Pontefract stages first race meeting of 2014

Paul Lee, (right), chairman of the Horserace Betting Levy Board, is pictured with Pontefract Racecourse managing director Norman Gundill, as he officially opens the new Betting Hall at the course. Picture: ALAN WRIGHT
Paul Lee, (right), chairman of the Horserace Betting Levy Board, is pictured with Pontefract Racecourse managing director Norman Gundill, as he officially opens the new Betting Hall at the course. Picture: ALAN WRIGHT
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A bright and breezy day greeted racegoers at Pontefract on Tuesday for the opening meeting of the 2014 season (writes GRAHAM ORANGE).

Prior to racing, the new Betting Hall was officially opened by Paul Lee, chairman of the Horserace Betting Levy Board.

It was a day to remember for Middleham trainer Jedd O’Keeffe, who recorded a winning double, courtesy of Dark Ocean and New Bidder.

Former Grand National-winning rider Graham Lee partnered Dark Ocean (11/1) to victory in the opening race, the Pontefract Loyalty Card Handicap Stakes over one mile – the winning distance being two and a half lengths.

New Bidder (10/1) was ridden by Russ Kennemore to land the handicap race for three-year-old sprinters, just getting up near the line to defeat See The Sun by a head.

Lee – who partnered Amberleigh House to win the Grand National a decade ago – went on to record a first and last race double himself, when Pertuis (8/1) took the concluding one mile-and-a-quarter handicap contest by a length-and-a-half. It was the second time the popular grey had won at Pontefract for Middleham trainer Micky Hammond.

The Grand National theme was very much in evidence when Champagne Rules was the 100/1 winner of the High-Rise Maiden Stakes for three-year-olds. The shock winner defeated a strong-looking field in the hands of Paddy Aspell, whose brother, Leighton, won last Saturday’s marathon at Aintree on Pineau De Re.

Trained near Richmond in North Yorkshire by Sharon Watt, Champagne Rules had been beaten on his debut at Redcar last June and, despite hanging badly right on the run-in, did enough to defeat Galuppi by a neck.

The colours of the late Yorkshire-based owner and breeder, Guy Reed, were carried to victory on Clayton, the 9/2 winner of the afternoon’s feature race, the New Betting Hall Handicap Stakes over one mile-and-a-quarter.

Trained at Hambleton near Thirsk by Kevin Ryan and ridden by Paul Mulrennan, Clayton was driven out to win by three-quarters of a length from Stepping Ahead. A possible target for Clayton could be The John Smith’s Cup at York in July.

The longest race of the day, the Jamaican Flight Handicap Stakes over two-and-a-quarter miles, went to Suprise Vendor (20/1), trained at Selkirk in the Scottish borders by Stuart Coltherd and ridden by last season’s champion apprentice jockey Jason Hart.

A winner over fences at Kelso in February, Suprise Vendor made all to win by three-quarters of a length.

Three-times champion jockey Ryan Moore was seen to good effect on Danehill Revival (8/11 favourite) in the contest for maiden three-year-old fillies. Trained at Newmarket by William Haggas, the well-bred horse was making her debut and relished the soft ground to win decisively by six lengths in the colours of Cheveley Park Stud. This daughter of Pivotal looks one to follow given similar conditions.