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.