Friday 28 November 2014

Doncaster - Alexander The Grand

I won't lie to you it looked a fairly trappy card at ole' Donny today and I was very wary as I wasn't as well prepared as I would have liked. However, it was competitive enough and for that we should be thankful.

The opening novice handicap chase looked a proper conundrum although I wanted to get against nominal favourite Fergal Mael Duin, who looks an old dodger to me.

However, finding that special one is harder than you might think, the least attractive being Tales Of Milan, who doesn't have much size or scope about him. However, the Middleton yard know their eggs and he bounced out and jumped them silly. At least I only place-laid it!

Second-placed Dundee is a strong, bullish horse who isn't that tall and I wonder if he needs genuine good ground as he seemed to find it a bit of a struggle here. For a well-handicapped horse it was disappointing he couldn't pick the winner up.

The second race saw top bumper horse Relic Rock take on a couple of Flat horses in Novirak and Silvery Moon. I heard from a number of sources that they fancied the latter and he's a nice, strong sort with plenty of size and it's surprising they haven't gone over timber with him before now.

Novirak didn't quite have the same presence and he was more novicey in the first half of the race but the way he came home suggests he may have a future in this game. Relic Rock is a stayer first and foremost and they had to ride him aggressively round here. However, I thought he might just need the run and he was duly caught after the last by Glingerburn.

The Richards horse was highly thought-of before getting a 'leg' and he's a nice looking animal although he looked in need of the run here. Therefore it's to his credit that he could pick up the hot favourite and hopefully he can go on from here now. The second will be alright though, and he'll be better over further when they can ride a race on it.
Un Ace: Won like the good thing it was
Un Ace looked in terrific fettle ahead of his four-runner novice chase and he was unnopposable despite cramped odds. Free Thinking looked fit enough on her return but she doesn't look straight forward and it looks unlikely that she'll be emulating her talented mum Liberthine. Flementine looked in need of it but a better run was still expected.

The stayers handicap hurdle looked very trappy and I couldn't split a whole host of them beforehand. The winner, Wicked Spice, looked really fit and strong although I couldn't have backed it on what it had achieved and it wasn't exactly a standout. Taruma is a very nice stamp of a horse and looked really well but pulled too hard early on. He will relish the bigger obstacles.

The one I picked out to lay was Orby's Man, who I've seen a few times now and he doesn't really take the eye, a bit on the small side and still unfurnished. I wasn't especially taken by his latest run at Towcester and he was plenty short enough here against a competitive lot.

The biggie for me came in the next where they piled into the old monkey that is Big Water. That was fine by me. I know the horse well and on many occasions he has failed to live up to his billing. He looked to have turned the corner last time but that wasn't much of a race and I was much keener on the prospects of market rival Premier Grand Cru.

I was quite taken by the latter's reappearance at Carlisle after a very long absence in a good race that has already seen Back To Bracka come out and win. He had duly tightened up nicely for that and he's a super looking horse who I was hungry to back - my only concern being that he may need further, but I do like a 'closer' round Town Moor.

It was a good job the masses went for Big Water as my fellow drifted like the proverbial. In the old days that would have put me off but sometimes you've got to grab your balls in one hand and part from the readies with the other.
Lucy Alexander deservedly took the plaudits today
It was closer than I thought it would be in fairness and it was only thanks to a fine ride from Lucy Alexander that we got paid. I'm not sure what the horse has achieved here as he looks a darn sight more than a 117 horse and I'm aware he was much better than that before his injury. He may need another half mile now to be seen at his best. I didn't think Shadrack was well handicapped (that said he looked in great order) while I had Tregaro down as an out and out fast ground horse.

I'm still waiting for the right day to back Jokers And Rogues. He's a nice horse but the penny is slow to drop - that said he was ridden too aggressively in the handicap hurdle. He's still a baby and may need another 12 months and a fence before we get stuck in.

Ergo Sum was a horse you didn't want to be against and he looked ready to do the job - sadly the price had gone for us on-course players and we had to sit it out. There were mentions for maidens First Of Never and Tennessee Bird, who both looked extremely fit after absences and probably produced personal bests. The Kvilleken ran another solid race but he looks like a monkey, carrying his head high beforehand, and may be one to avoid.

I need to see the race again but Whichwaytobougie is probably the one to take out of it. He's a decent looking sort who will be better for this and they've done a good job with regards to his mark. When the money arrives, don't hesitate to go in.

If anyone is interested in learning more about me, I had the honour of being interviewed by the guys at You can read the article here.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Wetherby - Back to business

Regular readers of the blog may be aware of the odyssey I've endured with one Back To Bracka, a horse I've come to know well over the past six weeks.

In a nutshell, the story is thus - October 10; Horse looks great, join in the gamble, jockey gives horse an astonishing ride in atrocious ground, beaten 50 lengths. October 23; Dropped in trip, drifts like a barge, nearly wins @9/1. Promising. November 10; Chase debut over 2m 4f, jumps great, held up, never put in the race.

Which brings us to today. It looked the perfect opening for Lucinda Russell's charge, and I liked the booking of the promising C Nichol. Plenty of pace in the race meant the horse could be settled and brought steadily into the race.

The market was wild and woolly, and set the race up perfectly. Dunowen Point and Vasco D'Ycy have had holes in them for as long as I can remember, yet there was plenty of money around for both (admittedly and expectedly the cash dried up for the former.) Tiptoeaway didn't look anywhere near fit for his return and yet was backed into 5/1 - just a point more than the winner!!
Back To Bracka finally does the business - and we were on.
Quicuyo is a burly type who didn't fit the bill either while Tresor De Bontee rated the danger - a real solid jumper who was overpriced, probably based on the assumption he would fail to back up the Lingfield win.

That was the race as I saw it and I was happy to march in for some of the 4s on our hero, saving on Tresor Du Bontee. It's a race I'll be watching again as it looked like the second and third did little wrong behind the well-treated winner, with the relative time by far the best on the day. It was at least a step in the right direction for the well-backed Vasco D'Ycy.

By the time that fourth race came around we'd just managed to poke our heads in front after a hideous early setback.

The bunch for the opening claimer were miserable looking lot, with the odds-on Too Generous hardly standing out. But it's a mug's game trying to second guess these horses from the Pipe yard and I preferred to get against Leath Acra Mor, who minced around the paddock as if having a problem. Surely the ground would be an issue as well but it was through gritted teeth for all involved that he stuck his neck out for the place money behind the moody Harris.

The second was a competitive six-runner novice chase where favourite backers can feel aggrieved at the ride given by R Johnson aboard If In Doubt. A good-looking sort, if just a little on the weak side, he was ridden as if defeat was out of the question but an untimely mistake three out meant he wouldn't get to the winner Sego Success (fine, nothing special.)

Walk On Al didn't particularly appeal as one to pile into, ditto Billy Twyford who lacked the size and scope of the rest on his chase debut. Of much interest though was Volo Mio, who was interestingly ridden by B Hughes. A lovely tall, sizeable seven-year-old he looked really fit and well and should be found a much easier assignment in the coming weeks. Thom Thumb also looked great although he may lack ability.

The next saw the highly touted Ma Du Fou sent off at prohibitive odds against a big field that should throw up a good few winners. You wouldn't have picked the odds-on favourite out beforehand, being of medium build and rather workmanlike. The winner The Grey Taylor looked unchanged from his debut win and this was a decent performance under a penalty and in different ground.

Runner-up Rossmore's Pride was noted as a nice strong sort who was keen beforehand, others worth a mention were Acertain Circus (strong), Halcyon Days (fair sort, bit backward) while Mr Grey looked as though he would improve again for this second outing. A King's L'Amiral David doesn't look much at this stage.
Wasn't especially taken by Top Of The Glas
A third odds-on shot got turned over when Top Of The Glas was left with too much ground to make up on all-the-way winner Officer Drivel. Readers will know these baby races are not my forte and I had the first two down as weaker/speedier types, while Notnowsam (a lovely chestnut with good scope) is by far the most likely to progress with racing. Final Countdown did not sweat up as has been the case but has not progressed, although connections may now keep him for the better ground in the spring.

Sadly the handicap chase was a bit of a non-event as Smiles For Miles looked a good thing to follow up his impressive Chepstow win where he improved for the switch to fences. His main market rival Greenlaw is a good size and looked fit enough to give it some sort of race, while Chicklemix and What A Dream both looked as if their second outings of the season would bring them on again.

The market suggested the mares bumper was a bit of a match between the Crawford-trained Now Let Go and N Richards' Carinena. The latter looked very green beforehand though and quite fizzy, while the former was far more relaxed and she would know her job better. Midnight Silver is still weak and unfurnished and ran above my expectations, as did the winner Isla Fernandos who didn't particularly take the eye.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Sedgefield - Out of jail

It didn't look like it was going to be much of a punting card and we were in pretty laid back form as we arrived at the track just in time to take in the runners for the opener.

Jacks Last Hope doesn't look all that but had to be a very short price judged on his latest effort, although he was made to work by Mixboy, who settled much better on his first hurdles start.

However the form doesn't amount to much as the rest looked pretty poor.

The juvenile was interesting in that the money came for newcomer Chivers, who was the nicest looking jumper on show but who would surely need more of a test than this.

Another short-priced jolly went in here in the shape of El Beau, who kept pulling out more and has done well to win two on the spin. Shimba Hills stayed on well to take the minors and although neither have much scope they may do okay if kept to the right level. Chivers ran fine considering and he can do better given a test.

El Beau looked good in defying a penalty
The next four races were more my cup of tea and it was decision time as there were four short-priced favourites to either side with or get against.

I didn't want to be on the wrong side of Apache Pilot after his gallant debut effort over fences last time and he was a worthy if unbackable jolly. In fairness the rest looked in pretty decent shape and it looked quite a competitive event of its type.

The one I didn't like was Debt To Society, who isn't a great looker, got a bit warm and doesn't jump fences very well. Imagine my horror as three live opponents came down leaving a match down the home straight, with the favourite failing to get us out of jail thanks in good part to the failings of his jockey.

However, the 'get out of jail' card was played in the nick of time in what amounts to a total fiasco, which yet again paints the sport in a dark light. We dodged a shell there but by the time the 'void race' news came through our thoughts were already turned to the day's banker.

Runswick Days had been cajoled to victory by the excellent B Hughes here last time and he appealed as very much the type to repeat the feat in a similar contest.

It was surprising yet pleasing that the market held up as money came for Silver Vogue and Midnight Streaker. The former is a great big baby who effectively handed the race to Trafficker at Wetherby last time, when he was the paddock pick.

Whether he's got an attitude or just immature only time will tell but it was an ideal scenario that saw the grey hit front between the last two to give Runswick Days a great tow into the last. From there I was always confident J Wade's youngster would find enough to land the spoils again and no doubt in-running players got better than the 7/4 I was happy enough to take.

I had put Amir Pasha in at 5/2 on my tissue and he rated a superb lay at much shorter odds prior to the handicap hurdle over two miles. And the old rogue looked as though he'd got out of the straw the wrong side as he mooched around the paddock with a face like a smacked arse.

I had been determined to find the winner and ploughed into course specialist Stanley Bridge in the morning only to see his price virtually double on the machine at show time. Sure enough he looked in poor shape on this second run after a short absence but his time is coming round again and at least he fulfilled each-way duties.

The dough came for Sea Rocket but although the thing looked fit and well I couldn't have it on my mind having shown zilch in three outings, while Captain Sharpe and Ardesia weren't ready.

I'd thrown a few quid at Wade's Casual Cavalier with blinkers on for the first time on his handicap debut and he showed his first piece of form. He's a big athletic sort who needs more time, distance and a fence, but this was a better effort.
The punt on Orchard Road came out of the blue
Orchard Road was the one to be one and the money seemed to arrive pretty late, probably because he was the standout in the prelims. Very fit after his first outing for T Davidson the former bumper winner looked ready to deliver and was given a good positive ride from the front. He's got some size and can progress.

Sadly I had to sit out the 2m handicap chase as it looked such a tricky puzzle to solve. I didn't particularly like the front two in the market but Brother Scott looked better than he's done so far this term and this was his big chance.

Fair-minded sorts were willing to give him another go as to be fair he had run into a couple of good ones in Montoyas Son and Uno Valoroso, even though there was a suspicion he hadn't put it all in.

Unfortunately for backers those fears were confirmed as he was unable to get past 67-rated Zazamix after a protracted battle, leaving the luckless Sue Smith without a winner since Bennys Well on the 10th of this month.

Carters Rest was fit again but was unable to settle on this occasion, while Pistol Basc looked well although the run will do him plenty of good, as will a couple of pounds off the rating. I was interested in Odds On Dan at double figures in the morning but didn't get involved and I refrained from taking much shorter odds after seeing the big oaf in ring, not looking better than he did first time up.

This is the third time they've punted it and on each occasion it's dropped the lot.

Main business was concluded prior to the bumper where the well-backed Legacy Phoenix looked good enough to deliver for punters, only to find disappointingly little behind fellow raider Perseid, who wasn't very gettable.

Hillier and John Williams are lovely big types who will come into their own given plenty of time.

Friday 21 November 2014

Haydock - Maxed out

Okay let's get straight to the nub of was all about Maximiser.

Let's face it, for the money Haydock put up they didn't deserve the shite that we had to endure this afternoon, where for us railway shunters it was a case of siding with the favourites or finding one to beat them.

Not the most enticing of prospects, you'll no doubt agree, made even less so by the pissing rain, which turned the track pretty testing by the halfway stage.

Still, we're made of stern stuff and the anticipation was palpable by the time we reached the penultimate event where our grey hero was to take on another P Nicholls hotpot in Vago Collonges.

Now, when Maximizer blitzed a field of cardboard cutouts at Carlisle a month ago, I wasn't the first one looking to keep a tight rein on expectations, as the performance had brought a lump to the trousers of many an innocent bystander. You'd have thought it was 'Dessie' incarnate.

And yet this very fetching animal seems to have it all; lengthy, strong, athletic - you name it. So it was great to see that he had strengthened up a good deal in the interim and with the ground riding very similar to what it did at Carlisle, there was every chance he could follow up.
The great white hope (not one of my best, I'll admit)
There wasn't a great deal wrong with the Nicholls beast to be fair, although the merest glance at the book - with three runner-up spots to his name - suggested he might not be the most straightforward, and with a tendency to pull into the bargain.

After much deliberation it was time to grow a pair and move in for some of the 9/4, which quickly went to evens after they'd gone a hundred yards.

Let's not get carried away - like a heavyweight boxer racking up a string of knockout wins, until he gets chinned we won't know what he's really made of. But on this dank Friday afternoon at least he made our (northern) hearts sing.

Rewind the tape and it looked like we would struggle to get anything out of the card if we didn't solve the 14-runner opener. Some nice horses here with only two real negatives - Night In Milan still looked in need of the run (why so strong in the market?) while the long-absent Moon Indigo looked in no shape to do himself justice. What a marvellous race he ran in the circumstances and we can only hope Mr Wade will give him enough time to get over these exertions.

Storm Of Swords was of interest in the morning but was quite disappointing in the flesh, very fit but rather angular and still having some filling out to do. He's proven disappointing thus far but there are less competitive races than this for him.

Milan Bound looked a nice horse but is another who has yet to deliver and his finishing effort left something to be desired, unlike the winner Closing Ceremony, who obviously has his quirks but has plenty of raw talent. There was no evidence of a boil-over that scuppered him last time.

Quel Elite remains of interest after his race was over following an early shemozzle. He looked in great nick and it would come as no surprise to see him finally add to his tally in the near term. Master Malt was the other eye-catcher and he looks a decent sort who should prove way better than his current mark.

The nearer the second race approached the more I wanted to take on the good thing Turban. Again the prelims proved significant as the jolly didn't really take the eye, a quirky looking sort who didn't look race 'tight'. Beaten several times at short odds he had to be taken on and on looks at least it was no contest - Third Intention looked the bollox.

It was just a question of whether you gave the Tizzard chestnut another chance after so many near misses. Mwaleshi to be fair looked on great terms with himself although you'd never back him on looks, so I opted for a split stake bet. The Nicholls grey may not amount to much but I'm of the opinion he needs a trip already. At the end of the day we should probably have just got stuck into the jolly, who never looked like landing a blow.

The next was a decent looking contest and it centred around The Brock Again, a big, raw chasing type who is yet to fill his large frame. Nice horse, but was today the day? I had a feeling he might empty out but I didn't feel the need to play, especially watching the in-running action it looked like another stitch up a la Chieftain's Choice.

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't, but the game was up three out for those who went in at short odds. The rest all looked nippier types although eventual winner Thorpe was the least appealing (leggy, pottery) and I wouldn't have found him in a million years. Stephanie Frances may have some form in the book but she's a petite thing and got lost in the mud.

We dodged a bullet in the next as Virak looked a potential non-stayer and I wanted to take it on with Monkey Kingdom, expecting a market move. The latter didn't really make much of an impression however pre-race while Golden Hoof is a big, leggy sort who perhaps wouldn't relish the test.

It left Grand Vision who had the stamina in the bank but to me it appeared that he would improve for the run. Of course we'll never know what he had in the tank but Tizzard backers will no doubt wonder what might have been after the grey crashed out four from home. Nevertheless he looks back on track and this chasing type can make amends.

After Maximiser's win we were in fair spirits despite the rain pelting down by now and we hung around to see the three bumper horses spin round the paddock. Again it was the Nicholls horse Abidjan who came out the worst of the trio, looking backward and ungainly at the walk. I didn't think the sloppy ground would be suitable for the youngster and it was little surprise that Midnight Shot was favoured in the market with some good form in the book.

Dean's Walk looked the strongest of the trio and should have a decent future over obstacles - it's surprising he has been kept on the flat this long.

Briefly touching on Saturday's big race, I've had to step in to take some double figure odds about Harry Topper. I realise he's plenty to find but with question marks about the principles and everything in his favour, I'll be disappointed if he's not in the shake-up, providing he can keep the mistakes to a minimum. I'm looking forward to seeing some class horses and it's a meaty card. Until then....

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Hexham - Hard yakka

It didn't look much of a card in all honesty and for the second day in succession it was time to tread warily...sadly we were not wary enough.

It was one of those days that sucked you into playing and for once the paddock watchers ended on the wrong side of the ledger.

The opening novice hurdle was a prime example and set us up on the wrong foot. The ground was very heavy and just the sort to find out the more unfurnished types - such as favourite Deep Resolve. A nice horse, the juvenile was very fit but still to grow into his frame and the smaller, stronger sort Sirpertan from the in-form Marjorie Fife yard was preferred.

The latter didn't jump a hurdle in the first half of the race and the jolly essentially sauntered round in his own time. There was very little positive to say of the others.

The handicap chase for novices was a race of epically poor proportions, comprising four runners of which none could be given a chance! Houndscourt and Simarthur headed the market but the former had severe stamina issues while the latter didn't make much appeal on looks, of medium build but surely needing the run. Not that that was the reason for such a poor effort and he remains with serious question marks.

Strike Fast looks a very moderate performer while Moyode Wood has proved a poor maiden although his best form was at this track 12 months ago. It got warm between its back legs and generally didn't take the eye, but was the only one that really jumped and galloped with any vigour. I was so baffled I sat this one out.

I didn't want to sit on the sidelines in the novice hurdle as the well-touted Chieftain's Choice looked beatable after defeat on good ground last time, and while a nice strong sort does not have a great deal of size.

I was quite happy to oppose him with It's High Time despite the penalty for a visually impressive success at the track last time out. He looked to have tightened up for that experience, but there was some very questionable action at the start of this race that rendered it somewhat farcical. James Reveley was allowed to poach a long lead at the tapes before the jockey on It's High Time decided to close the gap on the leader in fairly rapid time up the initial climb on the first circuit.

While the second favourite was bang there when capsizing three out I doubt he would have got to the winner who was the second hurdler of the day to make light of the conditions and simply hose up. The third Palm Grey, ran another promising race despite still looking very backward for a six-year-old. He also lacks the scope for fences but there will be a handicap hurdle to be won with him next year.

The eventual runner-up Central Flame was one of the nicer sorts here, a big chasing type for the future, so connections would have been delighted with the way he came home.

The four-miler was a proper conundrum and my old pal Silver Dragon surprised me by heading the market three days on from his Wetherby win. Previous performance both over fences and here at Hexham left much to be desired but he set the collys wobbling by showing plenty of enthusiasm out in the lead.
Snuker had improved for his pipe-opener here 11 days ago.
Sure enough he started going right again on the final circuit but the outside rail aided him and ultimately kept him in it. Snuker emerged as the main danger and this big stuffy type had improved somewhat from his recent pipe-opener, although one suspects he'll always look on the heavy side. The pair went at it after the last and Silver Dragon didn't seem to want to go past on the run-in, although nothing can be taken away from the dogged winner, who spared some blushes.

Beau Dandy once again looked in good nick, although not as sprightly as at Wetherby last time, was once again gambled-on and once more he delivered a similar performance, going there strongly for a long way before finding little under the gun. 'Out of excuses' I wrote after the Wetherby run and he is one to take on despite a slumping rating. The Russell pair were disappointing, The Outlaw apparently not the force of old while The Friary is not the biggest horse to be humping top weight round Hexham. Neither lacked for fitness.

The handicap hurdle over 2m 4f was an out-and-out two horse race between the front two in the betting after a look at the horses beforehand told us W Six Times was not in any condition to run his race. Dun To Perfection came here in form, and perhaps more importantly down in trip, while J Wade's Allez Cool had posted a decent effort here last time and had improved a bundle.

At the prices Allez Cool was the bet but he couldn't handle the favourite, who danced through the slop to run out a convincing winner with 21 lengths back to Mrs Grass, who backed up her shock win here to some degree.

We were 'in the hole' by this time but we clawed some back in the novice handicap chase when Uno Valoroso proved a good thing in backing up his recent Kelso success. Walford's team reportedly fancied it to win again and it stood out beforehand. It was a short enough price, but the way it jumped and travelled backers had few anxious moments.

There was interest of sorts in Alfred Oats and Mwangaza. The runner-up had threatened a decent run for some time but didn't quite look fully wound up for this, while the latter was a springer but I was expecting a horse with more substance and the ex-French grey still has much filling out to do. This was it's first piece of form though and improvement should be forthcoming. I threw a few quid at the rag Mighty Cliche as it looked so well beforehand and although the run came to nothing, he showed enough to suggest he will eventually pay his way.

The finale centred around the gamble on the Wade-trained Walser, who went off a remarkably short 2/1 favourite for a race in which he finished second 12 months ago off a stone higher mark. I could understand the money but the price collapse was quite something. I wasn't about to get in the way of it even though it was too short, instead siding with the nice strong chasing sort A Voyage New York.

Not for the first time this season Russell's horse stopped to nothing but it was course specialist and last year's winner Tikkandemickey who made the best of his way home in a first-time hood, leaving the jolly winless in 17 starts. Veteran Hunters Belt didn't look fit so his late rally into third place suggests he may win a small race next time.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Doncaster - Full of surprises

It was only a couple of blogs ago that I was extolling the virtues of James Reveley and once again he delivered the goods in confident fashion with a treble on the card.

I didn't want a great part of the action going in, and was looking to get through unscathed. A lot of races featured horses sent north for the 'better' ground, even though it was officially riding soft. Clearly some would get through it while others wouldn't.

The opener was clearly a two horse race as the third in, Iona Days, didn't look fit and the other two have gone at the game. Different types, Guiding George was unexposed but race fit while Carli King and big, strong type who was just ready but ought to improve for it.

I thought the favourite jumped really well and while it wouldn't have an enormous amount of scope, clearly stays well.

The juvenile hurdle featured another apparent match between Skelton's Boss Des Mottes and Annalulu from the Nicholls yard. I preferred the former of the two with Annalulu a weak, leggy sort, while Skelton's had filled its smaller frame more. Neither made great appeal, however, and it wasn't surprising the money came for Witch From Rome from the in-form Neil King yard.

It was impossible to call it to be fair and readers will know by now these events are not my cup of tea. We probably should have got stuck into the Nicholls beast but it's easy to be wise now, especially when 50/1 shot Two B's beat them all.

I was determined as ever to find the winner of the two tricky handicap chases on the card but I didn't back the first one Saints And Sinners. Some 6/1 would have been nice on course but the beast was half that after support all day and at that price I was trying to find one against it.

The Mick Easterby six-year-old isn't much to look at but after seeing it last year I knew that it tends to carry condition even when fit and today was no different - otherwise it looked in great nick. There was also cash for Rhapando, who was probably the paddock pick, while Head Of The Class looked better for its latest outing at Wetherby.

They were worth a split stake against the jolly and to be fair they gave us a run for our money, but the winner proved well handicapped as he returned to his best.

Two I didn't want were Sky Watch, who wasn't fully wound up, and Vide Cave, who looked in need of the run and hasn't really produced the goods so far. Urcalin looks a quirky customer and lacked the scope of some of the others.

The next was another uncompetitive mares race that went the way of the long odds-on jolly The Pirates Queen. We were trying to figure out the finishing order behind her when it became known Balmusette was thought to still be short of peak fitness. She's a grand sort who had very decent bumper form, and she can leave the bare form of this behind.

The way she finished off the race banished doubts about her staying the intermediate trip and it was good to see her back to form after apparently boiling over on her return at Uttoxeter. She reversed form with Faerie Reel, who is a nice sort but essentially just a baby.

The handicap chase was a conundrum with several of the players requiring better ground, namely Robbie, Uriah Heep, Wakanda, Violets Boy and Crazy Jack.

With Baile Anrai true to his trainer's word in needing the outing, we needed to revisit our thoughts and I had to be reminded that Robbie has gone on the ground in recent times and ran a cracker on his return just 10 days ago. That form stood out and with few takers in the market it was worth throwing a few quid at the veteran over the odds especially after he found such a great rhythm in the front rank, and the Wetherby winner Shadows Lengthen, who may have improved over the summer (apparently not).

I backed Wakanda at Hexham when it won but he took a couple of liberties there and the form isn't strong, and his jumping also let him down at Aintree. He's a sturdy youngster and clearly a bit ignorant at times, and I couldn't really understand the late move for him, although his day will come again.

The other one of interest was Crazy Jack, who didn't look thrown in on form but clearly has a future and is a nice, straight forward horse who will win races. A race of this nature came too soon for him while better ground looks sure to suit.

I thought Violets Boy ran a huge race on the ground and he's not much to look at, a moderate walker.

The excitement level cranked up a notch before the next as it became clear the two market leaders looked eminently beatable. Cloud Creeper looked fine as all the Hobbs horses tend to and was predictably over-bet after the yard's success over the weekend, while King's Monksgold was a bit of a disappointment when the rug came off, fit enough after an absence but not really taking the eye and running up a bit light.

It meant there was sure to be some value and the eye was constantly drawn to Boruma, who looked to have a Musselburgh chase sewn up recently before capsizing three from home. It meant the handicapper couldn't get his mucky paws on the four-year-old and he was a winner without a penalty.

The youngster clearly showed no ill-effects from that as he looked on great terms with himself, and size-wise at this stage the switch back to timber looked the best option. With the Sayer yard still in great heart and the boy Reveley in the plate, everything was in place for a smash-up. Never forget to lay them off in running though - they always win when you do!

With business concluded for the day we stayed for the mares bumper where I had Reveley's Samedi Soir and Emma Lavelle's Out Of The Mist against the field. The former looked really fit and well put together, while the latter is a really nice looking mare who still has some strengthening up to do.

I thought our hero gave Samedi Soir an awful lot to do, dropping her right out the back, while the same could be said of the rider of Act Now who by contrast was asked to make all, despite looking weak and in need of the run. It came as no surprise that neither was involved in the finish.

Friday 14 November 2014

Newcastle - Fortune favours the brave

The weather couldn't have been more foul for our first trip to Newcastle in many years, but we turned our collar to the wind and rain and got stuck in.

The opener was not a betting proposition however as we tried to assess the conditions out on the course, with the headstrong Tradewinds setting up the market and, in fact, the race.

He tore off in front on his first start for J Ewart last time but was much more tractable here. He's a neat sort to look at, not over-big, but clearly not straight-forward. You'd have to think he's better than he's yet shown and possibly the booking of B Hughes may help sort him out.

With the allowance, he got a stone from the eventual winner Seldom Inn, who backed up his Kelso win on good ground in sound style. He's a lovely old-fashioned chasing sort who was really fit for this, and he basically outstayed them here on ground that wasn't ideal for him. He may not get away with 2m again.

The third, Doktor Glaz, is a giant of a beast and showed up well before his physical weakness showed late on. At four, he may not back this up immediately, but he has a future in the game.

The eye was drawn to the gambled Shades Of Midnight beforehand, a nice tall sort and fit enough, but he hurdled poorly on his first start over timber.

By now the weather was intolerable but the eight-runner novice handicap chase was a fascinating affair and we needed to assess the fitness of three of them.
Only just noticed the irony of Ballymoat pictured here
The market had Bernardelli and Things Change at the head but I was keen to get against both. The former would certainly be better for it while the latter should also come on for the run. Neither is particularly big but have enough size to win over the bigger obstacles.

Ballybogey is a bigger, chasing type but I wasn't keen on his rather regressive form for the new yard, so we already had quite a chunk out of the market.

I'd backed Clan William each-way in the morning as I'd priced him up around half the odds of those available, even though I wasn't sure about his chances here. He looked better for his run at Sedgefield last time and although he guessed at a few of the fences he was unlucky to come down at the last.

That said, he wouldn't have beaten Trust Thomas, who needed every yard of this to get on top. He ran as though badly in need of the run five weeks ago on ground too fast, but he was interesting in this bog and he really stood out in the paddock. I'd seen him a couple of times last year and he didn't have 'chaser' written all over him, but he's strengthened up and was certainly fit enough on this day.

So a few quid went his way as well as I didn't want any part of Lord Brendy after THAT fall and while I didn't get the chance to assess Vinny Gambini, the market told me what I needed to know.

I've sworn not to get involved in mares' races as they can throw up some silly results and I didn't see any point in opposing a Pipe hotpot in the next. Again, owing to the conditions it was very difficult to make too many assessments until they were leaving the parade ring. Donna's Pride caught the eye having really done well over the summer - I know she was well thought of last term but was really backward so it was good to see her take a step in the right direction.

Just For Pleasure looks like a real staying type with plenty of size, something that cannot be said for Tara Mac, who wasn't carrying a great deal of condition at all and was one of the least likely candidates. Several others were on the weak side, the best of whom was Syddan Rose, who was arguably the best looker.

I'd been licking my lips before the next which had a good shape to it, a six-runner handicap chase over 2m4f. Alas, Montoya's Son was withdrawn presumably on account of the ground, leaving a tricky looking affair where each of the runners suddenly looked unbackably short!

Ros Castle topped the new market and I was happy that he was ready to go first time up, although concerned that both his wins had come over the minimum trip. However, he was up against two race-fit sorts in Ballymoat and Categorical - is it any wonder on a day such as this that the trio were all there at the last.

You've got to feel for the Smith yard, who have not had a single first-time-out winner this autumn while others have been disappointing. However Ballymoat would surely have gone one better than Clan William had he stood up at the final fence. It left Ros Castle with the race at his mercy but Categorical stays all day and had been given a positive ride by the Reveley boy who got him back up close home.

Ballymoat's stablemate Swing Hard is a good size but predictably he needed this so it was a surprise to see him solid in the ring. He'll improve a bundle for this.
Thought the in-form Jimmy Reveley gave Categorical a peach
Another short-priced jolly came out in the next which we would have taken on, in the shape of Maggie Blue. It left Itstimeforapint looking vulnerable at the head of the market, while Bollin Julie looked (and shaped) as if in need of the spin, more so Grey Area who was very tubby although he stopped as though something else was amiss.

There weren't too many others to get interested in - but the eventual winner Notonebuttwo was fit and well for this seasonal outing. One wonders what's been going on behind the scenes with this strong, chasing type who still languishes on a mark of 77. If the trainer can keep him right he could win three or four before the handicapper catches up.

Don't lose heart with Itstimeforapint. The way he goes suggests temperament issues but he's just a gangly, weak horse who needs a lot of time to strengthen up. Giving two stone to the winner in this ground was a fair enough effort. Runner-up Ballyreesode returned to the form of his Hexham with exaggerated waiting tactics re-employed. He will jump a fence but at nine they must crack on.

I'd been of a mind to back Allanard all the way up the A1. The horse had won in very similar conditions at Wetherby a couple of years ago and I wanted a horse with plenty of experience on my side against two younger animals, while I noted in the blog that he needed his pipe-opener at Hexham last time. And they always win when you take under the odds.

They made Sharney Sike favourite in the end but he was reported to hate the soft ground when he won at Wetherby last term, while he can be keen and he also throws in some sketchy leaps, so I wasn't that fussed about his chances here, while Boric caught the eye last time and was fitter here, although I felt this test was a tough one at such an early stage of his career. 

And although Allanard won as he liked, it is the second and third who are of interest. On better ground and in a bigger field Sharney Sike will be a good bet, where he will be able to get some cover and just pop away. He looked fit enough today even though the way he ran made him look like he needed it - I suspect it was the ground that was the issue.

The bumper saw some interesting horses on show, none more so than the eventual winner Western Rules, who was backed off the boards. He's a nice, forward sort although still unfurnished - that said he must have some engine as those in the know had had their cards marked.

McCain's Billy Buff was second in but once again you have to wonder where the money for one from this yard is coming from, as this one did not please the eye being a very big, weak thing and carrying plenty of condition too. There are a lot of young horses from the stable not living up to their price tag. Not even close.

There were plenty here for the future - Pipe's Border Breaker was fit and lean; Diamond Fizz a big strong sort, G Charlton's Vaulkie a nice stamp of a horse but not fit, while Mossies Well was reportedly fancied and looked the part, flattering briefly at the top of the straight. Unfortunately I hadn't noted the second, Innis Shannon, who ran a mighty race.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Sedgefield - Time to Wade in

Regular readers will hopefully have got the message by now that John Wade's horses have returned in great form this autumn and ready to go in with a run behind them.

Today it was payback time with the veteran local handler picking up a double, while jockey James Reveley also bagged two winners on a day when everything seemed to fall into place for this column.

The opener looked a bit of a non-event with odds-on Balbriggan an obvious winner, although the second-in Red Danaher did not make much appeal for the forecast on his rugged looks, or on the back of his debut effort at Carlisle last week. He ran on a bit late on but is not one to be excited about.

The runner-up Northside Prince is a bit of a leggy sort whose finishing effort left something to be desired while McCain's big drifter Court Of Law actually looked okay in the context of this race and can win something similar.

The novice  hurdle had the look of a no-bet race as well although the late drift of the hot favourite Spiculas lured me in. He reportedly sweated up before his Kelso win but he looked grand here and just got a tad warm late on, but I thought he was the proverbial good thing with McCain's Salto Chisco in need of the run after a year's absence. In fairness, the runner-up ran a fine race and should be able to build on this.

The third home Fly Home Harry was gambled-on, possibly by the each-way thieves, but never landed a blow and found this too sharp after two runs at Carlisle. The Smiths' Smooth Stepper made a bit of late progress too and is a nice big sort for the future.

I also had a big opinion in the next as Distime was a class above these if still in the same form as when chasing home the seemingly omnipresent Baileys Concerto. The pair had come clear at Aintree and although the former looked great that day, I viewed it a positive move that he was out again just 16 days later having spent so much time on the sidelines.

He looked absolutely fine and to be honest the late drift didn't surprise me as I thought he was the type of horse the traders would want to get. But I didn't see too many bogeys lurking within... Greensalt is quite leggy and looked in need of it, while Another Mattie has spent too long over timber for my liking.

Houndscourt looked very well - the paddock pick in fact - so it was little surprise to see him run so well on his first outing for Jo Foster, although with all respect the stable move from from Jamie Snowden cannot be viewed as hugely positive.

Roseville Cottage looked well but got a bit warm and my earlier impression that he may be better on a sound surface still stands, while one I didn't like at all was Blake Dean, who is on the small side for a Smith horse and has plenty of filling out to do. I'm sure he'll be back where he belongs over timber after a crashing fall two out.

In fairness I rather overlooked the ex-Twister horse Master Rajeem who looked fit and well so there was a slight concern when he ranged upsides Distime on the turn, but Reveley had plenty under him and it was plain sailing on the homeward run.

A special word here has to be made for Reveley, who is riding with fantastic confidence at the moment and rarely gets the fractions wrong. He's worth an extra few pounds and deserves greater recognition.
Darna: Good winner but looked sure to improve again
He was at it again in the very tricky handicap chase over 2m4f as he attempted to make all aboard the Wade-trainer Riskier, about whom I had a small early tickle. It was surprising he was able to dominate in a field that looked to have loads of early pace, but paid for it late on. He looked fit enough among an interesting bunch.

All eyes were seemingly on M Jefferson's Hi George after his victory over Holywell this time last year, and he looked in good health although the run would certainly have brought him on. It's a shame he exited early as I think he may struggle this season as he starts on a high enough mark with only one race over the bigger obstacles behind him. Time will tell.

The eventual winner Darna was also of interest and his price had halved in the morning. He was on great terms with himself beforehand, big and healthy but with room for improvement, which bodes well as he did this with the minimum of fuss. The old issues with his wind do linger in the mind, though.

I wanted to be against Alderbrook Lad who has been dominating lesser fields from the front and I was sure he wouldn't be able to sit on an easy lead this time, while I'm still not sure he'll make into a better chaser than hurdler as he's not over-big. He also got warm late on, which he hasn't done before, as he usually looks in great nick.

Bless the Wings looked ok while Tahiti Pearl did not take kindly to being held up and now has questions to answer after two poor runs. He took a strong hold in the paddock and looked lean and well, but I've a slight feeling he may be having second thoughts about the game. They went to the well many times last season and he gave in spades.

With the good thing of the day still to come we had to grapple with a 2m4f handicap hurdle that saw Acordingtoscript bid for a hat-trick off a new rating. It didn't look a deep race by any means with more than a few old rogues in there, and the money came for Wade's Jukebox Melody late on.

Seemingly regressive, the eight-year-old showed signs of ability on his return when getting in a right lather beforehand, however he couldn't back that up last time out. With the hood fitted here, and the handicapper relenting, it looked like it might be his day. He got very warm again in the prelims but was bouncing and it was a bandwagon I was happy to jump aboard.

The way he won you can tell he's got his quirks and it helped that Silver Shuffle and Amir Pasha were the only ones in striking distance up the straight, but he did it well enough for me. Of the others Rock Relief sweated up and his trainer seems to have gone off the boil, while Light The City badly needed this comeback.
Jukebox Melody: Application of the hood made a difference
A four-runner handicap chase came next and I couldn't have Runswick Days being beat. It was a perfect scenario that saw Hexham winner Milan Royale take out half the market, but he had massive blowout potential for me after seeing him have a very hard race just four days previously. He got a bit warm as well which pretty much sealed it.

That said, Prince Blackthorn did look a player as the horse - unlike others from the W Amos yard making their seasonal debuts of late - was in super nick and on good terms with himself. And he we had a bit of a squeeky-bum time of it up the straight as Brian Harding played a waiting game, only for good old Runswick to pull out more when having company for the first time in the race.

The last was a non-event with recent Towcester winner Agent Fedora sent off a 2/9 favourite. It seemed a bit over the top to me, as 2m round here is a very different proposition to 2m 5f there, but it was too far fetched to see something beating it.

As it happens Ellistrin Belle, who looked fit enough, had too much toe for it. To be honest the grey Exclusive Dancer looked in fabulous form while the jolly was just okay, although still carrying plenty of condition. I suppose it just shows that when you're hot, you've just got to play it up.

Monday 10 November 2014

Carlisle - Get 'em Geraghty

The appearance of BJ Geraghty on Monday afternoon went somewhat under the radar and the Irishman duly bagged a Jonjo-trained double at the Cumbrian track.

Geraghty landed the feature race of the day aboard Shutthefrontdoor, who was making his first appearance since landing the Irish National in the spring.

The assumption was that the seven-year-old would be merely getting the new campaign under way as the big cash came for Mickie, who was punted all day on her chase debut after what looked an inspired piece of placing by the Daly yard.

She was certainly fit for her return BUT it was apparent beforehand that she does not have the scope one might expect and the impression was that she may struggle to run up to her hurdles form owing to her lack of size.

And with Shutthefrontdoor looking surprisingly chipper it wasn't necessarily an open-and-shut case. Jonjo's horse is an active, athletic sort and still pretty unexposed...and as it turns out he could be very useful indeed.

Time may prove me wrong but Mickie did not appreciate the jumping test and it was surprising she went even shorter in running despite losing ground at most of the fences - it takes a very decent or well-handicapped animal to win after making such mistakes, and the effort eventually told.

The other three couldn't really be fancied with Vintage Star continuing the Smith yard's run of not having a first-time-out winner this autumn, despite his own great record when fresh. He looked fine, but will definitely tighten up for it and it could prove to be a solid return.
Mickie: Lacks scope for fences
Rival D'Estruval has had problems and the market told you everything you needed to know here, while Alpha One is a really big sort who will benefit greatly for the spin.

The action began with a tricky handicap chase that I got wrong in the end, happy enough to have procured some 11/4 about Rowdy Rocher, who I considered to have run well in a  better race over further last time.

I thought this would be ideal but he didn't really pick up and although the ground may have been too soft he really hasn't built on his comeback win at Perth.

I wanted to be against Little Glenshee, who will come on a ton for this, and the consistent grey ran another solid race to go down fighting behind the well-backed winner Bennys Well. The latter is such a laid-back sort who has improved dramatically this year - this being the shortest distance he has won over. His outing nine days ago obviously put him right for this.

Moyode Wood simply looks a moderate animal while Billy Cuckoo is a huge, tall animal who thinks it's all a bit of a laugh. His time will come again no doubt as his strike rate isn't bad despite all his quirks.

We were playing catch-up after the next as I had arrived with a mind to back J Ewart's Assirem, who has picked up a 122 rating over fences in France and could have been chucked in here. I thought this front-runner would whizz round this sharper inner course without too many problems despite concerns that he would just need the outing. He may not have been race fit after all, although he was well-beaten a long way out.

I couldn't have McCain's Astrum at any price, let alone the 9/4 freely available. The grey has very little about it, and all it's useful Flat form was on good ground. It was rather surprising they threw it in the deep end here, while the cheekpieces were also a concern. It should have been a very straightforward lay, pure and simple.

The winner Divine Port was well supported and is the second winner to come out of a pretty good bumper here last month. He's a laid-back type who I felt might need further than the minimum even on this stiff track, and he'll need a test elsewhere.

The horse he beat in a driving finish, Scorpions Sting, looked absolutely outstanding. Ewart's second string was by all accounts being brought along with handicaps in mind yet surprisingly here he was in prime condition and ready to roll. This improved effort could have been foreseen and now connections will have to embark on that handicap career from a higher perch than was originally planned.

The novices chase was a fascinating event taken by the serial winner Stopped Out, who jumped supremely well to make all under James Reveley. He's not overbig but was ready for this reappearance, and made it 8/30 over obstacles.

I got against the favourite Ifandbutwhynot who had not won after an absence before and had only ever run once beyond two miles. If the first two races told us anything it was you needed a strong stayer and a fit horse to win today, and while he didn't look especially unfit I stuck to the stats and was rewarded.

I had a few running for me; Back To Bracka unsurprisingly looked the fittest of the bunch and once again shaped as though he's best over the minimum trip, while Sir Mangan was fit and would certainly stay although that's all he does and in fairness was up against it on hurdles ratings.

Golden Sparkle, the eventual third, should be kept on the right side as he's a good looking animal but will be tighter for it, although hopefully the handicapper will leave him alone. An eye should also be kept on Premier Grand Cru who was returning after a huge absence but jumped like an old hand and will surely be winning if they can keep him right. He's a robust sort who looked well although would clearly come on for this.

The handicap hurdle had cut up into a non-event with last Sunday's scorer Spanish Fleet backing that up with a smooth victory under penalty. He's a such a lovely laid-back horse and if you watch him jump he makes a lovely shape, and could become Wade's next flag-bearer over fences given more time. He should remain competitive from his new mark and another half mile would be fine in the New Year.
Spanish Fleet: Backed up last week's epic win
Sometimes in this game you think you've got every angle covered but still things conspire against you. Last time out we were 'conkers deep' on the side of Shouldavboughtgold only for the beast to empty on the run-in for the third successive time. Even a short-priced in-running lay didn't get matched that day as he didn't even make it to the front.

I wasn't prepared to go through the same angst and yet there was no mistake this time as Reveley decided the issue some way from home. It was deeply frustrating as the horse looked no better or worse for that outing, while chief market rival What's Up Woody looked a lot better beforehand than he did in that same race, as he looked to have filled out somewhat. However, the he is now on a very long losing run and this was an other disappointing effort.

At least we got to lay Jonjo's Presence Felt at surprisingly decent odds as the horse as really achieved very little over fences, and once again merely plodded on into second place. He's not making any progress at all and remains one to oppose, while Ultra Du Chatelet is another very disappointing horse who was not at the races once again.

Geraghty completed the double when booting Bronco Billy to victory in an interesting bumper. What a lovely horse this was, with plenty of size and good bone, he looks a proper horse for the future. With a run behind him he was a good bet against the other two market principals.

I was surprised to see McCain's Court Dismissed running over course and distance again just 17 days on from a gruelling defeat to one of Venetia's. As mentioned in that blog he's not a lot of strength behind the saddle yet, while I wasn't quite so excited about that form as some other judges, and in the race I thought he was asked to make up a lot of ground by Maguire.

The other well-backed horse was the expensive Corner Creek, but to me he looks unfurnished and will definitely tighten up for this debut. As such, connections will surely be delighted with this effort against more experienced rivals and the pair that came clear may well turn out to be more than just alright.

Friday 7 November 2014

Hexham - Grass ain't greener

Considering the forecast we got away with a quite balmy day at the Northumberland venue, although evidently they had had some rain and the going was changed to soft after the opener, although it looked very holding.

It was quickly apparent that some would not act on the ground and the first two favourites bombed out spectacularly, although perhaps it was more than the terrain that got to them.

The opening novice was an out-and-out match on paper and looks. It's High Time had the numbers in the form book after a solid bumper campaign but market preference was for Up The Bees, a Wetherby bumper winner.

It was a 'pickem' for me and of course I opted for P Kirby's youngster, who was beaten after a mile, while It's High Time cantered round for the most facile of wins.

L Russell's horse is still light behind the saddle and may improve considerably as the season wears on, while Up The Bees looked good and well and this son of Kayf Tara ought to have lapped up the soft conditions. It was a very disappointing run.

Always Tipsy chased the winner home but lacks much scope to improve, while J Wade's New Academy would win the award for most sweaty horse of the day but ran with huge promise on his first outing in a year.

A big, robust son of Zamindar, there'll be races to be won with him and he plugged on really well, another to emphasize the form of the Wade string. Fourth home Palm Grey was not wound up and a small handicap will come his way in due course.

The next was a tricky novice hurdle over 2m4f and I didn't much fancy any of them. I marked down Zermatt as 'extremely fit' at Wetherby last year and he did not live up to that here, although he was fit enough to do himself justice.

Market rival One For Arthur has just a medium build and didn't appeal as a winner waiting to happen either, but there was nothing in there with which to take them on.

Eventual winner Red Tortue looked in need of the run, as did Wade's Allez Cool, while Sue Smith's Special Wells is a big baby who will not flourish until he tackles fences, a similar comment that applies to the chasing type Transient Bay (this was the fourth horse in two days from the Kirby yard to run appallingly.)

The ground may be to blame for Zermatt's no-show while One For Arthur may also have that excuse but is one to be wary of after a second successive short-priced blowout.
The likeable Milan Royale was the one to be on
The stayers handicap chase for novices looked very winnable but Brave Buck was all out to hold 74-rated Apache Pilot on the run in. It was a stoic effort from Henry Daly's youngster, whose sound jumping won it for him (bar an untimely error three out).

He's a big, chunky sort who looked just about fit enough for this return, and deserved to head the market after winning on heavy ground last term. Market rival Present Lodger made little appeal, however.

A 200,000 buy, the six-year-old did not catch the eye - not being over-big, quite lean and walking round the paddock head bowed. This was a giant leap from a 2m novice hurdle round Kelso but we didn't learn much after an exit at halfway. Nonetheless this does not look money well spent.

The rest were much of a muchness, with What A Dream continuing an irritating theme these days of arriving very late in the paddock, on this occasion so much so he had to pass the others going in the opposite direction!

The early money for this maiden had dried up by this time but he looked quite fit on a return from a long absence, however I had stamina and attitude doubts about him anyway. It was left to M Barnes' Apache Pilot to give favourite backers some anxious moments late on after travelling too well through the race on this step up in trip.

He'll go up for this but Barnes will surely find a race for him as he jumped pretty well here and has some size about him.

The next was a handicap chase and presented quite a quandary. I'd heard Harvey Smith was positive over the chances of Wakhan but I had a suspicion he dogged it last time at Kelso. He had just about the best form here but I wanted to get him in the book late on.

It was hard to find one against however it as an old favourite Milan Royale I felt was more suited to slightly better ground, and was passed over for this reason despite a pleasing reappearance here.

The money came for Odds On Dan for a second successive time and this nice big sort must show plenty at home - sadly he doesn't at the track although he looked okay out front for about two miles here.

I had no problem with the fitness of Samson Collonges and it was surprising this dour stayer wasn't asked to make this more of a test, thus it was left to Milan Royale to guts it out from the front after the last.

Contrary to the write-up in the Post, I believe neither the second Hallmark Star, nor the third Wakhan, will find a race anytime soon, as they are both dreadful rogues. The former has now filled the runner-up berth on no fewer than 10 occasions, and ducked in behind here, while the latter's run once again flattened out when holding every chance over the last after belting several on the way round.

Take nothing away from the winner, who is a lovely horse for his small owner/trainer, but this isn't the first time he's outbattled an unwilling foe. The form is not worth much.
Snuker: A gross horse who will be better for this
With that sorry affair behind us an eight-runner handicap hurdle needed to be solved and it sounds like ridiculous aftertiming now but Mrs Grass looked absolutely superb and should not have gone unbacked.

In a race full of moderate animals, Mrs Grass was turned out very fit and looking full of herself. I had noted the night before that she had run third in this race last year off a mark of 82, yet here she was off a perch of 66 taking into account her jockey's allowance.

Course form counts for plenty here and the note should have been taken, as she was nibbled at from 25s to 16s before scuttling to a famous win. Annoyingly, I didn't get to see the most interesting of the race in Nouveau Moulin, another to appear very briefly fully rugged up. It was impossible to assess her and in the end she gave the winner most to do, but I let the race slide with nothing else of note worthy of a mention. (Dibdabs a big, immature horse that needs fences.)

A four-runner handicap chase beckoned and they went 11/8 each of two after plenty of support for Snuker against M Scudamore's hat-trick seeking No Through Road. I didn't think the market had got this right either as I was sure the stocky Snuker would benefit from the outing, while the guaranteed fitness of the southern raider would be the key.

The quartet cantered round before No Through Road did his market rival for toe after the last, Glenwood Prince and Arc Warrior also needing the outing and well beaten off in the end.

Into the the finale which I hadn't intended to play but was eventually compelled to pile in to Trafficker, who looked a million dollars just six days on from his Wetherby run, where he didn't look particularly great and had got warm. This looked a different horse and at 6s he just had to be involved at the business end.

The one concern was that this was a very different test to the Wetherby race over shorter and on much better ground, so it was worthwhile to save on the well-treated Madam Lilibet, who had won on bad ground at Pontefract a short while ago and was sure to stay.

Both were well-backed in the end, and sure enough had the race between them, although the wrong one won as far as I was concerned as Madam Lilibet stayed on grimly to get there close home. Again, the rest were of little account in the context of this race.

So ended another frustrating day and we had a long journey home to ponder what might have been.

I'll consider another trip to Carlisle on Monday but Sedgefield on Tuesday is a banker.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Wetherby washout

I had only intended to hit the local track late in the day in order to check on the wellbeing of Secrete Stream before confirming my strong bet on M Jefferson's chestnut, however after a late change of plan I got there well in advance of the opener.

That gave me chance to have a good look at the novices and there were some nice sorts in there, especially those coming off the flat.

It was quickly apparent that McCain's Gabrial The Great had/has a major issue with his front legs, bandaged and walking rather gingerly as he felt his way round the paddock. It had massive blowout potential and I was looking for a big lay in the place market.

Things went pear-shaped from there though as I was unable to access the exchange on the old smartphone. So I had to watch through gritted teeth as the poor beast folded like a deckchair in the straight and could barely lift a leg at the third last. I hope they find out what the problem is before too long.

The eventual winner The Grey Taylor had plenty of size and his trainer does really well here with his hurdlers, this one wearing a hood in the prelims but not in the race itself. Pipe's Taj Badalandabad was reportedly well-fancied and looks a handy type with little scope, but found little when push came to shove.

Chieftain's Choice is a nice sort and one that Quinn should do well with this season, while other flat types to take the eye were Dr Irv, Ardmay and Attention Seeker, all of whom can win later this term.

Anyway that was it for me, I couldn't be doing without the 'machine' all day so we hot-footed it back to nerve centre, where Mrs Notebook politely inquired if I had tried turning the damned device off-and-on, to which I had to confess I hadn't. Maybe I could have avoided all the drama with some clear-thinking, but the red mist can descend when you just can't get on.....

Back at the office news filtered through that Secrete Stream had got warm again, although not as bad as on his return when he apparently was the subject of a rare bet by the trainer. It may have only been a contributing factor in that defeat as it looks clear now that the 2m that day was wholly inadequate, as he came home strongly here to deliver the goods.

I thought he had them covered on the home turn although he was briefly threatened by Shimla Dawn, the apple of his trainer's eye. Walford is eyeing a chasing campaign with that one although this run may persuade them to gain compensation over timber first. The one problem with that one is that he'll do well to stay ahead of the handicapper, such is his consistency.

The other reason I wanted to get to the track was to check on the fitness of Blakemount in the finale. Regular readers may have got the message by now that Sue Smith's horses have been left with plenty to work on by-and-large, and they are now 37 without a winner.

I had to take a leap of faith and lay the novice but was impressed with the way he safely navigated his way round, only hitting two out when getting tired behind the race fit and most likeable Kaysersberg. This was a nice opener from Blakemount who can land a big staying handicap next spring provided we get some really soft ground.

Well, I can't get to Carlisle on Sunday which is disappointing as there are two very strong bets on the card.

I've seen Spanish Fleet run with promise on three occasions now and have been waiting for the right race for it to run in, and I believe this is it. B Hughes taking the mount is worth 10lbs and he won't allow the six-year-old to get outpaced as is his wont.

There are three big unknowns in Mr Steel, Obistar and Scimon Templar, and it would have been nice to have been able to check their credentials in the flesh. However, I believe Spanish Fleet has enough in hand and he rates a strong bet.

The other with obvious claims is Eduard although the market has it about right. Holywell was campaigned with one day in mind last season and it could be the same story again. 2m4f will be inadequate today and Eduard is expected to continue his upward curve. N Richards has his string in great heart and had another winner at Ayr yesterday.

The blog will be updated after racing at Hexham on Friday. Good luck.