Thursday, 14 September 2017

Hexham hints

The 5.40 at Hexham this evening is not a race to be getting too excited about but it's worth having a run through this four-runner handicap chase over 3m because they each have questions to answer.

Tickenwolf was the early favourite, presumably on his course form which reads 1214, however he has no worthwhile form on soft ground and while I don't think stamina will be the issue, if the ground rides heavy I don't believe he'll run his race.

Man With Van has regressed and his last win came here more than three years ago in a 2m4f novice chase. A repeat of that would win this, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.

They've tried all sorts of headgear combinations to little effect, and rising 12 it's probably a bit late to be reaching for a hood.

He looks to have loads of stamina, which at least ticks one box, but he may have attitude problems now and his last worthwhile piece of form over fences came in the first month of 2016.

He finished nearly 10 lengths behind Presented that day, and is now worse off at the weights. That is largely because Presented has regressed quite sharply this year, showing increasing amounts of attitude along the way.

He's undeniably well handicapped now, and is just the type to stage a revival in as weak a race as this, especially if they opt to front run. So while he's not a horse I normally want on my side, I do prefer him to the other pair.

The fourth runner is Friendly Royal, on old friend of mine who I put up in my horses to follow a couple of seasons ago, when he won a couple of chases before going the wrong way.

Not every horse appreciates the hard yards at the Smith kennel and after a couple of quick races on heavy ground, this fellow appeared to have fallen out with the game big time. But, having been bought by Jonny England for just £800, it's possible there were more serious issues at hand.

Given a year off, he looked to have done very well physically when reappearing at Sedgefield a fortnight ago over a trip too short and ground too lively.

Whether this race comes too quick I don't know. He will have needed to tighten up measurably in two weeks and I'm not sure if that is possible. But on his old form he is well-handicapped and he won his first race here on this day.

It's impossible to form a strong opinion about this race with so many imponderables. If Friendly Royal isn't yet fit, and it's 50/50 he isn't, then he's not a player and I won't be getting involved. Should the market suggest otherwise, I'll be backing he and Presented, while of the other pair I'd be happy to lay Tickenwolf providing the going is genuinely very soft.

I won't be trackside for what is a desperate punting card, however two horses did catch my eye later on the card.

In the 6.15, Micky Hammond's Dakota Grey looked a very promising individual indeed when winning 18 months ago at Carlisle in the mud, after which the handicapper over-reacted. He clearly wasn't right last year when highly tried in two starts over fences, and still didn't look the same horse when reverting to timber.

However, that dismal campaign means he now looks thrown in off 110 and this big strong sort now wears a hood to temper his forceful nature. He was put in at 14/1 across the board for this very weak hurdle race, which was outrageous providing the horse is ready to roll.

The market support that I was waiting for has now materialised, but we'll have to see if that transfers to the all-important show time. If he is fit and back to form, I suspect he could marmalise this lot.

The closing 7.10 is probably not a race to get heavily involved in, but I was interested in a horse called The Conn, who showed much improved form upped to 3m last time out. Bred to stay, stamina is clearly his forte and they've come to the right place.

Connections have done very well with a similar slow burner in Native Optimist and I expect The Conn to build on his latest effort and go very close. The jockey is the main problem and if they had booked a professional he would have been worthy of a large bet.

That said, Miss Walton has shown small signs of improvement in the past 12 months so all may not be lost. I didn't like any of the market leaders at all with the exception of Secret Approach, whose trainer has landed a touch or two this summer. The market has spoken, and it may be worth listening to.

Friday, 1 September 2017


My first blog 'report' since April means it's been a longer summer break than ever, and I was looking forward to a quiet spin at the Co Durham track for 'Ladies Night'.

However, it turned out to anything but quiet thanks to the incessant babble from Thommo's mike, while the replacement of the 'big screen' with a somewhat smaller version, but in HD, meant watching was farcical as the commentary was a few seconds ahead.

No doubt the delay has been added at least in part to deter the 'face-timers' relaying the pictures back to their in-running trading pals, but it made for a poor on-track experience at a course where viewing using binoculars is almost pointless.

So once again I left wondering if I'll ever return, that view bolstered by the fact that I was lighter in the pocket than on arrival.

Sendiym had form of 11411 at the track in hurdles over 2m3f-2m5f and looked worth a small poke each-way despite reservations that his mark is still a shade high.

But he lost it at the start after getting left, and Hughes had to use up a load of energy just to get him in the firing line. Fourth was almost an inevitable outcome.

There was money for Irish Hawke off a very low mark, and his only piece of worthwhile form was when he thwarted a good bet on Our Three Sons last term - a horse now rated in the 120s.

McCain's horse finally came good again as the front three pulled clear, the sizeable Smith youngster Mathayus showing some ability from a workable mark, but this was low grade stuff.

The market got it wrong in the novice hurdle as Gibson Park failed to impress in the paddock, being rather big and cumbersome for a four-year-old, but his Fontwell form looked strong in this context and he ran right away from the favourite Man Look, who was again really novicey at his obstacles. The rest look really moderate.

Sue Smith's Perseid was the only northern trained runner in the five-strong handicap chase for novices and he and Pemba were expected to make this a test at the minimum trip.

However, it looked like Quinlan was happy just to get a clear round in on the diminutive Perseid and P Brennan was allowed a soft lead on Pemba.

The subsequent moderate gallop meant this turned into a bit of a dash and that didn't suit the favourite Capsy De Mee, who is a little unfurnished at this stage and appears to lack a turn of foot.

He was left for dead in the straight as Brennan kicked for home but Skelton was able to use Ashoka's flat speed to cut down the advantage and essentially outbattle the opposition.

While the winner has plenty of size, I'm not sure this took much winning and it remains to be seen if he can make a go of it over fences, while Pemba missed a big chance and remains one to oppose.

Stealing Mix had made mistakes in his previous novice chases and this tall, quite gangly individual came down in the back straight which is quite hard to do here. Back to the drawing board.

Almost Gemini, Cape Of Glory and Craig Star vied for favouritism in the following handicap hurdle which meant perennial front runner Danceintothelight went under the radar at 16/1, but came here fresh and well and was allowed an enormous lead.

With the market principals all essentially 'hold-up' types they were too hesitant to close down the advantage, Hughes having to do the hard work in the end on Cape Of Glory.

They never landed a blow, but he, in particular, looked a victim of circumstance and he should be capable of better when bearing in mind his useful flat form. He could be a real stayer as well, so keep him on side.

Much hope was pinned on the headgear for Craig Star but he appeared to have every chance back up in trip and he is another that I want to keep opposing, while Honkytonktennessee won't make it to Christmas at the Skelton yard. Almost Gemini wants further and/or softer now.

In the handicap chase, there had been money for Friendly Royal before racing but I had remarked that young Mrs England would be the trainer of the year if she had this soft-ground staying chaser ready to win after 18 months off.

Cheaply bought from the Smiths, the 'money' proved to be the work of guessers and he drifted like a barge when he arrived looking quite a bit above his racing weight. He'll be an interesting project and is in very good hands.

I figured Highbury High was a good favourite, albeit not a very backable one, more by default than the fact he's due to go up 6lb already. That he had to work to get the better of handicapper's friends Brother Scott and Muwalla means he's another I'll be looking to 'get' in the weeks ahead.

Oliver's Hill ran very badly while Coopers Friend traded short when looming up on the home turn but once again proved himself the piggiest of piglets, beaten 20 lengths.

The two closing events held little appeal, although P Kirby's Nemean Lion was interesting having apparently gained plenty of condition since arriving from J O'Brien. He looked a handful beforehand but gave a straight forward account in the race and battled back well to beat Bal De Rio, who ran in snatches and seemed to quit close home.

Shrubland had more about him than most in the finale but that wasn't saying an awful lot, however he made it three on the night the Skeltons, who will have enjoyed picking some low-hanging fruit.

I'd like to say I'm back in the game and although there's another meeting here next week I'll be giving that the old Spanish Archer as Couch used to say, so it looks like a month of video watching as we build up to some proper racing in October.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Worcester preview

The handicap chase over short of 3m at Worcester today goes off at 2.50, by which time we can expect the rain that has engulfed the UK to have got into the ground.

Playing a guessing game with the going at this track is essentially a lose-lose situation, but guess we must and if it's true that they are calling it 'drizzle' then I'm assuming ground on the soft side, but not soft.

The effect of watering all spring/summer at these venues makes it even trickier to work out how it will ride, some essentially good ground types will go on it, while those that want soft may find the wheels spinning.

That's enough of the assumptions relating to going; the opening race will hopefully give us some clues. It's a race in which each of the runners has questions to answer so let's take a look.

Super Scorpion; Well, the jury is no longer out regarding the Scorpion offspring (at least in these quarters) - they are definitely 'thinkers' shall we say. This one's career wasn't really going anywhere having been lightly raced but has proved a revelation with the hood on after a break. Up 20lb for two wins on the snaff, softer ground and stiffer opposition means he'll need to keep finding when the chips are down. A worthy in-form market leader, but opposable for win purposes.

Al Alfa; Goes on any, but simply looks in the grip of the handicapper and isn't improving. Likely to help force the pace.

Rebel Rebellion; Now 12 but has gone with loads of zest in hunters this spring without looking as good as he was. His mark reflects that though, and having won off 21lb higher two years ago he can play a part with the jockey riding well.

Fort Worth; One-paced and not easy to win with to say the least. Will need everything to fall right but his consistency means the handicapper has his number, although 10lb better off with SS for their run last time.

Wadswick Court; From the dangerous Bowen yard but he looks too high in the weights currently and more often than not blots his copybook with a major error or two. Likely to race prominently and could go well if everything falls right.

A Good Skin; On a downward spiral and I didn't think his effort over timber last time was up to much, off the bridle some way from home. Formerly a progressive sort, he hasn't won for a couple of years and his attitude is under suspicion. If they thought he was back to his old form they could have gone for the Summer Cup on Sunday off a low weight.

Tinker Time; 3/20 over fences but has struggled from higher marks this year, but is more than capable from this, his last winning perch. His last two runs have been disappointing, but he is 16lb better off with SS for a 20L beating last time. The introduction of cheekpieces are interesting and three of his four career wins have come with cut in the ground.

Tissue; 3 Super Scorpion, 5 Rebel Rebellion, 5 A Good Skin, 8 Al Alfa, 8 Tinker Time, 8 Wadswick Court, 9 Fort Worth. 101%.

Conclusion; This is tricky, and the market is more or less where I would expect it to be now at 12.30pm. Well done if you got double figures about Rebel Rebellion, who at 6/1 remains a fair proposition. Back-to-lay players will probably be on Super Scorpion and that is likely to mean he'll be solid at the top of the market. Backers of A Good Skin are taking a chance at current odds that the handicapper has been too lenient; he should be capable of going well from this mark but I'd prefer to look elsewhere. On a point of handicapping Tinker Time must go well, in the hope that the headgear revitalises him, and, unlike A Good Skin, we don't have to pay much to find out. On balance, I'll probably take he and Rebel Rebellion against the field. For layers, I'd be looking to take on Super Scorpion and A Good Skin once the flag falls.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Back up the truck for Heist

The good ship Norman has been sailing in calmer waters these past weeks following the conclusion of the jumps season as we used to know it.

That hasn't stopped us looking for some winners to keep things moving along and sitting on our hands has proved easier said than done, with plenty of summer jumps action to keep the fingers twitching.

Most horses retain their usual characteristics despite the onset of summer but the change in ground and tempo of racing can revitalise some moodier types, making things somewhat unpredictable.

I'll confess I don't really 'get' summer jumps from a punting perspective but there are some gems to be had and one of them is an Irish trained horse named Heist.

I've followed the seven-year-old since he fell over the line in front at Sedgefield back in September 2015 - a race I documented here - and always felt he would flourish when his stamina was tested.

He's made terrific, and yet quiet, progress since then, only gradually stepped up in trip by shrewd handler P Griffin. He has only tackled today's trip of 3m on four occasions, winning three of them, two over fences.

While he's 4/10 over fences, he would have won more if he'd been campaigned over further earlier in his career; moreover, he has already won from a mark of 125 in that sphere despite him not being a particularly good jumper of larger obstacles.

He's 3/10 over timber, but I don't think he's an inferior hurdler and from today's perch of 124 I suspect he's around 6lb well-in.

This good ground horse had been rested over the winter but came back at Hexham in April to run a blinder despite being noticeably weak in the market, his staying-on third there proving he now requires 3m.

He was then brought to Ffos Las a month ago, when I thought he ran out a cosy winner of a slowly run affair which wouldn't have suited him. It looked as though he was going to be swallowed up going to the last, but his stamina kicked in and away he went.

A 3lb rise is no problem and we are almost guaranteed to get a solid run from Heist, who has only really run badly on three of his 20 career starts. He's ultra consistent, improving and has a very willing attitude.

The money this morning has been for Gingili, another with a fantastic 6/13 strike rate. He's not easy to weigh up as he tends to run his race despite looking one to be very wary of under pressure. He might take a bit of knowing but has STD on for the time. However he's up another 5lb for winning last time which means he must prove himself from a career-high mark. I think they should be the other way round in the market so at around 3/1 Heist is a confident choice.

Of the others, Mighty Leader looks to have been quite harshly treated and is another racing from a career-high mark of 120, while Benenden is a horse I've followed closely for a long time and he's basically won a couple of races that fell apart, yet is 5lb above that last winning mark. I think he's a bit soft as well.

Two potential spoilers are Awaywiththegreys, who is well handicapped but unreliable and arguably best with plenty of give underfoot, and King Massini, formerly a fair chaser who has unshipped his inexperienced jockey three times between the flags and now reverts to hurdles.

But whichever way I tackle this race I don't want to be against Heist, and thankfully he's a backable price so at this stage we have to step in.  

Friday, 12 May 2017

One to watch at Rasen

I wanted to comment on a subject today that can sometimes give the on-course player an edge over stay-at-home viewers of the great game, relevant to a horse running today.

The way horses 'hit the line', or rather their strength at the finish, is often easily picked up on the TV when a particular horse is involved in the death, but not so much when one has fallen out the back, assumed to have weakened away.

Last jumps season there were three instances I can recall of horses running through the tape in such a manner as to suggest they were capable of vastly better form in the future.

Often during the winter months I'll stand near the rails for the opening novice hurdle to try to get a sense of pace and also to judge the ground conditions.

Back in November at Wetherby I was in position when La Bague A Loi landed a five runner mares novice as an odds on chance should.

A distance behind, and fairly tanking at the finish, was a 100/1 shot called Fille Des Champs, whose effort I suspected had gone completely unnoticed by every race watcher in the land.

Although only clocking an RPR of 86, I knew she was capable of much better granted a stiffer test of stamina. I didn't even see that she had another spin over the minimum trip next time, but I was aware of her next run in a decent little race over an extra half mile at FFos Las on bottomless ground, where she had squeeked in on 10st.

Backed from 14s into 10, she absolutely hosed up although I can barely remember the race as I watched it through the haze of a heavy bout of flu.

She hasn't gone on from that win but things haven't really fallen right for her and she'll improve again for another summer off.

Behind The Wire was a horse that had been on my radar for 12 months after seeing him in a novice hurdle at Doncaster, where he was very on edge but physically something to keep an eye on being a big raw chaser.

A year later he was back at Town Moor having recently taken a novice chase with aplomb at Taunton, a track that wouldn't play to his strengths.

He led a long way out that day, and yet at Doncaster A Heskin seemed reluctant to kick on up the long straight where the horse's big long stride and bold jumping would be seen to good effect.

As things happened, Heskin's stubborn and painful reluctance to go for home played into the hands of the great rogue Fort Worth, who took a nice lead before capitalising on Behind The Wire's small errors at the last two fences with Heskin trying to hold him together.

It was one of the worst rides of the season, but that aside, I was very struck by the way they charged through the line, Behind The Wire rallying all the way to such an extent that they had trouble negotiating the sharp left hand bend that comes up after the line.

The Racing Post close-up recorded 'no extra closing stages', but that couldn't have been further from the truth. They had come so far clear of the rest that, not only had I done my dough, but he was sure to go up a chunk for the effort.

Delightfully he was only raised 4lb and with P Brennan replacing the hapless Heskin in his next race at Newbury, it was time to back up the truck. Under a positive ride, he ground his rivals into submission in the straight where he was never going to get caught when you thought back to his finishing effort the time before.

And so to today and the race of interest which is the 4.15 at Market Rasen.

In February I marked Mustang On down as a horse to look out for in handicaps after this fair looking animal showed an aptitude for the game in a half-decent novice hurdle at Donny.

Back at Town Moor the following month I had a good little nibble at long odds in a weak race over the minimum trip but he just found it all happening a bit quickly on ground I suspect is softer than ideal, although he stayed on well for second behind a very well-backed winner that has since won over fences.

Later in March I saw him at Market Rasen where he looked a shoo-in to chase home the solid Louis Vac Pouch, and backed him accordingly.

However, he was given a soft ride that day by an inexperienced claimer who was clearly under orders to get the horse settled in behind. However, in a slowly run race on a sharp track over the minimum trip he was always likely to get outpaced again and although he rattled home, third was the best he could do.

But what I then saw was quite remarkable. Having made my way round to the winners enclosure to earwig on connections comments and jockeys reports, I saw Mustang On jig-jogging his way back as if he was just about to go OUT to race. This literally never happens. After a horse has fully exerted itself in a race it will only have the energy to walk back to the unsaddling areas as it catches its breath.

Mustang On clearly hadn't exerted itself at all! Not that there is a temperament issue here - he simply didn't get the chance to show what he is capable of.

From that race, Louis Vac Pouch went on to win cosily off 125, the second ran another solid race at the track next time and the fourth stepped up to be placed at long odds at Uttoxeter, so the form has a solid look.

The RPR suggests Mustang On didn't quite match his two earlier efforts, but I know for sure that a longer trip will see him in much better light, and that he's probably capable of out-running his official mark by 7-10lb.

Before we go steaming in there are a couple of caveats. On breeding, Mustang On could be a bit of a freak. The dam was of little account but has thrown Grey Life, who was by Terimon but doesn't stay much beyond 2m.

We also have Mustang On tackling fences for the first time. I'm quite pleased they aren't wasting too long over hurdles as he was clearly quite a backward sort, having raced only four times before turning seven, but I get the sense he's starting to come to himself.

He could be a bit sticky or dismissive of hurdles so I'm hoping he pays the bigger obstacles more respect. If they bring out further improvement, he will prove very well handicapped indeed. Grey Life was a proper chaser who had a 5/12 record with M Jefferson.

I would have preferred him running over the 2m3f trip they also have at this track, as 2m5f will probably be right on the limit of his stamina.

As such I'll probably be looking to lay back my stake at some stage in the home straight assuming he's in contention and travelling well.

It looks a competitive little race but there are many unknowns with Messrs Skelton, Longsdon and O'Neill represented by horses running over fences for the first time.

It would be churlish indeed to dismiss Skelton's Starlight Court, but he was slammed last time out and although he shapes as though he wants further was beaten a street the time before over a longer trip, so he has many questions to answer and is priced as you'd expect.

We all know Jonjo's are likely to improve for fences and a trip, and indeed headgear. Dance In The Dust gets all three here and he's definitely upped his game the last twice. The market may guide, but he's a son of Scorpion and as far as I'm concerned they are guilty until proven innocent at this current time.

You could say Midnight Gem is typical of the Longsdon yard, being not over-big and quite a handy type. But he's had many chances over timber, and doesn't strike me as one to find much improvement for a fence. He remains 8lb above his winning mark, and is 1/17 under rules.

Whitsundays has experience on his side and is slowly getting his act together, but his form is very suspect indeed although the handicapper hasn't over-reacted and he's a worthy favourite, but he's one I'm happy to take on for all that cheekpieces will bring out more improvement.

Running Wolf is 2/21 over jumps, and looks pretty exposed for a six-year-old.

So there you have it. Sometimes it's not what they do before the winning line, it's what they do after it that portends bigger things.

The price has collapsed somewhat since I started writing this at 7.30 this morning, but I would have been happy with 7 or 8/1 about Mustang On so bigger still represents value. Given all the above, he isn't a strong bet, but he's definitely worthy of support given at some stage he's going to prove a good deal better than his current mark.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017


Times and the way they finished suggested genuine good jumping ground. Arrived too late to see them in the opening novice hurdle but condolences to connections of Storm Forecast who perished after jumping two from the finish.

The winner, Applaus, is a horse I've watched closely all his career and he will continue to be of interest went sent over fences next term.

He had nothing to beat here in the end but has now won a bumper and two novice hurdles without being a very good jumper and being a stayer in the making. He has grown though and fences will almost certainly be the making of him.

There was plenty of 'dead wood' on show throughout the afternoon, none more so than in the second, a handicap chase over 2m.

The couple I was interested in were Have You Had Yours and Miss Conway, the latter having come on plenty for her run at Southwell last time and having run her best on a couple of occasions at this track.

She's obviously not that talented but at six she ought to be able to win a couple more and should rate higher if she is campaigned at this course through the summer.

Have You Had Yours has done me a favour a couple of times down the years and maintains an exceptional 20% strike rate over fences for the grade.

The 11-year-old looked in good order on his second run back off a break and although the trip is too short nowadays, he was sure to go well.

Alas, the place money went down when he was run out of it by 80/1 poke Warksburn Boy, but he's on a very winnable mark if they can find a suitable race over an extra half mile.

Warksburn Boy has often caught the eye in the paddock in the early days but went through a period of getting very worked up and sweaty. After showing nothing for over a year he's now on a basement mark and showed much more, rallying when appearing to drop away.

He's bred to want further, and he shouldn't be overlooked in similarly awful races as this is unlikely to have been a fluke. It's worth noting that the trainer did well with Native Optimist last season.

Helmsley Lad hasn't looked straight forward in the past and upped to 3m he was a vulnerable favourite in a maiden hurdle, even though it looked as though Victoria Says was his only viable opponent.

However, Classical Milano, who I missed in the prelims, stepped up on previous efforts to outstay the Irish raider and put another feather in the cap of trainer G Bewley.

The win has rather shown his hand to the assessor however, and it could be next season and fences before we see the best of him.

A tricky handicap hurdle was dominated once again by Beyondtemptation, the darling of back-to-lay traders. She won this off the same mark last season and did it again beating a better field.

Heist was weak in the betting but looked well and was the only one to come from off the pace to get anywhere near the front, and he looks poised to strike off this lower hurdles mark this spring where quick ground is important.

The staying handicap chase hosted some of the greatest rogues in racing, so it was quite amusing to see them all bunching up as they headed to three out with few of the riders wanting to go on.

They pretty much performed to par exepct the winner Apache Pilot, who appeared to put it all in for once although it could just have been that his mark of 72 was plenty low enough.

He and stablemate No Such Number were fit from absences but I plumped for the latter at double the odds hoping a change of yard might spark a revival. He showed up for a while before dodgy jumping took him out of it.

Ardea took the hunter as expected, although he's looking quite lean and he is clearly a bit quirky, finding himself in front way earlier than usual; he's better than this.

The bumper was hard to call as Big Bad Dream appeared to be in need of the run after a three month hiatus, while eventual winner Schiaparannie has done some growing and filling out since her debut for M Walford so did well to win after an absence, albeit with a disconcerting head carriage.

There was a hint of support for French Ticket who traded odds on climbing the hill for a yard that does well with what they have, and this one looked a fair sort beforehand so this was no fluke.

Wig Wam Wiggle was punted but looks a big raw chaser in the making, while Silk Or Scarlet ooks weak and backward for the time being.

Sunday, 23 April 2017


Genuine good ground for the final National Hunt meeting of the season and some quite interesting fields to get to grips with.

The opening handicap hurdle for conditionals could quite easily be narrowed down to the top few in the market, with Mortens Leam looking a worthy and well-backed favourite.

He's not over-big, but was still quite imposing against this opposition and had to go close despite not having seen his races out that well to date.

Down in trip was Dear Sire and he looked a real threat as he's quite a keen sort, and he proved the stronger of the two at the trip under what looked a decent ride from J Cowley. Mortens Leam didn't seem to do much wrong but was run out of it again.

Allfredandnobell looked as though he'd had enough for the time being, running up light, while Monfass was much calmer with the hood back on but made early errors and backed out of things quickly once more.

Honourable Gent was a really impressive winner here on his belated return last time and the way they bet you'd think the whole betting community thought he was bounce material.

At evens he was a fair enough lay but near enough 7/4 he was backable in the face of huge support for the hitherto 'doggy' Vodka Wells, who is not straight forward by any means and has looked regressive despite a brighter effort last time.

Honourable Gent again jumped with elan and Vodka Wells was beaten when blundering two out, and he will remain opposable after this. Jethro continues to lack confidence at his fences while Star Presenter wasn't straight for this return from an absence, a large scar on his quarters possibly the reason for the absence.

Sheneededtherun is unfortunately named but is the type his trainer does very well with and this chasing type will be one to follow when sent over 3m and fences after landing long odds in the mares hurdle.

Shimla Dawn was an interesting runner as four went to post for the 3m handicap chase, back from a break and looking very pleased to be back too

However, this big imposing animal was carrying plenty of condition and his natural exuberance over shorter trips meant his ability to see this out was by no means assured.

He traded very short in running after predictably jumping them to sleep for a circuit, but he's pretty quirky and went right at several fences. He may not be one to fully trust but at the same time is a lovely sort that deserves one more chance in the right circumstances.

The Clock Leary looked straighter than at Market Rasen for his debut in McCain colours as it were but he's looked poor under pressure several times and it didn't come as a great surprise that he found little once push came to shove.

Palm Grey will never win in the looks department but handsome is as handsome does and he recorded his sixth victory under a never-say-die Cook ride....the horse is bred to stay very well and this first win at 3m opens one or two more doors.

The novices hurdle was clearly a three-runner affair as the previously successful trio were way ahead on ratings. However, the market was very strong on Blue Hussar despite the respected RPRs suggesting Viserion had achieved just as much if not more to date.

The disparity in their prices effectively forced a bet and the three of them pretty much ran to their marks, Viserion rallying tenaciously to seal the victory from Blue Hussar who was outpaced at just the wrong time.

I was very keen indeed on the ultra consistent Leanna Ban in the handicap chase over 2m5f and with the usual forcing ride he simply had to go close in a winnable race, market rivals Dartford Warbler and Strongly Suggested looking vulnerable.

Imagine my horror, then, as connections chose this race to give Leanna Ban a waiting ride while the race developed all around him. A modest early pace didn't help and the horse was never going to win from the fall of the flag.

This sort of thing is agonising to watch and while the majority of the bet was offloaded safely it doesn't detract from the fact that this was a golden opportunity for a horse that deserves to win again. Hopefully, connections have learned their lesson for next time.

Up ahead, old monkey Rosquero got there far too soon again and was worried out of it by Strongly Suggested, for whom everything fell into place, while Crookstown looked really well beforehand and cruised into before finding nothing, and he is one to avoid.

The well-related Jane Lamb was all the rage in the closing bumper and she has plenty of size for a four-year-old, which usually means the weight for age allowance can be exploited.

She looked a good bet against some green looking horses beforehand but didn't seem to build on her opening effort and has to go down as a disappointment. Heartasia attracted support when running well in a better contest last time and, despite weak connections, was punted again and duly improved to win a moderate race.

Hopefully blog followers were able to acquire some decent prices about Vaniteux yesterday...I was surprised the odds held up for most of the day in a race where just a few could be fancied. I've been working hard providing this type of analysis for subscribers who have enjoyed a very profitable winter. The service runs from October to March and so hopefully through the summer months I'll be able to post more previews free on this blog. The subscription service is aimed at serious punters and is not expensive - please contact me via email or twitter for more information.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Ayr preview

I thought I'd do a rare preview today as I had a few thoughts and some spare time looking into the 3.20 at Ayr, a Listed race over 2m.

I thought the ground looked a bit quicker on the chase track yesterday than the hurdles, probably just on the soft side of good.

The key form race appears to be the Red Rum at Aintree, where Double Ws had Yorkist and Romain De Senam behind, the latter pair being 5lb and 6lb better off today.

However as you'd expect for a race of this nature, it's probably not as straight forward as that.

Simply Ned; Probably one of the most forgotten horses in northern racing on account of him rarely running in races in which he has a chance. Form in handicaps reads F113112 over fences and a mark of 157 means he should still be very competitive. Critics will argue that his best form comes in the autumn, but with just four runs this has been a light campaign.

Vaniteux; Has largely looked one to avoid this season on account of attitude, his only victory coming when beating the regressive Vibrato Valtat. However, he's down in trip, and while undoubtedly talented, backers will be banking on cheekpieces working the oracle.

Double Ws; Long been held in high regard on this blog. Delivered the goods back in trip last time and if you backed him at Aintree a 5lb rise shouldn't put you off reinvesting. However, there are some higher quality horses in this line-up and he will need to be in at least as good form, if not better, to win again.

Apterix; A very likeable sort who has been well placed over fences this season, but was marmalised by Double Ws earlier in the campaign and although both have improved since he is only 3lb better off and his jumping will come under pressure here.

Mixboy; Not very big and his rating is based on one run at Musselburgh. Unsurprisingly outclassed at Cheltenham and still has to prove he can mix it in better grade.

Somchine; Appears to be improving and loves a fast run 2m, but this is a major step up in class off a career high mark.

Yorkist; Reasonably solid performer but doesn't find winning easy and although entitled to finish closer to Double Ws this time I wouldn't necessarily count on him finishing in front.

Romain De Senam; I haven't really taken to him this season and wasn't that keen physically at Doncaster. Shapes for all the world like he wants further now and I'd be more interested in him next season when they step him up.

De Faoithesdream; Won this last year from 3lb lower mark but that renewal wasn't as strong as this and although he's not easy to predict, he's hard to recommend.

Ifandbutwhynot; Revitalised by front running tactics but is another in-form horse that needs to bridge the gulf in class, and he's not getting any younger.

Tissue; 5 Vaniteux, 11/2 Double Ws, 13/2 Simply Ned, 7 Yorkist, 10 Ifanbutwhynot, Romain De Senam, 12 Apterix, 14 Mixboy, 16 Somchine, De Faoithesdream, 33 Indian Temple. 101%

Conclusion; There should be plenty of pace on here with Ifandbuthwynot, De Faoithesdream and Mixboy all likely to be pressing on. That may scupper each of their chances although of the trio Ifandbutwhynot could last out and go close. However, I prefer class in this race and the top three appeal most. If Simply Ned is in good form he simply has to go close in this grade; more importantly he looks hugely overpriced this morning and at 9 or 10/1 he must be included in the staking plan. Double Ws has been to Cheltenham and Aintree and this is his eighth outing of the season. If he remains at the top of his game he may yet improve again and 144 might not be his limit. However, there's not much leeway in the price and although I might have a bit on if /when he drifts, Vaniteux has to be the other main bet. His form over fences away from Cheltenham reads 12131 and he often shapes as though he's not far off top notch. He has to prove it but if he's ever going to do that it's here, with everything in his favour and some headgear to keep his mind on the job. Odds of 11/2 or bigger represent great value.

Thursday, 13 April 2017


There should still be plenty of meat left on the bone of National Hunt racing in the coming weeks and I always like this time of year from a betting point of view.

These late-season meetings at Wetherby are usually pleasant affairs and the shape of the racing looked just right...sure enough we got more right than wrong which makes a change of late.

With the Greatrex-trained Bob's Boy immediately opposable in the opening juvenile (he was backed into favouritism??) it looked a two-horse race between the strong looking Ravens Hill and the more athletic Lord Topper.

The pair duly travelled best and then came clear, the Snowden trained Lord Topper knuckling down best on the flat to win quite nicely in the style of a horse sure to stay much further.

Ravens Hill lost little in defeat and the Irish import should do better with this run under his belt as he took a fierce hold.

The following seller wouldn't usually appeal but it brought together the round eight and there was plenty of dead wood.

The hot favourite was the once-useful Mr Spingsprong but he hasn't looked in love with the game for some time and was very opposable, especially when Cooky dropped him out early.

Mr Snoozy isn't one to set your clock by but on a going day he was never going to be out of the three, and was an each-way steal.

Greenall may have got lucky but it looked a well-judged ride as the Walford horse cut down free-going leader Vercingetorix after the last to land the punt.

Things got even better in the next as I couldn't have Nine Altars, who simply isn't finishing his races off, Lightening Rod who has looked very awkward this season, or the heavily backed Boss Des Mottes, who is poor physically and has regressed under his current handler.

A horse that caught the eye a lifetime ago was Honourable Gent, who always used to travel well in his races and jumped like an old hand.

He was a big market drifter but I was in no doubt he was very fit indeed for this return from a lengthy absence and the odds were simply absurd in a race of this nature. His jumping was a delight to behold as he trotted up.

A very tricky looking handicap hurdle followed with Guitar Pete the most interesting on his first outing for N Richards.

A formerly useful hurdler in Ireland, he looked fit and well and probably should have won if given a more positive ride. This was one that got away but there's little doubt he retains much of his ability and the front two cleared away nicely after the last.

Following the victory of Applesandpierres, the Skeltons teamed up with Master Jake in the next after the frustrating withdrawal of Jovial Joey on account of the (soft!) ground.

They duly collected the double after Master Jake travelled by far the best throughout, hitting the front earlier than the jockey would have liked and pulling up in front when having the race won.

Global Dream looked well but ran a funny old race, dropping out early on and running in snatches thereafter, eventually posting a personal best. He looks a strong stayer, but they finished in a bit of a heap and I'd like to think Jovial Joey would have seen them all off.

For Instance was odds-on to beat three rivals in a staying novice but didn't convince in the paddock and hung all the way up the straight, suggesting he may not be straight forward either mentally or physically.

Neither he nor runner-up Quietly look well in on their current marks, for all that the latter should be much improved for fences and another summer off.

Pikarnia looked the most solid option in the closing stayers handicap even accounting for his 7lb rise and the fact he's merely marking time before going over fences.

However, after travelling well he couldn't get to Bankhall, who once again failed to impress in the prelims but backed up his solid form over timber this term, staying on more stoutly than in the past.

There wasn't much to shout about amongst the rags, however the Dobbin-trained Final Fling was not as straight as his stablemate earlier on the card and should do better next time after he ran on nicely into the places.

Friday, 31 March 2017


The end of a busy week and month but much more inspiring fare than of late and goodish ground greeted the runners, at least that's what the time figures suggested, although there was juice in the ground.

The opening novice hurdle was interesting as it featured an eight-year-old maiden from the Greatrex yard, that is an out-and-out chaser on looks.

What he was doing at the head of the market I do not know, and with Master Of Finance and Blue Hussar much nippier types off the flat he wasn't likely to get away from them over the minimum trip.

So it proved, with Blue Hussar fully proving his latest effort at Doncaster to be no fluke by winning with loads in hand, although Master Of Finance went down fighting giving away 9lb.

They'll surely go over fences with King's Hussar now but he'd be one to take on as he doesn't move great and has clearly had issues, while Skywards Reward is quite a strong sort who should hold his own once handicapped.

The handicap chase that followed was a poor race full of exposed, disappointing types and the less said about it the better.

Gin Cobbler only tends to win in his turn, usually when he's been written off, while Roxyfet has been a long way below last season's form and is starting to look difficult under pressure. Chestnut Ben continued the fine fun of the Winks family.

The next looked a really competitive handicap hurdle over an intermediate trip where several could be fancied, which meant the money for Robintheaulad was a bit of a surprise given he had a lot to prove.

He's a big raw chaser for next year and this season has been a write-off, but he'll come back stronger no doubt.

Little Bruce had been mentioned favourably on the blog earlier in the campaign he looks a different horse now after a solid season and he was very fit here.

He's a bonny little horse and by Yeats was always likely to run to the line. Things seemed to fall into his lap but it's hard to fault him. Turtle Cask looked much better than usual beforehand and his turn may be soon for all that he is not great off the bridle.

He should be able to win a smaller race than this and in fairness the front three came well clear. Magic Dancer has the size to jump a fence and although he was a stayer on the flat he was paddling a bit close home. He may prove hard to win with.

Similar sentiments may apply to the Pipe's Stay Out Of Court, who had been under pressure prior to falling three out and could prove tripless.

Everything looked in place for Swing Hard to repeat last week's win if he was over a quite hard race that day, but the cash for Open Hearted was interesting having seen his mark fall after a few spins in hunters.

He looked really well and it wasn't easy to fancy the others, particularly Volt Face who looked by some way the smallest, and pretty keen to get on with things. He was dropped right out and Johnson did well to get him round. I'd oppose him in weaker races than this.

A sorry postscript to this race was that Swing Hard came in very lame in front, let's hope it's not as serious as it looked.

A tricky looking handicap over the minimum came next and although the mark looked harsh, especially as he hadn't been dropped for getting beat miles last time, Mortens Leam was one I wanted on side as he looked really well and bigger than I remembered.

He's well related, and most of the Sly horses are, and he'll keep improving, especially if they ride him with more restraint, and a race at Fakenham should be there for the taking.

He faded into third here behind Suggestion, who still looks really raw and backward, but dispelled the belief that he was poorly handicapped by coming home best with a long raking stride.

G'Day Aussie lost ground at one down the back and that may have cost him as he came home really strongly, unlike Monfass who travelled into it really well but found nothing; he may have over-raced.

The hunter went to Ardea who is a striking looking individual and has probably run to a similar mark on each of his three runs this term. It's doubtful there's much more improvement in him, but he's good in this grade.

Thetalkinghorse also appeared to run to form, which means Shantou Prince is a useful recruit. I'd seen him in a couple of points last term and he looked really nice, and in fairness he's not done much wrong in that sphere.

He's a big strong horse and although this run has telegraphed it somewhat, he should take all the beating in the 'Heart' at Hexham next month for maiden hunters, won last year by Ardea.

The bumper looked a competitive race but although they were an ok looking bunch nothing really impressed, with the Henderson horse Duke Debarry possibly needing the run as he's a burly sort.

Minella Warrior was a well-backed favourite on the back of his run in a Listed race but I wasn't massively taken by him and the one that regularly caught the eye was eventual winner Kalashnikov.

Although slightly weak in front you'd expect that of a four-year-old but he looked a nice prospect and forward to boot, and I'm still wondering why he went unbacked at 12s as he's related to that fine mare Kalane, a 140-horse.

These bumpers are guesswork to an extent but it's usually worth having a stab, especially when odds like that are on the table. I'm guessing this horse won't be a double figure price for some time to come.

Itsnonofurbusiness had a bit of a reputation but there wasn't much of him and a market drift told the story there, while New List is quite small and he looks a plodder despite his speedy pedigree. As northern bumpers go though, it was right up there.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017


The ground was on the soft side of good but looked very patchy and bare in places.

It was quite hard to sift through the dross and I'm increasingly inclined to think that Sedgefield form, like that of Musselburgh, is unique to itself and the majority doesn't translate elsewhere.

As such, it's probably not worth writing much of a blog for these trips, especially as the standard is generally so poor.

But we're here now, and you never know there may be something to glean.

K Slack was back on song with Onwiththeparty in the opener after the big chasing type had run a stinker at Carlisle. He travelled as well as ever here and went through with the effort for a change, not that he was under much pressure to do so.

The challenge of Robin's Legend dropped away after he had run and jumped with much more zest than last time, while Houndscourt ran a strange race, looking set to take some pegging back until slowing into and crashing through the first down the back.

Hint Of Grey and Little Miss Poet are both light framed mares who didn't particularly appeal in a weak second race, eventual winner Hint of Grey getting warm beforehand but battling on best to land the spoils.

Boric had proved he can run to his Newcastle form away from Gosforth and now tried in different headgear he returned to his best in the handicap chase under a positive ride from the much-improved C Bewley.

Jac The Legend came in for strong support, with which I fully concurred, but he has turned into a right old thief and this was his last chance. Inchcolm also threw in a stinker and remains one to avoid, while Lakefield Rebel is another out of chances.

The big race of the day was an intriguing handicap hurdle in which Crackdeloust was an uneasy favourite.

The Ellison horse looked primed for the event and set to relish the extra yardage, but he did too much in the race and failed to get home. He's a nice big horse and shouldn't judged too harshly on this.

They went no pace and the front pair remained in position to the end, Mr Clarkson packing plenty of punch late on to deny the rejuvenated Bollin Ace.

Dear Sire is really small and I'm not sure he's going to progress a great deal, but Reverant Cust has strengthened up nicely and he is one to keep an eye on as he hasn't been ridden to best effect the last twice now.

A poor novice handicap followed where Whitsundays was made favourite but he looked vulnerable over the minimum trip despite having little in the way of opposition.

The poor Al Reesha took an horrendous fall in front of the stands which made life easier for the jolly, but he was nearly found out by the veteran Hi Dancer, who jumped and galloped with zest and deserved to take the prize, only denied on the short climb to the post.

A effective match came next and Bordeaux Bill was odds-on to beat Helmsley Lad after dotting up here last time out. I thought he looked smart that day and he backed up that view with a professional display of jumping.

He has plenty of scope to take high rank in the north, while the runner-up is also of a fair standard as he's still green and gawky and slow to learn the job in hand.

He has more size for fences and when the penny drops he'll leave his current mark behind.

The finale was a typical run of the mill handicap hurdle for the track won by Pikarnia for the useful Menzies yard. The youngster had looked amiss when punted (me included) in January but ran ok in a better race last time.

Up in trip and handily dropped 5lb, he came back to life and relished the extra yardage, to finally deliver on the promise he had shown before the turn of the year.

I wasn't on and frankly it was a nice feeling to jump in the car and head home.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017


Another jolly old trip south to the Rolleston venue where the ground had dried to good all round, the times backing that up.

The opening 0-100 was typical of the venue, being pretty low grade stuff, very few of the eight you'd back under normal circumstances.

But with a line through so many it was worth throwing money at the nicest looking pair in the field; Gorran Haven and Nobel Leader.

Both have the stamp of proper chasers, the former should start to get the hang of things as they move him back up in trip, as this looked on the sharp side.

Nobel Leader hadn't been getting home over longer trips so the drop to the minimum looked to be in his favour, as was the drop to C5 for the first time in a while.

What is more he had drifted to a very backable price and he duly delivered in the straight and thankfully he only had The Wexfordian beat; a horse that usually gives second best in a debate.

A staying chase followed and I just could not believe the drift on Dawnieriver, a light framed mare who probably doesn't take much getting ready.

She was spot on after a three month hiatus and with the ground in her favour she was a cracking bet against some disappointing animals.

Duke Arcadio was backed into a similar price but having pulled up the last twice, versus a horse who had done herself proud at Cheltenham no less last time out? Come on.

Fly Home Harry was fit but is probably weighted to his best and couldn't peg them back, while Make Me A Fortune was running one of his better races prior to exiting at the last. There's no doubting who would have won, however.

The novice hurdle was a poor race with several looking unlikely to play a part despite their each-way odds behind odds-on jolly Fattsota.

The veteran Flat horse hasn't exactly taken to hurdles like the proverbial D to W and good luck to those brave souls who rowed in at 1.5 on the machine.

He made very hard work of beating a leggy and backward Global Ruler, while Snow Castle is very immature mentally and physically, but was still one of the better sorts.

Zabeel Star is not a hurdler on looks and had no business here, while Hardrock Davis is a really rotund individual who could take a few runs to get his bearings. Cup Of Ambition showed more in fourth and he's a laid back sort so I'm not sure why he got stirred up last time out. He'll want a trip.

Derrick D'Anjou looked ready to roll from a mark of 99 in the next handicap hurdle over nearly 3m but they messed him about up front and went no gallop, Fifty Bob leading some of them out to the right.

It was really unsatisfactory to watch the cash go west on the well-backed runner-up, whose day will come. Ironically it was a horse that crashed out yesterday, Boher Lad, who spoiled the party.

He's not very big but crept into it as the rest got in each other's way, and it worked out well for the 10yro. Twist On Ginge again looked very one-paced, and he's not over-big. The proximity of the hard-pulling Honest Intent makes this hard to assess.

Brillare Momento had by far the best form heading into the mares novices hurdle and really she should have been a solid bet when she drifted out to over 3 on the machine.

All she had to do was repeat her previous efforts to collect, and she did so without much fuss. She's a nice type, but I was put off by the fact she'd had three months off and looked in need of the run. She'll improve again, without question.

Mariah's Legend again got worked up although it may not have affected her performance this time. She was fractious without going over the top, but she will need to calm down to fulfil her potential.

Runner-up Swatow is a nice embryonic horse, while the fourth home Sheneededtherun is another cracking chase type the trainer does so well with. She's already seven so they'll need to push on but I'm sure she'll be jumping fences in the autumn.

Goodgirlteresa is a lovely laid-back mare but when she hits the track she loses control. She almost carted N Fehily to post and refused to settle in the race, again failing to see it out. Switched yards, they punted her from double figures into 7/2 but it was the same old story.

Riddlestown defied a career high mark to win again at his favourite track in the next, defying top weight. Last week's runner-up Sauvignon looked a bit on edge and I suspect she may have bounced on this quick return.

North Hill was heavily supported and looked one of the more likely ones but again the race wasn't run to suit him, behind a wall of horses when coming down four out, possibly unsighted. The jockey probably had enough under him to come around horses and the six-year-old has the form to be much better than this mark.

Silent Encore is a nice big horse and I liked his finishing effort at Doncaster last time out. Without market support I passed him over and I'm glad he didn't win, although his runner-up spot as rather let the cat out of the bag.

The bumper looked a two runner race between market leaders Royal Ruby and Cabaret Queen, good looking horses from good stables that were ready for their debuts,

It was very hard to split them and it was Henderson's compact son of Yeats who proved best, staying on stoutly to beat Chesterman, a fair sort who looked to be carrying loads of condition. He's clearly talented and may prove the best of these in time. Indian Harbour is too big for this game, while Leodis is another big unit who will benefit from the experience.

Market Rasen

Drying ground at the Lincolnshire venue and it caught one or two out, not least the heavily backed Mustang On in the opening novice hurdle.

I've been charting the seven-year-old's progress for a while now and thought he had some sort of chance against odds-on jolly Louis' Vac Pouch - at least more than the compilers had suggested.

However, he wasn't given a very positive ride by the 10lb claimer and was tapped for toe in a slowly run affair, staying on steadily for third.

He's very much a work in progress but if they find a nice little handicap over an extra half mile before they put him away I'd be very interested.

'Pouch' is not straight forward but does jump well and he'll stay further once he settles down. He took a strong hold again here but saw his race out well.

Sue Smith unveiled a nice staying chase prospect in Iskabeg Lane, who has plenty of size, and needed this run. He may be only a 115-type horse but he'll be starting from a lower perch than that.

The second was a poor 0-100 affair but the market created an angle as Monkhouse was backed into less than 3 on the machine, a crazy price for a horse who has shown very moody tendencies.

A couple of dark ones lurked, none more so than the O'Neill-trained Timeforwest, who had shown next to nothing in novice hurdles.

But, unraced in eight weeks and appearing in a handicap from a mark of 98, she was a different proposition and the late money proved spot on. She beat very little but will be able to follow up, for all that she needs more time physically.

My Little Cracker is a horse I've been against for a long time but she won again last week and came here looking really well and much more mature physically.

In a classic case of mare/spring/ground combo she fairly rattled home after the last to win well, beating a fair yardstick in Vic's Last Stand, who was fit and well after a break.

The latter was never likely to have the pace to come from behind over this trip, but she looks to have improved again and I wouldn't be surprised if she defies a higher mark still.

All My Love has looked promising but she is just too small for this game, and her jumping was shoddy on this quicker ground.

Future Gilded was all the rage in the staying hurdle but this useful chaser didn't have the basic speed back over timber as Wake Your Dreams went off like the clappers in first time visors.

Quinlan gave the old horse a peach, getting in breathers round these tight bends, and had plenty in reserve for the finish. Popelys Gull again ran to form and is proving consistent albeit in the grip of the assessor.

Karisma King was made favourite for the handicap chase but I couldn't have the moderate Smith beast on this livelier surface, especially as formerly useful sorts The Clock Leary and Box Office were down to basement marks.

The latter had been very nervy over fences when last seen, but after a few months off was well backed and having been nursed into it by Coleman, won as he was expected to do off 109. He looked really fit and well, as did The Clock Leary on his first start for McCain.

He'll come on for the run as he's a big unit, although he may not be one to trust in a finish. But he's well enough handicapped to win in the north. Lemon's Gent ran to his best and gives it a solid look.

The novices handicap over 2m looked to be at the mercy of Stage One providing the Skelton inmate could jump a fence. However, he didn't find much and perhaps he needs further now, and it must be said he appears quite backward mentally.

With Never Up raised in grade and on a drier surface this didn't take much winning, however the luckless Movie Legend still couldn't close the deal yet again having taken it up two out.

The Nicholls-trained Contre Tous was a big drifter having reportedly had breathing issues last time out and he was scratched from Southwell's card last week.

This better ground is clearly important and after hitting a flat spot turning in he rallied nicely to deny Movie Legend, who found less than expected once more.

Two divisions of a mares bumper followed, the former looking the more competitive, although they were won in very similar times.

Division 1 had some decent lookers and the sustained support for debutant Outofthisworld proved significant as the compact but well-made filly powered clear in the manner of a fair sort.

The second division was won by the Henderson-trained Melangerie, a rather nervous looking horse who stepped up markedly on two previous efforts to beat a decent looking filly in Presenting Pearl.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017


The horses were declared on good, good to soft ground but morning showers made life difficult for punters, the hurdles track appearing to ride better than the chase course, which looked soft, with times backing up the view that overall it was pretty tacky.

A ghastly seller opened proceedings with the Ellison pair Down Time and Newstart backed off the boards, to the exclusion of all else bar the favourite Mr Snoozy.

There was nothing to be gleaned from the paddock apart from learning that Newstart is little more than a pony. That trainer must be a genius, as the beast ran to a mark of approximately zero seven days ago when in the hands of JJ Hanlon.

Down Time had been backed all day into odds of 5/2, remarkable considering he looks like a horse destined never to win again.

Sigurd headed the weights for a competitive handicap hurdle and he's quite an imposing sort who nevertheless looked badly handicapped on novice form and market weakness told you everything you needed to know.

Next in was Caius Marcius, a horse the stable have always thought something of but has often been let down by his jumping, not unsurprisingly as he lacks a bit of size and scope.

But he clearly has an engine and, more importantly, the right attitude which can't be said for the frustrating Our Thomas, who had everything go his way but still couldn't get the job done with headgear applied.

Crickel Wood was fit but may not have acted on the ground, and C Longsdon is having a quiet patch at present.

He had the well-backed Nightline in the handicap chase but I wasn't mad-keen on his chances and once again he didn't finish his race off very well after cruising into contention on the home turn.

I couldn't keep the ultra consistent Leanna Ban out of the frame despite a big market drift and he looked better than he did last time, but D Cook was at his best once again on Swing Hard who finally came good with conditions in his favour.

I've said many times before that he doesn't properly stay 3m but a forceful ride at around 2m4f-6f suits best especially in some bad ground, and he jumped really well more importantly at a price that made him backable.

Although the softer conditions changed the complexion of the race I didnt agree with the market that the pair to concentrate on would be Powerful Symbol and Banny's Lad.

The former has a serious attitude problem and needs to be avoided, while the latter had no excuses at Doncaster last time and merely cantered round in terrible ground when beating trees at Sedgefield.

I have now lost more money on The Cobbler Swayne than any other horse in training. I remain convinced this horse wants three miles on proper good ground. They also seem to ride it like it's made of bone china. Just get it out there and get it galloping. It needs to man up!

One I didn't like at all here was morning favourite Clues And Arrows. The market drift was notable but still he lacks size and scope and it's little surprise most of his form has come at Cartmel on good ground.

The opening division of a novices handicap hurdle was the first real opportunity for Doctor Glaz to reveal his true identity. Tracks like Ayr and Kelso would be too tight for this huge animal, who doesn't fully stay 3m.

With conditions ideal he really had little reason not to win, although in the end he made it look hard work and I suspect he was idling all the way up the straight.

The form as it stands is worth very little, but he could learn a lot from this and he must surely be much better over fences.

There had been some huge pre-race gyrations in the price of Ask Paddy on the exchanges as he went search of a four-timer, eventually going off a well-backed 15/8 jolly for division two.

That was really in the absence of any real opposition, with Captain Mowbray and Rocky Two being perennial losers.

The obvious danger was Jester Jet on her debut for the likeable T Lacey yard. A weak mares maiden would have been at her mercy but they opted for the handicap route and she looked in fine order for this first outing in nine months.

She made a right horlicks of one down the far side but took it well enough in the end, like Doctor Glaz looking to idle in the straight and surely worthy of a clearer margin of victory.

A bumper closed the show but they weren't a great bunch. Word got around that Town Head had been going well and he looked as nice as any of them, and I'm sure they'll take him down the point-to-point route.

He just got touched off by Captain Woodie, defying a penalty by a narrow margin, but value for the win. The son of Presenting probably didn't enjoy the ground but is nice enough to go on to better things once he settles as he was keen before and during the race.

The Jefferson horse Fernan looks quite backward and didn't look one to be on, while Hello Fellas should have been capable of better as he's well made albeit on the small side at present. He's probably too weak at the moment and he looked quite keen, so could be a fair handicap project for the shrewd Richards outfit in time.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017


Morning rain had turned the ground soft in places and with declarations made on good ground there were a number of withdrawals.

Doncaster winner Ypsilanti and Double Treasure don't go on soft and with Starkie failing to repeat his winning effort last week under a penalty the opening handicap chase fell apart.

Unzing may have run to near his mark but a change in tactics ultimately settled things with Ifandbutwhynot seemingly enjoying a return to fences having dropped a ton in the weights, making all to win as he liked.

You wouldn't bet on him backing this up although he'll still be well-in on old form, but whether he is as good as he was is a moot point.

Ypsilanti ran as well as could be expected given the conditions and he shaped as though he will be competitive off this much higher rating.

The second chase on the card fell to Agincourt Reef on his return to fences, having shown a decent level of form to win at Wetherby over timber on Boxing Day.

He just lacks for a bit of size and clobbered one on the first circuit but jumped well enough thereafter. However, stiffer fences could catch him out, and again the ground wouldn't have suited some of these.

Johns Luck again travelled well before appearing to be held by one better handicapped, but he's a nice horse who is likely to continue improving.

Fair play to trainer T Weston for running Thoonavolla as well as Ypsilanti - the former also needs good ground and he looked really burly beforehand after a winter break.

The money came for him which was hugely surprising and I thought he ran really well in the circumstances, being left behind from two out.

He looks like he'll stay 3m well but does tank though his races. I can see him doing well at Stratford this spring which would really suit his style of running and they have races short of 3m there too.

The absence of Gibbes Bay in the maiden hurdle took some of the gloss off the race and it left a short priced favourite in Bobo Mac, a nice type for next season who looked a good thing to get off the mark.

Physically there was nothing to trouble the jolly and although he seemed to make hard work of it in the end, he took it cosily from Banjo Girl, quite a nice mare who was sent on some way out and paid for it from the last. She's ok if a bit small but was fit for this and will prefer better ground.

The paddock sorted them out ahead of the handicap hurdle over 2m, Hear The Chimes wrong in his coat and getting warm, while Hill Fort looked ready to run his race down in grade.

But none of them could deal with the revitalised Beggar's Wishes, who was sent off a very decent 9/2 chance as money came for the moderate Dragon De La Tour, who has yet to deliver and almost certainly wants better ground. He'll come into his own over fences, too.

The Bowen-trained winner looks to be going places at this level and is the type to land a hat-trick this spring; he jumps and will stay further.

Another handicap hurdle, this time over 2m4f, followed and again it was blighted by withdrawals, although it wasn't that competitive to start with and in the end provided a great betting opportunity in the shape of Early Retirement, a nice chasing type that I first saw here a year ago.

He looked more grown up beforehand and was head and shoulders above the rest physically, although Dothraki Raider looked really well after a five month break and should have been fit enough despite a market drift.

The money came late for the Bailey horse, and despite showing greenness in the early part of the race galloped away to win as he liked. This is not form to get carried away with - runner-up Sauvignon hadn't shown much previously but has the size to win races - but the pair came clear and the winner has a future over fences for a really likeable yard.

I believe experience counts for plenty in bumpers, particularly on uneven ground such as this, and it wasn't too surprising that Rosemary Russet (ok sort) showed the benefit of a fair opening effort to outbattle the debutante Grania O'Malley.

The latter was tickled in the betting and is quite a nice looking filly, but was green in the straight and that cost her. Two others with experience came in next; Potters Angelique another likely to come on physically, and Witham, who was disappointing.

However, the Sly inmate is from a staying family that take time to come to themselves and this well-made filly will certainly be up to winning races in the coming years.

Thursday, 9 March 2017


A tricky little card run on softish ground, it felt warm as we faced the sun with spring in the air at last.

Akula looked a very obvious selection in the opener seller being the only one bringing any recent form to the race.

At least half the sextet are complete hounds and the well-backed Smith horse Absolute has looked like a crock this season, he's got terrible flat feet and that may be his issue.

A return of 3/1 was surprising for the veteran, but things were only to go downhill after such easy pickings.

Nomoreblackjack was the proverbial good thing to back up last week's outrageously easy success and once again he looked in terrific condition - the big rangy horse that cost quite a few quid has clearly come to himself of late.

Nine Altars was the obvious one to chase him home and he looked in good order, but after being coaxed round by Hughes fell in his usual hole, and having done so now at different trips he is very much one to avoid.

Leanna Ban as so often looked burly off a break and he'll improve on this, especially when upped in trip, while Boss Des Mottes remains very weak physically.

The three fillies from the Wetherby race a month ago took each other on again in the next and for much of the way it looked as though the attractive five-year-old Golden Vision would repeat her success.

However, she could never get away this time and having failed to bag the stand rail was beaten when fluffing the last.

She'd gone at it a fair way out with All My Love which played into the hands of juvenile Becky The Thatcher, who has stamina in abundance.

I've seen her progress quite nicely physically and although she gets buzzy she looked well and fitter than ever. I wasn't expecting her to reverse Wetherby placings but the market was too dismissive of her chance.

I got the handicap chase over the minimum trip all wrong as Sky Full Of Stars has looked one to oppose for a long time.

His hurdles win last week was against nothing and although the blinkers worn there clearly perked him up, he had plenty to prove back over fences.

However, he was exceptionally strong in the market which is quite telling for one of Ewart's, while Minella Suite and Bandol were weak.

Minella Suite is a chaser through and through but has wind issues and isn't finishing his races off. He's young enough to turn things around, and will want more of a stamina test, but until he proves he can go through with it he's one to be wary of, or at least to trade out of.

Bandol looked really moderate beforehand and this is as good as he is. I thought he'd turned a new page at Sedgefield but this was another example of form from that dog track not translating elsewhere.

The staying handicap hurdle was almost impossible as the majority were opposable for one reason or another, with only the unexposed Robins Legend having any kind of scope for improvement.

But having hit everything in his path he was out of the race with a mile to run - it was one of those days. I'd given up on Redkalani a long time ago but he seemed to relish the more genteel ride offered by Miss E Todd on this day.

The hunter chase was essentially a three runner affair where Flash Garden looked fit and ready after a year's absence.

But he would have to go some to beat Knocklong, a plain animal with plenty of mileage on the clock, who nevertheless had been making hay between the flags under Miss C Walton.

With a new jockey in the plate things were very straight forward, Knocklong jumping well enough before repelling Flash Garden's effort on the run-in.

Comedinewithme came home lame but was never really going well enough to be involved.

Shearling had done precious little wrong prior to stepping up to 2m for the first time in the closing bumper. She's a nice sort with some size, and didn't have a great deal to beat.

Unraced Whiteoak Stroller was weak in the betting and she looked quite green in the prelims, even more so on the track as she came on and off the bridle.

Considering her mother was very useful in this sphere it was a very disappointing effort. Third favourite It's All About Me looks very light framed at present but should be able to win races given time, while the second Floral Bouquet might be okay although again she's very weak at present.

Monday, 6 March 2017


The torrential rain of the previous day that rendered a trip down the A1 too unpalatable to contemplate meant the ground was riding soft for Grimthorpe Chase day.

The opener was a competitive staying hurdle in which they went 4/1 the field, with the outsider no bigger than 11s. That summed up the quandary although I was loathe to give up on Point The Way, who has failed to fire so far this term.

B Ellison's youngster still hasn't filled his frame but looked in better shape than last time when he was coming back off a break, and his strength in the market suggested he was back to his old form.

Why then would D Cook, the master of the front running ride, help set the modest of gallops that would certainly and duly did leave the horse outpaced when they finally quickened it up!

This game baffles me sometimes and the slowest relative time of the day confirms they went a crawl and that didn't suit a horse who has stamina in abundance. He's becoming expensive to follow, but I'm not giving up on Point The Way.

Bryden Boy was quite a surprise winner considering his rise in the weights but continued the stellar form of the Candlish yard, while runner-up Whataknight ran well on ground that would have been too soft and he remains a horse with loads of ability.

Red Infantry looked really well but didn't go through with his effort, while Markov remains quite unfurnished and should do much better with another summer behind him.

The 2m handicap chase can get a really good line-up but this was a weak affair that went to San Benedeto, who looked really well in his coat and once again went through with his effort to land the spoils on unfavourably soft ground. I may have to re-evaluate my view on him.

Katgary was fit for his return, but he too would want in better than this, while The Grey Taylor looked fit but again backed out of things and remains one to have reservations about. Theatre Flame made a bad error mid race and the switch from Scu to Hiskett (5) wasn't a good one.

Happy Diva was a well-backed favourite to land the Listed mares race but I really wanted to be against her as she'd had a busy time of things and I just feel 3m on soft ground stretches her.

In Lastbutnotleast she came up against a willing mare that will jump and stay all day long. The step up to 3m looked sure to suit and under a great ride from the in-form W Kennedy drew the sting from the jolly and won going away in the end.

The others couldn't seriously be fancied - Taws is very small indeed while Braventara may be ok in time but is lean and leggy at present.

The Grimthorpe didn't appeal much as a betting medium although I wasn't really into Yala Enki as a favourite, he got very warm again which doesn't usually affect him but the form of his Haydock win in the fog hasn't worked out and he has a bit to prove off his mark.

Definitly Red has always been a very likeable individual and continues to do very little wrong. I thought he ran up a little light at Haydock last time out but he looked better here, my only query being the extended trip. I needn't have worried, it was game over halfway up the straight.

The Last Samuri ran well in unsuitable conditions and I felt he was 95% fit, while Looking Well was definitely straighter fitness wise than for the Skybet Chase and on the face of it was disappointing, but he's very inexperienced and this possibly proved that he doesn't want ground this soft.

Boagrius looked a good thing in a very weak novice hurdle, but yet another Greatrex hotpot got turned over by the surly looking Thumb Stone Blues, who clearly has loads of ability although I'm still not 100% convinced.

Be Daring didn't look straight but ran poorly after pulling hard and jumping badly.

I had picked out Mustang On as one to keep on the right side and this decent looking sort had been found a weak race in the following handicap hurdle, where he was the outsider in a field of five.

The soft ground was a concern as was the market support for Today Please, a fair sort with substance who looked well following an absence.

It's to the credit of young T Dowling that he kept the tearaway Danceintothelight in his sights all the way, and it could have been those tactics that won the day.

Mustang On ran all the way to the line to only be beaten five lengths after spotting the winner a good deal more at various stages. As such, I'm happy to mark him up for this and on better ground he'll go one better next time all being well.

The bumper was decimated by non runners and the N Richards-trained Echo Express won in quite taking style. He's a nice sort for the future but just a baby at present and showed greenness in the prelims.

But he beat previous winner Midnight Shadow (quite strong) without much fuss and is one for the long-term notebook.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017


Most trips to the Bridge are filled with optimism but there was a certain foreboding ahead of this one with six short-priced jollys, and not being much of a FAV backer it was never going to end well.

In fact, the only one not to win was Cafe Au Lait in the opener, who failed to land some big bets as he was grabbed on the run-in by the moderate looking Cougar Kid. Hugh's Secret failed by some way to build on his run behind the second last week.

The second race was a shoo-in for Chti Balko and so it proved. The opposition was virtually non-existent but to be fair the winner galloped willingly to the line in the manner of a horse who could defy a penalty if he gets his jumping together.

The third was the only real betting race but really it was about one horse, the heavily backed Nomoreblackjack, who long-term followers really needed to win to get some cash back.

The market suggested today was his day and to be fair he looked really well beforehand. It was never in any doubt once Cook hit the front early on and as he popped away at the head of affairs the rest fell away.

It was truly a weak race but you couldn't knock the winner, who unfortunately faces a rise of at least a stone if you believe the consistent Halcyon Days ran to his mark in third (he looked a bit flat to be fair).

The uncompetitive nature of the action continued in the next as the quite useful looking Red Rising won as he liked. He's clearly a strong stayer but he's big and rangy and should develop into a decent chaser.

Ronn The Conn once again showed stamina was his forte as he filled the runner-up spot, but he'll need a real test once sent over fences. Nonetheless he's one for the longer term and he's a nice strong individual.

Delusionofgrandeur looked more professional physically than The Bay Oak and I fancied the Smith horse to give the yard a double. The Bay Oak is clearly going to make a better chaser but he has shown lazy/awkward tendencies before and he tied up on the run-in after Skelton tried to put it to bed some way out.

It was a bold effort but he ran into a really gutsy performer who was already 2/2 round here. Foolishly I'd put the phone away when the Skelton horse went clear so wasn't in position to capitalise on what could have been a good trade, as I always felt Cooky was going to get him there.

Aengus was another well-backed horse looking to follow up his Wetherby but unlike Cafe Au Lait he did so in some style, proving he stays the longer trip to beat Turtle Cask, who didn't show much improvement for the application of blinkers.

I was against Monsieur Arkadin, who still looks very light framed and lean after a break and isn't one to be interested in for a while. Bruce Almighty looked really well but clearly has mental or physical issues.

Sunday, 26 February 2017


Plenty of midweek rain had left the ground very soft, although a drying wind over the preceeding 24 hours had turned it holding.

The opener was a tight four-runner affair but Testify seemed a rightful market leader on form, particularly after The Worlds End won so well last weekend. He looked the nicest in the paddock, but ran a strange race.

The McCain inmate started to hang going away from the stands and fell in a hole with half a mile left, running on again to not be beaten all that far. Something may be wrong physically, or indeed mentally, but this was not a step forward.

De Vous A Moi had every right to go well if making the transition back to hurdles, receiving 10lb from the runner-up. He looked vulnerable against progressive youngsters, but none of them ran their race and he did.

Imperial Bay is a nice horse in the making but the five-year-old looked on the weak physically and I didn't think he would be winning on this ground. I also didn't want to be with Seemorelights, who is quite a keen going sort with little stamina in the pedigree.

He's alright though - but he doesn't want a test like this and a drop back will see him back in the winners circle.

A handicap hurdle followed and I managed to maintain a dreadful strikerate in such events, not believing Teo Vivo could win again off a career high mark. He's clearly getting better at the age of 10 though and went away from Nuts Well again, despite being on worse terms for that Kelso win.

Nuts Well continues to look like a horse with more to offer, but the yard is winless this campaign and this six-year-old didn't look quite right here today. The fact he's put a couple of decent efforts together with the kennel out of form tells me he'll be worth following when he goes over fences next season, as he's just marking time at the moment.

Vinciaettis was made favourite and rates the worst bet of the season. He looked very fit after a lay-off but doesn't look straight forward at all and he turned it in after going a mile.

I couldn't be interested in the others though, a lack of support for Meadowcroft Boy suggesting his turn may come another day. He used to front-run before taking an injury lay-off and didn't look busy here out the back.

The Eider looked ultra competitive and my stab at Alto Des Mottes lasted less than 10 seconds, while cover bets on the outstanding-looking Knockanrawley and the consistent if disappointing Shotgun Paddy hit the woodwork. I never really took to Mysteree when it was with the Russell yard and seem to have missed the boat with him. R Dunne is a solid second-tier jock and I'm pleased he's won a big one.

Speaking of the Russell yard, with a stable full of staying chasers you'd think they'd have a representative in the Eider.

I made Zamdy Man the bet of the day and devout followers of The Dutchman must be racking up some serious losses this season.

The tactics would be interesting in this effective match but whatever happened I expected Zamdy Man, who wasn't a million miles from the top rung over timber, to be too strong in the finish.

However, it was very surprising that The Dutchman didn't get a typical Cook ride from the front in an attempt to draw the sting from his opponent. Perhaps they don't have the confidence in his jumping to adopt such tactics. He's just not that big or scopey and until his technique improves he may continue to struggle.

Zamdy Man is unlikely to go up much if at all for this win, in which he jumped as well as he ever has. He looks well handicapped on 140 and if they can find another two-miler on heavy ground he'll be one to have on your side. He's a warrior...with class.

The Nipper looked the proverbial 'stick-on' in another match this time for mares, against Irish raider Elusive Theatre. They were poles apart in the prelims and the only concern was whether the jolly would thrown it away once hitting the front.

Sensibly Sheehan got a tow for as long as possible and the 4/9 shot won as she liked. She may be quirky, but is better than her current mark suggests.

I thought I had the handicap chase by the short and curlies but it shows how wrong you can be. Well, I got it 90% right, which is probably more than can be said for most punters who seemed to think Ballybolley could win, despite never having found anything off the bridle on ground like this.

As sure as night follows day, he was going to travel like the winner before backing out of it. Maybe this market was driven by traders, who knew this scenario would play out and got all they could on at pre-race odds.

I'm too naive about these things but with Ballybolley and the increasingly disappointing Mr Spingsprong taking lumps out of the market there had to have been value somewhere. You couldn't back Special Wells who was on a career high mark for beating nothing in two lesser races, or The Ramblin Kid who was the size of a bus after more than a year off.

That only left two. Regrettably I'd spent the morning backing Caraline and by the off I had her winning almost five figures at an average of around 7/1, yet here she was trading at 13 on the machine which suggested somebody knew something I didn't.

Some things are unexplainable in this game and it simply won't do to ponder too long on these things over which we have little control. There were ultimately a dozen ways to have played this race to finish well in the green, yet I was still staring at a largely red screen after a number of in-play clicks.

If you take the market side of things out of it the race pretty much panned out as expected, with the stronger jockey up the straight coming home in front. Gold Opera did look well, but he's so hard to predict and he's just as likely to throw in a shocker next time.

Never mind. It's important to stay in the moment and the bumper provided a great opportunity as for the third or fourth time on the afternoon the market got it wrong.

It was essentially a match because Oscar Mor is so big and slow that he won't come into himself until he gets three miles and fences. Until that time he's not worth considering, while the two rags weren't players although Ghafaan is not without hope in the medium term.

B Pauling's Carlos Du Fruitier had a penalty for winning at Warwick but he's only just turned five and he looked pretty weak and leggy to me.

Far better proportioned was McGowan's Pass, who was run out of it in a driving finish by the bumper sensation Sam's Adventure, whose form is watertight.

Without the penalty plus the additional claim of the useful Miss McDonald, this nicely bred six-year-old was a cracking bet, particularly as all the money came for the southern raider.

The race panned out perfectly so at least we rounded off one of the most frustrating weeks of the season with a nice winner.

Thursday, 23 February 2017


After a dry week the ground was genuinely good but with a strong blustery wind things looked quite tough up the long straight.

I do love Donny as the result is usually a fair one and there can be few excuses, other than the occasional shemozzle as they turn out of the far bend.

The Skeltons unveiled a lovely big grey horse in Charming Zen for the opening novice hurdle and this expensive French import looked the part, moving fluently and covering plenty of ground at the walk.

He probably doesn't do anything too quickly and certainly took his time to get on top of the fellow penalised Apasionado, but the result looked inevitable some way out and the winner could be a fair tool.

Silent Encore is quite a nicely made horse of good staying stock, and is gradually coming to hand after this his third hurdles outing. He'd be capable of landing a handicap somewhere this spring over further.

Soldier In Action was useful on the Flat last summer and was highly tried at Musselburgh on a switch to hurdles last time. That track wouldn't have suited though and he had plenty of use made of him this time.

The outcome wasn't in doubt really after Nico poached a clear early lead, and the horse looks a relentless galloper. He doesn't move great but seems to relish the ground.

The keen-going Timoteo wasn't likely to threaten, while the penalised Diable De Sivola was right up against it giving weight away, and he may not be straight forward either. Apache Song is quite a strong filly and made a good impression.

There was deep disappointment when the heavily backed Skipthecuddles was scratched from the staying handicap hurdle. It left a wide open heat although The Tailgater attracted support again despite looking quirky under pressure and having stamina doubts, both of which again came to the fore.

The winner, Rocky's Treasure looked a nice type from the bang in-form K Bailey and despite having a high head carriage he looks a real stayer of substance, and did this quite well.

Some Kinda Lama was ridden with restraint this time and that backfired as he wasn't best placed when the tempo quickened, so he will rate better than this when the emphasis is on stamina. I didn't think the consistent Muthabir quite saw it out.

I didn't take any angle in the veterans race other than opposing Blue Kascade, who nevertheless went as though in good form, however he's not going to be competitive off a mark of 120 and was totally out of his depth in this C2 event.

Saint Are looked fitter than when he won last year and almost repeated the feat.

The hunters chase wasn't competitive. Paint The Clouds looked pretty fit and enthusiastic in the prelims, while Ardea looked the part and could still be improving. This was certainly much better than his latest effort at Wetherby, where I suspect he laboured on terrible ground. He looks a dour stayer.

The bumper was a strong one with Claimantakinforgan looking the one to beat despite having to shoulder a penalty. In any normal race I think he could have given the weight away but in Black Op he came up against an expensive purchase that could be very useful.

Black Op has been given plenty of time, and you can understand why as he's a fairly big unit. He was straight enough, but will certainly improve a bundle for this and can only improve physically over the next couple of years.

The form of Monty's Award's bumper win last year has stacked up but he didn't look great ahead of this return, getting warm and probably needing the run. M Pitman's Sea Sovereign is small and close coupled and makes little appeal going forward, but Tayzar should come on for this and he's got some filling out to do, and may land a weaker race in the north this spring.