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|
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|
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.