Wetherby’s first flat race hailed a success

NAWN 1504261AM3 Wetherby Races (First flat race) (1504261AM3)
NAWN 1504261AM3 Wetherby Races (First flat race) (1504261AM3)

Top jockeys believe Wetherby will become a popular flat track following the success of yesterday’s inaugural meeting at the West Yorkshire venue.

They said the configuration, including a long sweeping bend by the A1M and then a stiff uphill finish, provides a fair test for horse and rider.

“It’s a beautiful track,” said two-time champion jockey Paul Hanagan, who was riding at Wetherby in the iconic blue and white colours of Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum.

“There’s no excuses racing out there. It’s just a shame they didn’t do it a few years ago when I was based up here.”

His view was shared by 2013 champion apprentice Jason Hart, who won the sixth race on Ridge Ranger.

He said: “It’s brilliant. It rides really well and they’ve done well to get the ground in good nick. Hopefully, they can get a few more fixtures here.

“Once everything beds in, it will be very fairy – and very popular. It will only keep improving.”

The meeting, staged in front of an enthusiastic Family Fun Day ground, was the first of four that will take place at Wetherby this summer.

The history books will show that the very first race was won by the aptly-named In Focus for Richmond trainer Alan Swinbank and Ryedale-based jockey David Allan.

They denied David O’Meara’s Rousayan in a photo finish as Yorkshire horses swept the board in this 14-runner race over a mile.

“It’s a lovely track. The bend isn’t tight but if you get stuck wide you would lose a couple of lengths and it would be hard work. It’s an advantage being on the rails,” said Allan.

“He’s a tough horse but I was trying to hold on to him as long as I could because in that last furlong and a half, it does rise. It’s a stiff finish and you will need a horse with stamina.”

Swinbank said: “He had a good draw so he was able to give them a lead. It didn’t surprise me as he’s been working well with some nice horses.”

Though a home success was welcome, the outcome of the second race could be more significant in the longer-term.

It was dominated by top flat yards from the South with the Brian Meehan-trained Great Fun making virtually all under Jimmy Fortune from Ed Dunlop’s Dark Red – the mount of former Grand National-winning jockey Graham Lee – and Wardat Dubai who is trained by the legendary Barry Hills and was ridden by the aforementioned Hanagan.

This suggests that future meetings will have no shortage of runners.

“It’s great to be up here and have a winner,” said Meehan.

“He’s a nice horse. We’ve given him a lot of time, but he’s grand now.

“Jimmy said we should stay at seven and he will win more races. It’s my first visit here - I’ve had no reason to come here before.”