Quite a decent little card and seasonally heavy conditions greeted the runners, while an extremely gusty wind blew across the track making life as hard for punters as it was for participants.
A tidy novices handicap chase was the first port of call and I wasn't keen on Alizee De Janiero, who although has heavy ground form connections always said she's better on good. With no form on undulating tracks and being a bit lean and leggy she was plenty short enough in the betting.
My Little Cracker was also popular but hasn't achieved a great deal in winning twice over timber and she only strikes you as moderate looking at her.
I'd always given Eastview Boy a good write up here and when the money came for him on this first try over fences he became of interest, not withstanding the fact that N Moscrop was on board and that a flat track and better ground may suit best.
Clan Legend, who looked pretty straight, was backed into a short price, and despite a high mark after last season's success made light of conditions to win pretty convincingly, jumping notably well.
Virnon gave vain chase and he went off a massive price suggesting somebody thought he wouldn't be winning, but he's a nice big chaser who can win over fences in similar conditions. It may be that he bumped into one.
The staying chase had a really good shape to it with a few I couldn't have and a favourite in D'Nailor who was opposable on the back of a solitary chase outing, he isn't over-big and breeding suggested the trip may be too far.
I was hugely against Runswick Relax who doesn't seem to be holding condition, he looked quite lean and reportedly bled, and will remain one to oppose. Course specialist Gibbstown looked well but the majority of her form has come in the spring.
It looked like Landmeafortune would go well on this first try at 3m, he's been crying out for a trip as whenever you see Roselier on the distaff side you know there's stamina in abundance.
But he's a bit unfurnished (M Todhunter) and the one who really caught the eye was Smuggler's Stash, who looked well in his coat and perked up by the first time blinds in the prelims. This slow, lazy sort emanated from the in-form Dobbin yard and a repeat of his good run behind I Just Know here last time would be enough. It surely was - but he'll need these extreme tests to be seen to best advantage.
The conditions found out many of the mares in the novice hurdle although daughter of Flemensfirth Lastbutnotleast went through it alright and this strong six year old had too much in her armoury.
Bailey's Champagne To Go didn't look up to much and ran as though attitude is getting in her way, but there were eye-catching performances from Floramoss and Catchamat - the former extremely tenderly handled while the latter is a winner between the flags that wouldn't have had much assistance from the saddle.
I quite liked Sunset Marquis as a specimen, she cost a few quid from Ireland and has ability but her head carriage wasn't great so she has a question to answer. That said, these were tough conditions.
Just Georgie had to be supported in the next over 2m 6f just 11 days on from being brought down at Newcastle, with trip, track and ground all in his favour. Four days later I'm still baffled as to why he stopped at the top of the hill after trading very short. He might have just needed the run still, or maybe he didn't see it out. He's always shaped like a stayer and a bit paceless over shorter, so I'm not sure where this leaves us.
Swing Hard needed the run badly, and The Drinkymeister looked to need the run too, although he was well beaten before fitness became an issue. Verko still looked unfit, but Whiskey Chaser was straight. He was dismal on his return last term, so maybe he can turn it round again. I've always felt he was a nice horse.
The staying hurdle didn't throw up an easy option with course winner Innis Shannon arguably looking value on her return to timber. Master Rajeem has the size of chaser but he's had a new lease of life after moving to the A Hamilton yard and deserved to win it, holding on dourly to beat Flemerina who took an age to get going under a surprisingly laboured effort from her rider.
The finale looked a tricky little handicap chase but in the absence of anything taking the eye I was happy to give Halcyon Days another go after he disappointed at Musselburgh. I thought he was being rushed around that fast track and was hoping he would brush aside doubts about the ground.
He did it really well, just tying up at the end. Spoils Of War finally produced something akin to his much earlier form with a staying on second and he can surely build on this now with a longer trip sure to suit on breeding.
I got to know Clan Chief well enough last seaosn not to fall for his charms again, and he duly clattered a number of fences, while Miss Conway had form tied in with the winner but she's a robust mare who didn't look especially straight and she showed enough before getting weary before the final fence.
Following a pleasant stay in Hexham we headed off down the A69 to Gosforth Park amid torrential rain that ensured the ground rode a good bit softer than the official good to soft that opened proceedings.
Ballycrystal once again looked terrific as he defied a penalty in the opening novice. He's yet to fully strengthen but he's getting loads of experience and he jumped and stayed in the style of a decent operator.
I was disappointed with Our Dancing Paddy at Haydock and he was better here faced with a stamina test, although he wasn't quite right beforehand, getting very warm. He may need time but could make a nice chaser.
The novice chase saw the return of Waiting Patiently just 16 days on from his impressive debut over larger obstacles, and once again he was mustard as he swept aside a very solid benchmark on Forest Bihan.
You can guarantee the latter has run to 140 at least, and with both principles jumping fluently this is excellent northern form. Whether Waiting Patiently can compete with the big boys we can only guess, but Mr Jefferson has another tool to go to war with on this evidence. I haven't seen B Hughes quite so animated in the post race debrief.
A very weak handicap hurdle was taken by Loch Linnhe who had shown snippets of form in bumpers and indeed last time at Hexham. But the opening mark looked stiff and he wasn't easy to find, but he relished the step up in trip and he saw off Hi Bob, who looked quite a bit fitter than at Sedge and he too enjoyed the extra real estate, only bumping into one.
Brackenmoss Rory came in for early support but the cash dried up late on and he was essentially given a jog round at the back, staying on through beaten horses after appearing to semi-plant himself at the start. His mark needs to come down and he's still quite a weak four year old...but his time will come.
Sedgefield winners Maxed Out King and Cabragh took each other on under penalties at an intermediate trip in the next but the market got it right with the heavily backed Smith horse winning well despite an error three out.
Cabragh didn't look like he was over his race over a marathon trip last week, but still ran well enough to suggest he can be competitive off a higher rating. He'll want three miles though. It was a poor race with Money Maid taking second by default - she ran her race and was fit enough to do so, but she looks in the handicapper's grip.
Annie Alainn was a weak jolly in a poor handicap hurdle over 2m but it was hard to put much up against her and she was really up for it, getting a tad warm late on. She bolted up and will have to go under a penalty as she may struggle off a much higher mark - this was really weak stuff.
I liked the handicap chase over the minimum trip as Captain Hox was a warm order despite being a complete hound, a total wet blanket off the bridle. A line went through Zaru from the dreaded Ewart barn while Boss des Mottes showed regressive tendencies last time and he's been on the go for ages now.
With Caraline not ready fitness wise it really only left Groomed and Rosquero as quite decent prices although the big numbers for the former were long gone.
I've quite taken to old Rosquero of late, he's not done an awful lot wrong and has found consistency at a decent level. On this ground the minimum trip is doable and he looked sure to go well, while Groomed was back over fences after a couple of spins over timber when he looked decidedly burly.
The pair duly fought it out, Cook out-riding Bewley from the last to win going away after Rosquero looked to have things sewn up. But you've always got a chance with Cooky and he delivered for his legion of fans again.
The Smith yard has been pretty forward this term and another nice looking bumper horse emerged in the finale by the name of Blottos, with Cook again doing the steering.
This nice horse was backed to the exclusion of much else against the warm favourite in Mayo Star, who didn't have a great deal to beat on this fourth and final start on the flat. I like the horse, he's become big and strong, and he'll do better over obstacles now he's matured - he wasn't so green this time as in the past and he ran into a professional sort last time.
Offshore Oscar came in for support but didn't impress physically, being particularly weak in front, while Arctic Vodka looks a nice prospect but is too tall and weak to be producing the goods on this sort of ground.
Dobbins duo Ruby Who and Heather Burning are fair sorts for the future as is Skywards Reward, a big robust animal who might take a couple of runs to get straight.