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.