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.
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.
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.