Sunday 30 October 2016

Wetherby weekend

Wetherby's big 'Charlie Hall' meeting kicked off to much fanfare but let's not kid ourselves - the majority of the racing was mediocre and from a punting perspective I found it a turn-off.

I'm going to quickly run through each race as they happened with any observations that might come in handy for the future.


An interesting 2m4f novice hurdle won by Scotchtown, well backed and understandably so once you saw his huge frame, a very strong horse for a four year old. This is Twister's time of year and he's banging them in. I saw Saint Cajetan at Southwell and he's a backward animal, on the small side, so he must have an engine to clock a decent figure here. Sharp Response set a low benchmark after winning here two weeks ago but stepped up on that, only giving best after two out. As I mentioned before he's one for the longer term. Clondaw Cracker is a really strong individual but it's always a worry once they bleed so young. Eastview Boy needs a drop in the weights but he wasn't without promise and is a nice horse who will be well placed, while Robbing The Prey was another eye-catcher that pulled a bit hard.

A handicap hurdle over 2m, a race I seldom bet in. Nothing much stood out - Top Of The Glas looked in great heart but didn't jump as well as he has been doing and his mark looks a stiff one, while Hadfield looks one to avoid, on the small side and probably with attitude as well. Milrow has the size to mix it with older horses and they might be able to find a weaker race than this before the weather turns.

I've been a huge fan of Indian Stream since seeing her win at Southwell over a year ago, when I vowed to follow her over a cliff. She's improved about 3st since then and I don't think I've had a penny on! So it was a grave error to overlook her here, deeming her mark to be a high one and the trip on the short side, in favour of the 'sexy' one in the race Abricot De L'Oasis. The latter is a horse I've always liked but there was a class divide here and Abricot, who went off too short at 9/4, was simply out of his grade I believe. Once taken on by Theatre Guide (just better for the race) the game was up for jolly backers...but back in a C3 he'll remain of interest. None of the others appealed bar Shadows Lengthen, who was fit and well in a bid for a repeat of his win two years ago. I had to throw cash at the veteran at massive odds and he outran them without quite getting there.

As I don't follow the flat, juvenile hurdles are largely of little interest to me. New recruits Nietzsche and Master Blueyes looked the part but their inexperience was palpable as they were swept aside by Cliffs Of Dover, who skipped over the obstacles like they weren't there.

The staying chase was a terrible affair and I couldn't give a chance to any of them, having given one last chance to Blue Kascade last time out I was happy to let others back him into 11/4 favouritism. The paddock pick was Mister Don, who looked outstanding, so we stepped in at big odds. He clearly doesn't act on soft at all but back on this terrain he's a different animal. I'm not sure why he didn't go past Blue Kascade after jumping upsides three out - perhaps he's a bit of a monkey or he was feeling the effects of his run last week. Money came for Queens Bay and Mister Dick but for different physical reasons they are not ones to be with in the short term.

Thankfully only a six-race card but the finale was a quite interesting novices handicap hurdle for conditionals, believe it or not. Ha'Penny Woods (not fit), Improved (fitter than last time), Silent Warrior (fair sort, didn't stay or has a problem?), Star Trouper (eye-catcher last time) and Miss Barbossa (bit of an eye-catcher) were all of interest. Star Trouper clearly has the tools for the job, he's a nice strong individual but has his quirks and went down very early. They've had a job settling him but he was fine at this trip and came there to win his race, only to chuck it away on the run in. I wouldn't give up on him yet - this was quite a long run-in and they'll find better opportunities. En Joule made no appeal in paddock, while the race was deep enough on balance to take on Thyne For Gold, whose form is only moderate.

The quality on show was up significantly but there were very few betting opportunities unless you went out of your way.

I'm not going to go on about Double W's again, but this was surely the day's banker. His jumping was impressive for a novice and although he hit three out when the pace was rising he never looked like falling. He has a great deal of size and scope and I just love him. He'll look better off a fast pace and to me he has the Grand Annual at Cheltenham all over him, with one or two quiet ones before then. He needs good ground, so won't be seen in the darkest months. They finished quite close up but I'd like to think that's because the others all ran as if they're ready to win. Fou Et Sage still looks immature physically but this effort was a marked improvement on his French form, while Holly Bush Henry has filled out and should come on for this run - he looks a ready made chaser and softer ground holds no fears. I wouldn't be quite so sure Apterix has the scope for fences, but he's a versatile sort who should pick up a race or two.

A quality mares hurdle. They all looked in great heart so there was little to take from the paddock.

The West Yorkshire Hurdle. Again they all looked fantastic. Lil Rockerfeller has really filled out into a strong such there's every chance this robust horse will improve from this. Money poured on Native River and while he looked in great nick, he's a pure chaser on looks and wasting his time over timber. I had the winner Silsol down as fit even though I read the trainer felt he might come on for it. It's all subjective but this is why I tend not to listen to trainers. If In Doubt and The Romford Pele looked straight enough.

There were no great revelations ahead of the Charlie Hall. Cue Card looked straight but ran as though last season's exertions had worn him out. It was a sensational period and it's hard to stay at the top, especially giving weight away. However, he's run a stone below his best here, while the winner Irish Cavalier finally fulfilled the potential he has shown at certain points. He's a very strong sort, who is more National than Gold Cup to my eye. Blaklion ran ok but I thought he might come on a touch for it...however he does lack the scope of many top chasers and I'd be surprised if he doesn't struggle at the highest level. Virak looked fit but was disappointing and may want the mud.

This looked a straight match and on the book you had to fancy Ozzie The Oscar on his decent southern form, against the Carlisle form of the ex-pointer Mister Kit. The Hobbs horse did it well enough despite my belief that he would improve for the run, while Mister Kit had tightened up considerably in two weeks but this proved one race too many over timber, and somewhat surprising considering his size. Zipple Back didn't look capable of troubling them from a physical viewpoint as he looked pretty backward, albeit quite fit. However, he looked a blatant 'not off' and was never put in the race with a chance. But this is part and parcel of the game and the horse will know more next time.

I couldn't find an angle in the four runner staying novice chase. Zeroshadesofgrey made some serious errors in this race last year but this was an easier contest and his jumping wasn't under pressure. He's very big and imposing but I'd be very worried about when he gets in close to a fence under pressure - he doesn't use himself that well. I've still got a question mark about Royal Vacation's stamina, and his jumping was pretty ragged. Donna's Diamond wasn't great over timber and looks like it will be a struggle over fences. He wasn't really fit enough here either.

This race threw up some good horses last term with Superb Story going on to win the County Hurdle. The heavily backed Blue Rambler stood out in the paddock as a quality sort and both he and Kalondra should continue to do well this season, both settling better here and seeing out their races. Kalondra didn't get the run of the race late on, with the by-passing of three out not helping. I'm upgrading this effort and I really like him. Stynes and Apple Of Our Eye are decent types that looked well but were simply outclassed by a very decent pair.

Thursday 27 October 2016


A very competitive card for the track drew a decent crowd and the ground looked perfect for jump racing at this time of year.

Jimmy The Jetplane was a warm order in the opening staying chase despite looking irresolute over fences...punters clearly hoping the cheekpieces would do their job.

In opposition Tickenwolf looked most progressive but took a gigantic walk in the betting, going off a ludicrous 4/1. We're trying to overlook market gyrations unless they take on a sinister nature, and the grey looked fit and well and ready to deliver a PB effort.

This undoubtedly was, as the pair came clear of the well-backed but disappointing Court Dismissed, yet 'Jimmy' stuck his head down from the second last and Tickenwolf was unable to land a blow.

A nice little novice hurdle followed with Hexham winner Spirit of Kayf a very warm order to follow up under a penalty. He's surprisingly small, and was dwarfed by most of these. That's not to say one could forsee him crashing out early in the contest...

I hadn't been keen on the rather sparely made Newsworthy last season and he hasn't grown since then. Now with a new yard I didn't care for him much, preferring the physically imposing Ballycrystal, who has strengthened up nicely for the break.

He also took a big walk in the betting, out to 7s, and I didn't think he'd be able to deal with the favourite at this time. What he achieved in winning, I'm not sure, but he has a likeable attitude and will continue to improve.

Shanroe In Milan was you'd say a 'typical' Longsdon horse, well made, good shape, fit on debut, albeit a bit on the plain side. If he was any good he would have been second favourite, at least that was my take.

The two Smith horses, Barramundi and Dick Darsie, are worthy of a mention. The latter looked more forward physically, Barramundi more a 3m chaser in the making, and more in need of the run.

Neither was put in the race, having a nice canter round together, and will no doubt be placed to good effect this season. Edmund looked enormous, and ran as though badly in need of it.

The morning cash in the 'Brian Ellison' handicap chase was, funnily enough, for the Brian Ellison-trained Volvalien, who duly won all out under another P Brennan special.

There was also dough for Nine Altars, and the two horses went at it from the start. I thought they'd be held up, so what do I know? Both looked well, Volvalien arguably the more quality about him.

Nine Altars has never been asked to make the running before, so this was a strange tactical move. He checked out tamely but I'd prefer to see him settled off the pace, and I think he'll get further if he proves more tractable.

Late cash came for Wolf Sword back over 2m, but he too checked out tamely after cruising into it at the cross fence. I felt this gross horse would improve for the run, but he's not gone through with his effort several times before and this raises further questions about him.

Vital Evidence nearly won this, and it was a big improvement on his previous form. This ex-flat racer is a big unit but they've done well to shape him into a chaser. He may yet do ok in this sphere.

Ascot Du Bruyere is a bit on the small side but hopped round ok and briefly threatened before the last...I thought he'd tighten up for this.

I quite liked Bellaney Knight in a teasing stayers hurdle, a nice strong gelding who will stay all day. But he was a second bet to strike out big time, however apparently he was struck into and hopefully the injury is none too serious. He has a future at this game.

To add to the frustration, wherever the eventual winner Wyfield Rose finished, he ought to have finished, based on their form of three weeks ago.

I couldn't have Sun Cloud, who was sent off favourite. he's often shaped like a non stayer and again looked to stop quickly in the final two furlongs.

Doing Fine is a nice big chase type with a touch of class about him in this grade. He looked fit enough but I think he was just outbattled in the end.

Point The Way ran a delightful race in third considering I thought the run would do him good. This is a horse I really like and whether they stay over timber or go chasing with him, he'll win races.

Another of my horses to follow - Five In A Row - ran in the same colours in the Durham National and this time the money went on the Ellison beast despite another big drift. He looked big and well, and I was really confident he'd run a massive race.

Cooky was surprisingly positive on him but he had them all under the cosh from some way out apart from the winner Buachaill Alainn. They tell me the Bowen beast is usually under pressure miles from the finish, so it was disheartening to see him swinging away throughout the final mile. He was well found in the market, so someone knew something.

Jac The Legend was strong in the betting as well but I gave up on him some time ago - I think he's a bit of a pig. He carried a load of condition, but then did so when winning on his return here last season. He's always been held up in his races - perhaps they'll try him from the front one day.

I thought Jennys Surprise ran well, but she needs some respite from the assessor and some softer terrain. Not A Bother Boy never landed a blow and I suspect he was out his depth here - plus he's probably a mudlark.

A couple of weak looking handicap hurdles closed the show. G'Day Aussie made the most of his juvenile allowance to win well in the two miler - he has the physique to match any older horse.

The shock of the race came second, Captain Mowbray. He looked awful, overweight and sweaty, but has run a remarkable race. The Menzies horses have looked in need of the run so far, but they were clear of Hey Bob, who ran ok with a fairly clean round of jumping but again looked queer off the bridle and it was disappointing he didn't finish closer off a reduced mark.

Killiecrankie was well supported but looked to need the run, while modest flat horse Goodwood Moonlight didn't exactly thrill.

The finale looked a match, with Tuesday winner Earls Fort outbattling Vic's Last Stand from the last, who now looks weighted up to her best. Not many took the eye, My Little Cracker still hasn't settled down, while Groomed was unsurprisingly carrying some condition.

Sunday 23 October 2016


First trip across the '62' for some quality if competitive action, intriguing stuff and plenty of info gathering for the months ahead.

They had clearly put a lot of water down to make it safe for quite a few big names to make their seasonal debuts but there was no good to soft in it whatsoever and the times confirmed that view.

No Comment has not looked straight forward over timber so far and yet was made a very short priced favourite against the well touted Robin Roe from the Skelton yard.

I don't think a great deal of the former YET as he has some growing and filling to do physically, while the eventual winner was typical of the stable - not overly big but neat and athletic and certainly 'gallops fit'.

The eye was constantly drawn to Abbotswood, more from a distant future perspective, but he showed up well for a long way and ought to win a race over timber before making a decent chaser.

Little much else appealed, least of all Ghost River who has the make and shape of a real mud lover, although more than just ground was probably the issue here.

Kerrow started the season a well-handicapped sort in a competitive looking staying handicap, but only as long as the able A King sorted out his ropey jumping technique. I recall backing him at Donny last term where he was awful in the air and eventually unseated.

The excellent W Featherstone buried him out the back before bringing him with a well-timed challenge to win pretty tidily. He'll surely improve much further and this real chaser in the making is apparently set to go over the larger obstacles soon.

I preferred quite a few others to the fancied Scoop The Pot, who is lightly raced but a bit on the weak side and probably needed the outing. Globalisation is a big chaser but he didn't really have the cojones for fences last term.

He's incredibly well-handicapped back over timber and may have gone closer than he did had he not been given such a forceful ride. He doesn't look an easy ride by any means, but he probably wants holding up especially over a trip he's not sure to stay.

Now I'm not particularly au fait with the general demeanour of Ms Curtis but the trainer had a face like a smacked arse in the immediate aftermath. One wonders if the hitherto excellent J Moore didn't ride to orders this time.

Desert Sensation looked fantastic and I wouldn't suggest he's done winning yet as he pulled way too hard and could easily handle a drop in trip. One Cool Scorpion looked fit, but ran really badly.

We came to a veterans chase where Forgotten Gold headed the market despite looking several weeks off peak fitness. One suspects a mark of 141 is beyond the beast but the way he stopped after leading into the straight suggested something wasn't quite right.

I put a line through plenty for one reason or another, and made Masters Hill a decent bet for all that softer ground would suit. However after belting the first he was never going - whether it was the ground, or he got a cob on, or something went wrong, who knows. He has been known to blow out before and I wouldn't be surprised to see him back winning this season.

I gave Shuil Royale every chance of hitting the frame, as it looked like he'd been laid out for it, even though his mark looked a high one. But he's clocked another PB in winning nicely and the market got it all wrong as he had been friendless on the machine.

Another competitive handicap hurdle came next where the market was headed by a Skelton hotpot in Born Survivor, a nice strong horse with soft ground form to his name. However this terrain was different and it would have been a big worry had I been a backer, which I wasn't. The absence of jumps up the straight wouldn't have helped either.

That's not to say I backed the eventual winner, and Irish-trained rag I've never heard of and probably won't again. Jacks Last Hope ran into a place at big odds to continue to hot form of C Grant, however I thought Sir Ivan and Perform both would need the run to put them straight - in fact both looks as though they could so with a fence. Great Try is another who will surely go over fences now, however this son of Scorpion may not be easy to win with in handicap company.

The Old Roan saw Three Muskateers priced up a remarkable 7/4 favourite with pretty much everything to prove. A speed test was never going to suit this hype-job and I couldn't have him at any price, let alone fractions.

In fact at prevailing odds Gods Own looked a crackerjack of a bet, essentially being the best horse in the race under today's conditions while appearing fit enough to deliver the goods. Third Intention was the only other likely to go on the ground, but his win ratio is dire and the decent early odds were long gone.

But the handicapper had given him a chance and a 16lb turnaround for their run in the Haldon Gold Cup 12 months proved decisive, perhaps more so than the runner-up being hampered three-out just as the race was hotting up.

Smad Place ran well considering he needed the run, as did Vibrato Valtat, while Royal Regatta was straight enough but most of his form is on much softer ground.

Feeling a lot lighter after two expensive reverses, there was no reason to play a devilishly difficult novice handicap chase that unsurprisingly threw up a winner in Minellacelebration who looked the least appealing beforehand.

He looks a dour stayer who will revel in soft ground, so this win was given added merit. He worried What A Moment out of it from the last but this was not unexpected as the Pipe horse looked a 'twicer' on his previous outing and is going to make a name for himself if he's not careful.

It was a race punctuated by jumping errors, not least from Zanstra, who is a lovely big animal who was far too fresh in the prelims and had probably run himself out by halfway, when his jumping got very ragged. In time, he should be more than alright.

What Happens Now looked a bit heavy, but I liked Dr Robin even though he was carrying condition. Beggars Cross surely wants it softer, while Pawn Star was the obvious call but he couldn't put his experience to good use and now looks high in the weights based on some pretty weak summer form.

The mares' bumper is not one to dwell on. Ilovemints looked okay without standing out, Black Sam was the strongest and fittest but went wrong, while Henderson's Big Robin looked enormous and the market drift confirmed that today wouldn't be her day.

Friday 21 October 2016


Back across the A66 for another decent early-season card, although it didn't look an easy punting day and so it proved. The ground had turned soft after recent rain but it wasn't 'winter' soft and three horses who had ground concerns hanging over them all sluiced up.

The Skeltons came up with four decent chances on paper but only went away with the winner of the opener in the unfortunately named Aintree My Dream.

I wasn't that taken by the impressive bumper winner until the rug came off, to reveal a horse of some substance and quality. He was backed as though defeat was out of the question and so it proved.

Broad Spectrum took the eye of many as a future long distance chaser, while Late Romantic looked a bit light framed for me but ran another solid race to suggest he can be winning before long. Catching Shadows was keen and on edge for his belated return.

I took a strong view in the next handicap chase and came up empty. Tikkandemickey had endured a dire season and as a consequence had been dropped to a very handy mark - yet that was his only redeeming feature. 0/7 at the track and beaten miles on most occasions, I couldn't have the Hexham specialist even though he was fit, albeit on his toes and very warm (this is not unusual).

We had to take on Wilton Milan, having gone sharply downhill in the past year and looking increasingly one-paced. With Little Glenshee looking huge beforehand it left Spanish Fleet, having his first start for G Bewley, and Revocation.

Spanish Fleet is a burly horse but looked to have had plenty of work put into him, and the market agreed with that sentiment. Off a winnable mark he had to go well although I was that keen on his demeanour in the prelims and although he was reported to have 'taken a blow' mid-race, I suspect the reapplication of cheekpieces will be needed if I'm to go chasing losses.

The other bet had to be Revocation. He missed last season through injury after I stuck him in my horses to follow list. But I was quite surprised to see him looking very fit for this comeback over a trip that looked short of his optimum.

With a positive ride he was likely to be one to beat so it was surprising to see G Cockburn holding onto his head for much of the contest, allowing Tikkendemickey to sweep ahead three out.

Perhaps he took a blow as well, as he was surely entitled to do. But if he's jumped the last ok and not got unbalanced in the final 100 yards he would surely have won. It was a bitterly disappointing outcome.

A word should be thrown out for Harleys Max, who ran well from out the weights and his turn will come on a flatter track.

We moved wearily on to a hideous handicap hurdle that had zero appeal from a betting standpoint. Layers should have been all over Bonzo Bing, who looked knowhere near fit yet was trading at 8/1 when he was at least a 25/1 poke.

Having given up on Theatre Act after a lamentable display at Kelso last month it was a tad galling to see the pint-sized filly finally deliver on the promise of several decent efforts in first time headgear, although I've already moved on from her.

Snowed In looked in great heart but was held up well out his ground for no apparent reason, while Landmarque and Jack Steel looked fit enough to run their races.

The staying handicap was more competitive than I had originally thought, on account that they all looked pretty straight despite several coming off lay-offs...Morney Wing looked great, Harry The Viking fit, Basford Ben ditto.

Sadly, the early 13/2 snaffled on Nakadam was money poorly spent, although I did manage to unravel some of it after the beast turned up looking awful in the paddock. I'd never seen the animal before but he lacked definition behind the saddle and was wrong in his coat, looking a bit miserable to boot.

Unsurprisingly, he drifted back out on the show as money came for Ballyben, who looked terrific in his coat. He's really thick set so he must have needed that run at Hexham, and I've always quite liked him.

However, he didn't really appeal on track and ground but the yard can do no wrong right now and Hughes let them come back to him after the leaders went hard at it from a mile out. Voyage A New York looked dry in his coat and this is not his time of year.

Oldgrangewood once again took the eye in the handicap hurdle over 2m1f but he seemed to lack the toe of a couple of rivals and the match fit Traditional Dancer was an impressive winner for the Jardine/Shortall combo. The horse looked in terrific shape beforehand and with Irish raider Pashtunwali surprisingly coming in for support, backers of the winner got plenty of bang for their buck.

The three-runner novice chase was not a betting medium as Cloudy Dream was unopposable on chase debut, despite the trainer having left something to work on fitness-wise. He's got loads of speed for one who will stay further and will surely be placed to win races.

Chidswell is frail but looked a real chaser and as straight as you could wish. I thought the pair jumped great from the top of the hill and if he comes out of this ok the Richards horse must win races over fences. Road To Gold was another from the N Alexander barn to look and race as if the run would do him good.

We clawed much of the losses back in the closing bumper when the paddock told us Dubai Angel would not be beaten on this fourth and final outing on the flat.

He had tightened up significantly since Southwell over a fortnight ago and with him running to pretty decent figures in all previous runs, and with the promise of more to come, it would take a very decent one to beat him.

Skelton's Al Shahir was well-backed all day but this was yet another case of early money proving very misleading. The beast might be ok in time but looked backward and as if he hadn't been in training that long. The year-older Jefferson animal simply had more strength for the final climb and the market got it right in the end.

Friday 14 October 2016


A competitive card for the time of year with a handful of southern raiders to add a bit of spice to the mix. Good ground prevailed but the showers got into the ground and it definitely looked softer after race three, particularly on the hurdles track.

The opener held little interest, a conditional jockeys hurdle race for which the top one Little Bruce looked big as a bull, he'll take a while to come right as they work his mark down.

Brian Boranha was the only one of interest from a future point of view, although he was beaten miles and he didn't really look straight forward off the bridle. He's a fair looker, and will want further in time.

Dual course winner Mister Kit was the one to beat in the next but there was a concern that he wouldn't be fit for this return and paddock inspection suggested this strong chase type would come on a ton for the outing.

Fair play to W Kennedy on Derintoher Yank who served it up to the jolly from flagfall, with fitness eventually telling after the last. The winner is not really one to have on side as we head into the winter, while the jolly's rating is way too high, but the third Min Alemarat took the eye again and his mark shouldn't be badly effected by this.

All eyes were on Double W's in the novice handicap chase as he represented the first runner of my horses to follow list. He's got some filling out to do generally and I thought he would come on again for this run, but nevertheless he was the one the beat.

They didn't let well-backed favourite Wells De Lune get too far ahead and with that one going left at the fences everything fell into place.

As expected the Jefferson inmate jumped like an old hand on his chase bow and this delightful horse has been a model of consistency throughout his career. Having had a couple of scouting missions already at Cheltenham, this horse has to have the Festival as his target. The Grand Annual should suit and I think he's that good.

The ex-Irish The Herds Garden looked to step up considerably on what he had achieved before, and the pair pulled well clear. It'll be nice to see if he can boost this form in the coming weeks. They were clear of the favourite, who was very keen in the prelims and isn't one to follow until he calms down.

Wade Harper has never appealed physically and like his sibling Cole Harden is on the small side. He was very tubby here and will need further, while Castletown came with a reputation but as expected looked quite weak and backward.

It was Ballyarthur vs Ryedale Racer in the next novice hurdle and former dwarfed the latter beforehand. Twister's horse is huge, almost too big, and will just be an out and out galloper. He looked straight, as straight as a horse that size can look.

He certainly looked fitter than his market rival, who can tighten up significantly from this. He could do with another 12 months actually so he's quite interesting from a long-term point of view.

I always felt he'd be better on top of the ground and this was a decent effort, albeit hard to quantify exactly. I was surprised how he was able to rally after being headed but there you go - time will tell what he has achieved in deservedly getting off the mark over timber.

The next was a little cracker of a novice handicap with a few 'sexy' horses taking on the progressive Amilliontimes, who I had lined up for a bet at Hexham a fortnight ago only for the ground to lead to him being scratched.

This good ground horse still looked well handicapped to me, but up in grade he was facing his stiffest test yet. And with the previous four races being dominated by horses running prominently, I told myself he wouldn't able to make ground on some decent animals.

My bad, as they say over there. Major Ivan looked a terrific as he bid for a Jefferson treble and he was bound to be in the mix having been dropped a whopping 8lb for his pipe-opener at Sedgefield two weeks ago. Nothing to do with the Straker family having friends in high places. No, silly me.

Major Ivan probably should have won but for a mistake two out, but I just wonder if the winner would have worried him out of it anyway. 1/14 is a poor return for a horse with such latent ability and for me the jury remains out with regards to his resolution.

Masterplan looked straight but was overbet and the way he stopped to nothing early in his career weighed on my mind. He did the same here and now has a question mark over him. Oscar Blue looked fairly straight but he probably wants further and softer, and ran as though needing the run, while Kilronan Castle was very disappointing for the second time in four starts.

Three Faces West was unsurprisingly all the rage ahead of the staying chase and was straight enough, but there's not loads of him front to back and I had a query over his jumping. However, I wasn't expecting such a recalcitrant display and it left the race wide open.

I couldn't have Bob Tucker at any price. He's a traveller and little more, and there's not much of him. He got to the bottom of the hill and said 'no thank you very much'.

Carrigdhoun got the job done and this admirable horse looked surprisingly forward on this return. His market drift was counter intuitive as I couldn't have the rest bar Ardkilly Witness, who I gave a real chance to off a decent mark. He too showed nothing, and has it all to prove now, while Askamore Darsi once again suggested an extreme test would be right up his street. Haydock, 3m4f, heavy ground. Bosh.

The finale was one to forget. Benenden did me a big favour at Musselburgh last term and had to win this if the ground hadn't turned too soft. But he's quit too easily more than once and the bottom line is he hasn't got the guts for it.

Bourne and Baysbrown were the only two fit and in-form horses and they fought it out, the former's Lazarus-like turnaround seemingly complete.

Wednesday 12 October 2016


The ground looked like a carpet and the times suggested it was genuinely good even though they seemed to take their time in a few of the races.

A ghastly state of affairs opened proceedings when F O'Toole was allowed a big lead from flagfall on the rag Canford Thompson which he held to the line.

How this can be allowed to happen under guidelines brought in last year I'm not sure. The jockeys are not blameless but isn't it the starter's responsibility to ensure a fair start? Fair play to connections of the winner but everyone else on the racecourse felt short-changed, and the starter should be reprimanded.

Not a race to dwell on, but I thought Nucky Thompson too small to be a success over timber, while I was also against the runner-up Silver Streak, who looks a bit lairy, on his toes and a bit lean and leggy.

I mentioned Actinpieces here in glowing terms after she won at this track last season, and she looked the part on this chase debut. I felt she had filled out and was probably short of a gallop or two, and I suspect she may have blown up on the far side before throwing down a challenge.

I need to see it again but it seemed a novicey fall at the last and maybe she was a bit tired. She was up against the very experienced Ballybolley, who used his smarts to land short odds.

I thought he'd win this cosily, but after getting too tight to the last four he had to be ridden right out to beat Shear Rock. This was nothing the winner hadn't done already, and he may be one to take on in future.

Shear Rock is very strong and I thought he jumped well. He looked pretty straight here but ought to pay his way even though the handicapper will have to bump him up a notch.

Sue Smith rarely has winners this time of year but Sharp Response looked straighter than I was expecting for the novices hurdle, however this big boned chaser in the making was not thought likely to be ready to make a winning debut for connections.

The market disagreed with this particular 'judge' and sure enough the horse did all that was asked up the straight to win a shade cosily.

For all that I liked him physically he looks one for the long term and I fancy this form isn't great. Several of them failed to back up earlier runs and the presence of 83 rated Louloumills upsides at the last is a big red flag.

The fact that none of them really appealed beforehand makes the call on the winner doubly disappointing. Deise Diamond is quite light framed and looks a buzzy type, while Tell The Tale looks moderate. Improved wasn't fit here but he may have his day, especially as he is becoming well-handicapped.

The Bobby Renton was a terrific contest but not one for a faint-hearted punter. I questioned the validity of the gamble on The Grey Taylor before the race and I don't really understand why he's favoured by so many. With questions to answer over stamina and well-being in particular (he doesn't look at ease with himself physically) in a race of this depth I didn't give him a chance.

Not that I could find the winner, although Lord Wishes looked a picture beforehand and he continues to perform well despite looking moody at times, running in snatches again here.

This looked a slow-run affair but it isn't necessarily reflected in the time. I don't think it suited hold-up horses like Presenting Junior (looked fit) or Degooch, who ran a blinder but got there far too soon as there was no pace to shoot at.

They all looked fit enough in the next - Marquis Of Carabas ready first time out and strong in the market. I thought he might want further but he showed decent tactical speed to cover the mid-race move by Crookstown.

Nautical Nitwit is a model of consistency and he was also well found in the market.

Only three of the nine that lined up in the next had a chance in my book and Monbeg River was the choice to build on a very sound first season over fences.

The slight concern was that the horse wants further now so it was disappointing to see B Harding sit off the pace and refuse to make a move on the home bend to cover the leader, who had set an even tempo and was bound to kick again.

There's little more frustrating than seeing your horse finish with loads of running, but there's no use balling about it, you've got to get on with it. Backers of Owen Na View will be thankful of the ride P Brennan gave it, and they were the best partnership on the day.

He was one of only two dangers - Helium not giving his running. Domtaline looked in great order and it came as no surprise to see him run his usual honest race, albeit handicapped by the rider.

Trust Thomas and Indian Voyage weren't fit, neither was Attimo.

I always look to take on horses running under penalty but they tend to hose up 'as expected' when you lay them, but when you go looking to buy money you usually come unstuck.

These days I sit out such scenarios and I was between the proverbial stools here with Return Flight, who I saw win a poor contest at Southwell last time.

This was a very different race with the likes of Regulation, Nuts Well, Ifandbutwhynot and Jacks Last Hope nailing good and solid handicappers.

Nuts Well looked pretty straight which surprised me and he ran well, albeit confirming that the handicapper has him about right.

I did throw coppers at Ifandbutwhynot at a huge price even though he's hard to win with, but it was Jacks Last Hope who got a very different ride to the one at Sedgefield last time.

Maybe that track didn't suit (he's won there before though) so I hope backers that day kept the faith. Return Flight looked fabulous, but he didn't jump great and finished well beaten. Perhaps he's just not that good.

Friday 7 October 2016

Chasers to follow

Well, here we are again. The time of year where we convince ourselves the game is easy and by making a dynamic list of horses to follow we can win enough to spend the entire summer in the south of France.

Obviously that's not going to happen but with a bit of luck this sextet will keep the fires burning through the long winter nights.

I have no idea what the plans are for these horses - it's all guesswork. We can only hope the wheels are still on and the engines are being cranked up.

Last year I put up five horses, two of which never saw the racecourse. Let's hope for better luck with these six chase prospects.

Double W’s (M Jefferson)
I was thinking of including this horse even before he made an early reintroduction at Hexham last week, when he ran another solid race behind the improving and race-fit Australasia.

Having now been placed five times over timber and twice in bumpers, he looks a bit one-paced over 2m but pulls too hard over an extra half mile and doesn’t quite see his race out.

But he’s bred to stay well and 2m4f should hold no terrors this term with that pipe-opener out of the way, when I thought he looked around 85% straight.

Having already run twice at Cheltenham, he’s clearly held in decent regard by his handler, and I can see him going well in the novice handicap at the festival with his attentions now turned to fences.

Having never run on soft ground, decent terrain appears to be important and I can see the six-year-old being sparely campaigned round the likes of Catterick and Doncaster this winter. You only have to watch his incredible effort at the former venue in February to see the potential this horse has.

Five In A Row (B Ellison)
I expect this unexposed horse to have a big season in staying chases as he reaches full maturity.

A career over the larger obstacles was put on hold early in 2015 but he was right back on track last term with two hard-fought wins over a trip that is likely to prove short of his best.

After essentially out-staying the opposition at Musselburgh and Newcastle, he didn’t have the pace to get competitive at the Cheltenham festival before closing the campaign with another solid performance behind a speedier type at 20f.

But 3m-plus is where his future lies and, having never run at the trip over fences, there are reasons to believe he is well positioned to take advantage of a mark of 136.

Just an economical jumper of fences, he is also well-in off 131 over timber should his astute handler find a suitable opportunity.  

I Just Know (S Smith)
The first of two entrants from the yard of Sue and Harvey Smith. Typical of one of theirs, this six year old had half a dozen outings over timber without troubling the judge, nor I suspect many notebooks.

However, things didn’t go right on several occasions following a pleasing seasonal return at Wetherby, and for my liking he looked on the weak side physically for much of the campaign.

He out-ran his odds in a good race at Doncaster before going as if over the top on his final start, and it’s my guess that a mark of 105 seriously undervalues this horse’s ability.

He’ll make a lovely staying chaser and I can’t wait to see him again, he should be able to win over 2m4f before Christmas prior to stepping up in trip.

Cost 28k 18 months ago, so connections will be looking for some payback this autumn. It ought to be forthcoming.

Just Georgie (S Smith)
Another Bingley-based youngster hiding his light under a bushel last term was this Kayf Tara gelding, who showed more than enough to suggest a mark of 113 can be exploited over fences this time around.

Apart from one disappointing mid-season effort he showed a willing attitude in the face of several difficult tasks, before receiving a surprisingly negative ride on his final start at Sedgefield, where he wasn't seen to best advantage.

A notably good jumper of hurdles, he is thoroughly unexposed in stamina sapping conditions that should suit, and this high-knee actioned horse will require soft ground to show his best.

Kilbree Chief (L Russell)
For the second time in three seasons I’m putting up a horse trainer by Lucinda Russell that has had time off the track through injury, however I have no hesitation in proposing Kilbree Chief as one to follow in staying handicaps this winter.

The only two disappointing runs of this eight-year-old’s career came within a fortnight of each other when it is assumed he was suffering from the problem that subsequently kept him off the track for 20 months.

But in five chases last term he appeared to resume his upward curve, finishing second four times and winning when facing an extreme test of stamina for the first time.

He will resume on a mark of 127, coincidentally the same perch as when ending his hurdling career. I believe Kilbree Chief will prove worthy of a stone higher rating if campaigned over extreme distances, with the slugfests that dot the programme at Haydock making particular appeal. 

Point The Way (B Ellison)
Considering he was a May foal, this athletic Brian Boru gelding has achieved a good deal before reaching his fifth birthday, and with more to come he’s one to keep onside.

Bought the previous May for £43,000, Point The Way was given quite an aggressive campaign with seven starts, winning four. Essentially a stayer, he ploughed through terrible ground on Boxing Day before winning twice more from the front, jumping well and showing a willing attitude.

He had probably had enough by the time he contested the EBF final at Sandown, but that poor effort means a mark of 131 should be exploitable in the coming months.

I’ve no idea whether they plan to start him out over hurdles this season, but with plenty of improvement to come physically he’s a five year old to look forward to, particularly if or when he's sent chasing. 

Tuesday 4 October 2016


Well, you could never say it's a pleasure to head to the Rolleston venue, even if it is for some NH action, but the sun was high in the sky with barely a breath of wind making for a pleasant outing.

The ground was officially on the soft side of good but with times looking decent, especially with the obstacles to the outer, it was probably good ground and they went a fair old lick in a few of the races.

Worcester winner Bandol didn't hang about in the opener which was curious as he won last time out having sat off a furious gallop. This time he was asked to make it and it's a sure-fire way of getting a horse beat. He was exhausted when crashing out at the last.

The race revolved around H Fry's Innocent Girl, who had shown little for L Russell before finding her form between the flags this spring.

A starting perch of 73 was derisory based on a couple of point wins and she came through to land favourite backers' money with ease despite a mistake down the far side. She's not over-big but appears to have a good leap in her off this sound terrain and ought to be able to land a hat-trick in the coming weeks.

The only other handicap chase on a six race card was over 3m with debutant Robert's Star quite a warm order after a decent seasonal return four weeks ago. His diminutive size tempered enthusiasm somewhat, particularly at the prevailing odds, but jumping doesn't seem to be an issue.

Nico wanted to make it a real test and they went at it along with St Johns Point with fully a circuit to travel. This probably wasn't the wisest move and set the race up for a closer in Ballyrock, who notched another win for the red-hot Vaughan kennel.

Ballyrock, well found in the market, had little recent form but had been useful at one time. He looked well but it took a leap of faith to think he could win this.

That said it was hard to reach a strong conclusion beforehand. Monkhouse looked a difficult ride here last season and although he looked big and well, he once again didn't appear to be relishing the job at hand in first time cheekpieces. He looks one to avoid.

St John's Point has always finished weakly but punters continue to give him one more chance. This 4/1 chance was never likely to win, don't worry about that. I dread to think how low he traded off that home turn.

Kinari looked great beforehand but has probably done enough for one summer, while Iora Glas simply doesn't have the scope for fences and belted a few here. He's a thorough stayer and will pop up again over timber one day.

Going back to Robert's Star, I think there's improvement in him. They've gone very hard in front as he's a strong stayer, but this was tough. He's only six and will rate a good deal higher.

Vaughan had the odds on Debece in the next to continue the winning streak but he's a very big unit with long galloping stride - 2m was always going to be tight but he was so impressive last term there didn't look to be much viable opposition.

Market rival Utility was weak in the betting and he too looks a strong stayer that wants soft ground. He made no impression in this despite looking fit but he was blowing hard a good while afterwards.

Anything with a bit of toe was in with a chance but Hag Stone had been so wayward having switched to timber that a shock was hard to foresee. A nervy, edgy sort, he didn't hurdle with a great deal of fluency here either but is clearly getting the hand of things.

They didn't go fast enough on the favourite and the form is hard to weigh up. The winner's recorded a PB but Debece was well below previous form and I suspect the run was quite badly needed, while he'll want further sooner rather than later.

I discussed Return Flight in my March 23 blog entry, baffled as to why he didn't win that day. Moved to the outstanding D Skelton, he was backed as though defeat was out of the question, and he duly stepped up greatly on form previously shown.

They were strung out behind and the form may not amount to much...however I'm keeping a close eye on this race. Four Mile Beach returned to form while Opechee was one of the paddock picks despite huge odds, a tall leggy individual who looked pretty fit. He may have turned the corner and is one to watch, while Star Trouper is getting the hang of things and is another who cannot be ignored in the coming weeks.

Many of the others weren't fit while Murray Mount is a chaser in the making and ought to rate higher when returned to further.

A fair handicap hurdle came up next and the money for Gaelic Myth was something of a surprise as he had a more exposed look than some and, although in great order, looked as though the run would do him good.

He never took a cut at his obstacles and with an injury absence of a year already on his record, he's going to be difficult to win with.

With the market telling you that The Tailgater needs more time, it looked like Quieto Sol and KK Lexion may fight this out. The latter has not grown an inch since the spring, but had shown plenty of promise and was fit enough, while there's not a great deal of Quieto Sol and this looks his time of year.

Longsdon's animal probably should have won this, but was immature and novicey in the straight, losing ground and momentum at both flights that proved costly. Cheekpieces may do the trick and a longer run-in might help too!

The bumper revealed a smorgasbord of horseflesh and an unsatisfactory outcome with N Bycroft's Bengali Song taking a slowly run affair. It continues to surprise punters why nobody wants to go on in many of these races, where the best horses are often unable to shine.

That Dubai Angel is the best horse in this race is probably indisputable. A lovely big chaser in the making, he looked on great terms with himself after almost a year on the sidelines, albeit carrying some condition. There was nothing wrong with this comeback and the way he stayed on to the line suggests he'll relish 2m4f over timber in time.

New Member looked forward enough but never picked up in the straight, while Ballyhill is a moderate looking horse who also failed to throw down a challenge, however this was less of a surprise considering his regressive form.

Or De Vassy looked backward in third while Pampanini is a plain, unfurnished mare who may not amount to an awful lot.