Always good to start a new year at the Bridge and a healthy but managable crowd plus some decent action made for an enjoyable day. The ground was much harder work than earlier in the week after further rain in the area.
As is so often the case here in novices races you can sort the wheat from the chaff pretty easily in the paddock and it was very hard to look beyond the first three in the betting for the purposes of the opening race.
Fort Smith is a really nice looking horse and was well backed to get off the mark over timber, but they could have done with going a bit faster for him as he pulled a fair bit throughout. On decent ground over fences I'll be taking a second look.
There wasn't much to choose between Lady Yeats and Nam Hai physically but you've got to hand it to the winner whose form was a fair bit better than her odds might have suggested. An each-way bet was never likely to do any harm.
Of the others, Lough Salt is a nice big horse who should have a future while Pretty Miss Mahler is a half sister to Monbeg River and shaped as if she has a fair measure of ability before tipping up at the last. I wouldn't give up on Ten Trees, who isn't very big but had some decent bumper form and could prove well handicapped by the time we get some spring ground.
Hitman Hearns was the second winner on the day to be handed an uncontested lead in race two and this rather fetching Irish point winner was well found in the market during the morning. He's a horse I like.
The seven-year-old had been noted earlier in the season being given a suspiciously aggressive ride at Hexham and after setting more sensible fractions in much different conditions was never looking like being caught. It completed a quick-fire double for trainer K Dalgleish (the well-backed Away For Slates had just won at Musselburgh) and one suspects they were all on.
His jumping was outstanding and they could clearly switch to larger obstacles at any time. I'd expect him to more than pay his way this winter now the cat's out the bag.
Discoverie chased him home and Ken Slack's horse once again suggested he is well ahead of his mark. He'll go up for this but I really do think he's an improved horse and they have loads of options, including stepping up in trip and reverting to fences.
Hear The Chimes looked really well and probably continues in good form - he'll certainly relish a stiffer test, while Captain Redbeard proved himself poorly handicapped at present and in need of a break before being stepped up in trip. The Coltherd stable is in no form.
Definitely Red looked pretty slow in apparently ideal conditions when winning the novices chase at long odds, and if he jumps like that again he'll be on the deck before too long. It's hard to know what Looking Well achieved in chasing him home.
Delusionofgrandeur has proved a hard horse to pass already this season and this workmanlike horse ground out an impressive victory in a decent staying novice hurdle to land quite a gamble, reversing form with Jonniesofa from Newcastle.
Handsome is as handsome does as they say and he's another that looks sure to pay his way for the Smiths over the coming years. Wild West Wind is a really nice looking horse who will probably want fences before too long, while I got the impression this tacky ground was not to this classy horse's liking.
It was another for the front runners though and Cloudy Joker made it four on the day when making every yard over 2m3f in the handicap chase. Given a helping hand by the assessor, he looked sure to go close if anywhere near his old form and I liked he and Uno Valoroso against the other pair in the betting - Roxyfet, who still jumps low at times and wasn't sure to stay, and Rear Admiral who doesn't always put it in.
I was very disappointed with the tactics employed aboard the runner-up. I have discussed with several people that this horse has needed a trip for some time and with his accurate jumping should have had plenty of use made of him.
Therefore it was gutting to see them hand the grey an easy lead and allow themselves to get outpaced before running on and getting beat by under two lengths. This was a winner that got away and the Walford yard only have themselves to blame. At least they now know he stays so there's always next time!
As we know the Slack yard is in very decent form and another recent addition to the kennel Cumbrian Farmer landed the finale at rewarding odds. The horse had shown snippets of form on good ground and I had been waiting for this one to run in the right race on decent terrain.
Sadly for this column he's gone and done the business in first time blinkers and it's another feather in the cap for 'young' Slack. Like his winner here earlier in the week Runswick Relax this horse had reached a basement mark and it goes to show that every horse has one he can win off.
Triumph Davis is tiny but ran much better up markedly in trip and deserves credit as one of very few horses on the day to be involved after coming from off the pace. She's another who I thought would want much better going and she may yet recapture some of her better form.