bangor-On-Dee Grounds Team Handicap Hurdle (Class 4, 4yo+, 2m ½f)
Firmly becoming a favourite for Bangor-On-Dee regulars, Feel The Pinch successfully recorded his third course victory from four starts at the track in the final race of the afternoon, showing no ill effect from his fall here in February or a switch from Fergal O’Brien’s stable to Robbie Llewellyn’s. Unlike the majority of the afternoon’s racing, it paid to be held-up in the final race, eventual winner Feel The Pinch kept in rear division under Mitch Bastyan, with Lookforarainbow for company. With the trio of Iceman Dennis, Ballabawn, and Scherbobalob failing to complete the course, the field had been reduced to four runners rounding the home turn, with Lookforarainbow now challenging for the lead. However, quietly going about his business aboard Feel The Pinch, Bastyan delivered his mount to perfection, cruising around the outside of the leader to take over from two-out. With victory in sight, Feel The Pinch kicked further clear in the final furlong, hurdling the last flight smartly on the way to recording a taking 13-length success over Lookforarainbow in second and Hollow Bob in third place. A jockey commonly associated with the Milton Harris stable, Bastyan also triumphed at Listed level last season, winning aboard Mullenbeg at Cheltenham’s Festival Trials Meeting!
Race report by Adam Perkins