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.