There had been plenty of rain earlier in the week but it was drying out by the hour on Town Moor and the ground appeared to be no worse than good to soft, and arguably better on the hurdles track.
The Unit looked one of the bets of the day in the opening novice hurdle, belatedly up in trip after going down in a speed test at Kempton last time. With Our Reward and Ballycrystal likely to set the race up it was hard to envisage defeat, and that feeling continued throughout the race until King's horse ran about after hitting the front.
Tom Bellamy did well to get the youngster home in the end from the rallying Ballycrystal, who has stepped up markedly on his Sedgefield win. Both of them should go on to better things, while Our Reward looked to run his race in third but probably needs a drop in the ratings.
The handicap chase over 2m was an intriguing race and with the ground coming in his favour I strongly backed Oliver's Gold to be the latest to uphold the recent Kelso form.
I still don't know how he got beat by the often frustrating Festive Affair. Upsides two out and Jonjo's under the cosh, I didn't even check the in-running market as it looked a question of how far.
I did wonder why the cheekpieces had been dispensed with, and perhaps the lack of headgear made the difference. The Walford yard is absolutely flying but somehow this one got away.
I quite liked the chance of Starkie as well, despite his injury-plagued past, but he may have needed this - it was quite hard to tell. I wasn't convinced by Vital Evidence's first go over fences at Sedgefield, considering a bit of a random event (and the form isn't worth much). The flat bred horse did not look at ease over these bigger fences and I'd be against him big time if they persevere over the larger obstacles.
It was a shame they pulled out Wetherby casualty Royal Plaza in the next as he made the market for my fancy, Boyhood. The T George inmate remains unfurnished physically but he looks a decent stayer in the making and he looked leniently treated on his latest effort at Aintree.
He was a very solid favourite in the end and despite showing greenness once more ran out an easy winner, and he'll continue to progress. Indian Brave was the paddock pick, a lovely chaser for next season. He's a bit big and ungainly at present, and I thought he'd come on for the run. It was a big run and he's one to look out for.
It was an interesting novice handicap chase with eight going to post. It wasn't easy choosing between them but there was value to be had as Misfits was surprisingly high in the betting on the back of a debut effort at Kelso, the form of which looked dubious.
She didn't look very big against some of these and the Russell yard has a poor record at Donny. Florida Calling lacks a bit of scope and again ran as though something isn't quite right. Duke Arcadio has been patiently handled but is a proper three mile chaser and he took a big step in the right direction with bold jumping performance.
I thought he must come on for the outing and he can certainly go one better soon. Deputy Commander looked straighter and the NTD inmate always looked like getting the better of the argument up the straight.
This might be okay form as the third, Pyrshan, has some decent efforts to his name in this grade and shaped much better over fences as he often had over timber. Carlo Rocks was well beaten but his time will come...he needs much softer terrain and the C Bailey stable is pretty cold just now.
Azert De Coeur was a shoo-in for money buyers but Venetia's horses often fail to back up reappearance wins and this six-year-old has never been able to run two races alike. Caveat Emptor as they say but even if you weren't interested in taking short odds, finding the winner wasn't easy.
Germany Calling is a summer horse and this ground was on the edge of his comfort zone, but he capitalised on what turned out to be a very weak race. Distant runner-up Drumlee Sunset simply looks high in the handicap, as does Special Catch, who may be best at 2m. Katachenko and his trainer remain in the doldrums.
The staying hurdle wasn't a great one but Lough Derg Leader had a bit of quality about him and the five-year-old did well to win as he liked after getting outpaced when the race finally got going. Winning here off 120, he's obviously got loads of ability. Handsome Sam wants soft ground and fences so his effort was promising - he didn't go on last season so he needs to go and back this up.
Ravenhill Road was an impressive winner on debut and he looked a good thing to go in again under the penalty, less his rider's claim. He's a good looker, strong, and looks a good galloper.
The opposition wasn't great. The Queen's horse Take To Heart is leggy at this time, while Midnight Moss is a lovely strong horse to bear in mind for the future, but he was green as grass before this. Marten is a well-made animal who is probably just backward mentally, but the runner-up Molly Childers looks a grinder of medium build and soft ground will likely see her in better light.
Not a great deal to report, not least owing to the fact of three other meetings going on and little of interest at Donny, particularly at the front end.
Mahlerdramatic had a very good bumper win to his name over a year ago and returned here looking fully revved up. He's a nice horse that has strengthened up a good deal since I saw him looking leggy and weak last Fall. However, Minella Rebellion came with a reputation and the market suggested he was very good.
He didn't looked much physically, just an unfurnished four-year-old, and Mahlerdramatic had two years on him and made it count. Ellison's horse jumped great despite looking very green in front, and was value for further. The presence of the previously ordinary looking Focaccia gives the form a queer look, so we'll see what the assessor makes of them in due course.
The second was as poor a race as you're ever likely to see on a Saturday card, but the 0-100 saw an exciting finish when the only two you could back - Mister Don and Lakefield Rebel - fought it out.
Mister Don let the side down with a tame finish at Wetherby before, but this was weaker still and to be fair he appeared to battle hard to get up on the line to beat Lakefield Rebel, who would have won with a better jumping display.
The latter is very lightly raced considering he's turning 11, but hopefully he'll be able to string a few races together now. He was always built for fences, so there should be more to come from him, but let's not get carried away...this was dreadful stuff.
Third home High Counsel again found nothing, but perhaps he doesn't stay. He's worth a try over shorter, and as he's not that big he should be fine over timber.
I missed the weak mares' race, but not the novices chase that followed which was a difficult affair in which several had chances. Gold Present took the honours despite market weakness - he's a very strong chasing type, he galloped all the way to the line and should hold his own down south.
Drumlee Lad seemed to run his race in second as did Viens Chercher, who looks a tad high in the weights, so the race has a sound look to it. I'dliketheoption isn't that big but he jumped and travelled well before not getting home - it looks like he just doesn't stay at the moment.
The punt on Crosspark was the most surprising element to this. 9s into 3s for his out of form trainer, and with winning form over 3m on very soft ground, things weren't likely to fall his way on this occasion. I liked Bigpipenotobacee, you can see why they've gone straight over fences with him, but this was a tough introduction and it looked like he needed the run.
Cornborough was the day's good thing for the M Walford barn where only a false run race would get him beat. Cue shenanigans at the start where nothing wanted to make it, until M Griffiths used his initiative to quickly build up a 10 length gap on the rest on the in-form Unison. A jockey with brains, eh. He'll be quite a catch, whoever he is.
Cornborough apparently has to come late so this was never going to suit, and he never looked like getting there. One of those things - or maybe I need one of those computer programs that tells me where the pace is going to come from.
Kalondra couldn't be opposed in the next but again things didn't fall his way - they didn't crawl but it wasn't fast enough and this good looking horse is the type to go well in a much better contest. There's no doubt in my mind he was the best horse in this race, and he'll remain well treated as a result of the way it panned out.
Staying on in fourth was Very First Time. Don't forget his name.
The junior bumper was actually really interesting and how lovely for us jump boys to see the great T Murphy back in the winners enclosure. Irish Prophecy was the nicest of the bunch, a strong individual and forward enough to do the business, with Murphy's renowned patience once again coming to the fore.
Motcomb Street is a nice horse but he went for home early and didn't stay, Arakhan is a bit leggy at this stage and Flashing Glance ran a fine race in third for one so green and backward beforehand.