Racing unified in support of Hereford

The universal sense of satisfaction was evident from both trainers and jockeys following the eagerly-awaited return of racing at Hereford on Thursday.

Large queues form at the entrance at Hereford racecourse

A bumper crowd of 4,501 racegoers flocked through the gates at the Roman Road course to witness the first meeting back at the track since December 2012.

There was even, albeit on a much quieter scale, a roar like the first on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival to greet the runners as the tapes went up for the bet365/British Stallion Studs EBF "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle.

Just like at this year's Festival, which saw Nicky Henderson capture the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle with Altior, the two-mile prize went the way of a runner hailing from the Seven Barrows handler's yard, with 1-2 favourite Rather Be coasting home by seven lengths.

Henderson said: "It's great to be back and well done to everyone involved.

"When most things go, they go for good. Here is one that hasn't.

"They have made a fantastic effort getting it back. We never wanted it to go and you never want to lose a course you enjoy or like.

"It's always been a fair track. To come here and see a crowd like this shows what can be achieved.

"When you look at the crowd, that tells you enough and I'm sure that the Herefordshire National Hunt team are out in force, and that says it all."

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls will always have fond memories of the track, having sent out Olveston to become his first winner as a trainer in December 1991.

Having saddled more than 2,000 winners in the intervening years, the Ditcheat handler enjoyed success back at the course after Coillte Lass collected the Mares' "National Hunt" Maiden Hurdle to initiate a treble for rider Sam Twiston-Davies.

Nicholls said: "It is nice to be back here and good to see so many people here.

"I didn't get here in time to walk the course because of the traffic, but full credit to the team here. It is good to be back.

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"We've trained a lot of winners here over the years. Before you have Grade One horses you have to start of having winners at places like here.

"It is a good, fair track. It is great to have it back and the more meetings the better."

Nigel Twiston-Davies was another to taste his first success at a trainer at the Welsh borders track back in 1982 through the victory of Last Of The Foxes.

The Grand National-winning handler enjoyed a double on the day as Belmount and Little Pop obliged under his son, Sam, to complete the jockey's treble.

Twiston-Davies snr said: "It's brilliant what they've done here. The whole place is full of people.

"I was hoping it would re-open. They've done a very good job and it doesn't look like we've been away for four years.

"It was a very sad day when it closed as I had my first two winners here as a trainer and I rode them, though they were not my first as a jockey."

While champion jockey Richard Johnson, who rode his first ever winner under Rules at Hereford in April 1994, was not on the scoresheet, he was still overwhelmed by the support the track received.

He said: "It is great to see everyone here giving it so much support.

"I think racing is a much-loved sport in the county and hopefully it will be for a long time to come."

His comments were echoed by Robbie Dunne, who celebrated his third winner at the course when steering the Dai Burchell-trained Furiously Fast to victory in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle.

Dunne said: "It's great that it's back. It's such a nice track to ride around.

"The team have done a great job with the ground. The support here is fantastic."

The positive response from both the public and the professionals was also welcomed by operators of the track, Arena Racing Company (ARC).

ARC chief executive Martin Cruddace said: "I'm really quite moved by the reaction and the support.

"More importantly, though, the efforts of the team as we only have two full-time employees here.

"Every team from Worcester, Bath, Chepstow and Uttoxeter have completely bought into it.

"I don't think I could have hoped for anything better. I'm pretty astounded by the support of the local people. It's quite touching.

"I've been lucky enough during my time to see record crowds at Lingfield and Worcester and it would be great at one point over the next year to see the same here."

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