Sunday 29 January 2017

Doncaster weekend


The forecast hadn't looked great but the meeting beat the frost and the ground looked pretty good all round, as is often the case here a little looser on the chase track.

We headed to Town Moor with a few bullets to fire, non bigger than in the opener where Midnight Cowboy was returning to the scene of his victory over Aliandi, form that I felt was pretty strong.

With improvement from this strong horse likely he looked a really good bet, with a minor caveat being the 5f longer trip which was just a slight worry.

However, as I suspected we were able to lay off the bet nice and short at the top of the straight with W Hutch swinging away, seemingly having only the nine-year-old Bodega to beat.

No worries, you probably felt, but there had been money around for the outsider and he duly returned to something like his best form returned to timber, establishing an advantage going to two out and never really looking like relinquishing it.

The third and fourth stayed on well and Queens Present looks a nice strong mare with a future, from the family of Kicking King.

I had a strong feeling Behind The Wire would be able to go back to back following his victory at Taunton providing this big strong chaser had calmed down since I last saw him here, when he got pretty worked up.

Time has seen him mature but he still got very warm, although it looked superficial and I didn't expect it to harm his chances. Whether other paddock watchers thought this was the case and forced his price out I don't know, but a return of 11/4 was remarkable considering he was a solid 7/4 shot on paper.

Perhaps punters were pricing in a potentially dismal effort from the saddle from A Heskin, because unfortunately that's precisely what he got.

I've talked about this plenty here before and it remains a bugbear that jockeys don't seem to have the gumption, for the want of a better word, to kick on when they have the chance to put a race to bed, particularly when riding one that stays all day and has already proved he is fine out in front on his own.

What, then, was Heskin thinking of by taking a pull heading into the straight, allowing perennial chaser Fort Worth to stay within shouting distance. Getting his mount on the back foot meant losing momentum into four out, and he didn't meet the last three right either, especially the last when the race was handed to the winner.

The way they rattled past the post suggested both are much better than their mark - of Fort Worth we knew this but at least they have a win in the bag, whereas Behind The Wire will go up half a stone for getting beat. Frustrating.

The next was so desperate it was hardly worth taking a look at them in the paddock, the winner and favourite Stepover not looking up to much which probably says a lot for the event.

Another one got away somewhat in the next when the PTP fraternity were all over Ypsilanti, who had won a couple between the flags and is so often the case had been let it under rules on a fair mark.

One look at him turned me right off though, he wasn't moving great and looked about how a 90-rated horse should. It wasn't a great race by any means however - warm favourite Baraza having the best chase form on show, and although you could expect him do build on his Leicester win he would probably have to.

In the end he may not have stayed, but even so Ypsilanti would have won by a wide margin even if he hadn't walked through the last fence as though it wasn't there.

Runner-up Glengra looks pretty small for fences but seemed to pop round without too much trouble, and should be able to find something similar on good ground at a small track.

Mount Mews was made a short priced favourite again after getting turned over at Wetherby, but he was down in trip here and got a lovely tow into the race from Man Look, who went off too fast.

Chief market rival was Wealth Des Mottes, two years his junior who had blown out completely on his debut for P Nicholls...and he blew out again. Another to blow was Theodorico, a flat bred horse who isn't going to stay 2m in a horse box.

The novice chase was a high-class four runner affair headed by former Festival winner Aux Ptits Soins, who hasn't been entirely convincing in two starts over fences, albeit looking better at Kelso last time.

That form wasn't brilliant though, and he was up against some strong staying sorts in Premier Bond and Kerrow, while the poorly handicapped Viens Chercher wasn't a forlorn hope if suited by a step up in trip.

The Nicholls horse did not look entirely happy early on and his jumping got progressively worse, leaving the other three to fight out the finish, the two stayers wearing down Viens Chercher after the last with Premier Bond knuckling down best close home. And I'm starting to wonder if Kerrow might be the one for the handicap on the opening day of the Fest.

The Henderson beast is really likeable, the sort you want on your side in a ruck, and he's definitely worth keeping on the right side of in decent handicaps this spring, with good ground clearly no bother.

The finale looked a three horse race according to the betting and the paddock, with Brio Conti, Wenyerreadyfreddie and well touted newcomer Dara's Present all standing out. The former still looks quite green mentally, but was very professional in the race, while Henderson's runner-up didn't really build on his Newbury effort, jumping clumsily at times and looking a bit raw.

Dara's Present went quite freely and he looks a backward baby, while Pomme was the other eye-catcher - a strong mare with decent bumper form staying on nicely after looking pretty fit despite a lengthy absence.


Not a great punting card in truth, with some very competitive looking stuff upsides some not so. There'd been rain overnight and it looked more good to soft this time.

I liked a few in a competitive handicap hurdle to start things off, winner Mia's Storm being one of them albeit not carrying any cash. She was down two grades here and it showed, travelling well before outbattling The Tailgater, who has a few questions to answer about his temperament.

Asum failed to settle upped in trip, so put a line through this as he's a lovely big horse, Political Quiz looked well but never landed a blow while Saint Cajetan got the worst of some scrimmaging before finishing well enough to suggest there's a race to be won with him.

The short priced Give Me A Copper didn't exactly jump out at me before a competitive looking  Grade 2 River Don, and plenty opted for improving Henderson hurdler Constantine Bay, who rallied very bravely to get the better of the much smaller, compact No Hassle Hoff.

Happy Diva was probably a bit outclassed and didn't quite see it out, while Minella Aris didn't run much of a race but is basically a big backward chaser of some promise and will no doubt be looked after this season.

There followed a fiendish handicap chase over the minimum trip in which they went 4/1 the field, spuriously headed by Cyrius Moriviere who hadn't completed in three chase outings. Yes he looked unlucky last time but he was one I wanted to be against - with what I couldn't decide.

The good looking Gardeforte needs softer ground to be seen at his best but I'm convinced he remains in very good form, while Yorkist looked as fit as I've ever seen him.

But Upsilon Bleu looked in cracking form and with a good course record he looked trained to the minute. I wasn't with Romain De Senam...another Nicholls horse to be shorter in the betting than his form warranted in this company, but Double W's had his supporters and one of my favourite horses ran a cracker to chase home the winner after going freely throughout.

He jumped better here than at Newbury last time and this should now put him spot on for Cheltenham where I still feel a fast run 2m on decent ground will see him in even better light.

Another four runner novice chase was one to look forward to and it took a similar shape to that run the day before, albeit with flip-flopping favourites as the hype machine A Hare Breath was backed as though defeat was out of the question.

This didn't ring true in these quarters - both Cloudy Dream and Forest Bihan boasting novice form of the highest order. They were both worth backing at the prices offered at various stages and although I was confident the Jefferson grey would win, it came as no surprise to see the terrific looking Forest Bihan land the spoils, putting to bed slight reservations over his attitude off the bridle.

I suspect both principles are heading for the Arkle at the Festival and neither will look out of place.

I didn't see the mares but it didn't surprise me that Midnight Jazz gave Vroom Vroom Mag a fright - she's as tough and consistent as you'll see. The reservation going forward is that she's had three very hard races of late.

I didn't take any view on the SkyBet Chase and sadly didn't get a good look at them as a torrential shower had everyone diving for dry land.

The bumper for mares was only fairly informative - the winner Dame Rose looking very forward and fit after a three month absence and landing some good early bets in the process.

Redemption Song stood out in terms of size and scope and the Irish Point winner finished the race in the manner of a horse that will be winning before too long.

Wednesday 25 January 2017


Bright sun burnt off the early fog and as I've said many times there's fewer places I'd rather be on days like this, especially when I fancy a couple.

The opener looked a typically weak novice hurdle for the track which boiled down to a match between the penalised Cracking Find and the untested Floramoss, who was stepping up in trip for the first time.

The feature of this race was the market, with the earlier well-backed Floramoss taking a massive walk out to beyond 4 on the machine, while Cracking Find was solid on his return to better ground dropped in grade.

Cook was always in the right place as ever, but didn't have to do a great deal on the front end despite being hassled all the way by the leery Desert Point, and had plenty in reserve when Floramoss came to challenge.

A momentum stopping blunder two more or less sealed matters for the Reveley mare, who was unable to reel in the winner despite getting over a stone, but it was a likeable performance from Cracking Find who looks a super honest horse, and dare I say it typical of the yard.

The next was a 0-100 staying chase which rounded up many of the usual suspects, meaning anything with a bit of form or potential was worth a second look.

Of most interest was Major Ridge, about which some eagle-eyed followers might have taken big early odds after I'd made these comments about his two previous runs.

The other interesting one was Major Ridge, a horse that was often touted around the track but hadn't shown a great deal, not withstanding the occasional snippet of ability. He's a big chase type and on a very attractive mark. I'm not sure he stays, and he looked like the run would do him good, but I'm sure he can do well for his new handler.
I'm not giving up on the fourth placed Major Ridge, who was beaten miles but had little assistance from the saddle. He'll drop several pounds for this but has ability. 
From a 4lb lower mark and J Colliver in the plate it looked like today might be the day, especially as the horse was strong on the course even at much shorter odds than earlier in the day, backed from 10s into 7 late on.

Always up with the pace, I had reservations about whether he would get home but clearly the fittest he's ever been, ran right to the line in the style of a horse that still had something to give.

I thought Bankhall would take some beating but he looked awful beforehand, not just small but really sweating up. It was very off putting, but even so it was a dismal effort and the market told the story there.

Another one caught my eye and that was Vincent Row, a horse new to the C Grant yard. He looked a nice stamp of horse beforehand and there was a bit of money around for the Irish exile, who has a 0-30 record under rules with just three places.

He came into the race 0/6 over fences and hadn't really shown anything in more than two years, but this better ground seemed to suit and despite a bad early blunder came there with an eye-catching run. It remains to be seen if he's turned a corner at the age of 10, but he'll be worth keeping a close eye on.

Nietzsche had given us a lovely send off when landing a punt at Market Rasen last week and he wasn't easy to oppose on this follow up attempt from a very similar mark, albeit in a better looking race.

He put in a similar shift here, travelling very freely but finding well on the run-in to fend off the strong challenge of Alzamaar, who was running for the first time for the Englands.

Jaleo was woefully outpaced and looked to be lacking confidence after his latest heavy fall, but the impression was that this is solid form.

Two Taffs has been a big talking horse ever since his bumper days but has flattered no end of times. A starting price of 1/6 was ludicrous given that he had failed to deliver more often than not, while he had a worthy opponent in Aminabad, who had a good sighter at Ayr last week.

It looked like the Irish raider had been targeted at this race and he duly found plenty under Hughes to upset the well punted jolly, who once again found less than expected after failing to settle. He obvisouly remains one to be wary of.

The handicap chase over 2m was really tricky as none of them had suitable profiles, but our hand was forced when Mister Spingsprong was backed into a short price that didn't look warranted.

Sadly we opted for the good looking Blandfords Gunner, who once again proved paceless off the bridle and continues to frustrate, instead of the friendless Herons Heir, who was the only one to have the pace to deal with this tight circuit.

He had far too much tactical speed to give the Skeltons a welcome winner after Two Taffs' gaff, while most of the others look like they either want further and/or softer.

The finale was a very weak handicap hurdle after Final Countdown was scratched...southern raider Galactic Power looking quite a likely type beforehand with only Snowed In measuring up physically.

He would have traded at big prices at the top of the straight but with the leaders going knowhere fast, he picked them up readily to score as if another go at further will suit.

Tuesday 24 January 2017


A couple of inspections were required to get the meeting on but by race time temperatures were pleasingly high and with little in the way of wind we were good to go.

It looked a very difficult punting card however, with the opening favourite Most Celebrated selling paddock watchers a dummy, the ex Godolphin gelding not really filling the eye.

He was allowed his head in the race and he simply kept galloping for an extraordinarily one-sided victory. The rest of them may not have been very good, but it was hard not to be impressed by this.

Getback In Paris looked a bit edgy on his debut and ran quite flat, but looks an ok sort of horse. Regal Gait and Gris De Pron looked alright but so easily were they brushed aside it's hard to get excited about them.

The next was horror of a handicap hurdle with Captain Mowbray made jolly on the back of a couple of placed efforts. He's got plenty of quirks though, and ran in snatches before filling a place behind the winner Tsundoku, and ex-Irish mare on a good mark. It was largely a race to forget although Knocknamona in fourth once again suggested he could win a race over further.

Fingerontheswitch was down in class for the handicap chase over 3m and if handling the softer conditions looked the one to beat. He looked really well, and the late slew of cash told its own story.

The market went off Dream Flyer and this very moody animal always looked a candidate to blow out after winning a very weak Musselburgh race, and I usually believe form from the Scottish course doesn't travel elsewhere.

Swing Hard looked well but doesn't stay, while Boric did prove he stayed 3m and looks like he's ready to win again back at his favoured Newcastle, with the yard's horses still in good form.

I went for a decent each-way punt on Sharney Sike, who showed up well last time after a lay-off and looked really well having dropped in the weights. He bumped into one, otherwise it wold have been pay day.

A handful appeared to have chances in the staying hurdle where Houndscourt finally came good from a much-reduced mark. The amount of chances I have given this horse down the years is off the chart, but for once he saw his race out well, thwarting another each-way go on Total Assets, another from the kennel of S Waugh to remain in top form.

Grand Enterprise, but looked held by the rise in weights, while Joseph Mercer again ran his race but is another to have been nailed down by the assessor. Ask Paddy was disappointing having looked and travelled well.

The feature was a cracker of a handicap chase with half the field looking to be well handicapped, three of them filling the frame.

The progressive Captain Redbeard looked a winner waiting to happen and backers almost certainly had young S Coltherd to thank for seizing the initiative at the top of the straight after Wells De Lune had predictably gone off quick. The lad has had a few easy unseats and looks a bit amateurish still over a fence, but knew what he was doing here as the others sat around watching each other.

Future Gilded, a nice looking horse on a good mark, appeared to be in pole position at the head of the chasing pack but got outpaced turning out of the back with his rider sitting motionless.

It was a queer ride as the horse rallied to chase the winner up the stretch, but they don't often come back here and the winner was away and gone. The Snowden horse should win again if allowed to bowl along, while Monbeg River added to a long line of solid efforts in third, without really looking threatening.

The last wasn't a great maiden hurdle and Mr Big Shot didn't need to be very good to take it. The huge animal can clearly gallop but the hurdles were getting in the way, and he could be one to take on in a stiffer contest as he'll only fulfil his potential when sent chasing.

Robbing The Prey once again proved he's not cut out for this game and I wouldn't be surprised if they upped stumps with him, while Rockportian looked a decent type but took a bit of a hold and didn't pick up - already seven he's clearly a slow learner.

Cousin Oscar ran a typically solid race for an average looking McCain horse while connections might be able to capitalise on a decent mark for Honest Intent, who could be a short runner but should appreciate better ground this spring.

Saturday 21 January 2017


It was soft ground at the Lancashire venue but pretty good for the time of year - it looked a cracking card and so it proved with some terrific finishes and a couple of impressive performances.

The opener didn't set the pulse racing and the result was a placepot buster with the Russell-trained Deepsand landing the prize at 25/1 under a 10lb claimer - it wasn't easy to find.

Plenty of them looked well including the runner-up Vocaliser, Chieftain's Choice and Get Rhythm, but none warranted attention in the ring.

We didn't have to wait long for the serious action to begin as Politologue was a warm order for a very good novice chase over 2m3f. The Nicholls horse was a worthy jolly after impressing with his jumping in two outings this season, but he entered the paddock very much on his toes and sweated up quite badly in the end.

He certainly didn't do this when looking in need of the run on his seasonal debut here and it's hard to believe this was his best form, as good as it is, and it wouldn't be surprising if he goes better over the minimum trip before the season is out.

But, on the day he had to give second best to Waiting Patiently, who had done nothing wrong in winning his two novice chases, showing improved form each time.

An athletic sort who ticked all the boxes, he proved his stamina by grabbing his market rival before the last and staying on well despite looking inexperienced in front.

The yard had been quiet in recent weeks, tempering enthusiasm, but he belied those doubts and this sound jumper is a really top prospect for a trainer by some way the best in the north.

Its'Afreebee looked big and well but his form didn't stack up anywhere near as well and he was put in his place, while Bun Doran once again stopped quite quickly and concerns about his wind remain. Solatentif was by the far the smallest of these and a return to timber wouldn't be a bad move.

The Rossington Main novice hurdle looked an open affair but it's rare you see such a one-sided market and Neon Wolf duly lived up to expectations with a thrilling display of jumping and galloping that mark him down as a potential star.

He's a staying chaser on pedigree and conformation and as the old saying goes, anything he does this year is a bonus. If by some miracle the ground is soft at Cheltenham, he might be a player.

There was little wrong with the others...they were simply put in their place.

There was no edge from the paddock ahead of the Champion Hurdle Trial, a race Henderson used to target with See You Then when I was a mere whipper-snapper.

All these years later he saddled L'Ami Serge, a former chaser dropping in trip. He's a horse I want to oppose as he's doesn't look great in a finish, carrying his head high, and he's one to avoid especially at this level.

By contrast, dual winner The New One simply loves a battle and as they went more or less 13/8 the pair, it really should have been a no-brainer to those of a level-head.

What one didn't account for was the threat of dual course winner Clyne, whose progression in three runs at the track has been remarkable. Of course we don't know how he performed in farcical circumstances last time but his effort here tells me he could be high class.

For a light-framed chase type this is solid form although I'm not sure he'll be able to build on this in the spring. But you'd imagine they'll turn attentions to fences next year when I expect him to take high rank.

Cyrus Darius was back from a lengthy absence but something wasn't quite right with him. He looked to need the run but he just didn't take my I as he has in the past. It's possible he's not the force of old but it's far too early to speculate. He looks a chaser and didn't belong in this field.

The Peter Marsh used to be a fair mid-season target but has lost some lustre in recent times. Not this year though, as a cracking field lined up for a 3m event that would require a blend of speed and stamina in these conditions.

Enter Bristol De Mai, a more likeable animal you couldn't wish to see. He lacked some fluency at Newcastle last time but I don't think he's made a mistake of note in his career, and he was absolutely foot perfect as he romped to victory here.

Jacob didn't get involved in the early dash for the lead and the pace left the majority of them in trouble turning for home. Only Newcastle conqueror Otago Trail could live with the grey but an error two out put an end to what would have been a one-sided fight.

Having backed him with confidence last time out it was disappointing not to have gone in again in what looked a deeper race as I didn't think it was stamina that beat him there. But it wasn't hard to enjoy the spectacle.

The only negative from the prelims came from Definitly Red, who looked a bit dull in his coat and appeared to run up light, his Wetherby victory possibly leaving its mark. He ran flat, albeit plugging on when departing three out, and he's better than this.

French exile Alary is a big unit who was very fit and on his toes, but I didn't think he was up to defying a mark of 162 on debut and he looks like he'll struggle on these shores.

Wuff was the subject of strong support throughout the day ahead of the 2m handicap chase - for what reason I cannot speculate. Essentially a disappointing animal despite showing plenty of promise over the years, he wouldn't have the pace for the minimum trip and I didn't give him a hope in hell in quite a competitive heat.

I did, however, like his market rival Pistol Park, who is a good jumper despite lacking in size with form that stacks up well. It looked like he would be the one to beat, but he may just have lacked the toe at this trip and possibly Hughes could have been more positive on him at the top of the straight with stamina in the tank.

That said, Ubaltique has turned over a new leaf this season and despite looking weighted up to his best he was the best horse on the day, winning the same race off a 10lb higher mark than he did last term.

Back By Midnight went well for a long way and he looks an improving chaser that can better this form back on his favoured good ground. They finished in a heap but the form is solid.

The finale was a difficult staying hurdle that I didn't participate in, but it was quite marked how low in the weights Dadsintrouble was, as he arguably looked the best of them and he was as fit as a fiddle despite a 12 week absence.

The way he won suggested he can follow up, while the fourth home Maxie T looked outpaced for much of the race before staying in the style of a horse that can win soon. He's handicapped to do so.

Thursday 19 January 2017

Market Rasen

Pretty bleak conditions as I made my long, winding journey down to Rasen where the going was soft, although they were coming home pretty well through the gloom.

The opening novice looked at the mercy of Monbeg Oscar, whose debut effort over timber held plenty of promise and with further to travel on softer ground he looked a really good bet to upset the penalised favourite Master Of Irony.

In, fact it was casually remarked that the only thing that would get this thing beat was a shit ride - cue shit ride. It's very hard to understand why you would actively go out of your way to turn a 2m3f into a sprint, when you are riding a horse bred to stay well against a horse with flat speed.

They went so slow that the previously useless Picknick Park was level with the market leaders crossing the final flight, where Master Of Irony predictably used his flat speed to good effect.

Either Moloney was riding to specific instructions, ie; under no circumstances must you make the running at a sensible gallop (but you're allowed to line-up in front and start the race with a two length advantage) or this was total ineptitude from the rider.

Suffice to say that Monbeg Oscar is capable of vastly better form than this, while others to take out of the race are Broughton's Rhythm, a nice rangy animal that has clearly had problems but will enjoy the hustle and bustle of handicaps, where he could look well treated, and I'm Still Waiting, another that will appreciate easier assignments once handicapped.

There wasn't a great deal to glean from the 3m handicap hurdle, in which they went noticably quicker from the gun - in fact this looked a very well run race throughout. Wicked Willy proved his stamina to get up close home, beating the luckless Mwaleshi, who just ran out of gas.

What A Diva was a well-backed favourite in a weak mares hurdle, and won a shade cosily in what looked an easier task than she's had of late. Viking Mistress does not look straight forward but has loads of size and scope and ran all the way to the line. Squeeze Me took a big drift and didn't look fit.

The graduation chase was an absolute cracker with four of the six seeming to have good chances. It was hard to split Kilcrea Vale, Three Muskateers and King's Odyssey on my tissue, so when the money came for the talking horse our hand was forced.

Backed into Evens, Kilcrea Vale had to be the lay against some excellent opposition that had more experience, not that it was easy to locate the winner.

I'd backed Three Muskateers at Newbury on what I thought would be soft ground, but it turned out to be nearer good and he was never jumping or travelling.

Back off a break and with headgear added, he did both much better this time and Skelton's tactics decided matters well before they clattered the third last. He's not that big, but I can see him winning good races at 3m when the mud is flying.

Kilcrea Vale is a very nice horse indeed and this looked very good form from the first two. Henderson's seven-year-old could yet go on to much better things, granted better ground and possibly 3m. He stayed on right to the line after being found out by the winner's mid-race injection, not helped by a couple of sticky leaps.

King's Odyssey took a walk in the market late on, likely the outcome of stories whipping around that the horse had been delayed in his work prior to this. He wasn't given a hard time, and probably shouldn't be judged too harshly.

Hester Flemen looked fit and strong and traded low on the machine with a circuit to go. She jumped and raced with enthusiasm but I don't think fitness was the problem and it's a shame she clearly has issues. We can hopefully look forward to seeing her offspring in the years to come.

The next was a horrid little handicap chase in which I was lured for the first time into backing one from the barn of Pogson & Co by the name of Unzing.

The form of its Boxing Day win here looked good in this context and his form in France suggested the extra yardage would suit. I'm not sure if he hasn't got home in third place or the almost inevitable decline has already started to set in.

Highbury High has been an enigma for much of his career and popped up late on after being scrubbed a mile out, denying backers of Make Me A Fortune a nice little punt. The giant Attimo looked well but threw in another shocker, while Noble Legend has surely now gone.

The finale was very interesting as it featured a couple of well handicapped horses in Movie Legend and Nietzsche. The former had looked the winner jumping the last in a Boxing Day handicap chase before being run out of it, while Nietzsche had a solid bank of juvenile form to his name and crucially had the allowance.

I can't emphasise how generous the allowance is - 10lb at this stage of the season - especially with the right type of horse. Nietzsche had not had his ground over hurdles and was expected to relish the extra yardage.

Despite taking a keen grip, Nietzsche picked up nicely after the last as Movie Legend once again found less than expected on the run-in. The latter may have run into one again, but is possibly one to be wary of, while the winner will be seen in even better light once he learns to settle. Try to get your head around that!

Saturday 14 January 2017


No weather problems at the local venue where the ground was on the soft side of good - really I can't remember a season where we've gone this far with only a couple of periods of rainfall during the winter.

The opener saw a first chance to glimpse Mount Mews, who has looked impressive on all three starts and is a nice stamp of a horse for the future.

He was a very short price though considering some quite decent opposition, while there was also a question mark over the yard, which has just gone a bit quiet.

It turned into a daft race, there being no pace at all, and that wouldn't have suited the jolly who has done his winning coming off a good lead. He still should have got it done, but got nabbed close home by Eaton Hill.

I've never been taken by the winner and again he looked quite light framed and very much an anxious type. I'd be careful to over-rate this form because of the pace of the race, which didn't suit the third or fourth either.

I suspect the fourth, Creep Desbois, may have won if he hadn't pitched badly on landing having jumped the third last well. He's a nice athletic type and is capable of much better than this.

Melrose Boy is another to mark up, he has the shape of a soft ground horse, very sturdy in composition. I liked Hollins Hill, who has shown nothing so far but this is a big 3m chaser in the making that has been very backward mentally. He is a long term project.

The four runner novices chase was interesting as each probably wanted softer ground. Actinpieces has become a standing dish (what does that actually mean (!?!) round here and was a bit of value against a nice big horse in Rock Gone, who looks sure to benefit from a step up in trip.

The grey mare might have picked up a third course win had she avoided a mistake at the last on the far side that earned her a few sharp reminders.

Chic Name once again led them a merry dance but he definitely has a stamina issue and a drop in trip should suit this very handy sort. Actinpieces is a bonny mare and she rallied superbly but you always felt D Jacob had things in hand on the winner, who as I say could be one to follow given a stamina test.

I quite liked the shape of the 2m handicap hurdle despite thinking the Skelton horse Dragon De La Tour would be a warm order. How wrong could you be - the beast going off double figures on the machine which told its own story. However he looked a nice horse, and better can be expected from this mark.

I was dead against the actual favourite which was the McCain trained Middlebrow, who lacks for physical scope and doesn't move that well. Massively overbet in to 7/4, it had to be El Massivo under D Cook after dropping back to his last winning mark which came here nine months ago.

Cook is riding out of his skin at the moment and he gave his partner the full treatment on the run-in, getting home ahead of the reluctant Rocky Two, who had looked really well but simply does not want to go past.

Middlebrow, under new tactics, didn't deliver off the bridle and he remains one to be wary of for now.

I thought Just Cameron was the one to beat in the feature race, not just on the back of his latest effort here in the Castleford but on the general basis of form. I put him in at 13/8 and watching him drift right out on the off.

With the sparse opposition all seeming to require softer ground, and Grey Gold and Sew On Target now 12, it looked the perfect opportunity for M Hammond's stable star.

There never seemed to be any doubt thanks to a very sensible ride from H Brooke, getting the tempo just right before turning the screw in the straight. He was probably all out at the line but we'll take the 11/4 all day thank you very much.

The following handicap hurdle was tight and the performance of the favourite would surely give us an idea of the health of the Jefferson yard, as the beast looked in terrific fettle after a nine week hiatus.

The horse probably wants a fence now and he arguably went too freely, but he was below par without a shadow of a doubt and the stable is probably one to avoid in the short term.

I considered Bruce Almighty to be a the biggest danger as he looked in rude health but I don't think the jockey made enough use of this strong stayer, who is crying out for fences.

I would never have found the outsider of the lot, One For Harry, while Capitoul looked really well but the assessor has done him no favours and he took a belter of a fall.

The 2m3f handicap chase was a real messy affair with Special Wells heading the market. I followed Sue Smith's good looking horse over a cliff last season but he consistently failed to deliver.

After six runs at Uttoxeter, including a lucky win last time, he looked vulnerable on better ground and was worth taking on with a few, none of whom landed a blow on the Cook-inspired animal.

Huff And Puff is quite tall for a flat bred and was fit after a long absence, and may have won but for an error up the straight. Eastview Boy didn't run much of a race but I suspect he doesn't stay and he hasn't produced his form away from Newcastle yet.

Bonnet's Vino lacked the size of most but she's brave and ran a decent race, but the effort of jumping these bigger fences seemed to take it out of her. McCain's chasers are 1/67 since the end of August yet the moody and regressive Court Dismissed was backed into 7/1 from 20s. Figure that one out.

The junior bumper for fillies saw some decent southern yards represented but it was Mountain Path who gave M Hammond a double and jockey J Colliver his first winner back from an enforced absence at her Majesty's pleasure.

I well remember the filly's half sister Sherry taking this race two years ago and this juvenile is a similarly nice type, albeit on the light framed side.

She must have some ability as there were some forward looking flat types here including the well-backed Perfect Moment, who was fit but a little bit on edge, and Cockney Wren.

However I felt Shearling might just defy her 10lb penalties and this strong filly went so close to making it an impressive hat-trick. Mercian Princess was well-backed but looked quite backward, while Avealittlepatience was one of the smallest on show and faded away up the straight.

Thursday 12 January 2017


I always get a buzz when I come to the Bridge, I don't know why but driving up beside the home straight always sets the juices flowing.

It helps when you know you have a good thing tucked away later on the card, but more of that in good time. The strong winds had abated and the going looked just on the soft side of good.

Maulesden May did not have the size or scope to serve it up to the odds on jolly Giveaway Glance in the opener and it came as little surprise when she found hurdling beyond her on debut.

Not that the 2/13 FAV had it all her own way, being given a fright by Musselburgh winner Becky The Thatcher, who has the size to do alright in this game and is clearly improving.

I called the staying novice wrong as the leggy chasing type Nobuttaboy seemingly failed to act round these tight turns and won't be of interest now until he goes over fences.

The market called it right with Impulsive Star grinding it out in the end, looking very much the type to continue to improve over time, and his slick jumping style bodes well. Same Circus appeared to step up on previous efforts.

The market suggested Nine Altars would be the one in the handicap chase but I had huge reservations with the trainer out of form and the horse having many questions to answer.

To be fair answer most he did, but this big chase type will surely be better off on softer ground and perhaps over further as he travels so well. His mark is a good one now that he has finished his race off well.

A Little Magic is a tearaway but settled okay in front and is essentially bred to be a stayer. He fenced nimbly and I think he could be alright once learning to settle. He battled back after being outpaced on turning in and had plenty in hand at the line.

Fair Loch went well again but simply seems handicapped out of things, while Roxyfet once again showed enough to suggest his time is not far away granted soft ground.

High Bridge is a great looking horse and he really does look to have a future based on his ready dismissal of Top Tug in the novice hurdle. This was tight enough for the bumper scorer but he asserted in style in the straight.

Sigurd was the clear pick of the remainder and he stayed on well after taking a pull. This won't do his mark much good but he's a nice strong sort capable of winning any time. McCain's Culmination was extremely novicey before scooting home in fourth, while Minella Suite is a big lengthy animal who will look well handicapped once sent over fences.

Whether we would win or lose on the day depended firmly on Straidnahanna, who I had been eyeing for this race all season and thankfully the red-hot Smith team were on the same page. I wrote this after his last run...

Straidnahanna, weak in the market, still didn't look fit and simply had a spin round for the mark. I've one race and one race only in mind for the big grey and hopefully connections are thinking along the same lines - around a month from now I suspect he'll be ready to go.

Two from two at the track, the extra yardage was sure to be in his favour and it just looked the perfect race for him as you need a cruising speed round here and the soft ground plodders simply can't find their stride.

When Cooky ghosted to the front with a couple of circuits to go it was a matter of whether he could avoid the bad mistake he usually throws in, and although he got one wrong down the far side for the final time he never looked like stopping.

The bonny Gonalston Cloud looked a bit quiet beforehand less than a fortnight after winning at Market Rasen and I believe he could yet improve again granted a longer break and even further to travel.

Itstimeforapint has strengthened up physically and I attribute this to his new found consistency - he could be up to winning from his higher mark when the ground turns really soft. Federici had the form to go well and he did just that, I suspect he's just too high in the handicap.

There was money for Ballyculla but he has a poor record in big-field handicaps and there's a plausable reason for this - he lacks scope and size and his jumping is not up to the rigours of such a test, especially on this sort of ground.

Alto Des Mottes shaped very much as though softer ground will suit, while Raktiman wouldn't stay this far in a horsebox.

Gamble landed it was tempting to shut up shop but recent winner Reilly's Minor was backed into very a short odds in the next for no apparent reason, having stamina to prove not withstanding the fact that he looked dull in his coat and a rather unfurnished individual.

I strongly felt The Doorman would go one better than last time, when he belatedly showed the ability he had in Ireland, and he looked to come to win the race at the last before buckling on the run-in.

He may not have fully stayed against a couple that definitely do, but a weak finish such as this always raises suspicion.

The finale was double-tricky...Italian Riviera is a lairy sort that was uneasy in the betting. Young K Slack has done a fine job with this big rangy animal who should jump a fence one day, and he looked better here than when sweating up and pulling hard last time.

Bank Bonus didn't exactly look resolute in second and he too has questions to answer, while Rhymers Stone ran well again suggesting his time may yet come granted softer terrain. Popelys Gull ran on again late and this unfurnished youngster looks just the type his trainer does well with in a little race at Fakenham in the coming weeks.

Monday 9 January 2017


Back to Town Moor where the threat of rain meant for a tricky day's punting - in the end the weather largely passed us by and the going remained just on the soft side of good throughout.

The opening novice hurdle didn't look strong with a weak and opposable favourite in Zipple Back, who has evidently been difficult to settle and was unable to land a blow having been given plenty to do.

Lough Derg Farmer had been all the rage beforehand but he looks an embryo chaser and was immature in the race before asserting his authority late on. This wasn't great but he stepped up on a tame opening effort.

Tree Of Liberty had the look of a paceless animal on form and again could only find the one gear - he's quite plain and may just be ordinary. Wind Place and Sho was messing around beforehand...I gave him the benefit of the doubt as he looked full of beans but maybe he's just had enough after a long campaign on the level. It could be he just doesn't fancy the winter game.

I was keen as mustard to take on the well-backed Hammersly Lake in the novice chase - he's not really progressed over time and he didn't take the eye beforehand, getting warm and appearing full of attitude.

I had taken a price on Ma Du Fou in hope of softer ground materialising and some headgear to improve his jumping, but neither assumption really worked out.

I'm not a huge fan of D Russell dropping in to ride the occasional one on these shores and he doesn't seem to excel on horses he doesn't know very well (no doubt the stats will prove me wrong). Suffice to say I don't think he gave it a great ride, although non of them would have beaten the luckless Cyrius Moriviere if his saddle hadn't slipped approaching two out.

I was anticipating a good show from Pauling's ace with Bass in for Linehan, while Querry Horse was another 'runner' getting plenty of weight although on inspection I felt he'd improve for time, being a bit on the small side.

It's hard to know what to make of the form. I'd continue to take on the beaten favourite, while Ma Du Fou shapes for all the world like he wants 3m and soft ground. He's talented and the type to improve for experience.

I foolishly threw some darts at the dreadful staying handicap hurdle predictably to no avail. Grand Enterprise was the obvious one but he was originally priced at an absurd 9/4 so much time was spent looking elsewhere.

The beast drifted all the way to 5s without much interest but won as he liked and indeed as he should given he was lower in the weights than his latest effort. However, it was not a race to remember with Lake Shore Drive - little more than a pony - rattling home for third.

There were some reasonable sorts in the 2m novice hurdle but Stowaway Magic looked a certainty and duly won as he liked. Boudry was the one to be against - he looks a keen and quirky sort with plenty of attitude, and once again his jumping was appalling. But to be honest there wasn't a great deal to note here, with only the next three home of minor interest going forward.

I couldn't get my head around the feature handicap chase, a Class 4 event of the strongest nature headed by six to follow entry I Just Know. He looked well handicapped still, especially after Wetherby victor Two Smokin Barrels went in again next time, and a five week break wasn't lost on the horse who looked in terrific condition.

There were loads of value options against him but I couldn't bring myself to oppose him and was happy to just watch him jump them into the ground. Towering didn't appear to do much wrong although he was one of the least appealing physically, while Deputy Commander returned to form without looking one to follow per se.

Beggars Cross is a nice sort but hasn't fired yet this term. When the market speaks in his favour he'll look a very nicely handicapped horse. Duke Arcadio went backwards again and although he wants it softer there's more to it than that, while Kilronan Castle is another to have reservations about in the short term after an equally dismal effort.

It was left to Graceful Legend to send us home happy in the last. There didn't seem any reason whatsoever why she couldn't repeat her victory here 11 days previously in a very similar contest, rocking up full of beans and with consistency and stamina on her side.

Backed all day, she essentially outbattled Cajun Fiddle who may well prove superior in the longer term but is still just lacking mental and physical maturity.

Friday 6 January 2017


Good to be back in the fray after a very quiet festive period, catching up with some associates old and new, it was chilly enough but the rain largely stayed away to leave good to soft ground that was getting a bit chewed up by the end.

The opening juvenile hurdle wasn't much to rave about with market leaders Bob's Boy and Dusty Raven not making much appeal at the odds - the former looking green beforehand while the latter is a very keen going sort.

However, the others weren't up to much either, Gregarious also playing up badly beforehand and flat out refusing to settle in the race, while Allfredandnobell looked awful in the prelims, dripping with sweat and very excitable.

It was one of those very rare occasions where the paddock put us away, as Allfredandnobell came through to win after the market leaders battled it out from the home turn. I wouldn't know what to make of the form - probably not much.

The mares hurdle for stayers looked very hard to call with four at the front of the market all having good chances, but Happy Diva followed up a facile win last time out with a similar display and she is clearly thriving.

Two Swallows again looked in good order and probably stepped up a bit on her reappearance win, only to bump into one. Midnight Silver similarly just found a couple better handicapped, and she would have appreciated much softer ground. Bells On Sunday is a nice strong animal but was clearly amiss this time.

The handicap chase lacked in numbers but looked ultra competitive with six of the seven having solid credentials.

They all looked well, but Hainan has been on the radar for some time and I was quite relieved to see it get beat by a good one last time after being hammered in the market (I wasn't on).

That was a significant step in the right direction by this strong stayer and if his jumping improved he was handicapped to go well. On closer inspection, the race did not have an obvious front runner in which case you can bank on D Cook to seize the initiative.

And he did just that, not only leading them out but stealing a march from the start, poaching a good 10 length lead. On a well-handicapped, strong stayer they simply were never going to catch him if his jumping held together, and he was much better in that department this time.

Crosspark probably lost little in defeat, neither losing nor gaining ground, and is one to bear in mind when the trainer starts having winners again. Mustmeetalady has done well over the summer and posted another solid effort, albeit not exactly finding a great deal once more. But they can find a race for him.

It was hard to tell if Baywing was fit as he remained rugged up, but the market suggested little was expected and he'll be interesting with more experience over fences behind him, on much softer ground than this.

The novice hurdle over 2m 5f was a match but I really liked the Skelton's Lakeside Castle, a substantial animal with loads of strength and scope, against the hot favourite Westend Story, who had outstanding bumper form but lacked the physical presence of the other one.

It wasn't a contest in the race, Skelton's beast jumping proficiently on the way to trouncing his market rival. I was very taken by this and he's one to watch out for over fences next season - I doubt if they'll hang around over timber too long.

I couldn't get involved in the 0-100 staying chase with Amber Gambler looking unopposable under a penalty - he's a nice size and looked in good order despite this being his third outing since Boxing Day.

Joseph Mercer chased him home and fair play to the horse for backing up his run on the 27th from a very low mark. I'm not giving up on the fourth placed Major Ridge, who was beaten miles but had little assistance from the saddle. He'll drop several pounds for this but has ability.

Two bumpers remained - reputations were on the line in the shape of Espoir De Teillee, a £220k purchase after falling in a PTP, and Bordeaux Bill, who was reported to be useful by all accounts.

Neither was involved in the finish however, despite looking the part, and it looked like honours would go to Flat bred Eskendash, who had shown solid form for P Niven prior to this debut for P Sly.

It would be harsh to suggest the 4yro didn't see it out, rather that the staying chase prospect Uncle Alastair simply ground it out in dour fashion with the post not coming in time for the younger horse.

Not sure what happened to the odds on jolly, he looked well and surely something was amiss. Hogan's Height is small in stature and is not likely to amount to great deal, looking very fit here.

The finale also looked to be between the front two in the betting in the shape of UK Pointer winner Cirano De Sivola and the unraced Hear No Evil, a nice looking animal if on the unfurnished side.

However, there was a steamer in the shape of Some Reign, who had been off for a while but the booking of G Lee for the Dobbins appeared significant.

He was probably priced up a bit big as he looked straight enough, albeit on the light framed side, but cash kept coming and those in the know were duly rewarded. Nevada had come in for earlier support but is really quite small and didn't appeal, while Glittering Love looked edgy and is the type to need time.