Some rain overnight meant the ground was good to soft, although slightly better on the hurdles track.
Friday December 1
A good novice hurdle over 2m4f, Enniscoffey Oscar a well-backed favourite who was entitled to win, but not as well as he did and this goes down as a very decent effort, having come on a good deal physically since I saw him at Aintree. The placed horses lost little in defeat despite the margin - Dandy Dan making most and shouldering a 6lb penalty, he should be able to defy it in a weaker race. My Charity was slightly disappointing, but he's a good sort who was a bit keen over this trip and he should pick up one of these over shorter, while Talkischeap had a mountain to climb with the double penalty and he should come on for the run. Stormy Milan is only light framed currently but ran with promise and is one for the long-term.
A toxic looking handicap headed by the strongly supported No Ceiling, who was back down to his favoured minimum trip and he duly landed the punt despite some dodgy jumping. He won it easily but it wasn't a great race, Blandfords Gunner returning to something like his old self for a new yard, while Nicolas Chauvin ran his race again but the weight rise did for him. Welcome Ben got very warm after his long trip south and the run could be excused; he couldn't get on the lead and the ground was damp enough. Valseur De Granval ran a desperate race and he's become disappointing.
A handicap hurdle in which Manny Owens was the third well-backed winner on the card, sprinting clear to justify the quick run back after Catterick last week. This didn't take much winning either though, Peggies Venture running well again but the handicapper has her measure and she doesn't have the scope to progress much, while Rio Bravo was arguably the nicest of the bunch but didn't get home again and it may pay to give him a more patient ride. Barton Knoll would have gone close had he not crashed out at halfway and he's a big raw chaser to look out for next year.
A queer handicap chase in which it was hard to make a serious case for many, not least the quirky Powerful Symbol who looked to have been handed victory at Southwell last time out, but now he's won again, the third came out and won and the second ran okay next time. He came up against a complicit opponent in Nightline, who is looking hard to win with and didn't appear to have many excuses, while Red Infantry surprisingly traded odds on for much of the trip but as he always does found nothing when push came to shove. Hey Bill may be slowly finding his feet and could be one for the spring, while Cracked Rear View looked fit and strong after a lengthy absence but ran as though he needed it, while he's probably not straight forward either. Gibbes Bay looks a big lethergic horse and remains one to be wary of.
I've backed Monbeg River so many times in the past but have been scuppered by either too aggressive a ride, too patient a ride, or simply looking handicapped to his best. But this most consistent of horses and soundest of jumpers got everything right this time, or rather his jockey did; Brooke letting him go on after the early pace wasn't to his liking. A big track like this was always likely to suit him and I'm pleased for the horse as much as anything else. It didn't help the wallet though; I deserted in favour of Drumlee Sunset whose form with some big names made him look well handicapped on his first start for T George. However, you just don't improve horses from the P Hobbs barn and this medium-sized horse doesn't jump well enough, or certainly didn't on this day. It wouldn't surprise me to see him rate higher over timber, and by the way he stuck on a step up to 3m is going to help him. Master Burbidge is a keen sort and he looks best kept to the smaller tracks; he found little off the bridle.
Chapel Stile was another jolly to go in when he landed the staying hurdle. This 105-rated Scorpion is quite a backward type mentally and physically but starts from the right end of the handicap and he can rate much higher in the years ahead. He was on and off the bridle from a mile out but stuck on to suggest he has plenty of stamina in the tank. Tanarpino was his main pursuer from two out but I'm convinced he'll be better over fences so it's surprising he's now had three goes over timber already this term. He just about stayed this 3m, but it has to be said he's looking disappointing.
Quite an interesting bumper but it was clear that much was expected of Sangha River, who was well-backed and well-prepared by trainer O Murphy, he looks a quite stylish, athletic horse and he was given a very patient ride by JJ Codd. Having gone clear he was almost reeled in by Kingsplace, who looked quite backward and small by comparison so ran a massive race in the circumstances. Invisible Clouds is a strong sort but didn't look straight forward in the prelims and ran as though he's very green mentally - he was weak in the market and better can be expected in time.
Saturday December 2
Kalashnikov is in many a notebook already and he proved once again that he's got a proper engine, seeing off Irish Prophecy from the second last in the style of a very useful recruit. They went slow enough for him once again and he'll be better coming off a sounder gallop and the advice is to keeping backing him until he's defeated. Don't forget his full sister Kalane was a 140+ horse and this one is going to be even better. Irish Prophecy couldn't deal with the turn of speed but this embryonic chaser also has a bright future and he'll come into his own with more time. Deyrann De Carjac looked quite a nice physical sort in the paddock and he finished with gusto from the last and he could also be one to follow. Ollie Vaar showed a glimpse of what he is capable of and he should be able to pick up a small handicap this winter.
Redemption Song was all the rage for the mares novice hurdle and this could prove to be far better than the usual race of its type. The front four in the betting all looked quite useful types in the prelims but while the favourite got warm, she was disappointing having come off the bridle early and only able to plug on at one pace. I do think she's just mentally backward more than anything else, but she shapes like a stayer and may be one for the three mile mares race back here in the New Year. The Lavelle yard has hit form and Majestic Moll took a step forward to take it in decisive fashion, she's quite light framed so expect her to continue to improve. Jet Set hailed from the cold Longsdon barn but gave chase to the winner, and she's a good size and will benefit from this first start over timber; the form of the Aintree bumper being strong. Blue Valentine looked fit enough without really taking the eye.
There were good reasons to side with Irish Roe in the next, this bonny mare hailing from the small but shrewd P Atkinson having come on nicely from Wetherby, where she chased home a revitalised William Of Orange. It still looked like this experience would do her good as she was quite novicey at times, but she travelled like a horse a good deal ahead of her mark and even a 7lb hike shouldn't prevent her from winning again. William Of Orange stayed on again after looking likely to drop out so clearly is in good heart, while Chelsea Flyer couldn't give Lavelle a quick double and his form has questions marks about it. Dexcite looked really well after a long absence but raced as though it was more needed than I thought.
Not much interest in this three runner chase, Deauville Dancer not having to improve to win again. As such any rise in the weights may see him struggle, with Derintoher Yank not really in much form four days on from a Sedgefield defeat, while Apple Of Our Eye didn't jump a fence and he lacks a bit of size, and essentially hasn't shown a great deal for a while.
Little interest in a weak handicap hurdle won by C Mann's Fixed Rate, a tall leggy animal benefiting from first time blinds. Sumkindofking was favourite almost by default and he was disappointing once more, while Pot Committed is a big rangy animal who may have a future over fences.
A 0-100 staying chase with may of the usual suspects. Brown Trix and Smiling Jessica represented that Powerful Symbol Southwell form and while I'm sure the former would have won that day, he made a bad mistake four out here and jumping is clearly an issue with him. The latter ran on from knowhere to take second behind Attention Please, who bolted in having dropped all the way down to 76 in the ratings with cheekpieces applied. A 17-length margin will make a follow-up tricky, while there wasn't much else to take from the race other than Lakefield Rebel being some way short of fitness for his seasonal return.
The junior bumper looked an open contest on paddock inspection, although it was clear that the form already shown by Zoltan Varga probably wasn't going to be enough against a few likeable sorts, notably Skyline, who was well prepared as you'd expect by H Morrison, and Malinas Jack from the shrewd J Mackie yard. Lavelle's Shiroccan Roll is quite nice but looked big and backward, while the eventual winner Ettila De Sivola was quite typical of the trainer's, being a lengthy French import that was quite well forward without really suggesting it was going to be his day.