Haydock, Wednesday December 4
Officially soft, good to soft in places but not typical 'Haydock soft' by any means after a dry week...indeed, it was decided not long before the first that four fences down the back straight would be omitted due to frost. This will have suited some more than others <obvs>.
A 2m7f boys race and a handicap debut for Teescomponentstrig, who is very much a chaser in the making. Jumping much better than previously, he could only plug on at one pace on ground that probably wasn't soft enough. Already due to go up 4lb on collateral form, he should be able to find a race over timber with the emphasis on stamina.
Keep Wondering made an eye-catching debut under rules at Aintree just over three weeks previously but this big chasing type didn't look 100% fit for this maiden hurdle and was arguably sent for home too soon. There's a chance he'll prove a good bit better than this run suggests.
The first race over fences, where Dashel Drasher got back to winning ways without having to step up on his defeat to Champ. A lengthy sort, he has an admirable attitude and should be JLT material although soft ground seems to be a pre-requisite.
I'm not sure what to make of Champagne Mystery, whose impressive Aintree win came a bit from left field. He was keen again and his jumping lacked fluency...physically I wasn't that impressed and while the rhythm of the race was probably against him, for me the jury is out for now.
A decent Class 2 hurdle with the filly Marie's Rock jumping really well on her debut and scooting away from a couple of staying types to win quite nicely. She lacked a bit of size against the boys but the performance was hard to crab.
Alan King's On To Victory may have given her a race if he hadn't dived at the final flight and dislodged T Cannon - not the first of his mistakes. Looking very fit after an absence, this decent former Flat stayer could turn out useful in this sphere.
The Con Man ran a solid race following a year off...it looked like the run would do him plenty of good and he clearly has loads of ability, but will need further and probably fences to see him in a better light. Ebony Jewel did not take the eye beforehand, rather robust while looking a little narrow in front, and he looks to have plenty of growing up to do mentally.
Not a great staying handicap chase and it provided a brilliant chance for Cobolobo to finally deliver on some promising efforts down in grade. He wasn't missed in the market and travelled like a horse with plenty in the locker, Jonjo Jnr easing him clear on the run-in after gaining lengths in the air at the four fences in the straight.The Ogle Gogle Man probably bumped into one here and may look well handicapped next time.
A wide open handicap hurdle to close the show, Informateur was well supported to go in again under a penalty but this was a much sterner exam than at Uttoxeter and he couldn't quite pull it off on ground lively enough. The winner Newtown Boy frustratingly went unbacked as he's often looked like a horse with masses of natural ability, but has a tendency to over-race and not finish his races.
Upped in trip, he settled a little better than normal despite showing keenness, and dug in on the long run-in to win at an eye-watering 14/1. A chase type, he shouldn't go up much for this as they finished in a bit of a heap, with the likes of Better Getalong (needed the run) and Get Help rallying late on after getting outpaced.
Market Rasen, Thursday December 5
Lord Lamington wasn't spared by trainer Mark Johnston in a 12-race Flat campaign, but was fresh from a break on his debut for Alan King and it wasn't hard to be impressed by his performance in beating another timber virgin in Zoffee. T Bellamy looked to have all angles covered even before Zoffee's last flight blunder, and the pair look sound recruits for all that the race wasn't a deep one.
Winningiseverything looked an absolute certainty after putting up a serious effort first time out, but his jumping was much more novicey this time and he'll need to clean that up if he is to be competitive in higher grade, but he certainly has an engine. It may be that he'll be better with some company, rather than dominating weak races from the front.
Little Rory Mac was a short price to land a conditional jockeys handicap hurdle after being stopped last time out at Warwick, where jockey Liam Heard received a 10-day non-triers ban. It was one of the most blatant examples of cheating I've seen in many years, with the jockey failing to give the horse his head until long after the final flight. Undoubtedly, the five-year-old has a very headstrong nature and has been a work in progress, but when in sight of the line the rider must be seen to be 'trying', whatever the nature of the horse, and whatever the pre-race instructions.
Fast-forward four weeks, and rather than being held-up out the back by 10lb claimer Nathan Brennan he was given a positive sit - clearly no concerns today that the horse needed to be 'held together' to get home. The race was a match from a mile out, the unfortunate Eva's Diva being the one having to give best to a far better handicapped winner.
A final point on what has become an unpalatable issue, the BHA handicapper(s) need to take a long hard look at their procedures after Little Rory Mac was dropped 2lb for a run that saw the race-day stewards take a (fairly) strong stance on a horse that wasn't allowed to race on its merits.
Dallas Cowboy is this season's revival-in-chief with another bloodless victory under Emma Chaston-Smith in what is best described as a dreadful race.
Possibly an even more dreadful race taken by Zara Hope for emerging trainer DJ Jeffreys, a tongue-tie and blinkers combo working the oracle. Taking nothing away from the winner's performance, however those in behind are not winners-in-waiting.
Third Time Lucki showed bundles of promise in what is sure to be a strong Ascot bumper last time so it came as something of a surprise to see Dan Skelton's horse drift on the show having looked a nice sort in the prelims. Money came for another fair prospect in Jayaaah but he's more of a stayer by Yeats and simply didn't have the tools to deal with the turn of foot shown by the visually impressive winner. In the circumstances the third placed Rainyday Woman should be noted next time, a filly with plenty of size and a decent pedigree should be able to land one of these.