Thursday, 25 April 2019

Southwell - April 24

A chilly, largely dry evening to end the season and although the going was good they had watered plenty and times suggested it was a bit dead, although it was modest fare in the main.

A 0-110 chase opened proceedings and the betting was as wild as the race itself, hefty support for the moody Silent Steps hard to fathom despite winning here earlier in the season when the race fell in her lap.

Loch Linnhe went in the opposite direction but had first time blinkers in a bid to reverse his slide in form, and they seemed to do the trick as he got up in the shadows of the post, seeing his race out well despite some hairy leaps.

Little Windmill came second again despite racing off an historically high mark and this small horse often finds himself outgunned late on, not necessarily due to an attitude problem.

The same cannot be said for the others, Cruising Bye coming from a mile back to pick up third place after not appearing in the rudest of health beforehand, in other circumstances he may well have finished tailed off.

Race two wasn't much stronger, the 0-100 event looking to be at the hands of Hexham scorer Johnny Yuma who looked none the worse for those recent exertions and he duly hacked up at quite rewarding odds; this strapping horse seems to have turned the corner.

Cervaro Mix looked an unfurnished sort ahead of an easy assignment but he had to be rousted along to collect and he looks likely to struggle from his allotted mark.

A good field of eight gathered for a staying hurdle and The Drone looked in rude health off a break for the somewhat beleaguered A Hales yard, which has endured a quiet campaign.

The PTP winner had been absent since failing to take to regulation fences but was fit and well in a pre-race hood, and went with plenty of enthusiasm in a race that saw a few under perform.

Point N Shoot came in for support on the back of a Sedgefield saunter but form from the Co Durham venue cannot be trusted and N Hawke's light-framed horse failed to reproduce his latest effort from a much higher mark, the jockey unable to claim the full 7lb as well.

Flying Verse looked sure to run his race back at a venue where he's won twice but simply looked to bump into a slightly better handicapped one, while Sackett ran a typically solid race without really looking as though he was going to win.

A three-runner mares hurdle was quite intriguing but we settled on the jolly being a bit of value at the off, O Sherwood's Millarville holding much the strongest form of the trio and looking to have more stamina than the other pair.

Those Court Cave genes held her in good stead up the straight and she toughed it out against a back-to-form Ceara Be, while Prophets Prayer once again suggested she'll be a force in handicaps, staying on nicely after appearing burly off an absence beforehand.

All eyes were on Just Call Me Al in the next after a soft unseat here at the last meeting when bearing down on the leaders, and he ran a similar sort of race coming from some way off the pace under his 10lb claiming rider.

The winner, Manofthemoment, had been given a much more positive ride by R Patrick with the step up in trip sure to suit, and this smallish compact horse was a worthy winner having plenty in the tank at the line.

The runner-up also hit the line running and Just Call Me Al will remain of interest now he is settling better, seeing out this trip well. He has plenty of size and scope and hopefully will now be put away before a novice chase campaign.

Midnight Aurora was weak in the betting and compromised by a hold-up ride considering her form over further, and although not very big she appears well capable of building on this return when sent back over 3m. Little else appealed with Shine Baby Shine's form all on very deep ground, while Timely Gift has no scope whatsoever.

The race of most interest as so often is the case for us paddock watchers was the bumper and I was keen on Old Jeroboam after this likeable son of Jeremy had got up close home to land what looked a fairly strong race at Wetherby.

With J Nailor reducing the burden he looked just about good enough to defy the penalty despite strong support for the debutante Celtic Tara, who had plenty of size about her.

Experience can often count for plenty in these races and the jolly was far too green to repeat what must have been some decent home work, instead the sizeable Skelton youngster Olly The Brave was the one sticking it to the other market leader.

Nailor had to get down and dirty after the slow early fractions but Old Jeroboam once again finished strongly to collect and looks a fair tool for next season, the pair pulling nicely away from Symphony Hall, who was typical of the Greatrex yard in looking compact and unfurnished on his opening start.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Hexham - April 15

The ground had once again dried right out and it looked like good all over, although there were murmurs that it was quicker in parts.

Glinger Flame had hosed up in a handicap at the last meeting and looked in good order for a quick follow up back in trip, duly obliging after taking a lead from chief market rival Mr Scrumpy.

The runner-up won a bumper here on soft ground, looking half decent in the process, and this quite athletic youngster looks more of a stayer over timber with more juice in the ground likely to suit.

The only other backable one was J Ewart's Honourary Gift but he didn't especially take the eye and proved very one-paced, looking sure to want much further already.

Bobndave doesn't have the physicality of stablemate Alfiboy but seemed to run better than ever, both Smith horses wanting a trip and softer ground.

Likeamonkey is worth a namecheck, being from that progressive L Morgan yard, a fair animal still  looking backward on debut aged seven, more green and immature than anything, but was putting in a good shift until crashing through the wing at the somewhat precariously positioned final flight.

He might go under the radar in the coming weeks but showed more than enough ability to build on.

A two mile handicap chase brought together a trio from Sedgefield nearly four weeks ago but Miss Amelia was fancied of the group to come out on top at this very different venue, a track where sibling Miss Conway prospered some time ago.

Once again finding only the one pace here, Miss Amelia may well be better served by the forcing tactics that served big sis so well while the addition of cheekpieces could also help. She looked in good order and can yet improve on this.

Johnny Yuma finally put his best hoof forward to claim the W, this hugely robust animal travelling much the best and putting it to bed without showing any quirks that have undermined him in the past.

The mares novice hurdle was a match with the market correctly calling it the way of  Miss Delighted, who backed up her Haydock victory over 3m showing a fine attitude in the process.

Still quite backward physically, the Getaway filly will be one to keep onside when she's strengthened up next season and she clearly has plenty of stamina.

The form is nothing to get carried away with as it stands, second placed Would You Bypass putting in good late work with the fourth Jupiters Ways having not shown a great deal thus far either.

Disappointment was Etamine Du Cochet, but the Skelton mare has long since failed to impress with her weak finishing and she found nil after climbing the hill, her wind not being the best.

Solo Saxaphone was unopposable in the next after Wetherby's facile win but he made hard work of it after being allowed an easy passage between the final two flights, his lead being whittled down at the end.

There were one or two to take out of this, Becky The Thatcher showing better form and probably poised to strike now over further, while Saint Freule was outpaced before staying on again and this is probably his trip albeit on much softer ground.

The Vocalist has changed hands in the past but looks the type to prosper over hurdles in due course, lacking the size for a fence. She ran okay and will be placed to good effect.

On a great day for favourite backers it was very hard to oppose the progressive Prince Dundee in a dreadful handicap chase that featured many of the Usual Suspects.

Taken to the front at an early stage on the back of a breakthrough win here three weeks ago, defeat never looked a possibility particularly as he had looked much better in the paddock this time having come on bundles.

The other unexposed sort in the race was stablemate Exit To Where and he looked a fair sort beforehand albeit looking immature mentally.

He tanked round behind the winner jumping notably well, getting outpaced climbing the hill before staying on to good effect. The switch to fences at this early stage was clearly a good move and he may well go on from this.

The hunter chase saw Sausalito Sunrise return to winning ways despite not appearing to be happy on the ground and possibly the track at various stages, eventually getting on top before the last and holding the late challenge of market rival Ravished, who looked in good heart and stayed on again late.

The bumper was a fair race of its type with some decent looking sorts, Black Ebony among them but he looked to be carrying plenty of condition some eight or so weeks after debuting at Kelso and that possibly showed on the run to the line.

There was little wrong with the fitness of Shanroe and the mount of D Jacob was surprisingly overlooked in the market despite having run to a fair standard at Ludlow.

Miah Grace filled out the places and she was unable to make the most of her age and sex allowance, but she's a fair sort with size and scope and probably just lacks strength at this time.

Money came for State Vision but he looked big and backard, albeit clearly a decent type for the future, while Holme Abbey has already been exposed as a bit paceless and this big chasing type will require a trip when sent over timber.

Of the others, Fair Lady and Teescomponentstrig showed enough both before and during the race to suggest they have more than enough ability to be competitive in weaker races than this.   

Friday, 12 April 2019

This week's eyecatchers

Three meetings on the spin...too much to catch up on really but some pretty mediocre and bookie-friendly racing all round.


Zolfo is a horse that has promised far more than he has delivered so far; and that wasn't about to change here with S Quinlan having a tight hold of the gelding's head throughout. He wouldn't prove the only horse to be given a dubious ride this week, the authorities seemingly powerless to act. A winner last spring off 92, has the size and scope to do much better when connections feel the time is right.

Hatcher was much preferred to the undesirable Style De Garde who has more attitude than a 'remoaner', however the style and manner of his victory suggests he could be very decent. A 7lb rise would probably be within his compass and if he continues to jump this way the world is his proverbial oyster.

Jonjo O'Neill picks his racecourse appearances carefully and was a notable visitor presumably to oversee Monbeg Gold's return to action, and after a mid-morning drift the well-backed favourite sauntered to an easy win despite a couple of early blunders. Not the most consistent type, it's not known whether he'll be in similar form next time, and in fairness this rather fell apart.

A modest bunch as you'd expect for a 0-105 but two stood out and they may have contested the finish had Just Call Me Al not ejected young J Williamson two from the finish. The horse, one that has been on the radar for some time, looked in great order and is now starting to settle better. He looks high in the weights but could make amends for this soft unseat. Oscar Nomination was the other one being a horse of a size and scope, and the only one coming into the race in form. Crazy odds, he was well backed at the death and stayed on in the manner of one that will go in again if sent over further.

A no-play race but with Nachi Falls being asked to perform a minor miracle and probably running flat anyway, it was there to be won and the most unexposed in Cardigan Bay came home in front again at longer odds than recent form might have suggested. Not a bad type, she's clearly better than the grade and should flourish over further.

Not a great field of mares for the closing bumper and they finished in a bunch, none of the front three appealing beforehand as forward enough to contest the finish. I'd rather give the market leaders another chance, Lunar Baby a lovely big mare who will surely benefit from softer ground and at least 2m4f over timber. Henrietta Bell came home via the car park under and inexperienced amateur and should probably be marked up significantly, for all that she too probably wants a much stiffer test.


It has to be said this is one of the most pleasant venues on the circuit, always a great atmosphere with loads of amenities a good viewing points.

Gamble almost landed here with the C Mann trained Top Up The Fashion unable to catch the winner Bbold after the last. Not many took the eye beforehand but the son of Court Cave looks a fair sort and should be able to win one of these. I'm A Starman had arguably the best form coming into it and although a bit unfurnished looks one with ability, probably needing it softer like so many at the moment. The winner was given a typically uncomplicated ride, of the others Hang Tough looked very big and burly, North Star Oscar rather ill at ease with himself.

Bubbles Of Gold was turned out again a fortnight after going too slowly at Market Rasen and deservedly got off the mark, making the most of his undoubted stamina. The drifting favourite Sojourn is a very nice sort but his finishing effort was tame and the market seemed to know. I liked the way he won his bumper and he's surely better than this. Money came for Cool Destination, another to catch the eye beforehand being a well-made sort, and unfortunately his mark will be affected by this solid effort.

Elusive Belle was a well-backed favourite and won decisively albeit without having to match her earlier efforts, with market rival Newtown Boy again pulling hard and finding little when let down. He's a big, fine chasing type and maybe fences will make a man of him...he's bred to stay well and if they give him his head he could make a fair chaser. The race was notable for the run in third of Notre Pari, a good looking son of Jeremy that looked to be carrying condition and drifted beforehand. Unfortunately for A Coleman the 130+rated market leaders were not moving away from the field turning in, with the Irishman still having a tight hold of the horse's head. Shaken up only after the last, beaten less than five lengths, this does nothing for the integrity of racing. There is a sense of 'collusion' between certain owners, trainers and the authorities, which of course isn't the case if only it could be proven either way. With stewards not even bothering to interview the jockey or trainer (on record at least), we are none the wiser as to what the fuck they are actually doing. Sammy Bill is a chaser that needs soft ground.

Djin Conti has grown up a good deal this season having seen him on several occasions and that is borne out by his performances on the track, rallying well here to beat one ahead of her mark in Tick Tock Boom. The runner-up appeared to lug right throughout the last mile and clearly wants to go that way, but otherwise her jumping was impressive on her first start over regulation fences. Both of these should go on from this. Sadly we lost big Cuddles McGraw, who may have had a say after trading low mid-race. Minerfortyniner looks a modest sort.

An open looking handicap hurdle saw money come for Raising The Bar but the Seven Barrows inmate made little appeal having yet to really see out a race, and this longer trip wasn't the answer. He looked keen and edgy and his days on the top rung look numbered. By contrast, Comrade Conrad looked well after an absence and confirmed the Skelton yard in the rudest of health. Book Of Gold ran on well late and he can win from his current mark if only we got some rain.


Modest stuff with Fransham probably only needing to match his latest form here of around 115, having too much toe for the chase prospect Isaac Wonder, who is currently on the weak side. Money came for Archippos but he never lifted a leg, while For Three was ridden to come late but they had already flown. He's not going to be easy to win with. Magellan has the size to do better and his time will come once he learns to settle.

Apart from Inchcolm, Las Tunas is probably the most transformed chaser in training (at least in the north) after two years of running to type, he's now a bold jumping seven year old who prefers good ground to soft. He never looked like getting caught despite being on 8lb worse terms with Oliver's Gold, who could have got a more positive ride and is another who looks in good heart and is the type to pick up a race or two this spring. Fair Mix ran his race in third and is well enough handicapped to win soon, particularly if allowed to dictate.

Not a great 0-120, an early market move for Clondaw Storm came to nothing after drifting markedly on course, the tall and scopey grey looking like he needs more time. In a field of largely disappointing types, Morraman proved himself better suited to handicaps in providing a rare winner for the beleaguered D McCain, beating My Charity who belatedly took a step back in the right direction with the aid of a tongue strap.

Another handicap featuring several with plenty to prove, not least the well-backed jolly Solo Saxaphone, who nevertheless won hard held, in fact he's one of the easiest winners of a good ground handicap ever seen, and a 14lb rise won't stop him next time if in the same form...expect him to be turned out under a penalty. Ask Paddington checked out tamely in what was his worst effort this season, surely amiss, while Jack Lamb is lean and leggy like many in the family but has clearly returned in decent form.

Trio For Rio lacks size and scope and really wants much softer conditions than this, but he got away with it to land the odds, however he won't be one to have on side once in handicaps next season outside really testing conditions at places like Hereford. Let's Get At It was was beaten a mile out, but Big Nasty gave it a good go and this huge animal will merely be marking time over timber, and whether he can build on this probably only modest effort is open to debate, for all that the pair came away from the rest, headed by Go To Court who isn't a bad sort and will be paying his way.

Fingerontheswitch was a worthy favourite in the absence of anything really concrete against it, mainly disappointing types that want much softer ground. Quite why he only finds occasionally off the bridle only the horse knows, but he got tired trying to chase down modest sorts in Bafana Blue and Blue Kascade, who weren't exactly flying home.

A 0-100 to close the show but another feather in the cap of trainer Laura Morgan, whose Uisce Ur looked to be carrying plenty of condition but provided her with an eighth winner of the campaign. Sharp Getaway was the nicest specimen but got outpaced at halfway before staying on...he might do better now with a new trainer.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Aintree - April 4

Wet and wild from about an hour before the first race and it was pretty clear that the ground would ride fairly soft from the outset.

There was not a single negative from the paddock the entire day - and believe me I was looking for one - all those that had run at Cheltenham looking in absolutely peak form.

La Bague Au Roi was favourite for the Manifesto but her form has never been great at this time of year and she didn't quite shape up against the geldings this time; she often looks magnificent but on balance was well worth taking on.

The other five looked really well, including Glen Forsa who ran unaccountably badly but has had a longer season than most, while Kalashnikov was on his toes throughout the prelims but two handlers were keeping a lid on him and it was a simple case of a horse raring to go.

The subject of much hype all season, he has been crying out for this trip for more than 12 months and a little turn of foot between the final two fences sealed it - it's clear now these are his prime conditions.

I didn't see anything between a bunch of juvenile hurdlers, Band Of Outlaws not quite as big as I was expecting but still the nicest of them, and it looks like the rain had blunted his speed.

The wet suited Christopher Robin and it came as little surprise to see him hit the places, while Henderson once again appears to have pulled a rabbit from the hat in Pentland Hills, who was very tenacious in victory.

Kemboy isn't much to look at, which is the feeling I got at Cheltenham last season, but he may yet have some strengthening to do and he took the Bowl with any amount in hand under a motionless R Walsh, having met virtually every fence on a perfect stride.

Bristol De Mai looked in terrific order but uncharacteristically lost half a length at many fences, lacking his customary zip, while Clan Des Obeaux doesn't have the substance of some and yet battled on well after being one of the first under pressure.

Buveur D'Air is a little bull of a horse and there was nothing wrong with his appearance, but Supasundae can often get worked up however he was like a coiled spring and looked superb in his coat.

Quite what happened in the Stayers Hurdle we shall never know but he returned to his best under optimum conditions to claim a deserved Grade 1, Ch'tibello running a huge race in third and once again being well placed by connections.

The others looked well bar Summerville Boy, who lacked a bit of condition and clearly had a rushed preparation; they can start again with him in the autumn.

Nothing jumped out at me in the Foxhunter bar Sir Jack Yates, who looked in terrific heart but once again shaped like a non-stayer despite having won twice over 3m in hunters.

There was money around for a few in the Red Rum, I rowed in with the classy Lady Buttons who looked well but she bumped into one here in Moon Over Germany, who bypassed Cheltenham and enjoyed a surprisingly easy time on the lead after Cracking Find crashed out at the first.

Adrrastos was up in grade here and acquitted himself well on ground that became too deep, he looked a little out of his depth in the paddock and not great in his coat so he could one to watch this spring back in calmer waters.

There were plenty of likeable fillies in the bumper and this is race that will throw up untold winners, led home on the day by The Glancing Queen, who has done precious little wrong in her first season.

She's a strong, well-made type who could be really good over obstacles, the pair she beat from Ireland Minella Melody and Daylight Katie both looking really well in their skin.

Whitehotchillifili, Eyes Right, Kissesforkatie and Who What When are among plenty to follow, while Shantewe made up plenty of ground from the rear and would probably appreciate much better ground. 

Market Rasen - April 3

Forecast overnight rain failed to materialise resulting a few scratchings that weakened an otherwise interesting little card, with the ground once again riding good.

The opener was a seller in all but name and held little interest either on the day or in future, eventual winner Haasab has always looked better than his mark and came good under an uncomplicated ride for trainer Laura Morgan, who has had a quiet couple of months.

The second was an interesting three-way go for a novice hurdle in which Harambe, whose run I crapped on about here but had since got back on track with a smooth win at Kempton.

I decent looking horse with more size and scope than I had expected, A King's inmate was in good order and appeared to have plenty in his favour with chief rival Garrettstown likely to have to set the pace.

As mentioned here previously, Garrettstown is very much a chaser in waiting and he looked a bit leaner here this time on the back of a blowout in the EBF final; it's all been a bit too much too soon for him and he finished very tamely as Harambe scooted clear after the last.

There was some support for New Quay but he doesn't appeal much physically and had loads to prove after a dismal latest effort, and he soon retreated after looking a threat on the home turn.

A -110 chase came up next featuring a few unpredicatable types, the only guarantee was that Dallas Cowboy would again let down his remarkably faithful supporters who plowed in once more, only to see their flawed hero find little when let down.

The form is what it is, Global Domination and Troubled Soul not much better than their marks, the latter jumping better this time despite lacking a little in size.

The interesting one was King Vince, who travelled much more kindly followed wind surgery and was still in there when meeting the third last all wrong. He looks well handicapped if putting it all together and has plenty of size and scope.

Embole was a well backed favourite for a weak looking 0-120 but he's a bit light-framed and angular and is a bit in limbo land at present, being only five, and the market was also very strong for Larch Hill first time over fences.

The latter had looked paceless over timber but he has plenty of size and you can pretty much forget anything he did over the smaller obstacles.

The fast pace suited him to a T and he jumped well enough throughout to see off Wishfull Dreaming, who returned to his previously consistent form without ever really looking like he would outstay or outbattled the winner,

The featured handicap hurdle saw Earlofthecotswolds nicely supported to win at the track once again and he got a nice sit on the front end, very much the right place to be round here.

He looked a credit to connections after a busy campaign and ran on well to the line, seeing off the likes of Collooney who was surprisingly weak in the market but appeared to run his race up in trip.

The Sweeney has a hole in him but seemed to see it out better than before and he could well build on this as he looked to be carrying a bit of condition after a short absence. Regarding Ruth disappointed in appearance and she needs another summer behind her.

The staying handicap hurdle saw the reappearance of the likeable Carrolls Milan and she was strongly fancied to supplement Ludlow gains on the back of a 4lb rise.

I do love a mare with deep reserves of stamina and after being headed on the home turn she went through the gears and battled back to win again; she's very much one to keep onside as she's a battler and again hasn't won by far. She looked in great order beforehand.

The bumper looked wide open with all ages, sizes, and a young filly in Marada making it very difficult to weigh up.

Henderson's Royal Reel is a nice big horse but the concern was whether he'd have enough speed round these sharp turns, and so it proved, while those with experience came to the fore in the finish.

It's not form to take much away from, but it's not as weak as it looks and the likes of Takeit Easy, whose family is well known, are sure to better with Ladronne and Stoner's Choice the types to pay their way over timber.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Wetherby - March 29

Blazing sunshine and good ground once again, but competitive fields and some tricky betting races.

Denmead looked big and well on his return to action after a wind op and he dotted up in the opening novices hurdle, the difficult looking Constancio easily brushed aside and caught for second...he's one to continue taking on.

Topofthecotswolds got second but is still quite a light framed animal and should do much better in time, while this 2m is clearly not far enough. I did take to Lady Marwah who looked strong and fit but was again disappointing with her finishing effort, and ought to be doing better.

Wapping has joined a small yard and doesn't appear to have the physical scope for this sphere, the market calling this one.

Plan Of Action is a big scopey chasing type and will do better in that arena given time.

A forgettable 0-105 handicap chase was taken by Las Tunas, winning off a pretty high mark, he looked in grand shape in his coat and was given a positive ride.

Oliver's Gold seems to be coming back to himself, he likes this ground and time of year and is dangerously handicapped, surely they'll be able to find the right race. Perfect Leader looked really well but he's no great shakes.

Paddling isn't one to be making excuses for, he looked perfectly well and is very low in the weights, but didn't really pick up.

A tricky handicap hurdle fell to Suggestion, who continued the remarkable form of trainer P Kirby who had a very quite February when this horse ran no race at Doncaster.

He came home strongest after the unexposed Fransham cruised through to lead two out, the Sly youngster massively overpriced being related to winners and he will pay his way also.

Falcon Sun looked well but his form didn't appear that strong and he didn't put up much resistance, while much of the interest was lost when Grey Diamond came down at halfway...he doesn't look an easy conveyance.

Viking Hoard looked all wrong in his coat, although Benny In Milan looked well and was backed but didn't show much.

The handicap chase was a weak affair bar the hugely progressive Flowery, provided he could be kept on the straight and narrow, his waywardness contributing to punters' wariness pre-race.

However, that drift looked the wrong move as he went sweetly throughout as on his chasing debut at Sedgefield, and he looks a different horse now even with a slight tendency to go left still.

Noted as being miles ahead of his mark when getting up at Catterick earlier in the campaign, hopefully readers have enjoyed his subsequent success.

There was very little to put up against him, Crest now down to an interesting mark and he may have gone very close with a more positive sit. Henry's Joy sweated up and didn't find much as is usually the case, while Absolutely Dylan hasn't looked the same since a win in the Haydock mud before Christmas.

A Class 3 handicap hurdle followed with plot horse Thosedaysaregone a well backed favourite, but he was noted in these pages as looking over the top at Carlisle last month and again ran up light here.

Quite how he beat Mall Dini over fences in between times shall remain a mystery, and while clearly having ability he's more one for next season and some softer ground.

Golden Jeffrey looked burly after a break but the rest looked well, particularly Dubai Angel who could do with some soft ground but is starting to look very disappointing. Theatrebar is a credit to connections and he looked well before a deserved win, Simply A Legend having few excuses.

A good bumper came up next, some nice types on show and the two I liked most to the fore, Old Jeroboam getting up close home after being weak in the market, pipping Biblical a nice leggy sort who looked to have it won a furlong out.

Dog Of War is a big unfurnished animal that will be better over obstacles in time, while Orbustock should be okay when growing up mentally and although Wild Gypsy Boy looked forward enough, he moved very poorly and probably isn't one to get excited about.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Market Rasen - Mar 27

A card lacking any kind of pizzazz, largely low grade betting shop fodder, with the ground drying out to good all over. As such it was surprising they didn't seem to go very quick and certainly one if not two races were lost by lazy fractions.

They didn't go very fast in the opener with Tom Scu reluctant to press on aboard Yaa Salaam, who had made a pleasing debut for connections at Ffos Las.

Fancied to put it up to the more experienced Benny's Bridge, the strong looking chestnut was always vulnerable to the favourite's turn of foot if lacking an enterprising ride and was swallowed up after the last by the 129-rated winner.

The second looked a slightly more straight forward equation with the stamina-endowed Bubbles Of Gold expected to stretch the credentials of the hitherto disappointing Lady Camelot with the aid of first time cheek-pieces.

However, R Johnson did not feel the need to exert any pressure on the younger horse's suspect staying power and the trio were all in with a shout turning for home.

Perhaps the favourite just couldn't go any faster, although having been joined he did seem to do just that and would probably have got back up given another 100 yards.

Every inch a staying chaser, Bubbles Of War hasn't been seen to best effect this season but should do much better in time, while the third placed Imperial Elixir hadn't shown a great deal thus far and his proximity owes more to the pace of the race than much improvement on his part.

The first handicap chase of the day had a 110 ceiling but it was the 111-rated top weight Nikki Steel who just outstayed them in a desperate finish, Quantum Of Solace not for the first time failing to get it done having had every chance.

The winner looked very edgy beforehand and not a straight forward conveyance, yet the excellent STD coaxed him into the race and probably always felt he had them covered.

Dallas Cowboy was heavily backed again and almost got there despite a dreadful early error, he simply isn't one to trust, a label also applying to Royal Act, who traded short prior to a ghastly mistake with just over a lap to go, and going to pieces thereafter.

The second handicap chase was slightly higher quality, but only slightly and in line with the previous contest very few wanted to win, the enormously frustrating Iskabeg Lane finding himself in the right place at the right time for once.

I doubt if Star Foot properly stays this 2m6f trip, while the eventual third Second Time Around, who looked well, had the length of the straight to go past three going nowhere and has already been given too many chances.

Balibour put in a sketchy round of jumping and doesn't look to have a great attitude, yet was still in there pitching at the last, while Earlshill jumped appallingly and was still only 14 lengths back at the line. I think you get the picture.

A class 3 handicap hurdle enlivened proceedings and the cash came for Ballyhome, who was up another 3lb on the back of some solid form, and he looked stronger than earlier in the campaign and deservedly got the job done off another steady gallop.

E Austin had the race to himself on the front end and with Faithful Mount jumping better than normal, had every chance to capitalise on the opportunity, but didn't kick when he had the chance early in the straight and was outpaced from the second last.

Markov ran a fair race but he wants plenty more cover than he got here and delivering late off a quicker pace...I'm sure there's a race in him when the cards fall right.

Back On The Lash did not appeal beforehand, not very big and getting quite warm and agitated, he wasn't best placed turning for home but finished well. This wasn't the most informative race, but he should do better in time.

The two handicap hurdles to close the card were dire affairs, Rizzardo the one to take from the staying handicap being a big chasing type for next season, in contrast to stablemate Family Man who looks a rare dud by Gold Well.

Sigurd is proving hard to win with but next time could be the time to catch him as he had a wind op prior to this, while the winner Acertain Circus was well backed and delivered for connections that know their stuff.

Ice Galley went unbacked in the finale but he rallied past some pretty moderate opponents on the run-in but very little can be made of this from a form perspective.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Hexham - March 26

With the water table so low across the country any moisture is disappearing as quickly as it arrives and there wasn't much 'good to soft' left - the times confirming as much.

There were a couple of notable Irish raiders on the day, both partnered by R Dunne and both heavily backed, the first Captain CJ landing the opening novices hurdle with something to spare.

The eight-year-old by Westerner isn't much more than medium sized but is well put together and had form in bumpers and over hurdles to suggest this would be easy pickings.

He came home clear of the luckless Shaman Du Berlais, who deserves one of these but simply lacks any kind of gear change, rallying to pick up second place ahead of the eye-catching Ard Chros, a strong chase type who looks well bought for in-form connections. He should come on a ton for this.

Largy Prospect failed by some way to back up his Ayr success but this tall, chasing type probably wanted much softer ground, a similar comment applied to Stung For Cash, who didn't look entirely at home on the track.

I'd backed the talented but bonkers Saint Freule at Kelso at the weekend only for the six-year-old to refuse to race and was lucky to get refunded, so wasn't going to make the same mistake twice...a decision that proved costly as B Campbell got him away on terms this time and the price was no longer there.

It's amazing that he's now won twice considering his many antics, although the handicapper is likely to take offence at this 14-length stroll and he'll need to buck his ideas up from now on.

It wasn't much of a race, with the hitherto disappointing Felix Mendelssohn out of excuses after blowing a softish lead in first time blinkers, once again fading out of things.

Murphy's Law looks more of a long term project, while Lucky Lucarno would be better served by softer ground and further, while he'll certainly jump a fence. Mint Gold stayed on for third but looks tall and weak and could do with a summer at grass.

A 0-100 handicap chase followed but not many of the 10 could be fancied with any confidence, Graystown far from certain to run his race after finally getting off the mark last time out.

It was best left to Well Joey to hand R Dunne a straight forward brace, overcoming a couple of sketchy early jumps to readily get off the mark at the 27th time of asking, although just his second outing for P Stafford, who has history at this course.

Katalystic isn't put together brilliantly and once again failed to impress in the jumping department, while Westend Theatre let down each-way backers with an error-strewn round at a track he's done well at before. Like many of these, he would have preferred it softer.

There was a surprise in the handicap hurdle when Glinger Flame took a walk in the market despite having the look of a very solid favourite with his latest form at Ayr working out so well.

The question was only of whether he'd find much up the hill but so well had he gone throughout that they couldn't get him off the bridle, and was another impressive winner on the day now in line for a hike in the ratings.

Niceandeasy appeared to have gained condition with his new yard and I expect him to come back to form with some cut in the ground, while Pieceoftheaction didn't back up his run here 12 days ago and this may have come too soon. He's a decent type that will prove this effort wrong.

The fifth race was a desperate 0-100 handicap chase over 3m which carried no betting interest, and one of the least appealing on looks came good in Prince Dundee, who was outstaying Square Viviani when that one came down at the last.

It goes without saying that this is desperate form, with the winner thoroughly opposable next time.

The bumper wasn't much of a contest on paper although there were some interesting types in the paddock. Sidi Ismael had much the best form, particularly at Carlisle, and he duly got off the mark with the minimum of fuss, he's a decent enough type.

Market rival Djebel Rome made little appeal, a moderate moving animal that looks an out and out stayer, he'll do much better in soft ground. Fair Minx has loads of size and out-ran his odds, while the home bred Crow Stone is nicely made and showed enough to suggest the ability is there.

Be One was the most imposing but he was keen in the prelims and this 30k purchase will need time to learn to race, and may not be of interest until jumping fences.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Haydock - March 20

A spring-like day greeted a healthy crowd, but a disappointing card run on drying ground...the forcast bog had become very dead and tiring.

A good big-un beats a good little-un as the old saying goes and never was it more true than in the opener when one of the biggest horses in training Captain Moirette took one stride for every two of his main market rival on the way to another comfortable victory.

The giant seven-year-old has a ton of speed and appears to take hurdles in his stride, unlike many more ignorant chasing types that can't get to grips with smaller obstacles.

Danny Cook got a nice tow into the race behind hot favourite Chambard, who never looked happy on the front end, jumping right most of the way, and this run probably came soon enough for him.

Skiddaw Valleys once again came in very late, hooded, but only seems to run on when the race is all over. Not bred to stay further, he's more than likely not one to trust.

A weak mares novice followed and I tried hard all day to make a case for Miss Delighted after her running on second at Huntingdon last time, and the disparity in the betting seemed too great.

However, odds-on favourite Viva Vittoria had taken a leap forward when winning a shade cosily last time out and has the size and scope to go on to even better things.

Contrast that to the rather unfurnished, backward looking Miss Delighted and it was hard to look past the jolly, but A Coleman never looked that happy on her and perhaps the tacky ground was not to her liking, as this was disappointing.

The winner can do better when strengthening up next season, but Belle Amis is only modest and she was well beaten off.

A four runner novices chase was another race where the favourite was by no means a good thing, Scorpion Sid having his own way of going about matters and requiring plenty of cut in the ground.

The drying surface may not have suited but he just keeps rolling along and you always had the feeling he would get to Whoshotwho, a horse that has never found much off the bridle.

Knockrobin looks increasingly quirky and the McCain yard remains very cold, while Cave Top looked strong and well, but was just starting to feel the pinch when crashing out at the fourth last.

Venetia Williams had Bonne Question yesterday and Chambard already turned over after a quick turnaround and Eceparti looked vulnerable nine days on from a one-paced second at Stratford.

C Deutsch was handed an easy lead on the well-backed jolly but even that wasn't enough and the five-year-old had nothing left after the final flight, where Destined To Shine took over under a patient ride from STD.

Ettila De Sivola looks the part but took a massive drift in the betting and never looked like getting to the front, a big track like Newcastle or Doncaster would be more up his street.

A weak veterans chase brought together plenty of out-of-form horses, and the two that were running well in Bob Ford and Dartford Warbler had been busy of late.

The former was never going after a hard race on Saturday, but Knockanrawley, who looked really well in the prelims, travelled sweetly throughout behind a strong pace and never looked like getting beat.

Hills Of Dubai didn't look great and was another McCain horse to show very little, those behind Dartford Warbler in third essentially disappointing.

The staying hurdle was a weak affair, notable for a market move on Leskinfere despite the fact the horse is painfully slow and would be off the bridle with a lap to go.

The other one to the fore in the betting was Hear The Chimes, who had no form at the trip and was high enough in the weights.

It meant the race was there for the taking and the R Menzies-trained Breizh Alko looked in great shape on just his second start, a compact athletic animal, and was another beneficiary of a patient ride as he was brought through late by C O'Farrell to defy a market drift.

Flemens Story looked to be in need of the run but was one McCain inmate that appeared to run his race, the rest were pretty modest and it's not brilliant form.

We didn't even give a thought to the bumper where Farrants Way was forced into 2/9 after recording a good figure at Ffos Las three weeks ago, he looks a decent horse but was very much on his toes and a shade quirky looking.

Foxey is very leggy and light framed, but Cheddleton is a nice type, costing 60k, although he looked a little burly and the yard hadn't had a bumper winner in five years.

The favourite never looked to be on great terms in the race, giving up loads of ground on the stable bend, and recalcitrant thereafter, completing a miserable day for Ms Williams and her backers.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Cheltenham eye-catchers - Day 3

It seemed to be just as windy on the Thursday of the meeting, if not more so, and the going continued to dry out with some fresh ground on the New Course.


Lostintranslation; A most likeable individual with loads of size and scope. Not for the first time this week the jockey - in this case R Power - didn't set strong enough fractions on the lead and he was done for toe by old rival Defi Du Seuil. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he'll be much better over 3m+ and has the Ladbroke Trophy written all over him.

Kildisart; I rated his most recent form almost on a par with the front two in the market and he's such a sturdy horse that he must be very hard to get fit at home. Unfortunately he was a little rushed off his feet on this better ground, making minor errors, and he'll bag a decent pot next term when conditions are more to his liking. He'll surely stay 3m.


Footpad; Not the most taking of horses but seems to have a hold over the betting public despite falling short this season. His defining moment was when he 'fell in' in last year's Arkle, and I'd be happy to take him on at the highest level unless he was faced with optimum conditions of 2m on heavy ground.

Monalee; A horse with plenty of size but he looks a bit tripless at the highest level and he's not going to be easy to place if he's to land a Grade 1 event.

Terrefort; Looked quite lean and leggy and he's probably more a three miler in any case.


Paisley Park; Noted as a horse with serious potential after winning at Aintree earlier in the season, the favourite looked really well jig-jogging around the paddock. Has the size to jump a fence but doubtful they'll go down that route now.

Faugheen; Looked really well and is a credit to connections considering all that's he's been through down the years.


Siruh Du Lac; A lovely big horse with loads of size and scope, his jumping is a sight to behold and who knows how far it will take him. Landed this off 141 and he's still only six.

Spiritofthegames; Dropped right out and never able to get to grips with those making hay up front, he could be one for the big handicaps here early next season but improvement will surely come when sent over 3m.

River Wylde; The first big negative from the paddock all week as the Henderson horse got really wound up beforehand, sweating up and looking really edgy. He ran no sort of race and clearly wasn't right.

Mares Novice

Sinoria; Light framed sort and on her toes, she was weak in the market and ran no sort of race.

Queenofhearts; A very likeable sort, strong and robustly made for a mare, she's all about stamina and was unable to hold her position on this drying ground, before running on strongly into a never-nearer 10th. She'll really come into her own when stepped back up in trip next season on soft ground.

Posh Trish; Looked well but was quite keen in the prelims and that didn't help her in the race, and she failed to see her race out. She's been quite busy this season.

Concertista; A nice, strong daughter of Nathaniel, who looks to be a big influence for stamina. Almost got the job done at the first time of asking and she'll be back here next year.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Wetherby - March 19

A bit of soft ground at the local track after weekend rain but it had been dry since Saturday and it wasn't much worse than good to soft and a bit dead.

I was keen on Theatre Legend in the opening handicap hurdle after Chris Grant's six-year-old had shaped nicely here last time in a novice that looked quite deep at the time, and was sure to improve on that physically.

Down in trip, he travelled and jumped with aplomb, finally confirming the impression he made in his two bumper wins, and he looks the sort to win again before the season is out.

En Meme Temps has been mentioned here before as not one to trust, looking an awkward sort in the paddock and routinely carrying his head high. He ran on when it was all over but be an unlikely type to be retained by is current handler.

Bonne Question was very weak in the market having been put in short on the back of a bold showing at Sandown, but that came only 11 days ago and had incurred an 8lb impost, quite a hike for an exposed 10-year-old, and it wasn't difficult to oppose.

Top Ville Ben was all the rage to quickly atone for his fall in the RSA last week, and after looking fine in the prelims he hardly put a foot wrong in slamming four rivals.

Sent into overdrive down the far side, he was in his element out on his own and can't be faulted, although stiffer tests lie in wait from a lofty perch and such low hanging fruit may not be so readily available hereafter.

Louis Vac Pouch is a big strong chaser but looked very tired when falling two out, having tried to make up ground on the runaway leader, and a drop back in trip should see him in better light.

Noruki isn't a bad sort and was staying on in third when taking a tumble, so handicaps could now be open to him, while Sam's Gunner looked fit enough on his second start over fences, but was circumspect over the obstacles and didn't really achieve much for a second successive race.

Minella Warrior cost connections 180k and is starting to reward them, staying on strongly to win a Class 2 staying handicap under D Bass, who was hard at work some way out.

A lovely big chaser in the making, the winner has a touch of class having run in the Persian War a few months ago, and proved himself up to winning from a mark of 133.

Skipthescales had to make his own running as these conditions wouldn't have brought out his bottomless stamina, not looking all that comfortable in front and running on again after the last.

He's a bonny horse with a bit of scope, and with his trainer being adroit at placing his staying chasers he can land a decent pot next season over marathon trips.

Know The Score didn't make much appeal despite winning at Hexham earlier in the campaign, and this 380k purchase looks really one-paced, on and off the bridle throughout he came there to win his race but was readily outpointed.

His finishing effort was poor and a wind op is probably on the agenda now, as a tongue-tie and cheekpieces failed to bring about the necessary improvement.

A 0-100 handicap hurdle didn't set the pulse racing and they were a modest bunch, the royal runner No Trumps failing to take the eye and she'll be off to the paddocks sooner rather than later.

Border Victor continues to hold condition well and he was the most likely to run his race, despite competing off a career higher mark, S Quinlan a notable booking and he duly booted home a double.

It goes without saying this isn't strong form and he'll do well to find a weaker race than this, runner-up Gallows Point showing some form for the first time while proving a very difficult ride.

The ground was just about soft enough for Caraline in a tight looking handicap chase and she had tumbled down the weights in this dryest of winters, the booking of B Garritty a major plus.

Twice a course winner, she saw out the extra two furlongs nicely to land a bit of a punt after looking overpriced in the morning, doubts surrounding all the others.

Ballasalla was put in really short despite not looking the most resilient under pressure the last twice, and while the longer trip was bound to suit the burden of proof remained with him, and still does after unshipping B Hughes three out.

Lough Salt is another with plenty to be desired on the resolution front and he was another to be strongly opposed having been backed down to silly odds, doing nothing off the bridle once more.

Oak Vintage is banging his head against a wall from a rating higher than his last win, but will come back in time, while Captain Mowbray may have needed this off a break and could well win again once returned to 3m.

The bumper wasn't the strongest, the twice raced Sheshoon Sonny having a good opportunity to get off the mark and this nice stamp of a horse didn't let odds on supporters down.

A little anxious and keen beforehand, he over-raced early on but had enough in hand to run out a ready winner in the end.

Disappointment of the race was Almazhar Garde, an athletic type who set decent fractions for a bumper, only to fold tamely once straightening up. Eleanor Bob once again looked immature and she may not have all that much ability.

Dhowin and Ulverston shaped with promise considering they looked backward beforehand.

Cheltenham eye-catchers - Day 2

Little rain since the first day and a strong wind helping to dry out the ground, it looked pretty much like good to soft throughout.


Ask Dillon; A really lovely individual who should make into a fine staying chaser, didn't run up to form here but one to keep an eye on next season.

Battleoverdoyen; Came over with quite a reputation but this huge horse is simply too big to make a name for himself over hurdles and he was never able to lie up with the pace. Put a line through this - he's a staying chaser through and through.

Beakstown; Another strapping individual who will come into his own over fences, another that didn't really act on the day for whatever reason.

Bright Forecast; Quietly fancied in some quarters on his first attempt at 2m5f and ridden to get home, picking up the pieces when staying on all the way to the line. Still quite unfurnished, he can do even better.

City Island; Compact and strong sort, looked really revved up for this with two handlers in the paddock, but had things under control and knuckled down really well on the run-in.

Sams Profile; Form tied in with Battleoverdoyen and like him is a real strong chase type who will come into his own once sent over fences and with a stiffer test of stamina.

Seddon; Not a particularly well made horse with a 'spidery' gait, he's run to a similar level all season and while 3m ought to see him in better light, my money's on him failing to make the grade at this level, and he could be a 140-horse at best.


Topofthegame; Trained to the minute by Nicholls, a lovely strong type that should continue to improve granted softish ground.

Santini; Loads of size, very likeable staying chaser. He didn't look 'tight' around the girth and the lasting impression is that connections have next season very much in mind for him.

Delta Work; Athletic, without having the size of the other two, and lost ground at a few fences. Travelled very well and last year's Pertemps winner might have been better served being allowed to stride on when leading three from home.

Coral Cup

Cracking Smart; A really nice sort with loads of solid form behind him, was asked to do too much in the first two-thirds of the race and didn't get up the hill. Given more of a chance over 3m, this chasing type can take another leap forward.

Canardier; Looked really well and came in for support off a five-month absence, flattering to deceive at the last before staying on for a place. One to keep an eye on in similar events.


Politologue; Still wears a hood but looks a more complete horse nowadays, having often undermined his performances by getting worked up beforehand. Admirably consistent and a fine jumper, he goes to Aintree with high hopes again.


Envoi Allen; One of the nicest looking horses on show all week, his quality shone through in the paddock and appears to have the temperament and the engine to go with the looks. Heavily backed into favouritism and could go all the way.

Blue Sari; Went down by less than a length but handsome is as handsome does, and this Flat type clearly has loads of ability. You'd like to see him grow a bit though before making similar comments about his longer term prospects.

Thyme Hill; Rested since finishing second in a very good Listed race here before Christmas that worked out very well, he looked really fit and is a thoroughly likeable prospect for hurdles and, in time, fences.

Some Detail; A nice chasing type, rather unfurnished at this stage, however outran his odds with a big run and is one to keep an eye on over hurdles from a less fashionable yard.

Master Debonair; Won that Cheltenham bumper on Greatwood Hurdle day but he was really forward that day and didn't look in the same form beforehand here, on his toes beforehand and far too keen in the race, having done his running a long way out.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Cheltenham eye-catchers - Day 1

The rain arrived in the morning to turn the top of the ground wet and loose, however having to pad half a mile or so across the car parks for the first two days the ground felt very solid underneath the moisture and these curious conditions made for some lop-sided racing, some simply not acting on it while one or two clearly reveled. While the jockeys returned mud spattered from the opening race, the times throughout the day suggested it was only good to soft, although that clearly doesn't tell the full story.


Al Dancer; Surprisingly to the fore in the market considering the poor record of horses coming from a handicap into this Grade 1 contest, he was on his toes in the paddock with ear-plugs replacing the usual hood. Made absolutely zero appeal on the day, but a nice handicapper going forward.

Angels Breath; I was expecting much better in the paddock and pretty much kissed goodbye to the ante-post selection before the off. A likeable sort but currently lacking the size of others in the race, and still on the weak side. Will probably want 2m4f+ in future.

Felix Desjy; I remember him getting quite stirred up in a hood prior to last season's bumper and his keenness saw him fade late on in that race while still running well. He was much more relaxed this time and looks a fantastic prospect, being the pick of the paddock. Loads of size and scope, he can easily find the stone or so improvement needed over fences to win next year's Arkle.

The Big Bite; A lovely, laid back scopey chasing type, he was well below his previous form in fading from halfway, but he's bred to stay 3m and will hopefully head over fences next season when he'll be totally unexposed over trips beyond the minimum.

Thomas Darby; Hasn't looked the finished article all season and he still looked on the leggy side beforehand, as such it was very much to his credit that he improved on his previous form to grab second place. Another that looks certain to make his mark over fences next term, and bred to stay further.

Vision D'Honneur; A 350,000 euro purchase last spring, unlikely to ever live up to that, but a good moving horse with lots of size and strength and you can see why connections were so keen to secure him. Three times behind Klassical Dream now, but sure to keep improving and this ground may just have caught him out.


Not a great deal to glean from this race beforehand, the majority looked big and well and raring to go.

Lalor; Plenty of size, lengthy. Looked fine, but may simply need proper good ground as he was never going a yard.

Ornua; One of the smallest in the field, he was particularly active in the paddock and got very warm...likely to be taken on for the lead he was one to oppose. Despite getting a quite easy lead in the end, the fences proved to be his undoing.

Us And Them; Leggy and unfurnished, he missed the start and ballooned the first two fences, and was sensibly ridden to pick up the pieces thereafter. Clearly talented, he can do better when he fills his big frame.


O O Seven; Blinkered for the first time, but his well-being wasn't right at Doncaster last time and he looked much better here. Largely a disappointing sort, he ran better but didn't seem to get home.

Mister Whitaker; Looked fine, I've said before he still has some strengthening up to do, but he never lifted a leg and was thoroughly disappointing. Something may come to light, as on the bare facts he now has a little to prove.

Give Me A Copper; Has always given the impression he's incredibly slow, he's a big unit and very fragile. All the rage in the weeks leading up to the race, I couldn't have him on my mind.

Up For Review; A heavy topped animal, strong in the shoulder and I'm of the opinion such types struggle to handle the undulations of Cheltenham. Well-backed, he came down the hill fine but didn't come back up it.

Catamaran Du Seuil; Lacks the size and scope for these big occasions and his lofty rated owes much to a remarkable display on his reappearance when showing blazing speed to win by a wide margin. A Class 2 horse at best, and probably wants much softer.

Big River; Unexposed over fences and a dour stayer that loves deep ground, he's quite athletic without being over-big, and after a near three-month absence his jumping was very rusty. However, he flew home in the straight and looks an ideal type for the Scottish National providing there's cut in the ground.


Apple's Jade; She looked a bit smaller than I remember - it's all relative and against a bunch of mares she stands I wasn't that impressed. Yes, she was clearly below par but I'm of the opinion her win over 2m at Leopardstown was a flash in the pan.

Melon; Often sweats up and gets on edge but he looked in great heart, very relaxed and a big strong horse capable of jumping a fence and/or staying further. His return to form came as little surprise and on his day is still clearly useful.

Close Brothers

A Plus Tard; A very likeable individual, well made and one with a touch of class. He was short enough in the betting but left the BHA handicapper blushing with a thoroughly classy display. The state of the ground by this stage may have accentuated the performance but that's not to denigrate it in any way.

Tower Bridge; Loads of size and a strong individual, he had won a Grade 1 hurdle over three miles and was always going to struggle against a speedier type. Not one to give up on granted a stiffer test.

The Russian Doyen; Plenty of size but still quite leggy, and has taken time to get organised in the jumping department. However, he went well for a long way here and is quite likely to rate a good deal higher in 12 months time.

NH Chase

Didn't get to see these in the paddock but caught them on the walkway. OK Corral looked on the lean side but the main reason I wanted to see them was because I had backed Le Breuil to win the Ultima and wanted to see how he looked. Often on his toes, he was surprisingly relaxed as he walked out and that was good enough for me. This beautifully athletic horse showed incredible guts to go with his undoubted ability and hopefully he'll have a good long break now, before building up to next year's Grand National.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Catterick - March 6

Plenty of rain around before and during racing, officially the ground riding good to soft but it looked softer than that and plenty of them found it hard work.

A pretty poor seller to start the card, it had an open look to it from a betting point of view and it looked a guess-up, the 'money' horse was Hey Bob but he'd let supporters down many times before, however he was on a going day and wasn't for catching.

There were no positives from the paddock but the Smiths' Darsi's Jewel is very small and doesn't look like amounting to much, Terminal One is very light framed and no condition at all.

Debece wasn't entirely sure-footed in difficult conditions prior to his two laps of honour in the novice chase, but may have had a small fight on his hooves if Lord Du Mesnil stood up three from the finish.

The most interesting race of the day was arguably a mares novices hurdle with morning line favourite Via Delle Volte one to take on; a buzzy sort she seems to have gone backwards sharply and again looked an awkward animal in the prelims.

The one for money was Pink Legend and this well-made daughter of Midnight Legend looked in terrific heart, needing only to build on her previous effort which looked decent in the context of the race.

Lady Camelot also came in for support but she lacks a little in the way of scope, and she could be one that's hard to win with, again looking to be outpaced over the minimum trip while appearing for all the world like a non-stayer here last time.

Emma Lamb isn't a bad sort but the feeling remains she didn't want the ground this soft, and is another that may not be all that straight forward, while Graceland plodded on into third without ever threatening and doesn't have much substance for this game.

The handicap chase over 2m was a really difficult puzzle to solve, although a line went straight through Greybougg after he blew the start, he was fully revved up but wasn't on a going day.

Commis D'Office ran well in much better company at Chepstow last time but he was short enough and although he looked well was worth taking on with Pull Together, a well-made chasing type on just his second start this season.

The rain came in time for him but he got in a bit tight to a couple, allowing the admirably consistent Halcyon Days to take race-winning advantage.

A novicey crumple on landing at last denied us the chance to see if he would stay on again as he was threatening to do, and with the winner idling in front it may have been a close run thing.

Ubaltique didn't look especially fit and Las Tunas is too high in the weights now.

Iwilldoit is a nice stamp of a horse and it was hard to see what could beat it in the staying hurdle, his previous effort looked all wrong coming too soon after his Bangor win, and he was well backed to return to winning ways.

Same Circus was his chief market rival but she isn't an easy ride for an inexperienced jockey; what's more she wasn't carrying much condition and looked short of her best, running accordingly. Her best form remains over fences despite her lack of size.

French import Valence D'Aumont showed up better with a positive ride, he's a decent chasing type but a little on the weak side and his mark looks too high at this stage of his career, while General Allenby is not bred to stay 3m and there isn't a great deal of him.

The hunter chase for novices brought together some really nice looking horses and all the signs are that this was a decent race, the locals left scratching their heads as Path To Freedom was chinned on the line by Dave Maxwell's Diplomate Sivola.

Despite some hairy jumps, the eventual runner-up - a nice big stamp of a horse - surely deserved better luck and should make his mark under rules, given time to get over this hard race.

The winner looked a proper athlete and it's surprising he found it so hard to win, he's probably not the most straight forward.

Dance Of Time looked really well but his form is on better ground, while Wither Or Not and Ballinahow Bill got quite warm and didn't make huge appeal.

The form of Miss Heritage's previous efforts made her a worthy favourite for a mares bumper that didn't look like it would take much winning, although confidence was tempered when she went scratchily to post.

Figarella Borget came in for support but she looked quite small and weak, and the feeling was she didn't cope with the ground, while Eleanor Bob didn't look quite as green as on debut but again didn't show enough to suggest she can win one of these.

Jonjo O'Neill was an eye-catching booking for Slave To Love but this sizeable mare over-raced in the first half of the race and didn't get home.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Southwell - March 4

A bit of rain overnight and a chilly wind for a messy little card, bits and pieces of interest going forward, times suggesting it was pretty dead ground.

The interesting one in an opening handicap chase was undoubtedly Cybalko, who looked a chaser with a future when chasing home Chozen here earlier in the season.

He does lack in the way of size and scope however, and a few sketchy leaps presaged a last fence exit when upsides front runner Deise Vu, who had looked fit and well off an absence but high in the weights.

Whether the nicely supported Cybalko would have won is a moot point, but he appeared to meet the obstacle on a good stride with momentum but either didn't have the courage or scope to make it, and is one I'd rather oppose over fences for now.

None of the veterans in the race made much appeal, most looking to be on a downward spiral, and they didn't change that view by running flat, Clonusker pulled up after looking badly in need of it.

A novices handicap chase came up next and the market put everybody away by shortening up the desperately disappointing Mr Love, who hasn't looked like a winner in waiting and was probably backed because of the in-form trainer factor.

He looked fit but is a slow coach and after pulling a bit just ran no sort of race. Overawed again looked too small for fences and was another that didn't figure, neither did Dallas Cowboy who came in for support.

Goodthyneaway was put in around 5/2 and drifted to 12 on the machine before winning with a bit to spare, not the most straight forward looking horse and it's not easy to assess the low-grade Skelton horses, three of whom flopped later on.

He looked cooked going to the last when Scartare came to take over but the latter is a maiden for a reason and didn't look at all keen to go on when meeting the final two fences and he will be one I'll oppose next time in similar circumstances.

Three In One was an eye-catcher on paper but was weak in the betting and made no appeal physically, running a shocker on chase debut.

It was nice to see Good Boy Bobby again in the novices hurdle as he's a really nice horse, well made with plenty of size and scope. His attitude needs some work as he's still very exuberant but he's probably just got a very high cruising speed and can keep it going longer than most...he annihilated market rival River Bray who wasn't carrying any condition at all.

The staying handicap hurdle saw the return of Captain Drake who I'd taken a shine to at Aintree in October, very much a chaser in the making.

He hadn't needed to come off the bridle to win at Uttoxeter in soft ground and he was strong in the market to overcome an opening mark of 121 which looked to underestimate his ability.

Plenty of size and length, he looks to have stamina in abundance and the market got it spot on, although it needed an exit at the last from Tomkevi to seal view is he would have won anyway but it must be said he was pretty much all out and was having a real good blow afterwards.

Creep Desbois is a horse I've always kept onside (painful) and the each-way money was landed when he stayed on through beaten horses; he's another that lacks the scope to get any better over fences and although I'm sure he'll go back over them at some point, for my money he'll prove a better hurdler.

Mon Palois is very robust and probably needed this run back after taking a heavy fall, I'm convinced he doesn't stay 3m but once again hasn't run up to form and does have a lot to prove for now. *I've just read that he bled form the nose.

I wouldn't get involved in selling hurdles often but I wish I followed my instincts in the next when Glimpse Of Gold stood out a mile in the paddock as the only 'non-seller' type, and he duly hosed up.

The less said about the the rest the better; the Skelton's Roser Moter isn't very big at all while Vocal Heir is a very anxious sort and made equally little appeal.

I wanted to take on Skelton's Rodeo Dodo who returned from a long absence to win at Wetherby a fortnight ago in the next. He looked in prime shape for that and won well, although I wasn't keen on his finishing effort and there was every chance he wouldn't 'find' over this longer trip.

The one to be with in this staying handicap was Costante Via, a progressive mare with plenty of size and scope. She looked sure to go well, especially when I overheard assistant trainer C Llewellyn give jockey J Nailor instructions to be positive on the daughter of Milan.

Disappointingly, the jockey opted to not to commit his horse despite a leisurely pace throughout, and that surely cost him the race as the mare was tapped for toe on the home bend before staying on.

However, the eventual winner Sundance Boy had got first run, the modest looking grey showing his first real form from a mark of 68 and this was surely a fluke.

Rodeo Dodo stopped to nothing after cruising into it, he's worth another chance over fences with excuses here - there may have been a bounce factor as well.

The bumper wasn't straight forward with Winningiseverything a short price to win again after showing good form at Market Rasen. He's well made and quite strong, but is laid back and looks a stayer.

There were a few nice newcomers, the winner San Rumoldo well prepared by the trainer-owned A King despite having loads of growing to do. The 4yro allowance was key to success here, but he too looks a real stayer in the making.

Hurricane Harvey nearly made it second time lucky and didn't lose much in defeat, while Winningiseverything just found that penalty beyond him in these circumstances but came out the best horse again on the figures.

The Domino Effect came in for support but he looked far too big and lairy on this course debut, he ran on well and will do much better in time, as should Torn and Frayed who is a nice type that didn't quite see it out.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Doncaster - March 2

With the ground drying out under a warm sun and an increasingly strong wind the ground was described as patchy and very much on the fast side for quite a trappy card.

Who's My Jockey was backed into favouritism in an opening staying handicap hurdle but he's not the most fetching son of Yeats, still a little unfurnished and on the weak side.

However, he got the job done easily enough after travelling the best, however this wouldn't have taken a great deal of winning with few coming into the race with obvious chances.

Faithful Mount was brushed aside in the straight and this Flat-looking sort will always struggle against a proper NH type, however his basic speed was enough to carry him clear of the others, Three Ways looking likely to need the run off a lengthy absence.

The Class two handicap chase was a real cracker and not easy to solve, the big, scopey Copain De Classe again appealing as one ahead of his mark should he put his best foot forward.

However, he's clean out of excuses at this point even allowing for an aggressive ride that probably didn't suit...taking on the teak tough Cracking Find from a mile out never a great idea.

That duel did however set it up for the closers and suited none more than Movie Legend, who looked big and well beforehand and has clearly benefited from a wind op having seen his race out really well again.

I had Theo down as the value at the prices as he looked primed for a massive run, but he didn't travel as well as he often does and may just need further these days, closing all the way without ever looking like reeling in the winner.

Nuts Well again ran to his mark and lost little in defeat but he just doesn't possess the physical scope to improve further over larger obstacles.

I rate form behind Queenofhearts the best of the mares this season and Danse Idol and Papagana reopposed for a third time after finding the Edmunds mare too good at both Haydock and Sandown.

The feature of those races were the staying-on efforts by Papagana and this longer trip was much more likely to suit her than the Nicholls filly, and it worked out to perfection as once again the daughter of Martaline was first off the bridle, but came home much the strongest.

Danse Idol is a big likeable mare who will benefit from a switch to fences next year and I can see her proving hard to beat in that sphere. The form stood up well with the duo pulling away from Bonza Girl, who doesn't require excuses.

The Grimthorpe wasn't the double-figure field we usually get owing to the ground but I loved the shape of the race with market leaders Rocky's Treasure and Dingo Dollar very opposable; the former duffing up small fields while the latter lacks any size and scope for these tough races.

They were always likely to take each other on as well and it was all coming together nicely for Looking Well to land that deserved big race win, only for stablemate and perennial bridesmaid Chidswell to cruise past at the third last.

I've never been a fan of this 'twicer' but clearly something has changed as he danced clear at Kelso last time and was sticking on doggedly when Looking Well crashed out at the final fence.

I didn't take to Barney Dwan physically, he's become one of the more disappointing horses in training and he lacks the quality of many at this level, as such I only see him regressing further.

There followed a five runner novice hurdle where we were dead against De Forgotten One, who bashed up a weak field here in January and, having looked a stayer that day, was now dropping in trip.

Brex Drago had gone backwards of late and the Irish raider looked on edge and quirky in the prelims, carrying his head a touch high, and there were nicer sorts around.

Boomerang caught the eye, a big rangy chaser in the making but he was playing around enough and was pretty fresh, clearly he has some growing up to do but I can see him building on this.

Eventual winner Manning Estate had some similar form in the south, albeit on softer ground, but he's a nice strong individual who looked really well, and he deservedly got off the mark with a solid effort.

I quite liked the complete rag Cotswold Prince, who exhibited plenty of size, and he out-ran his odds in no uncertain fashion to chase home the winner. A juvenile, he can surely find a race.

A rather weak handicap hurdle went the way of the lovely rangy French import Empire De Maulde, who bolted up at Newcastle and brushed aside an 11lb rise to double up; he's clearly become acclimatised and finding his feet, although this was pretty weak.

Zig Zag provided market opposition but didn't run his race, while Criq Sun made little appeal physically being a bit compact and close coupled.

The closing bumper wasn't a great affair although the market wasn't far off with weakish favourite Eyren having things sewn up a long way out; she's not very big but looked forward enough beforehand.

Well related Iona Lad was preferred in the market late on but this nice big sort showed signs of greenness and looked pretty clueless in the race, being the first off the bridle and not really showing a great deal.

Heavenly Secret lacked any sort of size and scope and made no appeal despite going off at 11/4, the bottom line being this was pretty much a race to forget.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Ken Slack

I heard the news yesterday evening.
I was surprised by tears; easily they came.
Too soon, too soon.

In truth, I hardly new Ken. But this is my story.

As far back as I can remember there would be the occasional winner in the North, ridden by a jockey in red silks with large yellow spots, which had usually been well placed to land a gamble by 'shrewd connections'.

The Slacks know the time of day, the saying went. Mrs E Slack held the licence while big Arthur put the money down. When 'Slacky' entered the betting ring you would see the ripple effect.

Around five years ago when I started going racing regularly and writing this blog, I used to add a couple of images to bring a bit of life to the stilted pages.

In March, 2015 the training licence was now in the hands of Mr K Slack, and it wasn't long before he was leading in his first winner, Grand Vintage, at Catterick. As luck would have it I snapped the camera on the phone just as Henry Brooke playfully lifted Ken's ubiquitous flat cap as they came in.

I never saw Ken without some form of cap, possibly worn to hide his prematurely balding head, maybe not. The only time I saw him take it off was when one of his jumped the last 10 lengths clear and off it would come, swung around his head in celebration.

A few days after Grand Vintage's landmark success I got an email from the trainer saying that he'd seen the blog and could I send him the picture. In my mind a framed print held pride of place in his house somewhere.

I introduced myself the next time I saw him at the track, he was with his mum Evelyn and we had a nice chat about this and that, it turned out to be the start of a golden period for the yard, Ken's 23 winners the following season came at a strike rate of 33 percent.

Although I go racing three times a week during the winter months I'm not one to be accosting trainers, who are going about their own business and I feel have a duty to their owners on raceday.

With Ken it was different, I'd always keep a look out for the big fella in the cap but it was often him that found me. 'Hi Norm, fancy owt? was the usual opening gambit, and so easy was the conversation I'd often walk away forgetting to ask how he thought his would go in the handicap chase.

He'd clearly picked up the punting gene from his dad, who even he referred to as 'Slacky'. I was in the ring at Sedgefield one day when I found Kenneth next to me. "What do we think Norm?" he'd ask, "Must have a chance," I replied, and before I knew it he'd thrust a roll of £50 notes into my hand and asked me to stick it on for him.

"Happy with 4/1 Ken," I said, the cash feeling like a ticking timebomb in my palm. "Aye 4/1" and he was gone, leaving me thinking the odds are about to evaporate in front of my eyes and I'll be left standing a £4000-1000 I wasn't quite ready for.

As I made may to the stands and took the binoculars out Ken was once again beside me - I'd no idea he'd been sat on the steps where I was stood - rising to match my 6ft 3in gaze.

We watched the race unfold together but unfortunately the trainer started in with the premature 'ei eis' at the top of the hill, and old Jokers And Rogues played his usual game of racing freely in front before stopping to nothing on the run-in.

"Ah well, next time eh," he said as he left for the jockey's debrief. And that summed him up, he always seemed to take defeat as well as victory, not a common theme among racing folk. He had a great sense of humour and outlook on life.

I hadn't seen Ken since the spring when he had a runner at Catterick before Christmas, he was wearing sunglasses and it wasn't a sunny day. I'm thankful that we had a chance to sit down and talk, he told me the illness had caused him to lose an eye as a boy and he knew that one day it would return.

"The last 40-odd years have been a bonus," he said as we departed.

The tears are coming again, and I just want to say goodbye one more time.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Uttoxeter - February 25

A rare trip this far south, in fact the first time I've been here as a punter since the early 90s. The track has a great feel to it, I'm sure it's buzzing on big race days with facilities that put the likes of Newcastle to shame.

The warmth of the sun was ridiculous for this time of year, any horses getting warm were excused however very few did. The going was officially good but reported dead with plenty of sand filling making it hard work.

The opening handicap hurdle featured plenty of exposed older types, while the head of the market was dominated by recent improver Choochoobugaloo and the Skelton-trained four-year-old Mercer's Troop.

Both of these look to have physical issues that temper enthusiasm going forward. The more I looked at Choochoo the more she appeared to be lame on her off hind, most off-putting for those of us banking on a 'free bet' with this strong traveller.

An alarming pre-race drift suggested I wasn't the only one to report a possible physical problem, and anyone left 'holding the baby' had to sit and suffer as the odds got bigger and bigger as the race developed.

The trainer has subsequently reported that the horse suffered a fractured pelvis as a youngster, which explains much, not least the seven-year-old's propensity to veer left and hang fire under pressure. She may also not be good enough to compete off a stone higher mark, but that's for others to judge.

I didn't like the way the eventual winner Mercer's Troop moved beforehand, very 'feelingly' in front, and such walkers don't tend to have a long shelf life. An inconsistent sort, I wouldn't bet on him backing this up.

The staying handicap chase featured a bunch of great big lumps that would be much better on softer ground. The well-backed favourite Coopers Square was ridiculously well handicapped on the same mark as when dotting up last time.

Taking half the fences with him, he could probably defy a hike of a stone and soft ground may help his jumping. Babytaggle travelled well before cutting out and nothing else went into the race with any verve bar The Boss's Dream, who is at least in form and he too loves the mud.

The feature was a novices hurdle and the winner Ardlethen is one of the nicest horses I've seen this season. Maybe it's his rich chestnut colour but his coat was glistening in the sun and physically he looks the nuts, plenty of size and scope, strong but not too big. He'll make a fabulous chaser next term.

The way he jumped and travelled and then quickened away from his rivals suggested he has an engine. The Cashel Man wasn't expected to build on his debut effort at Kempton and he's not much more than workmanlike, while his finishing effort wasn't great last time and he looks to have enough quirks for this game.

Trio For Rio was made to look very slow on this ground and he's a typical Greatrex horse, compact and strong, lacking much in the way of scope, and he looks a mudlark.

Bubbles Of Gold and stablemate Jones Well are big strapping chase types, losing nothing in defeat to a couple of talented ones.

Boreham Bill has long been a horse of interest but he took a big walk in the market prior to a staying handicap hurdle. A really good looking chase type, he was in the process of running a PB when almost coming down at the last, and he remains frustrating.

Oh Land Abloom was a deserving winner after a couple of near misses, while Diamond Fort is returning to the sort of form that marked him down as one to keep the right side of 18 months ago.

I wasn't taken by any of the others in a physical sense, Bryden Boy possibly needing the run after nearly eight weeks off.

Crucial Role has been in the tracker all season and this lovely robust chaser has the makings of a nice stayer if they can keep the wheels on...he's bled the two occasions he's been to Haydock and with two wins round here now he looks a Midlands National type for next year.

Rock My Style is a strapping chaser but can't seem to jump at all, while he must surely want softer than this, a similar comment applying to Caltex who did at least go with the winner until three out.

The finale had a sad postscript but featured a vulnerable favourite in Another Theatre who had beaten a couple of very weak fields in the north and as stated here before she's a terrible mover and I suspect that is going to limit her progress.

Etamine Du Cochet is a tall, lengthy baby of a horse that stole a weak race last time, while Maebh (talented but light framed and better in time) and Belle Amis (robust and very much a soft ground horse) didn't make much appeal.

The winner L'Chamise really caught the eye beforehand, not least because she was fitter than I'd seen her on two earlier occasions, and that connections had brought her out just six days after running well in defeat at Taunton.

The slow pace was against her and she was badly outpaced turning for home, but as the others faltered she rallied bravely to come home strongest of all.

Having found myself cheering her home alongside her young stable lass, our briefly shared joy soon turned to something much worse as L'Chamise went down not 50 yards past the winning post. She had clearly suffered a heart attack, and hopefully endured no pain.

While this job requires a certain detachment, it's hard not to be moved by such events and the heart goes out to connections, and that young girl.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Newcastle - February 23

Eider Chase day...the going was on the soft side of good, the weather as warm as you would find at this time of year, the crowd enjoying the great outdoors with no hint of last week's miserable scenes.

AW bumpers are not really my thing and after calling Basildon wrong when he won here last time I was pretty confident he wouldn't follow up in this stronger looking opener, having not come on a great deal physically, possibly carrying even more condition.

Nikgarde finished behind him that day and the Ewart-trained runner did look stronger this time, albeit unfurnished and quite an awkward looking customer.

The one that interested me was Room At The Top, having come in for support at big odds it wasn't surprising to see him looking very fit for his first outing, a big lengthy chasing type that covers a lot of ground.

He was quite weak in the betting late on however, and ran as though he's an out and out stayer, never threatening.

Malystic is quite tall and leggy but was able to defy a 'penalty', although B Garritty has already proven to be great value for his claim so this was essentially a free 7lb off his back.

Show Promise was the nicer of the Kirby pair and showed a much higher level of form here, his other runner Hurricane Hugo moved terribly to post and didn't get round.

In a quiet opening to a decent card, Cool Mix finally got off the mark over fences, beating Niven after neither wanted to make the running. I took the view that whoever led into the straight would win and that's the way it panned out, Reverant Cust again not proving good enough.

The Eider didn't really grab me this year, nothing much stood out in the book and there were no negatives in the prelims. The ground wouldn't have suited those wanting proper soft with the likes of Just Your Type and particularly Progress Drive caught out, although Mysteree went so close and he usually revels in a bog.

The mares novices hurdle was a penalty kick for Lust For Glory, it was a dire race in behind with runner-up Mega Double nothing to look at and Lady Kyria as previously mentioned lacking the physical scope to jump well enough.

Of minor interest though is Quiet Penny, trained by the in-form Ms Boanas. A nice big chase type, she had shown a smattering of ability in bumpers and stayed on from a mile back under tender handling.

The trainer knows the family well, with the dam having thrown the useful Victor Hugo and Crowning Jewel, and when sent over a trip, presumably next season, she can make her mark in lowly handicaps.

The real action finally got under way in the form of a competitive looking handicap hurdle but it saw the return of last season's progressive youngster Joke Dancer, as I said many times here one of the nicest young horses around in the north.

It was great to see him back after wind surgery and he looked to have grown and strengthened, but looked cherry ripe and worthy of the strongest support.

A steady early pace wouldn't have played to his strengths but the ever-reliable D Cook was alert to the situation and made his move early, stealing lengths on the pursuers going to the second last and soon having things sewn up.

All his form had been on much softer ground but this proves his adaptability and hopefully he can now go on to better things, while a career over fences is hotly anticipated.

The right horse finished in second from a form perspective, the well regarded Albert's Back also returning from a lengthy absence but looking in really good heart, and he simply bumped into a better handicapped rival.

He too has the size and scope to take to fences and while his mark is high enough, he can surely do better with time.

The handicap chase was another open looking affair but was turned into a procession by course specialist Ascot De Bruyere, who once again found a lovely rhythm on the front end and his 'fast-and-low' jumping had them all at it a long way out.

I wanted to stay on the right side of Cave Top, who would have preferred much softer ground, and while he only plugged on at one pace a more slowly run three-miler could see him back to winning ways.

He was a clear second best on the day having tried to go with the winner, Tayzar again looking cumbersome in rear as did Clan Legend, who could just be a soft ground horse. Just Don't Ask won a Mickey Mouse race last time out and was a ridiculous price to follow up, the heavy topped youngster requiring much softer ground to show his true colours.

The closing novices hurdle was a fascinating affair, some decent youngsters lining up headed by Imperial Aura, a well made, nice looking Kalanisi that wasn't easy to oppose looking fit off a four month absence.

The really interesting one was Bally Conor, who came out of that very good EBF qualifier at Market Rasen and looked sure to take a big leap forward with much more in his favour this time.

As it happened, his inexperience showed with numerous errors after pulling quite hard again, but the Jefferson inmate was a clear second best on the day behind a very useful winner, who could be an Aintree type.

Dimple wouldn't have the pace to trouble these youngsters, especially the way he was ridden, while Oscar Wilde is merely marking time before going chasing next season and hopefully his handicap mark won't suffer too much in the interim.