Friday 31 October 2014

Wetherby - King lords it

Balmy conditions once again prevailed although the watering/rain had got into the ground and it was very much on the soft side of good.

It was a shocking day for the favourites, bar the very short-priced filly Full Day, and things went wrong for punters early doors when Be My Present failed to back up her easy Hexham win.

She was cherry ripe that day and went very freely so I was concerned the step up to 2m4f might be the undoing of her, although in fairness two poor leaps down the far side effectively put paid to her chances. She doesn't carry much condition and it remains to be seen if she can go on.

The winner Pay The King looked okay, just better for the outing, for his first run for M Hammond after leaving P Nicholls, and basically outstayed Quick Brew on the run to the line.

The latter, rated an exposed 106, sets the mark for the race and it doesn't say much for the rest. J Wade's Aiaam Al Namoos could be alright given time but he was warm beforehand and novicey over the jumps, running on at one pace. He'll stay 3m. The only other to take out of it was Sue Smith's rangy chasing type Friendly Royal, who showed up well for some way.
Aiaam Al Namoos: Nice horse got very warm before the opener
The next was a handicap hurdle, not as competitive as the one at the last meeting and the second there Lightening Rod duly defied a 5lb higher mark. (From that warm race Secrete Stream and Earl's Quarter run here tomorrow.)

The second Pertuis has gone backwards on the flat but looked really fit and perky, which he usually does, while the third Narcissist will improve markedly on this judging by what we saw beforehand. Teenage Dream looked well but ran no sort of race while stablemate Red Inca was very fit but may have a wind problem according to the trainer.

The big handicap chase was a trappy affair with Silver Roque tipped in several quarters while Trustan Times was well-backed despite seemingly having plenty against him (the talk afterwards was that the thing wasn't here to win so you wonder where the cash came from). Both looked well enough but i couldn't find the angle in.

I did think the third Viva Colonia would take a step back in the right direction in a less competitive race while Mwaleshi and Off the Ground looked fine without being fully wound up. Cedre Bleu looks a lazy sod even walking round the paddock and it's unlikely the move to Charlie Mann's will work the oracle.

It was left to the stocky Shadows Lengthen to bolt in at long odds and improve his sensational strike rate, but he looked weighted to his best and even though the others fell by the wayside he's clearly posted a personal best.

The Listed juvenile hurdle is barely worth a paragraph with Full Day rallying to beat the 100-rated Magic Magnolia close. The winner is far better than this and will do better in a strongly run race and possibly with some headgear on.
Full Day didn't need to be at her best to pick up a poor Listed race
Just two to go and the strong-looking Ballyben took the stayers handicap chase as he was entitled to on his debut run, and he's one to stick with as he'll never do more than he has to. He can rate 120 before long.

Beau Dandy has long been one to oppose but he did look on great terms with himself on this return from a lay-off and was predictably backed to win, only to flatter once more. Only softer ground will see him in better light as he's fast running out of excuses.

Big Sound has had a great year for connections but the weight and the bigger fences finally found out this small horse, while Pyjama Game got warm and seems to have lost interest. Newspage is of interest when he gets to run off his real mark - he is way better than a horse rated 69.

The finale was a ghastly affair in which the lightly raced Silver Vogue was the paddock pick, arguably the fittest of the Smith team to be seen out this season. With that in mind it was a tad disappointing he couldn't go through with his effort but perhaps just greenness stopped him from winning.

The winner Trafficker looked big, keen and got warm beforehand and couldn't be backed at 16s, while Oscar O'Scar, Head Of the Class and Don't Call Me Oscar headed the market but have all had their problems.

The former had been given plenty of work though and may well have won but for running out at the second last. Compensation may await.

I may well give Wetherby a miss tomorrow as there's possibly only one race I'm interested in from a punting perspective. Secrete Stream wasn't right last time out and with the handicapper dropping him a handy 2lb he could rate a strong bet in the penultimate race on the card.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Sedgefield: Royale rout

The downside of going racing and letting your eyes do the talking is that often the market has already taken shape and sometimes you just have to take what it gives you.

That was the case today and it led to a quiet day's punting, made all the more melancholy by the plight of Kenny Johnson, who had to be airlifted to hospital after a crunching fall from Lord Brendy. I hope and believe all will be well with the veteran.

Golden Jubilee was a very warm order to land the opener and in truth there was very little to field against it - a small interest in Amir Pasha went west and it was left to the previously ordinary Nautical Twilight to serve it up to the jolly, only to go down fighting.

There was little to be gleaned beforehand, other than to reinforce the feeling that Mister Jones is up to winning one of these - although once again he showed precious little.

I was hot on the chances of Island Heights in a competitive novices handicap chase after a pleasing sighter at Perth but he never got to grips with Sharp Rise, who had shortened in the betting.

The winner was sweating between the legs early on - rarely a good sign - but it didn't stop P Robson's unexposed sort, who could do well in this sphere.

Island Heights lost no caste after a couple of early slow leaps while the third, Ballymoat, is a proper chaser and will come on for this and do well over a little further.

Stablemate Clan William also looks alright although he was a tad disappointing as was the punted Vasco D'ycy, who had a big hole in it when last seen and has been entrusted with Jedd O'Keefe to find the answers.

For one so heavily backed he was never seen with a chance and it remains to be seen if they can unlock what talent there is.

Another disappointment was Silver Gent, although I really wanted to be against it as he looks a real out-and-out stayer and of course the McCain yard remains in the doldrums.

It's a shame Lord Brendy came down so early as there's races to be won with him, while Markem ended last season with issues which have still to be ironed out on this evidence.

I couldn't unlock the 2m4f handicap hurdle even though I wanted to take on Sendiym, who is now handicapped to his best. Fair play to Acordingtoscript to back up his Carlisle win off a 13lb higher mark.

I liked the look of Spitz, who was well supported and did well to chase the winner home after an early blunder saw him shuffled back, but not the filly Spieta who did not take the eye at all.

One who did was Aficionado, and nice sort who has filled out and will be better for this pipe-opener. Shrewd connections may be looking to get the mark down even further before pulling the trigger but he's definitely going to do the business this term.

I thought I'd found one in Mulligan's Man and after a nibble at big odds he went off single figures only to stop to nothing at the top of the hill, and he's clearly one to have reservations about.

Sam Lord is a gross horse who will surely improve for it, especially as he was unusually held up here before running on into fourth.

The market had sorted out the four-runner distance hurdle early on but I needed to see them in the paddock to clarify things before playing.

The backed Rev It Up is a big chasing sort who was fit for this return but had got rather warm, although he was not the only one to do so on an unseasonably mild afternoon.

Having missed the prices I opted to take on Night In Milan, who had a sighter in this race 12 months ago and once again had come for the day out, without the essential blinds, and yet was backed in late doors to favouritism.

The Durham National was another race in which the players had long since shown their hands, with Royale Knight backed off the boards all day and sent of at 11/4. I couldn't force myself to play at that price even if I wanted to, and he duly bolted up.

Lackamon looked a deal fitter than at Wetherby a fortnight ago, yet can improve again, while Kilbree Lad is very awkward at the walk and surprised me by taking third - he's very consistent.

Sun Cloud was the only other to get round and he looked well, only just better for the outing. They'll find another marathon for him in due course I'm sure and at least this moderate jumper got a clean round in.

Bit Of A Jig, Speed Master and Jurisdiction all looked perfectly fit to do themselves justice, while Many Stars was very warm and for a big horse this test came a little early in his career.

Oorayvic was heavily backed to win a poor 2m handicap chase but he got very warm in the prelims and the suspicion was this came too soon after a hard race at Kelso 12 days earlier. He's bred to stay much further and given a few weeks off he can build on these two runs.

The eventual winner Carters Rest was around 15L behind at Kelso and off a career low mark could be given a squeek and had been nibbled at in the betting. For a horse rising 12 he looked pretty sprightly and was held together well to do the business in a race that took no winning.

Henri De Boistron was the dark horse but the four-year-old looked ungainly and green beforehand and was unable to capitalise on the allowance, although the penny seemed to drop late on and there may be a poor race to be won with him as this was his first real piece of form.

Little could be said for the others - Morning Time is not much to look at and does not go well here while Dynamic Drive is not well handicapped on his hurdles form and is an unlikely improver for larger obstacles. The others could not be given a chance.

The closing bumper fielded some useful types for the future. The favourite After Toniight was fully tuned up but was free to post while the other market principle Chitu looks more of a stayer and the Crawford yard does not seem to be firing right now.

McCain's Court Of Law is very much on the leg and got warm, while Paddy Mulligan is a nice sort that was on his toes, and Professor Plum is a lovely big sort - another nice youngster from the Dobbin yard.

Smooth Stepper is big and tall, but was green beforehand and will improve bundles from what was an informative contest. To be honest it was all a bit frantic after the Johnson incident as officials tried to make up the time and hopefully we can be more calm and focused at Wetherby tomorrow.

Monday 27 October 2014

Aintree - Concerto calls tune

It was with trepidation that I made the late decision to hike it to Aintree for the first time in years - my last foray saw me pelted with loose change by those hilarious locals. Thankfully, this was 'family day' so the only thing irking me was the outrageously loud band playing throughout proceedings.

The long march from the car park to the stand was into a ferocious wind. Now this is something thing that can be overplayed, but with Aintree's long straight it struck me that front runners may struggle and the hold-up horses would thrive. How that prophecy would come true on this day...

It was clear as early as the opening novice hurdle that some jocks wanted cover - none more so than McCoy who held onto the very likeable newcomer Champagne Present until as late as possible. But, having the front pair covered at the last, he hadn't reckoned on complete rag Chicoria to come even later and just get home at 33/1.

The winner was the smallest and least attractive of the field. Mr Burgees set the benchmark and can be marked up a pound or two for forcing the pace from the top of the straight and only giving best at the last.

Favourite Vintage Vinny (tall, leggy) jumped very novicey at times and but for that may have won - he'll make amends before long though. The Last Euro completed the field, he was very green in the prelims even getting loose at one stage. It was all bit much for him but a tall, strapping youngster - his time will come.

The appearance of Martin Pipe and Chester Barnes spoke loud and clear for the chances of Unanimite in the four-runner juvenile, who was backed off the boards to make it two from two.

However, this stamina test and some sloppy hurdling found him out as Starchitect stayed on dourly to grind it out close home. McCain's horse is a big strong horse but didn't please in appearance, like many of his trainer's at the moment lacking any spark beforehand.

This form may not amount to much as it stands, but I rate Starchitect a potential improver as the season progresses especially when McCain's string gets over whatever is ailing them, and when stamina is at a premium (think Cheltenham.)

After getting that one wrong it was time to regroup, and I couldn't split the two market leaders in the next in Distime and Baileys Concerto. The former looked trained to the minute for this first run in 10 months while the latter has been in great form and I felt he won at Perth last time with plenty in hand.

I couldn't split them, although the market did and went 7/4, 7/2. I was left kicking my decision not to get involved as Baileys Concerto was played late to win as he liked. However, I had to get against Classic Move in the place market. He looked a frail sort at Carlisle and my opinion didn't change here. He certainly jumped with more aplomb but I felt he went wrong after a catastrophic blunder down the back even though Maguire persevered for another fence. Sadly he returned in the horse ambulance.

I also traded against Ashes House who looked in need of the run and wasn't particularly fluent at the walk. But Rebecca Curtis's are running out of their skins and time may show he had an impossible task giving weight to the front two. Don't be surprised if he delivers over the next couple of weeks.

Cobajayisland stripped fitter for his Hexham outing and there are more races to be won with him if he tidies up his fencing, as he wasn't beaten a million miles.

The next looked quite a riddle but we managed to sort them out beforehand. It came down to whether Parsnip Pete, a winner at the National meeting, was ready for this pipe-opener. And the verdict was an emphatic 'yes'. He looked in superb fettle and with doubts over the rest we simply had to step in despite some late market weakness.

The P Nicholls' Valco De Touzaine is bred to stay further and the way he settled he should now be stepped up, and he'll come on a ton for the run. He doesn't look straight-forward however, with a dropped noseband and a ring bit to go with the hood.

The move for Dunowen Point was puzzling given that he has regressed sharply and continues to shape like he has a problem, while Nikos Extra was on great terms with himself and was almost certainly the biggest danger to the favourite, so it was surprising that he refused to race.
Upswing: A deeply attractive horse who can rate much higher
With the wind now at our backs and the two strongest fancies to come it was time to get stuck in. I really had the hots for the Curtis-trained Peckham Echo in the staying hurdle and viewed his comeback run at Chepstow in positive light.

Everything was in place for a massive run and thankfully there was Upswing to hold the market up for us. O'Neill's six-year-old is a mighty fine looking prospect who will surely take higher rank, and I was tempted to save on the beast, but his form is a little patchy and he refused to settle for McCoy here.

Geraghty did the right thing in letting the race develop in front of him and then did remarkably well to keep the partnership intact when the pair got their wires crossed at the last. The race was already over as a contest by then though, with the race on for the places.

Runner-up Uncle Jimmy was surprisingly outpaced at one stage and he looks the type to continue to improve and can certainly win again, while eventual fourth Saffron Wells was a big eye-catcher. Neil King's youngster will come on for the run so much so that I was surprised to see him competitive at the second-last.

He was run out of it under a fairly sympathetic ride and although not looking particularly well-treated can perform to a high level this season. Deadly Sting and Rolling Maul went at it far too soon in this and paid the price late on.

The 2m 4f handicap chase had a potential blot in the shape of Lamool. The beast had apparently been rated 145 in France and yet had won a little race off 114 at Ludlow in the spring. He still looked thrown in off an 8lb higher mark and what do you know, he was ready to dance for this season's opener.

I'd priced this race up the night before and put him no bigger than 7/2 so we had to get stuck into the 6/1 that was still available as they were leaving the paddock.

The feature of this race was that there was so much pace in there, which would surely set it up for a 'closer'. Benefit Cut looked pretty darn fit for his return and won the race for the lead, jumping really well, while heavily-backed King Of The Wolds got a nice tow into it.

However, the latter - even when winning last term - has consistently failed to finish his races off and although he is a lovely, big horse he clearly has some kind of problem that is stopping him dead when pressure is applied. Although M Jefferson's horses are not firing he looked pretty well so there are no excuses on that front.

I didn't think either of the greys, Shadrack and Our Mick, were fit, while I was happy to oppose Supreme Asset on account of the trainer and the balance of his form. Dineur does not really have the size for fences (even though he has a great strike rate) and has not returned in any form and I wasn't about to back the other two.

It was one of those days where everything fell into place as Lamool galloped and jumped them silly - the only problem now being that the handicapper will take a very dim view of this.

The bumper will throw up countless winners and it shouldn't have come as any surprise that Curtis enhanced her outstanding recent stats by taking it with the tall, nice looking Globalisation, who nevertheless is a backward sort who could be very useful given time.

Great Try is a big leggy sort who Nicholls said would improve for the run and it certainly looked that way, while Echo Springs looks a magnificent specimen and was probably asked to do too much too soon here. The penalty also probably held him back.

So, after a successful day at least we leave Aintree with some better memories, and move into Sedgefield and the big Wetherby meeting this week with momentum.

Friday 24 October 2014

Carlisle - The Wild West

The first really competitive card of the season in the north saw doubles for both Yorkshire handler Simon West and local trainer Nicky Richards. Winners were not easy to find, but it was fun looking.

West pulled a rabbit out of the hat in the opening novice hurdle when his tall grey Maximizer shat all over the odds-on favourite Master Dee in good style. McCain's youngster didn't really deserve to be such a price but in truth it was hard to put up anything against it.

The winner is a lovely stamp of a horse but didn't look 100 percent revved up - that said the jolly made no appeal as he loped around the paddock without much interest in proceedings. It was yet another horse from that yard to not take the eye and more was to follow later on the card.

Of the others Clan Chief is a nice chasing type but as we'll see later his trainer N Alexander is in no sort of form and this one ran as if having a problem. Astaroland was back again after the last meeting and he once again showed inexperience with a few blunders...however it will all add up to a workable mark in the final analysis and with trainer Candlish not yet firing we can expect miles better from this one in due course. Poor old Mister Bishop looked more like War Horse but he ran a good race off a long absence and an opening can be found for him.

Ueueteotl: One to follow over fences this season
West doubled up with Captain Clayton in a competitive looking 2m handicap hurdle, a likeable type who popped up at long odds at Wetherby last season. He was lame after but looked fine for this return, although it was a stretch to put him on the short list down at the minimum trip. However, he spared my blushes by staying on stoutly to beat Back To Bracka, whom I piled into at the last meeting.

Given a proper ride by the increasingly likeable C Nichol this time, L Russell's good looking beast had me reaching for the paracetamol when he led two out having gone unbacked at around the 10/1 mark. Thankfully all suicidal thoughts can be postponed for another day, and while the ex-Irish horse will go up for this he's bound to figure again off higher marks.

The race was marred slightly by the exit of Emral Silk and Most Honourable at the first, hampering Just Cameron in the process. The latter looked really well on his return and probably did well to just about lead three out before the effort took its toll late, but the one to take out of this was surely Ueueteotl.

J Ewart's imposing grey was apparently fancied although I was sure the run would do him the power of good, while ground and trip also looked to be against him. His hurdling also looked rusty after a 10 month absence but this is a chaser in the making and coming home in third here was to his credit. He's a winner waiting to happen.

Tikkandemickey was all the rage but I didn't really take to him, being rather leggy and ungainly (although pretty fit) while I was massively against Frankies Promise, who got rather warm and edgy beforehand. He's not run a bad race in his life until today and was the second of three from the Alexander yard to run a stinker. He's a lovely little horse though who can win again once the stable is firing. I didn't think Emral Silk was fit but he's got some presence and is another to follow this season.

Sandwiched by the West brace came another double this time notched up by Montoya's Son, who backed up his Sedgefield win in style. I'd put up soft ground as a reason to oppose the horse at the tissue of 13/8 and opted for Purcell's Bridge who looked overpriced after a pleasing reappearance at Hexham.

They smashed into the latter all day but he didn't pick up at all and perhaps it is he who requires the better ground, not the winner who returned a very backable 5/2. Brother Scott ran another solid race and he was just outstayed after the last - I'd like to see him back at 2m and his accurate fencing will stand him in good stead.

The Magic Bishop is an old rogue who surely needs some headgear now, while Boric may be of interest next time after a sound race here - it was only his second decent piece of form and he will improve physically for the experience too.

Shouldavboughtgold: What a letdown
I was itching to get against the forecast favourite Lively Baron in the staying chase, but it transpired I wasn't the only one as he took a hike in the market. James Reveley was a great booking for Shouldavboughtgold, who dogged it badly the last twice but would surely be produced late by one of the coolest around today.

It's a shame they didn't go a bit quicker in front - the revitalised Whats Up Woody allowed to dictate matters - but it was Incentivise who showed the more gumption from the last to win for the first time in a couple of years. He's no oil painting but looked fit enough, however it was disappointing Shouldavboughtgold didn't go through with it again and in-running layers were no doubt all over it.

Lively Baron was pottery at the walk and was disappointing, while Oil Burner looked gross and will surely strip fitter while veteran Royal Mackintosh won the award for most overweight runner of the day - maybe a cash incentive will help him shed some timber by the time he runs again <no room for topical humour - Ed>.

N Richards' Cultram Abbey was the best looking horse in the 2m 4f handicap hurdle yet went unbacked by all. He was fully wound up for his first handicap run and one wonders why the locals weren't piling in despite a distinct lack of form in the book.

It wasn't a race that would take much winning, not being as competitive as the numbers suggested. The market was made by Mubrook, who never runs two races alike but was out under a penalty. I had to take him on with Langley House, who has looked better with each run this season was looked sure to run her race, which she surely did.

However, Cultram Abbey proved himself well treated off 100 and danced all over them up the straight despite looking green, and will still be competitive despite a re-rating. There was very little to shout about amongst the others although the likeable Jokers And Rogues not for the first time showed promise and is not the first of J Wade's horses to portend bigger things to come of late. A decent jockey in the plate wouldn't go amiss either. The cash for Highlander Ted was baffling as he looked in need of it and that was confirmed by the yard.

Urban Hymn: Will come on a ton for chase debut
All eyes were on the beginners chase which was set for a duel between Duke Of Navan and Urban Hymn, two very taking individuals. The money was for the latter but he's every inch a 3m chaser and did not look wound up for this - by contrast Richards' injury-prone animal looked really well and with more natural toe had to be the call this time over the minimum trip.

It was to Urban Hymn's credit that he stayed on so well after the last and he will rate much higher over a trip, while Duke Of Navan fenced really well and looks a decent tool. The other three might as well have been 1000 and didn't want to be anywhere near their higher-rated foes - Morning Royalty and in particular Hit The Top nowhere near fit for this, but both jumping nicely and primed to win before too long.

That left the bumper which did not look the most competitive - V Williams' Becauseshesaidso entered the paddock late but immediately looked superior to the rest, a big, mature horse ready to go. By contrast, McCain's four-year-old Court Dismissed is quite sparely made and he ran really well to look the most likely winner, only for Treadwell's kitchen sink to get in the way late on and send us home happy.

Gold Opera is a big, tall, immature horse whose time will come while P Niven's North Country Boy has enough about him to make a name for himself although he's currently very unfurnished and will need time.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Wetherby - Jonjo lays Foundations

Now I'm no big fan of the JJ O'Neill stable (nothing personal), so on days when he bags a four-timer you can usually bet I'm not on great terms with myself by the close of play.

Most of his yard seem to look (and many ARE) moody while the drifters often win and too many gambles seem to go astray. I can never weigh it up, and today was no exception.

We had a little bit of everything (at least I didn't lay the walkover) - one that drifted and two that were backed each delivering and frankly doing so with little fuss.

In fairness, I had nothing in particular against Goodwood Mirage, Foundation Man or Fort Worth on this day. I just thought there was some value in opposing them.

Goodwood Mirage set the ball rolling for Jonjo with a smooth victory in a fairly competitive 2m handicap hurdle. The youngster looked fit enough on his return but didn't seem particularly wound up for it and the late outward move in the market looked a little ominous, although that was in part due to the masses of cash for Secrete Stream and Tidal Way.

The pair were backed almost exclusively for this 15-runner affair but I struck a deeply negative mark through the former, who became increasingly warm as the preliminaries wore on and he seemed agitated into the bargain.

Now this is a lovely horse I have seen twice before and he hadn't done this in the wasn't his running and should be forgiven this. I also felt he was just in need of it too, so getting beat seven lengths was no disgrace.

Tidal Way had to be of interest but missed the last three flights after hurdling fluently, so it was slightly disappointing but he should remain well-treated and can win soon.

The eventual fourth Earls Quarter interested me before the race and even more so after it. A fine stamp of a horse, he was in fact having just his fifth outing over timber and found himself back in the field as the pace slowed turning out of the back.

As a consequence he was never in a position to strike but the experience will not be lost on him and he's very much one to note.

O'Neill quickly doubled up with Foundation Man with Jason Maguire doing the steering - and that's pretty much all it was. He had looked a tricky ride before and it's not surprising that he's taken time to getting his jumping sorted being a large, rather ungainly sort.

But this panned out perfectly and while it was hard to knock, I have in the back of my mind he's not certain to back it up.

Alderbrook Lad had to cede front running to Tahiti Pearl but M Hammond's consistent sort rallied gamely and is in great heart at present - his chase mark now some way short of his hurdles rating. It wouldn't be a great surprise to see him win over the bigger obstacles before Christmas.

Presence Felt; You'll not see an easier winner all season
The night before I liked the shape of the race and felt the in-form and consistent veteran Scotch Warrior was a knocking each-way bet, but things went from bad to worse - starting with the withdrawal of Shadrack.

That left seven...and then I had to suffer the old git scratching his way round the parade ring following a long journey from Scotland, which he clearly didn't care for.

The beast had never run well on his few trips south of the border and I should have seen the red flag, but there it is. The news swiftly hit the ring and I was left holding the baby. As they say these days - my bad!

Tahiti Pearl, as with most if not all Sue Smith horses, needed the run while Deciding Moment looked well as ever but may just be in the handicapper's grip now. Fredo was backed but made little appeal on looks or at this short trip.

Jonjo made it three with the very useful-looking Fort Worth in a novices hurdle that will throw up some winners. My first thought was that the youngster would need the run but the more I looked, the happier I was with him. He's a real eye-catcher and will surely go on to big things.

He was well punted as was the equally attractive Gaelic Myth, who I felt stripped just the fitter, but he had no answer up the straight after going quite freely early on. Arthurs Secret ran a blinder and although more of a flat type will win his share.

I didn't take to the market leaders Cut The Corner and Comeback Colin - at least not for today. Neither's form so far is that special so it was surprising they were so short in the betting, particularly the latter who is a gorgeous chasing type who would surely come on for the run. I'll be surprised if the Smiths don't go straight over fences now, and I expect him to do really well. Cut The Corner was really fit but not carrying much condition and is not really the kind of horse I want on my side. Orby's Man was fit enough and will do better in modest handicaps.

Presence Felt walked over in the handicap chase which was a great shame but it gave O'Neill win No 4 and it will have galled McCoy to miss the last three having been stood down.

There was plenty of interest in the rest of the action though, and a change of tactics on Relentless Pursuit set up a first/last race double for the Greatrex/Sheehan combo. The favourite in the juvenile was Final Countdown but he's not straight forward, got warm early and required two handlers. He's clearly talented and if they harness it will prove much better than this. However, the overall standard of the race was pretty moderate, with the McCain horse Dry Your Eyes not giving out the right signals beforehand.

Kaysersberg completed the brace having left N King and his path was cleared by the scratching of Nexius, taking full advantage to win as he liked from the front. It was hard to find one against him frankly, and while I'd say Mr Moonshine was pretty straight - stablemate Lackamon very much wasn't.

The other race on the card saw five face the starter for a 2m handicap chase where my initial thought was that Oyster Shell ought to be good enough. I didn't like his cramped odds though and you could give a chance to each of the others, who all appeared on good terms with themselves, while Daly's chaser was just better for it I thought.

Layers probably got a tad fortunate as Nikos Extra swooped by but Oyster Shell didn't quite see it out the way it looked as though he might four out and he'll could make amends next time.

Monday 13 October 2014

Sedgefield - Deal me out

The 'feature' race on a very hum-drum card at the Teesside venue was a four-runner handicap chase over two miles, in which a case could be made for each.

I think at some point during the day I was going to back them all but even I wouldn't be so silly as to do that. No, I didn't back any of them, but ended up laying Saddlers Deal and Blackwater King.

The former clearly has physical or mental issues having stopped dead the last twice after winning hard on the snaffle at Huntingdon, so the late cash for the nine-year-old was curious indeed.

Sure the very disappointing Blackwater King and Dealing River would tow them into it, but that remark also applied to Muwalla, who was looking on great terms with himself and continued the fabulous run of form of C Grant.

The ground had probably turned against Dealing River, whose late drift spelled trouble, so it all fell into place for Muwalla, who nonetheless will now find life much harder off a higher rating.

There were no physical negatives for the others, albeit to say that Dealing River does not really have the size to carry weight over the larger obstacles.

The card opened with the rather taking L'Aigle Royal taking the juvenile after being outpaced for much of the way. His very precise jumping kept him in it at times and trainer Quinn is one of the few you could follow against the big boys down south with this one. It's one to keep on the right side.

McCain's Sindarban did not take the eye much and looks rather one-paced, not having a great deal of scope at this stage, while the eventual runner-up Istimraar is light-framed but was on his toes and looked well.

McCain was finally back in the winner's circle in the next when Roserrow got off the mark under new front-running tactics. Nothing got into it and it was a moderate bunch, the warm favourite Skyfire flattered by his Market Rasen fourth and physically lacking the scope to improve. He'll be one to take on again especially if the assessor judges him on his previous outing.

Behind, Kwo Neshe is a brother of the very likeable Secrete Stream but looks nothing like him, although has scope to do okay. Like many of Jefferson's of late he was nowhere near ready for this, although clearly has enthusiasm for the game.

Montoya's Son should have gone down as a bet; 1) Having joined K Dalgleish after a poor spell in Ireland and 2) The remainder being very opposable. No business was done though as I was waiting for an avalanche of cash that never materialised, and we had to look on as he jumped and galloped them stupid in the 2m 4f handicap.
Montoya's Son - one that got away
Runswick Days gave vain chase and again, ran well on his return for J Wade. He will improve for it and will appreciate a little further, while the rest were nothing more than just fine. Odds On Dan was a very surprise market mover, looking very big and rangy beforehand but also very slow, from a yard that never seems to train winners. He never looked like getting inolved, similarly Shady Sadie, who is of little account and isn't deserving of Racing Post headlines.

In the next we followed the money onto Monita Bonita, who was reported to be well fancied and looked fit and ready to fire. Not at all in fact - she ran a stinker behind Langley House, who improved markedly on her belated return here when she sweated up and looked pretty dreadful.

Gone in her coat this time, she didn't really take the eye but had put on weight and fairly hacked up from Midnight Streaker, another mare from Ireland who was arguably the paddock pick fitness-wise.

It's been a great autumn for Diane Sayer and this was another fine training performance. Of the others, Marlborough House ran better but needs more leniency from the handicapper while Jukebox Melody has still not come to himself and didn't run much of a race.

Word filtered through that the stable were on Brave Spartacus, a 130-rated chaser running from 100 over hurdles here. I thought 2m might be a bit sharp even if they went from the front (which they did) but he was so well in nothing landed a blow bar the rock solid Claude Carter. It was another chance to go begging on a day of what might have been

Very few took the eye as potential win candidates, Operateur being one of the better ones but nailed down by a huge hike in the weights, even though he looks the type to continue to do well from a higher mark. Snooker still looked plenty big enough while the eventual third Needwood Park (50/1) did get a mention in despatches, looking big and well and very much on his toes. If he didn't have such a poor record you'd think he could build on this next time.

Deny won't come into his own until he faces the larger obstacles.

The finale went to Irish raider High Talk who clearly found the marathon distance to his liking to post a career-best rising 11, trumping our wager on Supapowers who looked really well on his long trip from South Wales.

Billy Two Tongues is as slow as they come but was backed into 2/1 favouritism. We didn't quite get it right today but Wetherby awaits. Let's hope we get some rain up here in the meantime.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Hexham - Resolution

Well, sometimes caution can prove costly in this game and while Lucinda Russell went home with three winners in the van, they went unbacked by this column. C'est la vie.

As discussed yesterday the trainer's horses had been running as if in need of it - some very much - but she enjoyed two first-time out winners amongst her trio, effectively putting to bed that argument.

However, I would probably add an asterix to that comment, as both winners were given sympathetic rides - suggesting their fitness wasn't necessarily assured. Unlike at Carlisle 24 hours earlier.

They were off the mark in the first with Cobajayisland, a six-year-old who certainly didn't appear fully tuned up for what turned out to be a weak event.

Two non-runners, and two that fell in front while still going well meant it was a race that didn't take much winning in the end, and with Cobajayisland beating the solid yardstick Carlanstown close home the assessor can be fairly confident about his work here. Nonetheless, the winner can undoubtedly improve on this.
My first trip to lovely Hexham in a few years
Benefit In Kind attracted each-way support and he looked ready to go on his return, before unfortunately capsizing just as the race was warming up. Compensation awaits.

This left Brother Scott in front and he had not been asked for his effort when dislodging his young partner two out. He sweated up again but nowhere near as badly as at Sedgefield last time and although his stamina was taken on trust he should have been involved in the finish. His turn should come, too.

Clondaw Knight was undoubtedly the star of the day but after some heavy morning support drifted out to 5/2 on the off in an eminently winnable race. Now he looked really fit for his seasonal debut, making the market all the more surprising. I thought there'd be an avalanche of cash for the 140k purchase, so maybe punters had become 'wise' to the Russell factor.

Despite a few minor errors, the six-year-old picked up Qoubilai on the run-in as one might expect he should, although it wasn't quite as easy as it might have been and he is another that must surely come on a ton for this. You'd hope so for the owner's sake as he looks to recoup some of that outlay.

Mister Wall Street was the mover in the market and reports had it that he had been laid out for this...and he did look fitter than last time. But he ran no sort of race at all and may need to dominate from the front.

Sergeant Pink looked well but may be feeling the effects of a long summer, while Allanard ran on into third and looked as though he'd improve for it.

In between races paddock pick Be My Present landed a small touch for connections who had paid 7,800 for the mare out of Rose Dobbin's yard. She was lean and fit as a flea for this mares race and against modest opposition the referee would have stopped this before the final bell.

Bless The Wings finally got back to winning ways contrary to the market indicators suggesting victory was far from his mind. An entire blog could be written about the Straightline Construction boys and it's impossible to know if this was a late off-course job, but I was told they were all backing Luctor Emergo, their other one in the race. Who knows.
Clondaw Knight stripped fit for his return to action
His remarkable drift in the betting meant Solway Sam assumed favouritism and he ran his usual game race to chase the winner home. The interesting one here was the third Sentimentaljourney, who looks a really nice sort and can make an impact for W Kinsey after a switch from Jonjo O'Neill. He was in fairly good order for this, and looks more of a chaser.

The maiden hurdle was a three-horse race with Ride The Range and Itchy MScratchy <sic> stripping fittest, with Russell's Uisge Beatha a nice strapping type who would be better for it.

Ride The Range was very lean, if not a little on the light side for his return, and while he may win again I would question whether he'll stay in this form for too long. Uisge Beatha was just run out of it after going very freely through the race, and he's highly ranked in the yard so this was a good starting point.

D McCain's Itchy MScratchy was very fit if a little dry in his coat and while he capsized two out I felt he was just starting to lose ground and it goes down as another disappointment for the yard, which is not firing at present.

Russell bagged the treble via Shine A Diamond in a very weak 2m handicap chase in which there was no pace in the race beforehand - G Watters wisely took matters in his own hands and it was pretty much game over from there. The beast doesn't have much scope but is going the right way after a slow start over fences, and he should be kept to the smaller tracks.

Milan Royale did this column a favour last year and he looked well if not 100% fit for his return, and he landed some each-way support chasing the winner home. His profile suggests he may not back this up, but he is up to winning another small race.

I stayed for the bumper as the form horse Luccumbe Down was of interest so I was keen to see if there was anything to beat it. It didn't appear so with the penalised Coozan George clearly in need of the run and while J Ewart's Dreamisi was fit enough and Russell's The Cobbler Swayne a nice sort for the future, the way was clear for J Quinn's rather plain youngster to gain a deserved success.

This week it's Sedgefield, then Wetherby.

Friday 10 October 2014

Carlisle - McCain, Russell draw blank

Torrential rain greeted us on our long trip north and it had got into the ground by the first with the official going becoming soft all over.

The meeting was notable for the powerful stables of D McCain and Lucinda Russell who were both well represented, yet went their separate ways empty handed.

Both went into the day on lengthening losing runs with Russell's horses very much racing as if in need of their seasonal reappearances, while McCain's for some reason are just not firing.

And it was a similar story at the Cumbrian venue despite an avalanche of cash for some of the their representatives.

The tale of woe began with Voyage A New York, hammered into favouritism in the 2m1f novice hurdle only to stop to nothing at the bottom of the hill, as Knight's Parade swooped late to land the spoils under a well-judged Scudamore ride.

Robin's Command upheld the Perth form in style
Russell's beast is a lovely, big sort who is very much a chaser but clearly better was expected on his return, even though I felt he would improve for it, while McCain's Vital Evidence drifted like a barge and didn't figure. The latter appeared very lethargic beforehand while the well-backed Fly Home Harry - only workmanlike in appearance - jumped as though he had never seen a hurdle before.

The winner was quite solid in the face of cash for the other two despite concerns about the ground and they just about got away with it this time. The other penalised horse Heist ought to be better back on a sound surface, while a mention must be made for Astaroland, who looks decent enough to take a handicap or two later on.

C Longsdon's Drop Out Joe looked incredibly fit for his chasing debut and he duly despatched McCain's Keeneland, who was a bit free and lost second to Water Garden, who fairly hobbled round the paddock prior to running a surprising race full of promise.

Longsdon would have had high hopes of a couple more winners on the card but it wasn't to be as Dark Glacier ran down Orange Nassau in the closing stages of the staying chase. Orange Nassau has gone well when fresh but as with so many greys he looked like he would be better for it. The front two appeared poorly handicapped and so the money came for Dreams Of Milan (looked alright, not over-big), but McCain's charge barely lifted a leg and was tailed off, while Russell's returning pair ran okay under the circumstances.
Dreams Of Milan advertised McCain's poor form in the staying chase
The 2m4f novice hurdle looked a two-horse race in the betting with money for both Russell's Back To Bracka and Longsdon's Simply The West. There was no contest beforehand - the former looked really well and fitter than many the stable have ran so far, while Simply The West is not much to look at and wouldn't have the scope of some from that yard. So while it would have been a brave call it wasn't a total shock to see him weaken after a mistake at the last.

K Renwick rode his from the front as though defeat was out of the question but, like Voyage A New York before him, stopped as if shot before the race began in earnest. The jockey clearly mis-judged it but Back To Bracka did not run his race for whatever reason and looks like he could be useful.

The 2m chase saw Robin's Command renew rivalry with Russell's Final Assault two weeks on from Perth while all the money was for McCain's free-going sort Classic Move on his chase debut.

The latter, who looked on the lean side, kept putting down on Maguire while eventual winner Robin's Command popped away in his shadow. The grey has been a tribute to the Dobbins, who have placed him to great effect this summer, while his sound jumping will always be an asset.

Final Assault was fancied to reverse Perth placings on this very different ground and track but the big chasing type didn't appear to have learned a great deal from his debut, jumping very novicey out to his left while not showing his claiming jockey in great light either. That said with more experience and a return to Ayr he is a sure-fire winner, especially as he moves up in trip.

The opening conditional jockeys' hurdle was wide open but the money for Nalim was baffling as he turned out to be the least-fit looking horse of the whole card, while there were positives for the winner, Acordingtoscript, in a second time hood, and the second Nafaath of McCain's who was very fit from the flat.

Dalstontosiloth was the paddock pick, being on great terms with himself, only to fade into fourth place, while the third Spanish Fleet has been mentioned here before and will surely win a race soon back over an extra half a mile. His Trainer J Wade appears to have his horses in good heart at this early stage and I'll be expecting a few of his to start winning with a run safely tucked away.

In the bumper finale, Longsdon's Deadly Move stood out from the rest although two handlers were a cautionary note and those who bet the odds-on shot were left ruing the fact he tanked through the race like the good horse he surely is, only to flatten out late on.

Of the others Russell's £100k purchase Kingswell Theatre was arguably the least attractive on show although he ran ok and clearly has an engine in a race that may turn out alright.

So what to make of it? I think Russell's horses are definitely in need of their first run despite what the markets are telling us, while McCain's as so often are being overbet and while there is probably nothing ailing the yard, for whatever reason they are just not firing. It may just be circumstance, but we'll find out more tomorrow at Hexham where both trainers have some interesting runners, and where I'll be headed.