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.