How wonderful to be back at the Bridge! Typically good ground greeted the first card of the season as well as glorious winter sunshine - what a day to be alive!
I'd laid Holywell in the morning on account of Jonjo's beast requiring softer, further and a stiffer track, yet there was still cash for McCoy's mount and apparently little by way of likely opposition. Not so. A trip to the paddock told me this was a decent contest of it's type and while Holywell may have a lofty hurdles rating, the fact that he was most unlikely to run to that mark and the fact there were some obvious improvers in the field meant I was happy with my initial position.
Main market rival Barrakilla was backed - as on each of his previous starts - and went off joint favourite, but I wasn't entirely convinced this was the one to beat Holywell. He's a lovely, big rangy type who will undoubtedly win races over fences but I wasn't sure today was the day over this trip and ground. Of the others Star In Flight was on good terms with himself and they bet 12-bar the three, bringing in M Jefferson's Hi George, who had won his bumper and novice hurdles before failing to progress. However, he would clearly be better over fences on looks and with the trainer in form was surely capable of a big run. And so it proved - jumping well and taking over midway down the back, held enough in reserve to beat off the staying-on Holywell by a head. Sure enough, McCoy had been hard at work exiting the back straight and just couldn't quite get there...the effort should not be denigrated however and, having jumped better than at Carlisle on his debut, he'll be back winning before too long in the right conditions. Barrakilla, too, was outpaced after blundering at just the wrong time (4 out) and was just 4L back in third. He'll be one to keep an eye on as well back on softer ground. Son of Flicka ran fourth without being given a hard time and there'll be a race over fences to be won with him even though he wouldn't have the size of some. Star In Flight blundered his chance away and it's back to the drawing board for him, while Croco Bay looks a decent sort and went well for half the race and his turn will also come, given time and a handicap mark.
A poor 0-100 handicap chase saw the top weight rated only 88 and it appeared on the face of it that Sambelucky had a simple task, but he drifted like a barge in the face of support from Discoverie and Milan Royale. Once again they were the two that stood out in the paddock - the former on toes and warm in first time cheekpieces while Milan Royale looked fit and well on his third start for the erstwhile K Hunter esq. The favourite never got competitive while the winner set sail entering the straight with Discoverie in hot pursuit, and it was the former's better jumping that gained the day as he held on by a short head, surviving an enquiry into the bargain. 'Racing Ray', who informed me he was on the second at double figures in the morning, was inconsolable even a couple of races later. It can be a cruel game sometimes and I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd nibbled at the winner at 5s.
All was well as I sat out the juvenile hurdle as hot favourite Forced Family Fun was clearly the one to beat, although the discrepancy in price with Most Honourable was surprising as they were market leaders in the Hexham race won by the former last time, where the latter had lost his rider five out. Evens played 5/1 this time and you can imagine my chagrin as the jolly dumped the unfortunate D Pratt at the first leaving the event wide open. Like A Diamond had been very active beforehand and bolted early on, doing well to stay in it until the last, where Morning With Ivan took over. However, Most Honourable had been running on in behind and collared the leader close home, rewarding those who took the generous odds. Sadly I wasn't one of them.
I've seen a worse bunch of mares in my time than the nine that came together for a 2m3f novice, which eventually saw P Sly's Bonnet's Vino edge out the consistent Run Ructions Run and deny favourite backers again. The winner is a compact sort and was nicely backed against the jolly, so a big run was clearly expected. The pair will be alright, as will the third, Gold Show, who looked well and on her toes beforehand. At 20/1, she was value and they came 8L clear of the rest, headed by Maison De Ville, who to these eyes still looked a bit weak after nearly a year off and will require even more time if she is to fulfill her undoubted potential.
The last two races were of little interest, Nodform Richard was clearly ready for an ultimately successful repeat of his win in the staying chase 12 months ago, although 2/1 was not particularly enticing, while in the bumper K Reveley's Donna's Pride is reported to be highly regarded but looked weak and immature to me and wasn't put in the race by the trainer's son behind the winner On Tour, who rewarded E Williams' long trip from Wales at short odds.