Tuesday 30 January 2018

Newcastle - Tuesday Jan 30

A decent enough card assembled for the Geordie masses (very droll - Ed) on ground that was officially soft, heavy in places but good to soft in the home straight. Essentially it was decent ground for the time of year.

The card had a good shape to it and we got off to a flyer when the good thing Cadeyrn landed the opening novice hurdle by a diminishing, yet cosy, neck.

The M Scudamore inmate was first sighted here in a Haydock bumper I said at the time might be 'very good' and has thrown up graded winners Claimantakinforgan (try saying that in a Geordie accent) and Global Stage.

The likeable Cadeyrn had shown plenty on his second start over timber at Chepstow last time and this looked a perfect opportunity to show us what he is capable of, with a warm favourite having his seventh run in a novice or maiden event.

If it was a boxing match you would have called it off before the start, the jolly having very little about it physically and the comparison with our lengthy, strong hero simply meant we had to go in again.

Cadeyrn needs another summer to fully strengthen as there is still plenty to work on here, but they are taking their time with him and I suspect they think quite a bit of him.

Bob Mahler may yet pick up a novice but he didn't look straight forward in the heat of battle, and a mark of 125 could well prove to be his ceiling.

The other 'runner' was Donna's Delight but he's a tall gelding that still has some filling to do, and while he clearly has ability this son of Portrait Gallery may not be the most straight forward.

Petticoat Tails was a much more worthy favourite in the following mares hurdle, having plenty of scope albeit on the light-framed side. I've seen her before and quite like her, and she only seems to do enough.

Her form was well in advance of this lot and while the strong looking My Old Gold threw down a strong challenge she always seemed to be coming off second best. The runner-up may come on again for this and is a shoo-in for something similar.

Birch Vale was in good order and went well before weakening surprisingly quickly from two out. She may not have been able to go with them on the ground, but she ought to be better than this in time.

Kimberlite Candy was strong in the market for the featured staying chase but he's been anything but straight forward and the cash for him never felt right.

I backed Newtown Lad at Bangor last time when they went like stink for the first mile, and he didn't mess around here either although the fractions made more sense.

He didn't do much wrong but found course specialist De Vous A Moi too tough a competitor on the day, the Smith horse relishing the long straight once more and moreover the return to fences.

This was a decent contest and Central Flame ran his race in third, with the suspicion that he's still not 100% fit and that 3m stretches his stamina. There's a race for him from this mark if everything falls into place, which it would have to unless they changed the personnel.

With four no-hopers in the eight-runner staying hurdle there were some great angles to be had, none better than Skipthescales, who was in a slightly weaker race than of late and with the addition of blinkers and the excellent A Nicol doing the steering, he looking very hard to keep out the frame.

The beast travelled far better in the blinds and it was indeed a matter of steering him home ahead of the frustrating Tickanrun, runner-up for a fifth time while American Life is another that loves to chase others home.

The 2m handicap chase was interesting as the front pair in the betting Whitsundays and Casual Cavalier were very opposable being far from the most straight forward, and there was a real wildcard up against them in Jaunty Thor.

The handicapper had taken a chance in dropping the animal 6lb from his last outing in June, and he rocked up looking to have done plenty of work at home.

Very strong in the market, he looked a stonking bet but after uneventful first half he lost ground at several fences and found himself on the back foot.

Better knowledge of the opposition and indeed of the horse itself might have resulted in a more pleasing outcome, for it looked like Dunne panicked, rushing the 8yro up on the home turn to take the lead four out.

Such an effort surely took plenty out of the horse, and frankly I was surprised he was still a couple clear jumping the last, but he was worn down close home by the hitherto mediocre Charlie Snow Angel, thwarting a decent punt close home.

The runner-up isn't an easy conveyance, but he won't be thumped for this and with a suitable break can surely make amends providing things fall right.

Lord County duly followed up Friday's comfortable Doncaster win in the finale, but that bird had long since flown. Modulus looked in great heart but this didn't provide a stiff enough test and the ground probably wasn't deep enough either. One suspects he still has races in him this spring.

Monday 29 January 2018

Doncaster - Friday Jan 26

Soft, good to soft in places was the official going report and that looked about right with the hurdle track looking particularly hard work.

A really moderate 0-105 handicap chase opened proceedings, a very winnable contest that saw the frustrating Doktor Glaz return to the winners' circle under a really positive ride from L Murtagh.

The kid has endured a frustrating winter but there's no doubting his talent and he essentially won the race by kicking on early in the straight, stealing a march on some paceless rivals.

I've doubted the horse's stamina for some time and an aggressive ride at this trip probably sees him to best effect, although I'd be looking to oppose him in anything stronger.

Blakerigg is a big unit that has been very slow to come to hand, this was more like it on chase debut and he should be able to build on this as he goes up in trip on better ground.

Grow Nasa Grow has always been a prospective chaser and he showed his first piece of form over the larger obstacles by running on into third, and as the Winks yard has been quiet there could be more to come from this one off a very low mark.

The novice hurdle was the highlight of the card for me with half a dozen of interest either on the day or for future reference.

Perfect Harmony and King Of Realms had very good bumper form and had shown a good deal of promise over timber this season; I couldn't split them until they were viewed in the paddock.

Goodness me, what a striking animal this King Of Realms is. Very well made with loads behind the saddle, he looked a proper horse and considering he was in with some good lookers, there was the potential for something big here.

Bounced out on the early lead, it was a real statement of intent from O'Brien and the six-year-old duly ran them into the ground, scoring by seven lengths. Let's not go overboard just yet, but I Williams has a right tool on his hands.

The market preferred the claims of Perfect Harmony and he's a good looking chaser in the making, but had been off for nine weeks and will be sharper for this run. He lost nothing in defeat and this form is solid.

The Skeltons' Present Ranger came home well in third at long odds and this scopey individual has now shown more than enough in three starts to suggest he can win a decent handicap on better ground before starting a career over fences.

Oakley Hall's form tied in closely with that of the winner and he was about to give him something to think about when crashing out at the final flight.

He wasn't the best looking by any means but clearly has loads of ability and at 120k last year all may not be lost, while further back Going Gold ran okay to a point although he was a bit out his depth physically.

Cracking Destiny was too short in the betting having achieved only a small amount in bumpers and this close-coupled animal did not take the eye. Keen in a hood, an early mistake didn't help but he's not one for me going forward.

Frozen Flame is quite lengthy and his time will come when handicapping on good ground and again he showed something before fading away here.

All eyes were on Mount Mews as he took on three rivals in the novices chase, but it was a much sterner test than on debut here last time and his jumping didn't pass muster.

I queried earlier in the campaign whether he would be a better hurdler based on his physique, which is not that of a staying chaser in the making.

Robust and compact, he lacks real scope and that was obvious here as he lost ground at many fences, unable to stand right off, none more so at the last when an extra stride cost him more than the margin of defeat.

I'm still surprised they chose to go over fences so early in his career - he's unexposed over 2m4f and beyond over timber and I'll stick to my long-held view that he'll turn out to be a better hurdler than chaser.

Wotzizname did little wrong in beating the favourite, rallying really strongly on the long run-in. I wasn't that taken by him physically and this eight-year-old is probably around the peak of his powers.

Robbin'hannon looked unbelievably slow over hurdles and this switch to fences did not change anything in that regard, although so poor was he that this can't have been his form, while trainer Hobbs is very quiet by his standards.

The front four in the betting for the staying handicap chase all looked ahead of their marks and it was fought out by two of them, Shanroe In Milan eventually wearing down Bako De La Saulaie to deny the nap of the day.

Nichol was left in front too far out on the runner-up when Capard King got rid of his partner with a jolting error at the final ditch, but Bako had taken him there with a series of fluent leaps.

However, Hughes was in stalking mode on the eventual winner, who jumping slickly in the main and was full value for the win. He has strengthened up but remains a work in progress and he's starting to see out his races better; this was further evidence that the Ludlow form is very strong.

They came away from Captain Mowbray, who was set an impossible task on a track where the leaders rarely come back, and he remains in top form despite a busy campaign.

Amber Gambler made a series of small errors which may have had a hand in his weak finish; for all that he's won over the trip he may prefer a bit shorter. Dawnieriver is handicapped to win again and she will relish a return to spring-like ground.

The 2m handicap hurdle wasn't a great one but Lord County was noted as a likely sort for the future, I really like the Greenall yard that buys proper NH horses and while he won today he can only improve further.

Does It In Style was the paddock pick by miles and it's hard to believe he's only rated 77. When he learns to settle he could go through the handicap and after hitting a predictable flat spot he ran on quite well having got his second wind. He's probably a stayer once he learns to race.

The finale looked competitive although on closer inspection there was plenty of dead wood, One Of Us strong in the betting for winning what didn't look a strong face last time out, and he was beaten some way out.

The race saw Kansas City Chief return to his best Irish form from a much lower mark, and he bolted up. Hidden Cargo and Allez Jacques were a couple I took from the prelims but neither appeared well fancied and didn't show a great deal.

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Catterick - Wednesday Jan 24

Really soft ground on a wet and windy day, some pretty weak racing and form generally to forget about as we move through spring.

Jaunty Flyer went off odds-on for the opening novice hurdle and while he was clear on the figures he's looked pretty paceless of late and it's clear he isn't progressing.

He looked beaten late on but was joined on the line by Teescomponents Lad, who as expected relished the extra distance and was nicely produced by Emma Todd to claim the jolly.

It looked like he'd won a good head on the line but after a lengthy debate a dead-heat was called, to the surprise of most of those present.

I don't rate the form particularly highly, with the Flat-looking Rajapur keeping tabs on the leaders until after the last, while the more likely looking Young Tom and Haasab ran poorly.

The 0-100 handicap chase attracted many usual suspects, including Major Ridge, who had won the race 12 months ago but on much quicker terrain, and he backed right out of it after going with zest early on.

Ronnie Lawson came up in the Vaughan van with Jaunty Flyer and a quick double looked on for much of the final mile, but the diminutive chaser faded badly from the last as his earlier efforts took their toll.

The unexposed Spirit Of Hale looked one of the more likely protagonists despite being overlooked in the market, and this dour stayer managed to get outpaced at the wrong time before staying on again late without looking like winning.

He'll need an even stiffer test, while Smuggler's Stash consented to run on too late and I wouldn't be too taken by this effort. So Satisfied took the honours, building on his decent effort last week, but he's not the sort to run up a sequence.

The handicap hurdle was of much higher quality and it featured the handicap debut of the Sue Smith trainer Silva Eclipse, who looked a useful novice in three starts for the stable.

Weak on the off, but still short enough at 7/4, he never really seemed to be travelling and maybe this came too soon after his Wetherby effort. He's not the biggest and has yet to fill his frame. I'd be inclined to ignore this run.

His lamentable performance left it wide open and it looked at the mercy of Zeroshadesofgrey, who like last time at Wincanton had the field on stretch for the last mile of the contest.

However, the big grey has become disappointing and he found precious little when it mattered, being run down by the smooth travelling rogue Sakhee's City, coaxed into the bridle by the excellent A Nicol to win cosily, albeit reluctantly.

They were all over the place in behind, Jimmy Breekie chasing the leader down in the straight before falling in a hole, while the typically free Beeno managed to plug on for third. Again, this was typical mid-January form and not especially meaningful in the scheme of things.

For what it's worth, Sakhee's City was sweating quite badly on this bitterly cold day, but it clearly did his chance little harm.

Three went to post in the novice handicap in which Bentelimar went off a warm order, but he's had umpteen chances both here and in Ireland and he lacked the size and scope of a more progressive sort in Somewhere To Be, who was blinkered after a tame display last time.

Off a longer break, the Southern raider looked well and his jumping warmed to the task, as he boxed on gamely to repel his one-paced rival after the last. The runner-up was giving plenty of weight, and as with Silva Eclipse he may have been a bit flat just 12 days on from his last run.

One that was very fresh from an absence was Kelka in the novices chase, and while she was backed as if defeat was out of the question she had done plenty of running by the time the tapes went back, and she can make amends for this shock defeat next time.

Not that losing to Totalize was a disgrace, the formerly useful dual purpose horse was fit from an even longer break and put several novicey leaps behind him to mow down the favourite from the last.

There has to be some doubt as to whether he'll build on this, such was the sketchy nature of his jumping, and it could just be that things panned out for him this time under a fine ride from D Cook.

Applaus came in a respectable third and he should be able to land a handicap at a bigger track, for all that his head carriage is rather discouraging.

The finale was a low grade handicap hurdle which was delayed by the recalcitrant Notebook, who was short in the market despite his wayward tendencies.

McCain farms these sorts of races at the gaffe tracks with his run-of-the-mill handicappers and the costly Derrynane showed the benefit of a break to take it with ease from a perch of 91. Bering Upsun looked really well but not for the first time found little when it mattered and isn't one to trust.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Wetherby - Tuesday Jan 23

Desperate conditions awaited runners after the meeting passed an early inspection, jockeys took their time in most races but with the additional yardage it was generally a struggle to get home.

The opening juvenile event was tricky with a big drifting favourite in Solo Saxaphone coming up against previous winner Oxford Blu and a big rangy ex-French bumper winner called Empire De Maulde.

Backers of the latter named were no doubt alarmed by the late drift and he seemed to run accordingly, although this was a falsely run race even by the standard of the day and the jocks were nearly caught out by D England on Titan.

The pair stole a couple of lengths early in the straight and with nothing immediately taking up the chase, for a moment the 50/1 shot looked home, but H Skelton roused the drifter just in time to get up close home in the style of an okay sort. For all that Titan was over-priced on looks, it would be hard not to say he's flattered by this.

A toxic-looking 0-100 handicap followed where Age Of Glory came home best despite having plenty of stamina queries against his name. This was not a strong race, with Cafe Au Lait setting the mark in a staying-on second.

Indian Reel and Chase Me were the paddock picks but the former in particular got a queer ride, held up early before making his move five wide on the turn, eventually fading tamely away.

Dick Darsie was made favourite for the staying chase which was truly astounding on two counts - primarily on the basis of form - his win here last time ain't worth jack - and secondly in-running players were surely aware this recalcitrant and downright slow animal would trade at biggers odds as soon as the flag went down.

Lunar Flow looked a more worthy jolly with valid excuses for his latest effort in a big-field marathon, and he was asked to make all at a rapid pace which had most of them beaten off a long way out.

The early fractions started to tell at the top of the straight though and Bassarabad, fresh from a wind op and with tongue tie added, came home stronger with nothing else left able to go a trot.

I gave Purple Harry a right chance so it was disappointing, to say the least, that he jinked and ditched the rider going to the first. He hadn't been quirky before and without seeing the replay I wonder if the flagman was partly responsible for not getting his arse out the way fast enough.

The big grey galloped and jumped round with the first two, and I would have expected him to have been involved in the finish with the jockey still in the plate. His day may yet come again.

I had given up on Final Fling long ago after he let me down on some big days and I didn't think he was capable of following up his latest win from a three-figure mark, but he's suddenly found a jolt of improvement and he saw off quite a decent field in the staying hurdle.

They went no pace at all here and the lengthy, chase type Asking Questions hit a wall before rallying for third, suggesting a stronger pace would suit, while Sounds Of Italy has no weight and while he isn't very good, his jockey wasn't harsh on him and a small race may not be out of the question.

Mad For Action is nice looking, a bit backward, and may well be one to look out for on decent ground.

Four came together for the handicap chase and it looked trappy on paper, but the market was solid all day long for the quirky looking Catamaran Du Seuil and when your tissue is all over the place it's sometimes best to stand aside.

Caraline, Wolf Sword and Clan Legend all had their chances but the likelihood is that the winner was simply the best handicapped horse in the race..and all the right people knew it.

The closing novice hurdle was a match in the market but sometimes you have to retain belief in what you're doing and while I hadn't got the previous race right, I strongly felt the market was wrong with Destrier weak in the betting in the face of support for debutant Klare Castle.

The Skelton horse is a beast, very strong and good looking, and with the form in the book looked hard to beat providing he settled on his first start in nine weeks.

He was rather keen but as the paddock view suggested, far too good for the opposition, the light framed filly Miss Tynte chasing him home.

Klare Castle is a nice enough type but still on the weak side, and his jumping left plenty to be desired.

Sunday 21 January 2018

Haydock - Saturday Jan 20

A typical mid-winter card at Haydock in very heavy ground, although as is often the case the main players looked as though they were going through it okay.

Four of the seven were course winners and all were ridden close to the pace. You cannot expect to make up ground here on any going.

As such, Chozen should be given another chance after he was attempted to be settled by Johnson 20 lengths off the speed in the opener. He's a nice strong horse with loads of stamina, but he's currently ruining his chances by refusing to settle.

I've asked before why do you have to try to settle a hard puller right at the back of a big field, rather than say in midfield? But then of course I haven't ridden a thousand winners, so there'll be a good reason I'm sure.

To his credit Chozen stayed on better than most after dropping the bridle, finishing just over 10 lengths behind the winner after literally never being sighted.

He clearly won't be winning anything in the short term unless he grows up, but this came after eight weeks off so with a shorter absence he could be of interest, especially on better ground where they will go much faster through the race.

In time, again with the obvious caveat, he may well turn out to be a very well handicapped horse, especially as he's the sort where 'chasing could be the making of him'.

Enough about him, the winner was one of the nicest in the field and the improving Joke Dancer made the assessor pay for dropping him 4lb after just one handicap outing (how many get that treatment!) when essentially routing the field under D Cook.

I've seen this horse every time he's run this term and he's really grown up having been green and keen from paddock to track. He looked far more professional in the prelims this time and his performance duly followed that through.

Reverant Cust closed the gap to half a length at the line, which flatters him, but it was good to see the grey come home strongly in a race after not seeing it out a few times. Clearly the drop in trip suited, and a more positive ride can now be administered although a jockey change is likely to trigger further improvement.

This form is not brilliant for a Saturday but there are others to note here including Graystown, who should come down the weights again and surely wants further, while Western Morning will be one to look out for, probably after another summer at grass. Brynmawr is a staying chaser on looks.

The Rossington Main brought together a sextet of much quality and was won impressively by First Flow, who looks a proper soft ground horse and could be something of a machine under these conditions.

I do worry that he may not make a chaser - for me he's a bit narrow in front and his jumping of hurdles was very fast a flat, apparently it's taken a long time for the penny to drop.

These things are all relative though, and he was in very good company here. Midnight Shadow came through for second and this lovely strong chase type deserves to get his head in front again, probably when asked to race over further.

Lisdoonvarna Lad came on again from Wetherby and lost little in defeat, he's a chaser for next season and just a little unfurnished at this stage, but clearly a useful prospect.

Waterlord was a disappointment and this sturdy animal has a question to answer after this, while Lostintranslation is a lovely rangy chaser who wasn't going after a mid-race blunder and he's obviously much better than this. McGowan's Pass was out his depth, but he's a nice type who can rebuild in handicaps.

I didn't see The Dutchman as a likely winner of the Peter Marsh, but plenty did and he was backed into 13/2 in a competitive field.

He'd won a four-runner novice chase by a neck last season but hadn't won since, and I always felt his lack of size would hold him back over fences, for all that he's generally an accomplished jumper.

Campaigned over all sorts of trips in the past, he stayed on better than the rest to win really well but I'm not sure if I'm able to change my overall view on him.

Captain Redbeard ran yet another cracker but was out on his feet on the run-in, suggesting this may be further than he wants to go, by contrast Hainan was badly outpaced when it mattered and only got going again late - he looks one for races like the Midlands National.

Ubaltique loves this place and won again, rallying late on after Lake Field had travelled like a horse still ahead of his mark, floundering on the ground after the last. The Bailey horse can win again, while Tornado In Milan ran his race once more without really looking like winning.

Azzuri is being brought along with a spring campaign in mind, and this buzzy sort must have a sharp test to be seen to best effect.

Donna's Diamond made a mockery of the handicapper when ridden right out to land a competitive looking staying handicap after well over a year off. Initially I thought he was ready to do himself justice but when the rug came off I was less sure, and at 20/1 he appeared unfancied.

I did like Bruichladdich as a potential staying chaser, but the way he travelled here suggests he can win again over timber before the season is out, providing he is dropped in trip.

Thursday 18 January 2018

Market Rasen - Wednesday Jan 17

I'm a bit short on time so the update will be a brief one, although the races to concentrate on are well worth reviewing. The going was changed to heavy midway through the card and it was deep ground after overnight snow.

Race 1

A novice hurdle over almost 2m3f where Super Sid was sent off favourite to beat perennial bridesmaid Ballinslea Bridge, who was also strong in the market. The latter was getting a stone with the claim of the handy F Gregory while Super Sid had to shoulder a penalty.

The paddock revealed it to be a one-sided contest as Super Sid isn't much to look at, quite disappointing actually being only medium sized and one likely to struggle when sent chasing. By contrast, the strapping Ballinslea Bridge looked really well and he was understandably tight in the market.

It could just be that the heavy ground favoured the Olly Murphy trained winner, as Super Sid's finishing effort was pretty tame, although the combination of ground and weight likely made the favourite's task harder than the betting suggested.

Absolutely Dylan was mounted in pre-parade and he was on edge once more, but this decent looking Scorpion gelding clearly has ability and the penny is starting to drop; Cook by no means hard on him to gain second.

New Quay is never going to be a star in the Skelton yard but he built on his earlier effort here and looks in need of a step up in trip, while Second Time Around was held together on this ground and this nice big chaser will come into his own when the hooves are rattling.

Others to mention in a tidy little race are Brights Park and Pronto Tonto, both of whom may be worth noting once sent handicapping.

Race 2

Some okay looking animals in this stayers hurdle, with Itsnonofurbusiness fairly bolting in for the Skeltons at huge odds. He looked a decent sort physically and looks like one worth following from higher marks. What A Diva looked in great order and merely caught a tarter in a race she won last year - her time will come soon.

Loch Linnhe will jump a fence but there are races to be won with him before that, giving best only before two out and the run will do him the world of good. Quite what Red Danaher was doing as favourite in a race of this nature I'll never know. I believe it's known as 'recency bias'.

Race 3

One or two of interest in a 2m3f handicap hurdle, none more so than the winner Cabernet D'Alene, the paddock pick who appears to be improving at a rate of knots. Lizzie Kelly took a wide passage throughout which undoubtedly helped, but this is a horse with fast ground form and he could really take off this spring.

Fresh New Dawn has a future over fences but can surely land a handicap over timber given more real estate, he loves this soft ground and I'm certain he'll leave his current mark behind before long.

Race 4

I thought Three Muskateers was a good thing to repeat last year's success in the Graduation Chase but the bottom line is he isn't improving and Le Rocher proved too good despite a couple of dodgy blunders in the straight.

The N Williams yard is at full throttle and the winner looked fresh and well, but he does lack some scope for fences and his jumping may continue to hold him back, especially going at a fast pace on better ground. Tomngerry didn't look quite right, getting a little warm and on his toes, and it might be a good idea to shelve his chasing career for now, he too lacks a bit of scope.

Race 5

A listed mares bumper and a terrific race from which there could be untold winners emerge; most of them were in good order and I've not seen as good a mares bumper prior to this.

Dissavril was produced very fit by Emma Lavelle but it's likely this athletic, active sort doesn't take much work and she bolted up having been taken wide by G Sheehan.

Aimee De Sivola was well-backed getting the weight for age allowance but Kelly opted to take the ploughed route down the inner this time, whether the wider track would have made a difference is a moot point, but it was a curious decision from the jockey.

I didn't give Belle Amis much of a write-up after winning an ordinary Wetherby bumper but the eye was drawn to her as she's quite imposing, very strong and fit, and can defy a penalty in a weaker race, although she's surely ready for obstacles.

Simply Loveleh was ignored in the betting but she looked fit and well and this decent sort ran full of promise, and is a winner waiting to happen, while Harrisons Promise set a decent benchmark and probably didn't run too far below her winning form.

Derriana Spirit was well backed but was outpaced and this strong chase prospect simply wants further already, while Kimberley Point was one of the weaker physical specimens on show and she was friendless in the betting and ran accordingly. 

Race 6

Three came clear in the handicap chase and time may tell they are all well ahead of their current mark. Until Winning had two handlers and was full of himself on his second run back from an absence, and he travelled like the winner throughout if you were able to take your eye off long time leader and hot favourite Iskabeg Lane.

I'm a fan of the Smith youngster but 11/8 was a very short price and he looks for all the world like he wants a bigger track and 3m, probably flat out all the way here. He's a good jumper and well handicapped.

Midnight Monty is even more of a stayer and this robust horse would not have been suited by this test, even on soft ground, and the way he came home suggests he can win races this spring.

Race 7

If you backed Incholm in this dire race, don't ever do it again. Ever.

Saturday 13 January 2018

Wetherby - Saturday January 13

Predictably boggy ground for the time of year but I wouldn't call it desperate, and a decent enough card.

The opening novice hurdle looked very deep for the track and there are half a dozen worth keeping an eye out for in the coming weeks.

The betting was tight between four of them, the top two looking up against it being penalised for previous wins, but they are decent sorts and they came home in front.

Noble Robin is a bit of a brute and wasn't walking that fluently beforehand and you wonder if he's difficult enough to keep sound. One suspects this ground is imperative and he could be one to be wary of even on good to soft.

There was nothing to crab about the victory though as he powered away up the straight despite looking a tad awkward under the cosh. Silva Eclipse did little wrong in second and he's a much more nippy, flat looking type who will learn greatly from this; he can defy a penalty in the north.

I was taken by Leskinfere in the paddock and he warranted an each-way play at 20s, having shown improved form last time out. He's a strong animal with scope and while it was disappointing he came under pressure early enough, he stayed on pleasingly and now gets a mark, while an easier novice over a bit further should be child's play.

Quest For Life was all the rage but I didn't buy into that last effort here when tenderly handled, while the extra half mile wasn't sure to suit. He looked well, but patently failed to stay and could be of interest on better ground.

Trucker's Lodge was sent of favourite on the back of a very impressive bumper win, but that was gained on very different ground and he looked more of a work in progress here, fit enough but a little unfurnished, and he'll surely be kept to better ground than this now, as he struggled.

I quite liked Toosey and he's one to look out for when the ground turns. A full brother to the likeable Political Quiz, this one is similar in being quite tall and light framed, and shapes like a stayer. This was his third run for a mark and he shouldn't be missed when hopefully his trainer hits better form in the coming weeks.

De Dollar Man was a shade of odds-on for the confined novices chase, where all except the winner have their marks left alone under the new BHA initiative.

The Welsh raider had more than a stone in hand of some decent rivals and should really have put this to bed, but he may not have run up to previous form and looked a bit paceless at this intermediate trip.

Take nothing away from Hogan's Height, who out-jumped and out-fought him to gain a deserved success; however the assessor will take a dim view of the performance and will be getting a steep rise in the weights.

The eye-catcher was undoubtedly Quietly, who I've mentioned before is a very nice prospect who hasn't been seen to best effect for some time.

His turn isn't far away and with this confidence booster behind him he'll remain well treated when returned to further, and he's a typical Smith horse that will do the yard proud in years to come.

Mortens Leam was disappointing but I didn't think he'd handle this boggy ground and that looks a viable excuse.

The next was a poor handicap hurdle in which Gran Maestro put his best hoof forward for a change despite looking recalcitrant in the prelims; he's not one to rely on, unlike runner-up Walsingham Grange, who is pretty consistent at this level.

Skywards Reward, a big unit that looked really well, was the subject of a gamble but it came unstuck, the horse weakening out of it after sharing the early work. He looks to require much further but has quite a bit to prove at present.

Bun Doran has been disappointing since landing a Haydock novice hurdle in a bog two years ago and he had a big chance to finally deliver from a competitive mark in a winnable looking C2 affair.

But I haven't trusted his finishing effort for some time and again he looked vulnerable at the back end of the race, having no answer to the stamina of Positively Dylan, who picked the others' pockets with quite an authoritative display.

Just Cameron and Bun Doran probably made this quite a test on the ground, but while they were watching each other the Williams horse swooped. Kayf Blanco took second but he doesn't look like a chaser and has never found anything off the bridle anyway; as such the gamble on him was hard to fathom, for all that he jumped better here in general.

I had Craggaknock down as the bet of the day on his first start for local handler R Guest at big odds early doors, but the theory was based around likely warm order Westend Story not delivering on his early promise once more.

However, the Hobbs raider chose this day to put all his short-priced defeats behind him by sluicing up, with Craggaknock doing best of the remainder.

The runner-up and Slanelough ran their races and probably ahead of their marks too, such was the ease of the victory. Both look capable of making amends, while Catchamat still wasn't fit here and he's not one to give up on.

A tight knit handicap chase came up next where the market had four close together headed by Newberry New, bred to sprint but a lover of heavy ground and a decent jumper of fences for all that he lacks size.

He'll probably stay all day and didn't even hit his usual flat spot here under RJ, eventually running out a ready winner from the one-eyed Crown Hill.

The runner-up has been curiously campaigned but has done little wrong over fences and this decent looking sort could progress again once back on a right-handed track, and he too has stamina reserves.

Special Wells looked fit but he's 5lb above his last winning mark and that's as good as he is, while Granville Island had his chance but has clearly regressed and it's hard to see him get his head back in front.

The fillies' bumper wasn't a bad race and it saw Maebh reverse Newbury placings with So Lonely, who failed to give Johnson a five-timer. Fforbidden Love was given a bold ride in front and she should be able to pick up one of these. Tara Force is a decent looking youngster but may prefer better ground, while Dares To Dream has plenty about her and shouldn't be dismissed in the future.

Thursday 11 January 2018

Catterick - Thursday Jan 11

The ground was officially soft but it's still one of the best draining tracks in the land and it wasn't that bad - those at the front end were finishing well enough, with the hurdles course looking the worst of the two.

The opening juvenile looked a decent affair with Turning Gold and Cornerstone Lad representing what I consider to be the best juvenile form in the north for a good while at Wetherby behind Albert's Back.

I'm no expert in these baby races but there was no doubt that Alan King's Crushed would need to be useful to best the pair - and despite market strength he was nowhere near up to the task.

Keen and very novicey, the Southern raider showed little promise as the aforementioned duo dominated the race, with the penalised Cornerstone Lad reversing Wetherby placings with a gritty performance.

Both have plenty of size and strength which augurs well for careers in this sphere, with the winner's inherent stamina coming to the fore from the second last as the free going Turning Gold came to the end of his tether.

Perhaps he had been out in front too long, as he rallied when passed at the last, but it's likely he only just gets the trip and a more patient ride on better ground could see him in different light.

Shine Baby Shine took third some way back, but she too has enough size and scope to have a future over timber, while Take The High Road looks more like a filly and I suspect they'll turn his attentions back to the flat for the time being.

I quite liked the victory a while back by Chu Chu Percy, and the form had worked out nicely since. The 56-day absence withstanding, he looked the one to beat in a weak looking stayers handicap with Bangor winner Tailor Tom the only real danger.

The pair came miles clear, and the form is probably solid with both horses likely to progress further, although their short term prospects are in the hands of the assessor.

There was a right old punt on Aramist, but I couldn't see it myself and he doesn't look much of a jumper, coming down when making a horlicks of one down the far side.

Gogo Baloo is of interest further down the line; a half sister to Milly Baloo she has just as much size if not more and may not be seen to best effect until going over fences.

The first of two good chases on the card fell to the classy Dresden, who looked a different league to the others in the paddock and having dropped in grade and in trip after numerous efforts over further, he hacked up really under a positive ride.

From a punting point of the only issue was the price and those wise owls who snaffled the early value would have been on good terms with themselves from an early stage.

Un Prophete looked fast asleep in the prelims, loping around the ring in a most unappealing manner. I don't know if this is his usual behaviour but it may explain his deplorable effort, although it must be said he's not one to set your clock by and now has to prove he can go on again from this higher mark.

Discoverie looked in good nick and the Slackmeister has worked wonders with the former rogue, who ought to be able to pick up a weaker race than this having established himself as capable from this sort of mark.

Cracking Find ran his usual honest race despite an uncharacteristic blunder in mid-race, and this solid effort on unsuitably moist terrain sets him up nicely for a race or two over a longer trip this spring.

The novice hurdle was at the mercy of French Furze third Hear No Evil, who is a decent looking animal and he justified favouritism although it was hard work, and better ground could suit him.

Planet Nine looked threatening at the last but his jumping remains a sore point, and this backward sort could do with another summer on his back for all that this was a better effort.

Sam's Gunner looked a decent type beforehand and it's a shame from a punting point of view that he's shown his hand here, staying on powerfully from the last to claim second spot, running to at least 115 in the process. Even from that mark he'll remain of interest and he'll stay further - he's a fair prospect.

The North Yorkshire National beckoned and last year's winning connections were represented by I Just Know, who I've mentioned on these pages several times as one of the most likeable horses in training.

His jumping is incredibly accurate and anything trying to match him in the front rank is going to end up disappointed. He's not exuberant by any means but gets from A to B as quickly as any horse..

He looks better each time I lay eyes on him and it was clear he wasn't a 131 horse looking at him beforehand, Straidnahanna won from a similar mark last season but he's not as good as this fella.

It looked momentarily as if he could be swamped on the turn for home but his stamina kicked in and he proved himself to be well handicapped in kicking away from them from the third last, hitting the line hard in the manner of one that will gallop all day long.

This 15-length romp will put him on a mark in the low to mid 140s, which puts him on the cusp of a Grand National spot. Frankly, I could hardly think of a more likely type for the Aintree race and he's won on all sorts of ground from good to very soft.

Without wishing to go overboard (too late - Ed), he covered the ground from the third last to the line in just a second slower than Dresden did earlier on the card.

The placed horses probably lost no caste in defeat, Billy Bronco simply wanting softer ground, while Point The Way, who is finally starting to strengthen up, stayed on well despite the usual mistakes.

Eye-catching in fourth was Milborough, who had little chance from the back of the field on his first start for nearly a year. He fell at the first in this three years ago before landing the Eider and he'll go back there again with decent claims from a much lower mark.

The next handicap hurdle was a tight betting heat and taken by Crackdeloust, who I had backed numerous times previously on account of his impressive frame and early promise.

However, in several runs he's failed to deliver and the introduction of blinkers needed to work the oracle in the face what I felt were not optimum conditions, being softer underfoot and having question marks over the trip, as he looked not to stay it last season.

But all those doubts were put to bed with a straight forward display, travelling and jumping well before staying on nicely ahead of the promising Niceandeasy, who simply bumped into one and looks likely to be winning again soon.

The winner is a proper chase type though and if the blinkers continue to work he'll surely rate much higher in time.

The finale saw a couple of decent physical specimens in Nendrum and Steel City, who were both very well handicapped and strong in the market; the latter going off at 5/1 after being well into double figures early doors.

The M/D Easterby yard has been going great guns this season and they had it off here with a recent recruit that had gone sour down south. Nendrum was disappointing on this softer terrain, while a mention must be made of Hit And Run in third, who faced in impossible task and wouldn't have been favoured by the drop in trip. He remains of interest over further.

Tuesday 9 January 2018

Doncaster - Tuesday Jan 9

Good to be back racing and some interesting action on Town Moor, where the ground was soft enough although times suggested it was nearer good to soft as they didn't go much of a pace in a few races.

Mount Mews got things off to a perfect start for favourite backers with a fluent jumping display on his chasing debut.

Quickly having his attentions turned to the larger obstacles after failing to fire in two runs over timber this term, the talented youngster belied my fears that he might not quite have the scope to reach a higher level at this new game, and looks a smart recruit.

I felt his jumping was safe rather than spectacular and will clearly come under closer scrutiny this spring, but he was hard to fault and the return to this sort of trip looks sure to suit.

Black Op is a smashing looker and had the form to justify a short price in division one of the maiden hurdle, in the event coming right away from a stretched out field despite looking a bit green at times.

Henderson's Colonial Dreams was slightly disappointing on paddock inspection, lacking a little in quality, and he never really threatened to land a blow, admittedly behind what could be a smart animal.

The tiny Aaron Lad, and chasing type First Drift (fit, but fresh) both threatened to take a hand and showed enough that a handicap can come their way.

Division Two was run nearly three seconds slower despite a driving finish that saw Tommy Rapper return to the winners' circle under a hold up ride, following his last gasp defeat at Towcester last time.

He travelled all over the always-prominent staying type Book Of Gold up the straight before asserting on the short run-in, although he wasn't going away at the line and this sort of ride looks important to him.

The runner-up improved again as expected from Newbury and even further would see him in better light, while Frozen Flame caught the eye back in fourth under a quiet ride.

Not that well bred, he nevertheless cost 145k a year ago and clearly went amiss on debut. He has some size about him and his progress should be monitored.

When And The New was bounced into an early lead in the following novice over the minimum trip I turned to a colleague and said I'll cry a river if this thing stays in front to the line.

With very good form in the spring bumpers, he was firmly on the radar here but while he looked a decent sort in the paddock, I was expecting something of greater stature.

Strong and sturdy, he looked the type that would improve for a spin and as he was long in the market and hooded for the first time, an educational outing was expected.

But positive tactics are usually a good sign and he battled gamely when joined by warm order Ravenhill Road three out, jumped really well when it mattered and probably ran out quite a comfortable winner. A quite moment was required.

The jolly was disappointing, and connections looked shocked as the unbeaten record was snatched from him. One of the hopes of the north, it's possible he found the ground a bit on the soft side but I expected this big strong horse to overcome that, with fitness not an issue.

Perhaps he does want better ground, but I suspect something further may come to light in due course.

Django Django took the eye beforehand, albeit on the light-framed side, and he stayed on to split the aforementioned pair which won't do his mark any good at all.

Henderson's French Crusader was quite backward both mentally and physically, Niblawi looked quite small against some of these while Not That Fuisse once again showed ability but probably needs another summer before he flourishes.

The mares Listed chase looked at the mercy of Rene's Girl, who had jumped well on her two previous goes over fences and wouldn't have been suited by a drop in trip last time.

Casting aside minor doubts over the ground, she jumped and galloped her inferior rivals ragged to collect in style from Song Saa, who ran her usual honest race.

The mystery of the race was the support for Same Circus, an out and out stayer who jumped poorly when finishing third in a weak race over 3m at Wetherby last time.

She looks a well-handicapped horse if returned to timber and while she got round again here, jumping was quite a big issue again. She needs a trip, and in staying on she showed there's races to be won over fences if kept to smaller tracks.

Another mares race, a very hotly contested handicap, followed and a whole host would be given chances.

Oscar Rose once again ran as though she's better than her mark, out of position when the pace quickened and merely looking one-paced, she could be ready for further or a more positive ride.

All My Love is very likeable despite her diminutive frame, and she travelled up best before her stamina gave way. The winner Woolstone One came from a similar position to Oscar Rose so should be marked up a bit as either one with a bit more toe or simply better handicapped. The form should stand up.

I expected Crystal Lad and General Mahler to step up on their previous efforts over fences as both looked well handicapped ahead of the handicap chase, particularly the former.

But neither really looked that happy and again the ground may have been an issue, as both jumped stickily at times, and perhaps are worth another chance.

I had given up on Red Infantry after he found nothing again on his seasonal debut at Aintree and he did the same here last time out. The visor needed to work and it certainly did, the beast travelling sweetly as ever, and stayed on strongly when asked for extra. Whether he'll build on this is anyone's guess.

The finale was of little betting interest, and it duly fell to the robust Cheque En Blanc, who outstayed the lot of them. Log On seemed to settle better here and perhaps the penny is starting to drop; he may be worth keeping an eye on back over fences.

Monday 1 January 2018

Catterick - Monday Jan 1

Softer ground than last week after recent rain; a typically weak card for the time of year and racing that wasn't very competitive on the whole.

Dieg Man cost £200k last summer and doesn't have an awful amount of size and scope, but he's athletic enough and his Sedgefield form entitled him to be a warm order in the opening novice hurdle.

He had enough ability to see off Blottos, who is a nice chasing type who supplemented his recent success with a better run up in trip; his jumping remains novicey and he'll be much better for a fence.

The interesting one here going forward may be Take Em Out, a well made sort who isn't especially well bred, but showed enough before crashing out at the second last to suggest a handicap is within his grasp. Thankfully he returned unscathed after the screens went up for some time.

The handicap hurdle saw a well-backed Snowed In win again after being freshened up by a short break, beating Nautical Twilight who looked well handicapped and one of the more likely to run her race.

Today Please was disappointing again and something seems to be amiss with this one time progressive horse. Inniscastle Lad drifted markedly and hasn't shown enough to suggest he can pick up a race, while Life Knowledge has very little scope.

The novice chase was a 'pickem' between Impulsive Star, a faller here before Christmas, and Three Ways, who had done little wrong in two starts over fences this season.

Neither horse looked straight forward and the lead changed hands several times, the smaller Three Ways appeared to find things hard work at times.

But Sheehan didn't go for him until after the last and the pair quickly put the race to bed, only a late rally and an idling winner bringing the two closer together at the line. It's debatable what they are capable of over fences and staying is very much their game.

Just Minded was held together by D Cook back in third and connections will be pleased with this better effort for all that he was still novicey on occasions. He's a lovely looking horse and when the penny drops he'll look a very well handicapped horse, perhaps on better ground.

The maiden Paper Roses looked very short in the betting for the mares novice hurdle for all that she was getting weight from the Lingfield winner Kalahari Queen; the Scottish-trained runner back in trip which was far from certain to suit.

I felt Kalahari Queen would have the ability to defy the penalty but this tighter circuit did not see her in best light and she couldn't slip them, Raised On Grazeon finally getting her head in front under a confident Cook.

The winner had previously looked reluctant when push came to shove but was straight forward on this occasion to finally confirm her decent bumper form.

A very tricky five-runner handicap chase fell to Ramonex, with Cook as so often round here getting the fractions spot on from the front, gradually winding things up on this one-paced galloper.

Not far behind a couple of much better sorts in a novice here last time, this turned out to be far weaker and as he looked the nicest on show should really have been near the top of the list.

As it was, the frustrating Witness was given another chance with a tongue-tie and H Brooke as new additions, but they mattered little as he put in a typically moderate display and he clearly just isn't very good.

Banny's Lad is big but looked straight enough, stopping very quickly after three out, while Weyburn lacks size and may struggle to back up that Southwell success, and Nefyn Bay was runner-up in the race for a second time but isn't the most straight forward, although hold-up tactics were probably not ideal.

Red Danaher was predictably returned to timber after failing once again to deal with larger obstacles last time and had virtually nothing to beat in a poor finale. Whether he can repeat this in better company is a moot point, however.