Saturday, 28 February 2015

Doncaster - Grim (thorpe) up north

Donny on a Saturday is not for the faint of heart and once again we were just relieved to come away unscathed without having the wallet lifted or the face re-arranged by one of the gobshite pissheads these courses welcome with open arms these days.

The big race winner may have been one of the rags but you could hear a pin drop as connections returned to unsaddle with just a handful of enthusiasts hanging around - obviously the vast majority of attendees were queueing up for their next vodka-red bull.

Anyway with that off the chest it wasn't a bad day's action or punting for that matter, although it could have been even better (of course.)

Cardinal Walter was a shoo-in for the opener after chief rival Fort Worth was scratched, one of a few on the card as the drying ground clearly made some connections think twice.

Henderson's charge is a free-going sort and you wouldn't pick him out in a beauty contest but he's clearly got an engine. You couldn't put one up against him and he duly dotted up - frankly the 1/2 returned was decent value.

Royalraise was backed into second fav and although he's a neat enough sort with some potential it was a huge stretch to think he could trouble the jolly, which he didn't. Eventual runner-up Tinos Tank is nothing to look at but he too must have plenty under the bonnet as it was the second time he's gone okay here and this was no fluke.

I was against Heated Debate, bandaged in front which is quite rare for one of Longsdon's, with two handlers and bit on edge he looked a bit of a nut-job. At around evens the place he looked a decent lay and he duly bled as he trailed home.

I missed a beat with Dresden in the next as I rather fancied he was an improver but when Festive Affair was taken out a large percentage went with him. Instead I saved on the nice looking youngster and had the rest on Kings Grey, who looked full of beans and rarely runs a bad race.

I know you'll tell me young Scu is in great form but the grey rarely makes a mistake so when he hit one and unshipped the jock I was on a bit of a downer. These things happen but we'll never know - it would have been nice to have seen the pair fighting it out from the last.

Ifandbutwhynot is probably handicapped up to his best now over the larger obstacles over which he is not a natural, while Robbie is also in the handicapper's grip.

JR doffs his cap after guiding Balmusette home
I kept looking at the listed mares race and couldn't figure out why the market favoured heavy ground loving Princess Tara and the Irish-trained Golan Road over the rather fetching A Doll In Milan and progressive Balmusette.

The latter clearly likes the track and I kept telling myself the longer trip would be in her favour with JR sure to deliver her as late as possible, It worked out sensationally well for a change and we had things covered from the second last.

For the record Golan Road was a bit on the lean side for me, while Princess Tara has the strong look of a soft ground horse and I'm sure she'll be back to her best on similar terrain. A Doll In Milan hung again and maybe has a problem, but looked really well here.

I didn't like the look of Call The Cops in the next, on the small side for my taste, and I took him on as there looked to be a few runners. Northern trained Seldom Inn looked great and primed for a big run but one wonders whether the Thompson yard is quite firing at the moment, while Waltz Darling looked sure to go well and she certainly did.

But Hendo racked up the double with some ease and we were forced to retreat with our tails thrust between the legs. We should have got stuck into Batavir of course but it's never a good idea to stand in front of a Pipe mover. It looked in good nick but didn't seem at ease on this ground.

I didn't get too involved in the big race although Super Duty looked ready to go well after his spin over timber last time, but was given a queer ride chasing a frenetic early pace and this effort may be best forgotten.

Theatre Queen would surely have pissed up if it hadn't given up 20 lengths at the tapes and ought to be a great in-running play next time - I don't think the handicapper can do anything about this run and she looks a stone well in.

Drop In Joe was the favourite and although cherry ripe is a bit short front-to-back and therefore lacks a touch of scope - it may be that the chestnut will always be prone to errors. Samingarry is another who may struggle in handicaps owing to its lack of size.

Grimthorpe winner Wayward Prince
I went through various stages of wanting to back everything in the five-runner handicap chase and it came as no surprise when I finished up in the red having gone in with Benefit Cut despite him getting warm and on edge.

He was given a soft lead as McCoy looked to exit on a winner but he made some errors and was beat at the top of the home run. This does not strike me as good form as winner Bobcatbilly was 10lb higher than his Boxing Day-winning mark while Shadrack has struck as one in the grips of the assessor all season.

Wings Of Smoke rallied for second but didn't look anywhere near ready while Distime was well but is a fragile old thing and this rutted terrain probably didn't suit at all.

The finale looked quite a mediocre bumper after looking at them beforehand but The Last Cavalier really looked much more forward than his rivals and plenty fit enough. Well-bred and from a good kennel I was surprised he wasn't shorter and in we went.

He was off the bridle on the turn but they weren't going anywhere up front and he came there with every chance and apparently had few excuses as he went down by a neck to the Daly-trained Score Card, who is a strong sort that looked as though the run would do him plenty of good.

However, it transpires young Bannister dropped his whip a furlong out and this surely made a difference to the result, and slightly soured the tone of the afternoon. This form probably won't amount to much in the long run either.

I hope readers were on Runswick Royal at Kelso today. I wrote after his last effort at Haydock that it was somewhat surprising they hadn't put him over a trip before now and that some extra yardage should suit down to the ground.

A distance just short of three miles looked perfect and after solid support all day long he duly went in under a good ride from Brian Hughes. The Topham would probably be a great target for him but hopefully today was the day for some of you.

I'm kind of thinking I should start flagging up some eye-catchers before they run rather than 'after-timing' as it were. Maybe I should read my own blog more as I know many do slip through the net. Anyway, something to ponder.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Catterick - Piecing it together

It looked a really poor punting card for Catterick's penultimate jumps fixture and judging by the state of the car park the ground looked sure to ride softer than the official good to soft, soft in places.

The opener looked like an absolute shoo-in for the favourite Nefyn Bay following his victory at Wetherby last week after which I suggested he might be one to follow.

Unpenalised for that boys race and with the extra three furlongs looking sure to suit it was just a question of securing some kind of price in a race few others could be given any sort of chance.

That opportunity came mid-race when Nefyn Bay was baulked by a faller and some 7/4 was snapped up. That he was back in contention on the snaff moments later, and the way he went and won for the stylish Miss B Andrews, suggested he had a good stone in hand of his mark. Anything less for his two wins and he'll be well in.

The likeable and most excellent Miss Andrews
The first leg of the maiden hurdle featured a few likely types off the flat but it became clear, not just from the betting but also from the paddock, that none of them were much kop and that the quite likeable Sir Safir would be able to make his experience count.

I missed a beat here as the price slowly evaporated leaving me high and dry, although there would have been some anxious moments late on and it's fair to say the formerly useful Venue handed the race away.

McCain's flat import didn't look a particularly useful tool beforehand and his finishing effort, following a few quirky leaps, means he may not be one to trust going forward.

Triumvirate was the more robust of the ex-Flat horses but moved to post very poorly and didn't come back much better. Sir Safir did not need to run anywhere near his peak rating of 110 to win this and it will rate as very moderate form.

R Fahey's Woodbridge was another poor mover and this sparely-made gelding would need fast ground if he is to make any sort of impact under this code, while Grand Meister was disappointing although he still doesn't look right in his coat. Bruce Almighty was punted but looked to need the run.

Div II looked a much weaker affair with Aristo Du Plessis looking a great lay after he shirked the issue at Sedgefield, but the brakes went on when first Beatu and then The Alamo made little appeal looks-wise - preference was for the latter but his short action going to post suggested good ground would be requisite.

I was right to take a pull as Aristo won without coming off the bridle, while my each-way poke got lucky when Tomorrow's Legend plodded on past The Alamo and into the places. He's a nice big horse but looking trip-less and not really progressing.

The handicap chase for novices looked the perfect race for Less Time to follow up his Market Rasen win but I wasn't convinced by the big, babyish horse and thought there were a few runners. Royal Macnab looked well although the ground was a concern, while Ballybogey could be given a chance even though it was another Pogson horse that didn't look fully fit.

I had had a very small interest at huge odds in De Vous A Moi at Donny last time as it had the look of a half decent animal, and its form in France as a youngster was very decent. However, he was 0/16 and hadn't shown anything of late and was overlooked for win purposes despite again looking the part.

Still, we got the jolly beat and that was the main thing. He's been known to travel well before stopping dead under the cosh and he did the same here after clouting three out. He may just be very backward mentally and when he fills out he could be half decent.

Less Time's stable mate Saint Lucy was very short in a terribly weak mares race but she had bombed out in better grade last time and the ground was little better here. She's also a very big, backward young horse who needs a lot of time and the two-years older Donna's Pride has really come to herself after a disappointing campaign last term.

Again, the early odds flattered Jonjo's horse and she was a second favourite to get done, while I took the angle that the pair were miles better than Kilas Girl, who is not the most sightly thing you'll ever see. I felt I was only half-right though as she stayed on to provide us with a squeeky-bum moment on the run to the line, Costello thankfully not giving her a hard time.

Uno Valeroso was probably a great bet even at short odds
Uno Valeroso was rightfully all the rage to land the handicap chase over the minimum trip although he should definitely come on for the run as he looks to have have done very well in a 10-week absence.

He's a very likeable little horse who always looks enthusiastic and jumps great - the handicapper will not take kindly to this win though. Oscatara once again never looked like getting his head in front and his breeding suggests an extra mile would suit, which may give him a chance to get round without coming off the bridle.

Billy Cuckoo didn't want to know this time while Proud Times looked the most likely to chase the jolly home but again ran as if in little form.

The finale saw Allez Cool again looking strong and well as he quickly put a poor run behind him. He's a likeable sort and probably deserved to get it in the stewards room although Harris once again proved a difficult horse to pass when on a going day.

I wasn't that taken by favourite The Geegeez Geegee, who still looks on the weak side, and I was very much against Blake Dean who is rather small being flat bred and didn't stand a chance of getting the trip in this ground. Abruzzi looked really well but like stable mate Proud Times ran poorly.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Newcastle - Down in Eider town

Quite a decent card faced railway shunters on Eider Chase day and hopes were high we would be off to a winning start with Wakanda sent off an absurd 1/3 for the opening novice chase.

I'm not sure anything should be that price in a three miler for beginners whatever the formbook might say, particularly with the Smith stable clearly not firing just now and dark one lurking in Revocation.

Let bygones be bygones they said, so in we rode with Peter Buchanan's charge, a fine strong seven-year-old who looked really fit and well. You'll know the result by now and for this observer it's a case of deja vu all over abloodygain.

Craig Nichol and his partner Voyage A New York didn't get their wires crossed though and the horse, with whom I've had a lot to do with this term, relished his first attempt at the trip to down the jolly old favourite. It was rather galling to watch.

Voyage A New York: 3m trip unlocked the talent
I was probably still in a state of mild disbelief and such amateurish mumblings probably led me to miss the next winner in Dark Dune, another I've become quite fond of this term.

I mused after he struggled home in the mud at Sedgefield a while back that he would go better on a sounder surface and after another couple of decent runs popped up here at very rewarding odds.

I'd read his consistency to mean the handicapper had him where he wanted him but good old JR bounced him out in front for a change and there's none better riding at the moment at judging the fractions on an easy lead. The result was never in doubt.

It was another race that looked there for the taking with the Smith youngster Smooth Stepper just a shell of a horse and another of theirs to run up rather lean. By contrast Desoto County looked decidedly porky after another 10 week absence and he'll prove better than this at some point.

The Eider came next and it was pot luck if you found the winner although to be fair he was one of half a dozen that stood out beforehand, behind Portrait King who looked trained to the minute. Beforeall, Sharney Sike and Alpha Victor also took the eye but again Tutchec did not look in any sort of form at all.

The novice was tricky with Derrintogher Bliss looking a pretty short price, but he looked well as did Uisge Beatha -  a nice horse for next season - and Donna's Diamond.

Powerstown Dreams was turned out quickly and like quite a few from the Ellison yard didn't look right in his coat, but he ran a mighty race and after pulling for his head and getting there too soon he may be worth marking up.

I generally take a dim view of mares races from a punting perspective and didn't get involved in the next even though Delta Forty looked very short on what she has achieved thus far. She looked up for it, but the winner Faerie Reel is a nicely made sort while runner-up Debdebdeb is nice compact horse who was fit for her debut but looked a tad dodgy in the finish.

Oscar Rock: Damn nice horse
I wanted to get heavily involved in the handicap chase and it was a shame Rouge Et Blanc was scratched as I didn't fancy it and it took plenty out the market. It was a great shame as Oscar Rock looked the nuts despite hailing from a bang out of form yard, but had become an unbackable price.

It was hard to look elsewhere but second best was undoubtedly And The Man, really well in his coat but not exactly perked up by the blinds beforehand. Tahiti Pearl looked in very good nick but yet again ran no sort of race, while Definite Dream looked in no state of fitness after an absence and was the lay of the race. That said he nearly scraped into a place which would have been a sickener.

The bumper saw quite a useful bunch assemble at the head of the market and the heavily supported newcomer Brain Power hosed up. The second is a very nice prospect - Big River - who looked pretty fit and forward, while Oscar Blue is quite nice but on the backward side.

Double W's didn't look fully wound up after 75 days off while Corsair Prince and Duncomplaining are two big chasers who will come on greatly for the experience.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Sedgefield - Giving a little back

As I've mentioned before sometimes I'm in a position to get the money down early doors, but it rarely seems to pay off and today was one of those days.

You wonder whether all the stress is worth the effort. Half the horses you don't fancy come race time anyway especially when you get that vibe that things are just not going to work out.

I didn't play opening novice hurdle as I couldn't split the front two in the market, Aristo Du Plessis and Court Dismissed. Neither particularly pleased in the paddock, the former a short walker and a little quirky looking while the latter has grown a bit but remains unfurnished.

The Ellison pair looked in need of the outing while Chivers needs further and hasn't really shown a great deal in his three runs to date.

You look how I feel mate
I was very keen on Light The City in the handicap hurdle but you get what you pay for and unfortunately 'Lensio' did his level best to get the horse beat. If he'd let the horse stride on at the end of the back straight I'm certain there would have been a different result.

As it happened Astaroland, who received a shocker of a ride himself last time, took the honours under a much more active jockey and the horse did look well beforehand. Discoverie looks a crazy as ever and the horse just isn't settling down. Copt Hill did not look in any sort of form beforehand, while River Bollin still doesnt look fit.

I was all of a muddle ahead of the handicap chase as I rather liked the My Friend George angle at double figure prices in the morning, but not at 3/1 near the off!

The market was near enough though as neither Zazamix nor Pistol Basc looked anywhere the form they were in a few weeks ago, while My Friend George looked as fit as anything. Well-backed Mondo Cane looked awful, carrying loads of condition and my bet is it still isn't properly fit.

The winner Auldthunder was quietly supported and he looked well once again. I had taken to him before he fell at Catterick but he then ran a shocker next time. He needed all of this trip and he may well continue to prosper as he has the size for fences.

I was all over Getabuzz in the next with the blinds re-applied but he never really looked like winning as Hellorboston broke the tape. McCain's seasonal debutant looked a tad big and will improve for this, but Stilo Blue Native was disappointing as he had come on for his latest effort.

This was Turtle Cask's 10th run since October and he surely needs a break, although he looked perfectly well beforehand.

Again I had stepped in early for Lord Wishes, who was potentially thrown in for the 2m 6f handicap chase. He had not shown much over fences but thankfully he looked a picture beforehand. But he was beat after jumping one fence and surely still has a problem.

Houndscourt a popular local winner
That left the way clear for Ballymoat but he failed to see his race out again as the fit and well Houndscourt won well from the rallying Forty Crown. I wouldn't be too impressed by the runner-up's effort as he remains short of scope for fences. Dystonia's Revenge looked well but had little help from the saddle.

The finale looked a match between Be A Dreamer and Mighty Cliche on paper but the hard fit Smith horse was inconvenienced by the drop in trip and could never land a blow.

Mighty Cliche is a terrible thief but Hughes made his mind up this time and connections were wise to mount the horse outside the parade ring - he only did half a lap - and thus he wasn't as stressed out as in the past.

He may have won on sufference as runner-up Cross To Boston had an 0-24 record in Ireland and was race fit for this, but at least he finally got his head in front. Shine A Diamond is too small for fences and remains very opposable.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Doncaster - Rolling on with Rock

I was hoping to keep this update brief as it looked a quiet punting card on Town Moor but there were a couple of races that threw up some interest for the future.

The opener was one of them with It's A Sting looking a really solid favourite to get off the mark over timber, despite being bred to stay much further than the minimum.

He's a really good looking horse but yet again found one too many, this time a 50/1 shot in Double Shuffle who picked his pocket on the run to the line.

It was galling for jolly backers with market rivals Neck Or Nothing (who surely has physical/mental issues) and Skylander beaten off, the latter still a little backward.

Money came for A Cor Et A Cri but this leggy, heavy topped French import did not take the eye and will need time to grow into his frame. Lady Buttons looked fine but hasn't been in any kind of form this term.

A crap picture of the excellent Lil Rockerfeller
The juvenile featured the return of Devilment but most interestingly Lil Rockerfeller, who finished behind the odds-on shot on debut at Wetherby.

Readers will know he was very much a horse in focus and he followed up with a solid effort on terrible terrain at Sandown. A massive run looked assured back on a decent surface and this strong, progressive sort did incredibly well to land the cash in the 'betting without' market after severe interference at halfway.

This was a mighty effort and he's a certainty for one of these - you could see him running well in the Fred Winter if he were to get a run. The favourite was really well backed despite being unappealing on looks and clearly has an engine.

The veteran chase looked tricky but I was able to whittle them down and got things pretty much spot on. With Robbie a non-stayer, the ill-fated Burton Port winless in five years, Oscar Time a big drifter and Alvarado looked just in need of the run we were down to four.

Shoegazer was gambled-on but it was hard to see why, looking short of peak fitness and very much on the small side - that apart from an absence of recent form.

I very much liked the prospects of Reaping The Reward from an each-way angle in the 8-runner field. Totally unexposed over three miles, I thought the slower pace would aid his jumping and he could creep into the race.

Unfortunately for backers he went too well and the boy Nichol found himself in front way too soon. It was unfortunate he didn't take a pull as it may have been the difference as Aachen battled back to win.

Venetia's horse ran quite an eye-catching race at Newbury last time but was dropped two pounds and looked on great terms with himself. He's not over-big and can be chancy but he was worth a wager, as was Ikorodu Road who looked really well but was found wanting over this trip. He clearly needs further or softer ground, but remains in good heart and may yet win again.

AP tells Coops how he reeled in the punted Western Jo
The final race with any excitement was the staying hurdle and I was looking to take on Milan Bound who looked vulnerable at a short price. I liked Rathlin Rose physically although he'll better in a year and the market was quite weak for him.

With Wicked Spice needing to bounce back from a poor run and an absence I was extremely keen on Western Jo with first time sideburns.

I was counting the cash up the straight as all he does is stay but I was late in seeing McCoy stoking the favourite and you could have written the script fully two flights out despite Milan Bound having 10 lengths still to find.

It was a disappointing end to punting proceedings, with hunter favourite Paint The Clouds looking very well for his return at an unbackable price.

The bumper looked a decent affair with the winner Davy Doubt the most forward of the lot. Don't count on him to go on from this over timber though as he doesn't have much about him.

Bengo looked a very big baby, an embryonic chaser, while preference beforehand was for Micks Lad (big, strong, quite fit but clearly mentally backward in running) and Kerrow, who got back on track after a poor effort. He'll need a trip over timber but this nice sort looks certain to make his mark.

Mr Beatle is a really nice stamp of a horse who will win races in the north, as will Jellied Eel Jack given plenty of time and a trip.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Wetherby - Nefyn to prove

Betting opportunities looked to be thin on the ground at the local track but for the first time in ages I ended up getting involved in all seven races.

The opener was one of the better ones with a good shape to it and I couldn't see anything beyond Nefyn Bay and Honourable Gent.

Two of the most predictable gambles of the day duly arrived in the shape of Mad For Road, who looks a complete shit, and Mister Jones, a complete and utter shit.

Both horses are punted every time they hit track - the former probably by in-running layers getting ahead of the game early - but neither has produced the goods as yet.

I thought the penny seemed to drop at Donny last time for Nefyn Bay and felt he was the type to progress from that under the very capable James Cowley. He's a good strong horse, still a little unfurnished, and he's the type to stay one step ahead of the assessor.

James Cowley was always in the right place on Nefyn Bay
Honourable Gent appeared to have few excuses in the end despite jumping rather poorly, in marked contrast to his Musselburgh run where he looked a natural until crashing out at the second last.

Perhaps he has remembered that spill and backers will have been disappointed by this. I couldn't split them to be honest so had a bit on each and it proved a wise move.

The mares novices chase looked another race to get stuck into but I had to put the brakes on as there were mixed messages from the paddock.

Iconic Rose looked fine despite two recent runs on desperate ground and was a player, but I really wanted to be against The Flaming Matron whose Musselburgh form was poor and the kennel remains ice cold. She's a tall, lean mare who doesn't hold her form and in a race full possibles she rated a solid lay.

The winner Makadamia is a nice sort at this level although still fairly light-framed and weak, but got a good patient ride from Waley-Cohen who delivered at just the right moment.

Black Lily was of much interest beforehand with three point wins on good ground to her name but walked into the second fence giving backers no run for their money. She's a big strong sort who remains on the watch list at this level.

One Track Mind was well ahead of his rivals on the ratings in the novice hurdle and duly outstayed them. Rainman looked a fairly decent sort but ran no sort of race with McCoy quick to accept the inevitable. Hainan did not really take the eye and one suspects he'll need soft ground to live up to his mark.

The handicap chase was a riddle wrapped in a conundrum and the only angle I had was to take on the laughably well-backed Vasco Dycy. I may have mentioned this beast before but they've backed it every single time, yet has yet to threaten the judge. I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say the thing is no good.

Makadamia: Light-framed and room to improve
Aye Well is a big tall animal who seems to relish this better ground and has struck up a great relationship with the sympathetic hands of Reveley, who I thought rode them to sleep again here.

Grey Life looks moderate and poorly handicapped while I remain convinced Trust Thomas will be seen to greater effect over a distance of ground, as his pedigree suggests he might. He jumps like a sound three miler and surely it's worth a try.

The grand Ballycool put to bed the notion that he needs a break between his races by running well - he's a lovely stamp of a horse who may well press on from here.

At Reception looked a good thing to land the stayers handicap hurdle for McCoy but in an action-packed race it was desperately sad to see this nice horse snap a hind leg going to three out.

That left the race wide open and it was fought out by three rags, with Azure Aware coming with a wet sail under a sensational ride from Maguire, who deserves a ride of the year nomination.

I was half interested in Bailey's horse off a break but he looked a bit tubby round the belly for me so I didn't take an angle in the race, bar a small place lay of Smith's big and backward Not A Bother Boy, who may be a different proposition over fences in the fall.

The mares bumper was split (oh the joys) but the first leg looked the hotter and so it proved with Pam Sly's super-fit Grand Turina running them ragged after getting a handy five length lead from the starter.

It's hard not to be suspicious when the world and his wife is on the day's steamer (14 into 7/2) and the layers never stood a chance. The very likeable Surtee Du Berlais set a high benchmark and there were other nice sorts down the field - the likeable Libby Mae matching the form of her Sedgefield win on very different ground.

The McCoy ridden Ten Trees looked backward to paddock watchers and was never seen with a chance, while C Grant's Beyond The Glen looked alright and is very much a long term prospect.

Division two saw the tall, long-backed Pomme cause a shock but this bunch paled in comparison to the earlier race and may have taken little winning - M Jefferson's La Dama De Hierro very big and backward but sure to improve given time and a trip.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Carlisle - Ever the Optimist

It wasn't part of the original plan to head up to the northern-most track in England on an already-busy week but the card looked so good it was hard to resist.

The opening novice hurdle centred around the three market leaders and in truth it was difficult to split them looking at them beforehand.

I quite liked the look of Gone Forever at Catterick but his jumping was awful there and so I was looking to take him on this time, and the other two were likely contenders.

Three Faces West looked okay at Ayr and I quite liked him physically, quite strong with some scope for improvement. The flat bred Rock N Rhythm was a definite runner, having plenty of size for the jumps game, and all three should go on to better things.

Present Flight has shown very little to date and it's somewhat alarming that they've already reached for the tongue-tie, while he hung left up the straight. Nonetheless he's a grand sort for fences and I wouldn't be surprised if he puts this form behind him in the autumn.

Native Optimist could have gone down in folklore. But didn't.
The three-mile hurdle had no standout contender on form and that meant the way was open for the outsider Native Optimist to make a name for himself.

I'd noted him this time last year showing a scintilla of promise under weak handling, with a propensity to kick every hurdle out the ground. I was waiting for the right race with a decent jockey in the saddle to go for a touch and that day was today.

The fact that he was the paddock pick made the bet all the more exciting and we looked set to collect a big pot until Madam Lilibet mugged us on the line. It was a blow to the solar plexus as at no stage did I think we would get beat. This is the second time the mare has done us out of a bundle after she took down Trafficker at Hexham earlier in the season. It's a good job I don't bear a grudge (much).

Vinny Gambini had gone into more notebooks than I thought at Wetherby last time and thus was well supported to win the handicap chase over two and a half. Some late weakness attested to the fact that the race wasn't quite as cut-and-dried as some may have thought and poor Vinny looked very one-paced after having every chance. It looks like a step up in trip will be his only salvation.

I couldn't have had the winner Bennys Well despite his obvious liking for the track. He always mopes round the ring like a misery and he didn't even look very good in his coat either. It was a shock to me but to be honest it was a race that would throw up a different winner if you ran it 10 times.

The word was that Gold Futures had been laid out for the next and he looked cherry ripe even though he's not one to get overly excited about on looks.

Upswing will always draw the eye but in his trainer's own words he's a bit soft and may not fulfill the promise of his earlier wins here at the track. That said he was a tad unfortunate to be collared late on by the Richards horse, who really picked up late on to win in rather random fashion.

Spanish Fleet really is a likeable horse and should make a smart chaser next term - the handicapper seems to have caught up with both he and the third Conquisto for now. None of the others made much appeal.

Knock A Hand lands quite a touch
The market was all about Knock A Hand in the stayers chase and, down in grade, he landed quite a touch from an early morning 10/1. Heavily bandaged on his off hind, he clearly had a nasty injury that accounted for a rare poor effort last time and even at rather cramped odds he was well worth supporting.

The race looked competitive enough but there were reasons to oppose the vast majority of them, particularly Indian Castle who looked to be carrying plenty of condition after 10 weeks off, although trainer I Williams's horses do tend to have that characteristic.

It was nearly all over bar the shouting and it was quite easy to whittle another big field down to a small handful in the closing handicap hurdle, headed by the very likeable Beg To Differ.

Not seen in best light in a slowly run affair at Wetherby, Jonjo's youngster really stood out as a quality sort amongst these and was a very worthy market leader.

Of the others, Frankie's Promise looked fantastic and seemed sure to go close, yet never went a yard. It was another very disappointing effort from a rather nice individual, and it may be that the Alexander yard is still under a cloud. His other two horses on the day also ran poorly and his season has not taken off at all.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Haydock - Definitly one to watch

Top Notch looks a proper speedball and was quite impressive in landing an uncompetitive juvenile to open a very decent card at the M6 track.

His hurdling was notably fluent and that will stand him in good stead when he heads to the festivals, with Aintree looking right up his street.

The Rendlesham saw the disappointing At Fishers Cross made a warm favourite facing his easiest assignment for some time, but yet again he let his supporters down in big style as he laboured up the straight.

Despite the heavy support he looked worth taking on but I expected more from Milansbar and Land Of Vic, who didn't have the tactical pace to go with the front pair.

Closing Ceremony is a nice sort but this looked a big step up for him, while Seeyouatmidnight looked fit enough after an absence and I wouldn't assume it was the lack of a run that beat him. This may be as good as he is - physically he's not the most impressive to look at.
Closing Ceremony successfully stepped up in grade
The Grand National trial looked an impossible puzzle to unravel and assessing them beforehand offered no clues either - they all looked great and there were no negatives. Peter Buchanan gave Lie Forrit a straight-forward ride and the veteran clearly had plenty left when he winged the second last.

The next three races were of much more interest punting-wise and I was very keen on the each-way chances of Tim Easterby's likeable mare Run Ructions Run in a Pertemps qualifier that didn't look as competitive as numbers siuggested. She's hardly run a bad race and this three mile trip looked sure to suit.

Dickie J spotted the leader 20 lengths but the starter was complicit in this shambles, allowing last week's runaway winner Bygones Sovereign to walk in to the tapes some way ahead of his 15 rivals. How is this even possible considering the new stringent starting methods? Answers on a postcard please.

Anyway, Ructions ran her race as expected but face a thankless chase up the straight, fighting off the rather awkward looking favourite Aqalim for second place. Racing Europe was a notable eye-catcher in fourth after travelling very well throughout, hitting a flat spot before staying on again.

The penny has not yet dropped with this big imposing horse but he's on a workable mark over timber, while his future very much lies over fences. Staying is his forte.

I was very sweet on the chances of Definitly Red in the Prestige after seeing the horse in the flesh for the first time at Catterick. I was very impressed with his athleticism and bearing in mind his superb bumper form thought the three miles and particularly the better ground would play to his strengths.

He faced a very serious opponent in Fletchers Flyer, who clearly had done little wrong down south and himself looked a fine physical specimen, albeit one who clearly loves very soft ground and will make an even better chaser in time.

Having taken an early morning price I was happy to go in again after confirming my earlier thoughts on Ellison's charge in the prelims. Johnson gave it a great ride and the horse gritted it out to land the punt, and the front pair won't look out of place at the Festival.
The fine looking Definitly Red wasn't to be missed
Ballagh was well beaten off but he's a chaser in the making and lost little in defeat.

I was convinced the market was too lop-sided in the novices handicap chase with all the money coming for debutant Wuff and Leicester winner Algernon Pazham.

Wuff confirmed my impression of him last year that he would require a good test at three miles on soft ground, while the latter's improved form has also come when faced with a stamina test.

With neither having their optimum conditions not only did I want to get against them, I rather liked the prospects of Runswick Royal and Oscar Fortune at the prices.

The former has been crying out for this trip and having been ridden for speed again by Hughes I wonder now whether he could do with even further to travel as he seems to have just the one run. Anyway he was huge price on what he'd already achieved while Oscar Fortune rather took the eye in the paddock and was down in trip in first time blinkers - a combo I don't mind at all.

I thought Dougie rode a sensible race from the front and although far from a natural at his fences Oscar Fortune won like the well-handicapped horse I felt he was, while the market leaders ran pretty much as I had expected. For once, everything fell into place.

The hunter chase featured Teaforthree as hot favourite just a week on from his return at Bangor, and he carried an air of superiority in this company. That said, Pearlysteps looked very fit and alert for his own comeback and his victory wasn't a total surprise, neither was the run of Temple Grandin in second who also took the eye and will surely win his share in this sphere.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Kelso - A tall Tale

It was a genuine pleasure to back at the borders track for the first time in probably 15 years following a good trip up with one of the Timeform boys, a BHA handicapper and Ruk's Andrew Sheret. Some good banter to be had.

After an early start it was nice to address the racing with a pretty open mind having not followed the markets so closely in the morning - a habit that is probably not helping the punting.

We came into the opener with the view that Frederic should probably have been the favourite over Thorpe on the evidence of his impressive Catterick win, but just as on that debut he strikes as quite an odd looking horse, quite tall and gangly and a little close coupled.

Although he looked well I didn't really fancy him and the market drift, as at Catterick, was something of a giveaway. I still wanted to be against Thorpe despite his superior form, he's a touch on the slow side and this was liveliest ground he had encountered.

M Hammond has enjoyed a good season and his Endless Credit had gone with plenty of promise on his own Catterick debut and the market spoke in his favour. He's nice horse, really well put together, and a decent run looked assured.

Endless Credit did us a favour in the opener
Im Too Generous was one to note after his first run for Ms Menzies and his moment should be just around the corner, while Jack Steel wasn't put in the race once again and he needs further and plenty more time.

It had looked beforehand as though only two races were 'playable', the stayers handicap being one of them. It was a tricky puzzle to solve however, particularly as the most solid option Whats Up Woody had become a rather skinny price by show time.

The Last Samuri was favourite but was surprisingly small and that may check his progress somewhat, while Blue Kascade is a nicer looking sort with more scope but was up in grade and worth opposing at the odds.

Edmund is a nice big chaser who hasn't really gone on since last season but at double figure prices it was worth paying to find out if a step up in trip would help - it did not.

Ballyben did not look right in his coat while William Money didn't look much beforehand, but all credit to connections for landing this decent prize from an uncompromising position. What's Up Woody had the race at his mercy but it's a long time since he has won now and probably isn't one to have much faith in.

The Morebattle Hurdle looked a match despite the market showing good support for Tanerko Emery and Meadowcroft Boy, both of whom had plenty on in this company. The former is a strong sort who looked fit but the latter wasn't that appealing and had tons to find on the book with favourite Hawk High.

The Cheltenham winner was a worthy jolly but the progressive charms of Glingerburn were hard to ignore and he's come on for each run back from injury. Hes a lovely horse with a bit of scope while not necessarily being an obvious chaser, and his two Doncaster wins clearly hadn't got to the bottom of him.

Hawk High looked fine although he doesn't have a great deal of presence and I thought the market principals should have been closer together - thus a bit on Glingerburn had to be the call.

It couldn't be argued that Glingerburn got the better ride but he probably would have proven good enough on a more level playing field anyway and no doubt connections may now be tempted into a festival tilt of their own.

You'll be able to read far more about the Gold Cup prospects of Holywell elsewhere, so it's not worth wasting column inches on his facile win here. My odyssey with the horse last season was well documented here and he goes to the festival again with bright prospects, particularly if McCoy can get clearance for the ride.
Lovely prospect Warriors Tale
We slightly messed up the competitive-looking stayers hurdle as Warriors Tale looked to have been let in very lightly for his first handicap following an eye-catching victory at Ayr. He looked like a cracking bet especially as the price held up in the face of support for Bowen/McCoy's Flying Eagle.

Now I wouldn't know much about form in the south but on looks the long distance raider was streets ahead of this lot, not just in terms of quality but also well-being. The money for him wasn't surprising and I decided to split stakes between the two with little else really of note to take from the prelims.

I've had worse bets but it was a tad galling to see the Richards horse saunter clear on the run-in like the promising horse he is. Big and tall, every inch a chaser, this was impressive stuff considering he has clearly taken time to find his feet. The handicapper will not take kindly to being laughed at in such a manner but hopefully connections will keep it low key before a chasing campaign next term.

That was pretty much it for the day with a hunter chase to end proceedings. Odds on shot Sir Du Bearn looked extremely hard fit and on the lean side and looked a short price against several that looked really well, not least runner-up Railway Dillon. The favourite's demise ended the day on poor note for the Bowen family, whose ride home would have been distinctly longer than our own.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Catterick - Lap of honour begins

There was a genuine tingle of excitement as I headed north to the Bridge on a gorgeous spring-like afternoon that made the chilling temperatures of last week feel a distant memory.

Not only was there an appearance by AP McCoy, whose lap of honour is truly underway, but some really competitive racing for once and really no excuse not to get stuck in.

I had a few big opinions which actually came to nothing and it took a 'hail mary' in the first of two bumpers on the card to get me even close to drawing level on the day.

After Lough Derg Walk duly defied long odds in the opener we were straight into action with a super little hurdle race at which I came at completely the wrong angle.

I had priced the front four up as thus; Ballyvoque 3/1 Brave Spartacus 7/2, Hartside & Benzanno both 11/2. The latter pair were massively overpriced early doors and with McCain's horses looking rather well handicapped I moved in for the latter.

However, trackside this looked a far more competitive race than it had first appeared and little Benzanno made little appeal on looks just as it started to drift like the proverbial. Brave Spartacus was reportedly unfit after his enforced absence last time and it clearly takes this stocky sort a run or two to reach proper fitness.

Clearly there would be a battle for the lead but Reveley was able to sit tight on his Dad's perennial front runner and having looked over-priced early on, the right money duly came on the show.

There was an avalanche for Hartside and it wasn't difficult to see why. He's a very hardy so-and-so and looked really fit and well here after showing a welcome return to form on Friday. He was sure to be finishing well and to be fair he was unfortunate to bump into such a strong two-miler as Brave Spartacus.

Mad For Road also came in for oodles of support on the back of very little form, especially considering he looks a very tricky customer and they left the headgear off this time.

He's tall and scopey and looked quite fizzy, carrying his head high at the walk. You couldn't back him at any price in this company but there you are. He ran perfectly well but remains one to oppose.

McCoy returns to prolonged applause
I had been all over Jac The Legend at Newcastle last time out but he ran no sort of race really and was a bitter disappointment. He clearly has ability I thought but looked a bit dodgy the last twice and was opposable on that basis on his first try over fences. Sure enough the cash arrived in spades and he jumped like an old hand.

Not only that, he showed great tenacity to hold off the challenge of the much improved Itstimeforapint. Ms Russell's horse has progressed at a rate of knots physically since I saw him in November, and now looks quite a specimen. There's no reason why he can't defy an even higher mark back on soft ground - he's a dour stayer.

Cyrien Star looked in good shape for this first attempt over fences and he jumped perfectly safely. He's back to a winning mark and with softer ground in his favour he should be able to win a couple before the winter is out.

Fourth home Herecomestrouble is a big chasing type but doesn't jump great and doesn't stay 3m. He'll pop up one day as will Gonow, who didn't jump with much zest before crashing out three from the end when well there - he looks on a decent enough mark, but the Hammond horses seem to have done their winning for the season.

I was all over Ivan Boru after his two sighters at Donny and he looks a very well handicapped tool over fences. However, his rather shocking exit at halfway is sure to set him back and he seems a fragile soul in any case - watching brief now advised.

Cape York did not look on good terms with himself and the trainer's horses are now firmly in the doldrums. He's a nice sort mind you and one to bear in mind when Jefferson turns the corner.

McCoy made his first appearance of the day on the warm favourite Dewala in the next and while I only bet under 5/2 in extreme circumstances this looked a very solid jolly around the 7/4 mark.

With the champ riding a horse almost guaranteed an easy lead I was surprised it wasn't heavily supported after winning a decent mares race at Donny.

It was a case of finding some each-way value and Bogside jumped out a mile, belying his years in the prelims looking fit and strong. He looked sure to run his race and it came as no surprise to see him chase home the easy winner, with McCoy applauded all the way from the last by a lachrymose crowd.

The race was on for the minors but I needed strong binoculars to find my big each-way punt Allbarnone who found it all happening far too fast round here. Hindsight is a wonderful thing etc etc but this stoutly bred sort needs three miles now and although he doesn't appear to be progressing I'll be giving him another chance, ideally in a 0-110 over 3m at Wetherby. He's a nice sort.

I didn't get involved in the stayers chase as I went into it thinking McCoy would double up on Red Devil Lads, but he stands very tall and looked like a quirky sort beforehand. I knew he'd come there cruising but was worried about the finishing effort and sure enough it didn't look good at all.

Saint Are looked a class above physically and although it wasn't pretty stuff out there he did what he had to do, and after pitching with the best deserved this easier assignment. Nothing much else appealed although Pinerolo looked well again but surely they must put the blinkers on him next time.

The legend that is Black Jack Rover
I was in the hole approaching the two bumpers and needed a minor miracle. Nothing really jumped out in a very weak division one but after lengthy deliberations came down on the side of McCain's Black Jack Rover, who looked the least-worst of the bunch.

Quite well-made if on the small side, he clearly got stuck in the mud a while back and I hoped the ground would be the key this time. They made Episode and Sand Blast joint favourites but the former had run to 74 on debut while the latter is enormous and very backward, with a pronounced knee action to boot.

I couldn't really have either of them so with nothing else worthy of a mention I stepped in rather gingerly, and was glad I did.

The second division was a different matter entirely with blue blood Southern Strife up against the form horse Shotofwine. Physically the latter was much preferred - a nice stamp of a national hunt horse - versus the obviously flat bred and rather small former.

It was the Ferguson horse who had much more toe in the end, with McCain's looking a dour stayer. Harry Hussar is a nice big type who should do better in time while Exclusive Tara was short in the betting considering it was not fit. Dibble Bridge is a fair sort who is unfurnished at present but will win races.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Newcastle - Back in the fray

It was good to be out and about again after a quiet week and it felt positively balmy on Tyneside without the usual howling gale for once.

The opener looked trappy but in spite of a typical non-runner to bring the number to 15 there were a couple of interest against a very opposable favourite in Amore Mio.

Russell's horse has a very poor win ratio and was grossly flattered by his win last time, which layers and punters seemed quite happy to focus on. Notonebuttwo has been sensibly campaigned and looked a big price to continue his winning run, while the other of interest was Purple Harry despite the very poor pilot.

Things didn't really pan out as expected though despite the early capitulation of the jolly, while the other well-backed horse Whichwaytobougie finished weakly again and for me is just a weak horse who will come into his own given more time.

Fair play to the eventual winner Newyearsresolution, who is actually not a bad looking sort considering his rating and does have snippets of form for the very able S Waugh.

He was away and gone by the time Purple Harry got his second wind under Ms Drake, after the pair lost a good pitch midway through the contest. Fences will see this likeable grey in better light while an extra couple of furlongs won't go amiss.

Present Lodger jumped well again for P Buchanan

The handicap chase over 2m 4f saw the Buchanan ridden Present Lodger head the market and at an early 5/2 was probably the right bet to supplement his Ayr gains. This was another assured round of jumping and this fairly light-framed horse will have no problems with better ground. He could be a real improver this spring and shouldn't be too harshly treated after this win.

Samson Collonges had come down to a winnable mark and this inconsistent sort was the only one to threaten the winner before finding only one pace in the straight. He looked really well but isn't straight forward and this was the kind of race to bet him, when he's a largely unconsidered rag.

Marlee Mourinho ran another sound race but travels so well you'd think he'd be better on decent ground, while Dingo Bay put in a second moody run in four starts and he could be one to avoid now as these were his conditions.  The rest could not be considered at any price.

The NH maiden hurdle saw a one-horse book around Doctor Phoenix and he duly won as he liked in by far the best relative time of the day, but there were several in behind worthy of a mention.

Runner-up Make It Happen is rather weak in front and it will be interesting to see how he grows because he clearly has some ability, while Monbeg River ran another solid race for one so light-framed. Both will be of interest with another summer behind them.

Redkalani was delicately handled once more by Reveley and this effort should not go unnoticed - the seven-year-old can improve fitness-wise and he'll stay three miles without doubt.

Bobs Lord Tara was another who caught the eye beforehand, having quite a bit of presence, however Luccumbe Down is very much on the leggy/unfurnished side and it was predictable that he struggled on ground softer than previously encountered. He was probably well sold rather than well bought but he'll be okay in time - he's just turned five.

The staying chase should have got the juices flowing but I couldn't make head nor tail of it in the end. I had a tickle on Sharney Sike at Ayr last time but he backed out as if amiss there and he drifted quite badly today.

Sharney Sike: Difficult to back after Ayr flop
However having poached a soft lead he found a lovely rhythm and was never challenged. He's inconsistent and is probably one to make the market next time as this fell into his lap.

Well-backed favourite Beauboreen has been well discussed on this blog but after lodging a small bet at 9/2 early doors I certainly wasn't going to double down at much shorter odds after his two latest efforts that lacked any kind of finishing effort.

It was the same thing again today and his jumping just isn't up to the test while he doesn't seem to travel as well as he did over timber. Perhaps a return to the smaller obstacles will spark a revival.

The others looked fine - The Orange Rogue a big chasing type who surely has a race in him albeit at a modest level, while Chavoy ran another solid race without ever looking likely to win again.

Jennys Melody looked very enthusiastic prior to her effectual match with Whatdoesthefoxsay, so much so that her early exuberance must have worried her supporters. Nevertheless she galloped to the line as McCain's filly stopped at the top of the straight. She looks quite small and better ground is sure to suit.

The 2m handicap hurdle looked double tricky and the weight of money for Sam Lord added an extra angle - the veteran had shown nothing all season but was down to a very winnable mark and to be fair looked fitter than he'd been for a long time.

He stopped as if shot at the end of the back straight before running on again late, finishing just out of the money for those on at long odds. Politbureau has been knocking at the door of late but that's what he does and I thought he was just a reluctant type.

But he pressed home his advantage here and fair play to the Hammond team who continue in good heart. Sparkling Hand didn't look much beforehand but ran a cracker in second and trainer P Atkinson seems to know his job  - to the best of my knowledge his only other horse was Croco Bay and he did a great job with him.

Deny was favourite after winning at Catterick but has never been very consistent and again the layers were happy to take him on. He wasn't on his toes like he was at the Bridge and he's not really one to be backing anytime soon.

The final horse to take from the day was Alizee De Janeiro from the Russell yard. This youngster was the best looking of the bunch albeit rather backward at this stage. I thought she shaped with a deal of promise before weakening right out and while this will look poor form she could come into her own at the likes of Perth later in the season.