Friday 29 November 2013

Doncaster - Lavelle lands touch

A spell of dry weather in the north meant the ground was officially on the fast side of good although there was a strong headwind in the straight. That didn't stop those racing prominently winning all afternoon, with nothing able to come from off the pace.

Emma Lavelle sent two up the A1 and they got stuck into them both in the market - the double duly being landed. The 2m 3f handicap chase looked competive but Off The Ground, back in trip, and N Henderson's Woodbank both looked ahead of their marks and so it proved in the race. The former was smashed into 13/8 and the money was always safe, Aspell travelling well in behind before cruising to the front three out and winning as he liked. A nice compact sort who looked ready to do the business, he'll be whacked at least 10lb for this but I'm sure Team Lavelle have a few pounds up their sleeve. Woodbank chased him home and fenced better than ever here, although being quite sparely made he didn't particularly take the eye. The one to take away is Bellenos, a good-topped French exile who is better than he showed here. Keen, he made a lot of ground mid-race before emptying in the straight, and he obviously needed it after a year off even though he looked straight enough. He could take more time to acclimatise - but I'll be keeping an eye on him possibly over shorter and on softer ground.

The second leg of the Lavelle double saw Fix It Right appear on the scene three out before plugging on dourly for the win. He seemed a lot bigger behind the saddle than in front and that could explain why he hasn't handled soft ground thus far. Only five, he could yet be alright given more time. Any Given Moment was the paddock pick and chased him all the way up the straight, while Cleve Cottage dropped out for a second race in succession as if something is amiss.

The classy Mijhaar was a drifter in the novice hurdle on his debut in this sphere but hacked up having gone from the front. He wore a hood and was blanketed beforehand so it was hard to be bullish about him but J Ferguson's rarely need the race, although he didn't beat much. Runner-up Lemony Bay is well-related but will need time to come into himself, while P Webber's Devon Drum looked good in the paddock and travelled ok but didn't find anything at all when let down, being eased late on.

The 3m handicap chase took little winning on the departure of Highbury High, who attempting a quick double after making mistakes when landing the spoils at Wincanton. He was low over a few here and paid the price when belting the second down the side, and he who backs him to make amends would do so with nerves of steel. Clondaw Flicka is a tall, leggy sort who was bound to improve markedly on anything he'd achieved over timber. Still a baby and guessing at a few, including the last, he showed strong staying qualities to out-battle Tickatack and Lukey Luke, who are high enough in the weights or not that genuine - or both.

The 2m3f hurdle saw Portway Flyer, Wintered Well and Reyes Magos make their handicap debuts against a load of exposed sorts, they dominated the betting and race...but there was only one winner in Portway Flyer, who took up it four out and frankly shat up. The handicapper will take a dim view and while a compact, nimble sort he may not be ready to win off a stone higher. Wintered Well was on his toes and had two handlers but is a fair sort and should continue to give a good account, while it was disappointing that Reyes Magos could not stay on past him and you wouldn't be sure he will improve as much, rising eight as he is.

Haydock - Star follows up

The first day of the Betfair Chase meeting drew some small fields but there was plenty of interest nevertheless - the chases were restored to the outside track and the going was changed to soft after the opening contest.

That race was won in smashing style by Cyrien Star, just three weeks on from his successful return at Wetherby. The penny seemed to drop that day and, just seven pounds higher, was ready to go in again and ridden positively by Jake Greenall duly followed up. Market rivals Scots Gaelic and Our Joey didn't please particularly in the paddock, the latter getting warm. The other to take out of the race is Revocation, a tall chasing type who did not appear to respect the small obstacles. It may take a year before we see him in better light over the bigger ones - make no mistake there will be races to be won with him.

I liked Shangani in the four-runner novice chase but in hindsight he was rather too robust for this reappearance and will surely be better with the run under his belt, and back over further. Fago bled last time but won well from the front from Simply Ned, who is still unfurnished and will be better with another year behind him.

The Listed hurdle saw five nice types clash and they will all win races, the gritty Zamdy Man proving too strong for the fluent moving and classy-looking Oscar Hoof who was making his debut over timber. The three-mile novice chase with just four to post was a conundrum but I did think that Nicholls' Black Thunder was the pick beforehand, a fluid mover who covers plenty of ground. Both Many Clouds and Shotgun Paddy are lovely, chasing types though and will continue to be of interest, while Up And Go did not have their size and now has something to prove after fading tamely.

The fixed brush hurdle was unsurprisingly noteworthy and a popular win round these parts for Spirit of Shankly, who looked quite plain but clearly in good nick. He cut down Urban Hymn on the run-in but the latter is a gorgeous, well made sort who was firm in the betting and did little wrong, boxing on well on his hurdles bow. Classic Move was on his toes and free in the race, but stayed on well suggesting that when he calms down a little he'll be winning his share. Nicholls' grey Varom looked strong and required two handlers but was surprisingly punted into 11/4 and was beaten two out. It wouldn't surprise me if Fergal O'Brien's Up The Ante, the winner of a point, has a breathing problem. He wore and crossed noseband and a ring bit and was free before bombing out completely.

The bumper was notable for the introduction of Wuff, who cost £120,000 after winning a point. A real chasing type, he was worth a punt and went from the front, and, despite running green, beat them all off bar the much speedier-looking Desoto County of D McCain, who out-ran him below the distance. Favourite Battle Born didn't move especially well beforehand and was thus overlooked while Nimbus Gale looked immature and duly deposited Aspell on the way to post. It was a decent event though.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Sunny Sedgefield - Menzies off the mark

Recent rain had turned the ground softer than at the last meeting a fortnight ago - although it was clearly on the dead side and some horses may not have run to their best. The three, competitive-looking chases proved anything but and the going may have had something to do with it.

The Smiths' Coverholder had been widely touted ahead of its chasing debut and as such it was surprising his odds held up as a result. The six-year-old remains a little weak behind the saddle but certainly has enough size for the game and he jumped more than adequately to take the co-feature stylishly. Once again hats off to the yard for picking the perfect race to start last season's multi-winner over fences. There will be more improvement to come over time. Atlanta Falcon ran to its mark to chase him home but makes little appeal as a winter horse, while the third, Sun Cloud, once again made errors before staying on over an inadequate trip. There could be a race in him as he's a likely sort on looks. C Egerton's Seedsman went off fav but although he looked fit to go in first time, I'm always a tad wary when no connections at all show up! He's a lovely type but faded to nothing and with the tongue-tie that was worn last back-end left off today, it's assumed he has wind problems. That's a shame, as it is sure dent his progress. The other of more interest for the future is the Dobbins' Rocking Blues, who now has three Fs in his form figures but that belies his bold jumping until he crumbled wearily at the last when vying for second. As in the past he pulled a shade hard and couldn't go with the winner once asked, but there is very much a race in him from a mark of 112.

The handicap chase over 2m 4f was turned into a procession by Silver Roque, who stayed well under a typical T Murphy ride, held up off a strong pace. However, this will do nothing for his mark - and perhaps today was the day as he looked perfectly well without standing out. In fact, all eight looked fine bar Sublime Talent, who didn't have as much size about him and an early blunder proved costly as he stayed on well in the end. Tahiti Pearl looked really well on his return and this course specialist probably ran a personal best in second, some 16L back. Granville Island ran on at one pace for third but he too looked great and travelled well until flattening out but was short enough in the betting and was opposable on those grounds. Divers was punted but ran no sort of race on a poor day for D McCain. He looked Ok as most greys tend to do.

The other race over the larger obstacles was a poor, 0-100 affair but a visit to the paddock should have pointed you in the direction of the winner, Pistol Basc. He looked absolutely bursting with good health for impressive young trainer Ms R Menzies, and it showed in the race, jumping and travelling almost too well before bounding clear. On a personal level, this race was probably the first this season that just fell into place, with the surprisingly well-backed Chicago Outfit and Oh Right not particularly pleasing to the eye - the same could also be said of their odds. Bocamix was a big drifter and proved again he doesn't stay 2m 4f, while Sambelucky looked okay after a long absence and ran on after hitting a flat spot. Given a break and the blinkers reapplied, K Reveley should find a race for it. Fozy Moss was worth a saver off a very low mark but didn't really jump fluently enough to warrant further interest.

I got the competitive 2m 4f handicap hurdle down to four but picked wrong as Reveley's Waltz Darling did just that under a tender ride. He's a tall angular type that will do well over fences in time, but should have been part of any portfolio at 10/1 today. I bumped into and old friend in Robert Cooper of ATR fame and he was quite hot on Embsay Crag, who had won on the flat recently and looked well ahead of a switch back to timber. A stayer on the flat, this trip should have been within his range but didn't do a great deal after travelling really well and R McGrath wasn't hard on him, so he may have simply run out of gas. An intermediate trip like 2m 2f at Kelso could be spot on and you can trust P Kirby to find the right race this side of Christmas. M Jefferson's Mary Milan - a chasing type - looked full of beans and was backed, but ran no sort of race, while N Richards' One For Harry ran okay but made mistakes again and physically has some growing up to do.

The finale saw Amir Pasha land the spoils, denying Reveley a hat-trick with Broctune Papa Gio. The winner had been active on the level and looked as fit as could be to deny the front four that were clear in the market. Dynamic Drive was up 7lb for winning here last time but pulled too hard in this more slowly run affair, allowing Lysino the chance to reverse placings. C Grant's horse caught the eye in fourth last time and on 8lb better terms improved again, this time running on after being outpaced when the pace did finally quicken turning in. He travelled really well and I'll be keeping a really close eye out for him next time when he'll improve once more in a better race, on a galloping track like Newcastle or Doncaster where they'll surely go a better clip. The win money here was only lent.

Friday 1 November 2013

Wetherby - Oscar performance

The opening day of the Charlie Hall meeting brought a couple of Listed races - a far cry from the usual fodder at the A1 track. The card also opened with a couple of NH novice races that contained numerous future winners. Oh and it rained, a lot.

M Jefferson's Oscar Rock, as expected, took the opener and he is a really smart looking horse. Bar a mistake at the last he did little wrong and he moves really well, although the trainer reported that softish ground is a must. The second, Run Ructions Run, was noted in the paddock as a really nice sort and T Easterby could have something to work with here, especially the way she shaped throughout the race. The third, Zermatt, is a typical J Quinn inmate in that he is very much a hurdler on looks, in contrast to much of this field. Straidnahanna tried to go with the winner and was the only one to do so, costing each-way punters dear as he faded into fourth. However, the son of Medaaly is one of the Smiths' better lookers and he will surely be useful in time. Both P Nicholls Vide Cave and D McCain's Sealous Scout looked like they would improve for the run - the former looking a 3m+ chaser already.

Div II was also interesting although D Pipe's Famousandfearless and Twister's Master Rajeem failed to give their running - the former given plenty to do and the latter jumping far from fluently. Trainer Nicholls parked himself and connections on my shoulder for this one and they were clearly thrilled with the run of Vivaldi Collonges, who was apparently unfancied and upon earlier inspection should come on a ton for it. The winner was Rally, one of N Henderson's, a likely sort although clearly quirky as he was pulling up on the run-in and connections will be pleased they re-applied the headgear this time. Of much interest further back was H Hogarth's Lakefield Rebel, a huge chaser in the making who became detached down the back but ran on with gusto to finish just behind the Pipe horse in fifth. Already seven, they need to press on with him and I can see him landing a small novice chase the other side of Christmas. You heard it here first!

I've said it many times but horses that don't look the part don't win very often, and in the 2m handicap hurdle three likely sorts were involved in the finish despite long odds. I don't know much about trainer Peter Winks but Hartside has improved on each run this autumn and looked in good heart prior to winning narrowly from M Hammond's Pertuis. The grey looked as fit as possible but had been busy on the flat all year, where he hadn't really progressed. However, he was produced to win here and was quite heavily bet into 15/2 but connections surely missed a trick by not applying the blinds on a horse with a few quirks, and after leading on the run-in chucked it close home. B Ellison's Lifetime has been running as if something is bothering him and he was coaxed round before running through the pack to take third on the run-in - maybe there is a race in him. The fourth, Mojolika, looked really fit and well and like all the best each-way punts, came fourth. He won twice at Carlisle in the spring but has a much higher mark to contend with now, however he's a stayer on the flat and after being outpaced on the run for home here can possibly find a race or two over and extra half mile. Pippa Green has had his problems and didn't particularly take the eye beforehand, running no sort of race, while they came for I Williams's Zafranagar and while he looked fit to go in first time, he was outpaced from two out without appearing to have any excuses. The last worthy of mention is Travis County, who was last as the tapes went up but had pulled his way to the front by the third, where he seemed to settle better. He still led two out but had no more to give, but the run was of interest and I've heard he has been schooling over fences - he would take some catching if asked to make all round a sharp track, while a mark of 107 is favourable.

The 2m 4f chase was a Listed handicap won by B Ellison's 25/1 shot Ultimate, a winner on the flat two weeks previously but seemingly exposed over obstacles. I was told he was expected to run his race and he certainly did, jumping well in front bar a mistake down the back. It wasn't a field to get too excited about though. The second, Humbie, was well tuned up and has now won or been placed on seven of 10 starts over fences. Mac Aeda was third after hitting three out and although the money came for him I felt he wasn't ready at all. Ordinarily he would be of interest next time over farther but he's a bit in and out and not one to go shouting about. Mrs Bailey's Noble Legend looked cherry ripe on his return but couldn't maintain his progression with a rare poor effort. The rest were, frankly of little interest.

The Wensleydale Hurdle saw Royal Irish Hussar trounce his rivals and it was surprising to your correspondent that he wasn't more strongly favoured in the market. He took the eye beforehand, looking a really speedy type, and was simply too quick for his six rivals. D Pipe's Ainsi Fideles is a tall, rangy horse but dropped away tamely in the straight, P Nicholls' Keltus was fit enough but another with more scope than anything and time will surely see him in better light. C Longsdon's Cadoudoff ran on well for second, had two handlers in the ring but came home best after being one of the first off the bridle. S Gollings' Zamoyski ran full of promise on his debut and is a likeable sort on looks.

The 3m+ chase was a weak affair with an opposable favourite in Orange Nassau - but who with? Ellison's well-backed Palos Conti was his main market rival but didn't take the eye particularly while most of the others were either coming off a break or generally unbackable. They came for J Wade's Beau Dandy who looked fit enough and indeed he did chase home the solid favourite - however they both would have gone down to Polarbrook had that one not put down at the second last when coming to take the race having travelled really well in the reapplied visor. McCain's beast had been on the go all summer and would surely have collected, although to the winner's credit he plugged on well as he had looked a weak finisher in the past. He shouldn't go up much for this but will surely find it difficult to land the hat-trick.

A field of 10 lined up for the 2m6f finale but it could have been narrowed down to a small handful, the solid favourite Silver Dragon by far the pick of the paddock. However, he clouted a number of hurdles and was done for two out as treble chasing My Oh Mount Brown made the best of his way home. However, H Daly's Cyrien Star (who looked fit enough beforehand) had travelled ominously well into in and the penny finally dropped when asked to win his race between the last two. The handicapper had given him a chance after not showing a great deal in the spring but the summer had clearly done him the world of good and someone knew it as they came for it quite strongly late on, going off at 4/1 having been double those odds. Lookout Mountain failed to deliver after going with the front three to the turn but the previously progressive Cleve Cottage was a bitter disappointment despite looking well beforehand.