Thursday, 13 September 2018

Early days


Watching and going racing during the summer reminded me of how I first got into the game, at least from a working point of view.

It was 1992 or 1993. There had been a recession on for three or four years, not that I was old enough to understand such things. All that I knew was that I was one of ‘Major’s millions’.

Unemployment had gone over 3m and I was one of them for a short period of time after I left school at 18 with what would be described these days as poor grades. They were very poor grades back then.

I had been in and out of work doing various crappy factory and warehouse stuff, all equally mind-numbing. There were people working these jobs full-time which I couldn’t get my head around, so naive was I.

On a rare trip to the Job Centre one day there was a card on one of the boards saying that a bookmaker was looking to hire a clerk for the upcoming summer. It had my name all over it.

I contacted said bookmaker and he conducted an interview as we were sat in the front seats of his red Mondeo, while parked outside my local pub. The seats were garishly covered in leopard print. My parents are gonna kill me, I thought.

I didn’t understand what he was telling me as he placed a gigantic folder of lined paper in front of me, something about ‘field money’ and the ‘over round’. I nodded vigorously as if such terms were second nature.

It didn’t take long to secure my position on the bag. He traded under the name of Mike Leicester although his name I think was Peasgood and there was some relation to the Julie of the same name who featured in one of the soaps like Coronation Street.

It turned out that quite a few chaps had made good dough in the building industry over the last few years and had turned their hands to bookmaking. Mick was one. There were others, Colin Fountain and Pat Cash, who were actually brothers and didn’t get on. Gus O’Neill was another who is still going today (I think).

Bookie-ing was quite a big thing in Leicester back then. There was camaraderie. Sort of. In those days you only moved up the numbers if someone died or jacked it in. So you started out in the Silver Ring and slowly, very slowly worked your way up. Buying pitches would be some years in the future.

So you had to do your one-in-threes. This meant if you got your name onto a list to stand at a track, you had to rock up at least once in every three meetings to maintain your pitch there. So we traipsed around here and there throughout the year often just to maintain a pitch, taking £20-£50 a race.

And while it was just about okay making a three-hour plus trip to Salisbury in mid-summer, making the likes of Ludlow and Towcester on freezing January afternoons wasn’t when you would do well to field a score a race.

The reason you would maintain such pitches might be for one or two days a year when you wold have a chance to make decent money, usually one of the spring Saturdays at Uttoxeter or Easter meetings at Towcester or Warwick.

But I was loving it. I was using my brain again and going racing 3-4 times a week which got me out the warehouse. And there was some good crack.

The third member of the team was the radio man who at the start was a hulking figure called Arthur, who looked like a tramp and smelled like one too.

Because he was so big he used to sweat quite badly. So as well as the smell, the dampness would seep into Mike’s leopard print car seats. So Mike would get the spray out before we picked Arthur up, and a blanket was placed over the front passenger seat to absorb any moisture.

I had to sit in the back. They were long trips on sunny days. Mick liked Arthur, because Mick wasn’t that bright and Arthur was good at numbers. But I was better at numbers, and I don’t think Arthur liked that.

Arthur had one story. It was how he made loads of money backing St Paddy to win the Derby in 1960. He fancied it all through the winter and kept backing it. Piggott rode it to victory. Arthur bought a Jaguar. He promptly crashed it and almost killed himself. He sported a massive scar down the front of his head. He was potless. I don’t think he’d backed a winner since.

But it didn’t stop him from knowing everything. I used to try and take the piss and Mike sort of got it but was quick to defend big Arthur. Mick’s stories were better. He was covered in tattoos, back when that amount of ink wasn’t popular. He’d lived. I hadn’t. I listened.

I don’t know how much of it was true. He was a good raconteur, he’d make a story out of nothing. A ladies man, or at least had been.

He was a very tight bookmaker, which probably came from being a penny pincher. If we laid a £10ew bet on a long shot he’d have it all back. There was never a chance that we’d ever make more than a few quid.

The only times there was a bonus on the cards was Kempton on Boxing Day or at Royal Ascot. On both occasions business was so good it was impossible for the clerk to keep up. Mick’s brain used to fry on such big days so I’d go up on the stool and take the hundreds of small each-way bets off the ladies.

But they were fun times. I can’t remember what happened to Arthur but at some stage there was a change of personnel, with me switching to the radios and Mick the clerk taking over pen duties.

Mick the clerk could charm the birds down from the trees. He was a decent bloke and a good clerk, better than I was. But he had a problem with the booze. And for a guy still in his 30s was very old-fashioned, set in his ways.

We only had one stopover and that was at Chester for the May meeting and sometimes there were some good Friday/Saturday cards that warranted a cheap B&B for the night.

I lived for those trips. I loved Chester, not just the track but the social life as well. Compared to Leicester it seemed quite exotic, with that blend of Scouse and North Wales accents. We all enjoyed mixing with the girls and we made some good memories.

There was talk of me being a rep for the firm if Mike didn’t fancy it one day, or if there were two possible meetings to attend and we’d take one each. Nothing came of it though.

I’d started punting in disciplined three-figure sums, and by about the third summer I was getting itchy feet about clerking for £25 a day. I couldn’t reckon the two together.

I guess that’s what everyone who works in the racing game goes through. Am I a winning punter yes/no? Do I keep punting or stop yes/no?

By 1995 I was punting pretty much full time but primarily relying on phone lines and other avenues for ‘info’, and still doing a a couple of days a week on the bag.

I was also in the shape of my life as most days when I wasn’t working meant bolting to and from the local Mark Jarvis between races, not wanting to sit amid the smoke all day. 

I guess I was always a punter rather than a layer. While I loved those days on the joint I never held any dream to one day shout the odds under the ‘Normbet’ banner. I always wanted to find the winner.

Still do.  

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Aintree - Thursday April 12

Much debate about the condition of the ground, which surprised many by being not dissimilar to the official description on all courses, although it did seem slightly better on the hurdles track to the naked eye.

With not much more rain expected, it'll remain 'softish' for the next two days and seems fine for most apart from those looking for extremes.

Six went to post for the Manifesto Novices Chase and by the off the market could hardly split Cyrname, Brain Power and the well-backed Finian's Oscar.

The former is tall and still looked a little on the weak side...odds are he'll improve again for another summer on his back. It was hard to fathom the support for Brain Power, who hasn't delivered at the top level on several occasions and was never sighted in the Arkle, falling into second place late on. He's not my sort of horse to look at and seems to lack co-ordination, which comes through in his jumping.

Of more interest was Finian's Oscar, who is a seriously good looking, well made animal that could go right to the top if they can iron out his jumping.

Clearly talented, I couldn't back him at revised odds on the back of some iffy fencing thus far and again he was far from foot perfect, but they came back to him going to the last where he produced arguably his best leap of the race.

Rene's Girl is a nice mare at the top of her game, and nearly stole it off the front end, and she's adaptable groundwise so may yet be seen again this spring. Modus isn't a looker and got rather warm.

I didn't take a great deal of interest in the juveniles, where Apple's Shakira was a little on her toes but far from keen, although it was hard to see why she was so short in the betting on the back of what was essentially a blowout at Cheltenham.

Cristal Icon did look too on edge while Malaya again came across as a talented filly.

The prelims were shambolic ahead of the Grade 1 Betway Bowl, several of them having gone to post before Might Bite and Bristol De Mai had even entered the paddock.

There were no great angles to be had, although Tea For Two didn't shine like he had 12 months prior and hasn't had the most enterprising of campaigns considering he doesn't like soft ground; he clearly wasn't in the same form this year.

Supasundae looked in terrific order in a bid to go one better than at Cheltenham but things didn't quite fall right for the hot favourite, who had to bridge the gap between the runaway leader and the rest of the peloton.

The one horse it did suit though was L'Ami Serge, who was delivered perfectly to land a big pot.

There was each-way money for Cyrus Darius, who loomed up at the second last, but was readily left behind and sadly isn't up to this level. I'd have thought they'll continue to mix hurdles and fences from the mark he's on.

The Foxhunters brought together some decent looking animals, many of whom will continue to win races in this sphere. Wonderful Charm didn't take the eye, while Bound For Glory and Eddies Miracle were the smallest by some way.

The Red Rum is always a race I like to get stuck into but it didn't look a strong renewal with Kings Socks one of two or three ahead of the assessor, but the jolly was pulled up and surely went amiss at some stage, which is worrying considering his lengthy absence from the track.

Bentelimar was well-in if faith could be placed in the cheekpieces, while Theinval is definitely weighted to win one of these but was arguably unfortunate to bump into one, the pair 18 lengths clear of Gino Trail, who probably ran right up to his recent form.

Doitforthevillage can go from the front so he wasn't seen to best effect dropped right out, and can win again this spring if dropped in the weights as he has the size and scope to win from around the 140-mark.

There were some nice looking mares in the bumper, among whom was Posh Trish, who caught the eye in a similar race here in the autumn. However, she looked light around the middle and got a bit warm; this wasn't her true running and she'll prove decent in the coming seasons.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Wetherby - Thursday March 29

Officially on the soft side for a difficult card, starting with a couple of really uncompetitive hurdle races.

A maiden juvenile opened proceedings and it looked a match, with M Keighley's Pirate Look going off marginal favourite over Cosy Club from the Skelton yard.

The latter is only small but was very fit off a break, while the former was much the best of the pair on the level. It came down to a sprint, with the gun-barrel straight Cosy Club getting the verdict.

The seller saw Away For Slates go off a very short price considering how quickly he dropped the lot last time out, and his attitude has got progressively worse.

He wasn't for me at such odds, but you could hardly back anything else with only Rock Of Leon having nearly similar ability, and he rarely consents to show that these days.

Sure enough the jolly turned it in again, and couldn't even beat the 69-rated Bygones For Coins.

The handicap chase over the minimum featured many usual suspects, although Glance Back offered something fresh and with a couple of solid efforts over fences behind him he looked a decent bet, having looked really well in the prelims and something better than a 100-rated animal.

Having barely touched a twig in a couple of spins round Leicester, he didn't lift a leg from the outset this time and was the first beaten. This can't be his running.

M Hammond saddled three and they came home in front. Caraline and Roxyfet typically threatened without quite going through with it, but the third member of the trio Applaus put his quirks behind him to power home under a strong S Quinlan.

Lake Field hasn't looked the same since ploughing through the Haydock mire and may do better after a summer break, while the others ran pretty much to type.

A decent looking handicap hurdle followed but it was all about one horse and that was Isle Of Ewe, a lovely strong mare that looked in good order after shaking off the rust last time out.

She was strong in the market and had loads in hand if returning to the form of her win a couple of years back, and sure enough she tanked through the race and had it in the bag going to the last.

Quite what a jockey of Johnson's experience was doing increasing the revs going into the obstacle I've no idea, but a moment of madness cost punters a small fortune, but far more sadly the life of a gorgeous mare that might have gone on to much better things.

I was dead against Bob Mahler at Newcastle last time out and the maiden finally notched his first win but not before almost grinding to a halt between the last two flights, and he'll remain one to be against in future.

Rhaegar was deeply disappointing, failing to put a similar effort last time behind him, and this good looking son of Milan now has questions to answer, and already aged seven he's in danger of falling by the wayside.

Rowdy Robin and Brascoe look like they will make decent chasers but will be starting out from a modest level on this evidence.

Gonalston Cloud can do little wrong in my eyes but it was difficult to foresee a return to form in the 3m handicap chase, a trip he's struggled over all his career.

And yet he was up there from the off and only briefly came under pressure on the home turn, before asserting and seeing off the well-backed Wings Attract. He was never going to be passed up the straight and what a horse he's turned out to be. This puts him bang in line for the Scottish National, a similar sentiment for Blakemount, who didn't look straight and never does off a break.

Wings Attract was predictably overbet on his first start for Skelton considering all his form had been on good ground, indeed he had flopped badly a couple of times on soft. He jumped a travelled well enough, but was legless in the end and he may prove better over shorter granted much firmer terrain.

Ganbei is a laid back old timer and he'll come on for this, while Goodtoknow looked in great order and may still find a race.

Border Victor was by some way the paddock pick in the open-looking finale and very nearly got us all out of jail, if only for that pesky M Hammond!

There's only so many chances you can give a horse but Witness finally finished a race off over a trip that seemed beyond him on breeding, coming over the top after the big rangy Border Victor had seen them all off.

He didn't quite get home, but will surely win races over fences, while Floramoss certainly didn't stay once again; she's a bit fizzy and a drop in trip may suit, although she's becoming difficult to trust.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Market Rasen - Monday March 26

Finally some drying conditions and it was good to soft pretty much all over.

The opener was a match and not easy to call; First Drift a nicer chasing type shouldering a double penalty, up against a Skelton hurdler lacking in scope, but with form not far behind the marginal jolly.

They crawled around, and Or De Vassy won the sprint for the line despite having shown his form over further. Maybe the jockey should have kicked earlier on the second, but probably the best horse won at the weights.

Boy Named Sioux is a big chase type from a family the yard knows well, he's still green and they'll want to get some more experience into this big seven-year-old before he goes chasing.

There wasn't much to say about the 0-100 handicap hurdle. Scented Lily carries her head high at the walk and although appearing to knuckle down in the finish, did appear to shirk a good winning opportunity. The jury is out for now, she's only young.

Cobbler's Son is really unfurnished, and will be a better horse in time.

Race three wasn't much better, Red Ochre the paddock pick but he was run out of it by The Blue Bomber, who was winning for the first time in 20. That pretty much sums things up.

The staying handicap hurdle was more like it, and featured an interesting northern raider in On A Promise, who sprang to our attention earlier in the campaign when landing a punt for connections at Wetherby.

Beaten only by one even better handicapped over three months ago, this lengthy grey still looks unfurnished but clearly has some quality and he looked ready to go in again with question marks over many rivals.

Benechenko surprisingly went without headgear and ran no sort of race, while Itsnonofurbusiness was messing around in the paddock and looks very quirky, again showing little in the race.

Loch Linnhe has some mileage in his mark and ran well here a couple of months ago before getting very tired. Back on sounder terrain, I thought he'd go well and he did, coming clear with the well handicapped winner. He can win again.

The handicap chase wasn't great, but at least intriguing. It was at the mercy of the in-form favourite Must Havea Flutter with all the others having questions to answer, although four of the five were looking well handicapped.

The favourite looked well and was given a positive ride despite some iffy jumping, and is one to keep onside this spring. Clearly he'll stay further and goes on this better ground.

It looks like Matorico has completely gone, but Mahlerdramatic put in a better shift and just bumped into one, but it's still disappointing that he isn't better than his new mark. Las Tunas came in for a better ride this time, but it's not certain that he stays this far.

The novice handicap chase was low grade stuff, the smallest of them Bocasien Desbois proving more adept at the obstacles than most, running out a sound enough winner.

Kings Temptation showed enough to suggest he can win a small race after nearly getting rid of the jockey at the first, while Court Painter emphasized the form of his small yard with a big run despite looking big and hairy.

Alf N Dor was a surprisingly well-backed favourite considering his best hurdles form came on heavy, and that this came only nine days after a hard race at Uttoxeter. Goodnight Charlie should be better than this but remains out of form.

The mares bumper didn't throw up many lookers beforehand, the tall and quite light-framed Definitelyanoscar running out an easy winner.

Sweet Adare was probably the nicest and might be one to look out for, Truly Amazing had a good bit of size about her and can definitely improve, but Rippling Waters looked even lighter than she did in the autumn and simply can't deal with racing at the current time.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Haydock - Wednesday March 21

Drying ground at last but still officially soft and times suggested as much.

The opener saw the heavily backed Midnight Shadow go off at 1/4 but one of Sue Smith's best novices didn't read the script and he followed wayward leader Keyboard Gangster in heading for the stable exit on the first turn.

The way Keyboard Gangster, who looks flattered by his official mark,  got back into the race suggested the jolly may still have gone close had Cook managed to retain the partnership.

As it was, Think Ahead was left with the race at his mercy but this most sturdy of animals didn't look race fit, by contrast the complete rag Kapga De Lily is a decent looking mare that was ludicrously priced at the off from the Venetia stable, and despite some novicey leaps sped past on the run-in.

The mares novice wasn't a great affair and provided Skewiff with a simple task for all that she's probably not got a great deal of scope for improvement. The other four were unable to go with her in the straight, Drill Baby Drill getting the hang of things late on.

She's a good looker but so was her sibling On The Case, and he didn't amount to much. Bitumen Belle showed up well for the first time and this big mare has ability, while Touch Of Velvett's finishing effort was disappointing although she's not bred to stay this far.

A cracking novices handicap came next, with all five being really sound jumpers. They were headed by Hogan's Height, who has been favourably treated by the assessor all season and won with plenty in hand under a bold ride.

His jumping was phenomenal and he may climb much higher than this, with the Ladbroke (Hennessy) being mooted. He'll need another win at least to get in that, and he'll need to prove he stays further. He also gets a bit het up and was warm beforehand, but he's very inexperienced and didn't have much of a hurdles career.

Hills Of Dubai looks a real heavy ground sort on looks, while Bako De La Saulaie looks to me like he wants a step up from 3m, not down to 2m4f. He doesn't have the size of some either, and was a bit sticky at a couple.

A handicap hurdle came up next that didn't appeal from betting purposes, Mighty Thunder looked lean and leggy while Snougar is a big lump that needs time and fences. Secret Legacy was the paddock pick as you might expect from the I Williams kennel, but not for the first time from that yard looks were deceiving.

The veterans chase featured some real out-of-form characters who were well handicapped if able to revive, but the winner Shockingtimes had shown decent form in parts this term, not having luck on his side.

With T O'Brien back in the plate the 11yro travelled like a dream and managed to avoid mishap, proving himself well handicapped and landing a double for the much-improved Snowden team.

Solid Strike was disappointing, but the ex-winning pointer found this decent standard too deep and he was unable to build on the promise of his last run. Odds are his mark is stiff, although he may turn out to need a real test of stamina.

Katenko looked perfectly fit and well, but Spookydooky didn't really take the eye and hasn't really come to himself at all, not going with much promise.

The finale wasn't a great affair, Calipso Collonges typical of one of his young trainer's, being a handy athletic type, and he skipped away from a modest bunch like the good thing he was. Pookie Pekan ran no sort of race but I do like him for the longer term.

Champagne George is quite heavy set and lethargic looking, and you can see why he's not been easy to keep right. Tailor Tom looks a right handful and is one to avoid.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Wetherby - Tuesday March 20

Officially heavy ground after recent rain and snow but it's a sign of the time of year and the strength of the wind that the ground is drying out fast and although it was soft, it looked pretty dead and they finished well all afternoon, probably helped by the absence of three fences down the back and also a hurdle.

Little Bruce landed something of a punt in the opening seller, a weak affair in which he had little to beat in the end, Saucysioux not really running up to previous form. The winner had looked like needing blinkers for a while and he seems to run all his best races here.

Sainte Ladylime was backed into narrow favouritism in the novice chase to beat sole rival Progress Drive and the absence of fences was a definite bonus for her, although she was much more on the ball in this tiny field.

It worked in the opposite way for the hitherto improving Progress Drive, who pretty much messed about the entire time and was reported by Hughes to behaving like a 'playboy'. He's better than this, but may require cheekpieces or a bigger field to prove it.

A trappy handicap hurdle went to Final Choice, who was on a going day and looked in good heart beforehand. In fact they all did, although Bonne Question was still woolly in her coat and she'll come on again.

Quest For Life got outpaced at the wrong time again and he's frustrating, but looks the type to keep progressing and better ground may suit.

Dedigout was a surprise favourite for the next after failing to see out his races the last twice, and those hard races were bound to take their toll. Asked to make all, he couldn't get away from this better field and it looks like he'll miss the boat now aged 12.

Eminent Poet and Isaacstown Lad had decent, solid form in better races and the former showed the most tactical speed to win this, suddenly finding himself two lengths clear going to two out as the race unfolded.

Warthog, a tall lengthy grey who can only get better in time, cruised through and for once saw the race out, but the winner got first run. He's one to keep an eye on though.

Roycano was weak in the on-course market after appearing to be carrying condition pre-race, but under tender handling came right through for third and will have gone into countless notebooks with this effort. He likes better ground, and will jump a fence.

The handicap chase was down to four and saw another poor favourite in Bandon Roc, a moody type who chased home Just Georgie here last time in what amounted to just weak form in my book.

With the small Square Viviani unbackable after last time, it looked a two-horse race and the likeable Allmyown finally came good after slowly maturing all winter. He looked better in his coat and jumped super - as I've noted before he's not a hurdler and his form was bound to take off at some time.

He'd looked a plodder though, and Newberry New had form in the book, but the winner showed more speed than before to win unchallenged, and it would be no surprise to see him out again soon.

D Sayer ended a barren spell with Main Fact in a weak novices handicap hurdle, the horse didn't look great in his coat and this came as a surprise, although I wasn't keen on any of the market leaders - Log On having shown precious little while Instingtive and Christmas In Usa had to improve on previous form.

Gogo Baloo wasn't given a hard time and she is sure to do better with this behind her, having recently undergone a wind op. Lastin Memories was only small looking, but clearly has one of these in him. Honeychile Ryder didn't show enough.

Good Boy Bobby was long odds on to defy a double penalty in the bumper, and this really well made son of Flemensfirth went a good gallop to split the field apart. He's quite heavy in front, and soft ground could be imperative to him.

Up To No Good disappointed again, but this lengthy youngster could want better ground. The rest looked pretty backward, none more so than Tiger Time, but the Smith horse Lough Legend is nicely put together and should make his mark at a fair level in time.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Cheltenham - eyecatchers (2)

Day three

JLT

Shattered Love; I first saw this beautiful mare in the Aintree bumper and have followed her progress closely. She's developed into a lovely strong chaser and when they're built this way the mare's allowance is simply a gift. Her odds halved throughout the day and I thought she was thoroughly impressive. Wouldn't it be great to see her back here in the Gold Cup next year.

Benatar; A very good looking horse, strong, stoutly built. A little keen beforehand and as always tanked throughout the race. Clearly not straight forward, the way he stayed on up the hill suggests he has loads of stamina and if they find the key to getting him settled, he could go a long way because at six, he can only improve.

Bigmartre; A likeable sort, big and strong but not necessarily the biggest or best in this field. He was on edge and shaped like a non stayer, although the odds are he's only going to be a G2/G3 type and was essentially outclassed in a very good field.

Pertemps

Louis' Vac Pouch; Unraced since winning in November and the plan didn't come off, he got quite stirred up beforehand and was never in it. He may yet have a decent spring if the yard returns to form, although he has to prove worthy of a lofty rating.

Champion Chase

Un De Sceaux; A unique looking horse, short front to back and very strong, rotund. As we know he's very enthusiastic in a race but he was on his toes a good deal and got quite warm; whether he wasn't quite himself on the day, I'm not sure.

Balko Des Flos; Quite athletic looking, a little plain, and possibly room to strengthen further. Has been a very good horse from the get-go and came in here under-estimated on account of the going, but he surely goes on most types of ground and there must be a chance of him tilting at the Gold Cup on a better surface. Fears about his jumping were also unfounded.

Stayers Hurdle

Supasundae; His sweaty appearance put me off him last year and again he got rather warm, although he's quite an imposing individual.

Sam Spinner; One of the smallest in the field, he looked fit and well. He jumps hurdles well but I'd be looking to oppose him if he ever went chasing. The fractions he set wouldn't have suited him and if it comes up soft at Aintree he's worth considering.

The Worlds End; A bit of a 'nothing' season for this good looking chase type, whose effort here may go under the radar. Undoubtedly better on a sounder surface, and if it ever dries out he'll be of interest this spring.

Brown Advisory

The Storyteller; Not over-big, but quite classy looking, and likely to prove better than a handicapper in time, although his jumping may always be a slight issue.

Ballyalton; A lovely looking horse with loads of size and scope, performed with credit for a third time at the festival. He can win again, and granted better ground you could see him going well in this next year.

Kings Socks; The subject of a market move, he looks rather one-paced but may be better over shorter. He's a decent looking animal.

Pougne Bobbi; Good size and scope, it's a shame he's so inconsistent because he has the stamp of a very useful recruit.

Kim Muir

Mall Dini; A good strong sort, he travelled like the winner but not for the first time found one more determined on the run-in. Nevertheless, this was a third cracking effort at the Festival and better ground is sure to see him go well again next year.

Squouateur; Lacking in size and scope, he's always likely to struggle in the hurly-burly of big-fields, which he usually faces. 0/10 over fences, he looks well-handicapped and perhaps a return to timber could see him back in the winner's circle.

Actinpieces; Ever-enthusiastic, and very much on her toes in the prelims, although she calmed down eventually and was fine. Thoroughly genuine and consistent, she's good enough to contest listed mares races.

Tintern Theatre; Lacks size and scope and his jumping has been a cause for concern all season. Expertly handled by Sam Twiston-Davies to win at Kempton, he'd be of interest next term if reverting to timber, as he stays very well and remains on a decent mark.


Saturday, 17 March 2018

Cheltenham - eyecatchers

Day One

Supreme

Rather like last year's Neptune (Ballymore) Novices Hurdle, this year's Supreme looked chock full of quality animals likely to uphold this excellent form at the highest level over hurdles and fences next season.

Summerville Boy; A nice sort, somewhat unfurnished compared to some of these. Clearly a massive engine considering that mistake two out and looks sure to thrive over longer trips.

Mengli Khan; Loads of size and scope, looked a straightforward conveyance on this occasion and stayed on strongly after being slightly keen, one to note at Punchestown and Fairyhouse.

Paloma Blue; Strong, nicely made but far too keen in the first mile. It's therefore to his credit that he stayed on well to take fourth place. Bred to stay well so if/when settling better he could be a massive improver.

Claimantakinforgan; Less size and scope than some but very athletic, he was quite badly outpaced coming down the hill but stayed on as good as any (bar the winner) from two out. Appears to go on any ground but 2m4f on better terrain could see him take a decent handicap early next season prior to a chase campaign.

Lostintranslation; A fantastic stamp of a chaser, but weak on the front end and sure to be better with another summer behind him. Travelled nicely for a long way before lacking the acceleration to go with the first four.

Slate House; A strapping chase type who looked well, running well for a long way before finding it all too much and capsizing at the final flight. Hurdles would be nothing more than an inconvenience and he should make into a lovely chaser.

Simply The Betts; Simply gorgeous animal, well made and strong. He's been highly tried since winning a decent bumper early in the season and found this happening too quickly throughout. He'll be one to look out for in decent handicaps next term.

Arkle

Footpad; Compact, strong, not over-big. Got a little warm but looked fully revved up beforehand.

Petit Mouchoir; Very much on his toes in the prelims, a portend of what was to come. Clearly, a sharper test will suit.

Saint Calvados; A strong, scopey sort, and although not upset beforehand, this all seemed a bit much in the end, not helped by the aggressive ride. He was exhausted afterwards and is one to oppose if turning out again.

Ultima

Gold Present; Very big, lengthy and easy to see why he's probably a stone better on good ground. Ignore this run.

Singlefarmpayment; Not a horse to enthuse over, and looked a short price on what he's delivered this season. Looked a bit stirred up in the prelims and got warm, failing once more to live up to last year's form in this race.

Coo Star Sivola; Very strong and robust for a six-year-old. Looked really well and ready to roll.

Vintage Clouds; Has gained in weight and strength over the years, and once again ran his usual honest race, typically undone by a mid-race flat spot. Headgear would surely help eke out the necessary improvement to land one of these.

Casse Tete; A fine looking horse, travelled and jumped his way onto the back of the leading pack before stamina ebbed away turning for home. From the family of Azertiyop, none of his siblings won over this far and he's of interest back in trip.

Champion Hurdle

Melon; Made little appeal in the Supreme last year on paddock inspection and again got warm and generally didn't take the eye, but nearly landed the pot. Clearly, his appearance does not affect his chance and he's very talented indeed.

Mares Hurdle

Benie Des Dieux; Quite a workmanlike, chasing type.

Apple's Jade; Two handlers, and a little bit on edge for comfort. Not a huge negative, but enough to put you off if you were considering a hefty investment at 4/9.

La Bague Au Roi; Big, lengthy, rangy mare. Possibly not seen to best advantage having been sent on over a mile and a half out, but unlikely to have won anyway. Things didn't work out here last year either, and perhaps just shy of top class. She's ready to go chasing now.

National Hunt Chase

Ms Parfois; A renowned sweater, she came into the paddock as late as possible and looked very well indeed, with no sign of her getting wound up.

Jury Duty; Not as big as some of these but plenty of scope, travelled well for a long way before the petrol gauge started flickering three out. His form has a very strong look to it.

Close Brothers

Mister Whitaker; Good frame, still with some strengthening to do, and likely to continue to improve after a summer at grass. Should stay three miles and a very accurate jumper.

Testify; Nice horse physically but was a bit fizzy in the prelims and this was not his form.

Tycoon Prince; A very strong individual, lightly raced over fences and well capable of winning races around this trip if tidying up his jumping.

Day Two

Ballymore

Samcro; A fantastic looking horse, a good mover and very well in his coat. Certainly not one to oppose on paddock inspection.

Black Op; Tall, strong individual. Loads of scope for fences and should stay 3m.

Next Destination; Lengthy, sure to improve for fences, and shaped as though 3m will suit nicely.

Duc Des Genievres; Quite unfurnished compared with many of these, strong in the betting but looks sure to do better in time.

Vision Des Flos; On edge in the paddock and too free in the race, he's bred to stay really well and very likely to improve in time, providing he learns to relax.

Gowiththeflow; Likeable type but lacking the quality of stablemate Willoughby Court. Better ground could suit and he'll make a solid 140+ chaser.

Coolanly; One of the better looking ones, loads of size about him and one to keep an eye when sent chasing - this was all too much after a mid-race blunder.

RSA

Al Boum Photo; Quite a likeable sort, athletic, travelled well into the race but suspect stamina appeared to be ebbing away when capsizing two out. Likely to prove useful back in trip.

Allysson Monterg; A very big, strong individual, likely to do better on a more orthodox track.

Coral Cup

Springtown Lake; Looked keen in the preliminaries and was given little chance of getting home under a forward ride. Likely to prove much better than this in time, and over fences.

Champion Chase

Altior; Has the air of a real professional and there's every chance he would be just as good over three miles, so relaxed is he.

Douvan; Was a little on his toes and fresh in the paddock, and didn't look as pristine as 12 months ago. Odds are he wouldn't have troubled the front two.

Min; Loads of size, quite tall. Travelled supremely well and did very little wrong, just beaten by a very good one. Likely to win any race he runs in so long as Altior doesn't turn up.

Politologue; Prone to getting worked up and sweating, he was as bad as I've seen him. It doesn't always affect his performance, but it can't help and this just isn't his meeting.

Fred Winter

Look My Way; By this time it was clear that anything running freely wouldn't get up the hill and J Quinn's juvenile was a little on edge and warm in the prelims, too keen in the race. This wasn't his true form.

Lisp; Another keen sort, he was on edge early in the prelims but settled down and dropped the bridle in the race, but exited early on.

Bumper

Relegate; By some way the least appealing of the entire field, like many from the yard not great in her coat; moreover she doesn't move very well and lacked the size of all the others.

Felix Desjy; Hooded for the first time but a little on edge and far too keen in the race.

Mercy Mercy Me; Looked keen beforehand and likely to prove more than capable.

The Big Bite; One of the biggest in the field and one to look out for in time, probably when sent chasing.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Catterick - Wednesday March 7

Good to be back at the crease for what looked a rather unappetising card, however there were some highly irregular market moves to keep us on our toes and fortunately we stayed out of trouble, which is all we can hope for prior to The Big Week.

Ground conditions were soft but there was no sign of heavy and it looked soft at the very worst.

Drama in the opener as the Skelton-trained Hurricane Hollow drifted as though victory was out of the question on this drop in selling company, with the Slack-handled Discoverie all the rage.

Quite what officials will make of it is anyone's guess, but it can't be of much surprise to many that the southern raider failed to land a blow prior to pulling up, while 'Disco' sauntered home having been handed a lead at flagfall.

Young Tom again didn't show a great deal and he looks well held by the handicapper, although a spin on top of the ground may see him in better light; he's not that big.

Stablemate Cracking Find has few bigger fans than this columnist but being a stone wrong at the weights, having little form on soft ground, and looking a bit short of peak fitness, ran out a ready winner of the novices chase.

The assessor will have a job rating this, with 10-year-old pointer Solid Strike splitting the ex-Festival pairing, but it has to be assumed the market leaders were well below par.

Verni does not look one to trust, taking a keen tug throughout and meeting several fences wrong, before calling it quits on the run-in. You can't get away with that sort of behaviour against a horse of Cracking Find's honesty.

De Dollar Man had taken a step backwards at Wetherby last time and was beaten on the home turn. He looks a stayer, and it must be said the trainer has been very quiet this winter. I'm sure he's better than this, and may prove as much next term.

A decent looking mares novice followed where the tiny Kaloci headed the market despite shouldering a penalty.

I thought she was well worth taking on with three you could have given a chance to, and they were headed by juvenile Shine Baby Shine who looks a real improver for a set of hurdles.

She has plenty of size and scope for a youngster and her allowance meant she got plenty of weight from the jolly. She drifted late on but was a big price on her previous form here and delivered for in-form handler P Kirby.

Kaloci didn't lose a great deal in defeat, but her diminutive frame will hold her back in handicaps and it'll be interesting if she's tried on the level. Alohamora was disappointing on the face of it, while Quick Wave is a fair type who will surely do better after a summer in the field. I didn't like Stylish Dancer, who could be a wrong'un.

I put the reliable Dica in a short priced favourite for the handicap chase but for some reason not many agreed and he went off an attractive 5/2 chance. It promised to be a duel up front but Uno Valoroso couldn't lie up and his jumping is knowhere near as reliable as the winner's, who must be a delight to own and train.

The mystery of the race was a plunge on Square Viviani, a horse of only medium size and a shuffly gait. I didn't like him, and he made numerous errors, while the Irish raider Leap Dearg looked over-trained/under-fed and he has to prove he retains any ability.

The staying handicap hurdle wasn't much of a race and the Irish plunge horse The Jam Man bolted up - he looked well enough albeit lacking a bit of size. Floramoss seemed to have every chance but she's a bit keen and doesn't stretch out in front, as such she may always struggle in a finish and may not be one to trust.

The hunter chase for novices looked a decent affair if you went on paddock alone, and there were a few to take from it, not least Duhallow Tornado who was making a winning debut under rules.

He was slow at a few fences but staying is clearly his game and once stoked up he seemed to jump better. They went no pace and perhaps he had too much time to think about it. He's got loads of physical potential and can only improve.

The race wasn't run to suit Battle Dust and he stayed on well to suggest he can win hunter chases, while Just Cause was another decent looking animal who got a bit warm, and having tugged his way around suggested a shorter trip would be suitable.

I wanted to be with Indian Opera in the mares bumper after her solid start at Musselburgh, but was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of Sea Story, a well made daughter of Black Sam Bellamy who was just about capable of defying a penalty with a claimer aboard.

The pair came well clear and did nothing but enhance their reputations, the second faultless in defeat again and she can surely bag one of these. Lancaster Rose looked unfurnished but stayed on into third and should do better in time.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Newcastle - Saturday Feb 24

Not a particularly enticing card for Eider Chase day to say the least, heavy ground it was although it looked more 'dead' and 'tacky'...those that went on it came home pretty well. The crowd was shockingly small for the track's premier jumps handicap.

An awful all-weather bumper opened the show and a moderate bunch they were...the pair that came clear being On The Rox and Chateau Marmont and likely to be the only ones to take out of it.

The former is bred to be okay but didn't look especially forward, while the runner-up was on the small side but well put together. The surprise of the race was the cash for Mon Ami Bob, a big, lengthy shell of a horse with no condition on him at all. He showed some ability before fading.

One of the nicest mares in training hosed up in the novice chase, Lady Buttons once again proving herself a better chaser than hurdler already by making it 2/2 over the larger obstacles, I only spotted one minor blemish and she deserves to take on the men at some point.

Bollin Ace chased her home and this sound performer should now be ready to strike from a perch of 131, assuming a step up in trip is in the offing. Kelka was disappointing, but probably takes a bit of knowing and the booking of R Johnson may not have been the wisest move.

Indeed, Johnson rode the three that ran in the colours of popular Geordie Dave Armstrong on the day, somewhat surprising given that he has been loyal to the likes of the much improved C Bewley this season. I don't think RJ was of great assistance to any of his 'outside' rides on the day, but whisper it quietly as one mustn't crab the champion jockey. After all - how many winners have I ridden etc etc.

Only six got round in the Eider as they went a hell of a gallop throughout, where the first two beat were my picks Vinnie Lewis, who barely jumped a fence, and the veteran Milborough.

It looked like he went too fast on Milansbar, while even D Cook pressed too soon on the always prominent Hainan, who just doesn't jump fluently enough for me at times, and I suspect he'll pop up every now and then when it all falls into place.

The first three came from off the pace and I'd passed over the winner Baywing, who of course had looked so good in winning the Towton 12 months ago, but hadn't backed that up. His jumping had been scratchy and I even felt reverting to hurdles might have been for the best, that's how much I'd got him wrong. He fairly scooted away after the last looking a fresh horse, which suggests another big pot could be his at some stage.

A really weak mares hurdle fell to the improved Raised On Grazeon, who looked in good order prior to hacking up as her form suggested she would. Off The Hook chased her home but she does only look moderate, however a longer trip will be to her benefit.

The handicap hurdle was very weak for a Class 2 affair following the scratching of Master Of Irony and on looks the pair that were clear were Cool Mix and Joke Dancer. It's brilliant to see a horse develop throughout the season and it's hard to quantify how much Joke Dancer has come on since first seeing him in the autumn when he was a bag of nerves.

Hopefully they won't go to the well too often but he's a great looking horse who will stay further and jump a fence. It's shameful to say I haven't backed him for any of his three wins, after he out-fought Reverant Cust for a second time.

Cool Mix does not look a straight forward conveyance by any means and Johnson allowed him his head on this occasion, but his jumping went to pieces and he faded to finish fifth. This nice chasing type will be of great interest after a summer out, where he will likely look well handicapped.

Smart Talk was a very likeable mare a couple of seasons back and she looks to be coming back to form, wrong in her coat still here but not far short of peak fitness.

The handicap chase fell apart somewhat with Acdc failing to fire and dumping RJ out in the country somewhere. There weren't many you could fancy but that included the winner Plus Jamais, whose six previous wins all came in a lower grade.

Takingrisks was given yet another chance as his Wetherby form looked pretty solid, but he continues to shape as though a return to further is what he requires as he was only capable of the one pace up the straight.

Enough has been said of Central Flame and his rider, alas this very decent type will only be seen to best effect under stronger handling. Viens Chercher did not look right and remains with plenty to prove.

Cadeyrn did us a huge turn winning here last time but he looked vulnerable in a three-runner novice hurdle and it didn't help that RJ went no gallop, leaving this lovely chasing prospect as a perfect target for the other pair.

Uncle Alastair couldn't find a way past giving 4lb away, and he may prefer it deeper than it was here, but Planet Nine, known to be highly regarded by connections, backed up his latest handicap win over three miles and the penny has clearly dropped now, with his wandering about when in front only serving to suggest there's more in the locker.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Wetherby - Wednesday Feb 20

I haven't been able to get to the track for a few weeks so apologies for the absence of blog updates. Normal service will be resumed following Saturday's meeting at Newcastle.

Not a great card came together on bad ground here, despite recent rain it looked deep and holding. We're in the depths of winter still and quite a few of these are likely to improve for a bit of decent terrain.

The opening novice hurdle was a weak affair, taken in quite straight forward fashion by the hitherto disappointing Skywards Reward, who had backed out of things the last twice after showing stamina to be his forte in quiet runs last term.

Hard to weigh up, he travelled nicely and stayed on best to win cosily, although this form is not worth a great deal with the runner-up a maiden and market leader Princess Mononoke looking a very moderate sort.

Northandsouth looked fine but ran no sort of race and this fourth race in as many weeks was probably one too far.

The weak mares handicap chase came to reflect much of what's been happening this season on a personal front, with a dreadful favourite in Flemerina getting turned over only to back the wrong one against it.

I've long since had a soft spot for Honeychile Ryder and she shaped ideally last time out over a trip too far, and with the size to jump a fence this looked a decent opening. I thought she jumped okay barring a blunder mid-race but she's still far too keen and it's hard to know whether they'll persevere with her on such a low rating.

Massini's Lady had bits and pieces of form but it's a measure of the contest that she won so easily, having a awkward jumping style and not one to have faith in next time, for all that she's built to do well in this sphere.

Hepburn also has the build, but this flat bred will surely prefer better ground, while Flemerina is too small for fences, needs further but is more than half a dog nowadays.

The novice hurdle had no depth at all and Rosmuc Relay defied his penalty in quite taking fashion for one so backward mentally, and he looks a decent tool in time. Well Smitten bounced right back to form and he's a well made sort that should progress from this PB.

Teescomponents Lad ran his race again but made countless errors and will surely benefit from professional handling, while a longer trip will suit in time.

I nearly sat out the handicap chase, a rare thing indeed, but I couldn't have the weak finishing Swift Crusador (decent frame but unfurnished - he may want better ground) on my mind while Pistol Park was short in the betting for one with something to prove this term.

The duo took nearly 40% out of the market and the only pair I could back were classy Catterick scorer Dresden and course specialist Caraline.

Cue another bad call as the 6/1 about the latter proved too alluring so we stuck it all on the mare, without covering on the sturdy southern raider, who was much calmer in the prelims than last time.

The heavy terrain was a slight concern for Dresden but he travelled supremely well and the better jump at the last sealed it - Colliver perhaps not seizing the initiative on the turn for home on the runner-up, but maybe that's being harsh.

It wouldn't surprise me if Dresden had a role to play at Cheltenham and Aintree. With confidence sky-high, exposed chasers can be overlooked in the big handicaps but he has the class to defy a higher mark and a strong-run 2m will suit this sound jumper.

The following handicap hurdle was of little punting interest but Pookie Pekan went into the notebook as he was much the nicest physically and one for the future.

The top weight benefited from the carnage up ahead and was due to be beaten 10-15 lengths prior to the exit of Northern Girl and Dolce Penam at the last, so it will be interesting to see what the handicapper does.

I thought he was on a high enough mark already and I'd be surprised if he built on this in the short term - he's more one for next season and thereafter.

The staying handicap lost a little interest pre-race with the big drifter Milly Baloo withdrawn after being kicked. Followers may recall Just Georgie being a favourite of mine for a long time but he'd outstayed his welcome and looked a horse with issues again last time out.

He's such a good-looking animal it's a shame he's only winning from a mark of 110, and it wasn't much of a race. He shaped much better as a novice hurdler and he may go on from this, but it was a no-bet race and I'm pleased he won for connections as he was due one.

Bandon Roc doesn't look one to trust, while San Pietro is quite a nice type and although he's won on soft I suspect he didn't appreciate this and may be one to keep an eye on this spring.

Uneasy favourite It's Oh Kay had every chance to land a weak mares bumper but this has to go down as a disappointing effort as she didn't put it all in up the straight.

Physically she was more imposing than the others, but the money came for Musselburgh winner Paper Promise and this compact, forward mare knuckled down best on this different surface and somehow defied a penalty.

Course winner Maebh looked a bit light framed and flighty beforehand and although she went okay, the longer trip seemed to find her out.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Newcastle - Tuesday Jan 30

A decent enough card assembled for the Geordie masses (very droll - Ed) on ground that was officially soft, heavy in places but good to soft in the home straight. Essentially it was decent ground for the time of year.

The card had a good shape to it and we got off to a flyer when the good thing Cadeyrn landed the opening novice hurdle by a diminishing, yet cosy, neck.

The M Scudamore inmate was first sighted here in a Haydock bumper I said at the time might be 'very good' and has thrown up graded winners Claimantakinforgan (try saying that in a Geordie accent) and Global Stage.

The likeable Cadeyrn had shown plenty on his second start over timber at Chepstow last time and this looked a perfect opportunity to show us what he is capable of, with a warm favourite having his seventh run in a novice or maiden event.

If it was a boxing match you would have called it off before the start, the jolly having very little about it physically and the comparison with our lengthy, strong hero simply meant we had to go in again.

Cadeyrn needs another summer to fully strengthen as there is still plenty to work on here, but they are taking their time with him and I suspect they think quite a bit of him.

Bob Mahler may yet pick up a novice but he didn't look straight forward in the heat of battle, and a mark of 125 could well prove to be his ceiling.

The other 'runner' was Donna's Delight but he's a tall gelding that still has some filling to do, and while he clearly has ability this son of Portrait Gallery may not be the most straight forward.

Petticoat Tails was a much more worthy favourite in the following mares hurdle, having plenty of scope albeit on the light-framed side. I've seen her before and quite like her, and she only seems to do enough.

Her form was well in advance of this lot and while the strong looking My Old Gold threw down a strong challenge she always seemed to be coming off second best. The runner-up may come on again for this and is a shoo-in for something similar.

Birch Vale was in good order and went well before weakening surprisingly quickly from two out. She may not have been able to go with them on the ground, but she ought to be better than this in time.

Kimberlite Candy was strong in the market for the featured staying chase but he's been anything but straight forward and the cash for him never felt right.

I backed Newtown Lad at Bangor last time when they went like stink for the first mile, and he didn't mess around here either although the fractions made more sense.

He didn't do much wrong but found course specialist De Vous A Moi too tough a competitor on the day, the Smith horse relishing the long straight once more and moreover the return to fences.

This was a decent contest and Central Flame ran his race in third, with the suspicion that he's still not 100% fit and that 3m stretches his stamina. There's a race for him from this mark if everything falls into place, which it would have to unless they changed the personnel.

With four no-hopers in the eight-runner staying hurdle there were some great angles to be had, none better than Skipthescales, who was in a slightly weaker race than of late and with the addition of blinkers and the excellent A Nicol doing the steering, he looking very hard to keep out the frame.

The beast travelled far better in the blinds and it was indeed a matter of steering him home ahead of the frustrating Tickanrun, runner-up for a fifth time while American Life is another that loves to chase others home.

The 2m handicap chase was interesting as the front pair in the betting Whitsundays and Casual Cavalier were very opposable being far from the most straight forward, and there was a real wildcard up against them in Jaunty Thor.

The handicapper had taken a chance in dropping the animal 6lb from his last outing in June, and he rocked up looking to have done plenty of work at home.

Very strong in the market, he looked a stonking bet but after uneventful first half he lost ground at several fences and found himself on the back foot.

Better knowledge of the opposition and indeed of the horse itself might have resulted in a more pleasing outcome, for it looked like Dunne panicked, rushing the 8yro up on the home turn to take the lead four out.

Such an effort surely took plenty out of the horse, and frankly I was surprised he was still a couple clear jumping the last, but he was worn down close home by the hitherto mediocre Charlie Snow Angel, thwarting a decent punt close home.

The runner-up isn't an easy conveyance, but he won't be thumped for this and with a suitable break can surely make amends providing things fall right.

Lord County duly followed up Friday's comfortable Doncaster win in the finale, but that bird had long since flown. Modulus looked in great heart but this didn't provide a stiff enough test and the ground probably wasn't deep enough either. One suspects he still has races in him this spring.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Doncaster - Friday Jan 26

Soft, good to soft in places was the official going report and that looked about right with the hurdle track looking particularly hard work.

A really moderate 0-105 handicap chase opened proceedings, a very winnable contest that saw the frustrating Doktor Glaz return to the winners' circle under a really positive ride from L Murtagh.

The kid has endured a frustrating winter but there's no doubting his talent and he essentially won the race by kicking on early in the straight, stealing a march on some paceless rivals.

I've doubted the horse's stamina for some time and an aggressive ride at this trip probably sees him to best effect, although I'd be looking to oppose him in anything stronger.

Blakerigg is a big unit that has been very slow to come to hand, this was more like it on chase debut and he should be able to build on this as he goes up in trip on better ground.

Grow Nasa Grow has always been a prospective chaser and he showed his first piece of form over the larger obstacles by running on into third, and as the Winks yard has been quiet there could be more to come from this one off a very low mark.

The novice hurdle was the highlight of the card for me with half a dozen of interest either on the day or for future reference.

Perfect Harmony and King Of Realms had very good bumper form and had shown a good deal of promise over timber this season; I couldn't split them until they were viewed in the paddock.

Goodness me, what a striking animal this King Of Realms is. Very well made with loads behind the saddle, he looked a proper horse and considering he was in with some good lookers, there was the potential for something big here.

Bounced out on the early lead, it was a real statement of intent from O'Brien and the six-year-old duly ran them into the ground, scoring by seven lengths. Let's not go overboard just yet, but I Williams has a right tool on his hands.

The market preferred the claims of Perfect Harmony and he's a good looking chaser in the making, but had been off for nine weeks and will be sharper for this run. He lost nothing in defeat and this form is solid.

The Skeltons' Present Ranger came home well in third at long odds and this scopey individual has now shown more than enough in three starts to suggest he can win a decent handicap on better ground before starting a career over fences.

Oakley Hall's form tied in closely with that of the winner and he was about to give him something to think about when crashing out at the final flight.

He wasn't the best looking by any means but clearly has loads of ability and at 120k last year all may not be lost, while further back Going Gold ran okay to a point although he was a bit out his depth physically.

Cracking Destiny was too short in the betting having achieved only a small amount in bumpers and this close-coupled animal did not take the eye. Keen in a hood, an early mistake didn't help but he's not one for me going forward.

Frozen Flame is quite lengthy and his time will come when handicapping on good ground and again he showed something before fading away here.

All eyes were on Mount Mews as he took on three rivals in the novices chase, but it was a much sterner test than on debut here last time and his jumping didn't pass muster.

I queried earlier in the campaign whether he would be a better hurdler based on his physique, which is not that of a staying chaser in the making.

Robust and compact, he lacks real scope and that was obvious here as he lost ground at many fences, unable to stand right off, none more so at the last when an extra stride cost him more than the margin of defeat.

I'm still surprised they chose to go over fences so early in his career - he's unexposed over 2m4f and beyond over timber and I'll stick to my long-held view that he'll turn out to be a better hurdler than chaser.

Wotzizname did little wrong in beating the favourite, rallying really strongly on the long run-in. I wasn't that taken by him physically and this eight-year-old is probably around the peak of his powers.

Robbin'hannon looked unbelievably slow over hurdles and this switch to fences did not change anything in that regard, although so poor was he that this can't have been his form, while trainer Hobbs is very quiet by his standards.

The front four in the betting for the staying handicap chase all looked ahead of their marks and it was fought out by two of them, Shanroe In Milan eventually wearing down Bako De La Saulaie to deny the nap of the day.

Nichol was left in front too far out on the runner-up when Capard King got rid of his partner with a jolting error at the final ditch, but Bako had taken him there with a series of fluent leaps.

However, Hughes was in stalking mode on the eventual winner, who jumping slickly in the main and was full value for the win. He has strengthened up but remains a work in progress and he's starting to see out his races better; this was further evidence that the Ludlow form is very strong.

They came away from Captain Mowbray, who was set an impossible task on a track where the leaders rarely come back, and he remains in top form despite a busy campaign.

Amber Gambler made a series of small errors which may have had a hand in his weak finish; for all that he's won over the trip he may prefer a bit shorter. Dawnieriver is handicapped to win again and she will relish a return to spring-like ground.

The 2m handicap hurdle wasn't a great one but Lord County was noted as a likely sort for the future, I really like the Greenall yard that buys proper NH horses and while he won today he can only improve further.

Does It In Style was the paddock pick by miles and it's hard to believe he's only rated 77. When he learns to settle he could go through the handicap and after hitting a predictable flat spot he ran on quite well having got his second wind. He's probably a stayer once he learns to race.

The finale looked competitive although on closer inspection there was plenty of dead wood, One Of Us strong in the betting for winning what didn't look a strong face last time out, and he was beaten some way out.

The race saw Kansas City Chief return to his best Irish form from a much lower mark, and he bolted up. Hidden Cargo and Allez Jacques were a couple I took from the prelims but neither appeared well fancied and didn't show a great deal.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Catterick - Wednesday Jan 24

Really soft ground on a wet and windy day, some pretty weak racing and form generally to forget about as we move through spring.

Jaunty Flyer went off odds-on for the opening novice hurdle and while he was clear on the figures he's looked pretty paceless of late and it's clear he isn't progressing.

He looked beaten late on but was joined on the line by Teescomponents Lad, who as expected relished the extra distance and was nicely produced by Emma Todd to claim the jolly.

It looked like he'd won a good head on the line but after a lengthy debate a dead-heat was called, to the surprise of most of those present.

I don't rate the form particularly highly, with the Flat-looking Rajapur keeping tabs on the leaders until after the last, while the more likely looking Young Tom and Haasab ran poorly.

The 0-100 handicap chase attracted many usual suspects, including Major Ridge, who had won the race 12 months ago but on much quicker terrain, and he backed right out of it after going with zest early on.

Ronnie Lawson came up in the Vaughan van with Jaunty Flyer and a quick double looked on for much of the final mile, but the diminutive chaser faded badly from the last as his earlier efforts took their toll.

The unexposed Spirit Of Hale looked one of the more likely protagonists despite being overlooked in the market, and this dour stayer managed to get outpaced at the wrong time before staying on again late without looking like winning.

He'll need an even stiffer test, while Smuggler's Stash consented to run on too late and I wouldn't be too taken by this effort. So Satisfied took the honours, building on his decent effort last week, but he's not the sort to run up a sequence.

The handicap hurdle was of much higher quality and it featured the handicap debut of the Sue Smith trainer Silva Eclipse, who looked a useful novice in three starts for the stable.

Weak on the off, but still short enough at 7/4, he never really seemed to be travelling and maybe this came too soon after his Wetherby effort. He's not the biggest and has yet to fill his frame. I'd be inclined to ignore this run.

His lamentable performance left it wide open and it looked at the mercy of Zeroshadesofgrey, who like last time at Wincanton had the field on stretch for the last mile of the contest.

However, the big grey has become disappointing and he found precious little when it mattered, being run down by the smooth travelling rogue Sakhee's City, coaxed into the bridle by the excellent A Nicol to win cosily, albeit reluctantly.

They were all over the place in behind, Jimmy Breekie chasing the leader down in the straight before falling in a hole, while the typically free Beeno managed to plug on for third. Again, this was typical mid-January form and not especially meaningful in the scheme of things.

For what it's worth, Sakhee's City was sweating quite badly on this bitterly cold day, but it clearly did his chance little harm.

Three went to post in the novice handicap in which Bentelimar went off a warm order, but he's had umpteen chances both here and in Ireland and he lacked the size and scope of a more progressive sort in Somewhere To Be, who was blinkered after a tame display last time.

Off a longer break, the Southern raider looked well and his jumping warmed to the task, as he boxed on gamely to repel his one-paced rival after the last. The runner-up was giving plenty of weight, and as with Silva Eclipse he may have been a bit flat just 12 days on from his last run.

One that was very fresh from an absence was Kelka in the novices chase, and while she was backed as if defeat was out of the question she had done plenty of running by the time the tapes went back, and she can make amends for this shock defeat next time.

Not that losing to Totalize was a disgrace, the formerly useful dual purpose horse was fit from an even longer break and put several novicey leaps behind him to mow down the favourite from the last.

There has to be some doubt as to whether he'll build on this, such was the sketchy nature of his jumping, and it could just be that things panned out for him this time under a fine ride from D Cook.

Applaus came in a respectable third and he should be able to land a handicap at a bigger track, for all that his head carriage is rather discouraging.

The finale was a low grade handicap hurdle which was delayed by the recalcitrant Notebook, who was short in the market despite his wayward tendencies.

McCain farms these sorts of races at the gaffe tracks with his run-of-the-mill handicappers and the costly Derrynane showed the benefit of a break to take it with ease from a perch of 91. Bering Upsun looked really well but not for the first time found little when it mattered and isn't one to trust.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Wetherby - Tuesday Jan 23

Desperate conditions awaited runners after the meeting passed an early inspection, jockeys took their time in most races but with the additional yardage it was generally a struggle to get home.

The opening juvenile event was tricky with a big drifting favourite in Solo Saxaphone coming up against previous winner Oxford Blu and a big rangy ex-French bumper winner called Empire De Maulde.

Backers of the latter named were no doubt alarmed by the late drift and he seemed to run accordingly, although this was a falsely run race even by the standard of the day and the jocks were nearly caught out by D England on Titan.

The pair stole a couple of lengths early in the straight and with nothing immediately taking up the chase, for a moment the 50/1 shot looked home, but H Skelton roused the drifter just in time to get up close home in the style of an okay sort. For all that Titan was over-priced on looks, it would be hard not to say he's flattered by this.

A toxic-looking 0-100 handicap followed where Age Of Glory came home best despite having plenty of stamina queries against his name. This was not a strong race, with Cafe Au Lait setting the mark in a staying-on second.

Indian Reel and Chase Me were the paddock picks but the former in particular got a queer ride, held up early before making his move five wide on the turn, eventually fading tamely away.

Dick Darsie was made favourite for the staying chase which was truly astounding on two counts - primarily on the basis of form - his win here last time ain't worth jack - and secondly in-running players were surely aware this recalcitrant and downright slow animal would trade at biggers odds as soon as the flag went down.

Lunar Flow looked a more worthy jolly with valid excuses for his latest effort in a big-field marathon, and he was asked to make all at a rapid pace which had most of them beaten off a long way out.

The early fractions started to tell at the top of the straight though and Bassarabad, fresh from a wind op and with tongue tie added, came home stronger with nothing else left able to go a trot.

I gave Purple Harry a right chance so it was disappointing, to say the least, that he jinked and ditched the rider going to the first. He hadn't been quirky before and without seeing the replay I wonder if the flagman was partly responsible for not getting his arse out the way fast enough.

The big grey galloped and jumped round with the first two, and I would have expected him to have been involved in the finish with the jockey still in the plate. His day may yet come again.

I had given up on Final Fling long ago after he let me down on some big days and I didn't think he was capable of following up his latest win from a three-figure mark, but he's suddenly found a jolt of improvement and he saw off quite a decent field in the staying hurdle.

They went no pace at all here and the lengthy, chase type Asking Questions hit a wall before rallying for third, suggesting a stronger pace would suit, while Sounds Of Italy has no weight and while he isn't very good, his jockey wasn't harsh on him and a small race may not be out of the question.

Mad For Action is nice looking, a bit backward, and may well be one to look out for on decent ground.

Four came together for the handicap chase and it looked trappy on paper, but the market was solid all day long for the quirky looking Catamaran Du Seuil and when your tissue is all over the place it's sometimes best to stand aside.

Caraline, Wolf Sword and Clan Legend all had their chances but the likelihood is that the winner was simply the best handicapped horse in the race..and all the right people knew it.

The closing novice hurdle was a match in the market but sometimes you have to retain belief in what you're doing and while I hadn't got the previous race right, I strongly felt the market was wrong with Destrier weak in the betting in the face of support for debutant Klare Castle.

The Skelton horse is a beast, very strong and good looking, and with the form in the book looked hard to beat providing he settled on his first start in nine weeks.

He was rather keen but as the paddock view suggested, far too good for the opposition, the light framed filly Miss Tynte chasing him home.

Klare Castle is a nice enough type but still on the weak side, and his jumping left plenty to be desired.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Haydock - Saturday Jan 20

A typical mid-winter card at Haydock in very heavy ground, although as is often the case the main players looked as though they were going through it okay.

Four of the seven were course winners and all were ridden close to the pace. You cannot expect to make up ground here on any going.

As such, Chozen should be given another chance after he was attempted to be settled by Johnson 20 lengths off the speed in the opener. He's a nice strong horse with loads of stamina, but he's currently ruining his chances by refusing to settle.

I've asked before why do you have to try to settle a hard puller right at the back of a big field, rather than say in midfield? But then of course I haven't ridden a thousand winners, so there'll be a good reason I'm sure.

To his credit Chozen stayed on better than most after dropping the bridle, finishing just over 10 lengths behind the winner after literally never being sighted.

He clearly won't be winning anything in the short term unless he grows up, but this came after eight weeks off so with a shorter absence he could be of interest, especially on better ground where they will go much faster through the race.

In time, again with the obvious caveat, he may well turn out to be a very well handicapped horse, especially as he's the sort where 'chasing could be the making of him'.

Enough about him, the winner was one of the nicest in the field and the improving Joke Dancer made the assessor pay for dropping him 4lb after just one handicap outing (how many get that treatment!) when essentially routing the field under D Cook.

I've seen this horse every time he's run this term and he's really grown up having been green and keen from paddock to track. He looked far more professional in the prelims this time and his performance duly followed that through.

Reverant Cust closed the gap to half a length at the line, which flatters him, but it was good to see the grey come home strongly in a race after not seeing it out a few times. Clearly the drop in trip suited, and a more positive ride can now be administered although a jockey change is likely to trigger further improvement.

This form is not brilliant for a Saturday but there are others to note here including Graystown, who should come down the weights again and surely wants further, while Western Morning will be one to look out for, probably after another summer at grass. Brynmawr is a staying chaser on looks.

The Rossington Main brought together a sextet of much quality and was won impressively by First Flow, who looks a proper soft ground horse and could be something of a machine under these conditions.

I do worry that he may not make a chaser - for me he's a bit narrow in front and his jumping of hurdles was very fast a flat, apparently it's taken a long time for the penny to drop.

These things are all relative though, and he was in very good company here. Midnight Shadow came through for second and this lovely strong chase type deserves to get his head in front again, probably when asked to race over further.

Lisdoonvarna Lad came on again from Wetherby and lost little in defeat, he's a chaser for next season and just a little unfurnished at this stage, but clearly a useful prospect.

Waterlord was a disappointment and this sturdy animal has a question to answer after this, while Lostintranslation is a lovely rangy chaser who wasn't going after a mid-race blunder and he's obviously much better than this. McGowan's Pass was out his depth, but he's a nice type who can rebuild in handicaps.

I didn't see The Dutchman as a likely winner of the Peter Marsh, but plenty did and he was backed into 13/2 in a competitive field.

He'd won a four-runner novice chase by a neck last season but hadn't won since, and I always felt his lack of size would hold him back over fences, for all that he's generally an accomplished jumper.

Campaigned over all sorts of trips in the past, he stayed on better than the rest to win really well but I'm not sure if I'm able to change my overall view on him.

Captain Redbeard ran yet another cracker but was out on his feet on the run-in, suggesting this may be further than he wants to go, by contrast Hainan was badly outpaced when it mattered and only got going again late - he looks one for races like the Midlands National.

Ubaltique loves this place and won again, rallying late on after Lake Field had travelled like a horse still ahead of his mark, floundering on the ground after the last. The Bailey horse can win again, while Tornado In Milan ran his race once more without really looking like winning.

Azzuri is being brought along with a spring campaign in mind, and this buzzy sort must have a sharp test to be seen to best effect.

Donna's Diamond made a mockery of the handicapper when ridden right out to land a competitive looking staying handicap after well over a year off. Initially I thought he was ready to do himself justice but when the rug came off I was less sure, and at 20/1 he appeared unfancied.

I did like Bruichladdich as a potential staying chaser, but the way he travelled here suggests he can win again over timber before the season is out, providing he is dropped in trip.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Market Rasen - Wednesday Jan 17

I'm a bit short on time so the update will be a brief one, although the races to concentrate on are well worth reviewing. The going was changed to heavy midway through the card and it was deep ground after overnight snow.

Race 1

A novice hurdle over almost 2m3f where Super Sid was sent off favourite to beat perennial bridesmaid Ballinslea Bridge, who was also strong in the market. The latter was getting a stone with the claim of the handy F Gregory while Super Sid had to shoulder a penalty.

The paddock revealed it to be a one-sided contest as Super Sid isn't much to look at, quite disappointing actually being only medium sized and one likely to struggle when sent chasing. By contrast, the strapping Ballinslea Bridge looked really well and he was understandably tight in the market.

It could just be that the heavy ground favoured the Olly Murphy trained winner, as Super Sid's finishing effort was pretty tame, although the combination of ground and weight likely made the favourite's task harder than the betting suggested.

Absolutely Dylan was mounted in pre-parade and he was on edge once more, but this decent looking Scorpion gelding clearly has ability and the penny is starting to drop; Cook by no means hard on him to gain second.

New Quay is never going to be a star in the Skelton yard but he built on his earlier effort here and looks in need of a step up in trip, while Second Time Around was held together on this ground and this nice big chaser will come into his own when the hooves are rattling.

Others to mention in a tidy little race are Brights Park and Pronto Tonto, both of whom may be worth noting once sent handicapping.

Race 2

Some okay looking animals in this stayers hurdle, with Itsnonofurbusiness fairly bolting in for the Skeltons at huge odds. He looked a decent sort physically and looks like one worth following from higher marks. What A Diva looked in great order and merely caught a tarter in a race she won last year - her time will come soon.

Loch Linnhe will jump a fence but there are races to be won with him before that, giving best only before two out and the run will do him the world of good. Quite what Red Danaher was doing as favourite in a race of this nature I'll never know. I believe it's known as 'recency bias'.

Race 3

One or two of interest in a 2m3f handicap hurdle, none more so than the winner Cabernet D'Alene, the paddock pick who appears to be improving at a rate of knots. Lizzie Kelly took a wide passage throughout which undoubtedly helped, but this is a horse with fast ground form and he could really take off this spring.

Fresh New Dawn has a future over fences but can surely land a handicap over timber given more real estate, he loves this soft ground and I'm certain he'll leave his current mark behind before long.

Race 4

I thought Three Muskateers was a good thing to repeat last year's success in the Graduation Chase but the bottom line is he isn't improving and Le Rocher proved too good despite a couple of dodgy blunders in the straight.

The N Williams yard is at full throttle and the winner looked fresh and well, but he does lack some scope for fences and his jumping may continue to hold him back, especially going at a fast pace on better ground. Tomngerry didn't look quite right, getting a little warm and on his toes, and it might be a good idea to shelve his chasing career for now, he too lacks a bit of scope.

Race 5

A listed mares bumper and a terrific race from which there could be untold winners emerge; most of them were in good order and I've not seen as good a mares bumper prior to this.

Dissavril was produced very fit by Emma Lavelle but it's likely this athletic, active sort doesn't take much work and she bolted up having been taken wide by G Sheehan.

Aimee De Sivola was well-backed getting the weight for age allowance but Kelly opted to take the ploughed route down the inner this time, whether the wider track would have made a difference is a moot point, but it was a curious decision from the jockey.

I didn't give Belle Amis much of a write-up after winning an ordinary Wetherby bumper but the eye was drawn to her as she's quite imposing, very strong and fit, and can defy a penalty in a weaker race, although she's surely ready for obstacles.

Simply Loveleh was ignored in the betting but she looked fit and well and this decent sort ran full of promise, and is a winner waiting to happen, while Harrisons Promise set a decent benchmark and probably didn't run too far below her winning form.

Derriana Spirit was well backed but was outpaced and this strong chase prospect simply wants further already, while Kimberley Point was one of the weaker physical specimens on show and she was friendless in the betting and ran accordingly. 

Race 6

Three came clear in the handicap chase and time may tell they are all well ahead of their current mark. Until Winning had two handlers and was full of himself on his second run back from an absence, and he travelled like the winner throughout if you were able to take your eye off long time leader and hot favourite Iskabeg Lane.

I'm a fan of the Smith youngster but 11/8 was a very short price and he looks for all the world like he wants a bigger track and 3m, probably flat out all the way here. He's a good jumper and well handicapped.

Midnight Monty is even more of a stayer and this robust horse would not have been suited by this test, even on soft ground, and the way he came home suggests he can win races this spring.

Race 7

If you backed Incholm in this dire race, don't ever do it again. Ever.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Wetherby - Saturday January 13

Predictably boggy ground for the time of year but I wouldn't call it desperate, and a decent enough card.

The opening novice hurdle looked very deep for the track and there are half a dozen worth keeping an eye out for in the coming weeks.

The betting was tight between four of them, the top two looking up against it being penalised for previous wins, but they are decent sorts and they came home in front.

Noble Robin is a bit of a brute and wasn't walking that fluently beforehand and you wonder if he's difficult enough to keep sound. One suspects this ground is imperative and he could be one to be wary of even on good to soft.

There was nothing to crab about the victory though as he powered away up the straight despite looking a tad awkward under the cosh. Silva Eclipse did little wrong in second and he's a much more nippy, flat looking type who will learn greatly from this; he can defy a penalty in the north.

I was taken by Leskinfere in the paddock and he warranted an each-way play at 20s, having shown improved form last time out. He's a strong animal with scope and while it was disappointing he came under pressure early enough, he stayed on pleasingly and now gets a mark, while an easier novice over a bit further should be child's play.

Quest For Life was all the rage but I didn't buy into that last effort here when tenderly handled, while the extra half mile wasn't sure to suit. He looked well, but patently failed to stay and could be of interest on better ground.

Trucker's Lodge was sent of favourite on the back of a very impressive bumper win, but that was gained on very different ground and he looked more of a work in progress here, fit enough but a little unfurnished, and he'll surely be kept to better ground than this now, as he struggled.

I quite liked Toosey and he's one to look out for when the ground turns. A full brother to the likeable Political Quiz, this one is similar in being quite tall and light framed, and shapes like a stayer. This was his third run for a mark and he shouldn't be missed when hopefully his trainer hits better form in the coming weeks.

De Dollar Man was a shade of odds-on for the confined novices chase, where all except the winner have their marks left alone under the new BHA initiative.

The Welsh raider had more than a stone in hand of some decent rivals and should really have put this to bed, but he may not have run up to previous form and looked a bit paceless at this intermediate trip.

Take nothing away from Hogan's Height, who out-jumped and out-fought him to gain a deserved success; however the assessor will take a dim view of the performance and will be getting a steep rise in the weights.

The eye-catcher was undoubtedly Quietly, who I've mentioned before is a very nice prospect who hasn't been seen to best effect for some time.

His turn isn't far away and with this confidence booster behind him he'll remain well treated when returned to further, and he's a typical Smith horse that will do the yard proud in years to come.

Mortens Leam was disappointing but I didn't think he'd handle this boggy ground and that looks a viable excuse.

The next was a poor handicap hurdle in which Gran Maestro put his best hoof forward for a change despite looking recalcitrant in the prelims; he's not one to rely on, unlike runner-up Walsingham Grange, who is pretty consistent at this level.

Skywards Reward, a big unit that looked really well, was the subject of a gamble but it came unstuck, the horse weakening out of it after sharing the early work. He looks to require much further but has quite a bit to prove at present.

Bun Doran has been disappointing since landing a Haydock novice hurdle in a bog two years ago and he had a big chance to finally deliver from a competitive mark in a winnable looking C2 affair.

But I haven't trusted his finishing effort for some time and again he looked vulnerable at the back end of the race, having no answer to the stamina of Positively Dylan, who picked the others' pockets with quite an authoritative display.

Just Cameron and Bun Doran probably made this quite a test on the ground, but while they were watching each other the Williams horse swooped. Kayf Blanco took second but he doesn't look like a chaser and has never found anything off the bridle anyway; as such the gamble on him was hard to fathom, for all that he jumped better here in general.

I had Craggaknock down as the bet of the day on his first start for local handler R Guest at big odds early doors, but the theory was based around likely warm order Westend Story not delivering on his early promise once more.

However, the Hobbs raider chose this day to put all his short-priced defeats behind him by sluicing up, with Craggaknock doing best of the remainder.

The runner-up and Slanelough ran their races and probably ahead of their marks too, such was the ease of the victory. Both look capable of making amends, while Catchamat still wasn't fit here and he's not one to give up on.

A tight knit handicap chase came up next where the market had four close together headed by Newberry New, bred to sprint but a lover of heavy ground and a decent jumper of fences for all that he lacks size.

He'll probably stay all day and didn't even hit his usual flat spot here under RJ, eventually running out a ready winner from the one-eyed Crown Hill.

The runner-up has been curiously campaigned but has done little wrong over fences and this decent looking sort could progress again once back on a right-handed track, and he too has stamina reserves.

Special Wells looked fit but he's 5lb above his last winning mark and that's as good as he is, while Granville Island had his chance but has clearly regressed and it's hard to see him get his head back in front.

The fillies' bumper wasn't a bad race and it saw Maebh reverse Newbury placings with So Lonely, who failed to give Johnson a five-timer. Fforbidden Love was given a bold ride in front and she should be able to pick up one of these. Tara Force is a decent looking youngster but may prefer better ground, while Dares To Dream has plenty about her and shouldn't be dismissed in the future.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Catterick - Thursday Jan 11

The ground was officially soft but it's still one of the best draining tracks in the land and it wasn't that bad - those at the front end were finishing well enough, with the hurdles course looking the worst of the two.

The opening juvenile looked a decent affair with Turning Gold and Cornerstone Lad representing what I consider to be the best juvenile form in the north for a good while at Wetherby behind Albert's Back.

I'm no expert in these baby races but there was no doubt that Alan King's Crushed would need to be useful to best the pair - and despite market strength he was nowhere near up to the task.

Keen and very novicey, the Southern raider showed little promise as the aforementioned duo dominated the race, with the penalised Cornerstone Lad reversing Wetherby placings with a gritty performance.

Both have plenty of size and strength which augurs well for careers in this sphere, with the winner's inherent stamina coming to the fore from the second last as the free going Turning Gold came to the end of his tether.

Perhaps he had been out in front too long, as he rallied when passed at the last, but it's likely he only just gets the trip and a more patient ride on better ground could see him in different light.

Shine Baby Shine took third some way back, but she too has enough size and scope to have a future over timber, while Take The High Road looks more like a filly and I suspect they'll turn his attentions back to the flat for the time being.

I quite liked the victory a while back by Chu Chu Percy, and the form had worked out nicely since. The 56-day absence withstanding, he looked the one to beat in a weak looking stayers handicap with Bangor winner Tailor Tom the only real danger.

The pair came miles clear, and the form is probably solid with both horses likely to progress further, although their short term prospects are in the hands of the assessor.

There was a right old punt on Aramist, but I couldn't see it myself and he doesn't look much of a jumper, coming down when making a horlicks of one down the far side.

Gogo Baloo is of interest further down the line; a half sister to Milly Baloo she has just as much size if not more and may not be seen to best effect until going over fences.

The first of two good chases on the card fell to the classy Dresden, who looked a different league to the others in the paddock and having dropped in grade and in trip after numerous efforts over further, he hacked up really under a positive ride.

From a punting point of the only issue was the price and those wise owls who snaffled the early value would have been on good terms with themselves from an early stage.

Un Prophete looked fast asleep in the prelims, loping around the ring in a most unappealing manner. I don't know if this is his usual behaviour but it may explain his deplorable effort, although it must be said he's not one to set your clock by and now has to prove he can go on again from this higher mark.

Discoverie looked in good nick and the Slackmeister has worked wonders with the former rogue, who ought to be able to pick up a weaker race than this having established himself as capable from this sort of mark.

Cracking Find ran his usual honest race despite an uncharacteristic blunder in mid-race, and this solid effort on unsuitably moist terrain sets him up nicely for a race or two over a longer trip this spring.

The novice hurdle was at the mercy of French Furze third Hear No Evil, who is a decent looking animal and he justified favouritism although it was hard work, and better ground could suit him.

Planet Nine looked threatening at the last but his jumping remains a sore point, and this backward sort could do with another summer on his back for all that this was a better effort.

Sam's Gunner looked a decent type beforehand and it's a shame from a punting point of view that he's shown his hand here, staying on powerfully from the last to claim second spot, running to at least 115 in the process. Even from that mark he'll remain of interest and he'll stay further - he's a fair prospect.

The North Yorkshire National beckoned and last year's winning connections were represented by I Just Know, who I've mentioned on these pages several times as one of the most likeable horses in training.

His jumping is incredibly accurate and anything trying to match him in the front rank is going to end up disappointed. He's not exuberant by any means but gets from A to B as quickly as any horse..

He looks better each time I lay eyes on him and it was clear he wasn't a 131 horse looking at him beforehand, Straidnahanna won from a similar mark last season but he's not as good as this fella.

It looked momentarily as if he could be swamped on the turn for home but his stamina kicked in and he proved himself to be well handicapped in kicking away from them from the third last, hitting the line hard in the manner of one that will gallop all day long.

This 15-length romp will put him on a mark in the low to mid 140s, which puts him on the cusp of a Grand National spot. Frankly, I could hardly think of a more likely type for the Aintree race and he's won on all sorts of ground from good to very soft.

Without wishing to go overboard (too late - Ed), he covered the ground from the third last to the line in just a second slower than Dresden did earlier on the card.

The placed horses probably lost no caste in defeat, Billy Bronco simply wanting softer ground, while Point The Way, who is finally starting to strengthen up, stayed on well despite the usual mistakes.

Eye-catching in fourth was Milborough, who had little chance from the back of the field on his first start for nearly a year. He fell at the first in this three years ago before landing the Eider and he'll go back there again with decent claims from a much lower mark.

The next handicap hurdle was a tight betting heat and taken by Crackdeloust, who I had backed numerous times previously on account of his impressive frame and early promise.

However, in several runs he's failed to deliver and the introduction of blinkers needed to work the oracle in the face what I felt were not optimum conditions, being softer underfoot and having question marks over the trip, as he looked not to stay it last season.

But all those doubts were put to bed with a straight forward display, travelling and jumping well before staying on nicely ahead of the promising Niceandeasy, who simply bumped into one and looks likely to be winning again soon.

The winner is a proper chase type though and if the blinkers continue to work he'll surely rate much higher in time.

The finale saw a couple of decent physical specimens in Nendrum and Steel City, who were both very well handicapped and strong in the market; the latter going off at 5/1 after being well into double figures early doors.

The M/D Easterby yard has been going great guns this season and they had it off here with a recent recruit that had gone sour down south. Nendrum was disappointing on this softer terrain, while a mention must be made of Hit And Run in third, who faced in impossible task and wouldn't have been favoured by the drop in trip. He remains of interest over further.