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.