Sedgefield - Thursday Nov 2
Good ground still prevailed in the first week of the new month which meant for competitive fields, while times suggested it may have been a bit slower than the official description.
The opening novices handicap looked deeper than the market suggested and Robbing The Prey looked to have strengthened from last year, I thought he jumped accurately and was just run out of it by one with greater stamina.
Beggar's Wishes was largely overlooked in the market, but he travelled and jumped well and this chasing type should be picking up two or three more of these when considering he has already won on soft and shapes as though further will suit.
Crackdeloust was well supported but not for the first time let his supporters down...he's a nice big chasing type though so no doubt will get another chance.
Gris De Pron ran a pleasing race on debut for H Hogarth and this robust four-year-old should have races in him, but new recruits to the yard don't always progress and as his allowance diminishes he could find life hard from similar marks.
The novice hurdle didn't look much of a contest and it looked a straight forward opportunity for the likeable Court Liability, who can do nothing but improve for this. He's backward physically and mentally but has something about him.
I didn't rate very highly the race in which Judge Earle came second last time and he showed little here. There may have been something amiss as it as to bad to be true and he should be better in time though.
The same owner's Blunder Buss and Cloth Cap should progress from here - the latter still in need of the outing after travelling cosily - while Jack Devine looked very immature and could be costly at 50k.
Sue Smith's Quietly looked considerably fitter for his Carlisle spin a fortnight ago and I took him to defy market weakness in the staying novice chase, but he was green last year and spooked at the fence away from the stands, dumping Cook into the birch. He'll probably be given a more patient ride after this.
The Happy Chappy looks like he'll turn into a solid staying chaser. Robust and sound jumping, he relishes this decent terrain and he looks a reliable sort. An Laoch was run out of it again in second and just as at Kelso made late errors, while his finishing effort once again wasn't all it might have been. He's backward physically and my mind is open on him.
Beneficial Joe looked in terrific form for the staying hurdle but he's not straight forward and his blunder at the last was hardly out of character. Sun Cloud has been fantastic for connections but this race was nothing special.
There was only one horse being backed for the Durham National and that was Audacious Plan, who went off an astounding 6/4 for what looked a wide open contest.
Boric looked a horse still on the up last time out, and he was completely overlooked in the market so I had to dabble at 16s, and he came up a neck short without ever looking like winning.
Delusionofgrandeur got on the front end and a return to Catterick in the New Year with some cut in the ground will see him back in the winners' circle. He threw in an error or two, as is his wont, but he'll look well handicapped in the right conditions.
Stablemate Smooth Stepper wants a big track and soft ground, while Washed Ashore lobbed round like one ahead of his mark but the petrol gauge emptied after a blunder two out.
S Thomson's Wide Awake was noted by more than one paddock judge ahead of the mares handicap hurdle and this lightly-raced eight-year-old out-ran her odds by some way, and there's surely a race to be won with her this season, particularly if sent over fences.
Flemerina looked fit and well but this race merely served to prove that she must have soft ground and/or further at this stage.
The taxi was called prior to the 0-100 handicap hurdle, where Boytonrath looked a tiny, hard-trained little creature that is probably of little account.
Wetherby - Friday Nov 3
The going was good to soft but looked softer on the chase track.
There was a strong market move for On A Promise in the opening boys' race who started at 7/2 after being available at double figure odds. Shrewd connections knew the time of day here and the grey looks a well-made sort who should build on this; he can go in again.
Alfie's Choice did little wrong and simply bumped into one, while Skipthescales showed much more in the headgear and this strong sort can go two better next time given a greater stamina test.
I've had a watchful eye on Very First Time since his bumper days as he always showed plenty of ability for a horse so physically backward. I had surprised to see him sent over fences but he looked a good deal stronger this time around, albeit likely to come on for the run.
He was serving it up to the hot favourite Some Invitation, a strong staying type, when they both clobbered two out, the jolly being the one to find another leg.
Hughes was convinced he was on the winner and the Easterby youngster had jumped soundly to that point. That second last is not the easiest to navigate and I'm not going to hold this blip against him - indeed he looks a good bet to atone for it before long.
Malaya looked the part prior to the Wensleydale Hurdle and produced a polished performance from the front, although the tactics aboard City Dreamer left something to be desired and King's juvenile emerges with great credit.
Guitar Pete has used up more excuses than an errant teenager but faithful followers piled in and he duly picked up the big prize of the day in a fast time. His jumping is largely accurate for a smallish horse and he's not my type, but that doesn't mean he can't win races. Softish ground is probably important, and the handicapper will make life quite hard now.
Sametegal looked really fit and well for his return from an absence and just ran into one, with the pair a mile clear.
Zamdy Man failed to stay again, while Marquis Of Carabas' jumping went to pot and he has possibly had enough after running consistently well through the summer; I'm sure he can win races back in his grade.
Aristo Du Plessis was 20lb below his winning handicap mark of two seasons ago after a dismal campaign and if he retained anything like that form he had to win the following handicap hurdle.
I couldn't figure out why he wasn't a short-priced favourite as he was guaranteed a solo up front, and he just did what he had to do under Hughes, for whom this was mere bagatelle.
The rest were a real ordinary looking bunch bar Minella Fiveo, who simply isn't that good and has had injuries, and Mahlerdramatic, who struggled again in a tongue-tie but who I'm convinced is running over an entirely inadequate trip.
Carlos Du Fruitier was well-backed for the closing novice hurdle but he hasn't improved much physically and I suspect he may struggle in handicap company. This wasn't a great race, as Jammin Masters looked in need of the run and Planet Nine was surprisingly backward physically. The latter was very novicey and may need some time.
Florrie Knox was noted in dispatches pre-race and very much caught the eye, running on into third, while it was good to see Just Georgie back on a racetrack. He wasn't fit by any means but if he'll stay sound this season and pick up a race or two.
Wetherby - Saturday Nov 4
Overnight rain had turned the going pretty claggy for 'Charlie Hall' day - it was soft all over and tiring stuff.
The novices handicap for staying chasers looked a deep contest and there'll be winners coming from it. Daklondike took the honours and was vastly improved in a new headgear combination. The Pipe horses are running well and he looked typically light framed and hard fit, and went like the winner from a mile out.
The others looked pretty slow by comparison, led home by the plodding oaf that is Krackatoa King, who looks like he wants four miles and should be suited by Haydock and Ffos Las.
Delgany Demon is a big strong horse but looked unbelievably slow, and those who backed him from 10s into 7/2 soon knew their fate.
Bells Of Ailsworth may not have enjoyed the ground but showed more than enough to suggest he can win races with this race under his belt; a sturdy animal, he's bound to improve.
Nortonthorpelegend didn't look anywhere near being fully wound up and if given a good month off after a couple of quick runs will be ready to regain the winning thread. He jumped and travelled well again and back in a run-of-the-mill northern handicap will be one to follow.
The market for the novices hurdle was skewed towards the Skelton youngster Al Shahir, who I thought had looked a bit paceless in previous sorties. A laid-back animal, he surely wants further and in the well-touted Kalashnikov he faced a horse that has a bit of an x-factor.
Full sister Kalane showed a fondness for good ground so this soft stuff was a concern for the four-year-old, but he looked fit and well and really turned the screw once let down in the straight. He's a really nice sort and for once the market got this completely wrong.
Ballymoy is only moderate looking but that doesn't stop the Twiston-Davies yard churning out winners; however this ex-pointer was surprisingly green and novicey and needs a bit more practice. There wasn't much depth here.
Born Survivor was an absolute good thing in the novices chase and this strong looking King's Theatre gelding is going to be dynamite in this sort of ground up to three miles. He has loads of scope and I thought his jumping was outstanding. I'd want him on my side anywhere bar the Cheltenham Festival.
Many of the Greatrex horses I've seen have been 10 percent short of peak fitness and The Nipper was no different; time will show she didn't stand a chance here anyway. Kings Walk showed there will be races to be won this season, although Eamon An Cnoic may be better returned to timber for now.
Greatrex's La Bague Au Roi did look in good order though and has long been one of the best looking mares in training, and this tall scopey type had her sights lowered here after mixing it at the spring festivals, although she hadn't faced ground this soft and that wasn't reflected in her tight odds.
Lady Buttons was capable of form only just inferior on soft and she survived a big drift near the off to give the jolly a fright, trading long odds on between the last two before the winner's class took over. She's a good mare and they came clear of a rather moderate looking bunch, many of whom didn't have the pace to go with a useful pair.
Wholestone was all rage ahead of the West Yorkshire Hurdle and although he looked in great order I didn't quite get the fascination. The disparity in the market was mind-blowing really considering the bare form and Colin's Sister wouldn't have surprised many by landing the spoils here at 10/1.
She didn't do much wrong last term and this rangy, likeable mare relished the extra distance in ground she loves. She could go very far and if they're brave enough she'll have no problem jumping fences. Lil Rockerfeller isn't easy to win with and he's such a robust horse, and lazy too, you'd have to think he'll be fitter for this outing.
Greys are notoriously difficult to assess in the paddock and most of them look as though they need the run, Bristol De Mai was no different ahead of the big race although he was in good order. Still only six, this could be a big year as he's given weight and a beating to a good field.
Blaklion keeps running into one or two but he's hard to crab and his turn will surely come, but I didn't think Definitly Red quite came up to scratch on the looks front and as good as he is, and as much as I've always liked him, he's not up to this standard and his jumping always seems to fall a little short when it matters.
Diamond Fort put the closing handicap hurdle to bed between the last two flight in the style of one ahead of his mark, and he'll improve fitness wise as well. Ice Cool Champs stood out a mile in the paddock and it was no surprise when the money arrived.
He was quite keen early but with this out of the way he can surely prove himself to be better than this, especially over further as he was staying on after hitting a flat spot.