CHRIS Holder tonight declared himself “gutted” after the Darcy Ward Invitational was abandoned on safety grounds.

In front of a packed crowd at Wimborne Road, the season-opening meeting was called off just eight heats in, with extensive track work failing to save proceedings.

Poole asset Holder, who spent nine years at the club prior to his exit for King’s Lynn this winter, is a close friend of Ward and was immediately at the Queenslander’s bedside following his career-ending crash in August 2015.

The duo had been known as the Turbo Twins during their spell together in Dorset and won eight Elite League titles between them.

Reflecting on the abandonment, Holder said: “We’re gutted. We have a top bunch of riders and a massive crowd but we cannot race on this track.

“Riders were getting out of shape left, right and centre. It was like a sponge in the first turn.”

Russian charger Emil Sayfutdinov received top billing prior to the hotly-anticipated event given that for him it was a rare appearance on British soil.

He said: “I’d like to say thank you to the fans for coming along. We tried to do the meeting but there were too many risks so we made the decision to stop. I’m sorry about it.”

Davey Watt, an ex-Poole captain who is part of the Rye House line-up this season, admitted he was hugely disappointed the meeting had been called to a halt.

Watt said: “We wanted to put on a show for Darcy and it’s so frustrating that we couldn’t do it.

“I feel sorry for everyone concerned, the fans and the riders. It’s unfortunate but it’s what we have to accept.”

Pirates skipper Hans Andersen insisted the invitational would return – even if it was in 12 months’ time.

Andersen said: “We aren’t going to lose this meeting. It’s not going to go away. We will come back and do it next year and the year after.

“People want to see racing and that wasn’t racing.”

The call-off was a body blow to all concerned, Ward having assembled a stellar line-up of riders for the curtain-raiser at his former club.

In addition to Holder and Sayfutdinov, there was further Grand Prix quality in the form of Jason Doyle, who would surely have become world champion last year had injury not intervened, while Piotr Pawlicki also signed up.

Like so many of the teams which have graced the Wimborne Road shale down the years, the field had strength in depth. Krzysztof Kasprzak, Przemek Pawlicki, Troy Batchelor, Rory Schlein – all capable of producing something special on their day.

Indeed, Kasprzak was one of just two riders – the other being Doyle – to produce back-to-back race wins.

Perhaps a sense of what was to come arrived when ex-Pirates rider Josh Grajczonek was ruled out before a wheel had turned due to traffic problems, reducing to 15 the field with no reserve in place.

The riders were paraded on Harley-Davidson bikes ahead of an opening win for Andersen, the Dane diving under Watt after the Aussie had got off to a flier.

Poole vice-captain Kyle Newman somehow got back to his feet after a spectacular turn-three fall which, worryingly, ruled him out of the rest of the meeting due to a shoulder injury, leaving Przemek Pawlicki to get off the mark ahead of Sayfutdinov.

Doyle won easily before Kasprzak got the better of Holder, the man he replaced as Pirates number one, the Pole then easily taking a second successive victory.

After lengthy work on the track, Sayfutdinov and Doyle both flew past the chequered flag, the former blitzing from third to first before more track work ensued.

Schlein put his initial retirement behind him with a three-point ride but when the tractors re-emerged, Holder described as similar to “clay” the oval during a conversation with Ward via telephone – which was broadcast to supporters.

And it was not long before the riders convened on the centre green and presenter Nigel Leahy had the unenviable task of breaking the bad news.

Riders’ scores: 1 Hans Andersen (3-2) 5, 2 Davey Watt (2-r) 2, 3 Todd Kurtz (1-1) 2, 4 Josh Grajczonek (DNR), 5 Kyle Newman (fx – w/d) 0, 6 Emil Sayfutdinov (2-3) 5, 7 Troy Batchelor (1-0) 1, 8 Przemek Pawlicki (3-2) 5, 9 Nicolai Klindt (1-1) 2, 10 Piotr Pawlicki (2-1) 3, 11 Jason Doyle (3-3) 6, 12 Rory Schlein (r-3) 3, 13 Krzysztof Kasprzak (3-3) 6, 14 Nick Morris (0-2) 2, 15 Chris Holder (2-2) 4, 16 Brady Kurtz (1-1) 2.

In tomorrow's action, Krzysztof Kasprzak is due to ride for Nice Racing in the Speedway Best Pairs first round in Torun, while Nicolai Klindt will head to Workington for the Cumberland Open.

Kyle Newman had been set to make his league debut for Ipswich in the SGB Championship clash with Sheffield at Foxhall.

But at the time of writing it was unclear if he would be fit.

Jack Holder scored eight points for Peterborough in tonight’s second-tier fixture at home to Scunthorpe.

Meanwhile, Pirates’ clash with Belle Vue at Wimborne Road – originally scheduled for Wednesday, May 24 – has been shifted to Monday, June 26.

Poole’s second home fixture against Leicester has been brought forward to Monday, August 21 having originally been pencilled in for Wednesday, September 6.