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.