Hexham, December 11
Officially heavy ground, very hard work for some with plenty failing to deal with the final climb to the last obstacle.
Miah Grace did well in the circumstances to hold the challenge of Stainsby Girl having duelled soon enough with market rival Legends Ryde. A really likeable filly, the winner has now won twice here but has a similar level of form at Wetherby and there's no reason to think she can't progress further away from these undulations.
Stainsby Girl was considered good enough to run in the Aintree bumper and will know more next time, again racing a little freely. She is bred to stay much further.
Sophie Fatale has loads of size and scope and built on her previous effort over course and distance. Hopefully she can start to make up for lost time with Sandy Thomson's horses in flying form.
Newcastle, December 12
Soft, heavy in places but I've seen it worse here and it seemed to be more holding than anything else.
Modest stuff, but third placed Geordielandgangster showed something to work, staying on in the shape of one likely to need a little further in time, although this was his first race since January and will come on for it.
Rose Dobbin's second runner Vintage Glen is another that needs further but the penny is starting to drop and he will drop further in the ratings after this mid-div effort.
Honourmission has misfired for new connections over fences but this was better having rallied when looking more likely to fade out of things. Clearly not straight forward, having gone keenly enough, but connections can be relied upon to find the key to him in due course.
Diamond Brig was a big market drifter and this robust staying chaser looked in need of the run before finishing a long way behind winner Capard King. Having gone a little keenly he is expected to build on this opening effort for trainer N Alexander.
Rath An Iuir landed quite a decent looking novices hurdle and with natural physical improvement Rose Dobbin's six-year-old should continue to progress having taken plenty of time to come to himself. The way he travelled and jumped suggested he can defy a penalty in the north at the very least.
Orrisdale was surprisingly sent off a warm favourite under a penalty but ran alright despite showing signs of immaturity and the way he battled on suggests 3m will be no problem.
Duc De Grissay looked the one to beat on form going into the race but failed to build on a solid effort here in The French Furze just 10 days previously, and perhaps this came soon enough. A good sort, he might be one for fences next season as he's starting to look exposed over timber.
A cracking novices chase won in the past by Waiting Patiently and Dali Mail was quite an impressive winner having jumped and travelled really well throughout the 2m contest. A big, imposing grey, he had looked a little green and quirky at times over timber but this represents a big leap forward and he looks one to keep the right side of.
I'm To Blame tried to make all with proven stamina but he is far from straight forward and made at least one bad error before being outpaced from the final fence. An ideal scenario for him would be a soundly run race over 2m4f as he still goes too keenly for his own good.
Protek Des Flos didn't look fit on his debut for B Haslam following an 18-month absence but ran a stormer and clearly retains the ability he showed over hurdles for N Henderson.
Glinger Flame wouldn't have the scope of the others but should still make a chaser where the emphasis isn't quite so much on jumping, while he hit a flat spot at the wrong time suggesting further is now required.
Ravenhill Road turned in a promising effort last time on his first start for Sue Smith but he didn't back that up over a trip that is almost certainly on the sharp side. For all that he is disappointing, there should be races for him.
A strongly contested bumper with Aire Valley Lad providing Sue Smith with a rare winner in this sphere, a typically good boned individual who looked pretty straight for his racing debut. He was forced up on the line to beat the diminutive Honda Valley, who proved once again he has an engine. Deluxe Range caught the eye beforehand but was a little keen in the race and is one to keep an eye on, as is Get With It who lacked a bit of tactical speed on his first outing, but will know more next time and looks a fair sort.
Doncaster, Friday December 13
Good to soft ground, drying on top but reportedly quite dead and tiring underneath and nothing like the going we tend to see here at this stage of the season.
Well Smitten, making his first start for Sam England, wouldn't have the most size or scope in the world but gets from A to B okay enough and stayed on really well to win with something in hand at the line.The way he picked up suggests 3m should be well within his compass and he's just the type the trainer excels with.
Some Reign looked fit and well but played up in the paddock and then bled quite badly during the race, having found little off the bridle. He has his excuses but has become expensive to follow and it remains to be seen if he can fulfill his early promise.
Mercian Knight is a lovely big chasing type and showed plenty of tenacity to gain revenge over Southwell scorer Terrierman. Fitter this time, the winner can be expected to gradually improve with time and probably fences this time next year.
Gonn Away was the only mare in the race and despite market weakness she ran a race full of promise before fading out of things from the second last. It'll interesting if this athletic daughter of Mahler will tackle soft ground this winter, as her decent bumper form came on good ground.
Knight In Dubai was an impressive winner of this novices chase, once again impressing with his jumping. Runner-up Schiehallion Munro did nothing wrong in defeat and is a thoroughly likeable individual who should remain well handicapped following this effort.
This handicap hurdle looked at the mercy of Mr Scrumpy but it's something of a mystery that he couldn't close the deal after cruising to the lead at the second last, staying on at just the one pace. He seems to love his jumping, and possibly just bumped into a more streetwise rival in Storm Rising. Saint Leo once again shaped as though he doesn't stay this far and I'm convinced there's a 2m chase in him on soft ground...this bit of placing something of a surprise.
Doncaster, Saturday December 14
A decent enough field for this novices hurdle.
Baron De Midleton had tightened up for his Newcastle return a fortnight earlier and rallied well between the final two flights, with a notably big jump at the last sealing it. A good sort, he'll jump a fence sooner rather than later.
Exploiteur has the make and shape of a fair chaser in time, and although not troubling the judge again revealed more than enough ability to pick up a minor handicap hurdle along the way.
Sky Pirate again failed to deliver when the chips were down and this talented individual has become very frustrating for his loyal followers. It's surprising he hasn't had his wind tinkered with or a tongue-tie reached for considering his weak finishing tendencies, either way you could see him popping up in a big field handicap on better ground in the spring. A drop to 2m might even suit even though he's won over 3m in the past.
Irish Roe looked very solid at a track where she thrives but has paid for her consistency and is simply held in the handicapper's grip.
Blu Cavalier had shown signs of regression since leaving P Nicholls but his new handler is no slouch and this strong individual returned to the winners enclosure having been overlooked in the market. Having run around going to the final flight, there are signs he could remain competitive in a higher grade, where he is likely to be under-bet once more.
There was a slight sense of inevitability as Sam Spinner took the novices chase, because he gets from A to B and just keeps on galloping. Who knows what may have happened though, if Aye Right had not ploughed through the final ditch where SS himself nearly ejected his rider. Whether Aye Right was put off I don't know, but he'd jumped and travelled like a pro to that point and he is probably a very useful animal who just seems to keep improving.
The disappointment of course was Windsor Avenue, who was a strong favourite on the back of a thrilling victory at Carlisle, but he didn't look the same horse here and reportedly scoped dirty after the race. Brian Hughes said he was never happy with his mount...I think we can put a line through it although it does leave him with an air of vulnerability that wasn't present before. There was certainly nothing in his demeanour beforehand to suggest he was about to under-perform.
Navajo Pass looked in better order than a fortnight ago when he was edgy and sweaty in the paddock. He was brought in much later this time and that seemed to help as he powered home showing great reserves of stamina for a young horse. Physically strong enough to deal with a race like the Boodles, but whether he is there mentally I'm not sure.
Lord Lamington was brought out again quite quickly after winning at Market Rasen and I always see that as a positive sign from the yard of Alan King. His natural speed didn't quite take him as deep as I would have hoped and a tighter track like Aintree may be more up his street in April. But I thought he battled well enough without really threatening to get to the winner.
Tombee Du Ciel really caught the eye beforehand and quite frankly I expected her to trounce this opposition with the help of her fillies' allowance. However, James Reveley didn't look happy a long way from home and it was a dismal showing. Something should come to light, because this didn't make any sense at all.
Cloth Cap was a warm order to land the closing handicap chase but pottering round here in a small field was never going to see him in his best light, and he was collared late on by a game mare in My Old Gold. The pair will have to go up in the region of 5lb having come well clear, however I wouldn't quit on the runner-up just yet and I can see him winning a good handicap in the New Year providing they can find some decent ground. He looks a proper National type but if he doesn't get in then a race like the Ultima at Cheltenham would be of interest prior to another tilt at the Scottish version.