This resulted in a few disappointing withdrawals but the racing looked competitive enough and there were one or two very interesting ones lurking.
The opening novice was one such race where the exposed-as-slow favourite Gilnockie was taken on by two very much unexposed sorts in Midnight Monty and Jack Steel.
Neither had been able to show much in their previous outings having had some useful 'schooling' (I use the term loosely of course) runs out the back in better contests.
The market suggested the Reveley runner Midnight Monty would be making his mark this time around though and sure enough young JR set off upsides the front-running jolly, who simply had to be taken on despite the apparent lack of depth in the race.
|Brave Spartacus: Three wins this term|
Jack Steel was once again seen to be doing all his best work at the end, but while a distance of ground will suit he is a most unfurnished sort who lacks a little in scope and has plenty of growing and strengthening to do yet.
The stayers handicap was a conundrum as Dystonia's Revenge returned to the scene of that famous win last time but had a huge burden to carry, while Present Lodger came here on a four-timer and was sure to be suited by a step up in trip.
I've never taken to the Russell horse, being quite wirey and leggy, and he could never get into any rhythm here with Dystonia's Revenge often out-jumped him early on.
The race kind of fell apart as perennial loser What A Dream once again travelled like a better horse than he is before finding nothing off the bridle, leaving it to Apache Pilot, who looked fit off a break and ignored by punters who had made him a short price to win a couple of events in the autumn.
The form of this is not to be taken seriously as the ones behind seemed to be catching up at the end even though tired. Beau Dandy reverted to the moody type that he always was while My Idea again jumped poorly but will surely bid to repeat last year's Wetherby win at the end of the month, when the ground may be drier.
Brave Spartacus was all the rage once again to make it three wins out of four and under another fine front running ride from JR delivered the goods. Amazingly I haven't been involved in any of the three wins, once again missing the early prices.
Avidity looked in really good order and ran accordingly, while Engrossing is a nice horse although his finished effort lacked something, while Pistol will benefit from a step up in trip and he continues to look well. Figaro looked really well but failed to fire.
I had lumped on Lackamon at an astonishing 10/1 in the morning for the handicap hurdle over three miles after his mark was slashed by 13lb, leaving him on an 8lb lower rating than when second in this race 12 months ago.
He hadn't been in bad form this winter and I thought the return to timber should spark a revival. I had priced him at half his available odds and thought he was one of the bets of the season in a race that didn't look as competitive as it might.
I wanted to oppose Waltz Darling, who while running well needed to pull out more, while Donna's Diamond has also been consistent but looked handicapped to the hilt and physically is one that will benefit hugely from another summer behind him.
Who knows what would have happened if Lackamon had winged the last - he may not have stayed on as strongly as the winner, but it was another close call at huge odds. It was good to see Wicked Spice back in form, although it's hard to know what has been ailing him. Tantamount didn't seem to see it out and 2m 4f off a quicker pace will see him in very good light.
The handicap chase over the minimum trip looked a ghastly affair but there was a potential blot in the Russell-trained Mumgos Debut, who was a very weak finisher when last seen but that was 13 months ago.
He looked fit for his belated return and a nice stamp of a horse that you would assume can rate far higher than his current lowly mark. If they can get him to settle he's the type to win a couple at least and while in-running players were seemingly expecting another late fade, I knedw he would go through with the effort this time.
However, the quirky Safari Journey had too much for him at the end so it was another case of what might have been. The winner, also fit after a break, has rated far higher in the past so this may not have been a bad effort from the runner-up. The third, Have You Had Yours, should also be up to winning this spring if sent over a bit further.
|Un Noble: Had plenty in hand, by all accounts|
He had been given a quiet one at Hexham earlier in the campaign and the yard has been making hay with its first-time novices in handicaps this term. It helped that few others made much appeal - Harveys Hope hasn't looked great in its coat all year and didn't have much in the finish last time.
Grand Vintage was facing a far tougher field than last time while Clan Chief is a nice strong horse but loks quirky and the pair simply went far too fast. Blake Dean is very lean while stablemate Friendly Royal is very much a chaser for next year and is one for the notebook after getting back on track here.
Still feeling a bit crook, I was after a very keen on a quick getaway before the brawling kicked off but I had a good look at them before a dire finale, with Queen Of Epirus looking really fit and well after an absence.
I'm glad she didn't win as the 20/1 odds made a mockery of her chance, while the winner Kings Chorister is very hit and miss but looked in good order. Urban Kode is very small and looked moody - a favourite to oppose for sure.