The opening novices hurdle featured the highly-touted Definitly Red - now in the care of Brian Ellison - and you couldn't wish to see a nicer horse at this stage of his career.
He's a nice, lengthy, good mover with real scope and he'll almost certainly be seen to better effect on good to soft or better ground. Still quite green, he won as he liked and he'll continue to progress as his jumping improves.
He was unopposable beforehand as the betting indicated with the juvenile L'Aigle Royal the only one near him on form, yet the J Quinn inmate did not take the eye being quite small and weak. He's some talent though and will be interesting with another summer behind him. Staying is clearly his game.
|The likeable Definitly Red|
The big negative here was Palm Grey, who has been noted here before as being very weak and backward and he was not moving well behind at the walk and the way he is struggling with his jumping suggests a problem. He's one to avoid for the time being.
The next was a competitive looking handicap hurdle in which they made Nafaath favourite but he hasn't won for nearly five years and did not look as well as when finishing second at Carlisle three runs ago.
Zermatt was also high in the betting but once again he did not look particularly comfortable at the walk on his front legs and a scar on the off-fore may suggest there was, and may still be, a problem. He is not hurdling with any fluency at present.
Tennessee Bird was probably the pick and he was well-backed but has long-confirmed himself to be very ordinary and I wasn't taken in by it. Very few took the eye - even eventual winner Snowed In didn't look as perky as he often can but is clearly in good heart and thoroughly deserved this second win after a number of solid efforts.
The first real bet of the year came in the stayers novices chase as I felt strongly that Straidnahanna would out-jump the much smaller Kaysersberg. The fact the pair were so far apart in the betting was surprising, particularly as Kaysersberg took a heavy fall last time, and having taken the 3s in the morning I was on good terms with myself.
The paddock view confirmed my thoughts as Straidnahanna dwarfed his market rival. He's really come on physically in the last 12 months and that has been borne out by his performances. The favourite must now revert to timber after losing his confidence at the first ditch where he gave the unfortunate Costello no chance.
Gonow chased home the winner in game fashion and he's a fair sort in his own right, albeit flattered by the margin of defeat. It's to be hoped the assessor won't take it literally but he'll surely get hiked for this. He'll improve again as he looked to need it. George Fernbeck was fit but this is as good as he is - that said the ground would have gone against him.
Racing Europe was all the rage in a three-horse novice hurdle but even before the race you could tell he was not straightforward. He's probably what trainers call a 'bit of a playboy' but he's got some serious ability and was taking the mickey for much of this race.
He's a lovely big animal but while chasing will surely make a man of him, he may be one to be a little wary of over the coming months. Runner-up The Boss's Dream clearly has ability but he didn't really impress in the prelims, being quite ungainly and surprisingly backward for a seven-year-old. He doesn't do anything quickly that's for sure.
The handicap chase over 2m 3f saw Mister Grez heavily backed to supplement his Bangor win although he's not one you'd be particularly impressed with just to look at. However, he's clearly in great heart and he barely missed a stride as he saw off the resurgent Things Change.
J Quinn's horse barely has the scope for fences but he jumped much better here and with that in mind as well as his galloping action, he may well be a betting proposition if the trainer can find some genuine good ground for him.
I'll hold my hands up to the first mug bet of the year as Quicuyo had drifted to too big a price to ignore, despite the shocking form of the Ewart yard. The old horse put in a rather predictably lifeless performance and the stable's runners must be avoided.
The other of note here was the fourth-placed Carlos Fandango. While not obviously well-handicapped, he'll be much better off when the spring ground arrives and he also looks ready for a step up in trip.
The finale was a ghastly affair but we were very happy to support Turtle Cask, who has come on greatly from the time I first saw him at Hexham a few months back when he was as fat as a pig. He looked marginally the best of these and I'm still struggling to come to terms with the fact that he was beaten by a 100/1 shot. Welcome to the New Year!