Newcastle - Friday November 17
There were rumours the ground was on the quick side of good for the first meeting of the season but it looked like nice terrain and they came home well.
A novice hurdle that revolved around three of them, but really the interesting one was French import Jassas who was having his first start for the in-form J Ewart.
Paddock inspection was more than enough to confirm he was the business - a big strong horse horse fully wound up for the debut - and with Johnson booked it was very surprising he wasn't a short priced favourite.
Inniscastle Lad had showed enough last time behind a good one but he's pretty moderate looking and not certain to go on this season, while Hello Fellas came in for support but he's crying out for softer and a distance of ground.
Joke Dancer is a lovely stamp of a horse and he reminds me of the same stable's Emral Silk, a big raw horse at this stage with plenty to learn.
But he could be quite talented and after once again looking slightly fractious beforehand and keen in the race, he knuckled down late on to give the Ewart horse a fright. He's one to watch and he's only four.
A staying handicap hurdle where the market was lop-sided due to last week's Warwick winner Triopas running off the same mark with Johnson looking for a quick double.
This very sturdy beast tanked along before getting outpaced when it mattered, and the each-way money was spot on for Chu Chu Percy, who looks much improved this term and could be the sort to keep building.
Kings Eclipse once again suggested he has a race in him while The Conn wasn't best positioned turning in and he can certainly do better with some soft ground and ideally a change of jockey.
Cracking Find looked a shoo-in for the novices handicap chase over 2m but it may not have been straight forward had Gris De Pron not crashed out at the second last when apparently tanking.
I'm a big fan of the winner though, as he'll keep jumping and galloping, and he shouldn't go up much for this so remains one to have on side when stepped back up in trip.
Gris De Pron is a nice strong youngster who had jumped brilliantly until his exit; he just got a bit low when travelling at speed and should bounce back from this.
An Laoch doesn't have a great deal of substance physically and was never likely to have the basic speed to go with the the other pair, but his jumping kept him in it and there should be races around for him, although he'd be of more interest in the coming years.
Not much of a mares novice hurdle, Tokaramore looked a bit on edge and not especially fit but still went off favourite ahead of the nicely bred Mary Eleanor, who didn't have to achieve that much to win.
The less said of the ride on the runner-up the better; it was a lamentable effort and Katy Royal is surely better than she has shown in three runs to date.
Both Clovelly and Cheenys Venture were well held but have enough about them to suggest a small handicap is not out of reach for them.
The handicap chase wasn't a race to get too involved with for all that Dica looked to have finally been nailed by the handicapper and forced into a better race as a result. He ran his usual admirable race but finished held.
With No Planning unable to front run and then losing his action, it fell apart a little and it was left to a smattering of weak finishers to fight it out, the roguish Rear Admiral responding to pressure after trying to take the last with him, he's a big lad but looked pretty straight.
Jet Master was set an impossible task and may yet have a race in him from this mark, but Baileys Concerto was very tame once more and his better days look to be behind him.
Ballinslea Bridge was a worthy favourite on form and looks in the closing bumper but in the end he was just out-fought by Chanceanotherfive, who isn't much to look at but was tenacious and did well to defy a penalty.
Glinger Flame is a nice sort to go to war with and Sultans Pride looks more of a stayer, but Sweet As Candy was backward and will need time.
Wetherby - Saturday November 18
The ground was good to soft after a dry week for a competitive looking card.
Talk about hindsight being a fine thing. The opening novice hurdle looked quite deep with four of them having shown fair form and a Longsdon raider that was making its debut.
The disparity in the market was very wide, however, especially in the morning where solid bumper performer Wemyss Point was 25/1 and bigger despite having shown comparable form first time over timber as the Skelton hotpot Cabaret Queen.
Now the latter clearly had bundles in hand when winning at Market Rasen, but the penalty for that made things interesting while Nicely Indeed, a stablemate of Wemyss Point, had the best form in the book but appears to find winning very hard following an injury absence.
With Just Don't Ask looking a nice big chasing type (looked fit enough) the market didn't know what to make of it all, other than Wemyss Point being over-priced and eventually backed down to 7s at the off.
The well-bred five-year-old has his quirks and looked lazy at various times during the race, but the useful T Dowson kept him up to his work and there looked to be plenty in the tank at the end.
Cabaret Queen didn't travel as well as expected and only plugged on to grab second, ahead of Just Don't Ask who should find a novice race in due course. Nicely Indeed backed out of things worryingly and he is expected to go backwards from here.
A novice chase that looked a two-horse race with useful staying hurdler Ami Desbois taking on a speedier type in Whatduhavtoget, the market just favouring the former in the end despite the trip being on the short side.
There's nothing not to like about Ami Desbois, who jumped like an old hand I thought and this 143 -rated hurdler only has to improve a stone and a bit to go well in the RSA Chase at the Festival; if it came up soft there'd be few tougher in the field.
Can someone please tell me how the 104-rated Mortens Leam hasn't been able to pick up a handicap hurdle prior to giving Ami Desbois a big fright here.
My 'cliff' horse and horse to follow looked the type to go through the ratings this term but his mark has been shattered now with an extraordinary first effort over fences.
* I've been reminded that the horse's official mark can't be affected owing to the new rules in these novice chases. Essentially he'll appear to have at least a stone in hand wherever he goes next.
He's not over-big at this stage and he got quite low a few times, but was nimble enough and I suppose it was vindication of sorts that he should be able finally to show his true ability. Where he goes now I know not.
Whatduhavtoget looked a bit lairy beforehand and she may not be one to rely on; very fresh early on she somehow found a leg at the third but crashed out at the same fence next time around when held. She needs to calm down.
Early Retirement is a horse worth following as mentioned here before but he had his work cut out in this deeper race from a 7lb higher perch than when beating a modest bunch at Southwell.
All eyes were on Skipthescales who had stayed on eye-catchingly well here a fortnight ago and with the extra yardage to suit he was strongly backed to get off the mark.
Things looked dicey on the turn in as Dowson was scrubbing away, but it was another endorsement of the youngster's talent that he got him home after the last, Early Retirement not for the first time looking a little immature as he veered left under pressure.
Both will remain of interest, as does Little Bruce, who was well-backed to bounce back from last week's flop in the slop. He seems to love this track and needed all of this trip, so with some headgear applied he can win again in a bigger field where they'll go quicker.
Western Rules was very fit for his return from a lengthy break, but he's a bit slow and heavy ground is what he needs.
A run of the mill staying chase featuring many of the usual suspects. Golden Investment was taking a slight drop in class and this sound jumping strong traveller had to go well for all that his attitude has looked poor in the past.
He did little wrong here though, battling past Doktor Glaz after the last although you wouldn't say he hit the line running. But the pair came miles clear after travelling much the best, however what they achieved may be over-rated by the assessor.
The runner-up isn't bred to stay and it wasn't a total surprise to see him reeled in. The way he went a shorter trip should suit, but he's enormous and this type of track will always see him in better light than, say, Kelso.
Red Danaher plugged on into third but he lacks size and scope and it wouldn't surprise me if he reverted to hurdles, his sliding mark not really helping here and he's essentially very ordinary.
Can't Pay Won't Pay is moderate looking to say the least and after countless blunders prior to his exit it could be that he too is seen in better light over timber. Sharney Sike flopped again and isn't one to trust.
There were plenty who thought that William Of Orange was ready to deliver over hurdles for the first time and they were spot as as Hughes was able to dictate steady fractions at the head of the field.
He saved plenty for late in the piece and nothing got a blow in, Irish Roe battling on for second after numerous errors and she should enjoy going over further, while Keep In Line found disappointingly little and he too could now be poised for a step up in trip.
The handicap chase took some figuring out as nothing made great appeal. Get On The Yager is a useful looking sort but his form doesn't match up and he was downright poor here, suggesting he's not quite right.
Poker School had become disappointing while Wolf Sword was starting to look high in the weights. However, the pair had the finish to themselves, both finding more than is often the case, and it's now becoming harder to crab the winner for his consistency.
Indian Temple looked fit enough but is probably being held back by the assessor at this time, while Cusheen Bridge looked all over the winner until fitness probably told late on.
Twenty Eight Guns is a nice big sort who should relish softer and further and this should tee her up nicely.
Schiaparannie has long since shaped as though she might be quite useful over obstacles and she was a warm order to land a mares contest in the finale.
Overcoming some novicey errors, she basically outstayed them here and a step up in trip looks sure to see her pull out more improvement. She has loads of size and scope and could be decent.
Our Belle Amie is quite sturdy and will come on for this run, but there's something that tells me she might not be straight forward. Autumn Surprise looked quite fit and she's a nice daughter of Yeats that should continue to progress, while Northern Girl has shown enough to pick up a little handicap somewhere.