Sunday 11 October 2015


October 10th had been marked in the diary for months as the true start of the National Hunt season for us Northern punters and the Hexham card didn't let us down.

The going description undoubtedly helped with the numbers but it didn't look to be riding anywhere near as soft as suggested, more like genuine good to soft with some good in places.

I was interested in three horses pre-racing but didn't have a single bet before setting off despite some very tempting odds. The horses were Friendly Royal, Attention Seaker and Five In A Row.

With owner Paul Martin and trainer Brian Ellison at the track you knew their runners were all primed to run big races, especially the heavily backed Oscar Blue in the opener and Point The Way in the bumper, who looked a good thing on his debut effort.

Oscar Blue is a very unfurnished little horse who can only continue to improve for racing. Out of a Roselier mare he will stay all day long and it is those attributes that got him home after a terrible mistake two out put him on the back foot.

The runner-up Fairy Theatre is quite poor looking, very small, and although she has shown good form she is not one I want to have on my side going forward although the family is decent.

Celtic Flames is ok looking but it was disappointing he didn't pull away on the run-in after going best for much of the race. Pedigree suggests he's not a certain stayer.

Wadey's Stilo Blue Native was very resilient in the market despite looking more like Bagpuss in the prelims. Call a copper when the veteran handler gets one ready first time out.

Quinlan takes the plaudits. Follow this horse!
Readers of the blog will hopefully have remembered I put up Friendly Royal in my five horses to follow for the campaign.

However there were a couple of quandaries today - was he fit and would the trip be far enough. I'll admit I had about half my usual stake on at show time despite it having been much bigger in the morning.

The horse looked about 90 percent fit to my eyes, which is a darn sight better than many horses from the yard were this time last year. It was a weak race and although Present Flight was a worthy favourite I knew the Smith horse would be in the mix, being so well handicapped.

We got lucky of course - Solway Legend would surely have put up another PB had he jumped the last - while the jolly for whatever reason failed to back up his Kelso effort.

Little has changed regarding my thoughts on the winner. Three miles and softer ground will see him in better light, and he shouldn't be penalised too harshly for this. What was most pleasing was that he fenced like an old pro..

Of the others Scorpions Sting has gone backwards physically and jumped very novicey here, while Amilliontimes lacks the scope for fences.

The mares race was one of the strongest you will see in the north and it was surprising that Attention Seaker was so well backed (from 8s in the morning) for all that she looked fantastic beforehand.

The mare Pay Attention stayed well and I was surprised they pitched this horse in at the minimum trip considering she's a two-miler on the flat. With quite a few in the race I reluctantly passed her over.

Mardale is a nice looking individual but had become disappointing in bumpers having had a wind problem. The big, strong staying type Smart Talk set strong fractions and this arguably suited Mardale nicely in the final analysis.

Others to take out of it were Lady Yeats - despite being a little on the narrow side - the staying on Rivabodiva, who is also on the small side, and La Dama De Hierro, who needs at least an extra half mile.

The handicap chase was competitive but as ever I was determined to find the winner. With Brother Scott taking around 20 percent out of the book we had a good chance.

For a horse that cost 200 'large' Present Lodger is far from a looker, but he's got ability and I couldn't believe he was still only rated 109 after running up a hat-trick last term. There was nothing wrong with his condition and with his regular pilot sidelined there was the likelihood of further improvement.

Others of interest here were Pekanheim, who now has questions to answer after a second dismal effort with no apparent excuses, No Through Road who looked pretty fit but like all M Scu's horses on the day drifted markedly and ran no sort of race, and Benefit In Kind.

The latter has developed into a very large animal and was punted from big odds on debut for Katie Scott, but he needs 3m+ and this all happened too quickly.

Five In A Row - needed the run (even the trainer said so!)
The staying handicap hurdle looked competitive but I kept going up and down the list struggling to find one that might be ahead of its mark. There were no fewer than seven last time out winners with Perseid and Native Optimist looking especially harshly treated for winning dire contests.

As I said here last week Native Optimist did NOT need to improve to win a ghastly race but the cruel assessor ratcheted up its mark some 13lb. I would contend he ran a similar race here to the one he ran last time - ie, to a rating of around 87 - and this bonny horse is now anchored.

As such, he shouldn't even have been in a same contest as the most likeable top weight Five In A Row, a lovely chasing type who I saw a couple of times last term and took a liking to.

Like his stablemate in the opener he looked like the race would bring him on a good deal, which was off-putting, but it is the genius of the trainer that gets his horses to perform when they are not cherry ripe. Given a real stamina test for the first time in his career Five In A Row saw it out best. There's more to come.

What A Steel ran a remarkable race on a course he loves but pint-sized Perseid didn't appear to relish the track or the hustle-and-bustle of a big field. It could be just a summer horse.

The 2m handicap chase was a dreadful contest headed by last year's winner Shine A Diamond, now off a 4lb lower mark. It says much about the small grey that he couldn't win this with no excuses whatsoever. 

The winner Roc De Prince pops up every now and then and clearly responded to first time blinkers. He was under the cane with a lap to go so don't expect him to follow this up. There was nothing to take from the race.

There were plenty of whispers around for the decent-looking Puddle Jumper for the bumper, while the Jefferson-trained Storm Forecast is a nice horse but a big baby at this stage. 

However there was little doubt that the quite athletic Point The Way would take a great deal of beating and he duly made all to send the Martin/Ellison axis home in treble form.

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