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.