A busy week with four meetings to catch up on - I'll try to keep it as brief as possible but there's plenty to get through.
Southwell - Tuesday 31
The ground didn't look that soft but the jockeys reported it was riding very soft.
Pearl Swan looked in terrific heart and the market spoke in his favour before romping away from a very flat Its'Afreebee, who didn't even make the frame. The second home Jack In A Box is a big, long unit but showed enough here to win something.
Not a bad little bumper with the two nicest on show dead-heating. Aye Aye Charlie looked to have it sewn up after circling the field but was joined on the line by The Last Day, a nice looker albeit unfurnished. He didn't deserve to be a long shot and he was quite tenderly handled. Second Time Around looked really raw - a chaser for much further down the line. I didn't care much for the gambled on Bite The Biscuit, who lacked plenty for size and scope.
McManus's Champ made quite a taking debut and he stood out a mile in the paddock - the only surprise being his price, before the late surge moved it from 4/5 to 8/15. I really liked Grey Warbler - from a lovely family - she's quite tall and unfurnished but was turned out well, and it's kind of a shame she went so close as she won't go under the radar next time. Midnight Moss had to make his own running and this nice chase type - another with a super little pedigree - should continue to improve. Parwich Lees didn't look straight and this big unit should come on loads.
Listen To The Man was turned over at 1/9 last time out and I wasn't in a mood to forgive this rather light framed mare, who may or may not yet fulfill her bumper promise. You could only fancy two against her though and I was pleasantly surprised to see the superbly named Louis' Vac Pouch take a walk in the market as I was quite taken by his effort last time under a quiet ride. He's a good jumper who could do alright, while Somewhere To Be once again looked very slow indeed. Wynford got all worked up and ran like he's got problems between the ears.
Lady Buttons followed up under a penalty over an extra half mile. She's quite plain but it's great that she's come back to form for patient connections. Dragon De La Tour is a big strong horse who will jump a fence but didn't get home over this extra yardage and with Skelton seeking out the best ground we could be waiting until the spring to see him at his best. That said he's probably just ordinary. Malapie ran a huge race off an absence - the trainer is back in form and this strong horse clearly still has ability.
Leicester - Wednesday Feb 1
The going was heavy and the jocks reported it barely raceable - although it looked better on the chase track as always.
I couldn't seen how Sonny The One could be out the first three and he looked really on his game until losing his posi turning for home. He has quite a bit to prove now, although I suppose any horse can be excused on this ground. There were plenty of well-handicapped ones in here and one of them, Ballinvarrig, duly bounced back to form.
Paddocks Lounge dwarfed his rivals in the claimer and the late cash told the story. Market rival Dusty Raven was weak, got all het up beforehand and didn't run much of a race.
A good staying chase over 2m 7f, Some Are Lucky traded low in running but I'm not convinced by him physically, he's a bit short in front and he doesn't always see his races out. That was the case here although again I'm convinced he wants much better ground. Bells N Banjos was weak in the market all day but he improved again here, staying on in fine style to deny the very sturdy Duelling Banjos. Tanarpino was deeply disappointing here and he's one to have reservations about as he's won in heavy before. He never seemed to be travelling with any vigour and then he sort of stayed on when it was all over. I still like Crosspark going forward and he may have gone close if he hadn't departed, he was unsighted at the fence and he's essentially a sound jumper. Carningli had a nice pop round, he's a lovely big horse who still has time on his side.
There was a right old turn up in this novice hurdle but the market was all wrong from the start and it wouldn't be the first time in the week that hype ruled over hard fact. The winner Full Irish didn't deserve to be the price he was as he had bounced back to form last time and had some really good bumper lines. Not only that but Laser Light is not one to be making excuses for - many folk will forgive him this again on account of the ground but he's one to avoid. But the feature of the race was the well backed favourite Reigning Supreme, who is a great big baby chaser, just the type to struggle in bad ground, and he's by Presenting as well. But backers evidently ploughed in on rumours alone and he was the first of the four principles beat. Head To The Stars improved again and this strong sort from a good family is not flattered by this.
Catterick - Friday Feb 3
A really fun little card, the ground was officially soft but was really no worse than good to soft.
Another pretty weak juvenile and it says plenty for the others that Walsingham Grange could win after being off the bridle along way out. He looks all stamina and it was a good ride. Moon Arrow had the most substance and it wasn't surprising he outran his price, looking wayward and green in jumping right but staying on to good effect.
Sam Spinner was rightly strong in the betting in a virtual match with Mr Monochrome. He's a really bonny horse that gallops with great relish, and like many Black Sam Bellamys he is endowed with stamina. Mr M looked pretty straight after a break but ran as though it was needed, although I'm not sure he's worthy of his current mark. Reverant Cust has come on a good deal physically in the past 12 months and he produced massive improvement to finish second...it can only be hoped the assessor goes easy on him as he's still not that big.
I love these handicap chases at the Bridge and somehow I've developed a good feel for what you need to win round here. Step up Halcyon Days, who has done me no end of favours this term. He looked held by the handicapper last time but he's a a lazy type who only just does enough - a dream to own or train.
Thus, in a field where most couldn't be fancied, this solid yardstick was no more than a 3/1 poke on my book. But he drifted all day and we basked in some double helpings. What else could have won. I couldn't have Nomoreblackjack after his last outing and this promised to be far too tight for him. Given a nice ride by Cooky, he was given time to find his stride but (thankfully) he didn't have the pace. He may have been flattered by HD tying up again in front but this was more like it and he is finally one to be interested in.
Caprice D'Anglais looks really moderate, Las Tunas is a very funny shape, and Fieldsofsilk is a young horse that needs time. Alchimix may have issues but he wants further, possibly even another mile, while Frankie Ballou rocked up big and strong and looking race fit. He came in for lots of support and wasn't far away. He'll be best at 2m for now.
I thought I had this staying hurdle by the fluff of the scroat, strongly fancying Cadoudoff to get his head back in front essentially down in grade and up in trip. He probably wanted it softer as he looks slow, and things may not have panned out best for him as the pace collapsed mid race and half a dozen were pitching in turning for home.
I only had two dangers down in the shape of Lough Salt and Cooking Fat, a stamina doubt and that 10lb rise for winning a race that fell apart putting me off the latter. Lough Salt didn't travel as he usually does and took an awful fall, leaving Cooking Fat to stay on well enough to deny a good pay out. I couldn't have Cracking Find, who had plenty to do on the book and looked a bit light just nine days from a pretty hard race here, while Brian Boranha is one to avoid and Forty Crown is now very badly handicapped.
A very good staying chase for mares and I made the mistake of sticking with Two Smokin Barrels even though I'm convinced she needs deeper ground. She looked just a bit flat maybe as well beforehand and an uncharacteristic error at the second really was a race ender - even that early on. I think she did well to get into it all things considered but I don't think this was her form at all. She may need a break now.
I watched the videos of Treaty Girl and couldn't understand why she was backed into short odds, for all that this looked an easier assignment. She looks a bit paceless to me and even at this trip you need the ability to hold your position at this track. Conquer Gold has looked slow in the past to be fair, but made a bold bid after getting a bit outpaced on the bend. She would do better on soft as well, but how can you take anything from Actinpieces. I highlighted her credentials many moons back and she keeps delivering, not that I give her enough credit to back her these days. Total Assets ran a funny race, slowing into quite a few fences and winging others. It's remarkable how good she is for one so small and this was probably another PB.
I didn't want to get involved in what looked a very tricky contest but I had to take on the shifty-looking Inchcolm at odds of around 9/4. Sure enough he had every chance to win but looked recalcitrant to me and is one to be very wary of. I thought Tommy The Rascal would be just about good enough as he's still on a basement mark, with Black Narcissus doing her winning on stiff tracks. The fact that they were doing nothing in front helped exaggerate her winning effort, and she looks quirky. Lakefield Rebel was well supported but that track was never going to suit and I might be interested in him if we get soft ground at Hexham this spring.
Wetherby - Saturday Feb 4
Towton Chase day, a solid card with soft ground. It looked hard work and the soft ground stayers came to the fore.
Anyone with a pair of fully functional eyeballs should have been able to separate the eventual winner Golden Vision from the rest of the field in the prelims. On paper we didn't know how good the French exile might be, but she had an indignant air about her in the paddock as if to say 'what am I doing racing with this lot'.
The race began a remarkable trend on the day of well-backed favourites getting caned, on this occasion the moderate looking Tearsofclewbay failing by some way to live up to market expectations, just four days on from getting turned over at 30-100. Will they ever learn? That said, All My Love might have shaken up the winner had she not toppled over two out, but she's rather small so we'll have to see how she comes out of it, while Vive Ma Fille got really warm and is clearly not right at present.
A cracking Class 2 handicap chase over 2m3f where it was hard to overlook the attentions of Oldgrangewood, who turned out in fantastic condition. Unlike so many from the Skelton yard he seems to have been underestimated and as I write this I'm still chiding myself for not backing up the truck. That's all very well after the event (I'm telling myself) but there was oodles of cash around for West Wizard, not a horse I know much about but I believe has been the subject of much hype down the years.
He's very rugged, thick set, and has the look of a four miler. He didn't get into it at all, as the big lengthy chestnut waltzed into the race before putting it to bed going to the last under a cool ride. Doctor Phoenix is starting to look one to be wary of, rallying after looking as though he would drop out, while Hainan ran really well from a much higher mark and a return to 3m could see him win again - he's a proper stayer.
The move for Catamaran Du Seuil in a weak looking novice hurdle was incredibly strong, especially when you consider what a ghastly looking creature it is. Quite typical of the sort that ends up with Dr Newland, he was light framed and lean, not my sort of thing at all. Now I've laid these types before and got stung, as clearly the engine is there as he recorded a very decent figure last time out. But it didn't warrant an SP of 4/9 which is very much into 'certainty' territory.
Up against him was a nice strong staying type called Skipthecuddles, who I had down as one to watch in a Newcastle bumper and had stepped up considerably next time behind a useful prospect. He was a real runner here upped in trip again and I thought he ran away from them in the end in the style of one to keep on side, including when going chasing. Talk of Cheltenham is fanciful, however.
The Towton Chase and I'm not one for touting my own business but I was quite happy to let everyone know that Calett Mad was one to take on here. We can all look cool and sexy in a Taunton handicap but this was different gravy, and I wanted a street fighter on my side in what looked sure to be stamina test. I thought I had four on my team...but thankfully it was five!
With Missed Approach running badly again and Delusionofgrandeur failing to find any rhythm there wasn't much meat left on the bone, particularly as the progressive looking Captain Chaos had crashed out mid race. I honestly don't know how The Dutchman would have fared had he not come down four out, stamina has still to be proven and the odds are he would have come second. Baywing simply loves a slog and although he looked out of his depth, I was surprised he returned 33s.
It was a breakthrough win for jockey Ryan Day, who has come on bundles having joined the Richards yard, and you have to doff your cap to the Greystoke handler for sticking by the lad in a big race where he wasn't able to claim. As for Calett Mad, he did exactly what I expected him to do, travel like a superstar before falling in a giant hole. He may be a very good horse in time, but let's see them do it off the bridle first.
Point The Way was expected to push on this term but he flopped at Haydock three months ago and he hasn't been seen since. He still hasn't really filled out or grown, but loads of money came for him against the rock solid favourite Ami Desbois. Of all the jollys on the day this one deserved his place as clear market leader and he won as he should have done, looking really well beforehand too. He must have it soft, but it's hard to crab him. I thought Milborough was short of peak fitness and I expect him to be leaner on Eider day. I didn't think much to Sam Red physically but he showed great promise, although I wonder if he's quirky.
Ardea was all the rage for the hunter chase but his form did not warrant odds of 5/4 against some old handicappers of fair ability. As mentioned earlier, the yard of Mrs C Bailey has hit some form and Galway Jack looked cherry ripe for his return to the track. And he needed to be, as I had stamina reservations in this ground, and although it was ebbing away from the second last he'd already put the race to bed, with Ardea looking sluggish as he tried to make up a lot of ground. Open Hearted looked fit and well but didn't get home again.
The bumper looked a good one, with the four-year-old Eskendash setting an ok benchmark. He's very good looking as you'd expect from his flat breeding, but he's just struggling to get home. I'd keep an eye on him as he looks an ideal type for a flat campaign before going hurdling in the autumn. He was worth opposing on the ground, but not with Oscar Mor, who is so big he could be a police horse. He's going to be really slow and while he might win some, I'd say he's just too big to make it. The winner Mon Palois was a handy, athletic looking sort, and the way he stayed on at the end suggested much more was in the locker.