Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Stable tour - Rebecca Menzies

When I began this series of interviews the idea was to meet trainers in the 'up-and-coming' bracket, and nobody encapsulates that more than Becky Menzies, who after securing a season's best tally over jumps is currently just three winners short of her most successful campaign on the Flat.

If she was a man they'd call her the Master of Howe Hills, but Mistress doesn't sound right either. Let's just say she's very much in charge of the operation at the training base owned by John Wade, who handed in his licence three years ago when Menzies was looking for a bigger yard.

Wade still lives on the 300 acre site but with boxes popping up all over the place there's a definite sense that things are on the up for this delightful young lady who when in her early-20s must have been one of the youngest ever to take up a trainer's licence.

"I worked for (the late) Ferdy (Murphy) since I left school and trained a couple in my lunchtimes in one of the barns," she said." I'm not from a horsey background and basically started out as a stable girl, but trained Chavoy in my lunchtime and when he won a couple of races I thought, maybe?!

"When Ferdy relocated to France I was a bit lost as I didn't see myself leaving for a long time, apart from maybe expanding the lunchtime training, so I went looking for jobs but Ferdy sat me down and said that I should try to start training on my own.

Becky in her executive shed

"If I could find a yard Ferdy said there were five owners who didn't want to go with him to France and sure enough they came with me to a yard owned by Peter Beaumont at Easingwold, and as the horses had been in a field for the summer I had some training fees to get things going.

"I was 23 at the time and thankfully I've made the business pay from day one, which enabled me to go to the sales and buy the odd horse. I couldn't get a Flat licence due to my lack of experience with Flat horses but they finally granted that after I ran a couple of jumping horses on the level.

"We came here three years ago and everything was already in place other than the executive shed (!) and John keeps on top of the facilities, topping up the gallops and making sure the paddocks are in good shape. The sand gallop isn't Wexford but a lighter John Wade mix!

"He's like a dream landlord and he still takes an interest but never interferes, he'll come and watch the horses work and things like that.

"His horses were very sick in the last year of him training and I think he'd had enough by then, but he's got the best of both worlds now with his horses dotted around a few other trainers as well."

There's a mixture of old and new as you might expect at Howe Hills, with an equine spa and vibrating plates at the ready to help horses that require a bit more TLC.

With so much land at her disposal Becky's horses shouldn't have boredom as one of their excuses should they fail to pass muster.



"We've got the mile and a quarter straight gallop which is a sand and fibre mix, and the furlong round sand. The grass gallop is a mile and a half round and when the grass is cut again hopefully we'll be able to get on it when the rain comes.

"On work days we'll group them together accordingly but on others they'll go off in threes and do their own thing, so they have plenty of variety.

"Everybody knows what they're doing when they come in first thing in the morning, I'll feed them and do the board - I'm very big on organisation!

"Conor O'Farrell comes in twice a week and we've got Nathan Moscrop in six days a week. Nathan's a good horseman and a very good rider, we just need to get some confidence into him. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to do well at the track.

"Aaron Anderson works for us full time but rides as an amateur and I was really careful that he rode horses he could do well on, as he's too old to ride in boys races. I didn't want him riding bad horses for other trainers and he did well on the likes of Tomkevi last season."

This is only Becky's fifth full season with a Flat licence but as her reputation continues to grow it's easy to understand why that side of the operation will start take up the bulk of her time.

"The old fashioned National Hunt owners that have the patience are harder to find, whereas the Flat enables you to get a relatively cheap horse and get plenty of running out of them during the summer, and you're guaranteed some money back barring injury," she said.

"There's so much local racing so you can travel relatively cheaply whereas if you have a 0-100 jumps horse that wants good ground you need to be going to Musselburgh and even if you win you'll struggle to cover a month's training fees.

"So I find it easier to justify to owners getting a Flat horse which is sad because my heart has always been in jumping, but you get fewer injuries on the Flat and they are easier to keep sound.

"I love the idea you can keep going all year round and that Newcastle is up the road, I love having runners there and the surface is one of the best in the country, but we go to Chelmsford, Kempton and Lingfield as well.

"They are long days but I'd never let someone else do it, it's not really fair when sometimes it's getting light when I get back."

That sort of commitment marks Menzies out as someone dedicated to her profession, and she won't be suffering any fools after the shock of being left with unpaid fees owing to the sudden collapse of the Layezy and EPDS syndicates.

"They've always been a big part of the yard but we got stung a couple of times last year and it has been a tough learning curve as I'd not had anybody do anything like that in my first five years," she said.

"We've changed how we do things a bit, if a new owner comes to the yard we ask for a month's fees up front and we've got a good training agreement in place - the standard BHA agreement needs more work.

"It's scary that anyone can buy horse on credit, have it in training for three months and not pay a thing. There are no checks and I feel the BHA need to do much more, so for now we do it all from here."



Looking forward, Becky will be hoping to better last season's total of 21 winners with six already on the board, and with some nice young horses amongst the 30-odd ready to go this winter hers is a yard you want to keep close tabs on.

All Hail Caesar
He was very keen and hard to ride last year, all over the place, but this year he seems more professional and I think biding our time with him will stand us in good stead. He should be a good novice handicap hurdler in the north later on this season after running in a couple more decent novice races, but he jumps well and is a chaser in the making. He so big and heavy he wants cut in the ground and I wouldn't risk him on anything better. Thankfully the owners are very patient and he'll be well minded.

Alph
We bought him at the spring sale at Doncaster, he used to be very keen in his races and lost the plot a bit when we first got him, but he's A1 now and he schools well. He's been showing us plenty and he didn't have much of a break, so he'll be one of the first out in the next month or so.

Anchises
I bought him from Richard Hannon as a dual purpose horse but he's been very disappointing on the flat, and he's had his palate fired. He's done plenty of schooling and hopefully he'll be okay for small handicaps in the north.

Ballycrystal Court
The ground is absolutely imperative to him as softer conditions can catch his wind, but we haven't tinkered with it yet as he seems fine at the moment as long the ground is decent. He should be able to win again and I can see him going to Musselburgh a lot this winter if we keep him going. He should stay 3m.

Breizh Alko
He got injured in France but we only got him last summer and we finished with him after Haydock because the ground went...he's too nice to risk on good ground. We weren't surprised by that win at Haydock and he'll stick to handicap hurdles for now, but he jumps well at home and will switch to novice chases when the time comes.

Champagne To Go
We bought her for a grand and has done her job winning a point to point, bumper and a hurdle but has been a bit disappointing recently. She will go to Hexham early in October and hopefully she can go out on a high as she'll make a fantastic broodmare which is the plan with her.

Charming Dream
Inconsistent in novice hurdles but is now coming down to a more workable mark and we'll be looking for a suitable handicap on good ground. Can take a strong hold.

Cool Possibility
A big horse by Dark Angel I bought at the Ascot sale, he's got a good attitude and schools really well. He was very raw looking on the Flat for Charlie Hills but could make up into a nice juvenile with a bit of soft ground.

Fair Sheriff
Didn't set the world alight in two bumpers but is a very honest mare and will hopefully come good when handicapping down the line.

Halcyon Days
He always has a good winter/early spring before tailing off and he'll be taking in all the usual races, starting at Carlisle before heading over to Catterick. Will hopefully win his races again although he's rising 11 now.

Halcyon Days - winner of eight races

I'm Too Generous
He had four years off but started bleeding in his first runs back, however he then won twice over 2m4f and we tried to win a novice handicap chase off the same mark the following week, but was flat out over two miles that day. He has enough scope for fences so will probably start out over 2m4f and should stay 3m as well.

Maid In Manhattan
She's won four on the flat after she bled following her first hurdles start for us, and has benefitted from a change in the way we train her. She hasn't bled at all on the Flat so we'll go to Nottingham to try to win the stayers final early next month and then try her in a mares' novice hurdle. She jumps well enough to win one with the idea of making her a National Hunt broodmare.

Nortonthorpelegend
He had a fibrillating heart 18 months ago and seemed to lose his way, showing no interest at all. But he's won three of his last six races and on his old form he'd still be well handicapped. We'll aim to get him qualified for the Northern Lights final at Carlisle which is now in March, and he should get in off a nice weight.

Soviet Castle
Finished second in his first bumper which looks good form, and then won well in a weaker race at Catterick. He was growing a lot so we turned him away and he looks good this year, so he could be okay although possibly one for handicaps. He'd have enough speed for the Flat but (his owner) Maria wouldn't hear of it!

Stormbay Bomber
He tends to run well fresh but ran like he needed the run at Southwell last time after being off for nearly a year. Should be able to win something back over fences but he does want good ground.

Pain Au Chocolat
He's on a high mark at the moment which is why we tried him over in France, where came down at the second last when absolutely swinging. He's not interested in hurdles which doesn't leave too many options, he needs some cut in the ground as there's plenty of wear and tear but he's obviously got an engine. I wouldn't dismiss going back to France and one of the smaller tracks over there.

Toi Storey
He already wants more than three miles he could an Eider horse one day! He's got a lot of ability and will run through a wall for you, he can go the same speed on soft and good ground and has a great attitude. He'll stay over hurdles for now but if it looks like his mark is catching up with him he'll go over fences, he's already schooled and jumps great. He'll start out at Kelso in November.

Uknowmymeaning
Not disgraced in two bumpers and was very green in his first start over hurdles. He'll be alright once the penny drops and should win a race or two over fences in time.

Valnamixe du Mee
He's only been back in three weeks, he's got a low mark so we'll see what we can do with him. He was off for two years before unseating on his first run for us, and then injured himself when running loose. We live in hope.

Lord Brendy
A fair northern handicapper back in the day but hasn't run for nearly three years now. He came to us with the owner's other horse Valnamixe de Mee and like him we'll just tip away and see what we can do. Hopefully we'll get some leniency from the handicapper after his long absence.

Fabianski
She will come back around Christmas after injuring herself at Doncaster, when she still managed to finish third despite suffering the injury down the far side.



Captain Mowbray
On the sidelines at the moment but hopefully we'll have him back in time for a spring campaign.

Dippin And Diving
We've not done much with him as he's quite fragile, but we'll start him off in a novice hurdle and see where we stand.

Digger John
By Sulamani, he's okay and will probably start out in a Sedgefield bumper.

Schalke
He's a nice big horse by Malinas who is quite well forward and he'll know his job when he starts out in a bumper.

Shes A Dancer
A smart Jeremy filly owned by John who will go for a mares bumper this side of Christmas. We trained her last year but didn't run because of the ground, she showed a good attitude so we know where we are with her.

Teelar
A five-year-old half sister to Lord Brendy by Milan, she is a nice stamp of a horse and goes okay as well.

Garde Forestier
We thought he wouldn't run again after he broke a leg, we had him operated on and in a cast for eight weeks. The fracture has completely healed so he's back in and walking away, so he's done well to come this far and we'll see if we can get him back. We've had his wind done as well as he was struggling a bit before the injury.

Falcone de Bersy
John bought him cheaply last year but he's probably the best of his bumper horses and is quite forward as well, so could run as a four-year-old. I like him.

Whinnie
By Garswood, she's a half-sister to Thaayer who won for me over a mile on the Flat. She looks too slow for the Flat but might be ideal for a mare's bumper - I think she'll be okay.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Stable tour - Rose Dobbin

This time last year Rose Dobbin and husband Tony were looking forward to the winter jumps campaign on the back of a best-ever season that had yielded 25 winners and unearthed a clutch of potential stars.

Over the next few months those dreams turned to nightmares as the string was dogged by a low-level respiratory problem that proved hard to detect.

The booster jabs that were required following the equine 'flu scare in February merely served to further weaken the horses' immune systems, and when a handful of them were sent to Perth for the spring meeting in April only to disappoint again, they were all roughed off including the summer horses.

It's been a long time waiting for the them to come right but the tide has already turned, with winners on successive days at Perth and Kelso this week...the portents are good for the winter ahead.



Amongst the splendid isolation of the Northumberland hills lies Hazelrigg Stables, housing some 45-strong with room for several more. The scenery is breathtaking even on a damp, autumnal morning, anticipation lying heavy in the air.

Unlike her ex-jockey husband, Rose wasn't born into this environment as she takes up the story...

"I didn't get into racing until university when I started riding out at Peter Monteith's, and then I went to Lambourn where I spent a bit of time with Nicky Henderson and Ed James and also rode out for Stan Moore and Charlie Egerton," she told me as we stood overlooking the impressive 'quad'.

"I came back up here and got going with the riding, starting out in point-to-points where we had our horses with Rhona Elliot, a good all-round horsewoman who was great to learn from.

"That progressed until we had a few horses under rules with Nicky Richards so I was over there for the next four or five years, which is where I got my grounding as a trainer and of course where I met Dobbs.

"From quite early on I thought I'd quite like to start training but I was having such a good time and was lucky to have some nice horses to ride, I made full use of that first.

"When I wasn't at the races I was always at the yard and was basically an assistant there, while Dad also had some horses with James Fanshawe so I'd spend the summers down there which was brilliant.

"It was Dad's idea to develop this training centre on his farmland and by the start of the 2009 season we were under way."

We watched a handful of youngsters striding up the Martin Collins gallop while in the distance there are three lines of schooling obstacles starting with poles and barrels through hurdles and fences.

Adjacent to that lies a grass gallop set against a gentle incline, yet while the Dobbins readily admit to trying to emulate the 'Greystoke way', they don't have the luxury of the steep natural inclines that surround the famous Richards yard they know so well.

The horses look well forward although they only came in a week earlier than normal, having enjoyed a longer, enforced break to fully recover from the ailments that bedeviled the yard last season.

With those dark days an increasingly distant memory, and, buoyed by the winners already on the board, there is a quiet air of expectation at Hazelrigg ahead of what will hopefully be a really successful campaign.

The following horses are expected to pay their way this season (in conversation with Rose Dobbin).

Jonniesofa
Obviously very fragile and if he stays sound we'll probably only look to run him three times. Was fit to run last year but started coughing at the wrong time. He'll run in a 0-135 or 140 handicap and how he gets on there will tell us how high we can shoot with him. His owner has ambitious plans but he'll only run when everything's perfect.

Jack Devine
He's had sinus problems his whole life and we've given him three wind ops already, but he's a good horse that stays very well and we've something like the Edinburgh National in mind for him at Musselburgh.

Coole Hall
He had a bad foot last year and had a poor preparation going into his only race of the season at Wetherby on Boxing Day. He's still only seven and we'll start again with him over fences hopefully back at Wetherby in a novice chase at the start of November.

Bako De La Saulaie
A decent horse whom we hoped might be better than he currently is, but has been frustrating. Being by Balko he should stay forever but we're a bit undecided about his best trip. Hopefully he'll be better than ever after the break and on the plus side he remains a novice over fences.

Planet Nine
A favourite in the yard, I don't know why it took so long for him to get the hang of jumping, he was a bit of handful in his early days and got loose once before a race at Kelso. However he's settled down now and we'll stay over hurdles with him for the time being - it might be nice having a high class staying hurdler.

Some Reign
Has played up at the start and refused to race a couple of times but we found that he was suffering from a 'kissing spine' which we used to inject, but have had the problem operated on now so hopefully he'll put all of that behind him. Ran well over 2m when the horses weren't right last season but his future lies over further, on ground that's neither too quick nor too soft. He's a gorgeous horse.

Bigirononhiship
He was really unlucky when falling at Haydock, he's a strong horse who isn't quite as quick as he thinks he is. He doesn't necessarily want soft and on better ground you'd think he'd stay 3m no problem. We always thought he'd pick up a decent handicap somewhere and you'd like to think he's a bit better than his current mark.



Slanelough
He was desperately unlucky not to win last season, taking a crashing fall jumping the last at Haydock after unseating there the time before. He jumps and stays and is becoming more settled in his races, so he might be a little more versatile in the way that we ride him.

Hitman Fred
A nice strong son of Getaway, he came back with sore shins from his run at Doncaster and we won't be running him on good ground again. He was one of those we sent to Perth in April that travelled well and then emptied out, so you can put a line through that. You'd like to think he's well handicapped off 107 and he'll probably stay over hurdles for now.

The Hollow Chap
Won a four-year-old Point To Point in Ireland but has been quite a keen and nervous individual and were disappointed with his two runs last season, but he's only young and has plenty of time on his side. He's had some soundness issues which we are just working through but I do like him and he could be anything.

Monfass
Another we kept taking to the track last season and was not getting home, but he's come back looking as well as he ever has. He seems much more relaxed now and like most of ours should be ready to run in October, when there's a race at Carlisle for him. We'll look at the option of going over fences with him as well.

Trooper Turnbull
He's a nice big horse who ran well in his only bumper start at Newcastle. Dobbs wants to try to win a bumper with him but I might just go straight over hurdles and we think he could be alright.

Doktor Glaz
He's been a bit fragile over the years with his legs and he just had a touch of tendinitis so we took the decision to give him a year off. He finished off the season before really well and the drop to 2m4f seemed to be the making of him. I wouldn't rule out 3m again at some point and I'd like to think he'd be able to win from his higher mark.

Definite Wisdom
He was one of those to disappoint us over Christmas when we were expecting to see a bit more from him on his first run in a handicap. He's a horse I've been really pleased with since coming back in and will now go straight over fences.

Sweet As Candy
Got a really high mark for winning at Ayr the season before last but then went and ran really well in his first handicap. Has had some time off with a bit of a suspensory problem but we're looking forward to getting him started over fences.



Le Gavroche
He hasn't shown a great deal on the track so far but he has plenty of size about him and we've had him hobdayed, so hopefully we'll start to see some improvement this time.

Smuggler's Stash
He didn't have a hole in his tendon but it was bad enough to give him some time off. He's a fun horse on his day and when he gets his head in front he jumps from fence to fence and he's a proper northern staying chaser. He seems in really good form and we might just fire his soft palate because he's a bit stuffy.

Do Not Disturb
He hasn't been moving great and we've just got him started again. I was disappointed with his run at Ayr because we went there thinking he's one of the nicest horses we've had, but it was heavy ground and he was only beaten 16 lengths so it wasn't a disaster. He's a lovely big horse and he'll go straight over hurdles.

Le Cheval Noir
Won his Point to Point but was a bit light framed and never quite right last season. However, he has come back having gained plenty of weight and could be a nice sort if we can get him right. Will start off in a bumper.

Rath An Iuir
A lovely horse who is proving very difficult to train. He was quite weak when we got him and then had some recurring issues all last season. I'd love to see him on the racetrack but patience is wearing thin!

Fete Champetre
One of a handful of lovely young horses Dad bought last year. By Robin Des Champs he's a gorgeous big horse who is going to need plenty of time but is a proper stamp of a chaser who eats up the gallop, and is an exciting one for the future.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Newton Abbot

I was struggling to get to grips with the handicap chase at 2.30 which appeals as a betting medium despite an obvious lack of pace. I thought it might be easier if I wrote down some thoughts and here they are...

Field Exhibition; Kept extremely busy over the past year or so but continuing on the up for current handler including when returning from a short break with an apparent PB over course and distance 11 days ago. Pulled her chance away at Worcester in midweek and now that the new mark has kicked in she looks up against it in this tougher contest.

Al Shahir; A frighteningly over-rated horse, surprisingly made favourite for the EBF Final at Sandown 18 months ago and a beaten jolly on three subsequent occasions, and a no-show on two further starts. Prone to mistakes and usually finds little off the bridle, punters need to place a lot of faith in the addition of a hood. Handicapper slow to relent.

As You Like; Consistently progressive over C&D in the past year either side of a lengthy break, not always looking an easy ride. McLernon takes over despite never having won on the horse, but as likely as any to run his race.

Bramble Brook; Consistent but has reverted to being hard to win with again, often capitulating without much resistance. Turnaround in weights with Field Exhibition and As You Like should at least mean he's competitive on paper.

Court Duty: Improved to win twice this summer but also a three-time beaten favourite, including on last outing when trading very low before hitting a wall and coming to grief. Can often over-race and that may have been his downfall last time, and an exaggerated hold-up ride off a fast pace may suit best.

Spring Steel; Returned from a very long absence to win at Uttoxeter over 2m but that looks very weak form and he's 4lb higher as a result.

Cropley; Low mileage over obstacles despite his age, returned from an absence of a year to show he retains plenty of ability despite yard's horses being renowned for needing a run. That form has been let down since, although it was only his fourth run over fences but another PB may be needed.

Conclusion;

The only pair that haven't disappointed of late in one way or another are As You Like and Cropley, while Bramble Brook looks sure to run his race. As You Like will need to keep the mistakes to a minimum in this slightly more competitive race but he has his own way of doing things. The main problem in assessing this race is the lack of obvious pace, and with the likes of Field Exhibition, Al Shahir and Court Duty prone to pulling hard, it could get messy. Bramble Brook may get an easy lead if desired but it's hard to see him staying in front regardless. Sean Bowen is an eye-catching booking for Cropley and I like it when he gets the leg up on a horse for the first time. At around 5/1 he makes some appeal to build on his latest effort, likewise course specialist As You Like on whom I intend to have a smaller bet at 4/1 or bigger. Field Exhibition is such a fierce puller that she may be sent on thus setting the race up nicely, however that looks an unlikely scenario given that she benefited so kindly to hold-up tactics to win here earlier this month.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Stable tour - Sam England

According to Wikipedia, Guiseley, West Yorkshire is responsible for producing the likes of Harry Ramsden, who once opened the 'world's biggest fish and chip shop' (it's now part of the Wetherby Whaler chain) and Tasmin Archer, who once sung about Swinging Satellites.

I'd like to add the name Samantha England, nee Drake, to that illustrious list, a young trainer quietly making a name for herself alongside husband and jockey Jonathan, with 43 winners (and counting) over jumps in less than five years.

Sam rode plenty of winners as an amateur and conditional but was soon training a few between the flags, and was essentially in charge of a handful of horses running under her dad's name in the early years (father Richard was a dairy farmer.)

Success was instant and the yard has recorded double-digit winners for the past three seasons, last term being their best both in terms of numbers and prize-money won.

There is no secret formula (according to Jonny, who wouldn't tell me even if there was!) but the quiet old farm on the edge of town is the ideal spot for horses who have struggled under tougher regimes at bigger stables.

The Englands have done a fine job resurrecting the careers of jaded types like Raktiman, Distime and Western Jo, buying cheap cast-offs and turning them into serial winners.

Crocks, mentalists, bleeders, they are all here. They each get the sort of care and attention not possible in the big factories down south, resulting in nine individual winners in the 2018/19 campaign.

Not wanting to stand still, the couple are investing in an equine pool which will be operational soon, exciting times for a trainer whose horses aren't always up to the stresses of traditional training methods.

They have a four furlong round gallop on the property which is sand-based with added carpet, and it looks like hard work. For faster work they are able to use the gallops of Sue and Harvey Smith in nearby Bingley, where Jonny spent time as a conditional recording a season's best 22 six years ago.

They have three easy-fix jumps to use on the sand gallop in addition to further schooling grounds and an outdoor arena for loose schooling and breaking. With plenty of space in which to turn them out, you can see why the place is full of happy horses.

Jonny says they've easily got room for 10-15 more and I suggest they'll continue to fill boxes if they keep sending out winners as regularly as they have been doing.

And with 'Saturday horse' Chef D'Oeuvre leading them into battle, it promises to be another successful season at Manor Farm.

The horses (in the words of Sam and Jonny)

Manwell
An absolute legend, who won twice and was second three times last season. Has bled in the past which can affect their confidence and we try to let him do his own thing. We thought he was a soft ground horse but his wins came on better.

Wishfull Dreaming
Does really well just to get up in the morning as he’s very fragile with lots of wear and tear. We’ve never galloped him and is the sort of horse we had in mind when deciding to invest in the swimming pool. Owned by my Dad and has been really consistent, jumps well. (JE)

Choochoobugaloo
She’s had her problems and is another who should be easier to train in the pool, she’s nightmare about the place but as sweet as anything once she’s on the track. Has plenty of size and scope so will hopefully win over fences if we can keep the wheels on.

Rukwa
He’s been on the go this summer but he’s a horse I like, we always thought he’d be okay. Travelled well with me at Market Rasen but he emptied out in the straight and we may go back in trip for now. That was a decent race though. (JE)

Chef D’Oeuvre
We got him for a knock-down price because he was found to have a small problem after going through the sales ring. He’d been ridden positively his whole life so we tried something different and it paid off at Haydock. Not short of toe but stays well and he doesn’t ride like he needs soft ground despite having a high knee action. May start off in the Becher Chase and go from there – he’s a pleasure to have around.

Ask Paddy
Won three times for us over hurdles before picking up an injury, but he came back last winter and he jumps fences really well. Three times we’ve taken him to Wetherby and he’s run badly, so we’ll be keeping to sharp tracks.

The Linksman
Cost £1,200 and is barely rideable, we took ages trying to get him to settle but he wasn’t having any of it so I let him run away with me and he won twice. We were up against Knocknanuss on his chase debut and I shouldn’t have restrained him because he made a mistake and suffered an injury. Could be anything. (JE)

Gatacre Street
Only modest but I’d like to think we can win a race or two with him, probably on heavy ground and more than three miles. He was sick after he ran last time and we haven’t brought him back in yet.

Tara Mill
One we bought privately in Ireland and we were pleased to get hold of him. He was given a high handicap mark over here so we could be going straight over fences this season.

Honourmission
We bought him earlier this year for £1,500 but he looks a big, late-developing chaser so we probably won’t be rushing him this season.

Kings Coinage
A big horse who has been frustrating as he keeps getting niggly little injuries and currently has a problem with his coat that we’re trying to get to the bottom of. He wants good ground and we might try him on the all-weather.

Well Smitten
We’ve just bought him for £5,200 after he lost his form following a busy time, so we’ve turned him out and will be in later. He’s a nice looking horse who won first time out over fences and he looks well-handicapped on that run.

My Renaissance
Has won plenty for us but is getting his own ideas about the game. Basically loves Cartmel and places like that and we’ll keep going with him for now.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Market Rasen - August 4

Where DOES the time go? More than three months have passed since the last update and as usual I've failed to live up to a promise I make to myself every year - add more content during the summer.

Regular readers will know my punting year essentially concerns the October to April period previously known as the 'jumps season proper'. That leaves quite a lengthy period of R&R and much twiddling of thumbs, while casually following the summer jumping circus.

Things may be about to change a little at Notebook Nerve Centre...not least the introduction FIBRE BROADBAND - quite a myth in these here parts - the promised arrival of which may inspire a little more in the way of output. Although I love to recall bygone years on these pages, download speeds from the 90s is not among them.

All of this leads me to the Mecca of summer jumps - Market Rasen. What better way to end the fiscal year with a trip to where it all began in January 1980 - and if you were paying attention, on Racing TV earlier in 2019 (or ended? - Ed).

Always an uplifting experience, the staff are a well organised and pleasant bunch, and if you're privileged to own a leg of a horse the Os & Ts is one of the best in the land. If you haven't made the trip yet, you're missing out.

The owners-experience may be one reason why there's usually a well-stacked card numerically at least - not many three or four runner races at the Rasen.

Personally I find summer jumping difficult to get a handle on, with a lot of low grade stuff punctuated with the occasional big race like the Summer Plate here. It can mean going several barren weeks without fancying anything strongly but then a card like this pops up and all of a sudden I'm wanting a good bet.

The two handicap chases caught the eye and I found it hard to look beyond the top pair in the 3.00 being Court Duty and Northern Beau.

The former has now been made favourite on his last five starts, faithful backers collecting on just two occasions and he's proving difficult to work out. A son of Court Cave, he'll stay much further than this but his keen-going tendencies are holding him back and he was quickly beaten when knuckling on landing three out.

(The fact I was able to lay Court Duty at 1.28 on the home bend using a clunky hand-held device with a several second delay may debunk a few theories but we'll not go into that now.)

The summer months have not been completely idle here at Norm Towers as I've brought DATA MINING (gasp) into use in a very small way - and a quick check on M Scudamore handicap chasers returning off a break of 80+ days revealed an alarming 50% strike rate in the last six years, which made me look at this race with new eyes.

Clearly Northern Beau was a player here and without going into the race in too much depth now, her form, consistency and proven tenacity placed her as the clear second-fav in my ledger providing she looked straight (she did). It's worth waiting weeks for these opportunities but I can't attest to that level of patience.

The second handicap chase threw up another opportunity in the shape of Jot'em Down, a stamina-laden son of Kalanisi that bumped into The Jam Man last time out. It's not often you can accuse D Bridgwater of hammering in the winners but Jot'em's win makes it 3/3 in August and five in the last couple of weeks.

The dwindling odds may have been off-putting but the silver lining to the story is that young Jot'em was more than likely to trade much bigger during the race, and so it proved as he came off the bridle at several points allowing the nimble-fingered to add to their positions.

As I've said more than once, stop worrying about 'getting on' at the morning price and use your head. There's more than one way to skin the goddamn cat.

Clever-clogginess aside, there are two horses of interest going forward here. Primal Focus was put in a very short price for such a young and inexperienced horse. Yet to fully strengthen into a fair frame, he is likely to be kept very busy if early experience of the upwardly-mobile C Williams yard is anything to go by...as such he wasn't expected to be fully wound up on this occasion.

Teeton Power is a horse with untapped potential if only the mare would settle down. Proving tricky down at the start (not for the first time) she once again spent too long pulling for her head and I've marked her up plenty. Drop her in trip and let her bowl along, she'll win by 20L from a mark of 100.

It's a great pity I only found time to study the two races as another opportunity passed me by later on the card when Oksana won at double-figure odds for the canny England partnership.

A brief chat with 'Ladbrokes Brian' ended with me saying 'I want to lay this Ulysses' which drew howls of derision from the man-with-the-tan. However, nice-guy Bri is a paid operative for a reason and I'm a pro punter for a reason. One of us is a good judge of value and this Skelton-trained scrote looked as slow as a boat when winning at Stratford three days previously.

Odds of 1/3 looked very tight on this marked drop in trip but by now readers will be pleased to hear the internet connection went down at the wrong time hence no business was done (the reality of the on course player).

The rest is largely retrospective...Oksana was the likely winner of a chase here when capsizing at the last and was off the same mark despite having put in another good shift next time despite not jumping well again.

Back over timber she must have been worthy of each-way support at an SP of 11/1...a winner waiting to happen, you couldn't make this stuff up.

That's pretty much all for now. Please note down the name Twasn't The Plan, who wrong-footed each-way guessers earlier on the card but the 'education' won't be wasted later on, if you catch my drift.

This blog is a labour of love. Income from betting means I can publish this site as a gesture to all those seeking information that may not otherwise be available to them. No betting money - no blog. Wish me well as I wish you well as we head into another season with eager anticipation.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Southwell - April 24

A chilly, largely dry evening to end the season and although the going was good they had watered plenty and times suggested it was a bit dead, although it was modest fare in the main.

A 0-110 chase opened proceedings and the betting was as wild as the race itself, hefty support for the moody Silent Steps hard to fathom despite winning here earlier in the season when the race fell in her lap.

Loch Linnhe went in the opposite direction but had first time blinkers in a bid to reverse his slide in form, and they seemed to do the trick as he got up in the shadows of the post, seeing his race out well despite some hairy leaps.

Little Windmill came second again despite racing off an historically high mark and this small horse often finds himself outgunned late on, not necessarily due to an attitude problem.

The same cannot be said for the others, Cruising Bye coming from a mile back to pick up third place after not appearing in the rudest of health beforehand, in other circumstances he may well have finished tailed off.

Race two wasn't much stronger, the 0-100 event looking to be at the hands of Hexham scorer Johnny Yuma who looked none the worse for those recent exertions and he duly hacked up at quite rewarding odds; this strapping horse seems to have turned the corner.

Cervaro Mix looked an unfurnished sort ahead of an easy assignment but he had to be rousted along to collect and he looks likely to struggle from his allotted mark.

A good field of eight gathered for a staying hurdle and The Drone looked in rude health off a break for the somewhat beleaguered A Hales yard, which has endured a quiet campaign.

The PTP winner had been absent since failing to take to regulation fences but was fit and well in a pre-race hood, and went with plenty of enthusiasm in a race that saw a few under perform.

Point N Shoot came in for support on the back of a Sedgefield saunter but form from the Co Durham venue cannot be trusted and N Hawke's light-framed horse failed to reproduce his latest effort from a much higher mark, the jockey unable to claim the full 7lb as well.

Flying Verse looked sure to run his race back at a venue where he's won twice but simply looked to bump into a slightly better handicapped one, while Sackett ran a typically solid race without really looking as though he was going to win.

A three-runner mares hurdle was quite intriguing but we settled on the jolly being a bit of value at the off, O Sherwood's Millarville holding much the strongest form of the trio and looking to have more stamina than the other pair.

Those Court Cave genes held her in good stead up the straight and she toughed it out against a back-to-form Ceara Be, while Prophets Prayer once again suggested she'll be a force in handicaps, staying on nicely after appearing burly off an absence beforehand.

All eyes were on Just Call Me Al in the next after a soft unseat here at the last meeting when bearing down on the leaders, and he ran a similar sort of race coming from some way off the pace under his 10lb claiming rider.

The winner, Manofthemoment, had been given a much more positive ride by R Patrick with the step up in trip sure to suit, and this smallish compact horse was a worthy winner having plenty in the tank at the line.

The runner-up also hit the line running and Just Call Me Al will remain of interest now he is settling better, seeing out this trip well. He has plenty of size and scope and hopefully will now be put away before a novice chase campaign.

Midnight Aurora was weak in the betting and compromised by a hold-up ride considering her form over further, and although not very big she appears well capable of building on this return when sent back over 3m. Little else appealed with Shine Baby Shine's form all on very deep ground, while Timely Gift has no scope whatsoever.

The race of most interest as so often is the case for us paddock watchers was the bumper and I was keen on Old Jeroboam after this likeable son of Jeremy had got up close home to land what looked a fairly strong race at Wetherby.

With J Nailor reducing the burden he looked just about good enough to defy the penalty despite strong support for the debutante Celtic Tara, who had plenty of size about her.

Experience can often count for plenty in these races and the jolly was far too green to repeat what must have been some decent home work, instead the sizeable Skelton youngster Olly The Brave was the one sticking it to the other market leader.

Nailor had to get down and dirty after the slow early fractions but Old Jeroboam once again finished strongly to collect and looks a fair tool for next season, the pair pulling nicely away from Symphony Hall, who was typical of the Greatrex yard in looking compact and unfurnished on his opening start.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Hexham - April 15

The ground had once again dried right out and it looked like good all over, although there were murmurs that it was quicker in parts.

Glinger Flame had hosed up in a handicap at the last meeting and looked in good order for a quick follow up back in trip, duly obliging after taking a lead from chief market rival Mr Scrumpy.

The runner-up won a bumper here on soft ground, looking half decent in the process, and this quite athletic youngster looks more of a stayer over timber with more juice in the ground likely to suit.

The only other backable one was J Ewart's Honourary Gift but he didn't especially take the eye and proved very one-paced, looking sure to want much further already.

Bobndave doesn't have the physicality of stablemate Alfiboy but seemed to run better than ever, both Smith horses wanting a trip and softer ground.

Likeamonkey is worth a namecheck, being from that progressive L Morgan yard, a fair animal still  looking backward on debut aged seven, more green and immature than anything, but was putting in a good shift until crashing through the wing at the somewhat precariously positioned final flight.

He might go under the radar in the coming weeks but showed more than enough ability to build on.

A two mile handicap chase brought together a trio from Sedgefield nearly four weeks ago but Miss Amelia was fancied of the group to come out on top at this very different venue, a track where sibling Miss Conway prospered some time ago.

Once again finding only the one pace here, Miss Amelia may well be better served by the forcing tactics that served big sis so well while the addition of cheekpieces could also help. She looked in good order and can yet improve on this.

Johnny Yuma finally put his best hoof forward to claim the W, this hugely robust animal travelling much the best and putting it to bed without showing any quirks that have undermined him in the past.

The mares novice hurdle was a match with the market correctly calling it the way of  Miss Delighted, who backed up her Haydock victory over 3m showing a fine attitude in the process.

Still quite backward physically, the Getaway filly will be one to keep onside when she's strengthened up next season and she clearly has plenty of stamina.

The form is nothing to get carried away with as it stands, second placed Would You Bypass putting in good late work with the fourth Jupiters Ways having not shown a great deal thus far either.

Disappointment was Etamine Du Cochet, but the Skelton mare has long since failed to impress with her weak finishing and she found nil after climbing the hill, her wind not being the best.

Solo Saxaphone was unopposable in the next after Wetherby's facile win but he made hard work of it after being allowed an easy passage between the final two flights, his lead being whittled down at the end.

There were one or two to take out of this, Becky The Thatcher showing better form and probably poised to strike now over further, while Saint Freule was outpaced before staying on again and this is probably his trip albeit on much softer ground.

The Vocalist has changed hands in the past but looks the type to prosper over hurdles in due course, lacking the size for a fence. She ran okay and will be placed to good effect.

On a great day for favourite backers it was very hard to oppose the progressive Prince Dundee in a dreadful handicap chase that featured many of the Usual Suspects.

Taken to the front at an early stage on the back of a breakthrough win here three weeks ago, defeat never looked a possibility particularly as he had looked much better in the paddock this time having come on bundles.

The other unexposed sort in the race was stablemate Exit To Where and he looked a fair sort beforehand albeit looking immature mentally.

He tanked round behind the winner jumping notably well, getting outpaced climbing the hill before staying on to good effect. The switch to fences at this early stage was clearly a good move and he may well go on from this.

The hunter chase saw Sausalito Sunrise return to winning ways despite not appearing to be happy on the ground and possibly the track at various stages, eventually getting on top before the last and holding the late challenge of market rival Ravished, who looked in good heart and stayed on again late.

The bumper was a fair race of its type with some decent looking sorts, Black Ebony among them but he looked to be carrying plenty of condition some eight or so weeks after debuting at Kelso and that possibly showed on the run to the line.

There was little wrong with the fitness of Shanroe and the mount of D Jacob was surprisingly overlooked in the market despite having run to a fair standard at Ludlow.

Miah Grace filled out the places and she was unable to make the most of her age and sex allowance, but she's a fair sort with size and scope and probably just lacks strength at this time.

Money came for State Vision but he looked big and backard, albeit clearly a decent type for the future, while Holme Abbey has already been exposed as a bit paceless and this big chasing type will require a trip when sent over timber.

Of the others, Fair Lady and Teescomponentstrig showed enough both before and during the race to suggest they have more than enough ability to be competitive in weaker races than this.   

Friday, 12 April 2019

This week's eyecatchers

Three meetings on the spin...too much to catch up on really but some pretty mediocre and bookie-friendly racing all round.

Southwell

2.20
Zolfo is a horse that has promised far more than he has delivered so far; and that wasn't about to change here with S Quinlan having a tight hold of the gelding's head throughout. He wouldn't prove the only horse to be given a dubious ride this week, the authorities seemingly powerless to act. A winner last spring off 92, has the size and scope to do much better when connections feel the time is right.

2.50
Hatcher was much preferred to the undesirable Style De Garde who has more attitude than a 'remoaner', however the style and manner of his victory suggests he could be very decent. A 7lb rise would probably be within his compass and if he continues to jump this way the world is his proverbial oyster.

3.20
Jonjo O'Neill picks his racecourse appearances carefully and was a notable visitor presumably to oversee Monbeg Gold's return to action, and after a mid-morning drift the well-backed favourite sauntered to an easy win despite a couple of early blunders. Not the most consistent type, it's not known whether he'll be in similar form next time, and in fairness this rather fell apart.

4.20
A modest bunch as you'd expect for a 0-105 but two stood out and they may have contested the finish had Just Call Me Al not ejected young J Williamson two from the finish. The horse, one that has been on the radar for some time, looked in great order and is now starting to settle better. He looks high in the weights but could make amends for this soft unseat. Oscar Nomination was the other one being a horse of a size and scope, and the only one coming into the race in form. Crazy odds, he was well backed at the death and stayed on in the manner of one that will go in again if sent over further.

4.50
A no-play race but with Nachi Falls being asked to perform a minor miracle and probably running flat anyway, it was there to be won and the most unexposed in Cardigan Bay came home in front again at longer odds than recent form might have suggested. Not a bad type, she's clearly better than the grade and should flourish over further.

5.25
Not a great field of mares for the closing bumper and they finished in a bunch, none of the front three appealing beforehand as forward enough to contest the finish. I'd rather give the market leaders another chance, Lunar Baby a lovely big mare who will surely benefit from softer ground and at least 2m4f over timber. Henrietta Bell came home via the car park under an inexperienced amateur and should probably be marked up significantly, for all that she too probably wants a much stiffer test.

Warwick

It has to be said this is one of the most pleasant venues on the circuit, always a great atmosphere with loads of amenities and good viewing points.

2.10
Gamble almost landed here with the C Mann trained Top Up The Fashion unable to catch the winner Bbold after the last. Not many took the eye beforehand but the son of Court Cave looks a fair sort and should be able to win one of these. I'm A Starman had arguably the best form coming into it and although a bit unfurnished looks one with ability, probably needing it softer like so many at the moment. The winner was given a typically uncomplicated ride, of the others Hang Tough looked very big and burly, North Star Oscar rather ill at ease with himself.

2.40
Bubbles Of Gold was turned out again a fortnight after going too slowly at Market Rasen and deservedly got off the mark, making the most of his undoubted stamina. The drifting favourite Sojourn is a very nice sort but his finishing effort was tame and the market seemed to know. I liked the way he won his bumper and he's surely better than this. Money came for Cool Destination, another to catch the eye beforehand being a well-made sort, and unfortunately his mark will be affected by this solid effort.

3.15
Elusive Belle was a well-backed favourite and won decisively albeit without having to match her earlier efforts, with market rival Newtown Boy again pulling hard and finding little when let down. He's a big, fine chasing type and maybe fences will make a man of him...he's bred to stay well and if they give him his head he could make a fair chaser. The race was notable for the run in third of Notre Pari, a good looking son of Jeremy that looked to be carrying condition and drifted beforehand. Unfortunately for A Coleman the 130+rated market leaders were not moving away from the field turning in, with the Irishman still having a tight hold of the horse's head. Shaken up only after the last, beaten less than five lengths, this does nothing for the integrity of racing. There is a sense of 'collusion' between certain owners, trainers and the authorities, which of course isn't the case if only it could be proven either way. With stewards not even bothering to interview the jockey or trainer (on record at least), we are none the wiser as to what on earth they are actually doing. Sammy Bill is a chaser that needs soft ground.

3.45
Djin Conti has grown up a good deal this season having seen him on several occasions and that is borne out by his performances on the track, rallying well here to beat one ahead of her mark in Tick Tock Boom. The runner-up appeared to lug right throughout the last mile and clearly wants to go that way, but otherwise her jumping was impressive on her first start over regulation fences. Both of these should go on from this. Sadly we lost big Cuddles McGraw, who may have had a say after trading low mid-race. Minerfortyniner looks a modest sort.

5.25
An open looking handicap hurdle saw money come for Raising The Bar but the Seven Barrows inmate made little appeal having yet to really see out a race, and this longer trip wasn't the answer. He looked keen and edgy and his days on the top rung look numbered. By contrast, Comrade Conrad looked well after an absence and confirmed the Skelton yard in the rudest of health. Book Of Gold ran on well late and he can win from his current mark if only we got some rain.

Wetherby

1.50
Modest stuff with Fransham probably only needing to match his latest form here of around 115, having too much toe for the chase prospect Isaac Wonder, who is currently on the weak side. Money came for Archippos but he never lifted a leg, while For Three was ridden to come late but they had already flown. He's not going to be easy to win with. Magellan has the size to do better and his time will come once he learns to settle.

2.55
Apart from Inchcolm, Las Tunas is probably the most transformed chaser in training (at least in the north) after two years of running to type, he's now a bold jumping seven year old who prefers good ground to soft. He never looked like getting caught despite being on 8lb worse terms with Oliver's Gold, who could have got a more positive ride and is another who looks in good heart and is the type to pick up a race or two this spring. Fair Mix ran his race in third and is well enough handicapped to win soon, particularly if allowed to dictate.

3.25
Not a great 0-120, an early market move for Clondaw Storm came to nothing after drifting markedly on course, the tall and scopey grey looking like he needs more time. In a field of largely disappointing types, Morraman proved himself better suited to handicaps in providing a rare winner for the beleaguered D McCain, beating My Charity who belatedly took a step back in the right direction with the aid of a tongue strap.

4.00
Another handicap featuring several with plenty to prove, not least the well-backed jolly Solo Saxaphone, who nevertheless won hard held, in fact he's one of the easiest winners of a good ground handicap ever seen, and a 14lb rise won't stop him next time if in the same form...expect him to be turned out under a penalty. Ask Paddington checked out tamely in what was his worst effort this season, surely amiss, while Jack Lamb is lean and leggy like many in the family but has clearly returned in decent form.

4.30
Trio For Rio lacks size and scope and really wants much softer conditions than this, but he got away with it to land the odds, however he won't be one to have on side once in handicaps next season outside really testing conditions at places like Hereford. Let's Get At It was was beaten a mile out, but Big Nasty gave it a good go and this huge animal will merely be marking time over timber, and whether he can build on this probably only modest effort is open to debate, for all that the pair came away from the rest, headed by Go To Court who isn't a bad sort and will be paying his way.

5.05
Fingerontheswitch was a worthy favourite in the absence of anything really concrete against it, mainly disappointing types that want much softer ground. Quite why he only finds occasionally off the bridle only the horse knows, but he got tired trying to chase down modest sorts in Bafana Blue and Blue Kascade, who weren't exactly flying home.

5.40
A 0-100 to close the show but another feather in the cap of trainer Laura Morgan, whose Uisce Ur looked to be carrying plenty of condition but provided her with an eighth winner of the campaign. Sharp Getaway was the nicest specimen but got outpaced at halfway before staying on...he might do better now with a new trainer.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Aintree - April 4

Wet and wild from about an hour before the first race and it was pretty clear that the ground would ride fairly soft from the outset.

There was not a single negative from the paddock the entire day - and believe me I was looking for one - all those that had run at Cheltenham looking in absolutely peak form.

La Bague Au Roi was favourite for the Manifesto but her form has never been great at this time of year and she didn't quite shape up against the geldings this time; she often looks magnificent but on balance was well worth taking on.

The other five looked really well, including Glen Forsa who ran unaccountably badly but has had a longer season than most, while Kalashnikov was on his toes throughout the prelims but two handlers were keeping a lid on him and it was a simple case of a horse raring to go.

The subject of much hype all season, he has been crying out for this trip for more than 12 months and a little turn of foot between the final two fences sealed it - it's clear now these are his prime conditions.

I didn't see anything between a bunch of juvenile hurdlers, Band Of Outlaws not quite as big as I was expecting but still the nicest of them, and it looks like the rain had blunted his speed.

The wet suited Christopher Robin and it came as little surprise to see him hit the places, while Henderson once again appears to have pulled a rabbit from the hat in Pentland Hills, who was very tenacious in victory.

Kemboy isn't much to look at, which is the feeling I got at Cheltenham last season, but he may yet have some strengthening to do and he took the Bowl with any amount in hand under a motionless R Walsh, having met virtually every fence on a perfect stride.

Bristol De Mai looked in terrific order but uncharacteristically lost half a length at many fences, lacking his customary zip, while Clan Des Obeaux doesn't have the substance of some and yet battled on well after being one of the first under pressure.

Buveur D'Air is a little bull of a horse and there was nothing wrong with his appearance, but Supasundae can often get worked up however he was like a coiled spring and looked superb in his coat.

Quite what happened in the Stayers Hurdle we shall never know but he returned to his best under optimum conditions to claim a deserved Grade 1, Ch'tibello running a huge race in third and once again being well placed by connections.

The others looked well bar Summerville Boy, who lacked a bit of condition and clearly had a rushed preparation; they can start again with him in the autumn.

Nothing jumped out at me in the Foxhunter bar Sir Jack Yates, who looked in terrific heart but once again shaped like a non-stayer despite having won twice over 3m in hunters.

There was money around for a few in the Red Rum, I rowed in with the classy Lady Buttons who looked well but she bumped into one here in Moon Over Germany, who bypassed Cheltenham and enjoyed a surprisingly easy time on the lead after Cracking Find crashed out at the first.

Adrrastos was up in grade here and acquitted himself well on ground that became too deep, he looked a little out of his depth in the paddock and not great in his coat so he could one to watch this spring back in calmer waters.

There were plenty of likeable fillies in the bumper and this is race that will throw up untold winners, led home on the day by The Glancing Queen, who has done precious little wrong in her first season.

She's a strong, well-made type who could be really good over obstacles, the pair she beat from Ireland Minella Melody and Daylight Katie both looking really well in their skin.

Whitehotchillifili, Eyes Right, Kissesforkatie and Who What When are among plenty to follow, while Shantewe made up plenty of ground from the rear and would probably appreciate much better ground. 

Market Rasen - April 3

Forecast overnight rain failed to materialise resulting a few scratchings that weakened an otherwise interesting little card, with the ground once again riding good.

The opener was a seller in all but name and held little interest either on the day or in future, eventual winner Haasab has always looked better than his mark and came good under an uncomplicated ride for trainer Laura Morgan, who has had a quiet couple of months.

The second was an interesting three-way go for a novice hurdle in which Harambe, whose run I crapped on about here but had since got back on track with a smooth win at Kempton.

I decent looking horse with more size and scope than I had expected, A King's inmate was in good order and appeared to have plenty in his favour with chief rival Garrettstown likely to have to set the pace.

As mentioned here previously, Garrettstown is very much a chaser in waiting and he looked a bit leaner here this time on the back of a blowout in the EBF final; it's all been a bit too much too soon for him and he finished very tamely as Harambe scooted clear after the last.

There was some support for New Quay but he doesn't appeal much physically and had loads to prove after a dismal latest effort, and he soon retreated after looking a threat on the home turn.

A -110 chase came up next featuring a few unpredicatable types, the only guarantee was that Dallas Cowboy would again let down his remarkably faithful supporters who plowed in once more, only to see their flawed hero find little when let down.

The form is what it is, Global Domination and Troubled Soul not much better than their marks, the latter jumping better this time despite lacking a little in size.

The interesting one was King Vince, who travelled much more kindly followed wind surgery and was still in there when meeting the third last all wrong. He looks well handicapped if putting it all together and has plenty of size and scope.

Embole was a well backed favourite for a weak looking 0-120 but he's a bit light-framed and angular and is a bit in limbo land at present, being only five, and the market was also very strong for Larch Hill first time over fences.

The latter had looked paceless over timber but he has plenty of size and you can pretty much forget anything he did over the smaller obstacles.

The fast pace suited him to a T and he jumped well enough throughout to see off Wishfull Dreaming, who returned to his previously consistent form without ever really looking like he would outstay or outbattled the winner,

The featured handicap hurdle saw Earlofthecotswolds nicely supported to win at the track once again and he got a nice sit on the front end, very much the right place to be round here.

He looked a credit to connections after a busy campaign and ran on well to the line, seeing off the likes of Collooney who was surprisingly weak in the market but appeared to run his race up in trip.

The Sweeney has a hole in him but seemed to see it out better than before and he could well build on this as he looked to be carrying a bit of condition after a short absence. Regarding Ruth disappointed in appearance and she needs another summer behind her.

The staying handicap hurdle saw the reappearance of the likeable Carrolls Milan and she was strongly fancied to supplement Ludlow gains on the back of a 4lb rise.

I do love a mare with deep reserves of stamina and after being headed on the home turn she went through the gears and battled back to win again; she's very much one to keep onside as she's a battler and again hasn't won by far. She looked in great order beforehand.

The bumper looked wide open with all ages, sizes, and a young filly in Marada making it very difficult to weigh up.

Henderson's Royal Reel is a nice big horse but the concern was whether he'd have enough speed round these sharp turns, and so it proved, while those with experience came to the fore in the finish.

It's not form to take much away from, but it's not as weak as it looks and the likes of Takeit Easy, whose family is well known, are sure to better with Ladronne and Stoner's Choice the types to pay their way over timber.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Wetherby - March 29

Blazing sunshine and good ground once again, but competitive fields and some tricky betting races.

Denmead looked big and well on his return to action after a wind op and he dotted up in the opening novices hurdle, the difficult looking Constancio easily brushed aside and caught for second...he's one to continue taking on.

Topofthecotswolds got second but is still quite a light framed animal and should do much better in time, while this 2m is clearly not far enough. I did take to Lady Marwah who looked strong and fit but was again disappointing with her finishing effort, and ought to be doing better.

Wapping has joined a small yard and doesn't appear to have the physical scope for this sphere, the market calling this one.

Plan Of Action is a big scopey chasing type and will do better in that arena given time.

A forgettable 0-105 handicap chase was taken by Las Tunas, winning off a pretty high mark, he looked in grand shape in his coat and was given a positive ride.

Oliver's Gold seems to be coming back to himself, he likes this ground and time of year and is dangerously handicapped, surely they'll be able to find the right race. Perfect Leader looked really well but he's no great shakes.

Paddling isn't one to be making excuses for, he looked perfectly well and is very low in the weights, but didn't really pick up.

A tricky handicap hurdle fell to Suggestion, who continued the remarkable form of trainer P Kirby who had a very quite February when this horse ran no race at Doncaster.

He came home strongest after the unexposed Fransham cruised through to lead two out, the Sly youngster massively overpriced being related to winners and he will pay his way also.

Falcon Sun looked well but his form didn't appear that strong and he didn't put up much resistance, while much of the interest was lost when Grey Diamond came down at halfway...he doesn't look an easy conveyance.

Viking Hoard looked all wrong in his coat, although Benny In Milan looked well and was backed but didn't show much.

The handicap chase was a weak affair bar the hugely progressive Flowery, provided he could be kept on the straight and narrow, his waywardness contributing to punters' wariness pre-race.

However, that drift looked the wrong move as he went sweetly throughout as on his chasing debut at Sedgefield, and he looks a different horse now even with a slight tendency to go left still.

Noted as being miles ahead of his mark when getting up at Catterick earlier in the campaign, hopefully readers have enjoyed his subsequent success.

There was very little to put up against him, Crest now down to an interesting mark and he may have gone very close with a more positive sit. Henry's Joy sweated up and didn't find much as is usually the case, while Absolutely Dylan hasn't looked the same since a win in the Haydock mud before Christmas.

A Class 3 handicap hurdle followed with plot horse Thosedaysaregone a well backed favourite, but he was noted in these pages as looking over the top at Carlisle last month and again ran up light here.

Quite how he beat Mall Dini over fences in between times shall remain a mystery, and while clearly having ability he's more one for next season and some softer ground.

Golden Jeffrey looked burly after a break but the rest looked well, particularly Dubai Angel who could do with some soft ground but is starting to look very disappointing. Theatrebar is a credit to connections and he looked well before a deserved win, Simply A Legend having few excuses.

A good bumper came up next, some nice types on show and the two I liked most to the fore, Old Jeroboam getting up close home after being weak in the market, pipping Biblical a nice leggy sort who looked to have it won a furlong out.

Dog Of War is a big unfurnished animal that will be better over obstacles in time, while Orbustock should be okay when growing up mentally and although Wild Gypsy Boy looked forward enough, he moved very poorly and probably isn't one to get excited about.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Market Rasen - Mar 27

A card lacking any kind of pizzazz, largely low grade betting shop fodder, with the ground drying out to good all over. As such it was surprising they didn't seem to go very quick and certainly one if not two races were lost by lazy fractions.

They didn't go very fast in the opener with Tom Scu reluctant to press on aboard Yaa Salaam, who had made a pleasing debut for connections at Ffos Las.

Fancied to put it up to the more experienced Benny's Bridge, the strong looking chestnut was always vulnerable to the favourite's turn of foot if lacking an enterprising ride and was swallowed up after the last by the 129-rated winner.

The second looked a slightly more straight forward equation with the stamina-endowed Bubbles Of Gold expected to stretch the credentials of the hitherto disappointing Lady Camelot with the aid of first time cheek-pieces.

However, R Johnson did not feel the need to exert any pressure on the younger horse's suspect staying power and the trio were all in with a shout turning for home.

Perhaps the favourite just couldn't go any faster, although having been joined he did seem to do just that and would probably have got back up given another 100 yards.

Every inch a staying chaser, Bubbles Of War hasn't been seen to best effect this season but should do much better in time, while the third placed Imperial Elixir hadn't shown a great deal thus far and his proximity owes more to the pace of the race than much improvement on his part.

The first handicap chase of the day had a 110 ceiling but it was the 111-rated top weight Nikki Steel who just outstayed them in a desperate finish, Quantum Of Solace not for the first time failing to get it done having had every chance.

The winner looked very edgy beforehand and not a straight forward conveyance, yet the excellent STD coaxed him into the race and probably always felt he had them covered.

Dallas Cowboy was heavily backed again and almost got there despite a dreadful early error, he simply isn't one to trust, a label also applying to Royal Act, who traded short prior to a ghastly mistake with just over a lap to go, and going to pieces thereafter.

The second handicap chase was slightly higher quality, but only slightly and in line with the previous contest very few wanted to win, the enormously frustrating Iskabeg Lane finding himself in the right place at the right time for once.

I doubt if Star Foot properly stays this 2m6f trip, while the eventual third Second Time Around, who looked well, had the length of the straight to go past three going nowhere and has already been given too many chances.

Balibour put in a sketchy round of jumping and doesn't look to have a great attitude, yet was still in there pitching at the last, while Earlshill jumped appallingly and was still only 14 lengths back at the line. I think you get the picture.

A class 3 handicap hurdle enlivened proceedings and the cash came for Ballyhome, who was up another 3lb on the back of some solid form, and he looked stronger than earlier in the campaign and deservedly got the job done off another steady gallop.

E Austin had the race to himself on the front end and with Faithful Mount jumping better than normal, had every chance to capitalise on the opportunity, but didn't kick when he had the chance early in the straight and was outpaced from the second last.

Markov ran a fair race but he wants plenty more cover than he got here and delivering late off a quicker pace...I'm sure there's a race in him when the cards fall right.

Back On The Lash did not appeal beforehand, not very big and getting quite warm and agitated, he wasn't best placed turning for home but finished well. This wasn't the most informative race, but he should do better in time.

The two handicap hurdles to close the card were dire affairs, Rizzardo the one to take from the staying handicap being a big chasing type for next season, in contrast to stablemate Family Man who looks a rare dud by Gold Well.

Sigurd is proving hard to win with but next time could be the time to catch him as he had a wind op prior to this, while the winner Acertain Circus was well backed and delivered for connections that know their stuff.

Ice Galley went unbacked in the finale but he rallied past some pretty moderate opponents on the run-in but very little can be made of this from a form perspective.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Hexham - March 26

With the water table so low across the country any moisture is disappearing as quickly as it arrives and there wasn't much 'good to soft' left - the times confirming as much.

There were a couple of notable Irish raiders on the day, both partnered by R Dunne and both heavily backed, the first Captain CJ landing the opening novices hurdle with something to spare.

The eight-year-old by Westerner isn't much more than medium sized but is well put together and had form in bumpers and over hurdles to suggest this would be easy pickings.

He came home clear of the luckless Shaman Du Berlais, who deserves one of these but simply lacks any kind of gear change, rallying to pick up second place ahead of the eye-catching Ard Chros, a strong chase type who looks well bought for in-form connections. He should come on a ton for this.

Largy Prospect failed by some way to back up his Ayr success but this tall, chasing type probably wanted much softer ground, a similar comment applied to Stung For Cash, who didn't look entirely at home on the track.

I'd backed the talented but bonkers Saint Freule at Kelso at the weekend only for the six-year-old to refuse to race and was lucky to get refunded, so wasn't going to make the same mistake twice...a decision that proved costly as B Campbell got him away on terms this time and the price was no longer there.

It's amazing that he's now won twice considering his many antics, although the handicapper is likely to take offence at this 14-length stroll and he'll need to buck his ideas up from now on.

It wasn't much of a race, with the hitherto disappointing Felix Mendelssohn out of excuses after blowing a softish lead in first time blinkers, once again fading out of things.

Murphy's Law looks more of a long term project, while Lucky Lucarno would be better served by softer ground and further, while he'll certainly jump a fence. Mint Gold stayed on for third but looks tall and weak and could do with a summer at grass.

A 0-100 handicap chase followed but not many of the 10 could be fancied with any confidence, Graystown far from certain to run his race after finally getting off the mark last time out.

It was best left to Well Joey to hand R Dunne a straight forward brace, overcoming a couple of sketchy early jumps to readily get off the mark at the 27th time of asking, although just his second outing for P Stafford, who has history at this course.

Katalystic isn't put together brilliantly and once again failed to impress in the jumping department, while Westend Theatre let down each-way backers with an error-strewn round at a track he's done well at before. Like many of these, he would have preferred it softer.

There was a surprise in the handicap hurdle when Glinger Flame took a walk in the market despite having the look of a very solid favourite with his latest form at Ayr working out so well.

The question was only of whether he'd find much up the hill but so well had he gone throughout that they couldn't get him off the bridle, and was another impressive winner on the day now in line for a hike in the ratings.

Niceandeasy appeared to have gained condition with his new yard and I expect him to come back to form with some cut in the ground, while Pieceoftheaction didn't back up his run here 12 days ago and this may have come too soon. He's a decent type that will prove this effort wrong.

The fifth race was a desperate 0-100 handicap chase over 3m which carried no betting interest, and one of the least appealing on looks came good in Prince Dundee, who was outstaying Square Viviani when that one came down at the last.

It goes without saying that this is desperate form, with the winner thoroughly opposable next time.

The bumper wasn't much of a contest on paper although there were some interesting types in the paddock. Sidi Ismael had much the best form, particularly at Carlisle, and he duly got off the mark with the minimum of fuss, he's a decent enough type.

Market rival Djebel Rome made little appeal, a moderate moving animal that looks an out and out stayer, he'll do much better in soft ground. Fair Minx has loads of size and out-ran his odds, while the home bred Crow Stone is nicely made and showed enough to suggest the ability is there.

Be One was the most imposing but he was keen in the prelims and this 30k purchase will need time to learn to race, and may not be of interest until jumping fences.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Haydock - March 20

A spring-like day greeted a healthy crowd, but a disappointing card run on drying ground...the forcast bog had become very dead and tiring.

A good big-un beats a good little-un as the old saying goes and never was it more true than in the opener when one of the biggest horses in training Captain Moirette took one stride for every two of his main market rival on the way to another comfortable victory.

The giant seven-year-old has a ton of speed and appears to take hurdles in his stride, unlike many more ignorant chasing types that can't get to grips with smaller obstacles.

Danny Cook got a nice tow into the race behind hot favourite Chambard, who never looked happy on the front end, jumping right most of the way, and this run probably came soon enough for him.

Skiddaw Valleys once again came in very late, hooded, but only seems to run on when the race is all over. Not bred to stay further, he's more than likely not one to trust.

A weak mares novice followed and I tried hard all day to make a case for Miss Delighted after her running on second at Huntingdon last time, and the disparity in the betting seemed too great.

However, odds-on favourite Viva Vittoria had taken a leap forward when winning a shade cosily last time out and has the size and scope to go on to even better things.

Contrast that to the rather unfurnished, backward looking Miss Delighted and it was hard to look past the jolly, but A Coleman never looked that happy on her and perhaps the tacky ground was not to her liking, as this was disappointing.

The winner can do better when strengthening up next season, but Belle Amis is only modest and she was well beaten off.

A four runner novices chase was another race where the favourite was by no means a good thing, Scorpion Sid having his own way of going about matters and requiring plenty of cut in the ground.

The drying surface may not have suited but he just keeps rolling along and you always had the feeling he would get to Whoshotwho, a horse that has never found much off the bridle.

Knockrobin looks increasingly quirky and the McCain yard remains very cold, while Cave Top looked strong and well, but was just starting to feel the pinch when crashing out at the fourth last.

Venetia Williams had Bonne Question yesterday and Chambard already turned over after a quick turnaround and Eceparti looked vulnerable nine days on from a one-paced second at Stratford.

C Deutsch was handed an easy lead on the well-backed jolly but even that wasn't enough and the five-year-old had nothing left after the final flight, where Destined To Shine took over under a patient ride from STD.

Ettila De Sivola looks the part but took a massive drift in the betting and never looked like getting to the front, a big track like Newcastle or Doncaster would be more up his street.

A weak veterans chase brought together plenty of out-of-form horses, and the two that were running well in Bob Ford and Dartford Warbler had been busy of late.

The former was never going after a hard race on Saturday, but Knockanrawley, who looked really well in the prelims, travelled sweetly throughout behind a strong pace and never looked like getting beat.

Hills Of Dubai didn't look great and was another McCain horse to show very little, those behind Dartford Warbler in third essentially disappointing.

The staying hurdle was a weak affair, notable for a market move on Leskinfere despite the fact the horse is painfully slow and would be off the bridle with a lap to go.

The other one to the fore in the betting was Hear The Chimes, who had no form at the trip and was high enough in the weights.

It meant the race was there for the taking and the R Menzies-trained Breizh Alko looked in great shape on just his second start, a compact athletic animal, and was another beneficiary of a patient ride as he was brought through late by C O'Farrell to defy a market drift.

Flemens Story looked to be in need of the run but was one McCain inmate that appeared to run his race, the rest were pretty modest and it's not brilliant form.

We didn't even give a thought to the bumper where Farrants Way was forced into 2/9 after recording a good figure at Ffos Las three weeks ago, he looks a decent horse but was very much on his toes and a shade quirky looking.

Foxey is very leggy and light framed, but Cheddleton is a nice type, costing 60k, although he looked a little burly and the yard hadn't had a bumper winner in five years.

The favourite never looked to be on great terms in the race, giving up loads of ground on the stable bend, and recalcitrant thereafter, completing a miserable day for Ms Williams and her backers.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Cheltenham eye-catchers - Day 3

It seemed to be just as windy on the Thursday of the meeting, if not more so, and the going continued to dry out with some fresh ground on the New Course.

JLT

Lostintranslation; A most likeable individual with loads of size and scope. Not for the first time this week the jockey - in this case R Power - didn't set strong enough fractions on the lead and he was done for toe by old rival Defi Du Seuil. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he'll be much better over 3m+ and has the Ladbroke Trophy written all over him.

Kildisart; I rated his most recent form almost on a par with the front two in the market and he's such a sturdy horse that he must be very hard to get fit at home. Unfortunately he was a little rushed off his feet on this better ground, making minor errors, and he'll bag a decent pot next term when conditions are more to his liking. He'll surely stay 3m.

Ryanair

Footpad; Not the most taking of horses but seems to have a hold over the betting public despite falling short this season. His defining moment was when he 'fell in' in last year's Arkle, and I'd be happy to take him on at the highest level unless he was faced with optimum conditions of 2m on heavy ground.

Monalee; A horse with plenty of size but he looks a bit tripless at the highest level and he's not going to be easy to place if he's to land a Grade 1 event.

Terrefort; Looked quite lean and leggy and he's probably more a three miler in any case.

Stayers

Paisley Park; Noted as a horse with serious potential after winning at Aintree earlier in the season, the favourite looked really well jig-jogging around the paddock. Has the size to jump a fence but doubtful they'll go down that route now.

Faugheen; Looked really well and is a credit to connections considering all that's he's been through down the years.

Plate

Siruh Du Lac; A lovely big horse with loads of size and scope, his jumping is a sight to behold and who knows how far it will take him. Landed this off 141 and he's still only six.

Spiritofthegames; Dropped right out and never able to get to grips with those making hay up front, he could be one for the big handicaps here early next season but improvement will surely come when sent over 3m.

River Wylde; The first big negative from the paddock all week as the Henderson horse got really wound up beforehand, sweating up and looking really edgy. He ran no sort of race and clearly wasn't right.

Mares Novice

Sinoria; Light framed sort and on her toes, she was weak in the market and ran no sort of race.

Queenofhearts; A very likeable sort, strong and robustly made for a mare, she's all about stamina and was unable to hold her position on this drying ground, before running on strongly into a never-nearer 10th. She'll really come into her own when stepped back up in trip next season on soft ground.

Posh Trish; Looked well but was quite keen in the prelims and that didn't help her in the race, and she failed to see her race out. She's been quite busy this season.

Concertista; A nice, strong daughter of Nathaniel, who looks to be a big influence for stamina. Almost got the job done at the first time of asking and she'll be back here next year.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Wetherby - March 19

A bit of soft ground at the local track after weekend rain but it had been dry since Saturday and it wasn't much worse than good to soft and a bit dead.

I was keen on Theatre Legend in the opening handicap hurdle after Chris Grant's six-year-old had shaped nicely here last time in a novice that looked quite deep at the time, and was sure to improve on that physically.

Down in trip, he travelled and jumped with aplomb, finally confirming the impression he made in his two bumper wins, and he looks the sort to win again before the season is out.

En Meme Temps has been mentioned here before as not one to trust, looking an awkward sort in the paddock and routinely carrying his head high. He ran on when it was all over but be an unlikely type to be retained by is current handler.

Bonne Question was very weak in the market having been put in short on the back of a bold showing at Sandown, but that came only 11 days ago and had incurred an 8lb impost, quite a hike for an exposed 10-year-old, and it wasn't difficult to oppose.

Top Ville Ben was all the rage to quickly atone for his fall in the RSA last week, and after looking fine in the prelims he hardly put a foot wrong in slamming four rivals.

Sent into overdrive down the far side, he was in his element out on his own and can't be faulted, although stiffer tests lie in wait from a lofty perch and such low hanging fruit may not be so readily available hereafter.

Louis Vac Pouch is a big strong chaser but looked very tired when falling two out, having tried to make up ground on the runaway leader, and a drop back in trip should see him in better light.

Noruki isn't a bad sort and was staying on in third when taking a tumble, so handicaps could now be open to him, while Sam's Gunner looked fit enough on his second start over fences, but was circumspect over the obstacles and didn't really achieve much for a second successive race.

Minella Warrior cost connections 180k and is starting to reward them, staying on strongly to win a Class 2 staying handicap under D Bass, who was hard at work some way out.

A lovely big chaser in the making, the winner has a touch of class having run in the Persian War a few months ago, and proved himself up to winning from a mark of 133.

Skipthescales had to make his own running as these conditions wouldn't have brought out his bottomless stamina, not looking all that comfortable in front and running on again after the last.

He's a bonny horse with a bit of scope, and with his trainer being adroit at placing his staying chasers he can land a decent pot next season over marathon trips.

Know The Score didn't make much appeal despite winning at Hexham earlier in the campaign, and this 380k purchase looks really one-paced, on and off the bridle throughout he came there to win his race but was readily outpointed.

His finishing effort was poor and a wind op is probably on the agenda now, as a tongue-tie and cheekpieces failed to bring about the necessary improvement.

A 0-100 handicap hurdle didn't set the pulse racing and they were a modest bunch, the royal runner No Trumps failing to take the eye and she'll be off to the paddocks sooner rather than later.

Border Victor continues to hold condition well and he was the most likely to run his race, despite competing off a career higher mark, S Quinlan a notable booking and he duly booted home a double.

It goes without saying this isn't strong form and he'll do well to find a weaker race than this, runner-up Gallows Point showing some form for the first time while proving a very difficult ride.

The ground was just about soft enough for Caraline in a tight looking handicap chase and she had tumbled down the weights in this dryest of winters, the booking of B Garritty a major plus.

Twice a course winner, she saw out the extra two furlongs nicely to land a bit of a punt after looking overpriced in the morning, doubts surrounding all the others.

Ballasalla was put in really short despite not looking the most resilient under pressure the last twice, and while the longer trip was bound to suit the burden of proof remained with him, and still does after unshipping B Hughes three out.

Lough Salt is another with plenty to be desired on the resolution front and he was another to be strongly opposed having been backed down to silly odds, doing nothing off the bridle once more.

Oak Vintage is banging his head against a wall from a rating higher than his last win, but will come back in time, while Captain Mowbray may have needed this off a break and could well win again once returned to 3m.

The bumper wasn't the strongest, the twice raced Sheshoon Sonny having a good opportunity to get off the mark and this nice stamp of a horse didn't let odds on supporters down.

A little anxious and keen beforehand, he over-raced early on but had enough in hand to run out a ready winner in the end.

Disappointment of the race was Almazhar Garde, an athletic type who set decent fractions for a bumper, only to fold tamely once straightening up. Eleanor Bob once again looked immature and she may not have all that much ability.

Dhowin and Ulverston shaped with promise considering they looked backward beforehand.