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.