FAVOURITE backers got off to a good start at Bangor-on-Dee last Friday when Rebel Rhythm, backed down to 6-5, gave all to win the two miles one-furlong European Breeders Fund 'National Hunt' Hurdle Race.

Jockey Dominic Elsworth ensured his mount defied a late and determined challenge from Von Origny to win by a fast-diminishing short head on the line.

Polar Gunner was easing down crossing the finishing post in the Dennis Rogers 40th Birthday Novices' Handicap Steeplechase when notching up a nine-lengths victory. Trenance fell in the early stages leaving four runners in the contest. Second horse home Baie Des Singes stayed on to relegate Vulcan Lane to third place.

Winning trainer Malcolm Jefferson said: 'This is his trip and the soft ground suits him. He's done it well carrying top weight.'

There was a steady pace throughout the first circuit of the Middleton & Co Solicitors Novices' Hurdle Race over three miles with the field in single file behind the early leader Rowan Castle.

Loup Charter, sent off at 15-8, stayed on to head the field around the final bend and Jim Culloty made his way home to score unchallenged by nine lengths. The 6-4 favourite Reflected Glory was unable to close and occupied second place.

The long journey from Dumfries paid off for trainer Andrew Parker and his runner Harlov in the three-mile six-furlong Fight The Ban Handicap Steeplechase. Always in contention the 11-1 shot kept galloping alongside Legatus before pulling clear to jump the final obstacle in front and open up a gap of sixlengths on the run in.

Parker said: 'All he does is gallop and stay. It depends how he comes out of this race, but the Borders National at Kelso later this month is an option.'

Colman Sweeney, with a total of 59 wins to his name, was always going like a winner aboard the 15-8 shot Silence Reigns in the Gilbert Cotton Memorial Hunters' Steeplechase.

Scotmail Lad was the pacemaker for the first circuit before quickly losing his place and the 7-4 favourite Foly Pleasant went for home.

The favourite was unable to maintain his advantage as Silence Reigns cruised past to score by five lengths.

Racing came to a close with the Book Early for the Paddock Restaurant Handicap and a pillar-to-post victory for 11-2 chance Caliban.

Five from home the field closed on the leader and several horses were in contention.

Jockey Wayne Hutchinson found a second wind for his mount who quickened to pull clear and score by an emphatic 12 lengths.

A crowd of 2,849 attended the first of 14 fixtures scheduled for 2005 and the rain kept at bay until race-goers were making their way home after the last race.