Thursday 14 September 2017

Hexham hints

The 5.40 at Hexham this evening is not a race to be getting too excited about but it's worth having a run through this four-runner handicap chase over 3m because they each have questions to answer.

Tickenwolf was the early favourite, presumably on his course form which reads 1214, however he has no worthwhile form on soft ground and while I don't think stamina will be the issue, if the ground rides heavy I don't believe he'll run his race.

Man With Van has regressed and his last win came here more than three years ago in a 2m4f novice chase. A repeat of that would win this, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.

They've tried all sorts of headgear combinations to little effect, and rising 12 it's probably a bit late to be reaching for a hood.

He looks to have loads of stamina, which at least ticks one box, but he may have attitude problems now and his last worthwhile piece of form over fences came in the first month of 2016.

He finished nearly 10 lengths behind Presented that day, and is now worse off at the weights. That is largely because Presented has regressed quite sharply this year, showing increasing amounts of attitude along the way.

He's undeniably well handicapped now, and is just the type to stage a revival in as weak a race as this, especially if they opt to front run. So while he's not a horse I normally want on my side, I do prefer him to the other pair.

The fourth runner is Friendly Royal, on old friend of mine who I put up in my horses to follow a couple of seasons ago, when he won a couple of chases before going the wrong way.

Not every horse appreciates the hard yards at the Smith kennel and after a couple of quick races on heavy ground, this fellow appeared to have fallen out with the game big time. But, having been bought by Jonny England for just £800, it's possible there were more serious issues at hand.

Given a year off, he looked to have done very well physically when reappearing at Sedgefield a fortnight ago over a trip too short and ground too lively.

Whether this race comes too quick I don't know. He will have needed to tighten up measurably in two weeks and I'm not sure if that is possible. But on his old form he is well-handicapped and he won his first race here on this day.

It's impossible to form a strong opinion about this race with so many imponderables. If Friendly Royal isn't yet fit, and it's 50/50 he isn't, then he's not a player and I won't be getting involved. Should the market suggest otherwise, I'll be backing he and Presented, while of the other pair I'd be happy to lay Tickenwolf providing the going is genuinely very soft.

I won't be trackside for what is a desperate punting card, however two horses did catch my eye later on the card.

In the 6.15, Micky Hammond's Dakota Grey looked a very promising individual indeed when winning 18 months ago at Carlisle in the mud, after which the handicapper over-reacted. He clearly wasn't right last year when highly tried in two starts over fences, and still didn't look the same horse when reverting to timber.

However, that dismal campaign means he now looks thrown in off 110 and this big strong sort now wears a hood to temper his forceful nature. He was put in at 14/1 across the board for this very weak hurdle race, which was outrageous providing the horse is ready to roll.

The market support that I was waiting for has now materialised, but we'll have to see if that transfers to the all-important show time. If he is fit and back to form, I suspect he could marmalise this lot.

The closing 7.10 is probably not a race to get heavily involved in, but I was interested in a horse called The Conn, who showed much improved form upped to 3m last time out. Bred to stay, stamina is clearly his forte and they've come to the right place.

Connections have done very well with a similar slow burner in Native Optimist and I expect The Conn to build on his latest effort and go very close. The jockey is the main problem and if they had booked a professional he would have been worthy of a large bet.

That said, Miss Walton has shown small signs of improvement in the past 12 months so all may not be lost. I didn't like any of the market leaders at all with the exception of Secret Approach, whose trainer has landed a touch or two this summer. The market has spoken, and it may be worth listening to.

Friday 1 September 2017


My first blog 'report' since April means it's been a longer summer break than ever, and I was looking forward to a quiet spin at the Co Durham track for 'Ladies Night'.

However, it turned out to anything but quiet thanks to the incessant babble from Thommo's mike, while the replacement of the 'big screen' with a somewhat smaller version, but in HD, meant watching was farcical as the commentary was a few seconds ahead.

No doubt the delay has been added at least in part to deter the 'face-timers' relaying the pictures back to their in-running trading pals, but it made for a poor on-track experience at a course where viewing using binoculars is almost pointless.

So once again I left wondering if I'll ever return, that view bolstered by the fact that I was lighter in the pocket than on arrival.

Sendiym had form of 11411 at the track in hurdles over 2m3f-2m5f and looked worth a small poke each-way despite reservations that his mark is still a shade high.

But he lost it at the start after getting left, and Hughes had to use up a load of energy just to get him in the firing line. Fourth was almost an inevitable outcome.

There was money for Irish Hawke off a very low mark, and his only piece of worthwhile form was when he thwarted a good bet on Our Three Sons last term - a horse now rated in the 120s.

McCain's horse finally came good again as the front three pulled clear, the sizeable Smith youngster Mathayus showing some ability from a workable mark, but this was low grade stuff.

The market got it wrong in the novice hurdle as Gibson Park failed to impress in the paddock, being rather big and cumbersome for a four-year-old, but his Fontwell form looked strong in this context and he ran right away from the favourite Man Look, who was again really novicey at his obstacles. The rest look really moderate.

Sue Smith's Perseid was the only northern trained runner in the five-strong handicap chase for novices and he and Pemba were expected to make this a test at the minimum trip.

However, it looked like Quinlan was happy just to get a clear round in on the diminutive Perseid and P Brennan was allowed a soft lead on Pemba.

The subsequent moderate gallop meant this turned into a bit of a dash and that didn't suit the favourite Capsy De Mee, who is a little unfurnished at this stage and appears to lack a turn of foot.

He was left for dead in the straight as Brennan kicked for home but Skelton was able to use Ashoka's flat speed to cut down the advantage and essentially outbattle the opposition.

While the winner has plenty of size, I'm not sure this took much winning and it remains to be seen if he can make a go of it over fences, while Pemba missed a big chance and remains one to oppose.

Stealing Mix had made mistakes in his previous novice chases and this tall, quite gangly individual came down in the back straight which is quite hard to do here. Back to the drawing board.

Almost Gemini, Cape Of Glory and Craig Star vied for favouritism in the following handicap hurdle which meant perennial front runner Danceintothelight went under the radar at 16/1, but came here fresh and well and was allowed an enormous lead.

With the market principals all essentially 'hold-up' types they were too hesitant to close down the advantage, Hughes having to do the hard work in the end on Cape Of Glory.

They never landed a blow, but he, in particular, looked a victim of circumstance and he should be capable of better when bearing in mind his useful flat form. He could be a real stayer as well, so keep him on side.

Much hope was pinned on the headgear for Craig Star but he appeared to have every chance back up in trip and he is another that I want to keep opposing, while Honkytonktennessee won't make it to Christmas at the Skelton yard. Almost Gemini wants further and/or softer now.

In the handicap chase, there had been money for Friendly Royal before racing but I had remarked that young Mrs England would be the trainer of the year if she had this soft-ground staying chaser ready to win after 18 months off.

Cheaply bought from the Smiths, the 'money' proved to be the work of guessers and he drifted like a barge when he arrived looking quite a bit above his racing weight. He'll be an interesting project and is in very good hands.

I figured Highbury High was a good favourite, albeit not a very backable one, more by default than the fact he's due to go up 6lb already. That he had to work to get the better of handicapper's friends Brother Scott and Muwalla means he's another I'll be looking to 'get' in the weeks ahead.

Oliver's Hill ran very badly while Coopers Friend traded short when looming up on the home turn but once again proved himself the piggiest of piglets, beaten 20 lengths.

The two closing events held little appeal, although P Kirby's Nemean Lion was interesting having apparently gained plenty of condition since arriving from J O'Brien. He looked a handful beforehand but gave a straight forward account in the race and battled back well to beat Bal De Rio, who ran in snatches and seemed to quit close home.

Shrubland had more about him than most in the finale but that wasn't saying an awful lot, however he made it three on the night the Skeltons, who will have enjoyed picking some low-hanging fruit.

I'd like to say I'm back in the game and although there's another meeting here next week I'll be giving that the old Spanish Archer as Couch used to say, so it looks like a month of video watching as we build up to some proper racing in October.