FIRST place in the local racing reflections poll for 2008 must be awarded to Chester Racecourse.

Once again the city-centre track has attracted superb attendances throughout the season and the extensive improvement programme has created additional areas to appreciate the unique atmosphere generated by the close-up action the racecourse provides at every meeting.

From the opening three-day meeting in May, when the all-conquering trainer/jockey combination of Aidan O’Brien and Johnny Murtagh notched up one of their many group successes of 2008 with Sail in the Weatherbys Bank Cheshire Oaks on the opening day, Chester delivered.

Sail, the 9-4 favourite, showed a good turn of foot and ran on to win by half a length from the Barry Hills-trained Sugar Mint. Murtagh scored again for O’Brien with Macarthur, by an impressive winning margin of four lengths, to land the Blue Square Ormonde Stakes on the Friday of the May meeting. The 2009 season gets under way on Wednesday, May 6.

Under the national hunt code, Bangor-on-Dee racecourse has a loyal following and the course holds its first meeting of 2009 on February 6. Celebrations to mark 150 years of racing will be unveiled as the season progresses.

Trainers continue to be complimentary about the excellent ground conditions that prevail at Bangor-on-Dee and with a varied race programme throughout the year the course remains an excellent venue for both future equine stars to begin their career and established horses to race at.

Point-to-point racing retains its popularity, enabling amateur involvement in both training and riding and leading North West Novice rider of 2008 Harry Challoner, from Manley, will be looking to partner more winners during the new season.

The purpose-built point-to-point track inside the racecourse at Bangor-on-Dee is now well established and will host a third meeting this year as the Albrighton Hunt moves to the venue for its meeting on Sunday, January 25.

Other Bangor-on-Dee dates for point-to-point enthusiasts to note in their new diaries are March 8 for the Flint and Denbigh and a considerably later date of May 23 for the Wynnstay. Alpraham continues to host the Cheshire Hunt meeting, scheduled for March 28.

An early horse to follow between the flags is seven-year-old Willie Wong. His trainer Will Kinsey, of Aston, said: “He picked up an injury after he won his Maiden at Eyton on Severn. My father, Richard, took out a permit to train him under rules last year. He was just touched off by a nostril at Worcester in a bumper, and he has run well in his other races at Market Rasen and Southwell. He will start off point to pointing and is definitely the horse to follow from the yard.”