Soft ground but it wasn't too bad considering the recent weather, not a brilliant card but the opening novice hurdle looked very deep for the track and should produce a few winners.
Previous winners Bulkov and Some Reign headed the market but neither was very strong and they looked vulnerable, particularly Bulkov whose form on these shores hasn't looked that great.
Some Reign refused to start last time and that meant he went off at bigger odds than his form implied - he was quickly trimmed upon the tapes rising - but he's not always excited me physically, he's quite narrow and doesn't move especially well.
Trainer's husband A Dobbin esq rates the horse highly but he's got questions to answer at present, finding little behind an impressive winner, and it could be that he requires much better ground.
Lisdoonvarna Lad had shown very good bumper form which would have put him in with a shout here, but he flopped last time when pulling too hard. He settled nicely in the quiet hands of B Hughes here though and ran right away from them in the end.
The best looking of these, albeit with a slight quirk, he was deeply impressive and the further they went the better he looked. It's interesting that the trainer has been having winners after a very quiet time.
Quest For Life was one of the smallest but had shown solid form previously, and came through for second under the quietest of rides, and this run will have been missed by no-one.
Going Gold is a nice horse who disappointed considering his good bumper form last time out. Costing 80k, I'd expect much better from him but he does shape like a stayer and he'll need much further than this sooner rather than later.
Just Bobby looked really well and is a decent prospect, but he was given a very quiet ride in the worst of the ground and I suspect he'll be teed up for a handicap on better ground than this in the spring.
The novice chase cut up to three unfortunately and the market called it correctly as Bordeaux Bill finally delivered on his hurdles promise, relishing the trip as he scooted away from Sharp Response in the straight.
The winner has taken his time to get his act together over fences but the way Cook gunned him at the last four suggested his confidence is now on the up and he can land a decent handicap this season.
He only did what the figures said he should do though, Sharp Response being a reliable yardstick albeit at the lower level. He did little wrong barring a couple of minor errors and I expect the runner-up to boost this form in the weeks ahead.
The juvenile hurdle saw a nice sort in Albert's Back, who was all the rage after his win here on debut, and he is almost certainly an above average recruit for the bang in form MW/D Easterby team.
He was chased home by Turning Gold, a miler on the flat, but he stuck on well and looks of interest especially when the ground dries out in the spring, as he has loads of scope.
Cornerstone Lad looked well but had a bit to find on the book, that said I thought he'd do better than he did, while American Craftsman took a huge step backwards and this lightly-framed animal, who was regressive on the flat, now has questions to answer.
The feature race was the Castleford and it looked wide open with chances to be given to all six rivals, which to these eyes meant Cyrus Darius was a very short priced favourite considering the questions he had to answer over jumping, trip, and to some extent, resolution.
They all looked trained to the minute and I thought Duke Of Navan was ready to land a decent pot after too much time on the sidelines. Given a positive ride, he looked all over the winner in the straight and if the jockey had kicked turning in he may just have nicked it.
As it was, Just Cameron wore him down for the red-hot Hammond yard and connections can have the handicapper to thank for his kindness, allowed to run off a 4lb lower mark than when successful here in January. I didn't think he'd quite have the pace but, rising 11, he's clearly still on his game.
Cyrus Darius failed to answer any of the questions posed to him in finishing a tired third, and the odds are he simply isn't the force he looked prior to injury. There'll be more races in him, but at present his mark is flattering.
For the first time I can remember I managed to miss them in the paddock ahead of the mares staying chase, which was annoying as I didn't fancy the short priced favourite Same Circus as she doesn't look a natural over fences, and based on this evidence a return to timber will suit ideally.
Milly Baloo has loads of scope and was held together by Hughes, she looks green and lacking confidence and is probably weighted to her best, but can surely improve on this and win again if things fall into place...she stays well but may do better off a faster pace over shorter.
The winner Sheneededtherun was noted on these pages last season, going well at Southwell and then landing a penalty kick at this track. She's an out and out staying chaser and shouldn't have been the price she was in a weak race, and with a tongue tie added. Well-handicapped, she can't go up much and may well win again if kept to similar races, and she'll stay even further too.
The closing staying hurdle had some nice looking horses declared and of most interest was Tickanrun from the Hammond yard, who looked straight enough off a 600+ day absence upon leaving the Grant kennel. Most importantly it was strong in the market and it looked as though the punt would be landed up the straight.
But Final Fling, who I followed for a long time before letting him go some time back, is a dour stayer and wouldn't lie down, out-gunning the grey from the last. The winner lacks size and has been struggling over fences - he's a proper hurdler but may now struggle off higher marks.
Flemerina relished the softer ground but she's really only moderate and can pick up weaker races than this on her favoured terrain, while Honeychile Ryder - a former horse to follow - once again showed a glimpse of ability and she can win one of these types of races over shorter...she's a keen sort but much better than her rating suggests. It's to be hoped she can string a few runs together now and I haven't given up on her.