Having got just about everything upside down for the last fortnight I thought I'd tread a bit carefully back on 'home' soil. Any punter who's been through that scenario will be well aware of what happens next.
I managed to take a closer look at the two opening novice hurdles and by show time I was convinced Craggaknock was going to go very close with the market set up by, you guessed it, a J Ewart 7/4 shot!
Lycidas looked like most other Ewart runners - very fit, very lean, on his toes, a bit awkward. Robbing The Prey caught everyone's eye last time and down in trip was very popular with that Hughes bloke doing the steering.
However Craggaknock was the best horse in the race and was a very solid performer on the flat, with plenty of soft ground form. If he could jump, he would win. As it happened, he was sticky early doors but got better under a cool ride from J Greenall. I like this horse a hell of a lot. The Walford yard is in terrific form. He can defy a penalty.
A few of these had a quiet day out, checking out the A1 scenery. Beeno may have finished closer than ideal, but there's no doubting he's a fractious type. This wasn't the first time he caught the eye, though. Ulva Ferry will need some time - he's a big staying chaser.
Div II saw the progressive mare Kalaniti go off favourite and rightly so, albeit with doubts about the ground. This may have been the weaker of the two races, but I like this horse a lot and her greenness will hopefully mean the assessor will err towards lenient. Don't forget she carried a penalty here.
Smart Boy has plenty of filling out to do and isn't one to be interested in for now, but Pikarnia (Wade > Menzies) was being closely monitored and he did well to stay on after a near-race ending blunder at halfway. He'll improve for the outing.
Having decided to shut up shop having regained some poise in the betting ring, everything proceeded to pan out how I thought it might. Zeroshadesofgrey has not improved one bit in 18 months and has frankly been disappointing. He's very one-dimensional but I didn't oppose him as it looked like he'd have an easy time of it again on the front end.
That he did, but the weight concession to ace mare Actinpieces proved too much. I've waxed lyrical about the big grey before but she's looked clumsy over fences and was very flat last time out. At 3/1 I had to pass her over, despite Pithivier looking in need of the outing and Flashjack conspicuously weak in the market despite looking revved up for it. His jumping was mediocre.
Actinpieces was reported after the event to have been in season last time out. This is just the kind of information we could have done with BEFORE the race. Maybe it was hidden in the pages of the RP. I don't buy it.
The juvenile hurdlers don't do much for me but it was surprising to see American bred Forth Bridge go so close on this ground. He nearly did for the well-backed Coeur De Lion, who showed a likeable attitude to get up close home. I thought Indirocco had enough about him, and he may just have needed the run.
With three of the eight in the handicap chase saddled by the frigid Hammond kennel, we could hardly lose, it seemed. Somehow we did though, after passing up the opportunity to back Aye Well at 13/2 early doors despite the beast being dropped a massive 4lb for an ok reappearance run.
I actually backed the winner of that Kelso race, a useful performer named Imjoeking. I remember it well because I've not backed many winners of late. My point is, that was a very good race. The second, Aye Well's stable mate Quick Decission came out and won next time. The third, Domtaline, is a very solid yardstick, and Oliver's Gold is a winner waiting to happen.
I've backed Aye Well a couple of times before and he ran unaccountably badly. That sort of thing sticks with you - a punter's failing. By the time he was 3/1 the value had gone - in any case the deeply attractive Doctor Phoenix had caught my attention and he looked ready to go.
However, the good Doctor looked rusty early doors and this may have told at the business end. The concession of 23lb proved to much in the final analysis, but cash lost on the Doc is merely lent.
Micky's horses are starting to come to the boil and Witness ran on to very good effect back in fourth, while Roxyfet was outclassed here but his mark should start coming down and he looks a better physical specimen this term. Back To Bracka is a good animal and if I had more money than sense I'd make an offer to the owners.
The times I've taken on horses running under a penalty (or like Royal Plaza, without) are too numerous to recount. But the fact remains they win every time, as they should, so I stopped doing it. However, I thought the Warwick race fell apart last week, and Royal Plaza has often been a bridle horse. This was a stronger race, and King never likes to run them back too soon. That was the case for the prosecution. It made perfect sense.
A horse that has been in my tracker for over a year is Cooking Fat. He looked a real nice type in the making but appeared to have blown his mark last season before having some time off. He came back to run a mighty race a fortnight ago, and was jacked up 5lb for his pains. I thought he had a hard race, and that this could come too soon. This is what happens when you over-analyse things.
He's a nice f*$!ing horse alright. He absolutely shit up after the odds-on jolly got rid of his rider. Still, no damage done! Eastview Boy has a race in him, I think I've mentioned that before. Like Hammond, the Kirby hurdlers are not far off now.
The mares bumper looked a decent contest but Petticoat Tails could be better than that. The strong looking Goodgirl Teresa had the PTP experience and went off strong, and the jolly looked in trouble turning in.
But with the rest beaten off, the Greatrex filly kicked in the turbo and the race was over. She looked to have a bit of class about her beforehand and she can take high rank - I'm sure they'll be looking at Aintree in April with this daughter of Presenting, who could look even better on good ground.