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.