Scotland is undoubtedly my first love, but I always enjoy a trip to Wales, a country with a rich history and stunning natural landscape.
North Wales in particular is a favourite destination, easily accessible from my home in the Midlands, I’ve spent numerous holidays in Snowdonia and as a youngster our family headed to Llandudno on more than one occasion for a taste of the seaside.
On such excursions one particular racetrack has to come under consideration. Bangor on Dee is a real cracker and hold meetings both under National Hunt rules and for fans of Point to Point. The racing is always competitive and they have a habit of attracting leading trainers along with quality horses. With racing throughout the year, their latest meet takes place this afternoon.
Horses have raced in the area since the mid-1800’s, with the first recorded clash taking place in 1858. On that occasion, two members of the local hunt attracted a large crowd of locals with a £50 prize up for grabs. The event proved such a success that further meetings were organised for members of the hunt and local farmers. Racing at Bangor was born.
In February 1859 the first Steeplechase event took place over much the same course that is used to this day. A pony race was held annually in the early years, run over a trip of two miles. In 1868 the race was won by a young 10 year-old named Fred Archer. He became one of the greats, many claim him better than the likes of Sir Gordon Richards and Lester Piggott. He went on to record 2,748 wins from just over 8,000 rides. His life ended tragically, though I will save that story for another day.
The course was also the first to host the talent of Dick Francis, National Hunt jockey turned thriller author. He rode the first of his 345 winners at the track in 1947. When asked of his thoughts of Bangor he said ‘it is my favourite because of the flatness and the absence of sharp bends’. Another of Jump Racing’s royalty to strut his stuff at Bangor was the mighty Denman. He won a novice hurdle at the track before tasting defeat at the Cheltenham Festival of 2006 behind Nicanor.
Jeannie Chantler is the General Manager, and on the hugely informative website says: “Bangor on Dee Racecourse is a major part of the local community, both as a social event and as a part of the economic structure within the area. The current head groundsman for the last 10 years Andrew Malam, took over the reins from his father John who had a career of some 27 years as head groundsman. Andrew's brother Brian also works on the team along with two other local boys.”
Bangor certainly has that kind of ‘local’ friendly feel. Facilities are more than ample, and the setting is just lovely. I’m a sucker for picturesque racecourses and this certainly ticks that particular box. The fact that Bangor is so close to great holiday destinations is a great bonus, but it is also within an hour of two terrific cities in Manchester and Liverpool.
As far as racing goes Nicky Henderson, Warren Greatrex and Rebecca Curtis hold impressive track records. Donald McCain is another Bangor regular, and all bar Henderson have runners at the course today.
Greatrex has had another terrific campaign and has had 5 winners from his last dozen runners. He’s particularly potent in bumpers and has the favourite in the last today, though McCain’s filly has an eye-catching pedigree.
Kerry Lee doesn’t have that far to travel, and will be hoping her current good run continues. She has a couple of fancied runners and with ground conditions classed as soft, heavy in places, she’s hard to overlook. Venetia Williams is another who will travel up from her Herefordshire base hoping to improve on a rather quiet spell. Just one win from her last 18 suggests the yard have gone off the boil.
Nigel Twiston-Davies is another heading to the Welsh track, though he travels with his yard in tip-top form. I Am Colin looks to be his best chance of a winner. The young chaser won at Leicester last time and looks to have plenty more improvement in him. He’s a lovely big horse though looked a little lazy Leicester when needing to be kept up to his work by the trainer’s son Sam.
There’ll certainly be far worse places to spend a Thursday afternoon, and with meetings in both April and May it won’t be too long before I’m back at Bangor, no doubt with Mrs K in tow, sampling some of that Welsh hospitality.