Sunday 25 February 2018

Newcastle - Saturday Feb 24

Not a particularly enticing card for Eider Chase day to say the least, heavy ground it was although it looked more 'dead' and 'tacky'...those that went on it came home pretty well. The crowd was shockingly small for the track's premier jumps handicap.

An awful all-weather bumper opened the show and a moderate bunch they were...the pair that came clear being On The Rox and Chateau Marmont and likely to be the only ones to take out of it.

The former is bred to be okay but didn't look especially forward, while the runner-up was on the small side but well put together. The surprise of the race was the cash for Mon Ami Bob, a big, lengthy shell of a horse with no condition on him at all. He showed some ability before fading.

One of the nicest mares in training hosed up in the novice chase, Lady Buttons once again proving herself a better chaser than hurdler already by making it 2/2 over the larger obstacles, I only spotted one minor blemish and she deserves to take on the men at some point.

Bollin Ace chased her home and this sound performer should now be ready to strike from a perch of 131, assuming a step up in trip is in the offing. Kelka was disappointing, but probably takes a bit of knowing and the booking of R Johnson may not have been the wisest move.

Indeed, Johnson rode the three that ran in the colours of popular Geordie Dave Armstrong on the day, somewhat surprising given that he has been loyal to the likes of the much improved C Bewley this season. I don't think RJ was of great assistance to any of his 'outside' rides on the day, but whisper it quietly as one mustn't crab the champion jockey. After all - how many winners have I ridden etc etc.

Only six got round in the Eider as they went a hell of a gallop throughout, where the first two beat were my picks Vinnie Lewis, who barely jumped a fence, and the veteran Milborough.

It looked like he went too fast on Milansbar, while even D Cook pressed too soon on the always prominent Hainan, who just doesn't jump fluently enough for me at times, and I suspect he'll pop up every now and then when it all falls into place.

The first three came from off the pace and I'd passed over the winner Baywing, who of course had looked so good in winning the Towton 12 months ago, but hadn't backed that up. His jumping had been scratchy and I even felt reverting to hurdles might have been for the best, that's how much I'd got him wrong. He fairly scooted away after the last looking a fresh horse, which suggests another big pot could be his at some stage.

A really weak mares hurdle fell to the improved Raised On Grazeon, who looked in good order prior to hacking up as her form suggested she would. Off The Hook chased her home but she does only look moderate, however a longer trip will be to her benefit.

The handicap hurdle was very weak for a Class 2 affair following the scratching of Master Of Irony and on looks the pair that were clear were Cool Mix and Joke Dancer. It's brilliant to see a horse develop throughout the season and it's hard to quantify how much Joke Dancer has come on since first seeing him in the autumn when he was a bag of nerves.

Hopefully they won't go to the well too often but he's a great looking horse who will stay further and jump a fence. It's shameful to say I haven't backed him for any of his three wins, after he out-fought Reverant Cust for a second time.

Cool Mix does not look a straight forward conveyance by any means and Johnson allowed him his head on this occasion, but his jumping went to pieces and he faded to finish fifth. This nice chasing type will be of great interest after a summer out, where he will likely look well handicapped.

Smart Talk was a very likeable mare a couple of seasons back and she looks to be coming back to form, wrong in her coat still here but not far short of peak fitness.

The handicap chase fell apart somewhat with Acdc failing to fire and dumping RJ out in the country somewhere. There weren't many you could fancy but that included the winner Plus Jamais, whose six previous wins all came in a lower grade.

Takingrisks was given yet another chance as his Wetherby form looked pretty solid, but he continues to shape as though a return to further is what he requires as he was only capable of the one pace up the straight.

Enough has been said of Central Flame and his rider, alas this very decent type will only be seen to best effect under stronger handling. Viens Chercher did not look right and remains with plenty to prove.

Cadeyrn did us a huge turn winning here last time but he looked vulnerable in a three-runner novice hurdle and it didn't help that RJ went no gallop, leaving this lovely chasing prospect as a perfect target for the other pair.

Uncle Alastair couldn't find a way past giving 4lb away, and he may prefer it deeper than it was here, but Planet Nine, known to be highly regarded by connections, backed up his latest handicap win over three miles and the penny has clearly dropped now, with his wandering about when in front only serving to suggest there's more in the locker.

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Wetherby - Wednesday Feb 20

I haven't been able to get to the track for a few weeks so apologies for the absence of blog updates. Normal service will be resumed following Saturday's meeting at Newcastle.

Not a great card came together on bad ground here, despite recent rain it looked deep and holding. We're in the depths of winter still and quite a few of these are likely to improve for a bit of decent terrain.

The opening novice hurdle was a weak affair, taken in quite straight forward fashion by the hitherto disappointing Skywards Reward, who had backed out of things the last twice after showing stamina to be his forte in quiet runs last term.

Hard to weigh up, he travelled nicely and stayed on best to win cosily, although this form is not worth a great deal with the runner-up a maiden and market leader Princess Mononoke looking a very moderate sort.

Northandsouth looked fine but ran no sort of race and this fourth race in as many weeks was probably one too far.

The weak mares handicap chase came to reflect much of what's been happening this season on a personal front, with a dreadful favourite in Flemerina getting turned over only to back the wrong one against it.

I've long since had a soft spot for Honeychile Ryder and she shaped ideally last time out over a trip too far, and with the size to jump a fence this looked a decent opening. I thought she jumped okay barring a blunder mid-race but she's still far too keen and it's hard to know whether they'll persevere with her on such a low rating.

Massini's Lady had bits and pieces of form but it's a measure of the contest that she won so easily, having a awkward jumping style and not one to have faith in next time, for all that she's built to do well in this sphere.

Hepburn also has the build, but this flat bred will surely prefer better ground, while Flemerina is too small for fences, needs further but is more than half a dog nowadays.

The novice hurdle had no depth at all and Rosmuc Relay defied his penalty in quite taking fashion for one so backward mentally, and he looks a decent tool in time. Well Smitten bounced right back to form and he's a well made sort that should progress from this PB.

Teescomponents Lad ran his race again but made countless errors and will surely benefit from professional handling, while a longer trip will suit in time.

I nearly sat out the handicap chase, a rare thing indeed, but I couldn't have the weak finishing Swift Crusador (decent frame but unfurnished - he may want better ground) on my mind while Pistol Park was short in the betting for one with something to prove this term.

The duo took nearly 40% out of the market and the only pair I could back were classy Catterick scorer Dresden and course specialist Caraline.

Cue another bad call as the 6/1 about the latter proved too alluring so we stuck it all on the mare, without covering on the sturdy southern raider, who was much calmer in the prelims than last time.

The heavy terrain was a slight concern for Dresden but he travelled supremely well and the better jump at the last sealed it - Colliver perhaps not seizing the initiative on the turn for home on the runner-up, but maybe that's being harsh.

It wouldn't surprise me if Dresden had a role to play at Cheltenham and Aintree. With confidence sky-high, exposed chasers can be overlooked in the big handicaps but he has the class to defy a higher mark and a strong-run 2m will suit this sound jumper.

The following handicap hurdle was of little punting interest but Pookie Pekan went into the notebook as he was much the nicest physically and one for the future.

The top weight benefited from the carnage up ahead and was due to be beaten 10-15 lengths prior to the exit of Northern Girl and Dolce Penam at the last, so it will be interesting to see what the handicapper does.

I thought he was on a high enough mark already and I'd be surprised if he built on this in the short term - he's more one for next season and thereafter.

The staying handicap lost a little interest pre-race with the big drifter Milly Baloo withdrawn after being kicked. Followers may recall Just Georgie being a favourite of mine for a long time but he'd outstayed his welcome and looked a horse with issues again last time out.

He's such a good-looking animal it's a shame he's only winning from a mark of 110, and it wasn't much of a race. He shaped much better as a novice hurdler and he may go on from this, but it was a no-bet race and I'm pleased he won for connections as he was due one.

Bandon Roc doesn't look one to trust, while San Pietro is quite a nice type and although he's won on soft I suspect he didn't appreciate this and may be one to keep an eye on this spring.

Uneasy favourite It's Oh Kay had every chance to land a weak mares bumper but this has to go down as a disappointing effort as she didn't put it all in up the straight.

Physically she was more imposing than the others, but the money came for Musselburgh winner Paper Promise and this compact, forward mare knuckled down best on this different surface and somehow defied a penalty.

Course winner Maebh looked a bit light framed and flighty beforehand and although she went okay, the longer trip seemed to find her out.