Sunday 28 February 2016


A really entertaining card even though a couple of the races were non-entities, the Eider looked to be a race to savour and thankfully it looks like spring is around the corner with some decent ground for once, even though they took their time and times suggested it was soft.

After Seeyouatmidnight sauntered round to win the first a devilishly tricky handicap hurdle came next although the more I looked at the race the easier it was to whittle it down - not that i was tempted to back one.

Zaidiyn always takes the eye and he is likely to make a mercurial chaser over the coming seasons. We all love a quirky-but-talented horse and Ellison's charge is just that, proving well ahead of his mark as he finally delivered on the promise of so many efforts.

Things have to fall his way and as you reflect on the race you have to come to the conclusion there weren't many ahead of their mark, with Vendor, Heath Hunter, Minstrels Gallery and So Satisfied all nailed by the handicapper at present.

The runner-up Bob's Lady Tamure rather devalues the form but nonetheless this was all about the winner and he's the type to benefit confidence-wise from this. He's in the County Hurdle and you never know, but I wouldn't get too carried away by this just yet.

Draytonian disappointed but he is merely marking time before he goes over fences, and it will be a while before So Satisfied troubles the judge again as this rather small, unfurnished horse has been very harshly assessed.

The Eider was next up and I think you can complicate some of these big handicap chases by going too deep. I kept it simple by backing Ballyculla and Rocking Blues. Even that was complicating matters as I had written this on Rocking Blues' last effort at Kelso...

Looking back at the race I'm sure his improvement has come from the fact he has learned to settle. He was very headstrong prior to an injury absence, making countless errors and not getting home on occasions.
He looks a much happier horse now and he is jumping for fun. He'll have to go up another stone for this win but you won't see a horse gallop home stronger at Kelso all year.  
I was positioned about half a furlong out that day and it was incredible to see the horse power up the run-in after 3m on heavy ground. Clearly thriving and on a feather weight, the only real concern should have been whether his teenaged pilot could navigate a clear path. If he was with a bigger northern yard I suspect he would have been closer to 5/1.

Nothing looked like landing a blow. There was a big paddock negative for Russe Blanc, who was very lean and sweating quite badly. He obviously left the race behind at Warwick and it was telling that the trainer had said he needs time between his races. It looks as though six weeks wasn't enough.

Mysteree ran a blinder in fourth for a trainer (L Russell) who is now 3/76 since the turn of the year. Maybe something will come to light but I can't remember a horse that has been especially well fancied of late and for that matter I can't think of a horse from the yard I'm waiting to back.

A decent stayers novice hurdle followed but it was a no bet race as the jolly Bun Doran was too short to back, yet I couldn't bring myself to bet against it after such a thrilling victory at Haydock.

Tom George's horse hits the ground very hard, so may simply want it hock deep, but there was a question mark over stamina as it went with much zest the last day. However I don't think either of those reasons were behind the way he stopped in the straight and you fear it may have a dreaded wind issue.

Tomngerry was a worthy winner as he outstayed April Dusk on the run to the line. The Ellison youngster looked very backward compared to some stronger horses and frankly his improvement has been astonishing in a short space of time. He must have run to 135 at least here and he'll improve at least a stone over the summer with even normal progression. An exciting prospect.

Delusionofgrandeur has had a tough campaign and he wasn't right here, getting warm beforehand and running flat. This was his sixth race of the campaign but no doubt they will find another race for him if the ground remains soft.

The mares race was hard to call but the Dobbins' point winner Amys Choice looked by far the most attractive - however question marks remained over her ability to handle the minimum trip and why she had been off the track for so long, having spent last year at McCain's.

The money came for it but she never looked like winning, jumping and travelling awkwardly. That didn't stop the money coming for her and she was still trading at under 2/1 as they reached the far bend - even though I was stood there in real time it felt like I was on a 10-second delay. Did THEY know something I didn't?

Predictably the mare faded right out of contention as Presenting Rose gave trainer N Alexander yet another winner. I didn't have a problem with her physically although I didn't like the second Knocklayde Sno Cat, being very small, although on this evidence they ought to be able to find a weaker race than this for her.

The handicap chase had me licking my lips in anticipation of the return of Blakemount, who had been steadily supported for almost 24 hours ahead of his return from a three month absence, during which some form of wind operation had been performed.

Imagine my surprise when I clapped eyes on the beast, who loped around the paddock looking totally disinterested in proceedings. Not only that, his coat was all wrong and he was carrying plenty of condition. I can't remember seeing the horse before but this was not something that was about to bounce out and make all over a trip that looked short enough.

Yet the money kept pouring on, 6s into 5/2 at the off. This couldn't have been stable money so perhaps it was just one of those momentum punts that the whole betting nation latched onto. It even continued into the race to less than 3 on Betfair despite the normally animated D Cook sitting off the pace on a horse laden with stamina.

If you hadn't seen the market you would have thought the horse was just having a spin round for confidence purposes, not the subject of one of the biggest punts on a busy Saturday afternoon. But don't think for one minute I was stood there laying it - THEY know more than us, remember!

Anyway, with the jolly readily opposable, we had to find the alternatives. Indian Temple is a horse I have followed although I backed it the time before last, not last time when it bolted up. I thought he was ahead of his mark and they had clearly waited for some better ground.

Also into the portfolio went Central Flame. I have to back this horse every time it runs because he's just lovely and still about a stone ahead of the handicapper, however his regular pilot negates that advantage and more.

I understand the trainer remaining loyal to his daughter, but this ain't tiddlywinks. The best part of 10k buys quite a few sheep I'd imagine and with any jockey of mild competence would have bagged the pot on Central Flame. It was painful viewing, as even on jumping the last all was forgiven as the hero of the hour appeared to be sweeping her way to victory.

However, the strongly supported Five In A Row was chipping away all the way up the straight and is very strong at the trip. Any other opponent and we would still have collected. So near etc.

This was another Ellison special and another horse who could be on his way to the Festival. He's in the novice handicap but I wish he was in the Kim Muir as he'd be perfect for that, he's totally unexposed at 3m. I wrote about him after winning first time up at Hexham over timber;
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.
He was running off just a 5lb higher perch yesterday than for that October hurdles win. He can only go up another 5lb for this, and he looks very well handicapped for one who can only get better the further he goes.

There were whispers around before the bumper that the Greatrex horse Boudry wasn't walking right, but he looked a quality sort to me. However, there was definitely something that made him opposable, especially bearing in mind he'd already been a beaten favourite twice.

However, he was up against a trio of penalised horses in Shambougg, McGregor's Cottage and Applaus. I thought the former was by far the most likely to take advantage of any weakness in the favourite, but the Hobbs beast ran a shocker. Boudry looked good in winning but I'd want to oppose it next time.

Thursday 25 February 2016


Plenty of runners at Sedgefield for a change where the ground was riding on the soft side but not as bad as the past few weeks.

The entire card was full of rogues but trainers M Hammond and K Slack farmed five of the six races between them on what was a great day of sport, even if we somehow ended up slightly in the red.

Flemensfirthleader looked short enough in the opening novice hurdle but it transpired that only General Mahler was fancied to beat it and when that one was withdrawn after a minor bleed on the way to post she was merely faced with a penalty kick.

An ex-pointer, she races with so much zest that it's hard to believe she would properly stay beyond 2m4f. She made mincemeat of these but hopefully her rating won't be hurt too much as the second Samtu (116) was giving up 13lb. She could be alright.

The second race was the first of three cracking chases that between them brought together most of the dodgepots/twicers/hounds - you name them - in the north.

However, two of the aforementioned, namely Oscar O'Scar and Discoverie, were fancied to have the race between them only because the others were even worse rogues than they are.

It was simple - Discoverie would bid to make all the running while Oscar x2 would sit off the pace and cruise through, the pair battling it out on the run to the last.

It didn't quite work out like that but it wasn't far off. Discoverie's chance was hindered by being taken on for the lead by Court Of Law, the duo setting the race up for Oscar x2 who came through and won on the bridle.

It was the perfect scenario for Oscar x2, and he clearly loves jumping fences. Things won't be nearly so easy in the future, however.

Jokers And Rogues has been mentioned more times on this blog than any other horse. However, despite knowing that the drop in trip would be ideal, I had given him all the chances a horse could want prior to the third.

I was instead taken by the charms of Karisma King, even though I had considered him a very difficult ride and not one for a claimer. He looked to have benefited mentally and physically from his runs before the turn of the year but my worst fears were realised when young McCarthy was all at seas on the beast early doors.

And while Jokers never looked like being reeled in this time despite taking most of the hurdles with him, Karisma King ran on a little to finish mid div. Hopefully he'll come down in the weights for this, and he'll have his day. As for Jokers, I can only congratulate connections on a job well done.

Verko stood out in the five runner handicap chase over 2m5f and I was surprised by his market weakness and his chance looked very clear.

I left it late to back Chanceofalifetime instead though. I've been dying for this free-going stayer to be allowed to stride on and with new face Miss P Fuller in the plate it looked as though that would be the case as they lined up.

It's a shame the chase debutant Ashbrittle acted as spoiler as the punt wasted too much energy on the opening lap being taken on for the lead. But I was quite impressed with Miss Fuller and the pair were still pitching going to the last.

But Verko was delivered with a perfectly timed run and picked up a fourth win in six. They've found the key to him and the money duly came late on. He shouldn't go up much for this and may yet score again. The second Finea, did nothing wrong, jumping well, while Chanceofalifetime will continue to pay his way. As form goes this looked ok.

Having missed Slacky's first winner I didn't want to miss what I thought was the trainer's best chance of the day in Almost Gemini. This was another race that was easily whittled down to the market leaders, although runner-up Charlie Wingnut for me was up against it after finishing second in a very poor contest last time.

Things worked out perfectly and I know the trainer thinks the world of the winner, whom he bought for a song. Catterick winner Sign Manual reverted to type and I still can't believe he won last time out.

Some days at the track are all about gathering information for the future, and keeping the betting almost as a sideshow. But this was one of those days where you just had to get stuck in as there was little to be gleaned from paddock watching moderate horses.

Roxyfet was solid in the finale and actually looked really well, but somebody had decided the horse couldn't win, hitting around 13 on Betfair at the off when I made him a 4/1 poke at best! I was happy to take the match against perennial disappointment Bennylicious, however, the Dobbin horse once again showing very little after being backed at all rates from about 10s into 11/4.

I wanted to get with some outsiders and on a line through Roxyfet felt Duhallowcountry was a massive price. I couldn't have Ascuncion at any price, nor Seventeen Black or Captain Sharpe. A rogues gallery indeed!

But I gave Odds On Dan a squeak on a mark lower than he won off here last spring - who'd have thought he would have rewarded each-way support with a circuit to go.

And so it was that I found myself cheering on Amy Waugh as they approach the last, where I knew I'd done my dough, at least in the win market. It's a shame she took on stablemate Gin Cobbler so early in proceedings although I doubt the result would have been any different in fairness.

So that's four wins for Verko and three for Roxyfet this season. Now who'd a thunk it.

Wednesday 24 February 2016


Good ground back at Town Moor for a decent looking card with angles aplenty again. Nice to have some decent sized fields at this time of year and remarkable that yet again the northern meeting went ahead while Ludlow fell to the frost.

Divine Spear, a nice big chase type for the future, was odds on to land the opener but again pulled too hard and didn't have the pace when it mattered. He's a big baby really and being looked after this term - he's a chaser for the future.

That said it wasn't easy to oppose him before the race as it didn't look a deep race, and I didn't much care for the eventual winner Chic Theatre who got a bit warm and is on the small side.

The Unit was just denied and I thought he ran a big race for a backward sort who will need much further in time. He's quite nice, as is Brian Boranha who was never put in the race, while Crockery is small and backward and just a moderate handicapper.

Peter The Mayo Man cost a bomb but he walked terribly behind, didn't have a great head carriage and made a few mistakes. I wouldn't be too pleased if I'd forked out 100 bags.

I've been keen on Our Thomas for some time but he's now been placed on all starts bar the time he won at Wetherby after finishing second in the juvenile. It's a worry, but perhaps he keeps bumping into decent horses. I still think he may be competitive in the Fred Winter where a faster pace is bound to suit.

Ardamir came out on top today - I quite liked this strong sort beforehand. I felt he might just improve for the run after an absence of two months, during which time he apparently had a wind op (which we only learned of afterwards of course.)

The pair came well clear but it's hard to evaluate the form with the Nicholls horse Lou Vert blowing out with a wind issue. He looked a nice big horse, if a little lean, but this does not bode well.

Fingerontheswitch had some super form on his CV from earlier in the season and in points and he looked very well handicapped if a return to good ground was the key to him. He looked in great heart in the prelims but the price had gone and we had to sit back and watch him win with more than a little in hand.

Fort Worth looked well, a laid back sort, but he went amiss here, while Nightline is worth following, a strong sort who gets a bit worked up. He wore earplugs in the paddock but settled ok in front, jumping noticably well. He didn't quite see it out but he can win off this sort of mark.

I sent a note to subscribers saying we should back Grandads Horse at 8/1 in the morning but the punt didn't quite come off in the veterans race.

His form figures from this sort of mark were outstanding and I couldn't see him being anything other than close up jumping the last. I did think Coleman allowed the winner Saint Are a bit too much rope on the home turn but there were no excuses. Saint Are winged the last four fences and said 'thou shalt not pass' as big Mark Johnson used to say.

I was quite deflated after this reverse as the promise of a nice winner had me all a quiver, having ruled out some of the fancied runners - Godsmejudge was well-backed but as he proved here a flat 3m is knowhere near far enough.

Never mind. A quick brew during a miserable hunter chase, in which they missed out the fences in the straight due to the low sun, set us back on the right path.

Ballycrystal was mighty hard to oppose in the first of two bumpers. I had backed him at Musselburgh where got a weak ride, rallying from off the pace in a slow run affair. There was no way D Cook would be in the wrong place despite another funereal pace, and there's plenty more to come from this staying type.

Vive Le Roi didn't appeal here, looking to carry condition and getting warm, while Man O'Words was all the rage. A nice looker, he's yet another son Scorpion to have his quirks. Clearly talented, he'll win races. Focaccia is a big embryo chaser who showed ability, while the well related Jack Lamb showed more on this better ground. He's light framed though and could have been a bit flattered here, he may not have the ability of his siblings.

The finale saw Rather Be pitted against Groundunderrepair. Neither appealed greatly in the prelims - the former only ok for a Henderson horse, while the latter looks to be struggling to hold condition and had not really improved from Carlisle. The absence may have been due to the ground but it was a bit of a negative.

All in all, a small wager on the C Longsdon filly Snow Leopardess was the order of the day. She looked very strong, and plenty forward for a juvenile, and was getting a ton of weight from Ludlow scorer Rather Be. It was one of those situations where looking back you really should have had more on. And how many times have we said that!

Tuesday 23 February 2016


A beautiful day in the north with the ground drying up - it wasn't as deep as it has been but we're still riding very slow. It was a pretty poor card with a couple of desperate mares races, but there were some punting angles if you looked hard enough.

The opener was a dreadful affair, the market went in search of one and found the usless Zayfire Aramis, a terrible mover and a big lump of a horse. He doesn't appear to have much of a future already aged seven, while the other popular one by default was Copt Hill.

This dodgepot has been asking for an aggressive ride all season and yet the time they choose to adopt such tactics is when they go up against perennial tearaway Beyondtemptation! It wasn't the only time questionable tactics played their part on the day and I'll be returning to that point shortly.

Beyondtemptation loves these big galloping tracks  - at places like Sedgefield he often runs well but he can't get away from the field. Here he got plenty of rope and they were too poor to reel her in. With a massive dose of hindsight she was a big price having often raced in better company. The third, Flobury, looked fit from a break but there was little to glean all told.

A ghastly four-runner mares chase followed but we had a great opportunity as the jolly Goldray looked utterly dreadful. Sweaty, agitated and physically unappealing being a bit big and long, she didn't look in any way up for it. It was one of those races where you couldn't back anything but at least the Irish mare Suzys Music had run in points so you knew she would jump round.

As it goes Lily Little Legs popped away nicely on her chase debut but let's not get carried away by her effort here - she had nothing left at the end after setting easy fractions.

Born Survivor had a nice spin round in the novice hurdle and he looks bigger in the flesh than he does on TV, I suspect he'll make a nice chaser once filling out a bit. The Smiths will hope Just Georgie won't be hit by the handicapper despite the best efforts of D Cook to get beat by as far as possible without looking like he wasn't trying. That's an art form.

Big Jim was all the rage in the handicap chase and there's little doubt he's better value than he showed here. I was worried about tactics and sure enough those who lumped on at shortish odds (not me thankfully) were badly let down.

It shows a clear lack of research, professionalism call it what you will to give the horse such a ride. Sure, Big Jim is a strong stayer at 2m but there's one sure fire way of getting a horse beat and that's by going too fast, too soon. With an obvious pacemaker/short runner in Quick Decission in the race it should have been a no-brainer to use him as a bunny and step on the gas at the top of the stretch.

But because Big Jim made all last time out over the minimum they simply tried to do the same again. The result was that they cut each other's throat leaving the race open for a closer - enter Retrieve The Stick. (Even the usually reticent RP reporter commented on these poor tactics). Big Jim's jockey compounded matters by dropping his reins on the run-in and getting his whip stuck.

It also meant Big Jim didn't jump as well as at Warwick, going that bit quicker here, and he made a serious mistake over on the far side. I don't think the right horse won here, but let's give credit to the winner, who stuck her head out this time. She will go up in the weights now - as she should have done last time perhaps - and will be one to take on.

Of the others Rupert Bear ran in snatches again and was flattered to be so close at the end, while Young Palm confirmed once and for all that he is a complete dodgepot, finding zilch here.

The handicap hurdle was an out and out two-runner affair and I had to side with Palm Grey, who looked over-priced back in class 4 company. Zephyros Bleu looked harshly treated for finishing second behind one that has been beaten twice since and although you couldn't compare the two in the paddock I had to stick by the Smith horse.

Sure enough he got a cracking ride from D Cook while the hot favourite looked anything but straight forward and looks one to be against, especially as he'll likely take another hike for this.

A mares bumper closed affairs and the heavily backed Listen To The Man was unopposable. Oscar's Prospect was next in the betting but she looked very green and quirky beforehand, and not very strong physically. Wildehearted Woman looked quite nice and clearly had a problem on her debut, as this run was much better with a tongue tie on.

Sunday 21 February 2016


Well it was lashing down for a change <heavy sarc> on arriving at the M6 venue and the ground was downright heavy - by the end of the day it would be real hard work.

I didn't take much interest in the juvenile race that opened proceedings although I did note that Frodon had plenty of size and was a very forward young horse.

He proved best on the day as the 1/4 jolly Fixe Le Kap got turned over with its jockey D Bass going far too slow on a horse that already looks like a stayer. If you're on the best horse you've got to make the rest go faster than they want, even in this type of ground.

It was hard to work out the stayers hurdle as Reve De Sivola set the benchmark but as likely favourite I thought he was worth opposing. One Track Mind stood out on this return to 3m, with At Fishers Cross readily opposed and Deputy Dan essentially exposed at this level over timber.

Silsol had possibilities but he wasn't certain to stay. So One Track Mind was the one but he was too short in the betting for my liking. I suppose it should have made me work back around to the eventual winner Reve. Unlike Bass, champion-elect Johnson made it a true test.

I didn't have a strong feel for the National trial either. I was against Cloudy Too this time, up 10lb but more importantly at the top of the weights rather than the bottom, while Mountainous now has his share of weight and he looked a bit sullen beforehand, although that could be just him - don't think I've seen him before.

By contrast Bishops Road looked incredibly fit and well and maybe I should have taken the hint. Someone asked the other day why the Kerry Lee horses have improved so much and taking this victory as a guide my guess is that she is simply getting them much fitter than her father did.

Broadway Buffalo simply bumped into one here. Clearly laid out for this, Ms Walsh did little wrong and they were just second best on the day.

The handicap hurdle over 3m was hardly a piece of cake either. The cash came for the Elliott-trained Woodford Island but I thought he was short enough and in the end he pulled way too hard.

Another that pulled its chance away was my selection Box Office. He's still a bit of a fizzy sort but he's a good looker. There's a big performance in him but this test at this stage of his development was too much. I wouldn't like to see him at Cheltenham although if he turned up there with a hood he might of interest. Better ground and a bit shorter is ideal.

Kylemore Lough was in really good form ahead of what looked to me like a straight forward assignment. Chief opponent Capard King didn't thrill at all last time and I much preferred Kayfleur for the forecast.

The Daly animal has plenty of size for the game but was given a curiously lame ride, held up off the pace and never really given much encouragement, even when Kylemore made a right horlicks of two out.

I think it takes a decent horse to overcome and error of that magnitude and he clearly had loads left despite going freely enough. He's another who should bypass the Festival unless it's very soft ground.

Kayfleur wants further but appeared not to stay 3m when she tried it. Perhaps Daly gave instructions not to knock her about on this ground, but I don't think they've got to the bottom of her yet and 2m5f or 2m6f on soft should be perfect.

I'd had in my mind to lay or oppose Duke Des Champs all day in a very good novice hurdle. As I said to a guy at the track I'd make a terrible pundit because I couldn't necessarily explain why, I just felt it. Maybe reputation was built into the price. He was short enough in a race with some very sound staying types. I also thought he was a little unfurnished in the paddock, although he'll be a nice horse next season.

Vintage Clouds was a big price considering all his Haydock form and the fact we've been waiting all season to see him over this sort of trip. With Cooky in the plate we knew we'd get a run for a our money.

However, we didn't account for Jonniesofa, who has done nothing wrong all year and whose form ties in with the very best stayers. He clearly was up against it giving weight to Delusionofgrandeur, while Newcastle victor Ballydine went on to give Barters Hill a race at Donny.

Another who relished the heavy ground, Jonnies ground out the win to prove himself as solid as they come, while confirming the form of Rose Dobbin whose Rocking Blues and Proud Gamble have won of late.

That left the hunter chase and last year's winner Pearlysteps looked sprightly and was a worthy favourite, mainly on account of the fact that chief rival Richmond doesn't stay 3m in a horse box.

Ace High and Connies Cross had recent form against each other between the flags but I much preferred the former on this day, being a very big strong animal, compared to Connies who is on the small side and likely to prefer better ground as a result.

All in all, things worked out ok.

Friday 19 February 2016


We dragged our weary bones off the army-surplus mattress and headed south where travelling companion Dave The Lay was already getting stuck into Bobcatbilly in a weak looking hunter chase.

The flagging fried eggs had virtually congealed by the time the crazy Geordie started in on breakfast, already up to his neck in the Bobcat. "It's just too short, man," he said as he despatched the Special K.

I couldn't disagree, although finding an alternative to the I Williams 10yro wasn't easy. Anyway, it was hardly something to get indigestion about - we had six other races to ponder on what was a disappointing card numerically speaking.

I couldn't figure out the opening novice hurdle as the potential each-way steal Road To Gold had disappeared with the scratching of the flat bred Invictus, leaving us with seven.

I couldn't be confident that Road To Gold would be good enough to win it under a pen, especially at the reduced odds, and yet I really wanted to get against Western Rules at a very short price, as mentioned here after his last outing he looks utterly paceless and wants a step up in trip.

This drop back was in no way in his favour, even though the by-passing of the second last probably was for this sticky jumper, but I wasn't that keen on Irish raider Water Sprite either, who was more a flat, speedy type on looks.

I sat the race out but it's hard to believe Western Rules didn't see them off from the front, especially having the eventual winner Road To Gold well off the bridle turning for home.

Lucematic looked really well in the next but I thought he was flattered at Newcastle and hadn't gone on, while Redkalani had the blinds added after a dismal effort last time.

Dave The Lay had pulled on his punting boots to get stuck into Rocking Blues - the bigger it went the more he had on. He wasn't for me even at the price but the horse is a revelation.

Looking back at the race I'm sure his improvement has come from the fact he has learned to settle. He was very headstrong prior to an injury absence, making countless errors and not getting home on occasions.

He looks a much happier horse now and he is jumping for fun. He'll have to go up another stone for this win but you won't see a horse gallop home stronger at Kelso all year. There's no reason to think Carrigdhoun didn't run his race in second, while Gold Opera looks one to avoid, not staying and lugging again under pressure. His mark doesn't reflect his form.

Top Notch looked to have a penalty kick in the Morebattle and it duly was, while Unioniste had a straightforward spin round with the ill-fated Neptune Equester keeping him company.

Soll should have been the lay of the day here. He's a big long thing and such a horse wouldn't be suited to the constant turns at Kelso. He was soon making errors and on the back foot.

Shades Of Midnight was the big miss of the day though. I have mentioned him here, here and here already this season, but thought he was in need of some headgear to bring out the best in him.

Admirably consistent, this assignment was rather easier than those faced so far this term. I initially felt he was vulnerable giving weight to some potential improvers, but with the huge Teddy Tee just an out and out chaser, and Pilgrims Bay a recalcitrant sort, there wasn't much left after Takingrisks was scratched.

I ended up throwing some at Landecker but not for the first time got an Alexander horse wrong.

Shades Of Midnight should have been backed in a 'just in case' sort of way but now the bird has flown with this 26l success. What a damn fool. I hope some readers backed him.

On to the aforementioned hunter chase, where Bobcatbilly had proven a solid favourite all day. Sent off 'tips' he had run his race by the time they jumped the first fence. I had held stamina concerns and he was often a keen goer under rules. Under weaker handling he didn't settle and the in-running players knew it.

It left the race wide open and it was a war of attrition, the Flemensfirth gelding Durban Gold landing odds of 25/1 and notching another winner for the soft-ground sire.

The bumper was interesting because the Richards horse Randy Pike was well-backed but a little birdie had told me it wasn't all that.

Paddock inspection indeed suggested the horse would come on for the run - he looked surprisingly backward for a six-year-old. Far straighter was Lady Beaufort, and related to several winners the filly simply had to be backed as the others looked ordinary at best.

Dicky J duly went home with his winner and it made the journey back to Wetherby that much shorter.

Wednesday 17 February 2016


The first of a two-dayer in the far north was initially greeted with downpours that eventually subsided, unfortunately leaving the ground a good deal softer than was advertised at declaration time.

That rain definitely brought my old friend Whiskey Chaser into the mix in an ordinary opener over just short of three miles.

His opening run of the season was mystifying as he stopped very quickly, and a subsequent absence suggested he had picked up a minor problem there.

Much had to be taken on trust but he looked in good order and the rain suited - if anything there wasn't enough of it.

In the event (and I didn't back him after a worrying late drift in the market - note to self; grow some balls) I was a tad surprised he didn't get home under a positive ride. However, despite being upped in trip the track wouldn't have suited and he was just done for a bit of toe in the end.

I see him as a one-paced slugger, and with this better effort under his belt I'm sure he will reward us providing he gets some deep ground.

Proud Gamble had taken a step in the right direction last time and although I backed him then I didn't really see him coming on from that. Wrong. He looked well and could be the type to keep improving from his lowly mark...physically he has some strengthening to do.

The others in the race ran predictably although Vision De La Vie clearly has two ways of going and is not one to trust, while Oil Burner has not delivered on earlier promise and looks to have regressed.

I had been very keen to take on Impulsive American in the novice hurdle but with two possible challengers scratched on account of the ground we weren't left with much on our side.

I had gone with Some Are Lucky to live up to his Cheltenham bumper promise but I saw him as a good ground horse and I wasn't that keen on the way he moved in the paddock - very much one that should relish sounder terrain.

Despite that the money came in for Tom George's horse and it looked for one minute as though we would collect, but the Pipe dodger was delivered at the right time to win his race. What the form is worth, we don't know.

The rest looked a bunch of backward chase types although Rolling Thunder showed more this time having settled better in front. He'll want time.

The handicap chase over 2m 3.5f was a conundrum. I wasn't overly keen on anything and although Oscar Lateen looked the obvious choice he had not come up with the goods on several occasions before and he looked short enough on balance.

Finea was none the worse for his efforts the previous day at Ayr, where he had blundered away his chance, and was the wildcard here as the rest looked pretty exposed. I didn't like Bollin Line on the ground but it was too far out to tell what would have happened had he not fallen, bringing down Lawless Island.

Perhaps Bollin Line has turned a corner as he was cruising when knuckling on landing three out. It's just as hard to know what to make of the race afterwards as it was before!

I took the view, as I've mentioned here before, that the one running under a penalty in the handicap hurdle - No Ceiling - was to be taken on.

Without a penalty perhaps, but the Donny race he won was poor and this often strong puller had an extra half mile to travel. I should have laid it and closed the book but opted to take it on with Definitely Better, who looked in great order, and Imperial Prince.

I know the latter is held in decent regard and he's a good staying prospect, but didn't think he would have the pace round here. However, there was money around at big odds and I would have been gutted had he gone in without being supported.

In the end it was a strange race with it changing complexion dramatically after the last. I must say I put down the glasses when the selection winged the last, only to pretty much drop the lot on the run, to be passed by three and thus doing the each-way dough.

Sure enough No Ceiling didn't get home, while the original second in Crinkle Crags is simply no good and fully justified that tag again. So a potentially huge race yielded very little in terms of profit. But keep an eye on the third - he'll win races.

Teo Vivo was rewarded for his consistency when winning the next under an uncomplicated ride, able to track the bunny Jonny Delta before pouncing at the last. This was by no means competitive though and the grey is sure to struggle off another career high mark next time.

El Beau looked likely to come on for the run and was unsettled by an early blunder. Good ground is key and with the cobwebs blown away ought to be followed next time.

No views on the hunter chase other than the well-backed Wind Of Hope looked a little small for the job. The fact he fell here at one of the easier jumps tracks doesn't bode well.

Nothing stood out in the bumper. Boyhood is a nice, well made sort if on the backward side, and he did little wrong in winning. I suspect they came here for better ground with the scopey Up North and although well-backed he probably resented the terrain. Lucinda Russell remains quiet and her Selkirk's Island never looked like giving her a farewell winner at the track's final jumps meeting of the season.

And so the bandwagon rolls into Kelso tomorrow.

Monday 15 February 2016


Well, we went to the Bridge full of hope on a glorious winter's day but if you follow a couple of disappointing types over the cliff, well, maybe you should expect disappointment.

The first blooper of the day came in the shape Jokers And Rogues. There are plenty of perma-fans of the beast out there and I'm afraid I'm one of them. Bolstered by what looked like a positive stable switch and the application of a tongue strap, the gamble that ensued appeared wholly justified in what looked a poor field.

I can't help thinking young H Brooke went off hard enough in what looked tiring conditions, but even so the horse pulled his usual trick of stopping to nothing once straightening for home - in-running players filling the tank as he did so.

I still believe genuine good ground will see the horse in better light, and perhaps a drop in trip as well, but how many chances do you give one horse. This one's out of time.

Skelton's Air Glider didn't look up to much beforehand and showed very little - he's obviously moderate but may want good ground, but really it was a race to forget.

I also managed to get myself in a muck sweat over the perennially disappointing Frankie's Promise. Talk about barking up the wrong tree. It looked like he was only here for a spin and, just like over fences, his jumping went to pot. It looks like the horse has lost it.

To make matters worse I was happy to take on the odds-on jolly as I'm not a huge fan of these young horses going again under a penalty. It's all well and good saying it now. To cap a forgettable 20 minutes or so I didn't like the winner Hartside in the prelims. He usually takes the eye with his well-being but I thought he was wrong in his coat. When you get a race wrong, you may as well get it really wrong.

However, the chases got us out of trouble for the umpteenth time and good old Gonalston Cloud made it 3-3 since returning to rules. Hopefully followers of the blog will have topped up recent Doncaster gains.

He was just about backable at 2/1 although I won't lie, I thought Leanna Ban was a massive threat and backed him as well. The big horse had been threatening a big run and with a change of tactics he went mighty close.

What a shame they couldn't have waited for some better ground though. His mark will suffer from this and you have to think they've missed a right opportunity.

I thought Gonalston Cloud looked a bit flat both before and during the race, making a couple of uncharacteristic blunders. There was a slight niggle that his Donny effort only 17 days ago might leave its mark, and there's every chance he can go in once more after a short break. When these stayers get on a run there can be no stopping them.

I was looking forward to a head to head between Another Hero and Looking Well later on the card, but when the former was scratched it left the Richards horse a rather short price and the shape of the race changed.

Thus we went in search of some value against the raw novice and it looked for all the world as though Straidnahanna was ready to pounce on a fair looking mark.

I wasn't at all disheartened by his latest defeat at Market Rasen, which looked like a confidence-boosting exercise after a couple of sub-par efforts. Sure enough he put in a much cleaner round of jumping today and it was pleasing to see Cooky allow him to find his stride.

This was Cook at his best, making the horse's mind up when he needed it. The horse was always in the right place and when the jolly departed the race opened up.

Jac The Legend looked a real threat but couldn't get to the well-handicapped winner. The runner-up isn't straight forward, and has his own way of jumping. But he'll pop up again some day.

Distime is doing the Drakes proud this term and they will surely send him to Liverpool for the Topham, and he'd have every right to take his chance providing there's cut in the ground.

I didn't really have a view on the opener as I wasn't a fan of either the second or the third, but the bumper was full of interest.

Ellison's Persian Steel was all the rage and looked the part, while Raised On Grazeon caught the eye at Donny and again looked sure to be involved. Sam Spinner is a flat bred sort, in contrast to the Smiths' Captain Moirette.

He dwarfed some of them in the paddock and will make a mighty fine chaser. It was great to see him show so much ability at this stage of his career but it will be a couple of years before he'll really fulfill that potential.

Thursday 11 February 2016


As is often the case in mid-winter the going was decent down the A1 with genuine good-to-soft in the two chase races, with slightly slower ground prevailing for the hurdlers.

It was an awkward looking card and we approached Town Moor with a little trepidation. The chases appeared to provide the best opportunities but things didn't quite go our way.

I wasn't convinced that Under The Phone had the physique for the larger obstacles here last time out, but he was okay over them that day and rather than lumping top weight he was down at the bottom this time, and was looking well-handicapped to boot.

With an extra half mile and a likely slower pace to help (plus the trainer had a winner for the first time in a year last week), I thought at somewhere around the 7-8/1 mark he looked terrific value in a race that brought together several disappointing sorts.

It's no good talking through your pocket in this game but even the neutral observer would surely conclude that young C Ward (5) gave this horse a poorly judged ride, making up a large amount of ground mid-race before kicking for home far too early on a horse with stamina to prove.

The fact he's only gone down by three lengths marks him out as one to follow, and even off a slightly higher perch he will look well handicapped on this effort.

By contrast T Bellamy didn't panic aboard Willoughby Hedge as 'Wardy' charged ahead five from home. Under a sensible ride the eventual winner, who looked a solid each-way bet beforehand, gained a deserved victory after picking up a leg two years ago. That said he may struggle as he goes up in the weights and at nine this may be as good as he is.

Grove Silver stayed on late and I don't know what to make of him. He's not an easy ride although the ability is there, and I wouldn't be surprised if they reached for some headgear. St John's Point is a big lump and has become very disappointing - I'm not sure where they go from here.

The novices hurdle was tricky and I'm not sure what the form is worth. Course winner Chase End Charlie didn't seem to run as well this time and with a change of tactics on Rock Of Oscar they couldn't get him off the bridle.

Newsworthy chased him home but he doesn't have a great deal of scope for me and I was quite happy to oppose the favourite here. Unfortunately we didn't get much of a run for our money as Kerrow exited at halfway - surely he would have filled the frame had he got round. I didn't think there was quite as much depth as was originally thought.

Similarly I'm not sure Muthabir had to improve much to win with Younevercall clearly still affected by a heavy fall before Christmas. The eventual second and third The Last Bar and Lord Golan hadn't shown a great deal beforehand and they finished in a bit of a heap.

The one to take from this race was Scooby. Expertly handled by trainer G McPherson, this five-year-old has now had three races over timber and it will be interesting what mark he gets. The assessor will not take any chances, but something around 110-115 would make this well built horse of interest, especially over further.

A total of 19 lined up for the staying hurdle but there was a lot of dead wood and those at the top of the market looked to have it between them.

The winner, Emerging Force, looked a nice horse beforehand. Stuck in the mud last time, he was given a patient ride but stayed on stylishly to get up on the line and beat another southern raider in Whataknight. Both look alright.

From a physique perspective I Just Know caught the eye and this was the fifth time this season he's been beaten a long way. But make no mistake he'll be a lovely horse after another summer on his back, and he can make a mockery of his rating once sent over fences. He's a baby just now.

The favourite The Artful Cobbler was in rude health beforehand but he's a buzzy sort and the question of whether he would get home over three miles was pertinent. I think he was beaten before that became an issue but for now I'm certain he'll be better kept at 2m 4f.

I took a view that Pine Creek was poor value in the novices chase and I wasn't at all concerned about Blue Fashion either, who had it all to prove after cutting out quickly at Ascot last time.

That left two in Nexius and Hollywoodien at decent prices. I strongly favoured the latter, who I liked a lot at Wetherby when he wasn't fit and then went and bolted up at huge odds at Ascot.

Only just five, he's still a bit backward but boy does he have an engine and he's a natural over fences. Which isn't much use when they take out nine obstacles due to the low sun!!

He was a belting investment all the same and I'm sure he would have won had the fences not been omitted - at the end of the day the flat-bred Nexius powered up the straight and sauntered past in the end as you might expect. Pine Creek looked one-paced and he hasn't won for more than two years now.

Wednesday 10 February 2016


Pretty mundane stuff by any standards and things just didn't quite work out for this billy bunter despite a couple of good goes.

The opener saw Yes I Did brush aside William Of Orange in a match. It's been a pretty ordinary start to the winter game for the latter, but I've no doubt he'll be a different proposition on top of the ground. The winner jumped really well and was expertly handled by a rider who is great value for her claim.

I'd backed the hitherto disappointing Seventeen Black in the morning and was on fair terms with myself as it was trading at half the odds at the off. He looked fit and well and really there seem no excuses for another laboured effort - even JR couldn't rouse any improvement.

It was pretty moderate stuff with the returning Charlie Wingnut carrying top weight 7lb beneath the ceiling. The Smith horse was fit enough and looked the winner turning in before being hunted down by the mare Chasma. He might do better over a bit further.

The handicap chase over 2m 5f was a fascinating puzzle where I thought Verko could be up to justifying his higher mark. With lots of pace in the race the set-up looked a good one for the Hammond horse.

But he just looked a bit rusty after six weeks off and was unable to get to the winner My Friend George, who was winning off a 21lb higher mark than when scoring here in April. Fair play to K Slack for producing this horse for another personal best at a track the horse clearly loves.

The assessor may have got Verko for the time being but the horse is young enough to improve further. Physically he looks much stronger than he did. The money came for Court Dismissed yet again and I can't for the life of me see why.

He hasn't shown any great potential over fences and lacks the scope for them. Better ground is sure to suit but his slipping mark is merely a reflection of a lack of progress. Edmund is a sturdy animal and is sure to benefit from this,

Benny's Well looked fit from a break and went well for a long way. He never looked like shaking them off though and perhaps a return to Carlisle this spring will see him back in the winners circle - he's handicapped to win again.

Heart O Annandale and Leney Cottage were interesting in the staying hurdle having their first runs for new yards. Neither is in the first flush of youth but were worth a pop - the latter looking all over the winner for much of the final circuit.

However, this extended trip is for specialist stayers and Leney Cottage didn't quite get home. He looked okay but can improve and he's clearly of interest if seen out in the next 4-6 weeks.

Rocky Stone will always stand out in the paddock at this level but simply finds nothing off the bridle and again it was very surprising punters went for another McCain horse exposed as ordinary. Heart O Annadale looked really up for it but stopped quickly and is not one to trust I'm afraid.

I'll admit I slightly overlooked the winner Snuker even though the blinkers were always likely to pep him up. He certainly travelled with more aplomb and got a strong ride from the saddle. They just held on from Optical High who was bouncing back from a flat effort. He's not one I'm a fan off.

Roxyfet had the form over course and distance to go in again in the 2m handicap chase. Mistakes that often hinder his chances surfaced again but he still looked to won his race jumping the last.

However, the poor looking Captain Sharpe was lingering on the scene and rallied to good effort, bringing to mind his finishing effort when landing his last race from a vastly higher rating over timber a year ago.

This was basement stuff and a winner that was hard to find. I couldn't give much of chance to the others even so, but Gin Cobbler lasted a bit longer than usual after settling better in front and he could be ready to step up if we get some better ground in the next couple of months.

The finale was one of the worst races of its kind. There was all sorts of 'inside' money flying around for the rag Norfolk Sound, although the bets never looked like landing.

King's Chorister had been given a real chance by the handicapper and he duly ran a better race, although surprisingly reluctant in the finish, while Copt Hill confirmed once again that his bark is worse than his bite. The money came for Azure Glamour but the beast hasn't shown anything since his opening bumper effort and clearly has a physical problem.

Saturday 6 February 2016


Quite a lot of rain throughout the morning made for pretty deep ground, although I always think that's better than the tacky stuff we had at Newcastle this week. However, although some 'went through it', they were all dog-tired.

Not many views on the opening mares novice, the market leaders looked best as you would expect from the better southern yards. I thought Nico excelled once again on the winner.

A decent handicap chase followed and I took some strong views, wanting to be against the market leaders Katkeau and Friendly Royal. Loyal readers will be aware of my affiliation with the latter, who has been crying out for 3m all season.

I wonder if they'll give it another couple of spins over this inadequate trip to guard his handicap mark for another season. I've no problem with his mark but the slower pace of a staying handicap will help his jumping, which is usually sound.

Katkeau has enough size physically but I just thought he was short enough in the betting on what he's achieved, and Wetherby is not Fakenham or Ludlow. I wasn't that keen on the fully exposed Renard, and Indian Voyage didn't look as good as he often does, so we had some angles.

I was taken by the size of Rathlin, down to a career low mark over fences, and he looked well. I was even more taken by the well-being of Sew On Target. He looked a bit leggy compared to some strong animals but he just seemed in great order and I half suspected the 10 week break had done him good. Another on a decent mark, he was the main bet with a saver on Rathlin.

Having not expected to bet the race, it was a pleasing outcome. It was surprising Rathlin stopped so quickly but he went a bit choke out and it might be worth bringing him back to the minimum trip on this sort of ground. There could be a race in him yet.

What giveth, then taketh away. The novice hurdle looked tricky with the market headed by the most likeable dual bumper winner Tomngerry. I was loath to oppose him but near enough Evens on hurdles debut in this ground; oppose.

It was a costly decision. Bigirononhiship looks one of Dobbin's better buys, and there was a chance he would brush his penalty aside. It proved too much in the end, but time may tell he was right up against it.

Bronco Billy had taken the eye in last year's bumper win but he hasn't really progress physically and he may not be right in that department, form of the stable aside.

The Towton followed and it was too close to call. Some lovely physical specimens as you would expect, none more so than Native River. These boys had hard races but the Tizzard animal appeals as one who prefers better ground. He's better than this, and Cheltenham will be right up his street.

Sir Vinski has let loyal supporters down on a few occasions but he was up for the staying hurdle with blinds on for the first time. He was backed as though defeat was not an option and he duly proved himself a well-handicapped animal. I missed the price and he was one that got away.

I couldn't back Waterclock but he ran on again after looking dead in the water. What a queer old soul he is and I'm going to avoid any future races he is in as I haven't clue what he's capable of. He looks half a dog to me but is just the sort to prove me very wrong.

Not many thoughts on the hunters. Herdsman didn't look in great order and we've definitely seen the best of a half-decent stayer. Big Fella Thanks doesn't look his age though and may yet win something but again his finishing effort was feeble.

The bumper featured some nice sorts, many of whom couldn't act on ground that surely would have seen an inspection prior to the Battle of Towton more than 500 years ago.

Penalised duo Burlington Bert and Spirit Of Kayf looked tough nuts to crack but once again this was proof that you need a goodun to defy a penalty.

I quite liked Ellison's Sam's Adventure on breeding and he looked quite a likable animal. It was surprising therefore that the market was pretty quite for him and he looked a fair tool in hacking up. Let's not get carried away by this form on very deep ground though. Look out in particular for Eastview Boy on a sounder surface.

Thursday 4 February 2016


All sorts of issues today so this is later than normal and will be brief I'm afraid.

An all-chase card on very tacky ground, it was hard work for some of them.

I had to back a couple of horses I'd been waiting for but they both came up short. You can't put any faith in Miss C Walton and we may never quiet know how good Central Flame could be.

The horse made an important mistake at the ditch down the far side and then made a sweeping move round the final bend, making up a lot of ground in short space of time. Not ideal.

With all that said, the horse bumped into one in Special Catch. Personally, I couldn't back that horse as we just didn't know if it retained all its ability after a lengthy lay-off. He was a bit weak in the on-course market, but duly won with something in hand.

They were clear and will go up around 6lb and 9lb each. Central Flame looked very well in his coat. He's very likeable. I thought Spanish Fleet was much fitter than last time and he showed some of the old spark before backing out of it. The yard is still very quiet but the handicapper should give this horse some slack.

I trusted another female jockey in the finale in Lucy Alexander aboard Clan Chief. This horse really needs to be taught to settle in his races and this is not the first time he has carted his jockey halfway round.

If this gorgeous chestnut isn't way better than a mark of 93 I'll give the game up. But they have to figure out how to ride it. A half-brother to Little Glenshee, he has his quirks, and will stay further. But getting a horse to settle in a race is one of the basics. Still only seven, time is on his side.

Apologies to the otherwise excellent trainer/blogger. I know we will all be rewarded with this horse one day. I'd like to see it under a B Harding waiting ride.

I'm pleased for the moody Rosquero and connections, who ran into one in Runswick Relax at Catterick. Retrieve The Stick chased him home and I'll remain against the Jefferson mare if you don't mind.

Bonzo Bing looks to have found his level around the 110 mark and he looked fit and strong beforehand, the best I've seen him. He ran into an improver although they finished in a heap behind.

I still think Bonzo is a three-miler and he jumped really well here. His time will come soon. Nakadam was a bit smaller than I thought he would be and it would have been interesting to see how he came home.

Rocking Blues was a revelation, staying on really well despite some customary mistakes. while Mysteree jumped really well I thought and got back on track by winning the first.

Again The Orange Rogue looked a bit iffy on the run-in and remains one to oppose. Redkalani was a massive flop. He never looked comfortable on the sticky ground and this lazy type may appreciate some blinds.

Unfortunately that's it for now. I'll hopefully get a round-up done after Catterick and Wetherby.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Chief to lead the way

Today I'm off to Newcastle but before we go let's take a quick look at the final race on the card at 4.20.

I can’t be the only one waiting to see Clan Chief on the course again. He’s had several targets called off lately but this looks like a good opportunity to win his first race over fences. 

A lovely looker, he may well have won Retrieve The Stick’s race at Sedgefield but for a soft unseat mid-race. 

He had every right to win easily back over timber on bad ground, and he’s the kind of horse I think will look better in better races.

I don’t think his jumping will be an issue and we know from his stablemates that the trainer’s horses are well handicapped after a dire season last term. 

Willie Hall looks his only serious danger and although he’s clearly in good form he has picked up a couple of fairly soft races. Up another 7lb, I’m happy to take him on. 

Pamak D’Airy may have one more race in him off this mark but that might need to be a weaker race than this. I’m not a fan of Retrieve The Stick who seems to need everything to fall right. That Sedgefield form isn’t much. 

It says plenty that connections are happy to run Home For Tea from 4lb wrong and he will be popular after showing up well last time.

But he looked far from straight forward prior to his Musselburgh exit and looks to have a very questionable attitude. He’s undoubtedly well handicapped but for my money is one to take on if still travelling into the straight.

Tissue; 3 Clan Chief, 7/2 Willie Hall, 5 Home For Tea, 7 Retrieve The Stick, 10 Pamak D'Airy, 16 Pekanheim, Gin Cobbler, 20 Suprise Vendor, Rosquero. 105%

Conclusion; Clan Chief may want further than this ideally but they shouldn’t be hanging around with Gin Cobbler and Suprise Vendor hopefully making it. He’s very well handicapped and a confident choice to see off some dodgy opponents, although it’s hard to crab Willie Hall’s attitude of late and he’s the obvious threat. I can't back anything else here.

Monday 1 February 2016

Weekly round-up - Doncaster & Sedgefield

A very busy week with some really competitive action for the north. I know much of the country has been suffering but I don't seem to have missed many meetings at all. Three meetings to cover so I'll try to be a succinct as possible.

Doncaster Friday 29

Having spent plenty of time doing the card I couldn't wait for the action to get under way on ground that was only just on the soft side. The outcome of the two handicap chases would shape the opening day of the Skybet Chase weekend and I was confident Coozan George would land a competitive looking opener.

Despite the numbers I couldn't really have quite a few of them, particularly the one they came for again called Under The Phone. I didn't think this horse had the size for fences when it was punted at Leicester and the view was reinforced here. With trainer R Dickin without a winner in 12 months he was easily passed over.

The Mumper didn't look great either and I had the feeling he wanted three miles, while after an injury lay-off there's every chance that he won't progress from here. Generous Helpings was arguably the nicest in the field but he's had issues and clearly can't jump at this stage.

So Coozan George was the one but mistakes three out and at the last didn't aid his cause after he travelled into it early in the straight. It wasn't the most inspiring ride from Hughes but it would be churlish to think the mistakes cost him victory. The winner Native Robin did it from the front and appeared to stay on well on his chase debut. As for Coozan George, he's not one to follow over a cliff as his finishing effort was a tad disappointing, and he clearly has some sort of wind problem.

Moabit looked very strong for a juvenile ahead of the novice hurdle and I was surprised he wasn't shorter in the betting for what in effect was a three-horse race. However, the youngster was novicey at his hurdles and couldn't match the experienced Cyrius Moriviere, although I'll admit I did not see that performance coming under a penalty.

Dashing Oscar looked fine without especially taking the eye and his defeat was one for those questioning the form of trainer H Fry, a notion that would be dispelled later on the card. I didn't think there were too many to take out of this race.

I was very keen on Gonalston Cloud in the handicap chase following his eye-catching victory at Catterick under a hands and heels drive. His jumping and stamina looked sure to stand him in good stead and in all honesty it was hard to see what could beat it.

Globalisation is a rather nice horse who could yet prove much better than his mark, but has an awful lot to learn about jumping and took a horror fall. Baku Bay is another that looked well and ran okay in the circumstances, merely running into a couple of well handicapped horses.

Cyrien Star wasted a lot of energy early on but this was more competitive than he's used to, while Grove Silver will be of interest if returned to timber for the time being.

Gonalston Cloud won like the good thing he looked and a 10-12lb rise is unlikely to stop from winning again.

Someone knew that Chantara Rose wasn't going to be winning the next - an alarming late drift alerting punters that all was not well with the mare. She looked absolutely fine, for the record.

I thought Sebastian Beach ran a race full of promise and clearly stamina is his forte. When the trainer hits form this spring they should be able to find a race for him. They came for Echo Springs again and somebody is doing their pieces following this good looking animal. I'm convinced the thing wants a shorter trip, but I wouldn't like to bet on it.

Thomas Brown nixed the view that the Fry horses are all wrong by bolting up in the novice chase, although the early exit of Saint Roque and the well-backed The Tourard Man made life easy. He's a likable animal who ought to progress.

Big Chief Benny had the novice hurdle at his mercy on ratings but he didn't look that straight forward in the paddock, a strong horse with a couple of handlers. Nothing wrong with that - but there was something that told me he was one to take on.

Behind The Wire was one of the nicer types but sweated up beforehand and his race was one to draw a line through, while Cottersrock has plenty of size about him and he is likely to be okay. This actually looked a deep race and is worth watching a couple of times.

The money (and mine) came for Royal Milan but he was outpaced the whole way and was never in it. He already looks to want further.

By contrast the closing handicap hurdle was a weak one and it came as little surprise when the unexposed juvenile Quill Art sent favourite backers home happy. He has the size to win more races in this sphere in time.

Doncaster Saturday 30

Skybet Chase day didn't appear to present too many betting opportunities - indeed I ended up having only the one bet. That came in opener on Charlie Cook, a horse I liked a lot when he outran massive odds at Haydock before Christmas.

He was hammered in the betting on Boxing Day but was never going the pace round that tight track and he was able to sit more prominently here. Again the subject of a gamble, he was ridden as though he was the best horse in the race but unfortunately he ran into one in McCabe Creek.

King's horse looked well beforehand and sadly chose this day to follow through on his earlier promise. Slightly gutted as 12/1 shots like that don't come around too often. It was another race long on numbers, but short on backable horses. It seems a shame that Roycano has telegraphed his potential over timber with this staying on effort into third.

The multiple point winner didn't look right in his coat and was buried out the back, but stayed on well on ground he loves. He's more than capable of winning off 105. It's just a matter of whether he'll be a backable price.

There was only ever going to be one winner of the Lightning Novices chase if the paddock was a guide, and Vaniteux duly delivered. Market rival Shaneshill made little appeal on looks, lacking a little in size and scope, and while he made numerous errors here it wouldn't surprise me if he remains a 155-type horse. Only the Mullins factor sent him off so short.

A quality handicap chase followed and it looked too difficult a riddle to solve. Irish raider Dandridge looked very good in cruising to victory and he looked an Aintree type to me. I thought Just Cameron ran a cracker considering most of his form has come on softer ground, while further may also suit.

Red Spinner looks the sort to relish further now as it was all a bit frantic up front for him. He's nice and can put this behind him. On a similar note, I remember throwing a few quid at On Tour in the Betfair Hurdle last year and didn't think he was ever going the gallop. He was totally outpaced again here and surely wants an extra half mile, especially on this ground.

Another Mullins hotpot got turned over in the mares race, called Morning Run. She too didn't exactly thrill the eye but I'd no idea how good she was. Smart Talk will always stand out against her own sex and she's just the most likeable mare. That said, I simply couldn't believe she would have the pace to trouble some of these over the minimum trip on good ground. But she ground it out and you couldn't say a bad word against her.

I thought Barters Hill was the proverbial good thing in the 'River Don' and he is quite simply the most gorgeous specimen. Indeed it will be a sad, nay surprising, day if or when he ever gets beat. He had to grind it out here but a hard race will have done him the world of good.

I couldn't have the Mullins horse Up For Review at any price. He's a very thick set horse, a particularly shouldery mover who hits the ground hard. I'd be astonished if the beast ever showed his best form on ground as quick as this. Rare for a son of Presenting, I know.

Didn't think there was a fluke about the run of Ballydine either. He looked really well in himself, and is as strong as a bull. Another 'out of form' trainer's (C Longsdon) horse running well.

I fact, the run of Ballydine bode well for backers of Coologue in the big race and the sound jumping novice ran a stormer in defeat. The weather had turned vicious by this time Holywell got the arse with it early doors, while a few of them didn't get home. Le Mercurey was never jumping, and No Planning ran a rare shocker.

Low weights have a good record in the race and Ziga Boy proved the point, despite being raised over a stone for his win here last time. He's not much to look at but the penny has finally dropped.

The two mares bumpers were fascinating but hard to play. Kayf Grace was the best looking horse in the opening division and didn't show any of the wayward tendencies that marred her second run. However, she took an age to get going and Queen Odessa was the latest H Fry horse to run a massive race despite still looking a bit backward. The market drift was alarming but the horse didn't know about it.

McGregor's Cottage had a mountain to climb on the figures and didn't really travel this time, while Atlanta Blaze should have been a much shorter price if her run behind Cajun fiddle was anything to go by. The former looks a strong staying type - the latter a nice filly who will be better after a summer's break.

I was quite keen on the chances of Miss Spent before Div 2, being a half-sister to M Jefferson's Oscar Rock by Presenting. She's got the look of her brother, albeit a little smaller, but she looked well. I was expecting the shrewd Wadham yard to shift the market but the horse went the other way and that was off-putting.

She was very streetwise in the race though and showed plenty of grit to stay on really well in the teeth of a gale. It was a much deeper race than the first and was run in a far quicker time. Raised On Grazeon is a flat bred that looked well forward and duly outran her odds, but there were many good types in here. Kalaniti looked a little light framed by comparison and perhaps the ground had gone a bit for her by this time.

Sedgefield Sunday 31

A cheeky little card with many short priced favourites, on officially good to soft ground that was actually pretty hard work.

The opening novice was intriguing with Western Rules, Waiting Patiently and Libby Mae all vying for favouritism. It was very hard to call it and each will go on to greater things.

Waiting Patiently won pretty convincingly I thought and time may tell that the Richards horse had a thankless task trying to defy a penalty. The trip and track looked all wrong and Western Rules is surely a stayer in the making.

General Mahler stepped up markedly on his bumper run under kinder handling and this lovely strong type is very much one to keep the right side of.

Good Vibration was the first of several short-priced favourites to come a cropper in the handicap hurdle. The Smith horse was all the rage and it was easy to see why after he chased home Point The Way here on Boxing Day. However, the grey looked very one-paced in this, and although it's been my opinion that the horse is on the backward side, a mark of 110 should be well within the compass.

Frustratingly, the winner Captain Redbeard had been on the radar for some time but ran poorly last time back over shorter. The return to 2m 4f was sure to suit and although he was probably over-priced in a race with little depth, it was difficult to predict a victory of this nature. Carlo Rocks is a nice chasing type who didn't handle the track or the trip here, and should be forgiven.

The staying handicap chase looked competitive enough so it was a surprise to see Racing Europe sent off the 5/4 favourite. He looks like a horse well ahead of his mark but there's a suspicion that something isn't right physically. He's now gone off favourite on six of his last eights starts, with an 0/8 record. Ouch.

He came up against a couple of gritty, improving stayers in Askamore Darsi and Not A Bother Boy. Both the front pair look the sort to benefit from marathon trips.

Mixboy was next up in what appeared to be a weak handicap hurdle over the minimum trip. The grey had looked better than he did last year when winning here on Boxing Day but is on the small side and not particularly attractive.

With Divine Port disappointing last time it wasn't easy to find one against him though. Card Game has been slow to come to hand and I thought she really wanted proper good ground. Shout It Aloud is a nice looker but clearly doesn't have the ability to go with it, and the rest you could put a line through.

The handicap chase over 2m 4f looked tricky but I'm typing through gritted teeth as Firth Of The Clyde ought to have bee worth a few quid at what looked a generous price. He looked lazy when needing the run first time up and then ran at Kelso over too far.

With blinkers on for the first time this looked ideal and although you could give the others chances on various bits of form the outcome was a bit predictable I thought, especially with the Pipe horse running a very moody race.

Jac The Legend ran a big race and in that sort of form ought to have gone close at Catterick the last day. He's not the easiest horse to weigh up at present. There was plenty of pace on and it was always going to suit the 'closers'.

I had kept the tank full all day for Kara Tara, who I felt was a shoo in for the closing handicap hurdle for mares.

I've seen her a few times and she's got a bit about her, far more than a modest 0-100. I made her a 5/2 poke and she traded at double that for much of the day. Gradually the cash came and it was a question of how far.

Sadly B Hughes wanted to play jockeys and managed to get himself in a hole at the end of the back straight. This filly bolted up in a bumper at Hexham having been sent to the front at the bottom of the hill. So let's ride her for a turn of foot at Sedgefield, shall we.

Of course I'm taking through my pocket but this ride lacked imagination, a copybook Hughes effort. It was the one thing I was worried about beforehand and the nightmare scenario played out. Even before the last it looked like the jockey thought he was on the winner. I feel ill just thinking about it. Suffice to say the money is only lent. That's the only way to look at it.