A mixture of sunshine and showers at the Northumberland venue but a nice card and great fun had by all. After a quiet sort of month it was good to get a couple of winners on the board at decent prices.
From a handicapping perspective it looked as though Whats Up Woody and Gibbstown only had to turn up to win their respective races - if only it were that easy.
'Woody' was having his first outing in a Class 5 event and was down in trip but the suspicion was that all was not lost off a perch of 95. With the ground changing almost daily one can worry oneself to death with thoughts of 'ground too soft, ground not soft enough' at this time of year.
Soft going might have been a concern for Woody but this looked mostly good to soft and under a positive ride he won pretty much as he liked, and it was good to see him really stick his head down coming out of the dip.
Having priced him up at no bigger than 4/1 it was satisfying to pocket a win at bigger odds. In a race where few could seriously have been fancied I thought Westend Theatre might be worth a small saver as I've been watching his progress for some time.
He's a proper chaser and the way he came home suggests he could do with further, although he'll need to fence more cleanly if he's to pick up a race this spring.
Under The Red Sky made the market but he really is moderate. That said this turned into a bit of a speed test which wouldn't have suited. Harleys Max and Proud Gamble have shown their form at Musselburgh this term and you couldn't get a more different track to this.
The meeting kicked off with a novice hurdle in which Veinard looked a short price based on his recent efforts in handicaps where he has looked a reluctant hero.
The favourite Kid Valentine was arguably on the short side given his absence, but one senses trainer M Smith rather likes his charge and he'll like him even more now that's he's snapped the handler's losing streak.
Storm Forecast represented some value here but D Cook is not easy to pass on a strong staying, sound jumping type. I thought Jefferson's horse hurdled very nicely though and may do better back on a more conventional track.
I've been rather disparaging towards Gully's Edge here in the past but fully expected him to blossom with another summer behind him.
He was more grown up here than in the past and is clearly going the right way, for all that his novice hurdle fell apart. Network Rouge had to give up a double penalty that proved well beyond him despite looking fit from a break, while Billy Billy is only small and probably 'bounced' after a hard race at Ayr previously.
I had no views on a difficult handicap hurdle won by See Double You and kept my powder dry for the next in which Gibbstown was bidding to win for a second time in three years. He also won a race at the track in March last year and was a remarkable 24lb better off with Flaming Thistle, whom she beat that day.
Hexham clearly suits the mare down to the ground and she won as she pleased despite blundering badly at one of the fences going away from the 'stands'. Like Woody's race the rest had to play second fiddle if she turned up in any sort of form and Flaming Thistle ran his race in second place at an each-way price.
Again, the market was made by an overbet favourite in The Bishop, who had won a poor race here last time and was a bit flat here.
Imperial Eloquence was pretty forward for his debut in the bumper but it wasn't easy to make a confident call. I liked the second, Isle Of Ewe, a nice strong mare who was probably shipped up north to take in this stamina test. Even this proved too short for her but she should be up to winning one of these.
The Jefferson horse was a surprise favourite. Tiger Mountain looked a backward sort and didn't move great to post. He was quite easy to take on, while money for Dr West went in that very direction. I'm not mad keen on it physically yet it was probably quite disappointing the way he faded out of it.
Baracalu is a nice horse to watch, quite strong already but with with plenty of filling out to do, and I believe it was a tack problem as much as wayward tendencies for him to exit the race at halfway.