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.|
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.