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William Hill Festival Classic and Grand Prix - Sunderland 450m/640m - £25,000/£15,000

DROOPYS COUNTRY (26.91sec) landed the major trophy his talent so richly deserved when grabbing Classic gold at the William Hill Festival on Wednesday at Sunderland - and will be aimed at all the major four-bend races for the rest of the year.


Last year's Peterborough Puppy Derby, Monmore Gold Cup and Belle Vue Laurels finalist could again tackle those last two events before a trip ‘home’ to Newcastle and a likely tilt at the William Hill All England Cup - where connections will be handsomely represented!


Angela Harrison and Neil Conlon, trainer and owner respectively of Droopys Country, can also call upon kennel stars Droopys Buick and Droopys Expert for the race considered to be the ‘North East Derby’ - and Harrison is looking forward to the challenge.


In her first season since taking over the licence from partner and assistant trainer Jimmy Wright, Harrison was landing her biggest success in the £25,000 annual, albeit adding to a stellar record over the years at the William Hill Festival of Racing since his inception in 2007.


Wright said: “We won back-to-back Grand Prix with England Expects and Crown Rover a few years back, and also won the Puppy Plate with Droopys Buick two years ago and last year’s Festive Flyer with Walshes Hill. So the Classic this year for Droopys Country completes the set.


“He’s just a fantastic bend runner. The way he runs bends one and two is just terrific and, given a clear run, he can match the best. We thought it was a tough draw on paper, but he was able to follow Viking Jimmy early and make his move at the right time.”


Martin Cutler’s Russelena Planet had led after showing a fine turn of foot into the bend, but had no answer to Droopys County’s back-straight surge and the eventual winner took up the running at the third bend to win by four and three-quarter lengths from Toolmaker Obama.


The latter, trained by Ireland’s Robert Gleeson, ran a cracker but victory for Droopys Country meant the trophy returned to the north east after Julie Calvert’s success with No Butt two years ago. Victory sparked some happy and emotional scenes at the presentation. 


Harrison added: “Country has been a great dog for us, Neil and the family, and I'm delighted he's won a big race. He was in finals at Peterborough, Monmore and Belle Vue last year - and don't forget he was also in the Puppy Plate final here at Sunderland behind Bubbly Bluebird so he's been in with the best. He deserved this win.” 


Charlie Lister OBE’s Cloran Paddy was another star tracker to claim a deserved major trophy as he picked up the William Hill Grand Prix final when swooping off the last bend to catch the Annaliese Thompson-trained Swift Hansel and collect the £15,000 prize for his team of owners.


Lister trains last year's Derby and St Leger finalist for Max Aldous, John Gilman and Kieran Hickey, and all felt Sunderland hardly played to Cloran Paddy’s strengths, but his class overcame his unsuitability to the track as he hit the front on the dash for home to win by two and a quarter lengths winner in 39.72sec.


Part-owner Hickey said: “Paddy deserved this. Sunderland might not be his track, but he’s got bundles of class with those Wimbledon finals. We might have had disappointed ultimately in both the Leger and Derby finals, but it’s some career when you look back at it - and that Derby ride  for us really was something else.


“Now he’s won the Grand Prix, and he goes to Nottingham for the [Betfred] Select Stayers on Wednesday in good form,” added Hickey of the March 2014 son of Westmead Hawk and Martinstown Rose who broke the heart of Swift Hansel’s supporters after the latter had looked to strike gold once getting to pace-setter Geelo Bullet at the fifth bend.


Two potentially outstanding youngsters dominated the William Hill Puppy Plate final with Hayley Keightley’s Roxholme Nidge (26.83sec) and Droopys Expert filling the places in the £3,000 decider and attracting 33-1 quotes from Hills for the 2018 Star Sports English Derby.


A spokesman for Hills said: “Both pups look above average, and I think we all came away thinking here were two classy youngsters. It was a fantastic race and connections of both the first and second talked are right to be excited by their runners. Our odds-compilers were suitably impressed!”


Debbie Calvert’s Precisely (15.84sec) continued his fine Sunderland run of form when the Newcastle sprinter claimed honours in the William Hill Festival Flyer final, darting to the front and getting the verdict over the strong-finishing Roxholme Hat by a fast-diminishing head.