Aintree - Thursday 7th
No hard luck stories here and they all looked well beforehand. The state of the ground was important and it looked somewhere between good to soft and soft as the description suggested.
Arzal had to go close if he stayed the extra 2m 4f and it helped that he wasn't hassled on the lead and Sheehan got him in a lovely rhythm. And didn't he jump well. L'Ami Serge briefly threatened to land a blow but ran a similar race to Cheltenham, not entirely convincing with his finishing effort. Sizing John ran a bit flat for me and he should stay easily enough in time. Volnay De Thaix is starting to look disappointing for such a lovely stamp of a horse but perhaps a step up to 3m with see him in better light once handicapping.
The anticipation of softer ground meant Ivanovich Gorbatov was well worth opposing at early odds of around 11/8 and in that regard it was even more pleasing to see that the horse didn't look great in the prelims, a little on edge and getting increasingly sweaty. A flat type, the ground wouldn't have suited but he probably wasn't in the same form as at Cheltenham all the same. I've no idea how to rate this form with the winner Apple's Jade mightily impressive, but the way the rest finished suggested all these youngsters were feeling the effects of the Festival on this very different ground. Footpad was the most likeable sort physically by some margin and is a likely improver in time.
A race that pretty much panned out as expected with Cue Card, once again strong in the market, leaving a great sense of 'what might have been' at Cheltenham. He would surely have pushed Don Cossack all the way. Don Poli was given a very different ride here than at Cheltenham and that helped him put in a much better effort. You'd have to think Grand National for him in the future but top weight would be assured.
Annie Power followed up in grand style over a trip that was likely to suit better than three weeks ago. The one view I took from the paddock was that Nichols Canyon looked quite lean and dry in his coat, suggesting he might have had enough for the season. He didn't run much of a race and says quite a lot that My Tent Or Yours, who didn't find much off the bridle over this trip as was likely to be the case, still had enough in reserve to hold on well for second.
The Foxhunters, other than the odd long shot, usually goes to one near the front of the market and there was a school of thought that Pacha Du Polder, under a stronger ride, ought to go closer to On The Fringe with the shorter trip likely to suit. However, the Nicholls horse was very flat after showing up early and the result was never in doubt from quite early in the race - On The Fringe obviously a very good horse in this sphere after achieving the 'double double'. Current Event again ran well on ground that went against him and they should find a nice race for him, probably at Stratford, if we ever get a break in the weather,
Personally speaking the Red Rum was the most interesting race of the day and it took me most of the day to figure out that Katachenko was one of the few who hadn't fully shown what he is capable of. The race has a history of throwing up some shock results and I was happy to put a line through several of the fancied runners on account of the soft ground, while I was also happy to cross out Fayette County even before he started playing up on the way to the start. He's a very big lump of a horse who would prefer a big galloping track.
Minella Present looked trained to the minute but finished lame, while Viconte Du Noyer also looked very well, if a bit keen, and I thought he ran a blinder considering they must have been hoping for better ground. A mention has to go to the winning jockey as Hutch gave Katachenko a terrific front running ride, getting him on a good stride at the fences before firmly making his mind up for him before the last. The horse had every chance to shirk the issue on the run-in, but his effort was hard to crab.
The mares bumper gathered the best of the fairer sex and there were plenty of nice looking horses for the future. Bells On Sunday was one of the nicer ones as was Little Miss Poet, who showed up well and looks to have a great future, Copper Kay is also well made and already shapes like a strong stayer.Shattered Love was apparently not particularly fancied by shrewd connections so they must be thrilled with her effort in third place, this tall, lean chasing type staying on most pleasingly. La Bague Au Roi was all the rage but the ground was a major issue beforehand and she didn't travel anywhere near as comfortably as she has in the past and this light-framed mare clearly has to have good ground. I saw Kayf Grace at Donny and she took an age to get going, but once stoked up here she really stayed on well. A good strong boned mare, she's a bit flighty and got very warm, but is a lovely sort for the future. Augusta Kate is on the small side and it remains to be seen if she goes on over timber.
Newcastle - Friday 8th
The decision was made to head up the A19 to Gosforth Park...and what a mistake it was. If anything could go wrong, it surely did. I had little intention of getting too involved yet ended up leaving plenty behind. There wasn't much to glean from the paddock and I haven't seen too many horses looking over the top yet this spring.
I didn't play the first two races - the 2m handicap chase appeared to be Mumgos Debut's to lose but I couldn't possibly entertain a bet at shorter than 2/1 even though the betting was spot on.
They had put Asuncion in as the jolly early doors but the horse achieved very little in winning here last time and was a fairly solid lay in hindsight, she would probably have finished third had Harry Reed not fallen off Rosquero in bizarre fashion four out after the horse appeared to have popped the fence quite nicely.
It pretty much opened things up for Mumgos, who had come off the bridle on the home turn, and with Asuncion already having cried enough Mumgos was free to finally get off the mark after six runner-up finishes.
This handicap hurdle summed things up as I couldn't see past the first two in the betting, and it proved to be the most wrong I've been all season as neither Molly Milan nor Diamond Damour completed the course.
Molly Milan's form behind Imperial Prince looked quite strong in this context and she looked in terrific form, yet the market suggested all was not right and when one of Goldie's doubles in price you pretty much know your fate. Diamond Damour's form over this trip behind Mac N Cheese at Wetherby was arguably the best in the race and he hadn't been seen to best effect back down in trip. But he stopped as if shot on this very soft ground and the big grey now looks firmly on the downgrade. Simmply Sam was devilishly hard to find and I haven't got Turtle Cask right all year. Like most of the races on the card, the form will not be worth a dime.
Tomahawk Wood was all the rage for division two and after showing precious little in handicaps this strong looking chestnut looked fit and well following a break during which he may have had a wind op as they left the tongue tie off this time (pure speculation). When the Whillans money is down they don't get it wrong too often and in another weak affair he did what he had to do and is one you can take forward from this meeting, as he is starting from a very workable mark.
Final Fling was unexposed but looked agitated beforehand, getting sweaty, and ran no sort of race, while Titian Boy has the look of a decent staying chaser and that he may be in time. However, for the second time he ran no race and fences will need to transform him.
King Of The Wolds has been an ATM for in-running players, never finding much off the bridle, and from the moment he was shoved along in a bid to get on the lead he was going to get beat. These were surprising tactics from a new jockey and while the horse is not one to follow he's better than this and may become well handicapped as a result.
With Alderbrook Lad and Presenting Junior having sighters ahead of their spring targets on better ground, it was left to Un Noble and Silver Tassie to fight out the finish. Un Noble has plenty of raw talent and physically can do a great deal between now and the autumn. If he does, he'll certainly improve plenty on this already solid season. Silver Tassie was further out his ground than his punters would have liked, a trait which jockey O'Toole is overly keen on. As a result this strong staying sort never looked likely to reel in the winner.
I had been expecting to reinvest the returns Nuts Well gave us last time out in the next but the withdrawal of Spiculas scuppered any chance of a bet. Reveley's horse was returning from a lengthy absence and surely wanted better ground, but was taking a large chunk out of the market. The stable sensibly took him out on account of the ground, leaving Nuts Well with a penalty kick. That said, he looked a bit stirred up in the paddock, sweating quite freely, and with Ifandbutwhynot and Swaledale Lad looking very fit off breaks I ended up taking on the good thing. Never mind. The winner is still very novicey but this has been a very likeable first season over timber and I'm sure they'll target a decent prize over hurdles next term before embarking on a chasing career.
There were still two more races in which to hand over some cash and it wasn't difficult. The Orange Rogue went in to this 0/10 over fences although he'd run most of his best races at this track, he always finds one better on the run-in. However, they hacked round for most of this 3m trip and that helped his suspect jumping and stamina, and was against the favourite Veroce who has proved himself a dour stayer. The jolly was outpaced when the tempo finally lifted and young Hamilton was a little slow to react. That said, I always felt he'd reel in The Orange Rogue up the straight. However, N Alexander's charge winged the last three and that ultimately proved the key. Veroce looks the type to improve a good deal with another summer behind him and I can see him becoming a Haydock type of horse as he'd love a slog round there.
A staying hurdle that like the earlier race looked a two-horse affair with Smuggler's Stash expected to relish this slog with the addition of headgear, and he looked fantastic beforehand. When In Roam arrived in terrific form and looked a danger, with none of the others suggesting victory was forthcoming, Tickanrun arguably having a chance on his Musselburgh run. As it was, Triumph Davis put her best hoof forward to land the spoils on ground I didn't think would suit. Smuggler's Stash never picked up the bridle and served merely to show that the Dobbin yard is back in the doldrums after a golden run that saw Rocking Blues land a memorable hat-trick.
With Saturday's Sedgefield card cutting up I'll be taking a breather before a busy week starting next Sunday at Wetherby followed by a first trip to the Perth spring festival.