Saturday 31 January 2015

Wetherby - Clan-destine

A quiet end to the month with a fairly low-key card that survived an inspection after forecast frost failed to materialise. The ground was pretty soft but they were getting through it.

The opener was a weak mares hurdle in which only four of the nine could be given any chance whatsoever. May Hay was put in a short price and to be fair she hasn't done much wrong in her short career and looked the best quality animal on show.

However, she was up against a very solid yardstick in Bob's Lady Tamure, who always runs to her mark and it turned out to be more than good enough on this occasion. There was a discrepancy in the odds owing to the winner's 'exposed' look, but she would have landed some good each-way bets here.

I wasn't very taken by Kashtaree, who was moderate on the flat and won a pretty poor race last time, while the Hammond import Caraline looked fine but her form was poor too and she faded from the turn. Bertha Burnett is tiny and unlikely to amount to much over timber.

The very likeable Kylemore Lough had an exercise canter against three opponents where the surprise was that McCain's Jonny Eager couldn't take second place, and it just shows how bad those were behind him at Newcastle.

Kylemore Lough: A nice spin round
The middle three races on the card were all of interest, albeit tricky, and in the two chases we were robbed of potential each-way action by the scratching of the rags. Conspiracy anyone??

The two-and-a-half miler looked very tight but it looked as though there was plenty of early pace in the race and thus might fall into the hands of Granville Island, who tends to take quite a pull. He looked on fantastic terms with himself and a big run looked assured.

Pepite Rose and Midnight Belle looked best of the rest and it was the latter who came to outstay the selection after a very muddling race in which they didn't really go the pace I was expecting.

Mwaleshi was ridden with restraint allowing Alderbrook Lad the lead, while Granville Island was given plenty of daylight all the way and went in snatches after missing one out quite badly down the back.

It still looked as though Granville might win up the straight but Midnight Belle is very strong at the trip and rallied well to get up by a head - she would probably have got in the stewards room anyway after being carried across the track by the runner-up.

With that near-miss behind us it was on to the handicap hurdle over three miles where the pick of the day Lewis was heading the market at a tight 3/1.

I was glad to be on at much bigger prices having felt this first attempt at the trip would be right up his street, but this great looking horse once again proved rather one-paced. It's too early to crab his attitude and I wouldn't want to see cheekpieces on yet, but this was bitterly disappointing as a rating of 115 seriously underestimates his natural ability. For sure he'll improve for time and will surely go chasing in the fall.

I was lucky enough to save on Join The Clan after seeing him being well-backed to follow up his Warwick in which he appeared to have far more in hand than the winning margin. He's potentially quite smart as physically he has a lot of improving to do, and should continue to get better. The Pertemps Final should be right up his street.

Join The Clan: Starting to fulfill potential
There were some fair sorts in behind although it did look a two-horse race - Quel Elite again looked really well while Alpha Victor looks a really nice chasing type who ran a mighty race in second. Super Duty showed up well on his return and the run will bring him on greatly.

The Towton novices chase brought together some decent chasers, of whom I liked the strong Kaki De La Pree, the sturdy Straidnahanna and the fit and well Top Totti, who is nevertheless just on the small side.

Ned Stark is a lovely stamp of a horse but only now fulfilling his potential and you can see why - he's a tall animal, a bit on the leg who will just keep on improving as he strengthens. As such I thought he may struggle to get home in the ground but he saw it out well and it's to his great credit. He's certainly not one to oppose lightly.

All that was left was a three-runner hunter chase, featuring two-time winner of the race Palypso De Creek, and a bumper. He was opposed in the ring by the moody Junior and Twirling Magnet, whose form has all come on ground much better than this.

They all looked fit but the veteran ran out an easy winner as Junior once again found little off the bridle and his best days are very much behind him.

The bumper saw the favourites flip-flop and the well-backed Vintage Clouds looked by far the most forward of the group, improving for the two outings before the turn of the year. A stayer, the excellent Danny Cook gave him a sound ride from the front, winding up the pace before winning by some margin.

They weren't a great lot, the Pipe drifter Rinnca Fada once again looking very immature while McCain's Uncle Monty looked very backward and slow beforehand, proving just that in the race. Runner-up Bollin Ace was very green in the prelims and can only improve on this effort.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Newcastle - Fog on the Tyne

More rum weather greeted the trip to Tyneside where the ground looked pretty hard work and a fierce headwind up the straight to boot.

Now with the best will in the world I like to think punters get a fair crack of the whip most of the time, but sometimes the dark forces rear their heads on two occasions it was apparent tissue favourites were going to get rolled.

On to that in a moment but first the opener where punters opted for the flat-bred charms of Zip Top over the strong, jumps type Fascino Rustico despite strong racecourse whispers for the latter.

It came as little surprise that the latter had too many guns up the tough straight though, and bigger things now await. In behind, Imperial Prince was eye-catching in fourth - he's a fair sort, a bit on the leg but pretty fit for this seasonal return. Clan Chief is a lovely chasing type but looks very immature at present.

The handicap over three miles was by far the most interesting contest of the afternoon but here the market was extremely vocal, with No Through Road a huge drifter from an early 5/4 as he went in search of win number six.

How THEY knew he would run a stinker is beyond my ken but knew they certainly did. It was still a competitive little race and I've spoken in glowing terms about the merits of Little Glenshee here before.

I had gone in early doors but this was a trappy event and I was looking to offload at some stage as both Beeves and Silverton had chances, the former very well backed all day and you could see why when he arrived in the paddock looking very sprightly indeed.

The fact he got an easy lead was not lost on the in-running players and under a fine ride from K Renwick Beeves held the challenge of Little Glenshee, who saw the three miles out well. However I didn't like her finishing effort and I've now got a squiggle against her - I'd like to see her in cheekpieces and an aggressive ride from the front.

The staying hurdle saw MacGillicuddy put in a short-priced favourite and to these eyes a solid one at that, yet he drifted like a barge and was beaten a mile from the finish. He looked fabulous beforehand yet THEY knew he wouldn't win. Go figure.

In the end it was Amore Mio who made all under an enterprising ride to win just his second race since 2009 - good luck if you were on that. Verko, as always, was lean and on his toes but his last chance went at Carlisle last time and he looks to be useless.

The four runner chase over 2m4f looked to be at the mercy of Cobajayisland, yet he couldn't be backed because of the jockey and once again P Buchanan read it all wrong and conspired to get the horse beat.

Having allowed McCain's Up And Go to blow the cobwebs away on an uncontested lead the veteran Scot then decided to go and win his race fully a mile from the finish. A slovenly leap five out gave the initiative back to his main rival but Buchanan put the gun to the head of his mount again, winning the race for a second time on jumping the second last.

But Peter, the winning line comes after you've jumped the last and by that time the race was run, the canny J Maguire pulling his mount wide to challenge again and forge clear on the run -in.

The proximity of the third Top Cat DJ possibly tells you that the front two had gone at it plenty early enough; that said the big outsider does look a fair sort and appeared capable of leaving his very modest hurdles form behind. Once again Scimon Templar was backed but his supporters must have turned a shade of grey by now.

I'd give Cobajayisland one more chance in the hope that he gets a more balanced ride. Good ground may also be of benefit so there should be opportunities this spring. As for the winner, he's on the small side and could be one to oppose next time especially if upped in grade.

The maiden hurdle saw Dan Emmett put in very short in a race where several could be given some sort of chance. He's a nice big sort but could do with more experience over timber before he's ready to carry support. Lovely Job gave McCain a treble but this one was not easy to predict as the horse looked rather unfurnished and as such this was a decent effort.

Gilnockie is a nice lengthy sort with scope to fill out but I was put off Calivigny by that one's lack of size and I wasn't surprised by his laboured effort - he needs more experience and time to strengthen. Perseid is very sparely made but was gambled while Redkalani is one to bear in mind for handicaps over further.

The bumper featured a few likely sorts, with the rather taking Mahler Lad heading the market. Thus is was a surprise that he was under the pump over a mile out and he was only able to plug on behind impressive winner Captain Chaos, who was very edgy beforehand and was clearly named by temperament. Corsair Prince wasn't fit and is another from the Reveley yard to put away for another time.

Sunday 25 January 2015

Doncaster - No Doubt

Day two of the big Skybet Chase meeting and I had two bets down before I got to the track, one confident selection in the opening handicap hurdle.

Special Wells has looked a progressive young horse this winter and took a step forward with victory over a subsequent winner at Wetherby on Boxing Day.

Looking at him again in the paddock confirmed that this is not a horse that will be perched on 110 in the ratings for long, and I was happy to have taken the early 5s with this trong gelding now trading less than 3/1.

Gratuitous picture of Zeroshadesofgrey
These races can throw up some dark horses and the result was a shock, with Special Wells cruising throughout before finding nothing from the third last. This was bitterly disappointing and almost certainly not down to the extra half mile that should have suited him.

However, as I made my way back to pre-parade he was there being hosed down quite vigorously in some distress. The screens went up for whatever reason, he was soon back on an even keel but clearly something was amiss.

Doktor Glaz once again looked a nice big horse who will be one to follow over fences next term while Ink Master is another nice sort who didn't jump a hurdle here for whatever reason. Goohar suffered a bad over-reach. Isimraar ran his race but is in the handicapper's grip.

The novices chase was a match and what a match it was, McCoy lifting Three Kingdoms to victory over a very game Solar Impulse. This is good form, although Three Kingdoms looked a little on the light side beforehand and had a mighty hard race here. I'd be dubious of him stepping up on this for now.

There was a teasing 2m handicap chase that almost tempted me in but I stayed on the sidelines and was relieved to have done so. We managed to sort them out to the market principles, and I would have backed Runswick Royal but for the appearance of Royal Regatta, who has an air of superiority about him.

I was quite taken and knew he would go close, while Runswick Royal looked fine and just better for his comeback win at Newcastle. You'd have to be disappointed with the ride Hughes gave the runner-up, especially when compared to the single-man's ride Johnson gave the winner. With just half a length in it at the line backers of the runner-up must have been spitting feathers.

Upepito is quite a compact sort who I wasn't that keen on, while Sea Current is a big, rangy raw-boned horse who has the look of a mud-lover. He may have been flattered by his Warwick run but he can make his mark with another summer behind him.

I'd no intention of playing the mares race and didn't even look at the form, but the paddock inspection threw up some possibilities and it turned out well worth investing.

Intense Tango looked a really nice prospect
It was generally assumed that the Irish would continue to farm the race with their two runners but I wasn't struck at all by either, particularly Princess Leya who looked rather hyperactive and a bit of a nut-job.

Favourite Analifet was very much on the small side and didn't appear that enthused, so at the prices the duo were worth taking on. Thankfully a couple stood out form the rest with both Pass The Time and Intense Tango looking really well, the latter a touch leggy but with good scope and in great heart.

The latter was getting the age allowance but this was still impressive and a fine bit of placing by the trainer.

Zeroshadesofgrey will always take the paddock plaudits and he once again towered above his rivals ahead of the River Don. He's everything you could wish for in a horse and will be a delight to watch over fences next year.

I had to get involved but was wary that he hasn't found a great deal in the past off the bridle and as up against some real finishers here in Blaklion and Caracci Apache.

Blaklion looked on really good terms with himself and was sure to run his race, while Caracci is a nice horse but much more unfurnished than the other two and thus has a great deal of improving to come.

Thus it was some performance by the Henderson horse to pick up the two leaders from the last on his first attempt at 3m and this throws him right in the mix for Cheltenham.

We came to the Skybet Chase and frankly you were either backing the favourite If In Doubt blind or taking him on at any price. Me, I was in the former camp. Readers may remember me speaking in glowing terms about the horse after Catterick last time out: "He's a real nice sort who will be much better off in a better standard of race...he may yet win a decent prize this term."

Well, having been allotted 139 I thought he had up to a stone in hand when considering his hurdling exploits as an unfurnished young horse - it was simply a matter of McCoy getting him round in one piece.

If In Doubt was given a peach by McCoy
Inspection confirmed him a horse of some quality even in this better line-up and I still wasn't worried about the opposition. I must say he looked done for at halfway after a slew of errors but McCoy gave him a chance to fill his lungs and he jumped pretty well in the straight to win going away.

I was very impressed but he'll go knowhere with his fencing as it is. I do hope they swerve the festivals in favour of a couple of quieter outings where he can get some much needed practice. With his jumping issues ironed out I can see him taking in the Hennessy en rout to the Gold Cup next term - he could be that good,

Of the others Night In Milan looked a different animal to the one I saw earlier in the season and he looked trained to the minute. He was sure to run his race and that he did, rewarding each-way backers. Baileys Concerto ran yet another PB upped in trip and this super horse really is a great credit to connections.

The bumper saw a right mishmash with Out Of The Mist once again taking the eye as a lovely sort for the future, much preferred on looks to Mardale who lacks somewhat for size. That said it's not easy to defy a penalty in bumpers and credit must go to the winner, who was very lean and fit.

Of the others Tara The Tiger is a very small flat race type while Rubichamps must stand 18 hands and is very backward.

Friday 23 January 2015

Doncaster - Feeling the chill

Quite an intriguing little card on Town Moor where the wind cut right through. The going was generally good-to-soft but they were finishing okay, better on the hurdles track.

A cheeky little staying novice chase opening proceedings and I had an angle into it as I thought the favourite Shantou Magic looked one to take on.

Punters are sometimes too eager to forgive poor runs, especially in novices chasers, and this had run a stinker last time. When I saw this rugged, only workmanlike eight-year-old in the paddock I had to lay it.

There were three against it and the one I liked was fourth in the market, Smart Freddy. Now Freddy was lucky last time out here but that was a smart effort and he is thoroughly unexposed over three miles having had plenty of training problems.

He looked really well and up for the challenge; and shouldn't have been such a big price so I chipped in with a small win bet. The other two of note were Leo Luna, who looked really well but lacks a bit of size, and Audacious Plan, who is also just medium build and I didn't really think he was ready to step on his mediocre hurdles form just yet.

The rag Ivan Boru looked really well and went well for a way, but easier assignments will come his way at the likes of Catterick and Sedgefield.

The smallish Buckwheat surprised with the manner of his victory at Catterick last time and similar was expected in the novice hurdle against main rival Days Of Heaven.

However, the latter - who again looked a proper handful in the prelims - travelled much the sweeter and had the favourite's measure before the last.

There were really only a couple of others to note beforehand, namely the well-made Charlie Breekie and eventual runner-up Engrossing. The latter's handler P Niven is long without a winner but has another young horse here, along with Sir Safir, who should get him on the board before too long providing the handicapper is kind.

There was a modest handicap hurdle in which I had no interest in playing - Back By Midnight could have been backed on looks, a nice strong sort who will jump a fence -and which saw a minor turn-up in Nefyn Bay, more a chaser who appears to have taken a step forward here. This really was low-grade stuff though.

Another favourite I wanted to take on was Red Devil Lads, who finished legless in his two previous runs and didn't really take the eye before the handicap chase, lacking a little substance.

Aside from the surprisingly firm jolly the market was all over the place and it was impossible to make a pick with last-time out winners Achimota and Purcells Bridge very weak. They both looked really well but the rise in the weights stopped them in their tracks.

Rag Champagne Rian is a quite a sturdy sort and proved too strong for American Legend, who belied his sulky appearance with a gutsy effort in second. The money came for Kellys Brow but he made very little appeal on looks, carrying plenty of condition.

Oodles of cash came for Spookydooky in the staying hurdle and he got off the mark with dour performance, in a race which finally saw Steel Summit's run come to an end.

Easily the paddock pick here was At Reception, who looked really fit and bursting with enthusiasm back from a break. It was all I could do to stop myself from backing him but at 14/1 would have rewarded an nice each-way bet - I was surprised there was no money at all for it, suggesting it wasn't really off. This too was a weak race with very little depth.

I was determined to find the winner of an eight-runner handicap chase over 2m 4f but didn't have much conviction after viewing some pretty nice types beforehand.

Looks like B Pauling had a few quid on Ergo Sum
Ergo Sum goes really well here and I thought the course at Leicester didn't suit him on his chasing debut, the fences come thick and fast there. However, it was a leap of faith to back him to get back on track even though I felt the early 9/2 was fair.

After the money came I thought there'd be value elsewhere and I liked the prospects of Big George, who has taken his time to mature but looks to be the finished article now.

He ran pretty poorly but I believe they got the tactics wrong here trying to force the pace with the well-backed winner (who looked really well by the way although on the small side for fences). Big George looks every inch a laid-back three miler and was forced out of rhythm going at it early on. He may not be much good, but I'd be inclined to forgive this effort.

There were some nice horses on show but again it rather fell apart. Crown And Glory has plenty of size and has caught the eye a couple of times of late. He could have won here but again tactics were askew as he rather turned it in once getting to the front early enough.

A waiting ride is surely required on this one and with that in mind he could easily defy a higher mark. Farasi Kubwa was a lovely chase type who sadly perished in a fall, while I'm A Rocker is a chaser through and through but needs to drop in the weights. Rear Admiral still carried condition but this was a tame effort.

The finale looked a weak affair with market leader Clondaw Banker not exactly setting the pulse racing, a typical one of the trainer's only lacking some size and scope.

Emperor Commodos looked fat when second last time and he was still rather tubby, while Vintage Vinnie looked a darn sight stronger than when I saw him at Aintree back in October.

But the biggest disappointment was A Vos Gardes, who appeared really weak and really quite small. I couldn't have backed it in a million years and it's saying something for his raw ability that he could win this, the tongue-tie and exaggerated waiting tactics clearly doing him good. With the runner-up rated 114 though it's clear that none of these were up to much.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Catterick - A jolly good Fella

Catterick escaped the snow that enveloped Wetherby overnight and the going was soft, although the times suggested it rode a bit better than that.

Regulars may remember the chagrin with which I viewed Grate Fella's impressive victory over the course before Christmas, when I had tipped him up as one to follow this season but failed to invest at a double figure price.

Well, he was back at the Bridge in his first handicap as a chaser and it looked a fine opportunity to maintain his unbeaten record at the A1 track, where he'd also won a hurdle.

Initially he looked short enough in the betting but after the 'information' punters came for Tiptoeaway he drifted to a backable 11/4 and I decided enough was enough.

Grate Fella did not go unbacked this time

I didn't really see many dangers as Tiptoeaway does not seem the force of old following an injury last year, while the other horse of interest Russborough needs at least 2m 4f. They also punted Vasco D'Ycy for the umpteenth time but he has yet to deliver in the least.

It was pleasing therefore to see Grate Fella looking magnificent beforehand. He's a lovely big horse as previously mentioned but he looked in fine health and on good terns with himself. By this time the 9/4 looked a good bet.

Russborough was not as fresh as last time and ran a similar race, staying on at one pace. He should be ready to go and I can see this one going through the weights with two or three wins this spring when stepped up in trip...he looks a decent sort.

Commiserations must go to connections of Mojolika, a model of consistency who didn't deserve to lose his life at just seven.

It was a much-needed win on a personal note on a muddling sort of day. Over And Above was a 'gettable' outsider having won the staying handicap 12 months ago, particularly considering the market leaders were readily opposable.

Fromthetop made no appeal, being rather small and having a weak profile, predictably running in snatches, while Runswick Days has yet to prove he stays this trip and really ought to be fitted with blinkers.

Enough has been said here about the attitude of Wakhan under pressure to not have to repeat those views, which were backed up in spades once again. A strong lay helped to offset a pre-race bet on Brokethegate, who looked in great fettle but clearly has a gaping hole and going by the way it traded somebody knew.

Gone Forever shaded market leader Desilvano in the opener, but again 'they' seemed to know the outcome of this before the tapes went up, Gone Forever very poor at his hurdles and not one to get involved with currently.

However, the Ellison/Cook combo had better luck when the very likeable Yorkist stayed upright to win the novices chase as the odds-on Tango De Juilley tipped up four out.

Yorkist initiated a double for in-form Danny Cook
I had a little interest in the winner as he's such a dependable sort and once again looked fabulous, the extra distance being of concern. He would probably has finished second but the favourite looked a shade quirky in the prelims and I felt there was a chance he may not be foot-perfect.

The third Calculated Risk does not have the size and scope for fences but I wouldn't be surprised if they persevere with him as this was merely an exercise for him, and he actually jumps okay. Good ground will be key for him this spring.

I liked the way Minella Hero moved through his debut for the Smiths at Newcastle last time and he was worth a wager in a tight handicap hurdle, and he once again caught the eye before backing out of things.

He may not be putting it all in as he wore cheekpieces when successful in Ireland, but a hold-up ride may suit and surely a return to a sound surface will see him in better light.

Local Hero returned to form after a break and won easily with the handicapper having relented; he is only small but was fit of course. Getabuzz is becoming interesting in spite of showing little once more. He may not be in the best of form but hasn't been put in any of his races of late and the reapplication of blinkers may be a signal that he is ready to go again.

The finale was a poor handicap hurdle in which Air Chief, Copt Hill, Made Of Diamonds and Deny took the eye in terms of fitness and good health and the winner was sure to come from these.

Deny has not been easy to keep right but the Hogarth horses have looked in good order this term and he won well landing a punt in the process. I didn't account for the grey Amtired and my exactas came in 1,3,4 which is pretty much par for the course right now.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Wetherby - Hitting the bar

I nearly had to call for the trainer after hitting the crossbar so many times as the local meeting that defied the forecasters failed to deliver the goods.

Still, as always there's a silver lining and some performances didn't go unnoticed, most obviously in the opener when newcomer Lil Rockerfeller ran on into third behind the long odds-on Devilment.

Clearly the paddock pick, Lil Rockerfeller has plenty of size about him and although not straightforward on the flat looks to have a future in this game.

Novicey early on, he moved into the race well before being outpaced by the winner, jumping better as it progressed. I thought he'd come on for the run fitness-wise and he'll be a good thing for a juvenile event.

Lil Rockerfeller: Straight into the notebook
The winner is only small but looked very fit for this second run, and you do wonder how he will cope in better company.

They were quite a small bunch in actual fact, runner-up Lucky Jim, In Vino Veritas and Scoppio Del Carro all lacking size, while Grand Meister and Chivers would be more my idea of ones to follow in the coming months.

I had to have a crack in the second as Purple Harry had taken the eye in a quiet way a couple of times and he really looked primed to run a big race in a very weak contest.

Casual Cavalier was a solid market leader but has yet to deliver and once again he let a winning opportunity slip, ground down by the dogged stayer Billy Two Tongues.

Purple Harry, a big lengthy grey, meanwhile jumped the hurdles big and ought to be over fences before too long, while three miles ought not to be a problem. His mark won't suffer for his staying on fourth (each-way blowout of course) and his turn may come.

Politbureau looked well once again and this looked a race in which he could get involved, with the Hammond yard firing on all cylinders. Thus, with the second, third and fourth in exactas I came up dry.

I had backed Rowdy Rocher last time out when finishing behind Bennys Well and Little Glenshee when there appeared to be few excuses bar the ground.

It was better here than that day but still it was a tad galling to see this rather scrawny gelding win a similar race as it liked - a tricky affair in which you could have given most a chance.

Crescent Beach looked fabulous but he'd been in similar form at Leicester when it ran poorly earlier in the season and I wasn't going to be fooled once more - he's clearly very moderate - while Bennys Well has shown no spark either in the prelims or on the track since that Carlisle win.

Classinaglass was the mover and he's a fairly nice sort who looked fit after an absence but the trip was a worry and at quite a short price was not one to go in on. Free World ran his usual game race but was run out of it again.

The staying handicap hurdle was a very weak affair in which I liked Gwladys Street, who looked fit and well and on a good mark. But he's become a moody customer, was a shade recalcitrant beforehand and is not one to rely on.

Minella Bliss looked really well and was a sound jolly despite a poor win/run ratio - it was difficult to find one to beat it. In the end it was Stickleback who got on top close home to break her maiden tag at the 21st attempt, giving the race a very weak look.

Nalim is a fair sort who ought to rate higher and clearly needs blinkers, while Mannered was very fit for his return but is not about to change his one-paced ways. McCain's Abricot De L'Oasis looked okay enough in the grade and may not have got home in first-time blinds, while Flemi Two Shoes is on the small side and didn't appeal as the type to defy a sliding mark.

Beauboreen: Looked well again but failed to deliver
The handicap chase was a belter despite the four nons and I couldn't resist the early prices about Beauboreen, who deserved a second chance after letting us down big time at Newcastle last time.

He looked on good terms with himself and although this was a better race he looked the one to be on, however he was once again slightly laboured and may just not quiet be firing, while he also could need proper soft, loose ground. I was on each-way this time so no harm done, but I'm not sure my patient will last much longer.

I saved on Swing Hard, who ran a shocker last time but would be more suited by this staying test. He was given a good ride by Cook but better ground would suit and he was put in his place by Clondaw Knight, who finally produced a performance he had been promising upped to 3m for the first time.

The 10/1 was a big price in hindsight on a horse of obvious ability and clearly the trip unlocked that potential. It was a bit of a miss but I'm not going to be too hard on myself, especially as Buchanan was on board and he's out of chances.

Fill The Power didn't particularly impress in appearance and neither did Tutchec, who looked surprisingly burly for this time of year although that didn't account for such a lacklustre showing. Catching On is not over-big and will surely be seen to better effect in the spring.

The novice hurdle looked a two-horse race between Jonjo's Beg To Differ and H Oliver's Ozzy Thomas, however I much preferred the former on looks, quite an imposing individual who must go on to bigger things granted a proper test.

This developed into a sprint and the second and third, Masirann and Monbeg River, nice horses as they are, were flattered by their proximity, while staying types Jack Steel and Billy Buff really are of little interest at this stage of their careers.

Ozzy Thomas was taken out by an early faller which took away some interest. On looks he's a speedier sort who doesn't have a great deal of size.

The finale was another difficult affair with Frank N Fair backed to the exclusion of everything else. She was a fair lay at around 3 and it was Rayadour who returned to form to give the bang in-form M Hammond a double on the day. Mighty Cliche was by far the most scopey horse in the race but is rather one-paced and probably quirky too.

Saturday 17 January 2015

Haydock - Caught in between

Another trip to Lancashire that I wasn't particularly looking forward to with a typical mixture of seemingly uncompetitive racing and impossibly difficult stuff. As ever here in winter the weather was foul but troopers as we are we struggled on.

As it happened, I had taken a view in the opener in backing Barafundle from the red-hot Candlish stable at a rather tempting 4/1 with novice Kingswell Theatre heading the market early doors.

I had seen the latter in a bumper at Carlisle early in the campaign and he didn't particularly take the eye as one to keep in mind that day, especially as it had cost a six figure sum.

Should have stood the bet on Barafundle
The assessor had been happy to allot the beast a mark of 130 after just two runs over timber, and the Russell yard pitched him straight in the deep end. He looked one to take on, and as it happened most punters agreed as Barafundle was sent off the 2/1 jolly.

Now as you will know by now the appearance of the horses is of paramount importance to this punter and I was rather perturbed to see Barafundle getting very warm prior to this. Sadly it was enough to lay off most of the stake so it turned out to be a bitter-sweet success, especially as I had gone on to save on Milansbar, a tall, quite imposing horse who impressed with his well-being.

Araldur was the paddock pick, being really well in himself, but he doesn't seem to be the force of old and it was a bit of a stretch to see him challenge here against more unexposed sorts.

The four-runner novices chase had 'no-bet' all over it as the Queen's Close Touch looked a million dollars beforehand and it was surprising to see it so weak in the betting. They looked a good quartet to be fair but I did think he'd hose up.

Gorgeous looking Close Touch clearly has issues
Wakanda did me a favour at Hexham early in the campaign but he's come on a ton since then in typical fashion for the Smiths, more than I had bargained for. It's amazing how these young horses can get better in such a short space of time but this one has improved his fencing hugely with experience, although he dived markedly left here on occasions. He's a nice big horse.

Runner-up Cogry looks a quality stayer of the future - he's not over-big but good and strong and he is one I expect will continue to pay his way with more of a test.

The Grade 2 novice hurdle made no appeal with Aso a solid looking favourite against good looking horses Kiama Bay and Qewy. They finished in that order without much surprise - the latter is a really flashy looker who ought to be better on decent ground...the experience will do him no end of good.

The New One was a shoo-in but was made to work by Bertimont, who doesn't look amazing but can clearly go some. The favourite is a compact, strong horse who doesn't really have an air of quality about him, and I think he is just a very solid performer lacking that x-factor. I'm sure something will beat it at Cheltenham.

The graduation chase looked a good betting race the more I got into it, especially when Irish raider Maggio turned up looking fully revved and ready to go. He'd clearly been aimed at this race in which he was a solid second last year.

Thus it was particularly galling to see him fail to see the race out with the two market leaders out of the race. I wasn't especially keen on Carraig Mor, who is a bit of a shell of a chaser lacking strength behind the girth. If he builds up over the summer he will leave this form way behind but he may be best watched this term.

Mwaleshi made the pace as he does but I was baffled to see him keep going up the straight having failed to last out several times before. He's not the biggest but is all heart and he deserved this (said through gritted teeth).

Little Glenshee will have gone into everyone's notebook running on as she did - what lovely mare she is and as consistent as you could wish for. She's held several entries of late only to be scuppered by the weather and as a well built sort she may take some work to get fully fit.

As such, I thought she'd come on a touch for this and they simply went too quick for her for the first two miles. She ran to her mark but she's definitely capable of better and if the yard can find the right race I'll be in conkers deep. (The Alexander stable seems to be thriving right now so keep an eye out for their horses over the coming weeks.)

The Peter Marsh featured some really nice staying chasers who pretty much all looked in good order. Green Flag is a horse who had a great campaign last year and he looks as though he could be capable of a really big run. But he's not fired at all this year and although I liked him on this first sighting there was something not quite right, he may have run up a shade light and he wasn't really bouncing. This season may be a write-off but hopefully they'll get him back.
The likeable Samstown smiling for the cameras
I noted Samstown as a really enthusiastic type last season and was on when he dotted up at Ayr. He was hammered for that and I was concerned he wouldn't make the step up but once again how wrong you can be - another on the day to prove that sometimes you should stick by these improvers.

I don't know what ailed him last time out but he was looking really perky in the prelims and confirmed my view at a distance that he was a most likeable animal. He was well worth his place in this Grade 2 event but sadly I didn't have the foresight to play.

Corrin Wood was sent off favourite but I hadn't been that taken by his previous efforts and he was yet another McCain horse who didn't really take the eye without throwing off particularly negative signs. I've written here ad nauseum of how the stable's horses are not looking great and little has really changed over the course of the winter.

Their Subtle Grey is a lovely big animal who will make a fine staying chaser and was rightly heavily backed at odds-on to land a three-runner fixed brush affair, yet he too proved disappointing in failing to shake off the hitherto disappointing One For Arthur.

The latter is a nice big chasing type who has in truth improved physically since Hexham, but he has a backward outlook mentally and it was a surprise that he had the minerals to tough this out. But that he did.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Market Rasen - Pastures new

With the weather starting to turn a bit rum I decided to hot foot it down to Market Rasen for the first time this season, the place where it all began for me almost 35 years to the day.

There's something unique about going racing in January, only the hardcore fans turn up making some of these quant tracks a pleasure to frequent. It wasn't much of a card, at least from a punting point of view, and by and large kept things very low key.

The ground looked very tiring soft ground but the time of the opener was decent suggesting a very good performance from the N Henderson newcomer Kilcrea Vale. A good ground bumper winner, he looked a potentially useful sort beforehand and was a worthy favourite, albeit with the thought that there is plenty of room to strengthen and grow.

Kilcrea Vale: Exciting prospect
That he put good flat horse Novirak in his place suggests a smart animal indeed, and it will be interesting to see how high the trainer flies with him, but next year's festivals could be a realistic target.

Novirak is coming to timber late at seven and doesn't really appeal as the type to improve with experience, and he was pretty tired in the end. He may not be straightforward either and is one to take on next time.

The third, Pyrshan, may however be okay and proved his previous effort at big odds to be no fluke. He has plenty of size and while a bad mistake stopped him in his tracks he battled on well and he'll be of interest in calmer waters next time, while he needs another outing to be qualified for handicaps.

I liked Ossie's Dancer and Favorites Girl in the next, a handicap hurdle, but had an open mind with no pace angle in the race and decided to opt out. The former looked in really good order so it was a surprise to see him put in a ragged round of jumping.

Of course Favorites Girl was sent out to dictate matters which suited her just fine, and with those in behind of dubious repute she was able to win as she liked. When she opened at 5/2 on course I decided not to go in so that was that. She's a very consistent mare but will be up against it now.

Disappointment of the race was King Of Strings who was sent off the jolly despite the appalling form of the Walford yard - the run merely emphasizing the problem. He's a lovely big horse with loads of scope and looked really well in his coat, but there's clearly a problem in the yard and this horse is likely to do much better than this when over whatever was ailing him.

It was hard to have a strong opinion in the 2m 5f handicap hurdle with four horses vying for favouritism - that said it was very surprising to see Chicoria so well bet despite the assistance of the champ.

His Aintree win was a huge surprise and he was unable to defy a penalty in a pretty poor affair at Ludlow. Nothing much to look at, he was certainly one to oppose.

Three came into it in form and No No Mac proved much the stronger to put two second-placed efforts behind him in a first-time tongue-tie. He's a nice sort to look at and will be even better in a year's time when he will be strong enough to get three miles well.

Just Cameron was disappointing under a penalty but he really could do with a fence and connections should waste no more time over timber at the age of eight. A big sort he'll take some stopping ridden aggressively over the minimum trip.

Make Me A Fortune didn't appeal much in his bid for a Rasen hat-trick and didn't really pick up although it was a funny little race with little pace on on. Rock Relief may hold the form down in coming second but the grey did look better than before - he has been sweating up but today he looked fine.

Royal Guardsman is a fair looking sort who will do better over the larger obstacles although he was pretty fit here so it was a tad disappointing that he faded away in the straight.

McCoy returns on the improving Big Water
Big Water looked a shoe-in at odds-on and so it proved, handing McCoy his winner for the day, and the horse finally looks to be getting his act together and has now run four similar races in succession. However, you'd hope the handicapper doesn't get to militant as he didn't really need to step on his previous win to succeed here.

Canuspotit looked the most likely winner of the stayers handicap - a lovely big horse who should leave his hurdles mark some way behind.

He did travel very strongly before being brought down at halfway here on his debut, when he looked to be a fine jumper. He proved as much here again and it was a slight concern that this may turn into a bit of a slog.

It made a bet on him a bit of a punt and with the price collapsing I was reluctant to get worst fears proved well founded as he didn't quite find as much as expected in the straight to go down by a battling length.

I wasn't at all disappointed by this effort from an inexperienced horse and he is very much one to keep on the right side over slightly shorter.

Kingcora was a worthy winner, but he's not that big and with an infrequent success rate is not certain to follow this up, while Ultimatum Du Roy's finishing effort was disappointing and this strong sort may not be wholly straight forward.

The finale went to Steel Summit, following up his Doncaster win last week. He's a nice big horse who will improve again back over fences but fair play to connections for keeping him on the go.

I thought he was worth opposing with a small bet at long odds on He's A Bully, who looks like he should be half decent but really hasn't produced much form of note. The hood seemed to help but a he made two shocking mistakes and laboured in third. He's not one to get excited about for now.

Saturday 10 January 2015

Wetherby - Surviving the Arctic

Quite an informative card at the local venue which survived despite ferocious winds which chased the horses up the home straight. It meant nothing was able to come from too far back.

Kylemore Lough stalked the pace in a lively opening novices hurdle and won decisively, landing a punt from 5s into 7/2 that was not just each-way money. This was a nice big horse who was ready to supplement his fortunate Warwick win last time, and looks a decent tool.

Runner-up Nightline also looked really well but wouldn't have the size or scope of the winner, while favourite Aniknam was a jolly worth opposing in this sort of grade under a penalty, lacking any size at all.

The very likeable Kylemore Lough takes the first
Adam Du Breteau was another expensive purchase to have into training with Jonjo and he's a nice, big rangy chestnut who looked fit enough to do the job, so it was surprising he backed out of things late on.

Of interest for the future is Allbarnone, who was noted as a type to follow last season. He was fit for his return but this was another likeable effort and he'll be interesting sent into handicaps.

Horizontal Speed unsurprisingly landed the odds in the novice chase, beating market rival Red Devil Boys. Both are likeable, the winner being a good moving horse with a nice way of going while Ferguson's is a nice big chaser who had come on for his Doncaster return and who can improve with a better round of jumping.

Kayf Blanco was one of several fancied rides for McCoy and I was very confident he had the beating of a moderate bunch on his handicap debut. However, when money started coming for H Oliver's Beatabout The Bush mid-morning the alarm bells started ringing.

I was quite happy with the well-backed favourite's appearance, he's a nice medium sized animal who walks well, but the well-being of the morning gamble was a sight to behold and he looked raring to go. The money didn't follow through on the show though and I sat tight with the McCoy bet.

Pertuis attracted all the support and he looked very well - however this is often the case and I wasn't concerned by the punt one bit. Wordy's Boy looked to be carrying plenty of condition and really I coudn't make a case for the remainder.

Of course the race panned out like a slow-motion nightmare, with Oliver's juvenile stalking McCoy up the straight before pouncing at the last with the remainder well beaten off. A small saver would have saved the day but I had to kiss goodbye to a good lump.

The handicap case was double-tricky with the favourite Gardefort hard to oppose after his Ludlow romp, and he looks a horse with plenty of potential being tall and full of scope. There could be a decent staying chase in him as he couldn't quite go with these up the straight, and like many ex-French chasers he got a bit low at times. I don't think the weight stopped him here.

McCoy and Bourke - clearly not the best of friends
The finish was controversial with McCoy colliding with Daragh Bourke on the rallying Indian Voyage at the last, taking the pair out. I thought the latter was a big price beforehand and he may well have won but for being wiped out, so there was a bit of relief all round. He is a bonny horse and deserves to win again.

Firth Of The Cyde picked up the pieces but he seems to be handicapped to the hilt, while Creepy didn't make any appeal being a little on the small side and quite a nervous looking type.

Attwaal was another favourite ridden by McCoy that I thought would win as he was another to come out of the good Haydock race won by Sleepy Haven (who won again today). My concern was the way the race would be run on the horse's first effort at 2m 4f and it didn't pan out well for jolly backers.

I think a fast-run 2m could be more suitable while fences will hold no terrors for the likeable six-year-old, however it was another defeat for McCoy as Smooth Stepper moved on again from his Sedgefield win.

I've seen the horse a couple of times and it's remarkable how much he is improving despite being very much an embryo chaser. This was his first handicap and first attempt at 2m 4f, and I felt the grade may find him out but he's run on well for a horse on the weak side. He'll be another lovely chaser for the Smiths next term.

Mr Grey ran a mighty race from the front although it may have been run to suit him, allowing for the conditions. He's really improved from his last couple of runs and the assessor looks right to have given him a quite lofty perch.

Centasia lacks a little in size and wasn't really backable material, while Nexius is a big long horse for whom good ground is an imperative. Feast Of Fire couldn't get into it but he's alright and can win again back over further.

On a quiet punting day I was grateful for a handicap chase to get me out the hole and thankfully the horses spoke to me, with Arctic Ben really champing at the bit in the prelims.

Arctic Call: Made everything ok for McCoy and me
He's too long in the tooth to be worried by the fall last time out and with McCoy enduring a frustrating day I knew he'd get a ride off the champ - and so it proved. Taking on the free-going Free World was a crazy move but once he'd got to the front the horse looked very happy, and came home in front despite a few sketchy leaps.

Ballybogey, a big leggy horse who lacks condition, chased him home while Vinny Gambini was an eye-catcher in third on only his second start over fences. I just felt this run would put him spot on and he was taken off his feet early, before staying on nicely late on.

This race was not run to suit such an inexperienced horse and he'll be worth a second look next time out; he remains unexposed. The rest made little appeal beforehand, particularly Smadynium who lacks any size for fences and can continue to opposed with confidence.

The fillies' bumper had some nice types among them and M Hammond produced another nice looking horse in the mould of his Sedgefield winner earlier in the week in Sherry. Like Libby Mae, Sherry was well prepared and new her job.

Cosmic Tigress was a warm favourite but lacked the size of most of them, while runner-up Tara The Tiger is a fair sort entitled to improve quite a bit. Pink Tara was very appealing in third while the Swinbank filly Miss Burnett looked a big, rugged horse and very green beforehand.

Friday 9 January 2015

Doncaster - No dice

A smattering of quality on a difficult card with the ground as good as you'll find anywhere this winter.

The opening maiden hurdle should throw up plenty of winners, with expensive purchase Saint Charles chief among them. A very taking individual yet still unfurnished, McCoy's mount travelled really well before staying on strongly and he will take higher rank, although the festivals may come too soon.

Work In Progress from the Skelton yard followed him home and he's a strongly built character who required two handlers in the prelims. He showed promise first time up and this was a step in the right direction.

Our Kaempfer looks a buzzy, nervous type and ran up a bit light, but stayed on okay under waiting ride. I didn't expect him to run so well so he may be able to go from here although he needs to settle down.

Disappointment of the race was the Nicholls newcomer Rainy City, who is a lengthy gelding who looked professional enough to know his job. He looked a bit green in the race though and found very little from the third last. Already tongue-tied, he's another from the stable to be a little wary of.

Corner Creek is a nice horse but he looked out of his depth in this grade and will do better with time, while North Country Boy came home in last place but is another of the trainer's horses that looked a fair sort and should come into his own in time.

Josses Hill: Looks the part, but jumping is an issue
Josses Hill was the big name on show and he was a very warm order to win the novices chase despite a poor round of jumping on his debut. He wasn't much better here, though, and must have some engine to beat the 145-rated Solar Impulse, who appeared to run his race.

The winner is a very taking horse with size and scope and this was a serious performance - however you would think he'll need two more runs to get the hang of things before Cheltenham.

Cheltenian is now nine and time has rather caught up with him - he was very fit but still hasn't settled down and despite the hood was very free-going. I'm not sure he's one worth following at this stage.

A novices hurdle followed and it was hard to split the first four in the betting with the market going 20s bar them. Some Buckle was well-backed into 6/4 and although he's a nice sort for the future, he's a little immature and weak and it told close home as the more professional Glingerburn nailed him.

Some Buckle jumped really well here and is clearly a great prospect, so all is not lost. Glingerburn was in need of the run when he stunned many by winning here last time, and it was no surprise that he was able to step up on that.

Nicolas Chauvin did not take the eye however and his defeat was easy to foretell, as he became rather warm beforehand. He will be one to oppose when handicapping. Disappointment of the race was Neck Or Nothing, who was held onto by R Johnson before folding tamely in the straight, and he clearly struggles with his wind.

Alphabet Bay is a name to take from this, as he was not put in the race to win and set a fast pace under Costello, riding JP McManus's horse instead of McCoy. However, this is a really nice lengthy horse, a good mover on the backward side. He will win his share.

I broke two New Year's resolutions in one day and it cost me, firstly by being drawn into betting in a mares' race by Pepite Rose, the best of these in her pomp and looking in very good order beforehand. At the price she was worth an interest against an overbet Highland Retreat, about whose finishing effort I was doubtful.

It was disappointing that after travelling so well Pepite Rose was not able to go past the eventual winner, and she clearly remains short of her peak. There no excuses here. Emily Gray stayed on very late to only be denied by a whisker, she's a very consistent mare who was a big price here and she looks a strong, robust sort who will continue to pay her way.

The bet of the day was Lord Brendy, who I had been waiting for despite the booking of P Buchanan, thus breaking a second resolution. The man simply cannot get to the bottom of his horses and the grey had ample opportunity to press up the straight, but for the rider's dithering in behind.

The result was highly predictable and this is DEFINITELY the last time he carries any of my money. It's too costly. The winner Achimota was brave and deserved his win, staying on dourly. He was arguably the nicest of the bunch, which was in fairness a moderate one.

Lord Brendy remains ahead of his 110 rating. He may go up a couple for this but he has never had a decent jockey on board and now that he settles in his races is a prime candidate for a front-running ride, as he will just keep popping away at one pace. The cash is only lent, but the caveats are in place.

Another mares race proved a minefield with the Henderson-trained Earth Amber proving once and for all that this is not the game for her, while Dewala stayed on really well after setting the fractions to deny Balmusette, whom it was good to see return to form on this better ground.

The closing race belonged to Steel Summit, who hacked up yet again and has improved out of all recognition. It was a weak race and few got into it, Whichwaytobougie plugging on for second miles behind the victor in a race that won't see many winners emerge...even the quite likeable Vinegar Hill weakened tamely away.

Thursday 8 January 2015

Catterick - Smooth as Silk

We're into the guts of the season now and a lot of the horses have been seen on several occasions and the form is pretty much there for all to see. As long as the weather holds we should be making hay and it's victories like that of Emral Silk that makes the waiting worthwhile.

Sue Smith's big chasing type is taking time to mature and has been brought along slowly by his trainer - by no means ready on his first two starts before getting stuck in the Uttoxeter quag.

Last time out at Haydock he showed much more of what he could be capable of, staying on into third in a much better class of race on ground that was far better than the heavy advertised.

There's no secret of the regard in which his handler holds him and this looked the perfect opportunity to add to his solitary win over course and distance a year ago.

Today had to be the day for Emral Silk
He stood out by a mile beforehand, a towering presence against modest handicappers. I just kept backing him as I couldn't envisage defeat - immaturity apart, and it rested with the reliable Costello to harness the talent.

We cheered him home and frankly anything less than a 9lb impost will prove lenient, here we are talking about a horse that will rate 135+ this time next year, and it would be of no surprise if he is aimed at the good novice chase here the yard won with Grate Fella before Christmas.

It was an otherwise quiet punting afternoon with the opening fillies juvenile of little interest, particularly as the odds-on favourite Intense Tango looked the part with the O'Neill-trained Saint Lucy a clear second on looks - both have the scope to improve further.

There was a major turn-up in the 2m 3f novice hurdle as Hainan sparked a double for the Smith yard at long odds with Masterplan, Ebony Express and Lady Buttons all proving bitter disappointments.

Only Argent Knight amongst the market leaders ran his race and for a speedy looking horse he was asked an awful lot to make all here - he may prove best coming late off a fast pace on better ground this spring.

Masterplan is a likable sort who appeared to have a problem while Ebony Express is not overbig and never threatened to defy a double penalty and a welter burden. Lady Buttons is a nice big stamp of a horse and led two out but surprisingly flattened out, she's surely better than this, while Im Too Generous didn't get home but is a nice horse and looks capable of making his mark.

I'll be honest I priced up the six-runner 2m handicap chase the night before and put the O'Neill-trained Less Time in at double figure odds. I was very surprised to see this young horse bred to stay 4m as short as 3/1, taking a huge chunk out of the market.

However, it was hard to find an angle as Cody Wyoming was correctly put up as favourite and he looked really well 10 days on from his run here behind the progressive Oorayvic, when he was given a less-than impressive ride.

Sheehan was much more positive here and essentially put it to bed turning into the back straight, poaching a 10 length lead. It was a shame Tough Trade came down three out as he was vying for second under a quiet ride at the time, and it transpired it cost him his life.

Russborough must go into the notebook, a lovely big chaser who was on good terms from himself after an absence, but not fit and the market confirmed that view. He ran a tidy race and could be anything, while Less Time ran as well as could be expected, merely galloping round at his own pace. He jumped well as far as I could see and will prove a very well-handicapped horse upped to three miles.

Another novice hurdle followed and the market once again called the tune in favour of the unraced Buckwheat, much to the chagrin of many a paddock watcher to whom the Bloomfields gelding did not take the eye.

He could be some recruit judging by the manner of his victory although the form must be rated as dubious with the highly touted Konig Dax and strongly-fancied Zaidiyn blowing out spectacularly. They both retreated very quickly on the home turn suggesting something was amiss.

Runner-up Argot did not look out of place here for a juvenile and he should continue to go the right way as he looked a bit immature in the prelims, while Future Security once again showed promise and this nice horse can make his mark in handicaps.
Reveley got one over on Hughes in the 'National'
The North Yorkshire National looked a real puzzle and the two I picked out as being potentially well treated were Pinerolo and Herdsman, the latter in cheekpieces for the first time, the former sadly without.

The concern I had with Herdsman was the booking of Hughes, a reactive rather than proactive jockey, if you like, and as it panned out it may have helped if Herdsman had done his usual trick of coming off the bridle midway through the race as it would have jolted the jockey into action.

As it was it was frustrating to see him sit some 10-12 lengths off the pace turning out the back straight for the final time having barely moved a muscle as the well-backed Scotswell made the best of his way home. It's always annoying when they finish full of running and this felt like one that got away.

Take little from the winner though, under a waiting-in-front ride from Reveley who was surprisingly allowed to set his own tempo in a race that looked chock full of early pace. Whats Up Woody caught the eye beforehand as he had run up pretty light on his first two outings for George Bewley, but looked to have strengthened up here.

This was probably a PB from the 10-year-old before failing to quite last out and it would be good to see him get his head in front before the season's out, for all that he may lack a little resolution.

Stuart Crawford once again saddled a very small filly in the shape of Verona Opera in the bumper, but on this occasion there was very little to oppose her with. Phil Kirby's pair may turn out to be alright given time but with the Ewart stable out of form there was nothing left to beat.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Sedgefield - Fighting back

It's amazing how the little things can effect you and today I'm crediting a different route to the track for a change in fortunes - let's hear it for the A19!

It looked a funny little card with few betting angles, despite doubling down on the prep in the wake of the Newcastle debacle.

But it's these type of meetings that can surprise you and the more I looked at the opening 8-runner novice the more I knew I had to make an early move.

Grove Silver came second at Carlisle last time, and I was one of very few to see it up close that bleak mid-winter Sunday. As mentioned here previously that was the day that the J Candlish yard sparked their form revival and the young grey was marked down as one to be interested in moving forward.

I liked the shape of the race as while Istimraar was a worthy favourite he was very short and had to step up on what he achieved in winning on Boxing Day. He looked in great heart beforehand but so did Grove Silver, with the market speaking strongly in the latter's favour.

The likeable Grove Silver lands a touch
Despite the shrinking odds we rode in with the Candlish runner, a strong horse of good structure who will continue to improve as he settles. He looked to have bottomed out at the last but fought back bravely to deprive Istimraar - a personal welcome turnaround in the wake of Saturday's travails.

Dean's Walk took third and he's a slowly progressing although won't be seen to best effect until he tackles fences, hopefully this time next year. I wasn't taken by Tommy O'Dwyer, and loping, leggy sort, while Never Never is not progressing and you can see why from a physical perspective.

The mares hurdle, as so often the case, made little betting appeal with the hot favourite Knocklayde Express literally head and shoulders above her rivals in the prelims. She's a sturdy mare who can only improve and should be a force over fences sooner rather than later.

Clearly green in front, she did well to fend off Lucky Buttons, while a fairly nice type in Western Goose came in third after making much of the running. The Crawford mare Knocklayde Sno Cat was fit but is on the small side, while the rest did not look much.

I took a strong opinion in the 2m 4f handicap chase as Tweedo Paradiso was surprisingly backed into 9/4 in early trading. I couldn't have it on my mind as he'd shown no form whatsoever on soft ground, wasn't sure to stay and is never one that takes the eye.

To be fair he looked in good health but far more impressive was Zazamix, another from the A Crook yard to take the eye of late. I kicked myself when 'Zaza' won here earlier in the season and was determined not to let another opportunity pass, as he looked on real good terms with himself and has done little wrong in defeat the last twice.

Prince Blackthorn is a decent looking chaser but generally one to take on, while Pistol Basc looked fine but has looked sharper and needs some help from the assessor. The pace angle was a concern but I was delighted when J Kington gave 'Zaza' a prominent posi from the get-go, putting his sound jumping to good use.

I think he would still have won had Prince Blackthorn not stumbled at the last, and hopefully today will have proved his doubters wrong once and for all.

Tweedo Paradiso ran a mighty race in fairness, jumping proficiently, and while not one to follow implicitly may be found a small race back on decent ground, perhaps at Kelso over 2m 2f if there is such a race.

The lovely 'Zaza' - doubters be damned!
The feature race, the handicap hurdle, cut up badly with two defections but there was still an angle to take here with the minute Izzini chalked up as favourite. I'd not been taken by her at Catterick and she looked even smaller here against a bunch of chasing types, very light behind the saddle.

She had to be opposed and Just Cameron was an easy selection to make, looking really well on his second start for M Hammond, whose runners have been looking in good health only for them to be hitting the crossbar. The horse looked light at Haydock but seemed a lot stronger here and after being sent off in front was not for catching.

I have to admit I also backed Dark Dune, who also looked in great heart but may just be struggling a bit on this tacky winter ground. If the handicapper relents a little a race can be found for him in the spring, when maybe the Easterby yard is firing a little better.

The staying chase centred around Volo Mio, who has been mentioned previously as one to watch, and had his first chance to shine off 113, which looked a very reasonable mark. He had been hammered in the betting but drifted quite sharply late on despite looking in high spirits.

We had to go in but his jumping remains novicey and it stood out like the proverbial wart against these seasoned chasers, and he was never able to get into it. On reflection he may need more time as he's a bit gassy, but the promise remains and it's surely a workable mark.

The winner Master Rajeem is a lovely big chaser who I backed at Leicester last time after seeing him run well here earlier in the season. He seemed to enjoy getting into a better rhythm here after an early blunder and proved well ahead of these - Basford Ben I couldn't have as he's so one-paced while Urban Gale looked in rude health but simply isn't the force of old.

As regulars will know I'm no fan of bumpers and while the finale didn't interest me financially it was easy to oppose the front two in the betting - Crawford's Legacy Phoenix another small, hard fit horse from the yard and the T Vaughan-trained Lawless Island, who could only be described as workmanlike at best.

Sakhee's City by contrast really caught the eye being a huge animal, and well put together. At four he's got plenty of time to strengthen up and it's tohis credit that he is able to rate this high at this stage of his career. He's one to watch.

Honours, however, went to Libby Mae, another for M Hammond. I marked her down as a nice, tall mare who looked in pretty good fettle on her toes. It took a leap of faith to think she was up to winning on her debut but she did just that, and the form should not be knocked.

It's worth making a note here of the Crawford outfit. They're having the odd winner but not firing them in as often as they were a year ago, particularly with the bumpers. I must say I've not seen a single one of theirs with an ounce of surplus flesh on them. Where Izzini was concerned you'd find more meat on a butcher's apron.

Far be it from me to tell a trainer where he's going wrong but the stable's horses look very hard trained and you wonder if some of them are leaving their races at home. It could just be that he's sold the best of his crop, but either way I'd be wary of taking a short price about any of his in the short term.

Saturday 3 January 2015

Newcastle - Learning the hard way

We were full of New Year spirit as we headed up the A19 in excited anticipation of a successful day's punting. For once I was across every race and felt like I had it by the 'short and curlies' having scavenged some great value the night before.

Leading us into battle would be Beauboreen, a horse I was familiar with having seen it run a perfectly satisfactory race at grizzly Carlisle the time before over an inadequate trip. 

I couldn't have it being beat with all the stars seemingly aligned - trainer bang in form, good jockey booked, horse looking a picture, opposition fully exposed. There was plenty of 6s available and I went 'all-in'.

It's going to take a few days to fathom the run, as he was off the bridle disappointingly early for a horse who usually travels sweetly. He was a bit guessy down the back and he made at least two bad mistakes before rallying to hit the front two out in the style of a well-handicapped horse.

Maguire/Candlish dissect Beauboreen's defeat
But the effort of making up the ground told in the end and he faded back into third. Maguire/Candlish were in lengthy talks post-race and the word 'blinkers' was mentioned. They were clearly surprised by the nature of the defeat themselves, and although the horse is surely worth a second chance, it will be pushing the boundaries of trust. Perhaps the tacky ground was a legitimate excuse.

It was the middle leg of a trio of races that I got all wrong. I was convinced Jac The Legend would be pepped up by the cheekpieces after a solid effort at Wetherby last week behind two stayers at the top of their game.

The market agreed and Jac was backed from 7s to 9/2, and although given a rather unnecessarily aggressive ride, surely had every chance. However the two involved in the finish came from way off the pace which may back up my suspicion that the selection was given a thankless task up front.

Also prominent was Whichwaytobougie, who is slowly improving with each run but could do with another year to fill his big frame. He was very poor at his obstacles here and will be able to rate much higher given more time. Perhaps a slower pace over 3m will help in the jumping department.

Another I felt could be a handicap snip was Island Confusion in the 2m handicap hurdle, having chased home a useful sort in Kingfisher Creek at the track last time. Unfortunately the likeable beast was partnered by P Buchanan and was most disorganised at several obstacles, not helping his chance. While this did not affect the result it was another timely reminder to steer clear of the veteran jockey.

In actual fact the race looked far more open beforehand than I'd initially given it credit for and there were several deserving of mentions beforehand, most notably Pistol, who looked fantastic and really full of beans, and Minella Fiveo on his debut for the Smiths.

The latter is quite a fetching individual and has clearly turned a corner for his new yard. He travelled like the winner for much of the race, just backing out of at after clouting the last. He was fit enough while sure to come on for it and, with plenty of size about him, will take a fence in good stride. This was his first piece of form on soft ground, by the way.

Scorpions Sting did not look in anywhere near as good health as he did at Carlisle on his seasonal debut and was another of J Ewart's to run poorly.

Walser landed a punt here but they were brave souls who plunged in on the 0-18 maiden. Still they're the ones smiling now.

The two other chases were of great interest but I managed to screw up bigtime. I was looking forward to seeing both Runswick Royal and Calculated Risk up against Yorkist in the novices chase, with the former having more size and scope than I had figured in watching him on tape. He looked fit enough to me and money came late although the favourite deserved his market position. (Calculated Risk does not appear to have the size or scope to excel at this game.)

Yorkist has a good touch of speed though and the race panned out in favour of the held-up Runswick Royal with the favourite a sitting duck in the straight. I didn't mind missing the winner at the time as I had the next three races sewn up, of course....

Team Boric - a winner waiting to happen
The 2m 4f handicap chase was thus something of a 'get out of jail' card and I had the intention of backing Boric all day. I knew he lacked size after noting him down on two earlier occasions, but the assessor had given him a real chance dropping him 6lb after disappointing in really bad ground here last time.

I thought he ran okay there as he struggled to jump out of the slop, but somehow those thoughts lingered and I was surprised by the lack of support here as I thought he might be a 'public' horse.

I do think the paddock watchers affect some of these markets and it was obvious why the market leaned towards Mighty Cliche, a strapping horse who is just coming into his own. He's a keen sort who may still be babyish mentally but he really looked ready to make use of the 2st he was getting from Boric.

Things went from bad to worse though as the boy Challoner slipped out the front door before the race began in earnest, while Boric went about his job in a professional manner before boxing on well to see off Dingo Bay and Marlee Mourinho, who had sweated up quite badly beforehand. 

The mares bumper held no punting interest and it came as little surprise on a day such as this that the two weakest looking animals fought out the finish - the very light framed The Way It Works beating the backward Still Acting. McCain's Monbeg Dolly was the pick and she will rate better than this in time.

A lie down in darkened room now awaits.