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.

JLT

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.

Ryanair

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.

Stayers

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.

Plate

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.

Ballymore

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.

RSA

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.

Champion

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.

Bumper

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.

Supreme

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.

Arkle

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.

Ultima

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.

Champion

Apple's Jade; She looked a bit smaller than I remember - it's all relative and against a bunch of mares she stands out...here 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 matters...my 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.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Catterick - February 22

An additional fixture courtesy of the BHA, there wasn't a great deal of juice in the ground and it wasn't the most competitive card all told.

The Jonjo O'Neill-trained Young Wolf was a warm order for the opening novice hurdle but this son of dour stayer Vinnie Roe wasn't certain to relish the drop in trip under these quick conditions, and paddock inspection revealed him to be quite small and unfurnished.

That's not what you want to see when going in at odds-on and he was quite weak in the market despite there not being anything outstanding against it.

It wasn't a race to be dogmatic about but there was a sense of missed opportunity when the enormous Captain Moirette came through to win tidily as Sue Smith's grey had shown ability on all previous starts, including last time out after a three year break.

The race was set up by D McMenamin's audacious move up Johnson's inner down the far side and they got racing very early, Zoffany Bay paying for those exertions after the last. Young Wolf backed right out of things but he's a stayer for the long term.

A really weak novice handicap chase followed and there was a run on Best To Come on his first outing over fences but I didn't take to him one bit, looking an awkward customer in the prelims, not the best of movers and getting warm late on.

His resolution was under question after two short-priced defeats and he was one to take on although it was hard to pick one against him.

Ask Paddy looked to be in need of the run after a lengthy absence while Goodthyneaway hadn't shown anything in points or under rules and didn't really take the eye.

I even gave a chance to Arboretum who was fit while Away For Slates looked fine, a strong sort who just gave a hint that he had been sweetened up for leaving the Skelton boot camp, and sure enough the former rogue came clear after the last to beat Ask Paddy, who ran a nice race and has options.

The handicap hurdle wasn't easy to call with three free going sorts, Ninepointsixthree was never going to be able to lead tearaway Horst though and he was surprisingly short in the market considering his steep rise for beating the trees at Sedgefield last time

He's A Goer is an okay sort for later on but he didn't look a straight forward animal in the paddock, in constrast to Indian Opera, who looked nicely handicapped if you took her Musselburgh victory at face value.

Always Resolute was a worthy favourite with the race likely to be set up for him but the addition of blinkers was a mystery as he didn't relish them the only other time he wore them and it can't be said they made a positive impact as he failed to hunt down the progressive winner.

The maiden hurdle was a match and it didn't look that straight forward for odds-on Reve as the unfurnished chase type had to give lumps of weight to the juvenile filly Lady Camelot, who had enough about her physically to suggest she could compete.

And she probably traded odds on turning for home before stamina appeared to run out jumping the second last, while to be fair the winner won with loads in the tank and probably stays much further.

The big staying handicap chase was very difficult to solve, as the betting suggested. They all looked in good order but the ground was likely on the quick side for one or two, notably course specialist Straidnahanna who couldn't get away from them.

Special Prep is a nice horse going the right way and he jumped and travelled as well as last time, just coming up against one better handicapped on the day in Solstice Star, who isn't a natural over fences but was carried home by Johnson.

There was just the bumper left and the front four in the market were decent sorts, although I'm Wiser Now appeared to have put weight on since Wetherby and I wasn't sure he would back that up despite the form looking decent.

T Lacey rarely gets it wrong in these races and his scopey Floating Rock was forward looking as expected and knew his job as they say, sticking on well enough to beat the light-framed Picks Flight, who ran a screamer under G Lee, while Equus Dancer is a decent looking type that shaped like more of a stayer.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Wetherby - February 19

Some difficult puzzles to solve on watered ground, the opening conditional jockeys hurdle falling to complete rag First Of Never, a 13 year old maiden. Good luck finding that one.

Runner-up Lostock Hall was given plenty to do but returned to form on favoured terrain, he may do better still although Dew Pond remains frustrating, looking tripless and not requiring excuses after leading two out.

Felix Mendelssohn looked really big and strong, very fit but somehow isn't putting it together, while Bit Of A Quirke was weak in the market and ran accordingly...he's surely better than this.

The trio of mares in the novice chase were hard to split, Jamie Snowden's Kalahari King arguably having most potential being so much more lightly raced and she has plenty of size; as such it was pleasing to see her jump well on the ground and stick on in the style of a three-miler in time.

Graded performer Coolanly was way ahead of a novice hurdle field on ratings but it looked a very deep race on paddock inspection and he's not the type to be taking short prices about, not being over-big and again failing to settle in the front rank.

Maybe Brennan should have let him stride on and the feeling remains this wasn't Paddy's finest hour, by contrast the 7lb claim of B Garritty looks increasingly useful and the youngster produced Schiehallion Munro at just the right time to win on merit.

Plenty worth a mention here, useful bumper winner Theatre Legend again looked a fine strapping chaser in the making and some rain would aid his cause, further back All Hail Caesar took the eye once more in the prelims and could be potentially the trainer's best young horse.

Well made with size and scope, he looked somewhat in need of the run while novicey on debut behind some with loads of experience; there was plenty to like about his effort.

Article Fifty cost plenty but is very in and out and I didn't warm to him, the odds are he's got some sort of issue and I wouldn't hold him to a rating of 120.

Thelongwayaround is quite leggy and made some notable errors here, time will see him in better light, while others including the fit Jamessaintpatrick give the form a solid look.

The 2m handicap was a really tight knit affair with plenty of them having interlinking form, and it was the often frustrating Movie Legend who found the necessary improvement following a small wind op to win again, beating my tentative selection Mixboy who ran yet another fine race from the front.

Yorkist looks increasingly difficult and will need a pace collapse to win again, Vendor looked to be carrying some condition while Generous Day was a bit disappointing, he has plenty of size and more positive tactics would have suited in this pace test, as would a drop of rain.

The 0-105 handicap was a dismal affair even before the disastrous injury to Magic Dragon after two out. The Skelton runner Rodeo Dodo is a nice big chase type that was produced fit and well after a lengthy lay-off and it wasn't much of a surprise that he was good enough in the end.

Debrouillard and Brigadier Bob are flat bred and not the type I want on my side going forward.

A staying handicap chase wasn't very enticing with Strong Resemblance heading the market, a worthy favourite without necessarily tempting us in.

Minella For Me hasn't been one for the faint hearted, often lacking resolution and not guaranteed to stay this longer trip, all reasons to oppose him but it was Brennan at his best this time to lift him over the line despite a late thrust from Lough Salt, another to be wary of.

All in all, not strong form with recent winner Itsamanslife looking very slow and Overworkedunderpaid once again failing to deliver after going well throughout - maybe he didn't stay.

The mares bumper was a good one and while Zoutoise didn't look straight when zooming in last time, she was in better shape here but then blew her chance by pulling too hard over this half mile longer trip.

There were some nicer types in opposition this time too, not least the winner Seaton Carew a nice lengthy mare with straight forward demeanour and a good bit of form in the book to boot.

She came home ahead of Miah Grace, an okay sort and one that should find a race in the north, and Legends Ryde, a nicely bred strong sort who will jump and stay.

Agent Valdez is big and strong but looked a bit wayward and was weak in the market, while the Greatrex-trained Escort'namix lacked size and scope, is bred to stay all day and didn't have the pace to keep with some nicer types.

Carlisle - February 18

A really decent novice hurdle to start proceedings and it saw Sue Smith's Hill Sixteen finally come good after several promising efforts.

The fast pace suited this staying chase prospect and as always his sound jumping was notable - he'll surely make a fantastic chaser next term - and of course being by my favourite stallion Court Cave will want 3m in due course.

I'll take a jumps bred over a flat one every day of the week and Vis A Vis' novicey jumping cost him dear late on, a particularly poor effort two out when challenging making things difficult. He's got enough size for this game though and can build on this.

Champagne Court was heavily supported dropping back in grade but once again was quite keen and although another by Court Cave he's shown loads of speed so far and while his penalty wouldn't have helped, a drop back in trip may suit next time.

Don't read much into those beaten a long way behind this decent trio; there will be other days in handicaps for the likes of Pleney (not fit here) and The Big Galloper, while Murphy's Law is another likeable sort for the future.

A lowly staying handicap hurdle followed and paddock pick Some Can Dance came good under a very patient ride, the son of Gold Well had some solid form behind him and has the size for fences so is one to keep the right side of.

Mid Day Gun stepped up on previous efforts and this strapping animal is another likely to keep going the right way, the headgear doing the trick here. Third home Wig Wam Wiggle could do with softer ground but finally put a couple of runs together and he too shouldn't be dispensed with yet.

Absolutely Dylan has been a bit disappointing this season despite recording two wins, and he still needs riding round the pre-parade ring and you could say is a typical Scorpion, loads of attitude and his effort in the 2m4f handicap chase makes him one to be wary of.

I thought Native Robin looked in great heart but he's not easy to win with, requiring a hold up ride and the rider got it all wrong here, getting there far too soon and hitting a wall. He looks weighted to his best but could pick up a weaker race this spring if remaining in this form.

Pookie Pekan has really strengthened up this season but looks and shapes like a real stayer...the early fractions not to his liking and a bad mistake put him right out of it. He's worth another chance if finding some soft ground and a 3m+ test.

Knocknamona came here fit and well after a short break and the race was perfectly run for him, he just has the one pace but they got going early and this fell into his lap. He barely sees out 3m but is a consistent sort that jumps well.

Never Up was fit enough but doesn't win often, similar comments applying to Ueueteotl who nonetheless went well for a long way and may need 3m now.

A really competitive handicap hurdle saw the Smith novice Informateur well backed all day with some solid looking form to his name, but this was a steep introduction to handicaps and he never seemed to find a rhythm in a rather frantic race. He's better than this but is essentially a big, raw chaser.

Teescomponents Lad wasn't sure to be suited by the drop in trip but after crashing through the last on the first circuit was put into the race by the ever-improving R Chapman and the consistent stayer was always in the right spot thereafter.

Wetherby gamble Thosedaysaregone ran up a bit light for me and may have had enough for the time being, but the eye-catcher was Saint De Vassy who has the make and shape of a soft ground lover.

Having travelled a bit too well he was noted staying on after hitting a bit of a flat spot and he can only improve for this and may prove to be a fair tool. McGowan's Pass went far too keen in front and while his jumping was much better, he didn't stay.

Quite a competitive looking handicap chase was turned into a bit of a procession by the well-handicapped Arthur's Gift, and he looks booked for stiffer assignments after this. His yard is adept at placing novice chasers and he can land a big pot this spring especially if it ever rains.

I liked Dr Des but he has yet to transfer his hurdles form to fences, making several minor errors here. He travelled like a horse well ahead of his mark and while not over-big, should be able to pick something up in the coming weeks and again he should relish some wetter ground.

Groundunderrepair lacks any kind of substance and remains one to oppose, Blakemount carried a bit of condition and may yet have a race in him on soft. I thought Very First Time would go well in much-needed headgear but they didn't help his confidence and he remains under a cloud.

Dorking Cock was a warm order to back up his impressive Sandown victory last week and it was simply a question of whether he had recovered from that in what looked a weak field for a 0-115 handicap.

He has loads of pace despite a strong pedigree and looked in trouble at the bottom of the hill, but it proved to be a flat spot and he came through strongly, he's an unfurnished sort that will benefit greatly from another summer in the field.

Broughtons Admiral bumped into one and with the pair coming away late on he should gain compensation, he looked really well for all that he's not very big at all. I didn't think much to Larch Hill and he's only modest.

The bumper was a cracker but the market pretty much went the way I saw it with Thomas Macdonagh and Lossiemouth dominating the betting and the business end, the latter really hitting the line hard in the style of a useful horse.

A really lengthy, sizeable individual, he's arguably one of the more exciting ones in a yard full of good types and this form looks sound with the runner-up doing little wrong, possibly just getting tired after a break and a wind op.

Taking Flight looked the most immature of the others mentally and is sure to make amends, Sidi Ismael took a walk in the market but is a nice athletic horse and will come on for the run.

Young Bull has shaped like a dour stayer on his previous outings and this sharp track wasn't to his liking; he'll want at least 2m4f when sent over timber but has the make and shape of a nice horse.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Haydock - February 16

Looking at the times it was 'safe jumping ground' on the soft side of good, certainly nothing like what we come to expect of 'Haydock in mid-winter', but some decent action to enjoy.

The opening Victor Ludorum was a match on paper but there was no contest in the paddock beforehand and that proved an ideal pointer to the race as the good looking Quel Destin laughed at his rivals.

Allowed to take over with a circuit to run, the outstanding S Bowen dictated as he wished and powered home after the last; the Cheltenham hill should prove no problem next month.

Torpilo has a similar physical profile but is much weaker at this stage of development, lacking a little in front, and the die was cast for him with a mid-race blunder. Capone got quite a bit worked up but this tall, unfurnished youngster came through well for second.

An intriguing Listed mares hurdle followed and I wanted to get against novicey juvenile Laskadine, a fair type but weak on the front end, and the market drift called it.

If You Say Run is a decent mover and looked in great health, but hasn't proven straight forward and didn't appeal at an ever-shortening price...in the end he didn't need any excuses.

Jester Jet has been an admirable mare for connections and she deserved a big one, getting on top after the last and she has just enough size to be as successful back over fences.

The interesting one was Mega Yeats and she probably ran as well as could be expected in the circumstances, probably lacking the pace on this ground, track and trip. Still very novicey, she has loads of size and scope and there's plenty more to come from her.

I've never got a handle on Yanworth and he was sent off 11/8 for the Rendlesham following a late drift. He looked fit and well, but was never really tanking as he often did and tended to balloon the hurdles. I thought he'd duff up a load of soft ground stayers but he clearly wasn't right.

Shades Of Midnight came in for support despite much of his form coming on deep terrain, but his form behind Paisley Park doesn't look too shabby and a really positive ride from H Brooke meant nothing else could keep with him up the straight.

Kilcooley had clearly done plenty of work while still carrying some condition, while Clyne and Petticoat Tails couldn't go with the pace on this quicker ground, the latter looking well in her coat.

Heavy ground lover Scorpion Sid was a warm order for a decent novices handicap and was worth taking on with the ground far too lively, he's a sturdy horse and possibly not entirely straight forward, needing two handlers and then blowing the start.

Luckofthedraw has never appealed, he too is far from all the ticket and lacks scope for fences, his two decent runs coming at Carlisle one of the fairest jumping tests in the land.

Sunset Showdown came in for support but hadn't really done anything to warrant it, a decent looking Flemensfirth surely wanting softer ground in any case.

It's not often I'm keen on Sedgefield form but the race The Paddy Pie won there last time looked solid and with the step up in trip sure to suit the progressive Smith-trained youngster ticked all the right boxes.

You can set your clock by the yard at this time of year and the winner will be hard for the assessor to get hold of, once again he idled in front and remains one to keep on side.

Wilde Blue Yonder barely has the size for fences but rallied well without fully getting to grip with the winner, while Slanelough had gone into the race over-priced after looking set to finish not far behind Scorpion Sid last time.

Different tactics saw him in better light and although he was probably beaten when crashing out at the last, this admirably consistent sort will hopefully bounce back in due course.

Silva Eclipse is firmly in the 'frustrating' category after going down narrowly for a third successive time over C&D, again the Smith-trained youngster appeared to do little wrong, coming up against a renowned battler in Sykes, who rallied after the last to land the Pertemps qualifier.

It looked competitive numbers-wise but couldn't fancy many, Down The Highway a big strapping chase type that surely wants softer, Shoal Bay a market springer but he still looks unfurnished and needs another summer behind him.

Similar sentiments apply to Darlac, while Champers On Ice looks a chaser and this was probably sharp enough in the conditions.

I wrote here that Robinsfirth would be suited by a stronger stamina test such as the Grand National Trial and so it was pleasing to see the wonderful, big rangy 10-year-old turn up for the big race in good order.

With 15 going to post it wasn't an easy puzzle to unravel but plenty of soft ground types wouldn't be able to live with the pace and so it proved, Bishops Road leading them a merry dance into the straight.

The Two Amigos is a bonny horse, full of enthusiasm and he was still tanking along when capsizing at the first down the far side, it's hard to believe he wouldn't have been involved in the finish and he's worth another chance from his revised mark.

Ramses De Teillee is another consistent stayer who proved that heavy ground isn't essential by going close, he did nothing wrong and neither did another that loves the heavy in Chef D'Oeuvre, who possibly just paid for being a couple of pounds wrong at the weights.

It was a majestic winning ride from the Bowen kid though and for me he's right at the top of the tree. He was brilliant in holding the big horse together and only went for the stick after jumping upsides at the last. I thought it was pure magic.

There weren't too many negatives beforehand, Red Infantry expended plenty of energy beforehand in the new blinkers though and he can be forgiven this effort.

The Prestige novices hurdle for stayers was a very strong contest both on form and paddock, not reflected by the market with Kateson going off surprisingly short.

Loads of these have potential to be very good, winner Lisnagar Oscar not over-big but starting to look like living up to his six-figure price tag, and he must be one to beat if heading to Cheltenham.

He came right away from the good looking chase type Ask Ben who lost little after setting the pace, while Stoney Mountain stayed on for third after getting outpaced and he will relish a return to a stiffer test on soft ground.

I liked Rockpoint, Truckin Away is a lovely big chase type, while Highland Hunter didn't look out of place and he'll be one to look out for again if we ever get some rain.

Kateson is quite rangy and has some quality but may just be struggling to retain condition and he might be more interesting next season, he's obviously better than this.

Road To Rome has taken the hunter chase season by storm and he made it 4/4 under rules in addition to the three points he won before Christmas. You'd have to wonder how long he can keep this up - while looking fine he didn't have a great deal of condition about him.

Ballotin didn't look straight when he was jocked up, Pacha De Polder looked in good heart and fitter than expected, as such his effort was particularly poor, while the rest didn't have any excuses and were simply put in their place by a very progressive animal.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Kelso - February 14

Well, the annual pilgrimage was always going to be on the damp squib side of things what with that there flu, the need for extra jabs and so forth, in addition to the fact that we still don't have much proper jumping ground.

Weak fields and unbackable jollys were the order of the day starting with a novice hurdler from Seven Barrows in Dream Du Grand Val, not the most fetching creature to hail from the Hendo academy but good enough in this context beforehand.

It didn't come as much of a surprise that he needed to come off the bridle to defy odds of 1/3, and although probably dossing in front doesn't look likely to make it to the higher grades.

Skiddaw Valleys came through to nab second from the weakening Point Blank, who threatened the favourite briefly two out but once again found little when push came to shove. He's just a baby, a nice horse for next season, while Skiddaw isn't straight forward, hooded in the prelims and only plugging on after getting badly outpaced.

The 'Timeform' novices handicap saw Wetherby winner My Old Gold sent off a warm order to confirm placings with Blue Flight, particularly with the latter expected (at least in these quarters) to struggle round these sharp turns, such a big unit is he.

However, the Southern raider went round like he was on tracks and, jumping proficiently, was never really under stress to win again after he 'fell-in' at Ascot following a pace collapse. Clearly, Blue Flight is improving at quite a rate and is surely the type to win again on a bigger track when he can really stretch out.

Tanarpino and Petiville were fit enough but may want more cut in the ground, while on reflection the favourite was the first of five from the N Richards camp to get beaten here and, looking to carry condition, I wonder if they were all short of a gallop.

We Have A Dream landed the Morebattle without getting out of second gear, a classy sort without having the size for fences. Cornerstone Lad has loads of size and definitely could take a larger obstacle, but he does need deep ground and he lacked the toe for this.

Outsider Get Out Of The Gate is a light framed sort that should do much better with another summer behind him, there looked to be no fluke about his effort and pays a fair compliment to Musselburgh conqueror Normal Norman.

The third 'unbackable' favourite of the day let the side down for acca backers when Definitly Red got turned over by the admirable Captain Redbeard in a match.

The simple math says that if the Redbeard ran to his best (RPR151) then Red performed to RPR159, 10lb below his best on lively enough ground at a sharp track. Only you will know if that was predictable enough to back the winner at 9/2 - I suspect some did.

For the record, I didn't think the favourite was short of fitness, both looked well beforehand and I personally wouldn't hold fitness up as an excuse.

Hopefully it was 'shrewd' money and not the acca bettors chasing their money down the windy street as Aye Right was battered into 4/6 for what was after all a handicap hurdle, and the assessor can take a bow as Bordeaux Bill edged out the gamble after the last.

The jolly is likeable and will surely prove better than this in time, but I marked him down as rather unfurnished beforehand and with a few novicey errors thrown in, I expect him to step up at some stage and his consistency is to his credit.

Mistermoonboy was fit but on the weak side and is another for whom time will serve well, the market being a pointer to his chance, while Something Brewing didn't look very fit even for a grey and could yet find a race this term.

A fascinating hunters chase came up next with 'Dave' riding Shantou Flyer - fit and strong - who had drifted all day before being smashed into an SP of 8/15.

That meant nothing in the run though as the old plodder appeared to lose his pitch three out, trading in triple digits as Mr Mercurial and Sir Jack Yeats swept past.

The former, looking on the burly side beforehand, was all over the winner going to the last but either fitness or fortitude proved his undoing as the jolly battled back to win under the Corinthian.

Sir Jack Yeats doesn't have the substance of the other two and as such looked most likely to be straight on this return, but went as though it was needed from the second last.

The concluding bumper interested me because of this Wetherby race last month in which Big Bad Bear finished second with Enlighten seven lengths behind. Now the former ran his race that day, with no excuses needed, however the latter had been well backed but was very free before and during the race, promising much better to come.

With that in mind the price disparity here was something that we try to highlight in these pages; Big Bad Bear a well backed Even money chance while his old foe was sent off at 7/1 having been even bigger all day.

So in effect the market gave us a point per length beaten; what's more, as was commented on at Wetherby, the Richards horse doesn't have much physical scope whereas Enlighten is a much bigger, sturdier animal, and was much calmer in the prelims.

The evidence was stacking up, and when B Hughes sent our hero of the tale on from the drop of the flag there was only likely to be one outcome.

It wasn't a bad looking field of horses for all that they came home in a bunch, Elf De Re, Claret Dabbler and Ferloch all noted as types to enjoy decent careers at the winter game having much size and scope.

I took a negative view of Ferry All on the day, a big weak four-year-old that drifted in the market and ran accordingly. He'll need time.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Market Rasen - February 5

Gloomy conditions and ground on the softer side after the recent snow, a tricky little juvenile hurdle opened proceedings headed by short priced favourite Lisheen Castle.

N Henderson's inmate defied market weakness to land a weak looking contest on his debut with the promise of more to come, but this looked tougher and so it proved.

Quite modest looking for one coming from the Seven Barrows academy, he was seen under the cosh a long way from home and although staying on this was thoroughly disappointing and a rating based on the Wetherby win may look harsh.

A couple caught the eye beforehand, one being eventual winner Praeceps, a stout stayer on the level with enough size to make a go of things in this sphere, his Newbury effort was a sound one and he was a well-found second favourite in the end.

The other one to note physically was Ace Ventura, a nice big laid back youngster who was sent off at huge odds considering his Flat ability and he came home in third behind the much smaller Honorable.

Bachelor was disappointing after showing decent form in Ireland the last two times but he was very small and light framed and was well below his previous form, not one to be enthusiastic about going forward with pre-race chat about the Fred Winter pie in the sky.

An awful mares handicap chase featured next, two looking useless and the others having question marks about them, largely mentally.

Parlour Maid had never put two runs together before but claimed back-to-back wins by showing greater tenacity than favourite Quantum Of Solace, who chose the easy way out and looks one to avoid.

Mrs Vonn traipsed around the prelims like one that lacks any kind of toe and she will need time and a trip.

A cracking looking novice hurdle was the highlight of the afternoon but the promised fireworks failed to materialise with well-backed outsider Boldmere allowed to set the simplest of fractions with the entire field over-racing in behind.

Although the winner showed more than enough to suggest he could be competitive at Warwick last time, there was a distinct lack of initiative from opposing jockeys to force a stronger pace and it developed into a sprint, with the front runner best placed to strike.

The most surprising tactics came from the Murphy/Johnson combination responsible for Garrettstown, a gritty all-the-way winner here last time but held up today with Johnson continually taking a pull as his partner cruised forward mid-race.

Senior Citizen was again left outpaced in similar circumstances to last time, while hot favourite Clarendon Street was never in a good position considering his undoubted stamina, and this good looking pair, along with Garrettstown, should prove a good deal better than this.

Muratello was another to over-race but he looked to have fewer excuses than most, having every chance in the straight but not picking up as well as the others and I'd have reservations about him, as for the second time he looked weak and backward.

Sixth home was Bally Conor and he carried his freshness through to the race, pulling harder than most and unable to pick up when the spring began, but he's another very nice chase type for the future.

The following handicap hurdle had the toxic whiff of a 'jockeys' race' (with the full support of the starter) with well-handicapped Crystal Lad (14>7) leading out the heavily supported Earlofthecotswolds (11/2>9/4) with Transpennine Star (8>11/2) and hat-trick seeking Minella Fiveo just behind, the rest happy to give them upwards of 10 lengths from the get-go.

This sort of thing is part and parcel of the game and you just have to accept it, no 'wrong-doing' it's just the way it is. Just press click and step away from the machine.

Earlofthecotswolds had previously shaped with much promise despite some desperately novicey jumping, but he is starting to get his act together and with plenty of daylight to aid his cause he looked more the finished article as he put it to bed in the straight in the manner of a well-handicapped horse.

Crystal Lad may prefer further and/or softer and this was more like it from him, while Transpennine Star looked fit and well and appears to have bumped into a couple better at the weights.

With all that said, those that showed promise in behind can be marked up...the workmanlike Seemingly So once again shaping as though more of a test would suit, while Twotwothree and Megalodon both types worthy of closer inspection when better positioned.

A winning time four seconds slower than the earlier novice probably said more about the slow run nature of that race than anything else - that bunch surely better than this 117-rated winner.

Not much to get excited about thereafter, a 0-110 handicap chase with money for several including Conas Taoi, not the horse of old after a two year lay-off but looking well, Dartford Warbler re-united with D Cook in search of back-to-back wins. The Smith horses are flying and this veteran is no exception, winging the last three fences to win as he liked.

Johnny Yuma came in for support but he's right old unit that probably needs plenty of time...he hasn't shown nearly enough yet over fences to warrant support. Square Viviani is interesting, as he showed his first real piece of form since coming from France and while errors persist he's on a dangerous mark and a shorter trip could see him going two better than today's third.

Thomas Todd looks a nutcase and didn't show this time, neither did Newberry New for whom everything needs to fall right and he's just not in much form.

The sturdy looking Corinto proved his previous form down in trip all wrong and he came home much the strongest under the 'champ' over a near-3m trip in the finale, but it was modest stuff with the other unexposed sorts like Treasure Dillon and Wadell plus Oscar Ceremony not making much appeal on looks.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Newcastle - January 29

Quite a deep card, not easy for punting by any means, with soft and tiring ground although the rain/sleet/snow that was forecast thankfully stayed away in the main.

Just five for the opening mares handicap, a tight little contest robbed of value when Peters Cousin refused point blank to get involved in proceedings; after the biggest rug I've ever seen was removed she didn't want to know and they didn't even bother lining her up with the others.

That left Another Theatre to come home pretty much in isolation, leaving the impression she would have won anyway, a few cracks concentrating her mind on the home turn to land a bit of a touch for connections, who were merely reinvesting after Catterick.

She's not the most gainly but looked in good order and clearly has plenty of ability, handling this softer terrain with aplomb, something you couldn't say about Its All A Lark, who found nothing when let down and may well require good ground.

Valse Au Taillons had made a long trip up and it showed, as she was looking lean and got pretty warm. She's high in the weights but should be better than this in time.

A cracking novice hurdle over 2m6f came next and it saw Nestor Park head the market after failing at the highest level last time out...these were calmer waters but the trip was a concern for this keen going type.

A much more forward ride this time paid dividends as B Pauling's good looking six-year-old finally got the better of Lord Du Mesnil after a protracted battle, the latter sacrificing second place in the bid for glory.

Second went to Arthur Mac, who has improved with each outing and looked to jump better this time, proving stamina to be his forte with a strong finishing effort and he looks one to keep on side.

Sam's Adventure was a disappointment again and he is starting to become expensive to follow, soon on the back foot once the taps were turned entering the straight and he could only stay on at one pace against these better rivals. Even further should suit - he's a big, strong sort, but it's looking like he may not fulfill the promise of his stellar bumper form and his jumping remains novicey.

The staying handicap chase was a proper conundrum even before the appearance of Takingrisks, who got very warm considering the frigid temperatures and by the time he left the paddock sweat was visibly dripping from the girth.

I've seen him a few times and he's never done that, so it may go some way to explaining a lifeless display, and he'll be worth another chance in due course.

Plenty could still be fancied, and most looked in good order. Solighoster lacks scope, to borrow a Timeform phrase he is rather close-coupled, and thus will always find jumping fences challenging, but looks on a good mark if he could transfer his form back to timber. It's worth noting he only ran four times over hurdles and has failed to get round in four of 10 chase starts.

Rock On Fruity was dismissed in the betting but won again for Ben Haslam, outstaying Conna Cross on the run-in with the latter trying the trip for the first time...he didn't appear to do much wrong in fairness.

Straidnahanna returned to form with a bold bid from the front and with fellow front runner Theligny staying on again into third one just wonders if their abundant stamina wasn't quite put to the test enough.

A staying handicap hurdle looked a minefield but two that received a positive paddock mention dominated the finish in Kalaharry and Loch Linnhe, while third placed Champagne Chaser is a sturdy sort that may just be better for the run after more than two months off.

J'Ai Froid looks quite a decent animal and was nicely supported but made an error at the first and appeared to lose all confidence thereafter. Having lost so much ground at the obstacles he must be a seriously well handicapped horse to have finished only 13 lengths back, and he'll be one to keep an eye on.

Six modest sorts went to post for a handicap chase over 2m, make that five as last year's winner Charlie Snow Angel refused to take part. By far the least exposed was Budarri and he was well backed despite bringing a 0/18 dossier; a change of tactics sparking a revival and he battled on stoutly to repel Las Tunas, never one noted for a fight.

The closing novice hurdle was deeper than on first inspection although few could have predicted that Rouge Vif would have been all out to repel raiders up the straight, the eye-catching Point Break again looking well bought by connections as he laid it down going to the last. The concern now is that his future lies in the hands of the dastardly assessor.

The winner has loads of size and scope, and is a proper chaser for next season, but his rating probably flatters him - taken literally the runner-up has run to a mark in excess of 130.

Several nice future types lined up, Oscar Wilde again looking a shell of a future chaser but showing much more this time, while River Glades has scope and size and is in good hands, he will improve as he looked green at the obstacles.

Just Call Me Al is a rangy individual given an exaggerated waiting ride after pulling his way to a heavy defeat last time, and he should get back on the up in due course, as can Skye Chief who is a work in progress. Qawamees wasn't the most likeable sort on the level and didn't fancy this from an early stage.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Doncaster - January 25/26

Apologies for what may seem like a bit of a marathon, two enjoyable days on Town Moor where the going was genuinely good jumping ground after 40mm of water and bits and pieces of rain went on the track in the week prior to racing. Sadly this wasn't enough to persuade some trainers, with disappointing field sizes generally prevailing.

Friday 25th

The opening novices handicap chase attracted only six but it was an interesting little heat with chances given to all in one way or another.

Ballasalla drifted to a very backable price after going down narrowly at Catterick and he looked a damn sight better in the prelims this time, less agitated and worked up, he's slowly getting the hang of things but remains immature.

He looked to have the race at his mercy after jumping well throughout, but mistakes late on proved costly while it was a little disappointing that he was unable to rally on the long run-in.

Wishfull Dreaming from the in-form S England yard was the one to wear him down after looking to be out-battled himself in two hurdle spins, but he knuckled down under a hard drive to get it done.

Pique Rock was very fit and there's not a lot of her for all that she jumps nicely, one suspects this could be about her level rating-wise.

Stylish Moment still looks immature both mentally and physically and probably won't be of interest until next term, when he may begin to look well treated, but Stage Summit looks one to avoid all together, being of size and scope and yet finding a way to get himself on the deck.

Storm Goddess looked the proverbial good thing against what in the end proved only three opponents, none of whom looked ready to give her a race being big backward chase types.

The form of her last run with Mega Yeats looks decent and a clear round was all that sufficed, yet she drifted from 1/2 to an SP of 8/11 and it was one of those occasions where you just had to keep going in.

The big race saw tough-as-teak Cracking Find face Forest Bihan on 4lb worse terms than in the Castleford, but his tenacity again won the day over the frustrating runner-up, who promises so much but never finds as much as he should.

Still on a winning mark, Forest Bihan is the type to go close in the Grand Annual or Red Rum at Aintree if his jumping holds up, so well does he travel.

Modus again looked to me like he doesn't really have the size for fences, a similar comment that could apply to Nuts Well, who will surely go back over timber after a crunching fall.

The Listed juvenile for fillies was quite a decent little race but Giving Glances had quite a bit of presence in the paddock and proved her running at Aintree on soft ground all wrong with quite a professional display, her Flat experience no doubt proving useful.

Fabianski looks a professional filly and she didn't do a great deal wrong, while Via Delle Volte is a bit of livewire, expending excess energy both before and during the race, and she should improve if learning to settle.

Sparky Valentine is just a baby and requires time, Tazka had a bit more size than most but was well beaten off in the end.

The novice hurdle saw quite a few Flat exiles take on the more experienced Constancio and B Hughes sensibly put them to the sword with a bold ride from the front, the son of Authorized getting the job done well enough; he's probably just bettered his recent Wetherby form which looked very solid at the time.

Groveman didn't receive a great ride, minor errors counting against him as the race developed in front, waiting tactics were therefore exacerbated and his laudable finishing effort came far too late. A nice horse, fine against his elders, ought to rate much higher when his jumping becomes slicker.

Saryshagann has a high head carriage which leaves reservations, while the good looking The Grand Visir found disappointingly little considering he stayed so well on the level.

I didn't take a great deal of interest in a 0-100 handicap hurdle where the sizeable Man Of The North stayed on well to deny the improving Miss Amelia, who is young enough to do better at some point, much like her sister Miss Conway who improved for a fence.

Bolister was arguably the nicest of a modest bunch, but got a little outpaced at the wrong time before staying on late, and while he's clearly had issues he could pick up a small race.

I liked the look of Modern Warfair going into the final race on the day, after T Vaughan's youngster ran eye-catchingly well behind some useful recruits at Exeter earlier in the season.

An £80k purchase, the son of Well Chosen looks imbued with stamina and it proved vital in the end as he looked like falling out the back of the telly until latching on to them turning for home, and it helped that they got at it soon enough.

To his credit, the hitherto disappointing KK Lexion stuck to the task after clearing the last in isolation but the effort had taken its toll and our hero was nicely on top late in the piece, and he should remain one to keep onside over time, as he's built to jump a fence.

Djin Conti once again didn't impress with his demeanour, constantly on edge and keen, and until he grows up he will remain one to take on.

Saturday 26th

No change to conditions for Skybet Chase day other than a brisker and colder headwind up the straight.

The opening handicap hurdle wasn't that competitive and looked a match on paper with a couple of well-handicapped ones in opposition, in the end Always Resolute proving just that as he saw off the returning Its'Afreebee after the last.

Present From Dubai is the interesting one here, he ran okay to a point and is a nice horse that will improve markedly for the outing following an absence. Defi Sacre was very green out in front and is not one to give up on, probably better over fences already and back in trip.

Dynamite Dollars was given a race by Ballywood in a disappointing turnout for the 'Lightning' Novice Chase, the winner is a proper big chaser although one suspects he's going to come up short of top class.

Ballywood isn't very big but is a fantastic athlete and once again skipped round this difficult track, swinging away up the straight before finding the winner too strong. Cheltenham may come a year too soon for the five-year-old, but he is expected to continue on the up in similar conditions.

The River Don often attracts a small field and just four lined up this time, but there was a shock when the ex-Flat racer Nadaitak outstayed them all with a very convincing win.

Quite where this came from I'm not sure, you'd have to think Commodore Barry has paid for a busy period while Truckers Lodge was off the bridle a mile out and although running on well hasn't really looked up to Graded class, similar comments applying to Bailarico.

The big race appeared to lack a bit of quality and there weren't many progressive sorts in there, Dingo Dollar heading the market after going well for a long way in better company last time.

However, he's not that big and probably likes his own way in front, not likely in a race where quite a few had similar intentions, and I quite liked a couple down the bottom of the weights, notably Brian Boranha and Monbeg River.

I've had more to do with the latter over the years than most horses in training and he looked big and really well and didn't deserve to be the outsider of the lot, his renowned cruising speed and accurate jumping bound to carry him deep into the race.

Go Conquer had got tired late on here last time and I didn't particularly care for the form at the time, and 4lb higher here it was surprising to see him win so easily...without being insulting this could be his zenith as he's going to find life really tricky from a career high mark aged 10.

Old rival O O Seven ran a shocker although he was the one negative from the paddock, looking warm and on edge, similar comments that were noted when he was turned over at odds-on over two years ago, funnily enough.

Old Monbeg did backers proud, and it's harsh to say he didn't stay, while Calipto must be some horse to stay on as he did...he'll always be prone to errors as he's not very big and lacks scope. Brian Boranha didn't have the physical presence of most and he might be better back down in grade.

Lady Buttons was back over timber as connections went pot-hunting with their stable star and it would have been foolish to look elsewhere with odds of even money a more-than fair reflection of her chances.

As always she traveled with a minimum of fuss throughout, briefly nudged into the bridle going to three out but quickly picking up to join issue, arguably getting to the front too soon.

Victory was never in much doubt despite a late lunge from Indefatigable, a fair sort that looks to be improving, and Phil Kirby's mare looks capable of competing at a much higher level in this form.

Irish Roe I suspect has reached a ceiling as befits one lacking size and scope, again running up to her best, although Chica Buena did not match her recent form up in grade and is probably due a break.

A five runner staying chase came up next, modest stuff with the big, slow Cougar's Gold maintaining the gallop in front of a reluctant looking Mahlermade, who remains a maiden under rules and one suspects he's quite happy to keep it that way.

Lord County went as if amiss, having been beaten a long way out, but Babytaggle is of more interest going forward, not helped on this occasion by his unbalanced amateur rider.

A decent looking horse of scope, he looked fit and is essentially a decent jumper, so in different circumstances, maybe on soft ground, he'll be one to keep the right side of.

A cheeky little mares bumper concluded proceedings and it wasn't easy to split four of the seven starters, it could be argued that eventual winner Redbridge Gold was over-priced after over-coming and absence since chasing home the useful Mega Yeats on her debut.

She's a good staying prospect, while Hotter Than Hell and Methodtothemadness looked straight enough and ran their races, giving the form a decent look.

The expensive Nonesuch isn't very big and looks slow, but Toodlepip has loads of size and is one to note when faced with obstacles.