I headed to Town Moor with a slightly heavy heart after one that I was excited about was scratched in the morning, leaving me with the possibility of not having a bet. None of it - everything fell into place and some interesting animals were on show, once again the value of being trackside was driven home to me.
The opener was the first division of the 2m3f maiden hurdle and Minella Friend was favourite on the back of two decent displays at Exeter over different trips. This looked about right but although he looked well he's not the most prepossessing type and I'm not sure I'd have gone to £90k to secure him, but that's irrelevant of course. Having seen his last two outings and now in the flesh I wasn't at all keen to go in at 2/1, yet there didn't seem a great deal against it. N Henderson's Nordic Quest ran okay on debut but had regressed on the flat and on a mild day for the time of year he was one of a few that got very warm beforehand. I didn't know enough about the third best in the market Softsong, or his trainer James Evans, but the horse was noted as a nippy, athletic sort and although no interest was taken it wasn't too surprising when he hosed up. J Ferguson's Namibian is a beast of a horse but never went a yard and has clearly not recovered from his problems, while D Pipe's Thomas Junior was a big slider in the betting and looked rather unfurnished prior to this hurdles debut. Of the others, C Mann's Attivo is a big brute of a horse who got warm early and showed little before staying on late from miles back, while Save The Bees is noted for a second time after his Catterick debut. Racing again over a too-far 2m3f, D Carroll's horse went freely from the front and was exhausted going to the last, where he toppled over. None the worse, and with another spin under his belt, a small 2m-handicap should be his.
The 2m handicap was one of only two races you could really get your teeth into and the one of interest as soon as I saw the race was J Quinn's 4yro Forced Family Fun. There's very little of him but he just loves jumping hurdles and he went with great zeal, as ever. It was nice to see Brian Hughes take a prominent position from the outset and he was still swinging away before asserting at the last. Mojolika has been running in slightly better races and was nibbled at before staying on well, and was only just denied. But that's as good as he is. Bohemian Rhapsody was also of interest and was back to form after bombing out at Kempton. He's not overly big either, and I suspect better ground may see him in better light this spring. I felt the favourite Nesterenko was one to take on after he won a weak race here last weak with the unknown Mr F Mitchell up. The lad didn't cover himself in glory either, although the horse was off the bridle early before travelling into the race well, only to flatten out. Mitchell dropped his whip after two out just when he was being outpaced and, wearing a hood, is clearly not straightforward. He was very solid in the betting but it was the right call to take him on.
I thought the market was wrong in the next too - the second division of the maiden - and so it proved as the drifter Act Alone bolted home from the well-backed Sir Pitt. The latter, extending P Bowen's record at Donny to 0-30, had gone well in the Triumph hurdle but that was three years ago now yet had raced only twice since. Was promising last time but is a strong, chunky looker and not my type at all - at least in a race of this nature. Act Alone, by contrast, was typical Henderson and looked to have a little extra quality about him. They've given him time to mature after two bumpers and they've been reward in spades. My only question is why the Henderson mob fancied Nesterenko and not Act Alone! There was also money for Mister Newby, an 8yro trained by R Phillips. Enough said. The third Benenden cost a small fortune and is still immature, but may be useful and he went okay running on well to follow home Sir Pitt. It goes without saying he'll do alright with more time and a longer trip.
The novice chase saw the odds-on Karinga Dancer take on Western Warhorse. The former looked like he had carried his hurdles form to fences here last time while Pipe's horse was making his debut. I had already decided not to play as the ratings gap was more than a stone, but it was clear on looks that Western Warhorse would leave his hurdles form behind, for all that he's very flighty and immature. He's clearly got an engine though and Scudamore rode an intelligent race having taken to post early, steadying the pace at least once and leaving something for the finish. He'll be glad he did too, as not Karinga Dancer but Victor Hewgo pressed him to the line, a run in advance of what was expected of the 3m-winning hurdler. He doesn't look like a chaser and at nine is late to the game, but will surely do well this spring as this was a decent race. The favourite ran okay but was awkward at one or two and this may be as good as he is.
Diamond King was fully expected to land the odds in the NH hurdle, which he did, with only market rivals Uppingham and Themanfrom Minella chasing him home. The former made a pleasing hurdling debut for one that will do better faced with a fence next year, and is still immature. K Reveley's I Got Power left a poor bumper run behind in fourth despite making numerous mistakes and make no mistake will be winning hurdles over the next few seasons.
The 3m handicap chase was always going to draw me in even though Deciding Moment had been scratched. Triangular was all the rage on his first start for H Fry having gone the wrong way with T George, but I wasn't entirely enamoured with his demeanour in the parade ring as he trooped round with his head down, and having reviewed some of his races I reckoned he was still worth taking on. But what with? The rest had holes in as far as I could see, although Ifyousayso had bounced back at Leicester last time and in fairness has won four from eight starts. He looks a 3m chaser through and through (in a nice way!) and I reckoned at 11/2 it was worth chancing that he would be able to go on again just seven pounds higher. So it proved, under a fine ride from Paddy Brennan who had him up there all the way and consistently saw a good stride. The horse's jumping will improve with confidence and this may just be one to follow over even further next time, as surely he won't go up more than another 5-6lb. Triangular ran okay without finding much when let down - at least until too late - on the run-in. He's clearly quirky and not one for my money. The rest made little appeal on form or looks beforehand, and were mostly beaten at the top of the straight barring the longtime leader Honest John, who was back to form. My Flora may do alright back in a small mares only race.
With three winners in the bag I gave myself the last two races off in a bid to beat the often-busy traffic round those parts.