The first meeting of the North-West season took place on Sunday, in beautiful sunshine. The going was heavy with soft patches which made it a good test of stamina, with the last fence omitted.
Highlights of the meeting were riding doubles for Alex Edwards and Huw Edwards, while Paige Topley rode her first winner. Former National Champion Alex Edwards double came courtesy of Goldenbrave in the older Maiden and Crest in the Confined. The Maiden had a relatively fast time, and both the winner and runner-up Organised Solution look useful prospects. Goldenbrave and Organised Solution raced together for most of the contest, but the winner pulled out extra on the long run-in to win by one-and-a-quarter lengths. The six-year-old gelding had run a few times in Irish points last season and was acquired at the Doncaster August sales for £15 thousand from Denis Murphy for the large Crazy Dealers syndicate by its trainer Phil Rowley.
In the Confined, Edwards bided his time on Crest to lead after two out and win easily by fifteen lengths from Just a Par with twelve lengths further back to the favourite Lotus Pond in third. The former Mickey Hammond trained winning chaser was purchased for £6 thousand at the Doncaster May sales by Richard Hewitt and is trained by Ray Owen, who was represented here by Len Perry. Owen was at Revesby Park saddling Thyne for Gold who just failed to land the Open. The winner will be aimed at hunter chases and is likely to pick up good opportunities in that field. Alex Edwards was a warm favourite to land the Mixed Open on the Rowley-trained Optimised, where he tried to make all. However, Alice Stevens on Alfstar was always close up and stayed on well from two out to win by two lengths on Jo Priest's charge.
The first leg of the Huw Edwards brace came on Lucky Hit in the Goffs UK four and five-year-old Maiden over two-and-a-half miles. The five-year-old mare jumped very well and stayed on to win by nine lengths from Westdante, giving the impression that she will be well suited when running over longer trips. Heidi Brookshaw trains the home-bred winner for the owner Graham Thelwall-Jones. The jockey's double came in the concluding Restricted courtesy of Mr Snuffles who won easily by twenty-five lengths from Round Robin. The winner, trained by Joe O'Shea for owner Don Constable, had run well at Cottenham in December when third to Fumet d'Oudairies.
The PPORA Club Members Veterans and Novice Riders race attracted the largest field with thirteen runners going to post. Angus Cheleda travelled from the South West to ride Irish Anthem, and although the partnership made most of the running, they had no answers when Paige Topley took it up on Perfect Pirate before the straight and went clear to win by ten lengths. It was a first winner from three rides for the twenty-two-year-old who trains the eight-year-old for Sophie Pauling, whose husband Ben trained the gelding to win over hurdles and fences.
In the opening Intermediate, Alright Chief stayed on better to beat Chief Sittingbull by a length. The winner had won a Maiden here two years ago but disappointed subsequently. The successful trainer Victoria Howell was having her first winner, and she trains alongside her partner Sam Allwood's national hunt yard at Whitchurch.