Sunday, 20 January 2019

Haydock - January 19

Not a great deal of moisture around and probably the best ground you'll see here in the middle of January, good jumping ground but far from the heavy usually associated with the track and definitely not suiting the traditional sluggers.

A weak 0-120 to open proceedings and was taken by Suggestion, who was one of three strong in the market against the other six and that's the way they came home, but not in the right order.

The rangy grey was winning from a much higher mark this time after failing to find much off the bridle at Newcastle, I thought he was one to keep an eye on going into this season but he's not one to hang your hat on and had a going day today.

Night Of Glory doesn't have a huge amount of scope and that showed when asked to jump under pressure, essentially losing valuable ground and momentum at the final two flights when trading at odds on, it may not have affected the result but who knows. He looked fit enough.

Bahama Moon really should be winning from his mark but is looking paceless and tripless, for a fourth time in a row promising more than he has delivered.

A competitive looking novices chase came next but it proved otherwise with the mare Castafiore springing a big surprise, grinding it out from the front and winning with authority.

Jerrysback had anything but a clear run in second, and he doesn't look a straight forward conveyance, making minor errors and generally not looking fully genuine, it's hard to believe he ran to his Ascot form and there's a question mark against him for now.

Crucial Role is a lovely 'old fashioned' chaser who was disappointing on the face of it, but looks for all the world like he's ready for a return to 3m, having won over that trip over timber, and softer ground will also see him in better light. He's reported to have bled, but hopefully he'll be back soon.

Le Breuil was disappointing, but he rallied on the run-in after being woefully outpaced and he too looks like a three miler now, another that would need very soft ground to be at his best over this trip. He looked extremely fit and well, and is better than this.

Mister Fisher was hot favourite to land the Rossington Main and he looks a proper machine physically, the sky is almost the limit for him and he can only get better and better and he looked a bit green and novicey still.

Bright Forecast was his main market rival and he looked well but wouldn't have the physical presence of the winner. That said, he's run a mighty race having gone for the stable exit on the first circuit and wandered around at the hurdles in front. He'll make a lovely chaser.

Idee De Garde looked very green and backward, Esprit Du Large is a nice specimen but pulled a bit hard and backed out a bit tamely as the unfurnished Muratello claimed third with a pleasing effort.

The Champion Hurdle trial went to Global Citizen who looks to be a level short of the top division but did what he had to do here, a third Pauling inmate that looked fantastic on the day.

Silver Streak may have given him more to think about had he not clattered three out, losing a huge amount of momentum, and he continues on the up. He looked big and well and has the scope to keep getting better.

Western Ryder has been one of the disappointments of the season, essentially looking one paced again on ground that may be lively enough, but he never really looked like picking up the winner.

The Peter Marsh was a cracking renewal and for a change there were a handful still in with a chance two out thanks to the better ground, Wakanda hadn't won over quite this far before but under a fantastically patient ride from Danny Cook came home really strong to land a bit of a touch for a yard absolutely flying now.

Ballydine made an uncharacteristic error three out that put paid to his chance but he looks a dour stayer and rewarded each-way supporters on the line, and the Eider could be a race for him if it doesn't come too soon.

Robinsfirth ran a mighty race having been played late by Johnson. he looked really fit for a big tall horse but it is very hard to win round here without race fitness, and with proper soft ground he could land a nice pot on a flat track.

I gave the progressive Admiral's Secret a favourite's chance in the two miler that had won by Ubaltique for the last three years, but the southern raider planted himself at the start and that was our race run. So long as this doesn't become a habit he remains one to keep onside.

I also liked Vendor having been dropped 4lb for two quick runs over the festive season, but he lost his pitch with a desperately slow jump at the first on the far side and I'm prepared to forgive him this run as he was still in there pitching three from the end and there'll be easier openings than this.

Dicosimo, quite a tall horse that looked hard fit, had been put in his place by Admiral's Secret last time out but he jumped superbly under a patient yet prominent sit and never really looked like getting beat despite Zalvados trading low late on.

The latter comes with a wealth warning and for the second race in succession came with what looked a winning run only to falter under pressure. He looks well handicapped and could be the type to turn a corner on dry ground in the spring when they can't get him off the bridle, but until then he's worth opposing.

Ubaltique didn't look particularly straight for his record attempt and he faded late on ground that wasn't soft enough, but Deadly Approach out-ran his odds and this big rotund sort could come on again for this bold effort.

The finale looked competitive but I was dead keen on a couple of progressive sorts at the head of the market, Silva Eclipse and Highland Hunter.

The former represented the in-form Smith yard and really looks to have come to himself physically, shaping like more was to come last time out and sure enough he looked all over the winner after taking over at the last, only to be nabbed on the line by the rallying Closing Ceremony.

There was good money for the Lavelle course specialist, and after getting an easy time on the lead he was able to find more on the run-in.

Highland Hunter was given a lethargic ride having pulled for his head in his first handicap as Wedge set only simple fractions on the eventual winner. Allowed to slip back through the field as the race developed, this robust staying type was left with plenty to do as the sprint began off the turn.

Having made his ground easily enough, he was green off the bridle and didn't quite find as much as the front pair but I've no doubt this is a well handicapped horse and he can show a great deal more granted softer ground and greater stamina test.

Roycano looked in good heart while carrying a bit too much condition, the race will bring him on and he looks on a handy enough mark still to win races if they can keep the wheels on.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Market Rasen - January 17

A brutal, icy wind blew down the track making life tougher than it needed to be for both human and equine participants, ground largely good to soft and dead.

The opener was effectively a match featuring a couple of above average types in Deyran De Carjac, whose form looked to have plateaued, and Garrettstown.

The latter is a big, tall youngster and every inch a future chaser, and this was just another part of his education, not really taking to the hurdles or the track but getting the job in the style of a decent horse.

Getting 6lb from his rival tipped the balance in his favour but the runner-up kept him honest all the way to the line and he didn't shirk the issue; the form is good and the winner has probably achieved a rating of about 125.

There were some okay sorts in behind but they were beaten a mile, Gold Fields fading after shaping well for a long way while Event Of Sivola is a tall chasing type that paid for going with the front pair.

Iwilldoit was 5lb well-in after waltzing to victory at Bangor but never seemed to find the same rhythm in a tight looking handicap hurdle and although this decent looking horse looked in good order you have to think it came too soon.

I've seen Weakfield a few times this season and he has slowly come to hand, looking a true stayer in his opening bumper and sure enough he improved greatly upped to 3m in line with his breeding - yet another Court Cave steeped in stamina.

Runner-up Ballyhome can consider himself a little unfortunate to have lost out again although he isn't the most straight-forward as he was on and off the bridle and may suit a pair of cheekpieces, and he went off line again on the run-in.

Let's Get At It picked up what looked a poor race here last time but even over this longer trip was  laboured and he's a workmanlike chaser in the making.

Twotwothree was all the rage ahead of another handicap hurdle but trainer O Greenall is still pretty quiet and the horse doesn't look the finished article by any means, a strong chase type but mentally edgy and another summer should see him better off.

Minella Fiveo was the outsider of the lot but appears to be transformed of late, in line with the Smith horses looking great in his coat and the stable will be piling in the winners if the rain ever arrives.

Ceara Be looks quirky with a high head and quite buzzy; she ran no sort of race and the Hales yard is under a cloud, Friday Night Lights looked in good order to land a bit of a touch and was produced to win the race but had nothing left after the last.

Three chases on the card and they were similarly wide-open, the first seeing Lisdoonvarna Lad backed throughout the day to an absurdly short price considering he has been stopping dead at the business end of his races, and once again his jumping did not look the most natural and he's a horse with issues.

Virnon looked out of his depth in a Class 3 contest but he went amiss by halfway, so this didn't take much winning and that proved perfect for the sturdy Skelton inmate Value At Risk to finally come good again under 10lb claimer W Marshall.

Coaxed into the race, the 10-year-old had enough fight in him to see off Terry The Fish, showing his first piece of form over fences in blinkers, the pair pulling well clear of The Winkler, a grey that may come on for the run but is probably on a regressive course.

One Forty Seven looked in terrific order but remains one to be cautious about.

The Listed mares bumper didn't bring together the cream of the crop but four of the six had won a race and were initially priced up accordingly, however an alarming drift on the four-year-old Who What When flew in the face of all evidence and an opportunity presented itself.

I've never come across trainer M McGrath but he produced this attractive daughter of 1,000 Guineas winning sire Champs Elysees in terrific order and as I've said before in these pages, if you get a mare with size beyond her age the allowance is a massive bonus and with an 11lb start I couldn't see her out of the three at worst.

Mrs Hyde is a strong looking mare but staying will be her game, by Flemensfirth, and it all happened a little quick for her, while Shantewe is a bit flighty and was messing about throughout the prelims, and while settled in the race itself she will improve with racing.

A Perfect Gift made the early fractions but that may not have suited this workmanlike staying type as she was looking about her for much of the contest.

Another handicap chase came next and once again there was a chance to get well ahead on the day with so many contenders unbackable the standout was Compadre, a son of Yeats lurking on a very dangerous mark after going downhill at Jackdaws Castle.

Volt Face, Reckless Behaviour and West Wizard never find off the bridle, Unzing didn't look fit and doesn't stay this far, while Overworkdunderpaid is a big, slow lump of a horse that might make a go of it time, but I'm not a fan of the Longsdon yard at this time of year.

With Ryalex looking high enough in the weights now, Compadre was the only one left and the clincher was his apparent well-being in the prelims, looking in good heart and plenty of size for this return to fences.

Clearly it didn't take much winning, but he looks a happier horse and he will remain on a good mark after this.

The finale wasn't much of a contest with plenty of out-of-form types, the late money understandably coming for Carlo Rocks who is on a good mark after two years on the sidelines, but he didn't look comfortable on the final circuit and may still have an issue, while all his form is going the other way round.

Robin Deuz Pois has looks way beyond her handicap mark but after seeming the most likely winner between the final two fences, didn't appear to go through with the effort and looks one to have reservations about at this stage.

Houndscourt, as inconsistent a performer as you'll find, nonetheless landed a seventh chase for trainer Jo Foster in another race where they finished well strung out, Gogo Baloo looking like she has physical issues, Cranbrook Causeway more likely mental ones.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Hutchinson under fire

The novices' hurdle at Newbury yesterday (1.40, January 16) produced a useful-looking winner in Howling Milan, however the performance of heavily-backed favourite Harambe, and more pertinently jockey Wayne Hutchinson, came under closer scrutiny here at Notebook Towers.

Quite why the Alan King-trained Harambe was such a short priced favourite is open to debate; the six-year-old has not proven to be the easiest to win with, pulling hard under restraint in some races while a change of tactics in a better race last time out over further ended in him finishing a tired fourth.

Reverting back to two miles with a return to 'waited with' tactics looked a sensible option, however Hutchinson, now one of the senior members of the weighing room, and riding the horse for the first time, opted to employ exaggerated waiting tactics in a field of 16.

I timed the gap between the front-running Howling Milan and Harambe at around 3.2 seconds crossing the first hurdle, some 100 yards after the tapes went back, conservatively estimated at about 15 lengths (regular clockwatchers will know what that equates to), a distance that only grew as the race progressed down the back straight.

Spotting a talented horse that much ground over 2m is a dangerous business, and Hutchinson will have known Howling Milan had plenty of ability having done his research on the race, as he finished behind him on the well-backed Reverand Jacobs in its previous race, and upsides on Brigade Of Guards the time before that.

Such a shambolic start to a race can often lend a completely different angle to it and render all pre-race discussion useless, and it was interesting that Premier League race caller Richard Hoiles changed his tone from an early point, implying concern for favourite backers as early as the first in the back straight when saying those at the head of the market (ie Harambe) were "30 to 40 lengths behind the leaders" (I made it 3.76secs or approximately 18L) at that point).

Either the leaders had gone off too fast (Sam Twiston-Davies not noted for getting the pace-setting fractions wrong) or Hutchinson had already thrown his chance away by setting his partner an impossible task.

Now, I'm no horseman (cue; How many winners have you ridden?) however I'm led to believe that many horses settled better racing in isolation than they do in a herd, so to speak. But there were many large gaps in a well-spaced field of runners from early on, although the favourite was buried within a group of what could be described as 'dead wood', with the jockey making no move whatsoever to close down the yawning gap on the leaders the entire length of the back straight.

Hoiles noted Harambe making some ground on the lead out of camera shot as they rounded the home turn but he still had seven in front of him and was a good 10 lengths off Howling Milan, who was not hard pressed to lead three out where the favourite made a slovenly leap that halted any forward momentum he might have been building.

From that point the race was over as a contest for both, Howling Milan powering on and Harambe struggling to muster any kind of challenge, hanging in behind horses after coming off the bridle, eventually trailing home almost 30 lengths (or nearly six seconds) behind the winner.

So, having been around 18 lengths behind on the clock as they crossed the second flight, the favourite was eventually beaten by almost 30 lengths. In very simplistic terms, it could therefore be argued that 12 lengths were lost from that second hurdle - had they been upsides early in the race that would have been the winning margin.

Maybe, maybe not.

Facts aside, the ride the favourite received should have come under closer scrutiny by those in the public domain, notably the stewards and also those covering the race in the media, namely on this occasion Racing TV.

Hutchinson landed a pre-emptive strike by reporting that Harambe ran 'flat', a standard comment from a jockey when an odds-on favourite has been beaten a distance.

That was swallowed by the stewards, who thought not to question why the rider was happy to restrain his horse nearly 20 lengths off an even gallop from an early stage, not to mention the small matter of why he chose to come widest in the straight, when the first race on the day clearly demonstrated the quickest part of the track may have been on the inside (as reported by winning trainer Gary Moore on Racing TV), a line traced by the winner.

This is not meant as a hatchet job on W Hutchinson, who unfortunately finds himself in the line of fire on an occasion when the betting public deserved far more disclosure on a ride that demonstrably wasn't good enough.

A second problem I have with this race is the use of the whip by Twiston-Davies, who was seen to strike Howling Milan twice despite being at least 25 lengths clear inside the final furlong.

Jockeys judge how far ahead they are without having to look round by the clatter of hurdles or fence behind them, so STD must have known he was a mile clear, however the majority of jockeys seem to ride the same finish no matter what the situation.

Twiston-Davies only eased up on the winner when he looked at the big screen, and then looked round to see clear daylight between himself and the rest. He could have done that upon landing over the last, giving the horse a much easier time in the process.

In this sensitive era when the very need for the whip is at the forefront of debate, it simply will not do for a vastly experienced rider to be so negligent in his use of the persuader. Anybody needing to bolster her argument against its value can use this as a prime example of why it need not be carried by jockeys at the end of a race.

I can't say I'm 'au fait' with all the rules of racing but it surely isn't that far-fetched for a more neutral observer to expect both jockeys be stood down for their rides at Newbury; Hutchinson for not riding his horse to achieve the best possible placing, and Twiston-Davies for striking his horse when clearly winning. It's not as if either is without precedent.

For my money, in neither case did the stewards do their job, for the betterment of the sport.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Newcastle - January 15

A strong headwind and drying, dead ground in the main, the low sun meaning the cross flight and fence were not jumped.

A really fiddly, trappy card and not an awful lot to take from it.

The opening bumper was full of weak sorts that looked more like a collection three-year-olds, winner Basildon being much the biggest yet looked uncoordinated and babyish beforehand.

However he looked most straightforward during the all-weather race, settling nicely in behind runners before sweeping past his seven rivals to put the race to bed inside the final furlong.

Some good yards were represented and Mighty Meg and Elios D'Or looked fairly nice types albeit on the small side, while eventual runner-up Nikgarde is also a nice type but looked immature in the prelims.

The juvenile hurdle was a modest affair with only four of the eight having any sort of chance, drifting favourite I'm Improving looking a decent physical specimen but anything but straight forward in the race and one to swerve for now.

Tomorrow's Angel had caught the eye prior to a dismal effort at Doncaster but was fitted with a visor here and although his jumping was still very novicey, a forceful ride saw him to the fore throughout and in front up the straight.

It looked like he was going to hold on but French exile Fanzio, who was quite wound up beforehand and keen in the race, kept coming back while Dr Richard Kimble ran on well after taking a while to warm to the task.

Anyone who rates size and substance over anything else would have taken Debece against Jammin Masters in an effective match in the next, not withstanding that the former was proved to be the more talented of the pair thus far.

The rangy chasing type was sure top be suited by this test while the diminutive Jammin Masters faced an uphill task faced with big enough fences and he eventually came unstuck when the pressure was on, the T Vaughan inmate coming home in front.

The mares novice was arguably the highlight on the card featuring three nice types coming here in decent form, and the robust Derriana Spirit will continue to take some stopping in similar events as she proved too strong up the straight for in-form N Richards.

She can only improve for softer ground and further, and those chasing lost little in defeat - Hidden Dilemma producing a PB in staying on nicely for second looking like an improved animal.

Keep The River should be kept in mind as well, having been caught in a shemozzle with a circuit to go and looking green at times, but still ranging up at the business end before tiring in the closing stages.

A novices handicap hurdle was a dismal affair, Empire De Maulde coming home in isolation and looking like a type to do better in time, but this was poor stuff with favourite Murchison River running another moody sort of race and proving himself untrustworthy.

A very trappy handicap chase came next, Halcyon Days being the most solid performer but featuring from a mark he's yet to win off, and things didn't quite pan out for him as Mumgos Debut picked up another weak race.

Budarri came in close in third but he does not look straight forward, keen beforehand and taking a hold again in the race, he has the size to pick up similar races but may need to grow up mentally.

Magic Of Milan was odds-on to win the last from the same mark as her victory at Ayr, and she looked to have done enough after a protracted battle with Irish raider Allduckornodinner in the straight.

However, Wig Wam Wiggle, noted as a decent looking sort lurking on a good mark on earlier occasions, consented to stay on after putting in a more respectful round of jumping than previously, and nabbed the jolly close home.

After backing him to win a long holiday in the Caribbean the last day, it proved a longer journey back down the A1 than it needed to be after he was left out of calculations this time around.

But sometimes that's just the way it goes.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Wetherby - January 12

Still no rain, officially good ground but it looked pretty dead especially on the chase course where the times suggested it was nearer soft and many looked to struggle in it.

The opening novice was a terrific event for the track, a bit of depth and some value to be had with the eventual winner Doctor Dex, who had some very solid form in bumpers (including here) and had the benefit of a run over timber behind him.

It's easy to crab young horses for their attitude and plenty were wary about this decent looking son of Oscar, but I put it down to greenness and it was again in evidence as he ran around going to the last.

However, having taken the measure of Constancio he looked to knuckle down well to put the race to bed and he should be able to build on this, for all that it maybe didn't turn out that competitive.

Garbanzo was heavily backed but anyone who had watched his hurdles debut would have had reservations about his jumping, while he didn't exactly jump out in the paddock or on the way to the start.

Ingleby Hollow ran on from the ruck to take third and this Flat exile certainly has the size to win handicaps in this sphere, of far greater interest going forward though are The Big Galloper and Oscar Wilde, two robust chasing types.

The former was the first of three runners for the C Byrnes yard, and was very weak in the market for the second time in succession...better can be expected of this useful looking stayer at some stage.

Byrnes' Minnies Secret was dwarfed by some of her rivals in the novices chase but had the form to contend, especially with warm favourite Just Don't Ask a very big, shouldery animal that will require very soft ground to show his best form.

He absolutely fell in here, with Minnies Secret losing ground at every fence and still only beaten a handful of lengths in a comical heat in which the three principals virtually came to a standstill at the top of the straight, when the front running Storm Control decided to call it a day.

A hostage to the fortune that was paid for him, the lengthy, light-framed youngster clearly has all sorts of issues and extended trainer K Lee's dismal winter, with just a solitary winner since April.

A very mediocre 0-120 handicap hurdle followed and nothing appealed in the paddock, and quite predictably it took a moment of pure jockeyship to settle it, the excellent S Quinlan saying go at the top of the straight after setting modest fractions.

It was a race-winning move, and for a second time in a week Wishfull Thinking found less than was hoped for, this time having something to aim at but unable to get by. The jury remains out on him but the Englands clearly have him in good heart.

Val Mome looks high in the weights and is a funny specimen, still weak in front.

Kauto Riko and Beau Bay resumed hostilities in a decent little handicap chase with the latter on 8lb better terms for last year's Hereford clash that saw them finish upsides.

Kauto Riko, often a buzzy type, was very edgy this time and got quite warm, but whether it affected his chance is a moot point, and he may just want it a bit softer as he never got to his old rival, who was given a very positive ride which made all the difference.

Nuts Well looks much better than when he ran here over Christmas and grabbed second despite never looking like winning, he may need to drop a few pounds but the fact remains he has never won during the mid-winter months.

Tree Of Liberty looked strong and well but was easily opposed being from the struggling K Lee kennel and this effort is worth forgiving for future reference, clearly there is a problem in the yard.

With the first two Byrnes runners down it was 'all aboard' Thosedaysaregone in the feature handicap hurdle, who backers might recall suffered from a 'tack malfunction' when 'fancied' for a novice hurdle at Sedgefield in October.

With the handbrake left at home and all girthstraps successfully deployed, the rather fetching son of Getaway was backed at all rates down to 11/10 prior to making something of a mockery of his 118 rating.

Bigger (pay)days lie ahead for connections of the six-year-old, who saw off the returning Simply A Legend, who took a walk in the market despite looking surprisingly straight considering an absence of several years.

To be honest it was all about one horse, the rest looked fit and well but were simply making up the numbers.

Manwell looks a different horse since a wind operation and once again jumped and travelled kindly despite the slight rise in class, but once straightened for home he took off and defied surprising market weakness to win as he liked.

Lord County ran a far better race than last time but still needs more time to strengthen up, and there's not much to say about the others particularly Agamemmon who is a big sturdy beast with a dismal outlook on the game.

The fillies' junior bumper, the second of its type at the track this term, wasn't much of a betting proposition with Fourshoes and Eleanor Bob well forward in the market.

However, nothing much stood out beforehand, eventual winner Zoutoise having more size and scope than the rest but appearing very much as though the race would do her good. Maybe it will, but she was far too good for this lot today even so.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Catterick - January 10

Good ground, officially quicker in places but they were knocking the top out in the home straight and it was reported as good and a bit loose, the times appearing to back up those assessments.

The opening juvenile hurdle promised to be the most competitive race of the day and so it proved, by some way the most interesting being newcomer Groveman who had a class edge over these on the Flat.

With a fast pace looking assured, the concern was whether he would have the 'smarts' to go with more experienced foes in the first half of the race, and he didn't help his chance with some hesitant jumping.

But this decent looking youngster has a good way of going and was able to close down the leaders who admittedly weren't doing a great deal in front, and stayed on nicely to win a shade cosily. I'd mark the winner up, and he could defy a penalty at a bigger track.

Dagian and Travel Lightly more or less ran to their previous form, the latter crying out for handicaps and one to watch in that sphere with a hefty allowance at this time of year.

Not much betting interest thereafter, Uno Mas having the form to beat market rival Come On Charlie if fresh enough after running at Doncaster yesterday, and he looked in good order beforehand so wasn't worth taking on...the Hobbs runner decent enough looking but clearly modest.

Braddan Head has joined Dianna Sayer and looks the type to be winning chases round the northern gaffes once his mark has been suitably re-adjusted.

Mistress Massini was a warm order to go in again after proving herself well handicapped back under rules, although quite small she's got some length and scope and seemed to get from A to B with ease as she dotted up in the third.

Holy Street may have just needed the run on his first start for Laura Morgan, quite a strong sort he has been disappointing so far and was firmly put in his place, but better can be expected.

The North Yorkshire is usually a competitive affair but this year's edition lacked depth, most of the half dozen better operators on softer terrain.

As such, Sue Smith's Sharp Response ticked all the boxes and was a worthy favourite, he's always looked the part and this victory was the culmination of three years' labour for connections. It's worth giving credit to D Cook, who sensibly sat off some speedy early fractions before taking charge with a lap to go.

Western Jo looked in prime condition and ran a big race considering his best form is on soft ground, while he does look weighted to his best, but a weaker race than this could fall his way.

Little Bruce isn't straight forward these days, going up and down the field throughout before staying on again for second, while Greyed A has the make and shape of a real soft ground slugger and Vieux Lille remains one to have reservations about.

I wasn't present when Baratineur was outbattled by one not renowned for his fighting spirit here nine days before and the England horse looked one to take on at cramped odds with the first five 'jollys' having gone in.

All looked rosy in the garden for Baratineur supporters but he hasn't gone winless for nearly three years by accident, and he was nailed close home as he curled up again once under the shove.

Victory for Flowery was a remarkable affair, the Irish import hanging left in the straight as he had when winning at Sedgefield last time out, the form of that looking even better than it did at the time after the third hosed up at Ayr.

Having been keen throughout at Sedge, he was very late into the paddock but the ploy must have helped as he was very laid back before and throughout the race, dropped back in trip.

The inside rail, absent at Sedgefield, was a huge help after the last with C O'Farrell working wonders to keep him in the race turning for home, and it's remarkable that he was gaining on the favourite going to the last despite being ridden on one rein.

He clearly has an issue that needs ironing out, but will surely only go up another 3-4lbs for this and if they can find a track with a rail all the way round (Haydock, maybe) I can see him leaving this form behind.

Canadian George had been disappointing on the Flat and was weak in the betting on this first start in handicaps, but he's a good looking sort and surely they'll find a suitable opening for him at some stage.

The finale was a penalty kick on paper for Jimmy Rabbitte and the strong, compact gelding rallied well to pick up the outsider of four Snowed In after the last, giving backers of the long odds-on favourite slight palpitations in the process.

The Steward looks harshly treated on a perch of 115 and his run of second places came to an abrupt halt.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Doncaster - January 9

Good to firm in places in this driest of winters and a card that can often cut up at the best of times was a pretty weak affair, although there are always betting opportunities if you look hard enough.

The opening match produced one such bet with the very likeable novice Talkischeap taking on the exposed mare Theatre Territory over 3m.

I have a strong suspicion Talkischeap is some way ahead of his current mark of 145 after going down to Le Bague Au Roi on both outings so far - surely the best novice form around this season.

Lostintranslation bolstered the form with victory at Cheltenham and I had no doubt A King's horse would take the measure of his sole rival after the last, with the race panning out pretty much as anticipated pre-race.

The winner is lazy in front, but a thorough stayer, and the Ultima at Cheltenham is screaming out to be won by this horse; however I was reminded that the yard has a horse owned by the owner of Ultima being aimed at the race, so it could be that Talkischeap heads for something like the RSA.

He would be an interesting longshot for that race, but King, for so many years the type of handler to enjoy handicap success with his good novices, will know the right race for this one and he will be worth backing wherever he ends up.

On the day, the 'won-by' bet was always likely to cop barring accidents as he was never going to win by far, so it turned out to be a decent start.

I had completely forgotten about a horse called Diggin Deep who bumped into one last time out with the pair coming well clear but clapping eyes on him rang distant bells and this nice big chase type appears to have turned the corner in a big way.

The only danger in the second looked to be the JJ O'Neill youngster The Manuscript, a surprisingly useful looker for all that he made pretty hard work of a thoroughly exposed type last time.

The Manuscript looked slow again on this decent ground as Diggin Deep powered home in the style of an in-form horse, the hard-fit Uno Mas chasing him home in the end. Katie Connell got really warm in first-time blinkers and little else caught the eye.

With hot favourite Before Midnight scratched from the maiden hurdle it didn't leave much depth to a seven-runner race, and it was left to De Forgotten One to show the rest a clear pair of hooves.

In fairness, he stayed on nicely after poaching an early advantage giving T Vaughan just his third winner since the end of November. Chocolate Box made a pleasing start to his new career and can surely win races, while Ah Well rattled home for third but there was no fluke about his effort, as this chase type looked pretty forward on a belated debut.

Colonel Miller, Imperial Elysian and Early Learner didn't make much appeal and need more time for one reason or another.

Another weak novice hurdle came up next and it was a case of deja vu as Diamond Gait went wire-to-wire for the in-form Bailey/Bass combo, finding plenty up the long straight to see off Lunar Jet who seemed to run on while wandering left and right. He's hard fit and probably isn't improving so may need a weak race if he's to win one.

Magellan is a very big chase type so may need time to find his feet over obstacles despite his experience on the level, but Defi Sacre showed enough to suggest he'llwin again and he's not a bad sort.

Special Prep went firmly in to the notebook after his chase debut at Southwell in early September but had been disappointing since, although after being highly tried next time I was quoted as saying he had "a big task in just his second chase and he'll have other days with his sights lowered."

A pretty miserable effort in a match last time meant he was off the radar and plenty of trust had to be put in first-time cheekpieces if you were to take a chance at rewarding odds of 10/1 (to my eternal misery, I didn't).

That said, Plantaganet was a short price on what he had achieved last time out, his cramped odds surely a result of four favourites having bounded in plus another five over at Taunton.

He was one to take on, but the race fell apart with Thomas Todd, a big quirky looking individual again marring his effort with mistakes, while Laugharne and Fawsley Spirit dropped away tamely and the diminutive Fifty Shades has not gone on from his brave Cheltenham effort.

The closing mares handicap hurdle looked really competitive with all five runners having chances, as such there seemed little reason why Petronella Manners should go off as short as 2/1, unless you felt she would be another to take a giant leap forward for the addition of cheekpieces.

A scopey sort, she looks quirky and bit flighty, not really finding a great deal under the cosh and possibly keeping something back (she's related to the mercurial Go West Young Man). The P Kirby debutant Cara's Way took the eye beforehand, well made and having some presence, and it was no surprise that she was tight in the betting.

Overcoming a mid-race blunder, she could be marked up for this success, and she'll surely jump a fence in time, something that can't be said for Katebird, who continues to be a little disappointing.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Newcastle - January 5

It was one of those meetings where I was 50-50 to attend, a Tuesday card on a Saturday, but after a steak and bacon breakfast (it is world carnivore month if you didn't know) I was in a proper good mood and with nobody on the roads I was ready for some action.

And action we got. Suggestion was one of seven winners for P Kirby over the festive season but this hitherto disappointing sort had been hiked 9lb and was a shocking even money favourite on the off in the opener.

That would never do, and backed a couple against it, one of which being Wishfull Thinking from the in-form S England kennel. The ex-Hobbs inmate came there cruising off sedate fractions but that may not have suited and he was done for toe after the last by Royal Reserve, a modest looking animal.

There isn't much substance to this form, and I'd be opposing the winner next time, while they were talking afterwards about going back over fences with the runner-up, who traded low and thankfully we got out at 1.35. No harm done.

The absence of Ravenhill Road robbed us of a decent novice contest in the next but the closer we got to the off the more it looked like they would potter round, giving the difficult Hawk High another chance to settle it after the last.

He did just that, following several ungainly leaps from the odds-on Cool Mix, who really should be progressing but simply isn't. I don't know if he wants it much softer, or further, or a more attacking ride, but he doesn't seem to find a way to get it done. And he's becoming costly.

Another in-and-out trade put us in front, but again this form isn't strong and I'd take on the winner in a more competitive contest. It looks increasingly like Reverant Cust fluked his first win over fences, the bottom line being he's probably not much more than a 120-horse, although he too likes it much deeper.

A wide-open novice hurdle followed and you could sense the front two in the market were there to be taken on; Lord Of The Rock having scooted round Sedgefield on debut had more on under a penalty, while a leggy-looking Capton didn't appeal much on his first start over timber.

Dunly looked the better of the Ewart duo, although very much a soft-ground sort, while Hawk High's sibling Mountain Hawk was virtually a winner without a penalty although that Hexham form isn't brilliant.

The dark one was Point Break, a nice looking youngster albeit a chaser in the making, a quite recent purchase by the Hamiltons presumably to replace Oak Vintage, who has been offloaded.

Point Break had a history of over-racing and blow-me-down if they didn't change tactics and let him bowl along, don't you love it when they do that. After spurning a decent pre-race each-way plunge we quickly jumped aboard on clearing the second flight many lengths clear, and a circuit later we were long-dds on.

I've had too many in-running shorties turned over to fall for that old chestnut and after trading out you sensed a touch of panic as push came to shove and they met the last all wrong, unable to regain momentum as Mountain hawk swept past ahead of the small For Three.

Again, no damage, but what have been.

Saturdays can be a frantic old business and although the racing wasn't great at the 'aways', there were a few I had been keeping an eye on and a steady enough day became rather messy.

The excellent R Chapman, unfortunate on Point Break, had an immediate chance to make amends on Younoso in the next, a modest animal that looked pretty rugged when placing at Wetherby over Christmas.

He looked much more forward in his coat this time though, and was the only horse coming into this dire 0-100 handicap chase in any sort of form. We had a cheeky 600-200 with the boards (when the odds were 3.9 on the machine - don't tell me there's no value these days) and a similar bet on the phone that we could trade away if necessary.

Outnumbered remains very weak and is one to look out for after another summer at grass, but there wasn't much else to be concerned about with the thick set Titian Boy surely better on very soft ground.

Younoso delivered with a solid display of jumping, a nice winner for a small yard and should continue to pay his way starting from such a low base.

I had little interest in a staying handicap hurdle save for Mah Mate bob, whose jumping is getting better and this future chaser showed much more from the front despite getting very warm beforehand. He's been slow to learn the job, but may come good next winter.

We could have laid Call The Cops all the way up the straight but didn't need the rise in blood pressure. I'd never heard of Petite Ganache but he didn't seem to do a thing wrong, jumping cleanly throughout as though he'd been well schooled.

Ascot De Bruyere has had a couple of enforced absences but this smallish, athletic horse looked in great nick prior to the staying chase and his French-style jumping was pin-point accurate as he scooted away from his rivals to defy favouritism.

Thedrinkymeister looked fit and didn't do much wrong, simply put in his place by an opponent that appeared to quicken away on jumping three out, while Donna's Delight looked to jump a bit better in first time headgear.

Catchamat wasn't up to the task and his novice hurdle wins here seem a long time ago now, but they were achieved in atrocious conditions and perhaps that is what he needs as he was never going the gallop.

I was hoping to get some evens about Zakharova in the last and this well-made, well-related filly duly drifted in the face of market support for Pairs Dixie, absent since showing more at Carlisle and in receipt of 23lb taking in the allowances.

That made it hard to weigh up, but Zakharova did it nicely for the noteworthy Ms Morgan and the horse's progress should be followed closely. The big negative was Kymata, a light-framed sort that sweated up and clearly lives on her nerves.

I know some that would have laid her all day long on this basis and it didn't go unnoticed that she drifted from 3.4 to more than 6 in the three-place market before coming home sixth of seven. There's more than one way to skin the cat, you know.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Wetherby - January 4

Dry ground and they were barely making a print, but they weren't going quick and the times suggest it was a probably a bit dead.

I don't find juvenile hurdles a great betting medium and the opener probably confounded many judges as the market got it spectacularly wrong in what was in all likelihood a weak race.

Lisheen Castle took a hike from an opening 4/6 out to more than 3 on the machine at one time and didn't take the eye in a big way, but came home best in a messy race to initiate a Henderson double.

The Knot Is Tied was nicely backed but hesitated at many obstacles and will probably be better served by taking a lead next time, he was easily the paddock pick and should do better.

Qawamees is a poor mover but got into the race largely on account of the others messing about, but he did what he used to do on the flat and backed out of it after the last, and he is one to avoid.

Chingachgook had every chance and traded short at the top of the straight, but was put in his place without needing excuses. On the small side, they'll probably find a weak race somewhere.

Doctor Jazz had more scope than the others but was a bitter disappointment and may have been amiss.

Little interest in a mares handicap, Carrolls Milan a clear paddock pick and in good order but got outpaced at the wrong time and found Midnight Glory too good, but this was quite weak as nothing else really figured. 

The staying handicap chase for novices was quite easy to read with the morning favourites easily opposable; Grand Morning having shown nothing on chase debut and all his form being in the worst ground, while Abbreviate is exposed as modest, and very inconsistent.

Blue Flight is an enormous brute that should make his mark over fences, but took a big walk in the market and couldn't get his jumping organised under pressure. He looked pretty straight but must surely improve on this.

My Old Gold was an interesting runner on chase debut for the in-form Richards set-up and she has enough size for fences, fit for her belated reappearance. Hughes was always in the right place and made it look easier than it was, and a minor touch was landed.

Lough Salt isn't quite big enough for fences and continues to make errors, yet landed upsides after the last under a patient ride, but didn't go through with the effort and remains deeply frustrating.

Clarendon Street still looks a big raw baby but eventually made it 2/2 for Henderson/De Boinville in the maiden hurdle after a bit of cajoling, and it may have been a decent enough race with placed horses Est Illic and particularly Western Aussie likeable sorts for the future, the latter surely wanting 3m and softer ground.

Nortonthorpelegend was well-backed to supplement last week's Catterick win and probably would still have won had the revitalized Hattons Hill not crashed out when a length or two down two out. 

The blinkered stayer was the only one able to go with the winner and value seekers deserved better.

A terrific looking bumper concluded proceedings and not a single person present could have opposed the eventual winner Prince Llywelyn on looks, a lovely strapping chestnut that arguably had the best form in the book.

Bass sensibly dictated matters from the off and for a moment looked like being swallowed up by some really likeable sorts, but his partner rallied in the final furlong to withhold market rival Big Bad Bear by a neck, a huge effort from the runner-up considering the size disparity between the pair.

They were nicely clear in the end of I'm Wiser Now, living up to his name after a rather tame opening effort, and this weak looking son of Presenting is likely to be much better in 12 months time.

Enlighten was a springer in the market and the latest to come out of that excellent Ayr spring bumper, but he was keen to post and that continued in the race, effectively ruining his chance. He looked fit, but can do much better once learning to race better.

The Hemmings duo Askmewhy and Rare Clouds are really nice types for later on, as is Young Lieutenant who looks capable of picking up an average bumper...but this was better than average for the track.