Not much time to get three meetings in before we take a couple of days off, again the racing was difficult and not many tracker horses running so decent betting opportunities few and far between.
Leicester - Wednesday 9th
With racing at Hexham off we headed south to what used to the 'home' track, albeit one where I've never walked away with more than I went with - and today was no different. The ground was a lot softer than usual on the chase course and with most of those declared expecting better conditions the chases were won by wide margins.
Pine Warbler is out of that lovely mare Cetti's Warbler and this big lengthy horse has clearly taken time to mature. Quite lengthy and still weak, he ran a very solid race before tipping up at the last, and is one to keep an eye out for in a year's time over fences.
The race of the day for me as I wasn't at all keen on the favourite Chicoria, who took an age to pick up at Market Rasen last time out when making numerous errors. That seemed to have been missed by many and I got this competitive looking race down to four at decent prices, eventually landing on the second and third home.
As it was the Skelton-trained horse Bekkensfirth took a giant leap forward on his first try over fences and it's remarkable anyone connected with with stable allowed this thing to go off at 12/1. I'm glad it's not just me asleep at the wheel at times. He's a nice son of Flemensfirth who loved this ground and there's plenty of room to strengthen up.
Lovely Job served it up to him and this ex-McCain horse looked to have progressed extremely well physically since the spring. I actually thought he would run home better than he did as he looked race fit, but he jumped novicey at times and perhaps a more galloping track will suit.
Benenden has been on the radar for 18 months now and I couldn't allow this expensive purchase to go unbacked. He settled much better than previously to back up my suspicion that he had grown up over the summer. He was certainly not suited by the rain and he is another who I'm keen on following as long as they can find some decent ground, which won't be easy. The second and third might have run into one here and this was most certainly a decent race for the track. Paddy The Deejay was punted and he has the make of a nice chaser.
There was nothing stopping Truckers Highway following up and he had oodles in hand. Thoonavolla looked in need of the race so did well to be second while Theflyingportait once again travelled really well to reward a little each-way support. When the yard starts winning again he may be one that can add to the tally. I needn't like the Longsdon horse Instinctual here and I wouldn't be surprised to see him moved on. Grand March once again flattered to deceive and is becoming expensive indeed.
I thought Hedley Lamarr was a good thing to win the finale but he looked a bit green the way he travelled and although he's a nice sort I wasn't that keen on his head carriage throughout. Goodbye Dancer's performance came from leftfield while Space Walker (too free?) was disappointing and Thatcher's Gold looks a thorough stayer who will make a fine chaser.
Doncaster - Friday 11th
Waltz Darling stood out on his last run behind a couple of far superior animals but was put in a short price for one that jumps so poorly. I made him only evens to get round and I thought James gave the horse a lovely ride, giving the market drifter every chance and not rushing him at the obstacles. The fact that the ones in front weren't going anywhere helped but those brave enough to bet the Reveley horse should put JR top of their Christmas card list.
Some decent sorts in div 1 of the novice hurdle with the winner Winter Escape landing some heavy support for the McManus gang. Not a great looker at this early stage of his career, he appears to have a great engine. Deauville Dancer was primed to run well and this strong sort will have no problem at all in going one better, while Call To Order did well to get so close after looking very green in the run, not jumping very fluently. He's a nice looking horse who will do better on good ground. Quite a few in behind took the eye, not least the fourth home Pomme who has grown since winning her bumper, and she came home with some zest. Shotofwine was given a quiet one and this former McCain inmate will have the look of a well-handicapped horse when the time comes. He'll need a trip.
Didn't have the quality of the first division but initial views are that Park Place (sturdy) will win races on sharper tracks and better ground, while Dimple, Kauto Riko and Kara Tara were all decent looking sorts who shaped with a deal of promise. It's a pity Dimple finished with such verve as this was his third run for a mark.
Beeves looked in great heart for his first outing for J Candlish and it will be interesting to see if this often moody type can back up his fine run in second place. Ikorodu Road has a great record on Town Moor and there was plenty of support around for the veteran, who looked fit for this return. Another feather in the cap of in-form trainer G Mcpherson. Desert Joe looked well but is a bit on the small side and after going in snatches finished tailed off. He looks to be regressing.
I try not to get involved in mares races but Chantara Rose once again looked in great heart and was sure to improve for the step up in trip. If she proves more tractable early in her races she will have more for the finish. As it was Iron Butterfly, who also looked well, had more toe as she too moved up to 3m and claimed her second course success. Tambura was a pretty short price on what she had achieved but would have been a lot closer but for a bad mistake four out.
Volnay De Thaix looks a proper horse but was very novicey. However, he met the last two on a good stride and that helped him seal the win. I wouldn't be that confident if they took him to a Grade 1 track next.
Doncaster - Saturday 12th
Persistent rain had turned the good to soft ground to very soft by the first race. There were a few scratchings as a result but as always at Donny it became very loose rather than deep, but definitely suited the soft ground merchants.
I was really taken by Holly Bush Henry here last time but he was put in at prohibitively short odds, at least for this out of form Billy Bunter. He looked really well once again and his victory began a remarkable sequence of drifting favourites doing the business throughout the day. He should have been a real solid bet at 5/2 but I got waylaid trying to find each-way alternatives. I hope you were on.
I liked the shape of the handicap chase over 2m 3f and took Saints And Sinners over the lightly raced Javert. I always want to take the side of something progressive but after morning support I wanted to find some value against the 3/1 shot. I was happy after 'Saints' looked much better for his reappearance and expected a bold bid although I wasn't keen on Hughes riding as I think he needs some stronger handling. It may be that the horse wants 3m now. Either way, Javert was a very worthy winner on his first go at 20f and jumped great from the front. Having drifted out to a very backable 9/2 he should have been worth at least a saver. Shimla Dawn again looked great and was ridden with restraint this time. He ran on a bit after being outpaced and similar tactics over 3m may see him in better light. Victor Hewgo was heavily backed but this was a very big ask on his return and surely he too wants a trip.
Ephraim looked a horse full of quality ahead of the 3m novice hurdle and when he drifted to 9/4 we had to step in. They came for Atlantic Gold who had it all to prove on the ground, while Bugsie Malone is a nice horse but very much in the 'long term' category. He's leggy and immature and ran fine here - he wasn't expected to win on debut, at least by me. I really fell for High Hopper last season and the Jefferson horse is simply a joy. Thought to want better ground, he ran a super race and I can't wait for him to jump a fence next autumn. In the meantime I hope they'll go steadily with him because he could be very nice indeed.
Sego Success had lost his way but is young enough to rectify that and cheekpieces and positive tactics saw him home in the staying chase. Surely they'll return here for the SkyBet Chase in the New Year as he jumped like a bunny today. He doesn't stand out on looks and I think this is the second time I've been put off him in the prelims. I favoured the fit again Indian Castle over Straidnahanna from the Haydock race last month but he ran like a drain here and that was his last chance. The Smith horse seemed to be remembering his heavy fall there before fading late on, while Night In Milan and Baileys Concerto would not have acted on the ground.
They poured the cash on Robertstown in the juvenile but I wasn't that taken by the flat winner and he can look better in his coat. He was extremely novicey at most of the obstacles and put in his place by King's Who Dares Wins, who put up a very professional display. The Skelton's Fouberg was far too free but is a rather taking individual who will be worth remembering in a year's time when he's more grown up mentally.
Southfield Royale was a very confident selection in the staying novices chase and he duly obliged. Only five, he will just keep improving physically and it's to his credit that he is able to perform to this high standard already. I hope they 'mind' him this season, and although by Presenting he seems to relish heavy ground and perhaps there's a handicap to be won with him before the season is out. Coologue was a worthy foe. He's another who has a great attitude and jumps for fun. It's A Close Call was a second P Nicholls horse worth opposing on the day. Again this one has a very big frame, but looked a bit leery beforehand and clearly has some growing up to do.
Forest Bihan looked fantastic prior to the finale but he hasn't backed up his initially promising effort at Ayr and perhaps he requires a step up in trip, or it could be that the handicapper has him in a headlock.