Bit of a lull so far this week, with some pretty mediocre stuff on offer and not much in the way of attractive punting opportunities.
Only two chases on the card and neither particularly enticing. The opener was tricky although we quickly put a line through the morning gamble High Aspirations, who is not very well made, didn't look especially fit and got rather warm late on. As is often the case the 'real' market advertised his chances with a late drift.
Instead those in the know favoured Global Domination, who is quite a nice strong chasing type and looked in good order following a decent prep. But with Nalim and Magical Man also looking well it was a difficult call.
The next was also very tricky although it looked to me as though the quietly backed Mondo Cane still needed the outing, he's a big gross horse who can take some getting fit. The way he fenced suggested he was still ring rusty and maybe next time would be the time to catch him, although he's not straight forward by any means.
Ballymoat was very fit for this seasonal return but he's starting to look very disappointing and doesn't find a great deal at the end of his races - in winning this last year the race fell apart. This poor effort was not down to any lack of fitness.
The awfully named Singlefarmpayment was down in class for the staying novice hurdle but I had reservations over his ability to stay on this bad ground bearing in mind his keen tendencies, and he got rather worked up beforehand.
I'll oppose these types of short priced favourites every day of the week but this one we got wrong as Dickie J guided the five-year-old to an easy win in an admittedly weak contest.
The only one you could put against it was C&D winner Crosspark but he didn't look much different to 14 days previously; ie rather plain, and with that form looking somewhat weak he never looked like defying a penalty.
Carlo Rocks was all the rage in the next even though he was up 6lb for getting beat here last time under A Thornton. With 'Helter' Skelton taking over the reins punters piled in and there was to be no mistake this time as the big chaser in the making powered home to good effect. He was green in front and this backward sort has a lot more to give. Who You For was very disappointing but I suspect this fifth run in a short space of time may have been too much for this young horse.
The turning point should have come in the next where the P Nicholls grey All Set To Go was a big drifter in the face of strong support for One More Go, who had been plying his trade with success on the flat.
Looking at the pair there could only be one winner - the Nicholls horse. Useful looking, strong and fit, I'd take the four-year-old against the small hard-fit jolly any day, especially as it had been on the go all year. BUT after losing out to Mr Market earlier in proceedings, I opted to sit this one out. Tut-tut. These things are easier in hindsight but every minute of this race hurt, especially when W Kennedy took the FAV all the way round the inner on the worst of the ground.
This was one race not without interest for the future, Jonjo's Walkami a fair looking sort with good size who looked a bit green on the bad surface, while the runner-up Boolavard King was the better looking of the Bailey pair and is another that looked as though better ground would suit.
There wasn't much to say about the handicap hurdle except that Money Maid looked fit enough after a long lay-off. She will tighten up naturally but this was a big step up on what she had achieved before her sabbatical so should still be of interest. Favourite Coozan George was disappointing on the face of it but didn't look at all comfortable on the heavy ground. This very big rangy chaser in waiting should thrive on better going and will surely now have his attentions turned to the larger obstacles.
Twister's Ballypoint is a nice bumper horse who is another who should do better on good ground, while M Walford's Lough Salt ran well in the finale after looking very immature beforehand. The winner of the bumper Lithic was well found in the market and is a nice looking horse who should have a decent future.
Always good to be back at the Bridge but it was a rather disappointing card I thought, although in retrospect a first winner at the track for P Nicholls in the shape of Stilletto might be something to look back on in future years.
The first thing to say is that the ground was more like good to soft, good in places, and not the soft in places as advertised. The steady drizzle that came in may have made it a tad softer for the last couple but they came home pretty well in general.
As such it was no surprise that Beer Goggles, mentioned here before, was rushed off his feet throughout the opener. This mud-loving stayer already needs three miles and this sharp test was never likely to play to his strengths. His initial mark looks a bit high and maybe the assessor will relent before they go for a punt.
The handicap chase saw a typical turnout with few you could really fancy, and that very much included the second and third home Bollin Line and Court Of Law. They both backed out of things after looking likely winners at various stages but in Aregra they bumped into a mildly progressive sort at the right end of the weights. The bonny grey jumps okay and is most definitely one to have on side in a close finish. His previous defeat came over an inadequate trip at Sedgefield. Runswick Relax took an unlucky fall early on and my guess is he would have gone close here.
Two strong juveniles in Romain De Senam and Jaleo took each other on and saw the 'impossible to oppose' former named done on the line. Of course the 'pro' bet was Jaleo each-way at 7/2 but they always come second when you actually do them, right?
The Beginners Chase saw Holywell beaten into second a couple of years back before winning at the FEST, and although it was Stilletto who took the honours we may have seen a quite decent horse for the future, if this lovely big chaser learns to settle in his races. This was only his fifth outing so it's early days and he certainly won't look out of place in one of the Cheltenham handicaps in March.
It was surprising to see Amore Alato held up at the back considering he had so much success blazing a trail over timber. He's an athletic horse who is still learning about the big boys' game but he will surely strike this season, perhaps on better ground with a return to positive tactics.
The one to take out of it was arguably Chase The Wind. A W Greatrex cast-off, this good looking animal will need to come down in the weights to strike but new handler J Foster does a decent job with similar types. Don't expect too much in the short-term, however.
Actinpieces really caught the eye at Wetherby and did this column a favour that day. She's a lovely big chasing type who is still as green as grass. She won with any amount in hand and should be worth considering in better company. Chief rival Shine Away is an out-and-out stayer who will jump a fence in time.
They all looked fit and well for the staying handicap chase, particularly Playing The Field, who nevertheless appears to have gone at the game. Cyrien Star looked to have all the right credentials bar price, which gradually shrunk throughout the day. They knew.
There was no bet in the bumper for the second successive day with four of them hard to split. They made the Irish mare River Dun favourite but as with all of Crawford's she was a bit small and hard fit. Much nicer where Dothraki Raider, Bon Genre (surely amiss?) and eventual winner The Tailgater, who had done well for a summer at grass despite still looking just an embryo of a stayer.