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|
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.