HAWICK celebrated a winner at Kelso on Sunday when The Dunion, trained by Bob McDonald at Bonchester, landed the second division of the Alexandra Carrington Novices Handicap Hurdle.
In the hands of Campbell Gillies, the 25-1 outsider touched down in front at the final flight and battled gamely up the run-in to hold the challenge of Lucinda Russell’s Diamond Jewel, for his first victory.
“We felt we had him spot-on,” explained Bob, “and I think the tongue-tie helped him.”
It was a double celebration for Gillies, who notched up his 100th win in the two-mile two-furlong event.
With a bumper crowd supporting the first fixture of the season, there was another Borders success when Aikman posted a comfortable win in the feature race.
Trained at Langholm by James Ewart, and ridden by new stable jockey Brian Hughes, the gelding romped home in impressive style to land the NSPCC School Service Intermediate Hurdle.
Winner of the Sidney Banks Memorial Hurdle at Huntingdon last season, the seven-year-old is held in high regard by his handler, making a good start to the new term.
With three non-runners, the field was reduced to just three, and Aikman led from pillar to post.
Arctic Court, trained by Jim Goldie for race sponsors Ray and Anita Anderson Green, tried to get back on terms, but had to settle for the runner-up slot as Aikman powered up the run-in.
Hughes, enjoying a victorious debut on Aikman, joked: “I’ve been second to him plenty, so it was good to be on board this time!
“He’s a decent horse, and will probably go chasing now.”
Ewart confirmed Aikman will run over fences at Carlisle in three weeks.
Describing his charge as a “quality horse” he explained: “All he’s done at home is school over fences. I just wanted to get a run into him over hurdles to get the freshness out of him, and his next run will be over fences at Carlisle.”
Kelso’s new season came under orders on “family day” with the 12-runner Sunday Mail Handicap Hurdle. Cumbrian trainer Maurice Barnes – who rode Rubstic to his 1979 Grand National victory – repeated his 2010 success to take the spoils, this time with Weetfromthechaff. The 12-1 chance, ridden by Michael McAlister, held the challenge of Lawgiver by one-and-a-half lengths.
“He deserved that,” said Maurice. “He’s been running well, and wants good ground.”
The ex-Italian-trained Kie enjoyed a runaway victory, on his hurdling bow, in the Urwin Second Half Century Juvenile Hurdle, with the rest of the field battling to get back on terms.
The 50-1 shot still had a 12-length advantage at the penultimate flight, and made every yard of the running, to take the spoils under Lee Edwards.
“He’s not an easy horse, because he pulls very hard,” explained Wolverhampton trainer Frank Sheridan, “and I just told Lee to let him get on with it.”
Mica Mika finished runner-up, with Tim Easterby’s sole runner Residence and Spa in third.
Eight went to post in the Isle of Skye Blended Scotch Whisky Handicap Chase, quickly reduced to seven when Ngong Hills crashed out at the first.
Copper’s Gold and Star Beat landed together at the last, with the latter going on to win by eight lengths, under Graham Lee.
The well-fancied Rossini’s Dancer, who made a bad blunder at the first, ran on to take third.
“He’s a grand horse and he’s in good form,” said Star Beat’s trainer Kate Walton.
Uttoxeter victor Endeavor made it two on the trot to take the fist division of the Alexandra Carrington Novices’ Handicap Hurdle for Dianne Sayer and Henry Brooke.
He stuck on bravely up the run-in to hold Barliffy by a head, with Nisaal taking third for Yetholm trainer Sandy Forster.
Jockey Henry Brooke completed a double when riding The Weatherman to an impressive success in the concluding City Roofing Ltd bumper. The 5-2 fav, trained by Donald McCain, powered home ahead of Mitchell’s Way.
The grey, Barry the Cracker, relinquished his lead with a bad mistake at the penultimate fence in the Radio Borders Handicap Chase, which went to Super Ally, trained at Lockerbie by Andrew Parker.
The winner is named after Rangers manager Ally McCoist – owner Ray Anderson Green is an avid Ibrox supporter.
Overnight rain resulted in 14 non-runners across a well-supported eight-race card, but failed to detract from an excellent afternoon’s sport.
National Hunt racing was preceded by a 14-strong Borders principals race, won by the well-supported Musselburgh representative, Scott Nisbet.
Riding Jack Daniels, he held the challenge of Lauder’s Ian Dick, with Tracy McNaughton from Edinburgh in third.
“I’m delighted,” said Scott after his victory in the three-furlong race. “It was a great experience, and a lot different from the Common Ridings.”
Runner-up Ian Dick quipped: “I thought I just about had him – if only it had been a bit further!”
This year’s race was restricted to 14 runners, with a 14-stone weight limit.