Back across the A66 for another decent early-season card, although it didn't look an easy punting day and so it proved. The ground had turned soft after recent rain but it wasn't 'winter' soft and three horses who had ground concerns hanging over them all sluiced up.
The Skeltons came up with four decent chances on paper but only went away with the winner of the opener in the unfortunately named Aintree My Dream.
I wasn't that taken by the impressive bumper winner until the rug came off, to reveal a horse of some substance and quality. He was backed as though defeat was out of the question and so it proved.
Broad Spectrum took the eye of many as a future long distance chaser, while Late Romantic looked a bit light framed for me but ran another solid race to suggest he can be winning before long. Catching Shadows was keen and on edge for his belated return.
I took a strong view in the next handicap chase and came up empty. Tikkandemickey had endured a dire season and as a consequence had been dropped to a very handy mark - yet that was his only redeeming feature. 0/7 at the track and beaten miles on most occasions, I couldn't have the Hexham specialist even though he was fit, albeit on his toes and very warm (this is not unusual).
We had to take on Wilton Milan, having gone sharply downhill in the past year and looking increasingly one-paced. With Little Glenshee looking huge beforehand it left Spanish Fleet, having his first start for G Bewley, and Revocation.
Spanish Fleet is a burly horse but looked to have had plenty of work put into him, and the market agreed with that sentiment. Off a winnable mark he had to go well although I was that keen on his demeanour in the prelims and although he was reported to have 'taken a blow' mid-race, I suspect the reapplication of cheekpieces will be needed if I'm to go chasing losses.
The other bet had to be Revocation. He missed last season through injury after I stuck him in my horses to follow list. But I was quite surprised to see him looking very fit for this comeback over a trip that looked short of his optimum.
With a positive ride he was likely to be one to beat so it was surprising to see G Cockburn holding onto his head for much of the contest, allowing Tikkendemickey to sweep ahead three out.
Perhaps he took a blow as well, as he was surely entitled to do. But if he's jumped the last ok and not got unbalanced in the final 100 yards he would surely have won. It was a bitterly disappointing outcome.
A word should be thrown out for Harleys Max, who ran well from out the weights and his turn will come on a flatter track.
We moved wearily on to a hideous handicap hurdle that had zero appeal from a betting standpoint. Layers should have been all over Bonzo Bing, who looked knowhere near fit yet was trading at 8/1 when he was at least a 25/1 poke.
Having given up on Theatre Act after a lamentable display at Kelso last month it was a tad galling to see the pint-sized filly finally deliver on the promise of several decent efforts in first time headgear, although I've already moved on from her.
Snowed In looked in great heart but was held up well out his ground for no apparent reason, while Landmarque and Jack Steel looked fit enough to run their races.
The staying handicap was more competitive than I had originally thought, on account that they all looked pretty straight despite several coming off lay-offs...Morney Wing looked great, Harry The Viking fit, Basford Ben ditto.
Sadly, the early 13/2 snaffled on Nakadam was money poorly spent, although I did manage to unravel some of it after the beast turned up looking awful in the paddock. I'd never seen the animal before but he lacked definition behind the saddle and was wrong in his coat, looking a bit miserable to boot.
Unsurprisingly, he drifted back out on the show as money came for Ballyben, who looked terrific in his coat. He's really thick set so he must have needed that run at Hexham, and I've always quite liked him.
However, he didn't really appeal on track and ground but the yard can do no wrong right now and Hughes let them come back to him after the leaders went hard at it from a mile out. Voyage A New York looked dry in his coat and this is not his time of year.
Oldgrangewood once again took the eye in the handicap hurdle over 2m1f but he seemed to lack the toe of a couple of rivals and the match fit Traditional Dancer was an impressive winner for the Jardine/Shortall combo. The horse looked in terrific shape beforehand and with Irish raider Pashtunwali surprisingly coming in for support, backers of the winner got plenty of bang for their buck.
The three-runner novice chase was not a betting medium as Cloudy Dream was unopposable on chase debut, despite the trainer having left something to work on fitness-wise. He's got loads of speed for one who will stay further and will surely be placed to win races.
Chidswell is frail but looked a real chaser and as straight as you could wish. I thought the pair jumped great from the top of the hill and if he comes out of this ok the Richards horse must win races over fences. Road To Gold was another from the N Alexander barn to look and race as if the run would do him good.
We clawed much of the losses back in the closing bumper when the paddock told us Dubai Angel would not be beaten on this fourth and final outing on the flat.
He had tightened up significantly since Southwell over a fortnight ago and with him running to pretty decent figures in all previous runs, and with the promise of more to come, it would take a very decent one to beat him.
Skelton's Al Shahir was well-backed all day but this was yet another case of early money proving very misleading. The beast might be ok in time but looked backward and as if he hadn't been in training that long. The year-older Jefferson animal simply had more strength for the final climb and the market got it right in the end.