Thursday, 23 January 2020

Midweek eye-catchers - January 22

Catterick - January 22

1.20
A novice hurdle that fell apart with the early departure of the quirky-looking Evander and the unfortunate exit of the ill-fated Kiriglote, however that should not detract from the effort of the winner Show Promise, who has done little wrong in his career so far.

Sure to improve in the jumping department over time, this decent-sized home bred will be capable of recording bigger numbers than he had to here and is precisely the type of horse his trainer excels with.

Runner-up O'Connell Street once again had very little oomph when push came to shove and he is a long way down the pecking order at Seven Barrows.

1.55
So Satisfied is hardly a winning machine and lacks the size to truly excel over fences, but he was weak in the market here largely on account of looking in need of the run beforehand.

Seen travelling and jumping notably well off the pace, this should put him spot on next when he will look well handicapped compared to previous winning form.

2.30
A fine race for the track and a worthy winner of the novices chase in Schiehallion Munro, who once again jumped for fun and showed tremendous zest for the job, hitting the line hard despite a positive ride throughout.

Connections will be spying Aintree and/or Ayr later in the season and is one to keep firmly on side, while good ground will hold no fears for this most likeable individual, who should stay 3m in time.

Return Ticket has been campaigned like a good horse throughout his career but is yet to strike over fences. That should change in due course providing he tidies up his still-novicey jumping, while he travels so well during a race that it's hard not to see a big improvement once faced with a sounder surface.

Diamond Fort was quite strong in the market despite track and trip looking far from ideal, and this confirmed stayer was duly off the bridle from some way out before staying on stoutly after the last.

Lacking a little in stature does not seem to hold him back in the jumping department and he looks a ready-made winner in a more suitable race.

Crixus's Escape isn't very tall but has plenty of athleticism; however he was a bit of a slow burner over timber and an early error at the first ditch saw him lose a little confidence.

Not given a hard time once held, he stayed on noticably strongly from the last giving the impression once again that a trip closer to 3m will now suit, where a slower gallop may also help him get organised.

3.00
Minella Trump was all the rage in the betting but it was chief market rival Annsam who made much more appeal following paddock inspection, the Southern-raider having loads of scope and looking in really good order. With his most recent victory well advertised by the runner-up, he was a confident choice and received a very professional ride from the outstanding Adam Wedge.

Out of a wonderful race mare in Bathwick Annie, Annsam is a name to remember once tackling fences and over a longer trip.

4.05
Another winner of another weak race was Summer Lightening, and another that stood out in the paddock having loads of size and scope, while looking on particularly good terms with herself.

Jockey Conor O'Farrell is making a name for himself in the North and gave the big grey a lovely waiting ride, yet still got there plenty soon enough on a mare you get the impression doesn't do an awful lot in front.

As such, she may have a little more in hand than the margin of victory suggests and, while this did not take much winning, she strikes as the sort to go in again while in this sort of form. In the longer term she may improve still further once tackling fences.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Haydock - January 18

Drying ground meant it wasn't anywhere near as testing as it can be at this time of year...times suggesting it was no worse than soft on both tracks bearing in mind the changes to official distances.

12.55
Serious Ego's run attracted the attention of the stewards and although 'explanations were accepted' make no mistake this is a potential plot next time out.

Despite winning a Point, he's not very big and was only able to win from a mark of 100 under Gordon Elliott, and has essentially been handicapped out of things ever since.

It's unlikely he'll be dropped any further from his current mark of 109 after staying on politely behind the 'thrown in' winner, but it looks likely to be exploited before the ground dries out.

1.30
Four went to post for a tasty novices chase and while they all looked fantastic creatures, it was Joke Dancer who took the eye and really has developed into the perfect looking racehorse.

Running just a week after a personal best effort was never likely to pay off though, and Danny Cook wasn't hard on him after he blew his chance by going off too keenly.

Even though his wins have come left handed, his jumping is so biased to the right that he must surely have to go that way at some point, although that would probably mean heading south. In the longer term, you could see him running well in the graduation chase at Carlisle later in the year.

2.05
Thebannerkingrebel looked a short price on the bare form to win the Rossington Main but was arguably unfortunate not to back up his course and distance success here last time out.

A horse with a high cruising speed, it was therefore surprising that his rider didn't make full use of an easy lead by kicking for home sooner, a last flight error handing the initiative to Edwardstone, who then shoved him into the rails earning jockey Tom Cannon a three-day ban.

Jamie Snowden's inmate comes out best at the weights and leaves the impression there's a bigger run in him, possibly given an end-to-end gallop on a stiffer track.

2.40
The hindsight tipping line has been popular ever since King Charles was powering across Newmarket heath on his trusted Rowley, and on reflection the whole of the north should have been on Vintage Clouds to land the Peter Marsh at his favourite hunting ground.

As sure as night follows day, the Sue Smith horses are flying again with the start of a new calendar year and this was the grey's Gold Cup and Grand National rolled into one.

All the ducks were aligned but the problem now is that he'll be running from a career high mark for the rest of the campaign, which will make life extremely taxing away from his beloved bog. That said, you'd be foolish to overlook him if coming back here for the Grand National Trial next month.

3.15
Pentland Hills will be one of the big talking points in the lead up to Cheltenham but the bare form of his luckless defeat to Ballyandy leaves him with a fair bit to find.

That said, he was on a bit of a hiding to nothing here with conditions not exactly ideal, and this excitable sort may yet play a part in the Champion providing the ground is not as arduous as this.

On the flip side, the winning time was (suspiciously) the same as that recorded by Stolen Silver in the Rossington Main, so either the novices want upgrading a bit or Pentland Hills is going to have to improve a significant amount in the next eight weeks.

3.45
No hindsight required this time as Billingsley came into this handicap chase looking a seriously well handicapped horse now that connections have settled upon his optimum conditions.

Now 4/4 over the minimum trip, I firmly expect the imposing son of Millenary to continue to improve in testing conditions, with his bold jumping likely to stretch the majority of novices.

The only one able to keep tabs was Muratello, another horse clearly better suited to the minimum trip, and while those who backed him from double-figure prices may have been disappointed with his finishing effort, time may tell he simply bumped into one.

4.15
Danny Cook is quite rightly lauded for his positive riding but it took plenty of finesse to get Silva Eclipse home in the finale, a race in which the pair were done on the line 12 months ago.

Off the back of a stronger pace this time, Cook stalked the better travelling leaders before asking for everything after the last, and the grey picked up in good style.

Previously hard to win with, Silva Eclipse has been looking as though he's ready to jump fences but with this success he could find a third win of the season over timber an easier option.

Duc De Grissay proved a little disappointing for the in-form Sandy Thomson, but I maintain the stance that he'll be of greater interest once sent over fences next season.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Market Rasen - January 16

Pretty modest fare with the notable exception of a Listed mares bumper, the ground wasn't that deep but the strong wind made it quite holding, according to Brian Hughes.

The opener wasn't a bad little novice hurdle with three likeable individuals in opposition, the market strongly favouring Fix Sun from the bang in-form Henderson stable.

An athletic, rangy animal, he didn't do an awful lot wrong, jumping notably cleanly in defying a penalty with something in hand.

Sheshoon Sonny and Fearless battled it out for second after running contrasting races, the former yet again jumping far from fluently on the whole yet showing plenty of ability and stamina, far from the finished article physically.

The latter took the eye beforehand, a good moving sort sure to win plenty of races in this sphere, just running a shade keenly and novicey on occasions, while looking to have plenty of scope and ability.

The mare Maisiebella ran an honourable fourth, not for the first time revealing herself to be of a decent level, and lots of scope to improve physically and come on again for the outing. She'll now qualify for a mark and will be of interest.

The staying handicap hurdle wasn't as competitive as the betting suggested however it provided a surprise winner in Blue Hussar, who looked on the downgrade in this sphere but had become well handicapped on the back of some lacklustre efforts.

He had his work cut out to get to the good looking mare Highway Girl, who went through the race like a well-handicapped horse following a breathing operation, but had run her race by the time they had cleared the last. There will be other days for this nicely-related chasing type.

Oscars Leader was well found in the market but looked beaten before stamina became an issue and remains something of an enigma for his new trainer, while Ratfacemcdougall looks more suited to this sphere but proved here that he requires a sounder surface.

Seemingly So emerged from the pack but he is terribly slow, and lacks a bit of size. Blinkers might inspire some improvement.

Strong Glance was the first port of call in the following class 4 handicap, quite a comedown for such a promising bumper horse who has taken a long time to get the hang of hurdles.

Not straight forward-looking, he settled and jumped much better than previously and the ducks were aligned on this occasion, showing that turn of foot of old to scamper clear between the final two flights. He raced on the better ground, and if building on this remains handicapped to do a fair amount of damage.

Floating Rock had a progressive profile and was in the right place throughout but was novicey again on occasions and race in the worst of the ground, which reportedly didn't suit (surprise). He's not one to give up on when the ground dries out.

Just So Cool has spent a lot of time on the sidelines and didn't look at all fit here, yet ran a blinder and if seen again in the near future must be worth another chance. El Khaldoun is a strapping chase type and wouldn't have been suited by track or trip.

A decent handicap chase of its type was decimated at halfway by the fall of Just Don't Ask, wiping out numerous others, and it looked as though Ballinslea Bridge had the race at his mercy crossing the second last.

However, he had done far too much in the early part of the race and he paid for it after the last, with the reformed Zolfo making it four on the bounce as he held the rallying Bandsman.

Ballinslea Bridge is a very likeable individual and he should find compensation if allowed to stride on next time out, he loves soft ground and is an enthusiastic galloper and jumper. Ramonex looked fit enough but is a big unit, Tiffin Top is sturdy but made very little appeal and is one to avoid.

Some decent looking mares gathered for the Listed bumper, the elephant in the room being an unraced daughter of Canford Cliffs from the W Mullins yard.

Panic Attack certainly wasn't in need of the generous weight allowance, having loads of size and scope, and she lengthened stylishly in the straight to win like a decent filly.

Midnight Ginger was popular after winning on her debut over 12f but she was very much on her toes in the prelims and though likeable, looks a more speedy type at this juncture.

Runner-up The Getaway Star looks like a Flat horse despite her breeding, and she hit a notable flat spot before staying on well for second, ahead of the robust looking Midnight Callisto, who also stayed on stoutly. They enhanced their profiles giving so much weight to a good horse.

The last two races over fences were of little account regarding future performances, although it's worth noting that the decent looking Out For Justice jumped and galloped like one ready to strike when running on good ground, as he couldn't go with the front pair when coming off the bridle.

Balgemmois had been well backed in much better races on his previous two starts but had been outpaced by a couple of decents sorts last time, and found this stamina test much more to his liking.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Doncaster - January 14

A sparse crowd, dreadful weather and modest racing - what's not to like?! Steady if light rain and strong winds made conditions harder than the good to soft, soft in places they declared on.

There were a few interesting ones in a modest opening contest among whom Jobsonfire came in for significant support following three runs over shorter earlier in the season.

Well prepared for this handicap debut by trainer Sam Allwood, responsible this season for both Sheneededtherun and Out On The Tear, the February Point winner proved himself well handicapped and handled the softening conditions to get us off to a flier.

The other steamer was Evenstevens, but he made less appeal physically lacking any size and scope, but he battled away to take a clear second and those responsible for the support will rue bumping into an even better handicapped rival.

Sultans Pride wasn't without his backers and looked in good order after a lengthy absence, staying on at one pace into third in the manner of a strong stayer. If retaining his bumper ability, one of these should come his way from a low mark.

Jessica Rabbit once again showed ability but didn't get home in the conditions, a comment applying to plenty.

The second was a weak looking novices hurdle although there didn't look a great deal between them on paddock inspection with the very hot favourite Craigneiche not making much of a lasting impression.

Unfortunately there was nothing that could match him form-wise, and with chief rival Meyer Lansky struggling to find his feet in the soft ground in the inside of the track, the jolly came home in front despite a number of clumsy errors.

He'll be found out in higher company or indeed in this type of contest under a penalty, staying on to beat outsiders Ulverston and Jaytee, who both displayed plenty of ability to match their frames beforehand.

Eyeofthescorpion was one of the nicer types and he made an eye-catching racecourse debut for a trainer whose horses are going well without winning, ridden very much with the future in mind.

Cubao looked a little weak after an absence and faded tamely in the straight.

Race three was the feature novices chase with the full eight lining up, and it was a wide open betting heat with the Henderson-trained Caribean Boy weak in the market after a lengthy absence.

The grey looked a ponderous beast in the prelims, a sturdy sort that looked sure to come on for the run, and with Cotswold Way looking sure to struggle on the rain-softened ground there was plenty of value elsewhere.

Garrettstown again looked the part, and in very good order, but a sharp drift late on was a portent for a lacklustre effort and he returned lame. He's too nice a horse to give up on just yet.

The others of interest were the previously highly tried Nestor Park and The Big Bite, neither of whom had shaped with much promise last time but had far too much form over hurdles to be dismissed.

The money came quite strongly for the latter and he looked much more at home on this left-handed track, despite a few novicey mistakes he still had the engine to power home unchallenged.

He was chased home in the end by Senior Citizen who wouldn't have the size of some others but should find handicaps to his liking, coming into this with a bit to find on the figures.

Nestor Park went sharply left at times but he'd be of interest over 3m while Stay Humble lacked in size although might pick up weaker races in the north.

Another novices hurdle followed and it featured a vulnerable looking jolly in Perfect Predator, who blew a good chance last time with a poor jump at the last and his lack of size and scope is always going to hold him back.

The worsening ground would not have been in his favour but it looked a race of some depth not withstanding the likelihood of there being only a couple of triers.

As the weather closed in it was very hard to catch a glimpse of some of the runners, eventual winner Global Society being one although he looked quite a robust individual.

In the end he had the race sewn up a long way from home as the favourite was never travelling, although this would only be middling form.

Having taken a financial interest in Ask Henry it was interesting to see his jockey sit motionless as the race developed around him, spotting the leaders many lengths after taking the third last.

Whether or not by design this was another encouraging run and it was taking the way he made up ground between the final two flights. Another half mile will be right up his street and if he gets a mark he'll be worth looking out for in the coming weeks.

Le Grand Fromage was held together for much of the trip and he's another likely to build on this following a wind op, having plenty of scope, while the well-related mare Inawhilecrocodile should benefit from an educational run and she was noted staying on stoutly from the final flight.

Just four went to post for the staying chase with none holding solid claims, the market finding it hard to split them. One thing for certain was that Nesterenko wouldn't get home in the conditions, but that still left three.

Stockburn is quirky enough and probably wants better ground, and he was soon on the back foot, the paddock pick was undoubtedly Financial Outcome but the yard has been very quiet and he had been very disappointing in previous efforts. The race took very little winning, as he was the only one that kept jumping and galloping.

Runner-up Ballymagroarty Boy is barely big enough to jump fences and it all looked too much of an effort. He stays well and acts on the ground but he's wasting his time over the larger obstacles.

Theflickeringlight was a warm order in the closing handicap hurdle but the market reminded my of the race at Wetherby at the weekend when Big Bad Bear was sent sent off a hot favourite.

They are handicaps for a reason and the mare has been having a busy time of things, while the race represented another step up with several having genuine claims.

Eventual winner Hawthorn Cottage still has some strengthening to do but she ran well in a fast-run novices hurdle over Christmas and was given another bold ride by her inexperienced jockey, and despite running on the slower part of the track had enough in reserve to fend off Amberose, whose partner may rue not sending her after the leader sooner.

Storm Goddess looked really well for a trainer whose horses are in good form but she wants much better ground than this, as does Eyes Right who was also too keen, but it was a solid enough run from the likeable Legalized and she can pick up a much weaker race than this in due course. 

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Wetherby - January 11

I bit of recent rain to freshen up the ground but it still looked quite holding and hard work for a lot of them on a fairly run-of-the-mill card.

The opening maiden hurdle didn't look much on paper nor on paddock inspection with plenty of types likely to better once handicapped, leaving Coconut Splash with the race at his mercy on this season's form.

There's not a great deal of him, and you'd imagine they'll take their time with him this season. Weak in the market, he had to work hard to get on top after jumping the last but he'll come back stronger next winter.

Chief market rivals Bean In Trouble and Giovanni Change didn't appeal much in the prelims, the former on the small side and unfurnished at present, the latter a bit close coupled and lacking scope, while not looking straight forward either. He may prove difficult to win with for all that both his runs have been fair.

They pulled a mile clear of the rest who need plenty of time, the robust Yorvik wanting much further already while Small Present was disappointing but he is likely to come on for the run and improve for better ground. Fazayte was one of the nicer ones and went ok before stopping quickly after the last.

The four-runner mares chase brought a trio of decent types together although for the a second time With Discretion didn't look in love with the game and a return to the breeding shed surely awaits this strong sort.

Annie Mac was preferred to Alsa Mix in the betting and they got it spot on, the winner being more scopey of the pair and it was that ability to make ground at the obstacles that proved decisive in the end.

Plumpton scorer Penny Mallow took on the boys in the novices hurdle and her fine attitude was again on display as she galloped them into the ground from the front despite some fiddly jumping.

Prince Llewellyn got back on track after blowing out last time and this big strapping chase type is most likely to build on this, although you can be certain we'll not see the best of him this season.

Dhowin was up against it carrying a penalty and it proved too much while running a solid enough race, and he's another that will do better in time.

Itsnotyouitsme did not look out of place amongst the others beforehand and duly stepped up on previous form over this longer trip, benefiting from more patient handling. Despite a hike in the weights for this he'd be of interest in a handicap and could even jump a fence next term.

Hawk High had what seemed a decent opportunity in the feature race but Katpoli came in for support and looked a horse of quality in the prelims, quite a forward-going sort.

A progressive five-year-old was always going to cause trouble for Hawk High, especially over the minimum trip, although the runner-up once again didn't fully convince with his efforts for all that further would probably suit.

Niven was given a very bullish ride for a yard in form on this drop back in trip but he just looks a class below this grade and he'd be of more interest giving weight to inferiors, while he looks versatile regarding trip.

A competitive looking handicap hurdle had a very lop-sided market in the next with the well-backed novice Big Bad Bear and the even more heavily supported Mr Scrumpy taking plenty out of the market.

There was a lot of each-way value if you could find it (not) with the free-going West Of The Bridge returning to form back over timber and a positive ride. I never thought he'd make a chaser being on the small side and he'll be best in this sort of race.

Sakhee's City ran his race again back at his favourite track to get second, but it proved too competitive for stablemate Zig Zag who wants it drier than this.

Big Bad Bear failed the jumping test on this move into handicaps and his lack of size has always been a concern from the day when he was beaten here by Prince Llewellyn in a bumper. Mr Scrumpy was a bitter disappointment and was well beaten when coming down two out, failing to truly pick up for a second successive run.

The staying handicap chase looked best treated with caution with few going into the race in good form, an outlier being the former P Hobbs-trained Ice Cool Champs, who looked a horse going places a couple of seasons back.

Things didn't work out last term but having been switched to the Kerry Lee yard he arrived here looking fit and strong, having been given a helping hand by the assessor. The excellent A Wedge had things in hand a long way from home and he looks a thorough stayer that jumps well.

The market was spot on ahead of the closing fillies' bumper with Maridadi and She'soneofourown looking the most likely winners in the stretch.

The former, representing a yard with a fine record in this sphere, had a touch of class about her beforehand and came nicely clear in the end, having more basic speed than the runner-up who looks a good strong galloper, who will relish 2m next time.

Storm Force One ran a blinder in third despite looking unfurnished beforehand and she clearly has ability, while the equally backward-looking On My Command gives the form some substance, having finished fourth last time.

Lime Drop comes from a really nice family and has plenty of size, but looked green and was keen to post but should leave this behind before too long.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Catterick - January 9

The big day of the jumping calendar for the track and a card that stood up fairly well despite overnight rain after the horses were declared on much better ground.

Cawthorne Lad could have been looked upon as a winner without a penalty in the opening juvenile hurdle following an unlucky run at Wetherby a fortnight ago, and quite rightly was backed into 11/4 after touching 4s in the morning.

There were a couple of 'unknowns' in the race, notably debutant Pour Me A Drink who ran to a decent level on the Flat but didn't look entirely straight forward in the prelims, and his jumping got progressively worse as the race went on. He might be one to avoid.

The other was Kangaroo Valley, who was supported into favouritism despite the apparent absence of his 'colourful' connections. The beast was never travelling, whether on ground or track is unclear, although he made solid late gains when the race was all over.

Gordolan raced in a different zip code behind Cawthorne Lad last time but was given a much bolder ride on this occasion and the decent-looking son of Foxwedge traded low on the home turn before his run petered out. An even greater speed test would suit and he should pick up a race or two this spring.

Staying handicaps confined to mares are thin on the ground so it looked a good opportunity for the progressive That's My Dubai to prove whether she could get 3m+ after a couple of staying-on efforts over shorter.

Settling better than previously under a 'balls of steel' ride from the equally progressive C O'Farrell, the enthusiastic seven-year-old - who looked in great heart beforehand - knuckled down well from the second last to defeat veteran Georgian Firebird.

Third-placed Keep The River didn't take the eye but ran perfectly respectably in third, without really suggesting her turn is next...surely better ground will suit her.

There were reports of cash flying around for the well-backed Massini's Dream but the 12-race maiden ejected Jack Tudor early doors - it may be worth watching to see if they go on a retrieval mission as it looked an unlucky exit.

There was a bit of each-way support for Raddle And Hum but she still looks a big raw horse in need of time.

A 105 staying chase came up next and there were several negatives particularly Sammylou, who looks very moderate and lacking size, ditto Witham who is unlikely to make it as a chaser. Geordielandgangsta still looked to be carrying loads of condition four weeks on from a seasonal return that wasn't devoid of promise.

Cudgel looked a short price considering his lack of size, he looked very fit but just lacks a bit of scope and that may have told in the final analysis as he was untidy at the final three in the straight when the chips were down.

It was Ask Paddy who made them all go, and Sam England's charge had ticked plenty of boxes, being down to a very good mark and returning to a track that has suited admirably in the past. He looked big and well and the headgear was a significant addition after a couple of lazy efforts.

He took the prize as a well-handicapped one should do, and he's the type to strike again from a higher mark when in this form. L'Attendue was quite interesting from a low mark but she doesn't look the heartiest of battlers.

The P Hobbs-trained Pileon looked a nice type before getting the better of Malystic in a weak novices hurdle, the runner-up predictably proving unable to defy a penalty while appearing to run his race.

Alph was the only one to go with the principals, but his efforts cost him third place as he weakened badly from the second last. He remains a headstrong character, but looks well capable of winning over shorter once handicapped.

Among those that didn't feature, Raymond looks a backward type that will do better on good ground while Milanvera is only small but will be of interest on better going now she is qualified for handicaps.

The feature race frankly looked a penalty-kick for last year's runner-up Little Bruce, racing here off a 10lb higher mark but this looked a much weaker renewal with several wishing the rain had stayed away.

A model of consistency over fences, the winner would be one of the best jumpers around relative to his size, and is pretty versatile regarding ground.

I didn't consider the veteran Snowed In, in the handicap hurdle that followed, which was a mistake because he wanted it far more than the three that followed him home.

XPO Universal, Nefyn Point and Monfass all have plenty of ability but unenviable strike rates, which could also be said for the winner, but on this occasion there was nothing progressive enough to pass him on the run to the line. Nothing much else appealed in a weak race.

The finale looked quite competitive despite a couple of defections owing to the ground, Enfin Phil benefiting from a much more positive ride than before to see off the opposable favourite Captain Woodie. He'd been threatening this for a while and the market spoke in his favour.

Romeo Brown was disappointing and may want freshening up before returning on better going, while Yes No Maybe So is another that shouldn't be overlooked when the ground starts to turn.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Festive eyecatchers

Wetherby - December 27

Proper soft ground for day two of the Christmas meeting.

12.25 
A decent novice hurdle won by Black Pirate after a lengthy absence, a market drifter after looking on the big side in the paddock, but he's a lovely chasing type that should also relish further, so this has to go down as a good performance.

The money came for the O Sherwood-trained Brummie Boys who looked a nice type for the future while being quite unfurnished at this time, and a staying-on second held plenty of merit for a horse requiring time to strengthen up.

Giovanni Change has plenty of the Flat in his breeding and he'd only just be big enough for this game, yet despite a couple of notable errors he stayed on well for third and will surely be able to add to his Irish bumper win, probably on better ground. He might be of interest on the level for his dual-purpose trainer.

1.30
Hasankey caught my eye when Laura Morgan went to £52k at Goffs in August to secure the Aga Khan-bred maiden, and he came good at the third time of asking in the juvenile hurdle, battling on to best the penalised Goobinator.

A decent looking individual, the grey had looked green and quirky on previous starts but he knuckled down well after the last and the canny trainer stated afterwards that a spring campaign on better ground is now the plan. I'd expect him to keep on improving.

Cawthorne Lad might have won with a better ride and this 57-rated miler on the Flat is typical of the type trainer T Easterby does well with in this sphere. The handicapper hasn't missed him though, with an opening mark of 119.

2.05
No each-way terms in the seven-runner Castleford with a few of them irregular winners, one of whom Hawk High was well found in the market but not the sort to reward backers at cramped odds.

Marracudja, however, looked trained to the minute by D Skelton having been edged out in the race 12 months ago from a similar mark, and this often reluctant hero seemed to enjoy the return to positive tactics and the result was never in doubt for much of the journey.

Hawk High gave vain chase but he simply looks held by the assessor, as does Tonto's Spirit who doesn't have the tools to handle this quality of opposition.

2.40
I know nothing of Whitchurch trainer Sam Allwood but his handling of Sheneededtherun this winter has been outstanding and the mare looked in fine form as she attempted a hat-trick in the mares handicap chase.

Formerly with M Scudamore and B Pauling, the nine-year-old has found a new level of form in recent weeks and her accurate jumping gave her a big advantage over her five rivals, only one of whom could go with her.

The formerly promising Black Tulip looks increasingly quirky and did not respond to cheekpieces, slipping to 0/9 in this sphere and is one to avoid.

3.15
Another young trainer quietly making a name for himself is Sam Drinkwater and there had been some early cash for his Pray For A Rainbow in the closing handicap hurdle, a horse with a good record when fresh.

Following a six month absence, this good, strong individual turned up in fine order and looked sure to take a hand from a mark of just 83 in a race where few others stood out.

It was just one of those days when things go your way as for some unknown reason the horse sprouted wings after jumping the last with a few lengths to find, getting up to beat Wind Of Hope and Hexham chase winner Dontdelay, who had looked the one to beat beforehand.

Doncaster, December 29

Going on the soft side of good but now the rain has subsided it provided some of the best ground in recent weeks.

11.55
Boss Man Fred is a big raw chaser with a fair engine, what he does do is stay very well and despite coming off the bridle a long way from home he defied short odds in good style.

Snow Leopardess ran an okay sort of race without ever looking like winning, running a bit in snatches as though some cheekpieces might be of assistance. This does prove she stays 3m, however, and she looked pretty straight.

Little Bruce out-ran his odds from a lower hurdles mark...he's such a diminutive horse it's hugely surprising that he's a better chaser, but he looks poised to return to that sphere after a very good pipe-opener, for which he looked like he'd come on a little.

12.25
A really good quality novices handicap chase and it looked a 'pick 'em' beforehand with recent Wincanton scorer Baddesley Knight taking on the equally impressive Maire Banrigh, the pair having jumped impeccably thus far in their careers.

The fact Maire Banrigh was sent off at inflated odds of 7/2 will have mystified many, while the former was strongly favoured at 13/8. The mare jumped and galloped them silly in the style of a very smart horse, she has plenty of size and strength to maintain this level.

Baddesley Knight matched her until the fourth last but was unable to go with her, it's hard to know whether the bleed was a serious impediment but it wouldn't have helped. He looked in very good order beforehand.

Grey Diamond ran a solid enough race in the face of a very stiff task on his chasing debut, plugging on at one pace in the manner of one ready to go up in trip. He has the size to do well in this sphere.

We'll reflect upon how Lust For Glory was sent off the same price as the winner considering she hadn't raced over fences and was coming off the back of a poor recent run. She was never going a yard and may want more juice in the ground.

1.00
A fillies juvenile hurdle with Sainte Doctor a warm order, but her jumping was very novicey even before a race ending mistake at the second last. She cost a lot and has some quality about her, a bit keen and ignorant at present, but should keep progressing.

Fantastic Ms Fox was one of a handful that appealed in the paddock, an athletic individual, and she really quickened in the style of one that could do even better yet. Cuban Sun is quite small but showed plenty of ability, while Yauthym was another that caught the eye and it was no surprise to see her take a hand.

Further back the sizeable Ravenscar caught the eye staying on after proving a little keen, she needs to settle down a bit but has the size to win races over timber.

1.35
A fine Listed chase for mares which requires little explanation here, Lady Buttons doing the business yet again and proving she can battle with the best of them.

A classy looking mare, she always takes the eye in the paddock and is a credit to connections. The way she travels and jumps suggests she can do even better than this, although I have strong doubts about her acting round Cheltenham.

It looked a race of real depth beforehand and the fact Casablanca Bay couldn't go with the principals from some way out surely suggests it was a good race of its type.

2.10
A novices hurdle and a short priced favourite in Corrany, from the family of Trabolgan who I didn't think would relish the drop back in trip - he already looks like he wants 3m.

I'd been keeping an eye on One Touch since his debut fourth behind McFabulous in a Chepstow bumper, and with trainer Ben Pauling starting to hit form the time was right for this son of Court Cave to step up to the plate.

Bounced out of the gate by D Bass, the decent-looking five-year-old showed a real desire for jumping and also appeared to thrive on the ground, worth noting as he's yet to prove he goes on soft. He never looked like getting beat and maintained a strong gallop to the line.

In a race worth revisiting, Vinnie Dev doesn't look capable of defying a penalty and is more of a handicapper, while there were signs of encouragement from Point winner Cremant, who was too keen and didn't get home.

2.45
The staying handicap chase looked open without necessarily being overly competitive and at this time of year it's best to side with the up-and-comers like Boldmere, who was solid at the head of the market and is developing into a very decent looking individual.

This first attempt at 3m proved no bar to success, and, under a lovely patient ride from S Bowen, came through to win with plenty in hand. He'll get at least 7lb for this, but his trainer in no stranger to success with her stayers and he's one to keep onside.

Bob Mahler kept plugging away over a trip on the short side, he looked very lean beforehand so I'd be concerned about him maintaining condition at this stage of the season. The dependable Slanelough ran his race without looking like winning anytime soon, while the rest seemed to have their excuses but were essentially well beaten off. First Drift can be expected to go much better next time, however.

3.20
Very few appealed in the closing handicap hurdle, the good looking Gunnery marmalising the apposition. Twin Star had very useful Flat form but lacks a bit of size and was pretty weak in the betting, his performance suggesting he's not especially in love with his new discipline.

Haydock, December 30

Officially soft ground but had been pretty dry for a good few days and it wasn't that bad considering the time of year.

12.25
A pretty modest 0-115 handicap to start proceedings but an epic conclusion as Buster Edwards, under the cosh a long way out and going knowhere in fifth or sixth jumping the last, suddenly saw the stables and flew home to leave some in-running layers with burnt fingers.

Donnie Brasco is a big unit and looks too slow to get out his own way, while Fifth Symphony came in for support but again showed precious little in first time headgear and didn't show enough to warrant support next time.

Longhousesignora was very much on her toes and this came plenty soon enough after a wide-margin victory over fences, and I remain of the opinion she is best on a right-handed track.

12.55
Cloudy Glen had started to raise questions over whether he would ever get his head in front again but he looked a speedier type than sole rival Secret Reprieve, and he simply had too much toe.

The runner-up has the appearance of an out and out three miler and this big rangy chaser should do better when upped in trip, but he may just require another summer on his back before I'd be interested in backing him.

1.30
Ebony Jewel was backed into a very short price to get off the mark over timber and while he clearly has a decent engine I'm not that taken by him physically and he doesn't make it look easy. What he did seem to do is knuckle down after the last and it will be interesting to see how he fares in a handicap.

First Lord De Cuet is a typical light-framed Pond House inmate but that doesn't stop them thriving and he ran close to his best in failing to concede the penalty. Those in behind weren't given the hardest of times and will do better once upped in trip.

2.00
Lord Du Mesnil
has really turned a corner of late with front running tactics and he's a very nimble and accurate jumper which is perfect for this modern Haydock test.

Once again racing with zest, his cruising speed allowed him to pinch the early lead and he never really looked like relinquishing it, putting to bed any lingering stamina doubts by pulling clear in the final half mile.

Thomas Patrick looked on good terms with himself but remained rugged up and it was hard to tell how straight he was on this return, but having pulled up he still has questions to answer.

2.35
Quite a decent Class 3 handicap hurdle taken by Flinck, who was last with a circuit which is not the place to be round this tight circuit.

The fact he was able to mow down The Con Man after the last speaks volumes for his ability and stamina, the McCain horse having no excuses other than bumping into a better handicapped rival.

The Con Man will make a nice chaser as he has loads of scope but needs another year to fully strengthen. Further back Crixus's Escape ran a sound race considering it would have been a sharp enough test, and this good looking individual could be ready to strike. Informateur looks ready for fences.

3.10
A really weak handicap chase full of disappointing types, but those happy to give Ravenhill Road another chance were rewarded with a competent performance over a new distance that he saw out well under hands and heels.

Quite what he achieved I'm not so sure but at least it's a step back in the right direction for a horse that was so full of promise as a younger horse.

Gold Opera looked perky in the paddock and it came as no surprise to see him run better than of late, but there wasn't much to glean from the rest, with Lough Derg Jewel looking pretty straight after a break.

3.40
An interesting bumper with three previous winners, two under conditionals to alleviate the penalty. The highly touted Crypto was a warm order but the £200k purchase proved a complete flop, dropping tamely away despite looking very fit and strong.

It's perhaps a little surprising they haven't gone straight over obstacles with him after a 300-day absence.

Ask A Honey Bee looks a thoroughly honest and genuine animal on appearance and demeanour but he had only just scraped home on his bumper debut over a month ago.

Nonetheless, you need plenty of stamina to win these soft ground bumpers and they didn't mess about here, so he was seen in much better light this time as he strode away from his rivals under the capable Liam Harrison.

Runner-up Kiriglote looked a really keen type in the prelims and after being dropped out came home with a wet sail to grab second ahead of a moderate looking Fosters'Island.

Jayaaah was disappointing and Sue Smith's runner looks a strong staying type, with plenty of scope he should be winning a novice hurdle over 2m4f+ before the season is out.

The Twiston-Davies runner Onchan looked big and backward both mentally and physically and it was no surprise to see him lose touch with the principals on this occasion. He'll know more next time.