Situated to the south of Wrexham, Bangor-on-Dee Racecourse celebrated its 150th anniversary last year; the first jump race took place in 1859. Much has changed since those early days and Bangor now holds up to seventeen meetings a year, spread right across the calendar.
The course has a traditional steeplechase and a hurdles track and has a good reputation for providing excellent ground conditions, whatever the season. This is down to the hard working groundstaff, led by Head Groundsman, Andrew Malam. His team of four includes his brother, Brian, and there is a strong family connection as Andrew took over from his father, John, in the late 90s. John continues to 'keep an eye on things', as he has never really retired and is now responsible for running the stable yard on racedays, as well as plenty of mucking out!).
Providing safe ground for jump racing throughout the year has its own challenges in terms of irrigation in the summer and drainage in the winter. Linked with the more dynamic weather patterns that we have begun to see in recent years, the challenges are only getting bigger for Andrew and the team.
In 2002, Chester Racecourse bought Bangor-on-Dee, and this has provided more opportunity for the two courses to share knowledge, equipment and manpower - this has really helped at certain times and was brought into even sharper relief after flooding in November and December of last year.
Following a large breach in the bank of the River Dee (which, as the course's name implies, runs adjacent to the course) on the night of the 18th November, nearly two thirds of the racecourse was flooded, and remained so for the next ten days!
It was fourteen days before the river levels dropped sufficiently enough for the water to stop flowing through the huge breach.
The Environment Agency (EA) no longer repairs damage to riverbank systems, unless residential areas or life are potentially affected. Therefore, the first and most important job was to repair the giant hole in the river bank. This was fifteen metres across and six metres deep in the centre.
Working with a local farmer, whose fields had also been damaged, two 20-tonne excavators and three dumper trucks were hired. These were operated by Bangor-on-Dee and Chester Racecourse staff, who worked tirelessly to fill the breach as quickly as possible.
Over a period of six days, 1200 tonnes of clay and rubble were used to fill the gaping hole and a metal framework was used to strengthen the bank. The night after the work was completed the river levels rose again
which would have meant that the course would have flooded once more.
Fortunately, the repairs held strong and the team were able to turn their attention to the track itself, which was covered with some serious silt deposits - up to twelve inches deep - much of it still under standing water.
With racing just ten days away, the only way to ensure a meeting took place was to concentrate on preparing one course and have a hurdles-only card. Diggers scraped away the silt and, where necessary, the turf, followed by the application of a two inch layer of fibresand as a temporary repair.
It is difficult to convey the extent of the flooding and the damage it left on the track and surrounding fields but, hopefully, the images will give you
some idea of the fantastic job the groundstaff did to ensure that the December meeting went ahead. 'Not racing' was never an option as far as they were concerned!
The repair work is still not finished, with a 1000m² area that is yet to be de-silted when the weather allows.
It was somewhat annoying that, having solved one of Mother Nature's 'problems', another by way of the 'big freeze' came along to force two abandonments over the Christmas period. However, without that sterling work in early December the racecourse could still have been under water!