An interesting card was in store and so it proved with your correspondent managing to get more right than wrong. Apparently 10mm of water had been put on the course after the dry spell and it appeared to ride on the dead side - at least it didn't favour those looking for good ground.
The opener was a puzzle indeed with the first five in the betting all having some sort of chance, with the money for I Got Power significant for the first time this season.
We followed the cash and saved on the wayward Pair of Jacks - the former on toes and looking really well beforehand while the latter is a tough hurdling type on looks. Of the others beforehand there were big negatives for Eltheeb and Sunblazer who had been well backed in the morning. Both looked nothing more than flat horses trying their hand at timber and it didn't work out for either.
Nonetheless, the two we overlooked dominated the finish - Oliver's Hill beating Rock A Doodle Doo. The former appeared unfurnished but went well through the the race and stuck his neck out to beat the second, who clearly improved for cheekpieces. However, he still looked soft in the finish and remains one to oppose - I'd given him a last chance when running poorly at Catterick last time. It was disappointing to see I Got Power fade out of it and fall at the last, but another summer and an introduction to handicaps will do him good, while Pair Of Jacks also hit a disappointing flat spot and he may require some headgear to fulfill the promise of his hurdles debut.
The next was a teaser with last week's easy winner Hotgrove Boy going off an even money favourite against a motley crew. However, the jolly didn't look especially keen to be back at the track - a comment that did not apply to Have You Had Yours, returning from a 118 day lay-off looking really well and bouncing. A big chasing type, I knew these fences would hold few terrors and if kept up with the pace could have too many guns for the others.
It panned out perfectly, claimer A Findlay giving the beast a pleasingly positive ride and taking over from the favourite at the end of the back straight. It was really hard to find something else to back - Tom Sang looks a bit soft and once again found little, while One In A Row is just a very poor animal and has now left A Swinbank for A Crook. Teenage Dream was rather unknown having been running on the flat after an aborted tilt at fences earlier in the year, and ran with a modicum of promise in second. Turf Trivia is a downright monkey and the rest were poor. Simples! (The favourite broke a blood vessel)
The 2m 6f novice hurdle was tricky with four in with a squeak and not a great deal to learn beforehand, only that C Bealby's The Purchaser is very weak but surprisingly being well-backed, while the eventual runner-up Almost Gemini looked to these eyes as though he would come on again for his second outing. On good ground he can win a similar event. Native Spa may just be ordinary while Rendezvous Peak may not have quite seen it out.
The 2m 4f handicap chase was again interesting because the quirky Whiskey Ridge led the market while Work Boy, who finished just behind at Sedgefield last time out was trading around 8/1. I couldn't figure it out, I know Work Boy is now 13 but sometimes it's about today, not tomorrow, he's a big strapping sort and not overly raced, and looked fit and ready to do himself justice. I could put a line through the others quite easily - Champagne Agent and Desgrey are one-paced villains, Alpha One was gifted a race last time and can throw in a bad one, while Mister Stickler has gone sharply downhill having left Alan King. In the event, it looked as though Mania was going to out-ride Ms Drake but no...Work Boy took one stride to every two of Whiskey Ridge up the straight and got on top close home. Happy days.
A 2m 4f handicap hurdle was too tricky but the eventual winner Feast of Fire got a mention in despatches despite running for the M Sowersby yard having left Jonjo O'Neill. The beast is a neat type and looked and on good terms with himself. The race was run at a farcical pace but still he got the job done and in hindsight the booking of B Hughes was a pointer. Hartside still looked great after long campaign and it's a shame the handicapper has him in his grip, while South Stack has had loads of chances now and should be plying his trade over fences.
The 3m 1f was down to six runners but there was still value to be had with the crafty Everaad put in as favourite in favour of Fiddlers Reel and Saints And Sinners. Again, the paddock watchers surely had the upper hand here. Everaad is only small and although brave is probably as good as he is and usually worthy of taking on. Fiddlers Reel had the best form on offer last time out and with cheekpieces on for the first time he looked really fit and well, and just a touch buzzy which is what you want to see. As expected he travelled with great zest and really, barring a blunder three out, could have been called the winner from early on. Saints And Sinners is a portly little thing and that put me off - he's only six though and it will be interesting to see how he progresses physically. Settledoutofcourt looked fine but is poorly handicapped while Harris Hawk lacks scope and again made mistakes - the Wade yard is not firing either.
That pretty much wrapped up a great day. The only word I had in the last was for Supasundae, out of the Tim Fitzgerald yard. He is very flat-backed and this would be as soft as he wants it but, but after being nibbled at in the betting he ran out stoutly to beat a nice type for the future in Azure Glamour of N Richards and the unconsidered Along Came Theo of A Crook, who did not take the eye at all. It was slightly surprising to see Orby's Man at the head of the market - he's small and there's not much behind the girth right now. Application of the hood was also a negative.