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 animal...as 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.