Just a short trip on Saturday for kind of an okay card if it was midweek, but on a busy day much of the action went under the radar, including the chase debut of a former World Hurdle winner.
The opening novice wasn't much of a contest as the Henderson-trained Baden had much the better form and couldn't seriously be opposed. The grey struggled for some reason though, and while Kafella and Quietly probably stepped up on previous outings, the jolly should have won easier than he did.
I took a very strong opinion in the four-runner novice chase and that was to take on the aforementioned top staying hurdler Cole Harden, who has never appealed as one to reach the same heights over fences.
He's not the biggest, and it's never set in stone that good jumpers of hurdles make good chasers. There was also the trip of just 2m 3f which is way short of his best, and the shorter in the betting he got the bigger the lay he was.
It was clear that in Its'Afreebee we had the best possible opponent to serve it up to the former champ - a strong chase type who had already proven to be a sound jumper, with stamina in the bank but enough basic speed to trouble the jolly.
Giving the favourite 7lb looked a tall order, but on these occasions weight can be irrelevant when you're losing lengths at every fence. Over 18 fences I reckon Cole Harden probably lost around 20 lengths on the winner, if not more.
Connections sounded like they are trying to to kid themselves into thinking he jumped okay. I think the horse could have been fitter, and clearly an extra half mile or so will help. But away from the smaller tracks he'll have to be worth taking on, especially if the ground is worse than it was here.
Minella Charmer was a live runner in this and looked on good terms with himself after being absent since January. Unfortunately he carried that freshness into the race and was probably going to flatten out when he came down three from home.
However, it was a softish fall and although he had been going a bit left he ought to do alright over fences.
Lough Salt was rightly all the rage to repeat his win here three weeks ago but having been reminded at Sedgefield yesterday of the old maxim that 'there's no profit in the obvious' I was happy to sit the race out, with the only other one under consideration Brian Boranha having been backed into a short price.
I've mentioned here a couple of times that BB is a nice looking horse, but has looked a bit iffy off the bridle. He had shown more last time, if ducking left at the business end, and his finishing effort remained a concern.
He had every chance at the last against a couple that have also got their own ideas about the game in Rocklim and Presence Felt. I've no idea why Rocklim didn't go through with his effort, while Brian Boranha seemed to curl up on the run-in.
Presence Felt has only been with J Dixon for a few weeks but the move from Jonjo's has clearly done him good - that said this is not form I'd be that keen on. Lough Salt didn't pick up for whatever reason, he'd looked value for a 10lb hike but maybe that was a tad harsh, or he might want a longer break between runs.
Speaking of breaks between runs, the Smiths can be hard on their horses and this was a third run the space of a month for I Just Know, who is a lovely chaser he really is. But he had a tough race at Market Rasen 16 days previously, and that came less than a fortnight after his chase debut at Hexham.
He loves his jumping but does have a touch of the slows and I thought the front-running market leader might be vulnerable to a potential improver and so it proved as Two Smokin Barrels didn't really have to hit top gear to make a winning debut over fences.
She's not over-big but has loads of scope and she duly made these quite big fences look small, jumping very neatly and efficiently. She was pretty straight and the Scudamore yard is in good form, but this was as good a performance as you would want to see first time up and I can see her doing really well this term - she's rising eight so they'll want to crack on...she might even be a Midlands National-type horse.
We make loads of mistakes and can't get everything right, but at one point the market had the winner only half a point shorter than Mister Don. The Dobbin horse could not possibly win this race - the form of his win last week was as dire as you could imagine, and he was 5lb higher here in a better race. If that didn't point us towards one of the market leaders we're doing something wrong.
The game is quick to bring us back down to earth and while the next looked a straight match between the consistent duo Boite and Sakhee's City (cheekpieces first time) an each-way play on the latter looked as safe as the Bank Of England.
I suppose the latter institution hasn't looked on quite such solid foundations of late but hopefully the early demise of the Kirby inmate isn't a portend for something more serious.
With the boy Dixon making an heroic bid for the double on Circus Star (why the tearaway tactics?) it became a messy affair but I was watching the exchange like a hawk for some value and despite spotting the leaders 10l on the turn Boite never traded above 3 at any stage. There may have been some quality racing on elsewhere but the pros never miss a beat. Sheehan knew what he was doing on the jolly and so did they.
I didn't think El Beau looked very good here and he may be feeling the effects of a long summer on the level - he'd be worth taking on again if they keep him going.
Indian Voyage is popular with northern punters but he's costing them a small fortune this term and I didn't think he deserved to be the same price as the likeable Apterix, who looked in really good order to back up his Sedgefield win.
He's not a natural chaser and these fences are as big as he'd manage, but he really impressed at Sedge and a 7lb hike was fair as he's lazy in front and was worth much more than the official 'won by'.
With Indian Voyage having to make his own gallop it was always going to be set up for the Ellison beast. A mistake at the last probably helped the winner as he loves having one to aim at - Cook knows him well and even the strongest jock in the north didn't resort to the whip to get him home by under a length.
With the Hammond yard on the turn I thought Rathlin might go well as he looked in great order, but he's a bit in and out and probably wants softer and further. Witness hasn't come to himself yet physically and they'll want to get his mark down, but he'll win races round the gaffs. Nautical Twilight looked fit enough to me, but she's really high in the weights.
The junior fillies bumper wasn't much of a betting race - the pair from Warwick looked the best and while Passing Call didn't back up her run, Shearling certainly did and took the penalty in her stride for the in-form Ellison.
Micky's Reine Des Miracles looked a nice type and ran accordingly, but Sweeping Beauty doesn't have a great deal of size and Potters Sapphire was carrying plenty of condition yet surprisingly came in for a bit of support.