A sunny day and genuine good ground greeted runners and riders on Old Roan Chase day which should prove very informative with the future in mind.
Aye Aye Charlie appears set for a second season in novice hurdles after failing to trouble the judge in the highest company last season, including when a staying on third in the opener 12 months ago.
He was a very short price to go two better but if last season proved one thing it was that Fergal O'Brien's charge lacked any sort of tactical speed on decent ground, and we looked for something to serve it up to him at value odds.
Fortunately Stoney Mountain had been a thoroughly professional youngster in bumpers, defying a penalty after being outclassed at the Festival, and paddock inspection showed the strong, compact five-year-old to be just fit enough.
What we didn't know was how he would take to hurdles but he was most fluent throughout and again his attitude was not found to be lacking as he cut down the favourite on the run-in.
They've probably run to a figure around 130 which is decent enough, and while Aye Aye Charlie is crying out for 3m and soft ground, he may not be all that easy to win with. He was very fit but just has an awkward look about him, and if he was mine I'd prefer to go chasing as he's big enough.
I was keen to get a close look at Present Ranger, who went into the notebook after a fine effort at Doncaster, and once again showed bundles of promise before fitness told going to the final flight.
His mark shouldn't be damaged by this effort, and the brother of Ballabriggs should pick up a run-of-the-mill novice before entering handicaps. He's a lovely chaser in the making and it must be remembered his illustrious sibling was a late developer; this fella could turn out useful.
The rest were out for experience and although Landofsmiles took fourth, it is stablemate Fortunes Hiding who once again took the eye as one to win races on softer ground over 3m, and over fences in time.
There was quite a bit of deadwood in the staying handicap hurdle where the front four home were pretty well found, not least the winner Ready And Able, a chasing type that looked fit back from an absence.
The hat-trick was landed and this scopey sort should go well on softer ground, so has plenty to recommend him. Sliding Doors took a late drift before running on into third, he's quite tall and may not be all that straight forward.
The Hollow Ginge is worth another mention in fourth, backing up his Hexham run with a similar effort, simply unable to keep tabs on progressive rivals on lively enough ground. He'll relish a slog and the likes of Hereford appeal as the right sort of venue.
Spider's Bite, not for the first time, caught the eye in mid division. He looked straight enough but it was a little disappointing to see he hadn't filled out greatly as he still looks like an uncomfortable sofa.
However, as pipe-openers go this was satisfactory and softer ground and hopefully fences will see him in much better light.
Beat That looked too obvious to me in the veterans chase and he doesn't have a great deal of presence, and could be a bit soft. He looked well worth opposing but not many convinced, and it was Exitas who improved again to positively bolt up under stylish new pilot L Williams.
The late money came for the winner and Ballyboker Breeze, a big imposing yet quirky type, in the face a big drift on Pendra, who looked fit enough but clearly there were some who knew better. Bishops Road was very fit but must have it softer than this, and showed more than enough to suggest the fire still burns bright.
The 11-runner handicap hurdle didn't look that competitive and the unexposed pair Paisley Park and Lygon Rock were well found in the market.
Both stood out a mile in the paddock as real likeable chasing types, however this promised to develop into a speed test with the flights in the straight being missed out due to the low sun.
It is surely to their credit, then, that they pulled clear in the final furlong, in particular the winner who looked sure to improve for the outing. I'd mark him up 10lb for this and it will be interesting to see where they go this winter...he is a very serious prospect indeed.
Lygon Rock is a very good jumper and has to move up to 130 (these are what I feel the runs are worth, not suggesting they will go up this much) for this, however with an extra half mile likely to be up his street he can take a rise in class in his stride.
Conditions appeared to favour much improved Flat horse Byron Flyer, but he got little peace on the inside rail in a messy sort of race and having made mistakes could never land a blow. He may yet prove this run to be all wrong.
The big race came up next and they all looked to have been trained for it. I'm not sure I'll be giving Flying Angel another chance after a laboured effort, he looks a bit of a big boat and his form suggests he only goes in when everything falls his way.
Frodon had the class and with Bryony still huge value for the 3lb, he wasn't hard to find while Javert advertised the form of the Lavelle yard with another big PB.
What of Cloudy Dream, who gave another frustrating display which leaves us still wondering what he is capable of. Still keen, he simply lacks the physical scope of many to avoid the errors that marred his effort, while again he wandered about under the cosh.
His new yard is more than happy to reach for the headgear and it will be sooner rather than later I'm sure before they opt for some blinds.
Value At Risk was very fit but he backed out of it as though something was amiss, and he's not easy to predict, while the diminutive Theo ran a great race before the class factor kicked in.
The novices handicap chase was beyond the wit of most men and should be watched over for clues to the future, with winners likely to be forthcoming.
Molly The Dolly had done most of her running on much softer terrain and with the size of her you can see why, but she jumped very accurately and won with a deal of authority; laziness masking her superiority.
She's sure to be inventively campaigned by D Skelton and will be up to competing against the boys this winter, but kept to mares races I'd expect her to clean up.
Polydora was well found in the market and she looked straight enough, but the fact she wore headgear on her final start last term raised an eyebrow and she looked a handful at the head of affairs, her rather nervy opening mile catching up with her in the later stages.
Arthurs Gift shaped with promise considering he should come on for the outing and soft ground will certainly bring his stamina into play, while he's a typical type from a yard that loves a tilt at the big spring marathons with their novices.
The mares bumper is traditionally a good race and has thrown up La Bague a Roi and Posh Trish in recent years, and while Briery Express doesn't have the physical presence of that pair she must be useful to make light of her physical weakness and early keenness.
Legends Gold looks to have stamina in spades so get on top close home bodes well for the winner, who is nicely bred from a family the yard know well.
Several are worth mentioning in dispatches; previous winner Sweet Adare shaping well under her penalty, Aggy With it being one of the nicer lookers, while Teme Spirit looked quite backward but with plenty of size and the type to do well over hurdles this season with this spin out of the way.