Tuesday 26 February 2019

Uttoxeter - February 25

A rare trip this far south, in fact the first time I've been here as a punter since the early 90s. The track has a great feel to it, I'm sure it's buzzing on big race days with facilities that put the likes of Newcastle to shame.

The warmth of the sun was ridiculous for this time of year, any horses getting warm were excused however very few did. The going was officially good but reported dead with plenty of sand filling making it hard work.

The opening handicap hurdle featured plenty of exposed older types, while the head of the market was dominated by recent improver Choochoobugaloo and the Skelton-trained four-year-old Mercer's Troop.

Both of these look to have physical issues that temper enthusiasm going forward. The more I looked at Choochoo the more she appeared to be lame on her off hind, most off-putting for those of us banking on a 'free bet' with this strong traveller.

An alarming pre-race drift suggested I wasn't the only one to report a possible physical problem, and anyone left 'holding the baby' had to sit and suffer as the odds got bigger and bigger as the race developed.

The trainer has subsequently reported that the horse suffered a fractured pelvis as a youngster, which explains much, not least the seven-year-old's propensity to veer left and hang fire under pressure. She may also not be good enough to compete off a stone higher mark, but that's for others to judge.

I didn't like the way the eventual winner Mercer's Troop moved beforehand, very 'feelingly' in front, and such walkers don't tend to have a long shelf life. An inconsistent sort, I wouldn't bet on him backing this up.

The staying handicap chase featured a bunch of great big lumps that would be much better on softer ground. The well-backed favourite Coopers Square was ridiculously well handicapped on the same mark as when dotting up last time.

Taking half the fences with him, he could probably defy a hike of a stone and soft ground may help his jumping. Babytaggle travelled well before cutting out and nothing else went into the race with any verve bar The Boss's Dream, who is at least in form and he too loves the mud.

The feature was a novices hurdle and the winner Ardlethen is one of the nicest horses I've seen this season. Maybe it's his rich chestnut colour but his coat was glistening in the sun and physically he looks the nuts, plenty of size and scope, strong but not too big. He'll make a fabulous chaser next term.

The way he jumped and travelled and then quickened away from his rivals suggested he has an engine. The Cashel Man wasn't expected to build on his debut effort at Kempton and he's not much more than workmanlike, while his finishing effort wasn't great last time and he looks to have enough quirks for this game.

Trio For Rio was made to look very slow on this ground and he's a typical Greatrex horse, compact and strong, lacking much in the way of scope, and he looks a mudlark.

Bubbles Of Gold and stablemate Jones Well are big strapping chase types, losing nothing in defeat to a couple of talented ones.

Boreham Bill has long been a horse of interest but he took a big walk in the market prior to a staying handicap hurdle. A really good looking chase type, he was in the process of running a PB when almost coming down at the last, and he remains frustrating.

Oh Land Abloom was a deserving winner after a couple of near misses, while Diamond Fort is returning to the sort of form that marked him down as one to keep the right side of 18 months ago.

I wasn't taken by any of the others in a physical sense, Bryden Boy possibly needing the run after nearly eight weeks off.

Crucial Role has been in the tracker all season and this lovely robust chaser has the makings of a nice stayer if they can keep the wheels on...he's bled the two occasions he's been to Haydock and with two wins round here now he looks a Midlands National type for next year.

Rock My Style is a strapping chaser but can't seem to jump at all, while he must surely want softer than this, a similar comment applying to Caltex who did at least go with the winner until three out.

The finale had a sad postscript but featured a vulnerable favourite in Another Theatre who had beaten a couple of very weak fields in the north and as stated here before she's a terrible mover and I suspect that is going to limit her progress.

Etamine Du Cochet is a tall, lengthy baby of a horse that stole a weak race last time, while Maebh (talented but light framed and better in time) and Belle Amis (robust and very much a soft ground horse) didn't make much appeal.

The winner L'Chamise really caught the eye beforehand, not least because she was fitter than I'd seen her on two earlier occasions, and that connections had brought her out just six days after running well in defeat at Taunton.

The slow pace was against her and she was badly outpaced turning for home, but as the others faltered she rallied bravely to come home strongest of all.

Having found myself cheering her home alongside her young stable lass, our briefly shared joy soon turned to something much worse as L'Chamise went down not 50 yards past the winning post. She had clearly suffered a heart attack, and hopefully endured no pain.

While this job requires a certain detachment, it's hard not to be moved by such events and the heart goes out to connections, and that young girl.

Sunday 24 February 2019

Newcastle - February 23

Eider Chase day...the going was on the soft side of good, the weather as warm as you would find at this time of year, the crowd enjoying the great outdoors with no hint of last week's miserable scenes.

AW bumpers are not really my thing and after calling Basildon wrong when he won here last time I was pretty confident he wouldn't follow up in this stronger looking opener, having not come on a great deal physically, possibly carrying even more condition.

Nikgarde finished behind him that day and the Ewart-trained runner did look stronger this time, albeit unfurnished and quite an awkward looking customer.

The one that interested me was Room At The Top, having come in for support at big odds it wasn't surprising to see him looking very fit for his first outing, a big lengthy chasing type that covers a lot of ground.

He was quite weak in the betting late on however, and ran as though he's an out and out stayer, never threatening.

Malystic is quite tall and leggy but was able to defy a 'penalty', although B Garritty has already proven to be great value for his claim so this was essentially a free 7lb off his back.

Show Promise was the nicer of the Kirby pair and showed a much higher level of form here, his other runner Hurricane Hugo moved terribly to post and didn't get round.

In a quiet opening to a decent card, Cool Mix finally got off the mark over fences, beating Niven after neither wanted to make the running. I took the view that whoever led into the straight would win and that's the way it panned out, Reverant Cust again not proving good enough.

The Eider didn't really grab me this year, nothing much stood out in the book and there were no negatives in the prelims. The ground wouldn't have suited those wanting proper soft with the likes of Just Your Type and particularly Progress Drive caught out, although Mysteree went so close and he usually revels in a bog.

The mares novices hurdle was a penalty kick for Lust For Glory, it was a dire race in behind with runner-up Mega Double nothing to look at and Lady Kyria as previously mentioned lacking the physical scope to jump well enough.

Of minor interest though is Quiet Penny, trained by the in-form Ms Boanas. A nice big chase type, she had shown a smattering of ability in bumpers and stayed on from a mile back under tender handling.

The trainer knows the family well, with the dam having thrown the useful Victor Hugo and Crowning Jewel, and when sent over a trip, presumably next season, she can make her mark in lowly handicaps.

The real action finally got under way in the form of a competitive looking handicap hurdle but it saw the return of last season's progressive youngster Joke Dancer, as I said many times here one of the nicest young horses around in the north.

It was great to see him back after wind surgery and he looked to have grown and strengthened, but looked cherry ripe and worthy of the strongest support.

A steady early pace wouldn't have played to his strengths but the ever-reliable D Cook was alert to the situation and made his move early, stealing lengths on the pursuers going to the second last and soon having things sewn up.

All his form had been on much softer ground but this proves his adaptability and hopefully he can now go on to better things, while a career over fences is hotly anticipated.

The right horse finished in second from a form perspective, the well regarded Albert's Back also returning from a lengthy absence but looking in really good heart, and he simply bumped into a better handicapped rival.

He too has the size and scope to take to fences and while his mark is high enough, he can surely do better with time.

The handicap chase was another open looking affair but was turned into a procession by course specialist Ascot De Bruyere, who once again found a lovely rhythm on the front end and his 'fast-and-low' jumping had them all at it a long way out.

I wanted to stay on the right side of Cave Top, who would have preferred much softer ground, and while he only plugged on at one pace a more slowly run three-miler could see him back to winning ways.

He was a clear second best on the day having tried to go with the winner, Tayzar again looking cumbersome in rear as did Clan Legend, who could just be a soft ground horse. Just Don't Ask won a Mickey Mouse race last time out and was a ridiculous price to follow up, the heavy topped youngster requiring much softer ground to show his true colours.

The closing novices hurdle was a fascinating affair, some decent youngsters lining up headed by Imperial Aura, a well made, nice looking Kalanisi that wasn't easy to oppose looking fit off a four month absence.

The really interesting one was Bally Conor, who came out of that very good EBF qualifier at Market Rasen and looked sure to take a big leap forward with much more in his favour this time.

As it happened, his inexperience showed with numerous errors after pulling quite hard again, but the Jefferson inmate was a clear second best on the day behind a very useful winner, who could be an Aintree type.

Dimple wouldn't have the pace to trouble these youngsters, especially the way he was ridden, while Oscar Wilde is merely marking time before going chasing next season and hopefully his handicap mark won't suffer too much in the interim.

Friday 22 February 2019

Catterick - February 22

An additional fixture courtesy of the BHA, there wasn't a great deal of juice in the ground and it wasn't the most competitive card all told.

The Jonjo O'Neill-trained Young Wolf was a warm order for the opening novice hurdle but this son of dour stayer Vinnie Roe wasn't certain to relish the drop in trip under these quick conditions, and paddock inspection revealed him to be quite small and unfurnished.

That's not what you want to see when going in at odds-on and he was quite weak in the market despite there not being anything outstanding against it.

It wasn't a race to be dogmatic about but there was a sense of missed opportunity when the enormous Captain Moirette came through to win tidily as Sue Smith's grey had shown ability on all previous starts, including last time out after a three year break.

The race was set up by D McMenamin's audacious move up Johnson's inner down the far side and they got racing very early, Zoffany Bay paying for those exertions after the last. Young Wolf backed right out of things but he's a stayer for the long term.

A really weak novice handicap chase followed and there was a run on Best To Come on his first outing over fences but I didn't take to him one bit, looking an awkward customer in the prelims, not the best of movers and getting warm late on.

His resolution was under question after two short-priced defeats and he was one to take on although it was hard to pick one against him.

Ask Paddy looked to be in need of the run after a lengthy absence while Goodthyneaway hadn't shown anything in points or under rules and didn't really take the eye.

I even gave a chance to Arboretum who was fit while Away For Slates looked fine, a strong sort who just gave a hint that he had been sweetened up for leaving the Skelton boot camp, and sure enough the former rogue came clear after the last to beat Ask Paddy, who ran a nice race and has options.

The handicap hurdle wasn't easy to call with three free going sorts, Ninepointsixthree was never going to be able to lead tearaway Horst though and he was surprisingly short in the market considering his steep rise for beating the trees at Sedgefield last time

He's A Goer is an okay sort for later on but he didn't look a straight forward animal in the paddock, in constrast to Indian Opera, who looked nicely handicapped if you took her Musselburgh victory at face value.

Always Resolute was a worthy favourite with the race likely to be set up for him but the addition of blinkers was a mystery as he didn't relish them the only other time he wore them and it can't be said they made a positive impact as he failed to hunt down the progressive winner.

The maiden hurdle was a match and it didn't look that straight forward for odds-on Reve as the unfurnished chase type had to give lumps of weight to the juvenile filly Lady Camelot, who had enough about her physically to suggest she could compete.

And she probably traded odds on turning for home before stamina appeared to run out jumping the second last, while to be fair the winner won with loads in the tank and probably stays much further.

The big staying handicap chase was very difficult to solve, as the betting suggested. They all looked in good order but the ground was likely on the quick side for one or two, notably course specialist Straidnahanna who couldn't get away from them.

Special Prep is a nice horse going the right way and he jumped and travelled as well as last time, just coming up against one better handicapped on the day in Solstice Star, who isn't a natural over fences but was carried home by Johnson.

There was just the bumper left and the front four in the market were decent sorts, although I'm Wiser Now appeared to have put weight on since Wetherby and I wasn't sure he would back that up despite the form looking decent.

T Lacey rarely gets it wrong in these races and his scopey Floating Rock was forward looking as expected and knew his job as they say, sticking on well enough to beat the light-framed Picks Flight, who ran a screamer under G Lee, while Equus Dancer is a decent looking type that shaped like more of a stayer.

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Wetherby - February 19

Some difficult puzzles to solve on watered ground, the opening conditional jockeys hurdle falling to complete rag First Of Never, a 13 year old maiden. Good luck finding that one.

Runner-up Lostock Hall was given plenty to do but returned to form on favoured terrain, he may do better still although Dew Pond remains frustrating, looking tripless and not requiring excuses after leading two out.

Felix Mendelssohn looked really big and strong, very fit but somehow isn't putting it together, while Bit Of A Quirke was weak in the market and ran accordingly...he's surely better than this.

The trio of mares in the novice chase were hard to split, Jamie Snowden's Kalahari King arguably having most potential being so much more lightly raced and she has plenty of size; as such it was pleasing to see her jump well on the ground and stick on in the style of a three-miler in time.

Graded performer Coolanly was way ahead of a novice hurdle field on ratings but it looked a very deep race on paddock inspection and he's not the type to be taking short prices about, not being over-big and again failing to settle in the front rank.

Maybe Brennan should have let him stride on and the feeling remains this wasn't Paddy's finest hour, by contrast the 7lb claim of B Garritty looks increasingly useful and the youngster produced Schiehallion Munro at just the right time to win on merit.

Plenty worth a mention here, useful bumper winner Theatre Legend again looked a fine strapping chaser in the making and some rain would aid his cause, further back All Hail Caesar took the eye once more in the prelims and could be potentially the trainer's best young horse.

Well made with size and scope, he looked somewhat in need of the run while novicey on debut behind some with loads of experience; there was plenty to like about his effort.

Article Fifty cost plenty but is very in and out and I didn't warm to him, the odds are he's got some sort of issue and I wouldn't hold him to a rating of 120.

Thelongwayaround is quite leggy and made some notable errors here, time will see him in better light, while others including the fit Jamessaintpatrick give the form a solid look.

The 2m handicap was a really tight knit affair with plenty of them having interlinking form, and it was the often frustrating Movie Legend who found the necessary improvement following a small wind op to win again, beating my tentative selection Mixboy who ran yet another fine race from the front.

Yorkist looks increasingly difficult and will need a pace collapse to win again, Vendor looked to be carrying some condition while Generous Day was a bit disappointing, he has plenty of size and more positive tactics would have suited in this pace test, as would a drop of rain.

The 0-105 handicap was a dismal affair even before the disastrous injury to Magic Dragon after two out. The Skelton runner Rodeo Dodo is a nice big chase type that was produced fit and well after a lengthy lay-off and it wasn't much of a surprise that he was good enough in the end.

Debrouillard and Brigadier Bob are flat bred and not the type I want on my side going forward.

A staying handicap chase wasn't very enticing with Strong Resemblance heading the market, a worthy favourite without necessarily tempting us in.

Minella For Me hasn't been one for the faint hearted, often lacking resolution and not guaranteed to stay this longer trip, all reasons to oppose him but it was Brennan at his best this time to lift him over the line despite a late thrust from Lough Salt, another to be wary of.

All in all, not strong form with recent winner Itsamanslife looking very slow and Overworkedunderpaid once again failing to deliver after going well throughout - maybe he didn't stay.

The mares bumper was a good one and while Zoutoise didn't look straight when zooming in last time, she was in better shape here but then blew her chance by pulling too hard over this half mile longer trip.

There were some nicer types in opposition this time too, not least the winner Seaton Carew a nice lengthy mare with straight forward demeanour and a good bit of form in the book to boot.

She came home ahead of Miah Grace, an okay sort and one that should find a race in the north, and Legends Ryde, a nicely bred strong sort who will jump and stay.

Agent Valdez is big and strong but looked a bit wayward and was weak in the market, while the Greatrex-trained Escort'namix lacked size and scope, is bred to stay all day and didn't have the pace to keep with some nicer types.

Carlisle - February 18

A really decent novice hurdle to start proceedings and it saw Sue Smith's Hill Sixteen finally come good after several promising efforts.

The fast pace suited this staying chase prospect and as always his sound jumping was notable - he'll surely make a fantastic chaser next term - and of course being by my favourite stallion Court Cave will want 3m in due course.

I'll take a jumps bred over a flat one every day of the week and Vis A Vis' novicey jumping cost him dear late on, a particularly poor effort two out when challenging making things difficult. He's got enough size for this game though and can build on this.

Champagne Court was heavily supported dropping back in grade but once again was quite keen and although another by Court Cave he's shown loads of speed so far and while his penalty wouldn't have helped, a drop back in trip may suit next time.

Don't read much into those beaten a long way behind this decent trio; there will be other days in handicaps for the likes of Pleney (not fit here) and The Big Galloper, while Murphy's Law is another likeable sort for the future.

A lowly staying handicap hurdle followed and paddock pick Some Can Dance came good under a very patient ride, the son of Gold Well had some solid form behind him and has the size for fences so is one to keep the right side of.

Mid Day Gun stepped up on previous efforts and this strapping animal is another likely to keep going the right way, the headgear doing the trick here. Third home Wig Wam Wiggle could do with softer ground but finally put a couple of runs together and he too shouldn't be dispensed with yet.

Absolutely Dylan has been a bit disappointing this season despite recording two wins, and he still needs riding round the pre-parade ring and you could say is a typical Scorpion, loads of attitude and his effort in the 2m4f handicap chase makes him one to be wary of.

I thought Native Robin looked in great heart but he's not easy to win with, requiring a hold up ride and the rider got it all wrong here, getting there far too soon and hitting a wall. He looks weighted to his best but could pick up a weaker race this spring if remaining in this form.

Pookie Pekan has really strengthened up this season but looks and shapes like a real stayer...the early fractions not to his liking and a bad mistake put him right out of it. He's worth another chance if finding some soft ground and a 3m+ test.

Knocknamona came here fit and well after a short break and the race was perfectly run for him, he just has the one pace but they got going early and this fell into his lap. He barely sees out 3m but is a consistent sort that jumps well.

Never Up was fit enough but doesn't win often, similar comments applying to Ueueteotl who nonetheless went well for a long way and may need 3m now.

A really competitive handicap hurdle saw the Smith novice Informateur well backed all day with some solid looking form to his name, but this was a steep introduction to handicaps and he never seemed to find a rhythm in a rather frantic race. He's better than this but is essentially a big, raw chaser.

Teescomponents Lad wasn't sure to be suited by the drop in trip but after crashing through the last on the first circuit was put into the race by the ever-improving R Chapman and the consistent stayer was always in the right spot thereafter.

Wetherby gamble Thosedaysaregone ran up a bit light for me and may have had enough for the time being, but the eye-catcher was Saint De Vassy who has the make and shape of a soft ground lover.

Having travelled a bit too well he was noted staying on after hitting a bit of a flat spot and he can only improve for this and may prove to be a fair tool. McGowan's Pass went far too keen in front and while his jumping was much better, he didn't stay.

Quite a competitive looking handicap chase was turned into a bit of a procession by the well-handicapped Arthur's Gift, and he looks booked for stiffer assignments after this. His yard is adept at placing novice chasers and he can land a big pot this spring especially if it ever rains.

I liked Dr Des but he has yet to transfer his hurdles form to fences, making several minor errors here. He travelled like a horse well ahead of his mark and while not over-big, should be able to pick something up in the coming weeks and again he should relish some wetter ground.

Groundunderrepair lacks any kind of substance and remains one to oppose, Blakemount carried a bit of condition and may yet have a race in him on soft. I thought Very First Time would go well in much-needed headgear but they didn't help his confidence and he remains under a cloud.

Dorking Cock was a warm order to back up his impressive Sandown victory last week and it was simply a question of whether he had recovered from that in what looked a weak field for a 0-115 handicap.

He has loads of pace despite a strong pedigree and looked in trouble at the bottom of the hill, but it proved to be a flat spot and he came through strongly, he's an unfurnished sort that will benefit greatly from another summer in the field.

Broughtons Admiral bumped into one and with the pair coming away late on he should gain compensation, he looked really well for all that he's not very big at all. I didn't think much to Larch Hill and he's only modest.

The bumper was a cracker but the market pretty much went the way I saw it with Thomas Macdonagh and Lossiemouth dominating the betting and the business end, the latter really hitting the line hard in the style of a useful horse.

A really lengthy, sizeable individual, he's arguably one of the more exciting ones in a yard full of good types and this form looks sound with the runner-up doing little wrong, possibly just getting tired after a break and a wind op.

Taking Flight looked the most immature of the others mentally and is sure to make amends, Sidi Ismael took a walk in the market but is a nice athletic horse and will come on for the run.

Young Bull has shaped like a dour stayer on his previous outings and this sharp track wasn't to his liking; he'll want at least 2m4f when sent over timber but has the make and shape of a nice horse.

Sunday 17 February 2019

Haydock - February 16

Looking at the times it was 'safe jumping ground' on the soft side of good, certainly nothing like what we come to expect of 'Haydock in mid-winter', but some decent action to enjoy.

The opening Victor Ludorum was a match on paper but there was no contest in the paddock beforehand and that proved an ideal pointer to the race as the good looking Quel Destin laughed at his rivals.

Allowed to take over with a circuit to run, the outstanding S Bowen dictated as he wished and powered home after the last; the Cheltenham hill should prove no problem next month.

Torpilo has a similar physical profile but is much weaker at this stage of development, lacking a little in front, and the die was cast for him with a mid-race blunder. Capone got quite a bit worked up but this tall, unfurnished youngster came through well for second.

An intriguing Listed mares hurdle followed and I wanted to get against novicey juvenile Laskadine, a fair type but weak on the front end, and the market drift called it.

If You Say Run is a decent mover and looked in great health, but hasn't proven straight forward and didn't appeal at an ever-shortening price...in the end he didn't need any excuses.

Jester Jet has been an admirable mare for connections and she deserved a big one, getting on top after the last and she has just enough size to be as successful back over fences.

The interesting one was Mega Yeats and she probably ran as well as could be expected in the circumstances, probably lacking the pace on this ground, track and trip. Still very novicey, she has loads of size and scope and there's plenty more to come from her.

I've never got a handle on Yanworth and he was sent off 11/8 for the Rendlesham following a late drift. He looked fit and well, but was never really tanking as he often did and tended to balloon the hurdles. I thought he'd duff up a load of soft ground stayers but he clearly wasn't right.

Shades Of Midnight came in for support despite much of his form coming on deep terrain, but his form behind Paisley Park doesn't look too shabby and a really positive ride from H Brooke meant nothing else could keep with him up the straight.

Kilcooley had clearly done plenty of work while still carrying some condition, while Clyne and Petticoat Tails couldn't go with the pace on this quicker ground, the latter looking well in her coat.

Heavy ground lover Scorpion Sid was a warm order for a decent novices handicap and was worth taking on with the ground far too lively, he's a sturdy horse and possibly not entirely straight forward, needing two handlers and then blowing the start.

Luckofthedraw has never appealed, he too is far from all the ticket and lacks scope for fences, his two decent runs coming at Carlisle one of the fairest jumping tests in the land.

Sunset Showdown came in for support but hadn't really done anything to warrant it, a decent looking Flemensfirth surely wanting softer ground in any case.

It's not often I'm keen on Sedgefield form but the race The Paddy Pie won there last time looked solid and with the step up in trip sure to suit the progressive Smith-trained youngster ticked all the right boxes.

You can set your clock by the yard at this time of year and the winner will be hard for the assessor to get hold of, once again he idled in front and remains one to keep on side.

Wilde Blue Yonder barely has the size for fences but rallied well without fully getting to grip with the winner, while Slanelough had gone into the race over-priced after looking set to finish not far behind Scorpion Sid last time.

Different tactics saw him in better light and although he was probably beaten when crashing out at the last, this admirably consistent sort will hopefully bounce back in due course.

Silva Eclipse is firmly in the 'frustrating' category after going down narrowly for a third successive time over C&D, again the Smith-trained youngster appeared to do little wrong, coming up against a renowned battler in Sykes, who rallied after the last to land the Pertemps qualifier.

It looked competitive numbers-wise but couldn't fancy many, Down The Highway a big strapping chase type that surely wants softer, Shoal Bay a market springer but he still looks unfurnished and needs another summer behind him.

Similar sentiments apply to Darlac, while Champers On Ice looks a chaser and this was probably sharp enough in the conditions.

I wrote here that Robinsfirth would be suited by a stronger stamina test such as the Grand National Trial and so it was pleasing to see the wonderful, big rangy 10-year-old turn up for the big race in good order.

With 15 going to post it wasn't an easy puzzle to unravel but plenty of soft ground types wouldn't be able to live with the pace and so it proved, Bishops Road leading them a merry dance into the straight.

The Two Amigos is a bonny horse, full of enthusiasm and he was still tanking along when capsizing at the first down the far side, it's hard to believe he wouldn't have been involved in the finish and he's worth another chance from his revised mark.

Ramses De Teillee is another consistent stayer who proved that heavy ground isn't essential by going close, he did nothing wrong and neither did another that loves the heavy in Chef D'Oeuvre, who possibly just paid for being a couple of pounds wrong at the weights.

It was a majestic winning ride from the Bowen kid though and for me he's right at the top of the tree. He was brilliant in holding the big horse together and only went for the stick after jumping upsides at the last. I thought it was pure magic.

There weren't too many negatives beforehand, Red Infantry expended plenty of energy beforehand in the new blinkers though and he can be forgiven this effort.

The Prestige novices hurdle for stayers was a very strong contest both on form and paddock, not reflected by the market with Kateson going off surprisingly short.

Loads of these have potential to be very good, winner Lisnagar Oscar not over-big but starting to look like living up to his six-figure price tag, and he must be one to beat if heading to Cheltenham.

He came right away from the good looking chase type Ask Ben who lost little after setting the pace, while Stoney Mountain stayed on for third after getting outpaced and he will relish a return to a stiffer test on soft ground.

I liked Rockpoint, Truckin Away is a lovely big chase type, while Highland Hunter didn't look out of place and he'll be one to look out for again if we ever get some rain.

Kateson is quite rangy and has some quality but may just be struggling to retain condition and he might be more interesting next season, he's obviously better than this.

Road To Rome has taken the hunter chase season by storm and he made it 4/4 under rules in addition to the three points he won before Christmas. You'd have to wonder how long he can keep this up - while looking fine he didn't have a great deal of condition about him.

Ballotin didn't look straight when he was jocked up, Pacha De Polder looked in good heart and fitter than expected, as such his effort was particularly poor, while the rest didn't have any excuses and were simply put in their place by a very progressive animal.

Friday 15 February 2019

Kelso - February 14

Well, the annual pilgrimage was always going to be on the damp squib side of things what with that there flu, the need for extra jabs and so forth, in addition to the fact that we still don't have much proper jumping ground.

Weak fields and unbackable jollys were the order of the day starting with a novice hurdler from Seven Barrows in Dream Du Grand Val, not the most fetching creature to hail from the Hendo academy but good enough in this context beforehand.

It didn't come as much of a surprise that he needed to come off the bridle to defy odds of 1/3, and although probably dossing in front doesn't look likely to make it to the higher grades.

Skiddaw Valleys came through to nab second from the weakening Point Blank, who threatened the favourite briefly two out but once again found little when push came to shove. He's just a baby, a nice horse for next season, while Skiddaw isn't straight forward, hooded in the prelims and only plugging on after getting badly outpaced.

The 'Timeform' novices handicap saw Wetherby winner My Old Gold sent off a warm order to confirm placings with Blue Flight, particularly with the latter expected (at least in these quarters) to struggle round these sharp turns, such a big unit is he.

However, the Southern raider went round like he was on tracks and, jumping proficiently, was never really under stress to win again after he 'fell-in' at Ascot following a pace collapse. Clearly, Blue Flight is improving at quite a rate and is surely the type to win again on a bigger track when he can really stretch out.

Tanarpino and Petiville were fit enough but may want more cut in the ground, while on reflection the favourite was the first of five from the N Richards camp to get beaten here and, looking to carry condition, I wonder if they were all short of a gallop.

We Have A Dream landed the Morebattle without getting out of second gear, a classy sort without having the size for fences. Cornerstone Lad has loads of size and definitely could take a larger obstacle, but he does need deep ground and he lacked the toe for this.

Outsider Get Out Of The Gate is a light framed sort that should do much better with another summer behind him, there looked to be no fluke about his effort and pays a fair compliment to Musselburgh conqueror Normal Norman.

The third 'unbackable' favourite of the day let the side down for acca backers when Definitly Red got turned over by the admirable Captain Redbeard in a match.

The simple math says that if the Redbeard ran to his best (RPR151) then Red performed to RPR159, 10lb below his best on lively enough ground at a sharp track. Only you will know if that was predictable enough to back the winner at 9/2 - I suspect some did.

For the record, I didn't think the favourite was short of fitness, both looked well beforehand and I personally wouldn't hold fitness up as an excuse.

Hopefully it was 'shrewd' money and not the acca bettors chasing their money down the windy street as Aye Right was battered into 4/6 for what was after all a handicap hurdle, and the assessor can take a bow as Bordeaux Bill edged out the gamble after the last.

The jolly is likeable and will surely prove better than this in time, but I marked him down as rather unfurnished beforehand and with a few novicey errors thrown in, I expect him to step up at some stage and his consistency is to his credit.

Mistermoonboy was fit but on the weak side and is another for whom time will serve well, the market being a pointer to his chance, while Something Brewing didn't look very fit even for a grey and could yet find a race this term.

A fascinating hunters chase came up next with 'Dave' riding Shantou Flyer - fit and strong - who had drifted all day before being smashed into an SP of 8/15.

That meant nothing in the run though as the old plodder appeared to lose his pitch three out, trading in triple digits as Mr Mercurial and Sir Jack Yeats swept past.

The former, looking on the burly side beforehand, was all over the winner going to the last but either fitness or fortitude proved his undoing as the jolly battled back to win under the Corinthian.

Sir Jack Yeats doesn't have the substance of the other two and as such looked most likely to be straight on this return, but went as though it was needed from the second last.

The concluding bumper interested me because of this Wetherby race last month in which Big Bad Bear finished second with Enlighten seven lengths behind. Now the former ran his race that day, with no excuses needed, however the latter had been well backed but was very free before and during the race, promising much better to come.

With that in mind the price disparity here was something that we try to highlight in these pages; Big Bad Bear a well backed Even money chance while his old foe was sent off at 7/1 having been even bigger all day.

So in effect the market gave us a point per length beaten; what's more, as was commented on at Wetherby, the Richards horse doesn't have much physical scope whereas Enlighten is a much bigger, sturdier animal, and was much calmer in the prelims.

The evidence was stacking up, and when B Hughes sent our hero of the tale on from the drop of the flag there was only likely to be one outcome.

It wasn't a bad looking field of horses for all that they came home in a bunch, Elf De Re, Claret Dabbler and Ferloch all noted as types to enjoy decent careers at the winter game having much size and scope.

I took a negative view of Ferry All on the day, a big weak four-year-old that drifted in the market and ran accordingly. He'll need time.

Tuesday 5 February 2019

Market Rasen - February 5

Gloomy conditions and ground on the softer side after the recent snow, a tricky little juvenile hurdle opened proceedings headed by short priced favourite Lisheen Castle.

N Henderson's inmate defied market weakness to land a weak looking contest on his debut with the promise of more to come, but this looked tougher and so it proved.

Quite modest looking for one coming from the Seven Barrows academy, he was seen under the cosh a long way from home and although staying on this was thoroughly disappointing and a rating based on the Wetherby win may look harsh.

A couple caught the eye beforehand, one being eventual winner Praeceps, a stout stayer on the level with enough size to make a go of things in this sphere, his Newbury effort was a sound one and he was a well-found second favourite in the end.

The other one to note physically was Ace Ventura, a nice big laid back youngster who was sent off at huge odds considering his Flat ability and he came home in third behind the much smaller Honorable.

Bachelor was disappointing after showing decent form in Ireland the last two times but he was very small and light framed and was well below his previous form, not one to be enthusiastic about going forward with pre-race chat about the Fred Winter pie in the sky.

An awful mares handicap chase featured next, two looking useless and the others having question marks about them, largely mentally.

Parlour Maid had never put two runs together before but claimed back-to-back wins by showing greater tenacity than favourite Quantum Of Solace, who chose the easy way out and looks one to avoid.

Mrs Vonn traipsed around the prelims like one that lacks any kind of toe and she will need time and a trip.

A cracking looking novice hurdle was the highlight of the afternoon but the promised fireworks failed to materialise with well-backed outsider Boldmere allowed to set the simplest of fractions with the entire field over-racing in behind.

Although the winner showed more than enough to suggest he could be competitive at Warwick last time, there was a distinct lack of initiative from opposing jockeys to force a stronger pace and it developed into a sprint, with the front runner best placed to strike.

The most surprising tactics came from the Murphy/Johnson combination responsible for Garrettstown, a gritty all-the-way winner here last time but held up today with Johnson continually taking a pull as his partner cruised forward mid-race.

Senior Citizen was again left outpaced in similar circumstances to last time, while hot favourite Clarendon Street was never in a good position considering his undoubted stamina, and this good looking pair, along with Garrettstown, should prove a good deal better than this.

Muratello was another to over-race but he looked to have fewer excuses than most, having every chance in the straight but not picking up as well as the others and I'd have reservations about him, as for the second time he looked weak and backward.

Sixth home was Bally Conor and he carried his freshness through to the race, pulling harder than most and unable to pick up when the spring began, but he's another very nice chase type for the future.

The following handicap hurdle had the toxic whiff of a 'jockeys' race' (with the full support of the starter) with well-handicapped Crystal Lad (14>7) leading out the heavily supported Earlofthecotswolds (11/2>9/4) with Transpennine Star (8>11/2) and hat-trick seeking Minella Fiveo just behind, the rest happy to give them upwards of 10 lengths from the get-go.

This sort of thing is part and parcel of the game and you just have to accept it, no 'wrong-doing' it's just the way it is. Just press click and step away from the machine.

Earlofthecotswolds had previously shaped with much promise despite some desperately novicey jumping, but he is starting to get his act together and with plenty of daylight to aid his cause he looked more the finished article as he put it to bed in the straight in the manner of a well-handicapped horse.

Crystal Lad may prefer further and/or softer and this was more like it from him, while Transpennine Star looked fit and well and appears to have bumped into a couple better at the weights.

With all that said, those that showed promise in behind can be marked up...the workmanlike Seemingly So once again shaping as though more of a test would suit, while Twotwothree and Megalodon both types worthy of closer inspection when better positioned.

A winning time four seconds slower than the earlier novice probably said more about the slow run nature of that race than anything else - that bunch surely better than this 117-rated winner.

Not much to get excited about thereafter, a 0-110 handicap chase with money for several including Conas Taoi, not the horse of old after a two year lay-off but looking well, Dartford Warbler re-united with D Cook in search of back-to-back wins. The Smith horses are flying and this veteran is no exception, winging the last three fences to win as he liked.

Johnny Yuma came in for support but he's right old unit that probably needs plenty of time...he hasn't shown nearly enough yet over fences to warrant support. Square Viviani is interesting, as he showed his first real piece of form since coming from France and while errors persist he's on a dangerous mark and a shorter trip could see him going two better than today's third.

Thomas Todd looks a nutcase and didn't show this time, neither did Newberry New for whom everything needs to fall right and he's just not in much form.

The sturdy looking Corinto proved his previous form down in trip all wrong and he came home much the strongest under the 'champ' over a near-3m trip in the finale, but it was modest stuff with the other unexposed sorts like Treasure Dillon and Wadell plus Oscar Ceremony not making much appeal on looks.