YORKSHIRE trainer David Nicholls gave the John Smith's Cup meeting at York a miss to go to Chester on Saturday and it paid off handsomely when Fire Up The Band won the Listed £30,000 Mercedes-Benz of Chester City Wall Stakes.
With the Thirsk handler's son Adrian aboard the five-year-old, good use was made of his draw near the rail in stall two. Fire Up The Band was always in the front rank and kept on gamely to repel Talbot Avenue, locally-trained in Tarporley, by a short head. Mick Quinn's Dragon Flyer was a length and a quarter back in third.
It was the win of the season for Fire Up The Band (7-2) and several of the big sprint handicaps are now on the agenda. Nicholls senior said: "He was wrong for some reason early in the year, but I have always thought he was a good horse - and he is..
"Adrian gave him a great ride for a horse who really doesn't want to be in front early, and if he is all right he will go for the Scottish Stewards' Cup at Hamilton next Friday. He is also in the Taby Sprint (in Sweden) and the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood.."
Merseysider Quinn wasn't too disheartened by Dragon Flyer's run, but she again had to settle for a minor role in the race after two seconds in the last two years.
The Wantage-based trainer said: "Fire Up The Band had the run of the race. We sat on the shoulders and came to win. But he is a six-furlong horse and he went again in the last 50 yards and she just got a little bit tired.
"This is her fourth race here and she hasn't finished out of the (first) three. So she loves it round here, I just wish there were more races here for her." He added: "She has been beaten just over a length today, so it is a shame because we are so desperate to get that Listed win into her. Maybe it will be next week. There is a fillies and mares race next Monday or we might go to Good-wood for the King George which we were second in last year."
Dragon Flyer was ridden by Liverpool jockey Franny Norton and the Scouse combination did have the consolation of an earlier winner.
Norton won the opener at Chester on Friday evening when standing for Richard Hughes on Red Top, and he did likewise on Quinn's Bold Minstrel in a thrilling finish to the five-furlong Mercedes-Benz of North Wales Maiden Auction Stakes.
The 15-8 favourite just held on by a short head from Gerard Butler's Sound That Alarm. Quinn said: "We did fancy him, but all the dogs were barking Gerard's horse. But to be fair to him he just stick his neck out.
"It is great to have a winner at Chester. We had one, Snapcracker, which Franny rode in nursery about four or five years ago, but we don't have many runners so you know when we do come that they are fancied.
"He is a nice horse, but he probably wants six. But because he is so sharp at the gates, we've been running him over five."
Norton added: "It is always great to get a winner here, but especially when I ride it for Mick because I know how hard he works at the game. A lot of the boys were here supporting me. It is like scoring a goal when you ride a winner here."