Friday 26 August 2016


It actually felt like the middle of winter as the rain pelted the tarmac on the road north to Co.Durham as the action resumed at Sedgefield on 'Ladies Night'.

However it was dry on arrival and remained so for the majority of the evening, with the ground riding true to the description of Good.

I thought the market was about right for the opening novices' handicap, where easy Southwell scorer No Ceiling was well-in for this chasing debut.

A strong sort, he looked ready for the step up and was difficult to oppose - albeit hard to back at skinny odds.

Those who took the plunge would have been worried heading to the last as it looked as though Jethro, having his second chase start, would only need a clean jump to win.

However, this quite tall unfurnished youngster was very awkward and handed the race to the favourite, who wasn't finding as much as expected at the time.

Jethro looked extremely laboured at times last season and showed nothing on his chasing debut. But he travelled supremely well here and appeared to do little wrong. Further ought to suit and this was close to a career best.

The proximity of Prince Khurram gives the form a solid look as he ran to his mark again, while suggesting a step back up in trip is now warranted, while Ballyvoque also ran well (he looked in very good form pre-race while appearing to need the run).

Quick Brew was well backed but he is just too small for fences and a return to timber is very much called for.

The maiden hurdle was a forgettable affair and likely won from the tapes when Magic Music Man was set alight and poached a big early lead.

With the recalcitrant Tajseer the only serious pursuer the result was never in doubt, but this form was very moderate. Cape Hideaway showed a bit more in third but for me it was disappointing that he couldn't close up on the front pair, who weren't going anywhere.

The only business of the night revolved around Val D'Arc, who was a massive price against the heavily backed Cooper's Friend.

I wasn't that taken by the jolly, a lengthy, scopey sort lacking height, while Val D'Arc was well turned out by Ms Menzies and looked a horse on the up. I didn't think there was much in it on paper and yet they bet Evens, 5/1 bar.

In we stepped and heading to the last it was a 'pickem' - the selection less than half a length down when reaching slightly for it and coming to grief. It was up in the air, but for what it's worth I suspect Johnson may have lifted the favourite home.

The only thing sadder than doing your dough is the death of the horse you backed - it's even harder when they look to have a decent future and potentially be a flagship for a small yard. Commiserations must go to all those connected to Val D'Arc, who appeared to suffer a heart attack.

Muwalla eventually took second place and while he was well beaten in the end this may have proved once and for all that he doesn't stay this trip. There could be a race in him yet.

The next was another novice hurdle that provided little interest. The two favourites weren't that exciting - Trafalgar Rock as big as Miro was small. Neither appealed much, but nor did Gran Paradiso, who walks with his head high and was quirky in the race.

I had half an eye on Kiwayu, a 70-rated flat horse, who was arguably the paddock pick, who may have blown his mark in coming home second here. The way they finished suggests this is very weak form.

The novice handicap hurdle featured a clutch of interesting sorts, notably the market leaders Amirli and Vic's Last Stand. The former is a nice looker who has done well on the flat since proving a flop over timber for D McCain.

But stamina was a major concern on breeding and run style, and he patently failed to stay. This left it for Vic's Last Stand, who had it sewn up from the top of the hill.

I was ambivalent towards the mare as she looked a bit light framed, and you can see why she's taken a while to come to hand. However, this performance was telegraphed by her latest effort over shorter and ridden prominently here she really impressed by the way she ran to the line.

She's going to get walloped for a 12 length success but should continue to go the right way. Others of interest were Theatre Act and Solway Trigger.

The former had been noted before as being a nice type and with optimum conditions was expected to out-run her price. That she did, without truly building on previous efforts. She's only small but may strip fitter for this.

I've been waiting all summer to see Solway Trigger and it was good to see him back from a break. He's probably had a minor problem but as with the majority of the yard's horses he was turned out pretty fit.

He's a staying chaser through and through and wasn't put in the race. The hurdles were merely getting in the way but he was only six lengths or so behind the runner-up. Kept busy last year despite being big and weak, the break will have done him good.

I strongly suspect they'll be going handicap chasing with him this autumn. If he stays sound he'll be one to follow in 0-100 races up to 3m.

A King's second runner at Sedge Royal Plaza was a surprise favourite of an interesting handicap hurdle bearing in mind how free going he has been over the minimum trip, yet here he was over further.

Bred to stay, he simply isn't getting him at present. The race was won in sound fashion by the P Kirby trained Nautical Nitwit, who really wants further but was intelligently ridden by A Nicol and once they were in front at the top of the hill they were not for catching.

For all that, it was an unsatisfactory conclusion as Almost Gemini came down on the bend, hampering the patiently ridden Taylor.

AG is a big strong animal who will surely jump a fence in time, and I suspect the trainer left a bit to work on here. That said, the horse won here last autumn when looking much bigger than he did this evening and must have gone close.

Julia Brooke seems to know how to train and Stags Leap did her proud again, keeping the winner honest after a long absence. Taylor remains on the radar despite that lamentable effort at Cartmel last time when she may have been amiss.

It would have been nice to see how she came home here as she looked really well beforehand and seems to have filled out plenty. She may yet make a fool of the assessor when the ducks are suitably aligned, although your correspondent is running short of patience.

With the rain now falling hard and none other than Vernon Kaye about to address the throng (or should that be thongs), it was time for a hasty exit prior to a desperate finale.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

The 2016/17 NH season starts here

The mid-summer break in the National Hunt season behind us means, I guess, that we can begin the countdown to what most of us still call the 'start of the jumps'.

I don't have too many clear memories but the old season usually started around this time of year with meetings at Market Rasen and Bangor.

There's plenty of action taking place over the coming weeks but as the ground continues to dry out we can't seriously expect any of the bigger stables to get their horses out until late September/early October.

That's still a long way off but I would like to start posting more in the coming weeks as we look to get back into full punting mode in readiness for the new campaign.

I don't think I've ever put up a tip for a hurdler on this blog and I can't see that happening any time soon as the focus will be on the chasers rather than timber-hoppers even more than ever over the coming months.

Focusing almost solely on chases means I should have more time to watch and study the racing further south, and my on-course trips could take me more in that direction.

We'll see how it plays out. I thought the racing in the north was particularly poor and uncompetitive last season - it became rather dispirited at times. A drier winter might help matters.

With a view to tackling more southern action I intend at this stage to follow the 'road to Cheltenham' a lot more closely and will likely head to the Festival in March rather than tackle Sedgefield and Hexham, which were desperate affairs this year.

As such, any insights that might be worth sharing will be posted here.

However, the bias will remain heavily on the northern circuit and with a bit of luck I'll be putting out a few selections over the coming weeks to help swell the coffers heading into October.

I will be providing a private email service for clients starting in October which will include text updates from the track on condition and well-being. More information on that to follow in the coming weeks.

Apologies for not keeping the blog up to date. I'm coming into the new season fresh and raring to go.