Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Southwell July 1

Welcome back! Must admit I've never been much of a fan of summer jumps but after three blank months and more it'll be great to see the twig-hoppers back in action.

Should this burst of enthusiasm last I'll be putting down some thoughts on these pages in the coming weeks and months, focusing on the handicap chases.These are not 'tipping' pieces, although I'll make it clear whether or not I intend to bet.

The first two races at Southwell today are the subject of today's focus with all eyes on the P Nicholls-trained Nineohtwooneoh in the opening 12.00, a 0-105 novice handicap. After showing little in novice hurdles, he came good at the second time of asking off a mark of 94, dotting up at Musselburgh when well-backed.

He looked a big, staying chase type and a natural jumper, and I doubt if a 10lb higher mark would stop him today. The main problem with him is that he has been reported to have a breathing problem on at least three occasions, and presumably the lockdown has prevented the trainer from sending him for surgery.

He looks like he might have to do everything on the bridle, as he looked one paced on his next outing at Taunton, when he again showed a propensity to hang badly right under pressure. Today's better ground will surely suit in that regard, and he sneaks into a race that won't take much winning.

Here's a look at some of the opposition;

Glengar; Looked a safe conveyance when last seen on Boxing Day but faded very tamely after travelling well into the straight.

Short Flight; Trainer can ready one after a break but it's almost two years since he was last seen, and goes without the visor that seemed to bring about improvement.

Oxwich Bay; A thoroughly disappointing individual, runner-up six times over timber usually finding very little for pressure, whether held up or ridden prominently. Chase form is of a higher standard but has failed to complete 3/7 starts.

Zen Master; Another flawed individual who is 1/23 under rules, not usually finding a great deal and often goes freely.

Tazka; Decent juvenile filly but struggled in handicaps as a result, on a more realistic mark now starting out over fences.

The Last Bar; Winless mare for these connections in 10 hurdles starts, a 10lb drop for this first outing in two years at least gives her some leeway. More of a stayer.

Elle Est Grande; A big weak chasing type in the first half of last season, looking all over the winner two out only to lose three places from the last on penultimate start. That was over 3m, this trip and better ground, in addition to the switch to fences, means she is of interest.

Conclusion; With very little to make the market I thought the Nicholls horse would be around 11/8, 6/4 early doors as you're essentially betting he jumps a clear round and doesn't come off the bridle. Neither of those is guaranteed however, and while surprised by initial quotes of 5/2 and bigger, I won't be going in any shorter. Glengar and Oxwich Bay could travel furthest into the race but neither is expected to find enough off the bridle although the big weight concession may help the former. I made the note that Elle Est Grande would be 'much better in time' back in October and she is one I'll be watching keenly, it will be interesting if she is given a positive ride. The trainer has had a quiet month on the Flat which tempers enthusiasm somewhat and she has been very weak in the market so far, but a quote of 14/1 or bigger will tempt me to play very small each-way.

A Class 3 0-135 over 2m headed by the Skelton-trained Azzuri.

Azzuri; 5/16 over fences, however at around 2m on good ground his form is 1131141. Was being targeted at the spring festivals after getting re-handicapped on bad ground and is just 2lb higher than when hosing up at Ayr. Will face rivals for the lead but he's very quick and a fast, fluent jumper.

Tonto's Spirit; Paying for consistency on a stiff enough mark.

Tidal Watch; Set to win last summer when coming down at the last, 7lb higher now but that didn't look a particularly strong race. Flat bred.

Cracking Destiny; Improved for new yard and held off this mark when last seen over fences, travels strongly so should be suited by a strong run race.

Goldencard; With a new yard and likely to need the run and he looks high in the weights in this company.

Capital Force; Modest strike rate and not the type to find much off the bridle, although finally back to winning mark and would benefit from a pace burn-up.

Ballyvic Boru; Largely disappointing, popping up last autumn but unable to back that up off higher marks, and has now had two wind ops this year.

Ontopoftheworld; Front runner, well placed to win a handful of small field contests in 2018, off a year when below that form in February. Enough to prove from a yard that had just two winners in the September-March period.

Isaac Wonder; Not bred for fences but ok first season and does look the part, mark is a shade high on balance but likely to improve and had a very decent pipe opener on the Flat recently.

Atlantic Storm; Won over C&D for D Skelton two years ago but seems to save his best for Stratford, jockey doesn't have a great record on him and he might be one for smaller fields later in the year.

Conclusion; This looks tailor-made for Azzuri and providing he's away smartly from the gate should take the world of beating, especially if in the same form as when winning at Ayr over a year ago. Early quotes of 3/1 and bigger were too big, he was a well-backed 5/2 shot when landing that strong Ayr race and this Class 3 event is easier, so I see him going off shorter than that. Second favourite Cracking Destiny is capable of further improvement after progressing well last season, but does have a higher mark to overcome. The race should be run to suit his strong travelling style but wouldn't want to give Azzuri too much rope. If the likes of Tonto's Spirit and Ontopoftheworld help set a furious pace that could set things up for Cracking Destiny, or even Capital Force if he's on song, while Isaac Wonder is worth keeping an eye on but is a bit too inexperienced at this stage of his career.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Southwell, March 16

Pretty modest stuff all told, thankfully just the six races and still soft ground.

The 0-110 handicap chase featured a few of the usual suspects, the majority of whom are totally unreliable, headed by the well-backed Shanty Alley.

Only six, I thought he'd go well at Doncaster last time only to bomb out completely; this was much easier, and he gave a good account until crumbling on landing over the third last.

That left Inch Lala, a tall light-framed mare who looked well, in a clear lead but stamina wasn't entirely assured and she was paddling after jumping two out, where recent winner Silent Steps emerged from out of shot after tailing herself off with a lap to go.

Remarkable stuff, or maybe not so considering the standard, with The Ogle Gogle Man intent on taking as much birch home with him as possible.

A mention for Dee Star, who was quite strong in the market but almost certainly prefers better ground, and looked as though he would come on for the outing.

A four-runner handicap chase was taken in some style by Little Light, who looked to have been perked up by the new headgear and travelled extremely well throughout, not needing to come off the bridle.

The pair that chased her home are disappointing types, Twotwothree lacking somewhat in size and probably not that keen on front-running, while better ground may be more his bag.

Chozen was a favourite of this column for a time but this strapping chaser has a mind of his own, and is an absolute liability at the obstacles. Hold up tactics were deployed on this occasion and he settled as well as he ever has, but is bred to stay 3m+ and is essentially a slow horse that wants to go faster.

A weak 0-110 hurdle went to Haasab, who has hit a rich vein of form and was well handled by Jonjo jr, getting on top after the last ahead of the likeable Atomix, who looked a promising sort many years ago and may yet achieve something based on this solid effort.

Arizona Glory is a big lengthy gelding for a young horse, and should be able to build on this, but the rest weren't much to write home about.

Sheshoon Sonny had shown loads of promise in decent company despite looking novicey, and was strongly fancied to get off the mark in the novices hurdle, but although hurdling with greater fluency was woefully one-paced after taking up the running and has to go down as disappointing receiving weight.

Eventual winner Shantou View was hard to weigh up, and was on and off the bridle throughout, but was strong where it mattered having enough in hand to see off the rallying Exelerator Express after the last.

The winner, just medium sized at present, looks more of a hurdler for next season unlike the runner-up, who has plenty of size and is quite a nice sort in the making. Rintulla, back in fourth, is rather unfurnished and needs time.

Two to go...City Never Sleeps nearly got home under a much more positive ride than at Catterick but was picked off late by Shimba Hills, paddock pick First Assembly sticking on for third despite looking paceless...he has the size to go over fences and may do better as the ground dries out.

Two recent winners dominated the market in the closing 0-100, but Fizzlestix ran as though the race came too soon, while Hang Tough, a very big horse who will need a fence sooner rather than later, was asked to do plenty on the front end and was another to be run down in the straight, emerging amateur Liam Harrison again seen to good effect on the winner Oliver's Island.

Jour A La Plage is a big lengthy unfurnished grey and may be worth revisiting next season.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Newcastle, March 15

Still no let up in ground conditions, it wasn't bottomless after a couple of dry days but it was still soft and quite holding.

A deserved victory at short odds for Stainsby Girl in the opener, she's a likeable enthusiastic mare who didn't have to run up to her 120 rating here, although there's no reason to think she can't be competitive from that mark.

Irish import Golden Robin appeared to shape with plenty of promise on her debut for Sue Smith, not looking great in her coat but typically having a bit of size and scope, making late gains after the highly strung Maid O'Malley paid for chasing the winner.

Not content with mopping up at Cheltenham, G Elliott sent a couple up here and Robin Deuz Pois was a rare odds-on chance in a staying handicap chase, but the early money was in the right place (surprise) and she did the job, although looked all out in the end to repel Solid Strike.

It was a lowly contest all told, Definite Wisdom jumping poorly on ground unsuitably soft, and there was nothing else to take from it.

The standard was better from there on, followed by an open-looking handicap hurdle that wasn't reflected by the market, headed by Oscars Leader on the upgrade and awkward looking novice Thor De Cerisy, who doesn't please with his attitude.

On paddock inspection you could give plenty of them a chance, including eventual winner Altruism who looked well and fit off a break, while Keyboard Gangster is getting fitter all the time but looked beaten when crashing out.

Roar looks harshly treated while the juvenile Scorched Earth has very little size and scope and probably wants better ground.

A staying handicap for novices was another really competitive race for the grade, and a favourite that looked far too short in Ladronne, who may have been flattered when winning earlier in the week when the opposition melted away.

Another strong looking paddock where it was hard to make a choice, Sirwilliamwallace arguably the most likeable future type but there were others, including Baron De Midleton who has shaped nicely several times this season.

He may have made it three wins had he not done a somersault at the second last, having jumped notably soundly throughout, leaving Mr Scrumpy in an unassailable lead.

Disappointing on his last couple of outings, the winner had benefited from a nine-week break and having been quite a hot horse in the past was completely overlooked in the market this time.

Rath An Iuir stayed on dourly for second but once again he hit a flat spot at the wrong time and he looks a thorough stayer, and the sort to benefit from another summer before going over fences.

Minella Trump was a shade disappointing but on looks he may not be a great deal better than his current mark, however it's early to make too strong a call.

The Paddy Pie has been very costly to follow, including when coming down three out at Wetherby two runs back when running as though a good 10lb ahead of his mark.

That didn't quite play out next time when appearing to have remembered that spill, and there was a growing concern that claggy ground doesn't suit all that much.

However, positive tactics were applied for the first time against a pretty exposed bunch and he never saw another rival, jumping accurately if edging to his right at times.

He simply travelled too well for the one-paced Bollin Ace, who has probably become a bit of a thinker but continues to shape like he wants 3m, staying on stoutly after the last for the forecast.

Disappointment of the race was Stoney Rover after a trainer switch, but his jumping had been awful in several goes for his previous stable and it was the same again here. Maybe he's one for next season when Mr Thomson has had some time to iron things out.

The market was all about two horses in another handicap hurdle and this time it was spot on as the likeable Overcourt won for the second time, albeit rather fortunately as the way Kauto D'Amour rattled home he would surely have got there but for pitching badly on landing over the last.

The winner himself, a compact athletic hurdler, had blundered at the final two flights but they seemed to be motoring, and this son of the wonderful Court Cave can win again in this sort of form, especially when stepped up to 3m.

Kauto was dismal at Sedgefield last time but wouldn't be the first not to appreciate that gaff, and he travelled sweetly enough before Mania injected some pace into the race as they turned for home. Another stout looking stayer, he'll remain well-handicapped after this.

By definition, the third home Big Bad Dream should also be followed next time as he too stayed on nicely in first time blinkers, the yard has had a frustrating season but he looks a winner in the making off his current mark.

Fourth placed Do Not Disturb hasn't managed to build on on his season-opening success but this was a step in the right direction, and this tall son of Mahler should appreciate the return to better ground and will relish a fence in due course.

It was getting cold by the bumper but it was worth hanging around to see a clutch of interesting types in a race that was far more open than the betting suggested, skewed as it was by the second Elliott raider in Getabay.

A nice enough sort, he wasn't the most imposing in the paddock and hadn't managed to get his head in front in three starts prior to this.

A couple were preferred, particularly at the odds, and they came clear with previous all-weather winner Tupelo Mississippi showing the benefit of his experience to defy his penalty with a determined effort.

He looked a big staying chase type when first sighted at Wetherby and he's come on a good deal since then, but he remains firmly in need of a test such as this.

Onward Route comes from the family of Top Cloud and by Yeats is sure to stay well, and he was just run out of things after travelling like much the best horse...he should appreciate better ground and looks a decent recruit.

Murvagh Beach has loads of size about him but looked very big and backward and was really green throughout - he'll need a bit of time.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Doncaster - March 12

A very strong wind up the home straight made life a little trickier than ideal, while the ground, although drying significantly, looked pretty rough after a long winter.

Not a bad little novice heat to start proceedings with the three penalised runners dominating the finish, and fair play to The Macon Lugnatic for repelling all raiders with a strong staying performance.

The form probably isn't that strong, but this chasing type should continue to pay his way in novice handicaps over larger obstacles next season, especially with his fine attitude.

No Getaway is another good, lengthy chase sort and the clear paddock pick, but after travelling like the winner fell in a bit of a hole after the last. He looked fit enough off a three month break, but should be able to defy a penalty this spring on better ground, although a weak finisher is always a concern.

Glenduff ran a race full of promise in third considering his very sturdy build, he looks the sort to benefit from racing for all that he was able to win first time out this season. He wasn't knocked about, and I'd bet on further improvement next time.

The eye-catcher for all to see was rank outsider Aquila Sky, a rather unfurnished youngster picked up by the emerging Sam Allwood for a song out of the H Fry yard.

Not knocked about after going keenly, he stayed on well when the race was over with a run that caught the eye even of the stewards. Unfortunately for connections the horse is likely to be hindered by a stiff mark, and he won't go unnoticed in the betting in his next novice start.

The handicap chase was a weak race for a 0-120 and the A King-trained Jaboticaba confirmed an earlier impression that he lacks the scope for fences, while Knockrobin has never been one to have much faith in.

Quite what happened going to the last when the latter faultered significantly with the race seemingly at his mercy who knows, but he remains one to be extremely wary of.

Eventual winner Top Decision is a tall, light-framed horse who probably isn't the easiest to train and wouldn't want the ground too soft, but he rocked up very fit after a 10-week break and the way he hit the line suggests a follow-up is in the pipeline, for all that he has a patchy profile.

Some decent looking juvenile fillies assembled for the next, the first four in the betting quite interesting from a paddock perspective, particularly the eventual winner Champagne Terri who was like a coiled spring following a six month absence.

Strongly supported in the market, she was ridden with intent on the front end and finished off strongly after being challenged on all sides early in the straight.

Operatic Export was one of the biggest and unlike the majority of the Newland runners she appears to be slow in coming to hand, perhaps there will be better days for her in due course, however Gilka was weak in the betting and doesn't have much about her.

The 0-105 handicap chase was really weak with just the two at the top of the weights having shown much ability of late, and sure enough they came right away from the rest in the straight.

Summit Like Herbie has plenty of size and scope and although he does things his own way he has a good leap in him, albeit very much with a left hand bias, while Coopers Square is a bit high in the weights still and is going to be vulnerable to one as unexposed as his market rival here.

The staying handicap hurdle wasn't a bad little race although far more open than the betting suggested, warm order Premier D'Troice dropping out at halfway as though amiss.

There was plenty to like about some of the others, eventual winner I'd Better Go Now one of several likely to thrive when sent over fences, and the way he travelled and then saw it out suggested he is way better than his current mark.

The one that went with him was Tango Boy and he's a real strong chase type who was nibbled at in the betting, he settled well enough under a cold ride and he will have his day again on decent ground that probably suits him.

They were clear of two strapping chasers, Mercian Knight who is gaining valuable experience prior to tackling larger obstacles, similar comments applying to Teescomponentstrig, who is still only five and has made good strides this season. Both will stay all day.

One of the reasons for making the trip to Town Moor was to check on the well-being of Storm Goddess, who had been ticking over in decent races since dotting up in a weak race at this track last season.

A likeable, handy mare she was very fit and fresh after three runs on ground she doesn't relish, and back on a sounder surface she proved herself to be well handicapped and positively ran away with it as if she had a stone in hand.

Runner-up Trapper Peak can usually be relied upon to run his race so the handicapper should be well positioned to act, and it will be interesting to see what connections will do next with the winner.

Another mare Feuille De Chene came in for support in the green and gold, but she looks an unfurnished individual in need of more time and she was tame in the finish, with a breathing problem reported.

More was expected of Stacey Sue but she checked out with a breathing issue as well, but she's not one to give up on and looks very much like a chase type who should stay further having won a Point and a staying bumper.

The finale looked the lesser of the two divisions but interestingly was run in a time that was five seconds faster than the previous race...this despite a visual pace collapse at the top of the straight.

That meant they came home quite strong, the modest jumper Western Rules getting up close home to deny Just Call Me Al, who was given a fine ride by A Nicol who clearly hasn't lost any nerve or indeed verve following another injury absence.

The runner-up has long been on the radar as a horse with potential and now they've found the way to ride him he could be one to keep onside when returning to larger obstacles, which he has the size and scope for.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Cheltenham, March 10

I'm not at the festival this week so these views are not paddock-related in any way.


The impression here is that the form is strong, with all the right horses finishing in the mix.

The Conditional; Could be called the winner a mile out, always beautifully positioned by Brendan Powell. My pre-race doubts about the horse, that he can get a bit low at a fence, was nearly borne out when he was picked off the floor two out, and also that he might be a little soft in a finish, which was not correct, as he was always holding the rallying runner-up. The form was there for all to see and he duly obliged for the many who supported him.

Kildisart; Allayed fears that the heavy ground was against him, although he looked a hard ride, running in snatches with Daryl Jacob keen from the outset for him to maintain a good position. He'll never be the best of jumpers, but showed he had deep reserves of stamina by rallying strongly up the hill despite apparently using up plenty of energy just to stay in the front rank at times. The fetching green  heekpieces may have helped the jockey, but where this leaves him going forwards I'm not sure. You could see him reaching the first six in the National without threatening to win.

Discorama; I messaged someone saying that he had to go close - providing he didn't get too far back. Therefore is was disconcerting to see him dropped out stone last in the early strides, and jockey Bryan Cooper rode a race that implies the instructions were to 'arrive as late as possible'. Quite why that would be in such a race, is hard to fathom - maybe he's hard to win with - but the horse did very little wrong and backers should rightly feel aggrieved.

Vinndication; My view before the race was that he faced his own Everest in attempting to give weight all round on the back of a lengthy absence. That he only gave best on the run-in is a testament to the veteran trainer, who has a serious horse on his hands. I completely poo-pooed the notion that he has to go the other way round, based on one piece of evidence in the JLT last year, and this proves he'll be just as good left-handed. He may fall below top class, although he is unexposed and the way he is campaigned will be important from now on. Trust Kim Bailey to get it right.

Big River; Such a likeable horse, placed in the race for a second year in succession. Yet again was allowed to steadily lose his position throughout the race, and if given a similar ride to that on Kildisart he may well have gone very close. The Scottish National will probably be on the agenda again, however the main aim must surely be the four miler at his beloved Kelso in December, in which he was brought down last year. There's not much point slagging off jockeys but a front-line pilot might make all the difference.

Cobra De Mai; Won here at last year's April meeting and will surely be a warm order if going down that route again, once more showing potential from this sort of mark despite racing on ground that is considered too soft.

Cepage; Appeared to get very warm pre-race, and was allowed to bowl along on this first attempt at 3m+. However, having led to the second last he clearly didn't stay and crawled up the hill. He's a really useful individual that should win his fair share back over 2m5f.

Brave Eagle; Hunted round at the back on ground that is far too soft. Henderson does not target these festival handicaps over fences and this will simply serve to shave a few pounds off his rating ahead of his particular spring/summer target. He's a useful sort, but his mark is based on summer form and he may need to find more improvement to pick up another competitive handicap from around 155.

Mister Malarkey; Sent of at 12/1 but made no appeal on heavy ground when all evidence suggests he is at his best on good to soft or better. He's already picked up a decent pot this season, but remains the sort to win again when things are in his favour and the end of season race at Sandown (formerly the Whitbread) could be made for him.

Northern Trust Company Novices Handicap Chase

Imperial Aura; The form of his most recent run in the Timeform sponsored race here in January looked the absolute nuts and he duly obliged in quite impressive fashion, like The Conditional always in the right place behind the lead and finding plenty for pressure. A step up to 3m should suit next season and he could easily turn into a Ladbrokes-type, particularly if he mixes it with the top staying chasers at Aintree next month. His win paid a massive compliment to Simply The Betts, who looks certain to be a warm order on Thursday, and also On The Slopes, who now looks likely to run at Kempton on Saturday.

Galvin; I didn't think his form coming into the race was quite good enough to win this but he comes out of it with plenty of credit, especially considering he was quite badly baulked early on and had to come from some way back, which as we've seen over many years is not easy to do on this turning Old Course. I don't think he did a great deal wrong to be fair.

Hold The Note; No hard luck story here, simply beaten by two horses better at the weights, although in mitigation he doesn't look like he needs ground this bad and he still makes plenty of appeal going forward, particularly on better ground and possibly over 3m.

Whatmore; A frustrating horse for betting purposes, always running his race without really looking like winning, the handicapper seemingly having the edge. He's still keen-going but I'm certain he wants three miles if they maintain hold-up tactics, however I'd love to see him given his head this spring on drier ground, a race at that May meeting at Haydock would suit as he'd string them out like yesterday's washing with his sound jumping.

Beakstown; Went into this race looking potentially well handicapped having learned his trade in Graded company, but the cheekpieces did not provide the necessary improvement and his finishing effort once again left something to be desired; I'd go as far as to say he's now one to be wary of in anything other than basic novice company. I'm not giving him the excuse that he might have needed the run after a three-month absence - chances are he was cherry ripe.

Champagne Court; Another representative of the Timeform handicap form but he failed by some way to keep his end up, weakening out of things from the third last after maintaining a prominent position throughout. While he has plenty of form on soft ground one suspects he doesn't want it this bad, and I'll be looking out for him when sent over 3m being a son of that stamina influence Court Cave, plus there is loads on the dam's side too.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Catterick, March 4

Dry and frosty overnight, yes the ground was soft but they weren't going too deep and the times suggest it wasn't too bad at all.

The opener was a seller won by 12-year-old Flanagans Field, not a great looking individual but he relished the end-to-end gallop and was well on top at the line.

Interesting that B Ellison claimed the strong Flat bred Tim Rocco, who helped set the rapid early fractions, he looked well but has been regressive of late, perhaps not enjoying the current terrain.

It probably wasn't the worst race of its type, Dahills Hill and Pepper Street not beaten far and looking as though there's a small race in them on better ground.

The race of main interest was the 3m novices chase in which Django Django was an extremely warm order on the back of a cosy victory at Newbury, but he's only just big enough for fences and his jumping didn't stand up around this tighter circuit.

While he plugged on into fourth, it has to go down as deeply disappointing and sights may have to be lowered this spring.

By contrast Stradivarius Davis took a massive step in the other direction despite a huge market drift, possibly on account of him looking a shade burly after an eight-week break.

That first effort over fences had been fully franked by the winner, however Sandy Thomson's inmate was going a further mile here and wasn't certain to get home despite winning his Point.

They didn't go a great gallop, but he appeared to jump and travel very nicely and finished the race well in the style of a decent recruit. He's a good looking horse with plenty of size, and equally adept on a sound surface, he'll be of huge interest at Aintree or Ayr provided the handicapper isn't too harsh.

Coole Hall had every chance, looking fit and well, but not for the first time looked to have plenty of temperament and he is now firmly in the 'quirky' category. Jammin Masters has never made much appeal and once again couldn't go with the principals.

The mares novices hurdle was a typically weak affair, two of them dominating the market and the finish, the decent looking Zoutoise needing the length of the run-in to deny the consistent Ilaya despite getting weight.

The winner probably wants better ground than this and is a speedy type, showing a good attitude in the finish.

Niven was given one more chance to prove himself a well handicapped horse in the handicap chase over 2m and was sensibly waited with on this occasion after being asked to do too much on the front end at Wetherby last month.

With a couple of lengths to find at the last, he picked up well to collar the disappointing Go Long in the closing stages, the runner-up at least giving his running down in grade.

Pull Together ran well considering his absence but he looked pretty straight, and is another with a little to prove when push comes to shove. Las Tunas, a sturdy character, thrives on racing and I'd expect him to improve fitness-wise off a nine-week break.

My Renaissance didn't go without promise and may yet have another race in him when the ground dries out.

Bet of the day was Skipthescales in the staying handicap hurdle, down in grade for his new yard and guaranteed to see his race out. It's amazing he won over fences because he's doesn't have much size about him, and he turned in a fine effort only to be pipped on the line.

Strike West doesn't win very often, but was coaxed into it and was in front when it mattered, whether he can repeat it is a moot point. Third home Scottish Accent is a decent prospect, noted travelling well before hitting a flat spot and running on again at the death...he'll know more next time and looks a thorough stayer.

Wishing And Hoping looked in a different league fitness-wise ahead of the hunter chase, 4/5 was freely available which was like printing money.

The bumper was very interesting because the two market leaders gave very different vibes beforehand, the enthusiastic and likeable mare Anythingforlove much the best of them and with winning form in the book.

By contrast Frascato Bello is very much on the forehand, with a shouldery walk and very strong behind, what's more he was very laboured and green to post.

And they performed as expected, Anythingforlove showing a really nice attitude to fend off Foster'sisland, who has a decent portfolio of efforts to his name, with the rest well beaten off.

Pennine Cross has been a keen sort but shaped like a stayer, running on into third, while Bring The Bacon and Teescomponentsyess will be alright in the fullness of time.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Wetherby - March 2

An 8am inspection was passed with two fences and a hurdle down the far side omitted, it was heavy but not too bad according to one or two that had walked it.

Accordingtogino was a very warm order to pick up a weak novice hurdle for the Skeltons, and Harry got to dictate the race from the front, kicking on the home turn and putting enough daylight between himself and two rivals.

Le Cheval Noir may have been flattered to get so close at the line, but this rather weak horse may have just blown up when the pace quickened three out where he was untidy, essentially ending the race as a contest.

The winner may not be the most straight forward and on another day I could see the placings being reversed, as the second has plenty of physical improvement to come.

The Crazed Moon was the only one to bring recent form to the table in a novices handicap chase, and was priced accordingly, but even allowing for the fact she lacks a bit of scope for fences she turned in a shocker, her number was up before they turned for home.

That should not detract from the efforts of the first two home, Snougar and Going Mobile both having their first outings over fences on the back of breathing operations.

The former has always looked like a chaser in the making, and had been running into a bit of form over timber, and he jumped and travelled like a horse with plenty to give from a low mark.

On the subject of handicap marks, how the assessor came to number 92 for Going Mobile is a mystery, the gelding having shown precisely zero in three hurdle starts, for all that he had looked extremely burly on the first of them. Held together until after jumping the final fence, it looks like the Englands have another horse to go to war with this spring.

Carlingford Prince wasn't moving well in the paddock and shouldn't have been second fav, while Angel's Envy is an interesting mare, with all her form being on good ground over 3m at Perth.

She lacks the substance for fences, and she was awkward over the final three fences, going to her right, but will probably be persevered with over fences in the short term. However, shrewd trainer Laura Morgan can be trusted to get the best out of her in the coming months.

Another favourite that looked ripe for the taking was Young Lieutenant, who found himself at the head of the market for a novices hurdle despite coming into the race on the back of three disappointing efforts.

Thor De Cerisy is a nicer physical specimen who got off the mark in taking fashion at Newcastle before blowing out at Ffos Las, inclined to hang up the straight. Hopes of a revival were pinned on a 10-weak break and a breathing op, and he duly returned to his best, only to find Diodorus too good getting 10lbs.

The six-year-old had gone winless on the Flat for K McLintock, but trainer Tristan Davidson told me the horse's head was 'in a better place now' and, under a confident hold-up ride, came through to land the spoils in a the manner of a useful recruit.

Davidson has a fine strike rate, and does extremely well with other trainer's cast-offs.

The gamble of the day went west when the absurdly short Envol De La Cour ejected B Powell at the sixth having gone of at 6/4 from double figures prices the night before. The C Dyson > M Scudamore angle has been a profitable one of late but this was a bit far-fetched, the six-year-old having little form to speak of on these shores.

It was hard to find the winner though, Mortens Leam in the end travelling all over the rest before tying up late on, it emerged afterwards that the trainer felt he wasn't fully fit after picking up a knock last time out. This isn't strong form.

A really strong handicap hurdle followed next though, and the bang in-form Main Fact made it four on the trot for David Pipe, once again proving very strong in the final third of the race and winning with any amount in hand.

McGowan's Pass confirmed himself in top form by chasing home in second, but the third-placed Flegmatik troubled me with his finishing effort, finding little off the bridle and wandering all over the place in the straight. He's a good looking horse who may require quicker ground, but I have serious reservations after this.

The closing staying chase was desperate enough, with the well-backed The Dawn Man providing M Scu/B Powell Jr with some consolation for their earlier disappointments. The gelding had plenty to prove, not least stamina and jumping, but was simply too well handicapped to be troubled by these plodders.

Smuggler's Stash stayed on for second, supporting the view that the Dobbin horses are back in form after a quiet few weeks, and his turn may be next from a reduced mark. There was very little else to shout about, though.

Doncaster - February 29

Regular followers will know I'm not likely to shirk the issue when it comes to battling the elements; they'll also be aware that I am no longer young, and so it was that I opted for the comfort of Norm Towers on Friday in light of the fiendish conditions outside. One can only apologise.

However, the sun was out on Saturday and despite a fierce headwind that could stop a train, racing went ahead, well, so did I.

The opener was a decent staying handicap in which strong chasing type Geordie B provided a potential class edge, only to turn in the first shocker of his career, sliding backwards through the field a mile out. He'd been off since November, and maybe he's not in a good place.

Market leader Blackjack Kentucky still looks quite unfurnished but should make into a decent handicap chaser next season, jumping notably boldly in the home straight.

However, Paddy Brennan, well known for exploiting any potential track advantage going, played a blinder by taking Cobden's slipstream all the way up the home straight, on both first and second circuits.

You'll be your own judge as to whether this made the difference between victory and defeat for Liosduin Bhearna, either was it was further evidence of the veteran's prowess. The horse is very much a chasing type, a thorough stayer who benefited greatly from the step up in trip.

Remastered caught the eye beforehand, a good tall sort, and it was nice to see him back to the form of earlier efforts; the right three came away from a form perspective, and they will all be worth following over fences.

Plunge horse Jerrysback was taken out of the open-ended handicap chase but it still had a wide open feel, another well-backed animal being Gino Trail who I thought was significantly persevered with by the owners, who had sent him on to Fergal O'Brien.

Why the horse didn't enter the parade ring I don't know, but I did catch a glimpse of him in the chute and he looked on terrific terms with himself, and with the likelihood of a solo lead he was the one to beat.

Again, Brennan was outstanding, they don't come from too far back at this turning track especially with that headwind - it was impossible to make up lost ground and Gino, game as they come, jumped and galloped to the line.

Katpoli held on for second but was similarly well positioned, while Nuts Well ran yet another blinder from a career high mark on ground that puts pressure on his jumping as he's not very big.

Destrier was given a curious ride, Skelton's early bid for the lead stifled by Brennan, and the horse ran no race. Better ground might suit but he has plenty to prove now, as does Joke Dancer who hasn't been campaigned intelligently and his jumping once again was a mess.

Cill Anna had the form to win a Listed mares novice hurdle and she scraped home from the enterprisingly ridden Ziggy Rose (Brennan), while leaving the impression she's better than the bare result. 

Aimee De Sivola has quite a bit of size and scope, so should jump a fence, and plugged on gamely in the straight as this was very hard work for the four that came clear. Easter Gold will be a stronger horse next season and shouldn't be judged harshly on her tame effort.

The Grimthorpe lived up to its name, not easy viewing in a last-man standing exhibition, Captain Chaos finding a good rhythm and he just kept going to beat Worthy Farm, both of whom should now be roughed off for the season. This was brutal.

I didn't much care for Firak in the paddock before a three runner novince hurdle but his chief rival Kepagge had jumped appallingly when landing a minor event at Leicester and had to concede the penalty.

Clearly well schooled during an 80-day sabbatical, the Pipe horse travelled and jumped like a decent recruit in the making and better ground should be no barrier to success. As for Firak, he might prove difficult to win with and I'm starting have reservations about the sire Fuisse, many of which look quirky.

A weak handicap hurdle went to Stonific, who was the chief beneficiary of the low sun with the last three flights being omitted, you couldn't have written a better scirpt if you fancied the horse. 

For Pleasure came in for late support but he proved very keen as before without the hood, however, he travelled quite deep into the race and this will bring him on a fair bit. On decent terrain, you could see him defying a mark of 110, for sure.

A tidy little bumper closed the show, and a 'surprise' result from the judge with the penalised Kearney Hill getting up right on the line to frustrate backers of the immature colt Nells Son, who travelled like a horse with a bit of class.

The Smith's North Parade once again shaped with a degree of promise but he's a chaser in the making and similar in size to the progressive sibling Billingsley, however Whitechurch had pretty weak form in Irish points and looks a little modest, weakening tamely away in the straight. 

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Midweek eye-catchers - February 26

Catterick, Tuesday 25th

Snow had melted overnight with the ground described as heavy, but it seemed knowhere as deep as expected, probably no worse than soft.

Plenty of horses seen out during this wet winter are expected to come to life once the ground starts to really dry out, among them is the modest mare Catchmeifyoucan who has been noted shaping well under tender handling in the past.

There's not a great deal of her but she did manage to win a good ground Irish Point last spring and she can certainly pick up a race back over 3m from her current mark, for connections known for landing the occasional touch.

She stayed on quite nicely once the winner had flown, and although this was little better than a seller she can be found similarly weak openings in the coming weeks.

Not much of a contest, Ashutor being the first of two short-priced Nicholls raiders, a compact grey who probably doesn't have the scope for fence. Runner-up Cuban Sun deserves to find a race as she seems genuine enough despite lacking size. Sepal was backed in the 'without' market but looked to be carrying condition on the back of an absence and it was probably expecting too much for her to beat Cuban Sun.

Saint Sonnet was heavily backed to give PFN a quick double in the novices chase but he too lacks some scope for all that he has a bit of quality. He seemed to jump soundly until put under pressure, when his lack of scope found him out and he was unable to go 'long'. It remains to be seen how far he can go in this sphere...I'm not so sure and will be taking him on against better opponents.

Crixus's Escape ran another sound race for a horse that is crying out for further, his jumping much more assured than on debut. He probably isn't straight forward, but remains on a plausible mark if they can find the right race.

Duc De Grissay has quickly had attentions turned to fences which will stand him in good stead for next season, when he'll come into his own physically.

Sam England was featured in the stable tours at the start of the campaign and Ask Paddy made it four on the bounce to take the trainer level with last season's best tally of 14. Wisely waited with behind a strong early pace, the eight-year-old is now 4/5 at this venue and was winning from a 21lb higher mark than when the run began, knuckling down really well on the run-in to beat a newcomer on the Northern scene in Grange Ranger.

They came well clear from disappointing duo Agamemmon, who once again found little off the bridle, and Absolutely Dylan, who looked well and for the first time in his career was paraded with the other horses.

Patience is wearing thin with the Smith inmate though, as he was given a typically ebullient ride from D Cook but his jumping wasn't fluent enough and he checked out very quickly once push came to shove. It's probably time to let this ship sail.

The finale was a real mind-bender with several given chances on their best form, although the likes of Bulls Head and Too Many Chiefs are now some way off those distant heights.

The Composeur arrived on a high but gave way as though something wasn't quite right, clearing the path for another England runner in Mamoo to pick up a second Catterick win of the year and take the handler into uncharted waters in terms of winners.

In keeping with their style, they decided to change the way this horse was ridden after forcing the pace for much of his career, and waiting tactics have now been deployed to good effect, with the added bonus that the handicapper may still not have caught up with him.

Market Rasen, Wednesday 26th

The ground was similar to the last meeting here with the chase course proving seriously testing while the tighter hurdles track rode much better.

A wide open looking maiden hurdle with no obvious winner beforehand, especially not the well-backed favourite Hazzaar who had been a bitter disappointment on his two previous outings over hurdles.

Held up out the back on this first try at 2m4f+, as we've said many times it's not the place to be at this venue regardless of ground and he never landed a blow. A strong chase type, he'll do better in time and just the sort to thrive in November when sent over fences from a modest mark.

Archie Brown took a walk in the market and he looked on his toes, just a medium sized individual the champion trainer does well with. Although keen, Bryony was always in the right place and to be fair the horse knuckled down well...he looks a staying type likely to build on this.

Unai had everything go his way up front but he's a weak individual that needs time and better ground, Riggs came through for second under a canny ride...he's a typical Mahler lacking a little substance but should be okay up to around 130.

Two others caught the eye and they were Santon, a good looking Scorpion who moves well and I'm convinced he wants better ground - unfancied he ran on nicely to take fifth from the fading Spirit Of Waterloo, a sizeable individual who shaped as though in need of the run following a break.

The form may only be modest but I should mention Lulu Baloo in fourth...I don't believe she holds the form down, she's a big strong girl and a mares novice should be a penalty kick for her.

Destinee Royale, in contrast to stable mate Hazzaar, was massively interesting over fences for the first time having kept decent company over timber last time, and barring a couple of errors she jumped and galloped them senseless. Every inch a chasing type, she'll go up a fair whack for this but is another that could make hay next winter in decent company.

Bbold looks like a good ground horse and his form backs up that view, yet he jumped and travelled nicely on this chase debut until the ground got to him after the second last. Essentially a stayer, he's one to keep the right side of this spring if/when the ground dries out.

French import Nanabelle was sent off a ridiculous 3/10 on her juvenile debut in this country and this rather small filly was very much on her toes beforehand. She had to lug a double penalty against half a dozen geldings and she was already beating a retreat on the home turn following a couple of blunders.

It was never going to be easy against the gritty Cawthorne Lad, while a couple of newcomers caught the eye in Flint Hill, who is quite strong and looked fit on his first start for Ruth Jefferson.

However, he had to give best to another Flat exile Yellow Tiger, who looked really well in his coat and has plenty of size for the game. What this form is actually worth is hard to gauge, although Cawthorne Lad appears to have run his usual race close up in third.

Low grade stuff, last-time-out winner Lady Master softened up by outsider Some Finish on the turn for home allowing the maiden Picknick Park to pick up the pieces. He's not the sort to follow up from a higher mark, while Event Of Sivola ran another race of promise without really being one to back next time, being somewhat keen and carrying his head high.

This looked a good opportunity for Smackwater Jack to regain the winning thread and he has strengthened up nicely in the past 12 months, but he was ko'd at the first. Come On Teddy was left with little to beat, I wasn't sure about him beforehand but he settled well enough and finished off his race well. As with so many from the yard, it's not certain whether he has the size to excel over larger obstacles.

The staying handicap chase promised to be a proper slog with the free-going Commodore setting the pace and so it proved, with Final Nudge the only one able to maintain the gallop with a vintage display that may well tee him up for the Scottish national. Not known for producing one fit off an absence, this was a good training performance from D Dennis. The rest looked fit enough but have simply lost the winning habit.

Just a fair bumper, six-figure purchase Across The Line almost a de facto favourite from the Skelton factory and a decent looking type with plenty of size. However, having been held up he could never land a glove on the eventual winner Animal, for whom there had been a morning tickle, and to be fair the son of Arcadio was one of the more likely ones amongst the other eight, quite nicely made and forward-looking.

The way he charged home was quite taking, while another to take out of it was Harry Joejoe, another R Fahey bumper runner, this one looking very green before and during the race before powering home. Maybe one for next time.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Doncaster - February 19

Good to be back racing again but not much of a punting card in all truth, the going looked pretty soft all round and they needed to stay well.

The opener was an EBF qualifier where the front two in the market looked pretty solid despite their penalties, neither making much appeal at the odds though in a race that looked quite deep on paddock inspection, being full of chasing types.

Both Sevarano and Igor should make chasers, the former being a nicer type, but he may just prefer better ground and it was pretty slow motion stuff as front running The Macon Lugnatic repelled all raiders.

Very much a chaser in the making, the winner was putting a poor hurdling debut behind him to return to his decent bumper form, and even better ground should suit him based on that.

Carlow Farmer was bandaged in front and looked quite light framed for a tall individual, however he was up there for a long way although he's one I'm a little wary of for now.

Igor surprisingly faded away despite a drop in trip, and Logan Rocks is going the wrong way. The rest were quite disappointing although we're at the time of year when a few of them might be wanting some better ground.

The next was a competitive handicap hurdle for stayers and it looked like the veteran Kansas City Chief was about to win again at the track before taking a hard left approaching the final hurdle.

Such was the camera angle that it wasn't clear as to why it happened, but it handed victory to Shah An Shah who looked really well beforehand and he's starting life from the right end of the handicap. It was also a consecutive winner for Shirocco, a sire of good National Hunt types.

They were strung out all over south Yorkshire behind, the only one able to go with the front two being Rath An Iuir, who seemingly took an age to get going before staying on to good effect.

Following a 10-week absence, it's possible the Rose Dobbin-trained youngster had a blow before catching a second wind and this decent looking horse is one to remain the right side of.

Allart had a penalty kick in another novices hurdle and duly obliged, a quite raw chase type in the making, followed home by Red Nika and Youracert, who look sure to prefer better ground.

Tumbling Dice was the only other to take the eye, being a decent type if backward looking, and he was very novicey at the obstacles before staying on with pluck. He should win handicaps in due course.

The veterans chase saw a number of not-so golden oldies come together without much recent form, but the lightly-raced Burtons Well appeared to be on good terms with himself in new headgear, snatching the race late on from the luckless Minellacelebration.

Two horses clearly not the force of old were Jonniesofa, who hasn't built on his delightful reappearance win, and I Just Know, one of the sadder sights to see this once-perfect jumper hesitate at a number of fences in the manner of one whose confidence is shot.

The market called the bumper spot on with the well backed Adrimel defying a penalty, all out to defeat chief rival The Edgar Wallace in a driving finish. The latter is probably the nicer type but the winner could be a little freakish.

Of the others, Slap Dash Harry looked okay but was very green beforehand, as was Regaby, while Roussimoff is enormous and is probably too backward to be of any interest in the short term.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Doncaster - February 6

Drying ground bordering on good in parts, low sun making a mockery of the action later on the card, which was a very modest one to say the least.

Not much to take from the first, a 0-105 handicap chase with few potential improvers, as you would expect it was Twister's Imperial Nemesis that was the only one to take from the paddock, surely he has better in him and he came out of the pack to chase home Minella Examiner, who was long gone.

Classic D Cook, able to set his own pace on the lead jumping well, trading at odds on before jumping the fourth last and there was no hint of the fall that scuppered his last run at Wetherby.

He was impressive but won't have things as easy in the future, and a rise may scupper him next time as this really was low grade stuff.

Some decent types for the juvenile but they were well spaced out down the stretch, Zoffee making the most of his experience to clear right away from Isolate, who was fit on his first start and should be winning before too long.

Third placed Rikoboy does carry his head a little high and may be one to be wary of, while Kangaroo Valley came in for support but he ran a similar race to the one at Catterick last time, looking moody and never travelling.

Seven went to post for another handicap chase and the better ground seemed to suit Mr McGo, who was the one I couldn't have on my mind after several tame finishing efforts.

In another race that completely came apart, he was able to overcome a few dodgy leaps to beat an out of form Cave Top, with none of the potential 'closers' ever looking likely to get involved. This is dire form, the early favourite Well Smitten beaten a mile out.

The Class 3 handicap hurdle for stayers wasn't a bad sort of race and featured a few likely to do well in future, notably Manning Estate who had come in for a little support and has plenty of size and scope.

He'd been pretty consistent over timber at a fair level last season and was one of just a few with scope to improve quite considerably, and he did just that giving the impression there's even more to come on this better ground.

Vodka All The Way was being stoked along a fair way out but plugged on in the manner of one with abundant stamina, although stablemate Merry Milan only made late gains and is becoming disappointing.

Brillare Momento looked in need of the run but was still pretty poor, while Star Of Rory isn't very big and quite modest looking.

The last three hurdles races had all hurdles in the home straight omitted, effectively doing for the unfortunate Glory And Fortune in the next, who hasn't had the rub of the green now in his last three outings.

Stopped in his run at Haydock and then caught out by a very steady pace at Cheltenham, this looked a good opportunity despite the presence of a Henderson Flat exile, but while jockey S Sheppard surely did the right thing by setting out to make all, he fell asleep at the wheel in the second half of the race, seemingly unwilling to wind the pace up.

That simply played into the hands of Buzz, who looks far from straight forward, but with an easy target to aim at always looked like outpacing his more stoutly bred opponent.

A fine looking horse, there is a decent race in Glory Of Fortune this spring providing he gets a decent pace to shoot at.

South Seas was one of the smaller ones and didn't get home, beaten for third by a fair looking type in Kannapolis, an ex-Flat horse that would have been kept for this sort of surface. There were some fair handicapping sorts in behind and the race should be followed.

The mares handicap was a nightmare, winner Getaway Mag one of the smaller ones, beating Precious Leader who isn't a bad sort and benefited from this stiffer test after finding a slow-run 2m against her last time.

There were some dismal efforts in behind although Miss Gemstone looked one to bear in mind at some stage in the future, and she wouldn't have been favoured by the absence of things to jump.

The finale was an horrendous affair, with just Out On The Tear showing any sort of reliability and form heading into the race. The only question mark was whether a couple of tough races in the Uttoxeter mire had left its mark, and can be only reason behind the market weakness.

Well, he dispelled those doubts with another gutsy effort, yet another feather in the cap of trainer S Allwood, this horse continuing to progress after looking a bit of a tearaway earlier in his career. He was well named.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Wetherby - February 1

A very strong wind behind them down the home straight, drying the ground making it quite holding and the sort to provide excuses for some.

A decent looking fillies' novice opened proceedings and it saw Emmas Joy bolt up under a very positive ride with stamina assured, never seeing another rival. She's not that big but is handy enough although how far she goes I'm not sure.

Full Of Surprises was a bit disappointing considering the nature of her Catterick win, but that may not have been a great race and she looked a bit unfurnished beforehand.

Easter Gold did not get involved in the early pace burn-up and stayed on well for second..she's one to follow over longer distances and is quite rangy so should continue to pay her way.

The huge disappointment of the race was Who What When, a really likeable filly with plenty of size and scope, but she was beaten by the home turn and this was not her running. She has good form on soft but did win on good ground and maybe she's worth another chance on sounder terrain.

Set In Stone is now eligible for a mark and is a type to improve for some spring sunshine and drier ground, not quite seeing it out up the straight on this occasion.

Nuts Well was the proverbial good thing when he sluiced up here two starts back but arrived here 16lb higher after following up at Musselburgh.

A bonny sort, they lost him a little physically last winter and he never came right, but he's holding condition better this time around and proved better than ever to land the hat-trick in a tricky looking handicap chase.

He didn't look the best handicapped going into it - that honour fell to Niven, but he's becoming a bit of a cliff horse and failed to see it out after being hassled all the way on the front end by the returning Bollin Ace.

A sturdy old cork, Bollin was predictably burly in the prelims but to his credit plugged on for third and he looks to have retained his ability after a long time away, jumping notably fluently.

The Dubai Way looked dry in his coat and hasn't backed up his victory here before Christmas, while Kapgarry looked overbet and didn't make much appeal, lacking a little scope for fences.

Winter Escape attracted support and looked the part, but checked out very quickly as if amiss, although he could want much better ground.

Kalooki took the three-runner novice hurdle as he liked, a nice robust chasing type he'll do well for another summer to strengthen up and could be quite good.

The Towton Novices Chase looked a cracker without attracting any star names, and you could have made a decent case for the front four in the market, Chapel Stile not looking to have the size to compete at this level.

Ardlethen looked buzzed up by the application of blinkers but was still found wanting, with Boldmere and Newtide looking set to dominate the finish.

The former caught the eye in the paddock at Doncaster last time out and again he looked really well made and athletic, a little weak in front which another summer behind him will sort.

However, he took a nasty tumble at the last following mixed signals from 'Young' James Bowen, and it left the big, strong Newtide to defy idleness and pick up the prize.

A type to keep improving with age, Newtide is one for regional nationals in years to come, looking as though he'll gallop all day.

I rarely bet in mid-range handicap hurdles owing to a desperate strike-rate in such races but such a policy allowed one to get away when good old Secrete Stream rolled back the years to win the next on the nod.

A burly type, who has done us plenty of favours down the years, he looked on fantastic terms with himself and was ready to go in an open race in which few came in with solid credentials, well-backed jolly Antunes having pulled up last time out (in much higher grade tbf).

Bhutan looked super-fit but surely got to the front far too soon and was spent at the final flight. As I say this wasn't the strongest race for the grade and there wouldn't be many you'd want to be with next time.

Foxhunters champion Hazel Hill looked in good form prior to his 'match' with Minella Rocco, a really good looking individual in very good shape.

Opinions will differ on the reasons for the outcome but it could just be that 'Rocco' was simply the best horse on the day, taken wide in search of the unpoached ground before winging the last.

Having seen Ask The Honey Bee win twice now it looked a fine piece of placing from the bumper expert F O'Brien with the likeable jolly only carrying a 10lb 'double' penalty with the excellent Liam Harrison taking seven off.

A very forward, handy individual, he was well positioned on the front end and there was no sign of him getting outpaced like on his two previous starts, simply galloping them into the ground. Sadly, the predicted market drift never materialised.

N Mulholland, owner/trainer of runner-up Solwara One, should find it easier to find a buyer as the likeable relative of Turpin Green shaped with a good deal of promise, and he has the make and shape of a decent type.

Midnight River stayed on nicely for third after looking a keen sort in the prelims, and he'll most likely come on for the outing, as will the staying chase prospect Tupelo Mississippi, who wouldn't have been suited by the steady fractions. He should have a future over fences.

Disappointment of the race was the well-backed Rattle Owl, but he isn't very big and looks one for the level.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

This week's eyecatchers

Wetherby - January 23

Drying weather meant for holding conditions on officially soft ground, rail movements meant more than a furlong was added to some race distances, keeping clock watchers on their toes.

A juvenile hurdle where Dark Lochnager lacked any kind of scope for the job and clattered the first two before coming down at the third. This may an aberration of course, and maybe better ground will suit.
Dehradun by contrast had loads of scope and made a pleasing debut in this sphere at Taunton, looking a staying type in the making, and he was the only one able to go with the penalised Tavus up the straight. It was a sound effort despite some novicey hurdling.

Jobsonfire looked in terrific heart before scoring back-to-back victories in the staying handicap hurdle, again seeming strongest in the latter part of the contest. His jumping is far from fluent but he does have an engine, and may be able to defy a steep rise while in this sort of form. He must have 3m+.

A really good handicap chase but it turned out to be far from competitive with one or two appearing to struggle on the claggy terrain, Hollywoodien putting up a no-show (very weak in the market - who knew?) while the solid favourite Storm Control reverted to old ways with a very flat effort.

It developed into a match but The Paddy Pie suffered an unfortunate exit three out when losing his footing a stride after jumping it well, and he looks in peak form and certain to register a 130-type effort here.

Whether he would have won is far from certain though, with a revitalised Charmant coming home strongly on the step up to 2m4f. A classy individual, he was completely overlooked in the market after a tame effort here last time, but that came in cheekpieces and he was reportedly too free. A sound jumper who needs soft ground, the issue now is whether he can defy a career high mark.

A three-way go for the novices hurdle with Adicci made favourite despite having to carry a penalty, he's quite an athletic individual but stamina looks his forte and he didn't have the speed to match Stimulating Song, a really nicely made type with some solid form in the south. He's definitely a horse that could defy a penalty, while he may look well handicapped in the coming weeks.

Henri Le Bon claimed third. a robust chasing type who should relish further and is one to keep an eye on, although I'm not so sure about the fourth placed Anightinlambourn, who didn't appear to have much size or scope but seemed to rally quite well when she looked more likely to drop away. Perhaps she was just a mare against the boys, and against her own sex on better ground may be able to find a race.

Doncaster - January 24

Still no rain all week and that meant pretty rapid conditions in comparison to the rest of the country, times suggesting the chase course in particular wasn't far off good ground.

Shanroe Tic Tec and Massini Man lack the size and scope to thrive over fences and should be opposed if persisted with in this sphere. In a fairly lively opener, it was the giraffe-like Pogue who rallied to finally get off the mark under rules. Looks obvious now, but I don't like the shape of the horse and he may always want a sound surface.

I thought Hey Bud might be stronger in the market but one suspects he hadn't been been schooling great as he looked very novicey before exiting early on - he won't be carrying any of my hard-earned unless he puts in a couple of decent rounds.

Est Illic isn't the most straight-forward animal and tends to get a hold-up ride, which rarely works round here. Meeting all sorts of trouble, he's better than this although he does have quite a bit to prove. By Court Cave, a step up to 3m could be the answer before long.

A really good novices hurdle from which several winners will emerge, and it wasn't hard to be impressed by Glynn who pulverised some decent sorts on his debut. A laid-back pro, he showed a smart turn of foot and looks a proper athlete.

Buzz De Turcoing will be a much better horse after another summer at grass but he's got a fine frame and fences will be the making of him. There was no shame in this defeat and he plugged on manfully.

Laxey looked a staying handicap chaser in the making and was the surprise package, however connections of Papa Tango Charly appear to have done their dough. A little edgy beforehand, he's quite athletic but didn't exactly stand out and you wonder how some of these animals go through the ring at such cost. A soft-ground staying type, this wasn't his bag at all but even so, he hasn't even looked like winning in four outings under rules.

The eyecatcher here was Getabuck, who is a well-made, well related son of Getaway sure to be placed to good effect by his small stable. A point winner on good ground, he actually came home quite strongly after blowing up on this reappearance, and should be kept on side once picking up a mark.

A fair handicap chase with Cracking Find a tight market leader, but I surmised that this formerly consistent sort had lost his way since a crunching fall at Aintree last backend, and it could take a while before he gets his mojo back. None of the old fight was in evidence again.

Western Miller caused a shock, sticking on well after dominating throughout...he's always looked useful when on song but this was not his usual time of year - to be fair the trainer is having a good time of things.

They didn't quite go fast enough for Movie Legend and he was typically one-paced, while Hawk High is simply not to be trusted these days as he looked in good order. Those held up had no chance and it really isn't the place to be on this constantly turning track.

A really weak novices hurdle and the winner Gaelik Coast, looking much fitter than on debut early in the season, didn't achieve an awful lot and may struggle to defy a penalty bar the worst northern novice. He remains rather unfurnished.

With One Fine Man looking really burly still and running like a horse with lots to learn, and the Flat rogue Yabass making no appeal (looking really quirky beforehand) it looked like France De Reve had the race at his mercy.

However, he too looked far from straight forward in the prelims and showed a very poor attitude in the race, the ears going back when buttons were pressed and he is one to be extremely wary of.

Dubh Des Champs was quietly fancied back on a sounder surface with headgear applied but he was just run down by the classier Supreme Escape, who took an age to get going but essentially outstayed them and appears to have unlimited stamina reserves.

Quite a nice young horse, he'll remain quietly progressive I'm sure.

Doncaster - January 25

Mister Fisher has a lot of class about him and there's little doubt he's a Cheltenham type horse, momentarily outpaced before easing to the front at the last before asserting. He looks an ideal type for the Marsh Novices chase (formerly the JLT).

Al Dancer tends to come up a little short at graded level and may well always find a couple too good, while Lisp was asked to cut out the donkey work which may not have suited, and he's a really honest type that jumps well in the main despite lacking a little in size.

Lygon Rock has long since appealed as a staying chaser to follow but once again he looked very nervy and anxious in the race and doesn't appear to be in love with the game at present. I once backed him to beat Paisley Park.

Ramses De Teillee made good use of his assured stamina and sound jumping to run his lesser experienced rivals ragged from the front. You wouldn't put it past him trying similar tactics in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham and he seems to go on all types of ground.

This test came too soon in the development of Thomas MacDonagh, a really lovely staying chase prospect who may require a softer surface to show his best, while Boss Man Fred was soon off the bridle but didn't pick up at all and he too probably wants soft ground.

Champagne Well is what he is and he gives the form a fair level, but he finished exhausted which is a testament to the stamina reserves of the winner.

A brilliant little mares race and Timetochill really caught the eye beforehand, she's long since appealed as something with a touch of class and proved her place at this level, only giving way after the last.

Yes she got cheap lengths at the start and was probably flattered, but connections sure have a nice mare on their hands. Each of the front four ran with credit, the disappointment being Floressa who didn't seem to have any excuses this time, having a good pace to aim at.

But she was unable to pick up like Lady Buttons, who is a true sensation, proving adaptable regarding trip and ground, hurdles or fences. I thought she had developed into a better chaser and she'd had a hard enough race here last month, but she showed all her customary zip to win tidily.

A wide-open Sky Bet chase and one for the pinstickers, class coming to the fore with the quality physical specimen OK Corral coming good after a couple of disappointing efforts. There were no huge positive or negatives although the A King trio of Good Man Pat, Azzerti and Dingo Dollar typically lacked a bit of size and personally speaking they tend not to appeal in these type of races.
Dingo Dollar in particular looks quirky and is proving costly for his followers.

Cobra De Mai is another that lacks size and prefers a prominent sit with plenty of daylight, so stuck in behind a wall of horses wouldn't have suited. None finished better and he's one to persevere with.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Midweek eye-catchers - January 22

Catterick - January 22

A novice hurdle that fell apart with the early departure of the quirky-looking Evander and the unfortunate exit of the ill-fated Kiriglote, however that should not detract from the effort of the winner Show Promise, who has done little wrong in his career so far.

Sure to improve in the jumping department over time, this decent-sized home bred will be capable of recording bigger numbers than he had to here and is precisely the type of horse his trainer excels with.

Runner-up O'Connell Street once again had very little oomph when push came to shove and he is a long way down the pecking order at Seven Barrows.

So Satisfied is hardly a winning machine and lacks the size to truly excel over fences, but he was weak in the market here largely on account of looking in need of the run beforehand.

Seen travelling and jumping notably well off the pace, this should put him spot on next when he will look well handicapped compared to previous winning form.

A fine race for the track and a worthy winner of the novices chase in Schiehallion Munro, who once again jumped for fun and showed tremendous zest for the job, hitting the line hard despite a positive ride throughout.

Connections will be spying Aintree and/or Ayr later in the season and is one to keep firmly on side, while good ground will hold no fears for this most likeable individual, who should stay 3m in time.

Return Ticket has been campaigned like a good horse throughout his career but is yet to strike over fences. That should change in due course providing he tidies up his still-novicey jumping, while he travels so well during a race that it's hard not to see a big improvement once faced with a sounder surface.

Diamond Fort was quite strong in the market despite track and trip looking far from ideal, and this confirmed stayer was duly off the bridle from some way out before staying on stoutly after the last.

Lacking a little in stature does not seem to hold him back in the jumping department and he looks a ready-made winner in a more suitable race.

Crixus's Escape isn't very tall but has plenty of athleticism; however he was a bit of a slow burner over timber and an early error at the first ditch saw him lose a little confidence.

Not given a hard time once held, he stayed on noticably strongly from the last giving the impression once again that a trip closer to 3m will now suit, where a slower gallop may also help him get organised.

Minella Trump was all the rage in the betting but it was chief market rival Annsam who made much more appeal following paddock inspection, the Southern-raider having loads of scope and looking in really good order. With his most recent victory well advertised by the runner-up, he was a confident choice and received a very professional ride from the outstanding Adam Wedge.

Out of a wonderful race mare in Bathwick Annie, Annsam is a name to remember once tackling fences and over a longer trip.

Another winner of another weak race was Summer Lightening, and another that stood out in the paddock having loads of size and scope, while looking on particularly good terms with herself.

Jockey Conor O'Farrell is making a name for himself in the North and gave the big grey a lovely waiting ride, yet still got there plenty soon enough on a mare you get the impression doesn't do an awful lot in front.

As such, she may have a little more in hand than the margin of victory suggests and, while this did not take much winning, she strikes as the sort to go in again while in this sort of form. In the longer term she may improve still further once tackling fences.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Haydock - January 18

Drying ground meant it wasn't anywhere near as testing as it can be at this time of year...times suggesting it was no worse than soft on both tracks bearing in mind the changes to official distances.

Serious Ego's run attracted the attention of the stewards and although 'explanations were accepted' make no mistake this is a potential plot next time out.

Despite winning a Point, he's not very big and was only able to win from a mark of 100 under Gordon Elliott, and has essentially been handicapped out of things ever since.

It's unlikely he'll be dropped any further from his current mark of 109 after staying on politely behind the 'thrown in' winner, but it looks likely to be exploited before the ground dries out.

Four went to post for a tasty novices chase and while they all looked fantastic creatures, it was Joke Dancer who took the eye and really has developed into the perfect looking racehorse.

Running just a week after a personal best effort was never likely to pay off though, and Danny Cook wasn't hard on him after he blew his chance by going off too keenly.

Even though his wins have come left handed, his jumping is so biased to the right that he must surely have to go that way at some point, although that would probably mean heading south. In the longer term, you could see him running well in the graduation chase at Carlisle later in the year.

Thebannerkingrebel looked a short price on the bare form to win the Rossington Main but was arguably unfortunate not to back up his course and distance success here last time out.

A horse with a high cruising speed, it was therefore surprising that his rider didn't make full use of an easy lead by kicking for home sooner, a last flight error handing the initiative to Edwardstone, who then shoved him into the rails earning jockey Tom Cannon a three-day ban.

Jamie Snowden's inmate comes out best at the weights and leaves the impression there's a bigger run in him, possibly given an end-to-end gallop on a stiffer track.

The hindsight tipping line has been popular ever since King Charles was powering across Newmarket heath on his trusted Rowley, and on reflection the whole of the north should have been on Vintage Clouds to land the Peter Marsh at his favourite hunting ground.

As sure as night follows day, the Sue Smith horses are flying again with the start of a new calendar year and this was the grey's Gold Cup and Grand National rolled into one.

All the ducks were aligned but the problem now is that he'll be running from a career high mark for the rest of the campaign, which will make life extremely taxing away from his beloved bog. That said, you'd be foolish to overlook him if coming back here for the Grand National Trial next month.

Pentland Hills will be one of the big talking points in the lead up to Cheltenham but the bare form of his luckless defeat to Ballyandy leaves him with a fair bit to find.

That said, he was on a bit of a hiding to nothing here with conditions not exactly ideal, and this excitable sort may yet play a part in the Champion providing the ground is not as arduous as this.

On the flip side, the winning time was (suspiciously) the same as that recorded by Stolen Silver in the Rossington Main, so either the novices want upgrading a bit or Pentland Hills is going to have to improve a significant amount in the next eight weeks.

No hindsight required this time as Billingsley came into this handicap chase looking a seriously well handicapped horse now that connections have settled upon his optimum conditions.

Now 4/4 over the minimum trip, I firmly expect the imposing son of Millenary to continue to improve in testing conditions, with his bold jumping likely to stretch the majority of novices.

The only one able to keep tabs was Muratello, another horse clearly better suited to the minimum trip, and while those who backed him from double-figure prices may have been disappointed with his finishing effort, time may tell he simply bumped into one.

Danny Cook is quite rightly lauded for his positive riding but it took plenty of finesse to get Silva Eclipse home in the finale, a race in which the pair were done on the line 12 months ago.

Off the back of a stronger pace this time, Cook stalked the better travelling leaders before asking for everything after the last, and the grey picked up in good style.

Previously hard to win with, Silva Eclipse has been looking as though he's ready to jump fences but with this success he could find a third win of the season over timber an easier option.

Duc De Grissay proved a little disappointing for the in-form Sandy Thomson, but I maintain the stance that he'll be of greater interest once sent over fences next season.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Market Rasen - January 16

Pretty modest fare with the notable exception of a Listed mares bumper, the ground wasn't that deep but the strong wind made it quite holding, according to Brian Hughes.

The opener wasn't a bad little novice hurdle with three likeable individuals in opposition, the market strongly favouring Fix Sun from the bang in-form Henderson stable.

An athletic, rangy animal, he didn't do an awful lot wrong, jumping notably cleanly in defying a penalty with something in hand.

Sheshoon Sonny and Fearless battled it out for second after running contrasting races, the former yet again jumping far from fluently on the whole yet showing plenty of ability and stamina, far from the finished article physically.

The latter took the eye beforehand, a good moving sort sure to win plenty of races in this sphere, just running a shade keenly and novicey on occasions, while looking to have plenty of scope and ability.

The mare Maisiebella ran an honourable fourth, not for the first time revealing herself to be of a decent level, and lots of scope to improve physically and come on again for the outing. She'll now qualify for a mark and will be of interest.

The staying handicap hurdle wasn't as competitive as the betting suggested however it provided a surprise winner in Blue Hussar, who looked on the downgrade in this sphere but had become well handicapped on the back of some lacklustre efforts.

He had his work cut out to get to the good looking mare Highway Girl, who went through the race like a well-handicapped horse following a breathing operation, but had run her race by the time they had cleared the last. There will be other days for this nicely-related chasing type.

Oscars Leader was well found in the market but looked beaten before stamina became an issue and remains something of an enigma for his new trainer, while Ratfacemcdougall looks more suited to this sphere but proved here that he requires a sounder surface.

Seemingly So emerged from the pack but he is terribly slow, and lacks a bit of size. Blinkers might inspire some improvement.

Strong Glance was the first port of call in the following class 4 handicap, quite a comedown for such a promising bumper horse who has taken a long time to get the hang of hurdles.

Not straight forward-looking, he settled and jumped much better than previously and the ducks were aligned on this occasion, showing that turn of foot of old to scamper clear between the final two flights. He raced on the better ground, and if building on this remains handicapped to do a fair amount of damage.

Floating Rock had a progressive profile and was in the right place throughout but was novicey again on occasions and race in the worst of the ground, which reportedly didn't suit (surprise). He's not one to give up on when the ground dries out.

Just So Cool has spent a lot of time on the sidelines and didn't look at all fit here, yet ran a blinder and if seen again in the near future must be worth another chance. El Khaldoun is a strapping chase type and wouldn't have been suited by track or trip.

A decent handicap chase of its type was decimated at halfway by the fall of Just Don't Ask, wiping out numerous others, and it looked as though Ballinslea Bridge had the race at his mercy crossing the second last.

However, he had done far too much in the early part of the race and he paid for it after the last, with the reformed Zolfo making it four on the bounce as he held the rallying Bandsman.

Ballinslea Bridge is a very likeable individual and he should find compensation if allowed to stride on next time out, he loves soft ground and is an enthusiastic galloper and jumper. Ramonex looked fit enough but is a big unit, Tiffin Top is sturdy but made very little appeal and is one to avoid.

Some decent looking mares gathered for the Listed bumper, the elephant in the room being an unraced daughter of Canford Cliffs from the W Mullins yard.

Panic Attack certainly wasn't in need of the generous weight allowance, having loads of size and scope, and she lengthened stylishly in the straight to win like a decent filly.

Midnight Ginger was popular after winning on her debut over 12f but she was very much on her toes in the prelims and though likeable, looks a more speedy type at this juncture.

Runner-up The Getaway Star looks like a Flat horse despite her breeding, and she hit a notable flat spot before staying on well for second, ahead of the robust looking Midnight Callisto, who also stayed on stoutly. They enhanced their profiles giving so much weight to a good horse.

The last two races over fences were of little account regarding future performances, although it's worth noting that the decent looking Out For Justice jumped and galloped like one ready to strike when running on good ground, as he couldn't go with the front pair when coming off the bridle.

Balgemmois had been well backed in much better races on his previous two starts but had been outpaced by a couple of decents sorts last time, and found this stamina test much more to his liking.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Doncaster - January 14

A sparse crowd, dreadful weather and modest racing - what's not to like?! Steady if light rain and strong winds made conditions harder than the good to soft, soft in places they declared on.

There were a few interesting ones in a modest opening contest among whom Jobsonfire came in for significant support following three runs over shorter earlier in the season.

Well prepared for this handicap debut by trainer Sam Allwood, responsible this season for both Sheneededtherun and Out On The Tear, the February Point winner proved himself well handicapped and handled the softening conditions to get us off to a flier.

The other steamer was Evenstevens, but he made less appeal physically lacking any size and scope, but he battled away to take a clear second and those responsible for the support will rue bumping into an even better handicapped rival.

Sultans Pride wasn't without his backers and looked in good order after a lengthy absence, staying on at one pace into third in the manner of a strong stayer. If retaining his bumper ability, one of these should come his way from a low mark.

Jessica Rabbit once again showed ability but didn't get home in the conditions, a comment applying to plenty.

The second was a weak looking novices hurdle although there didn't look a great deal between them on paddock inspection with the very hot favourite Craigneiche not making much of a lasting impression.

Unfortunately there was nothing that could match him form-wise, and with chief rival Meyer Lansky struggling to find his feet in the soft ground in the inside of the track, the jolly came home in front despite a number of clumsy errors.

He'll be found out in higher company or indeed in this type of contest under a penalty, staying on to beat outsiders Ulverston and Jaytee, who both displayed plenty of ability to match their frames beforehand.

Eyeofthescorpion was one of the nicer types and he made an eye-catching racecourse debut for a trainer whose horses are going well without winning, ridden very much with the future in mind.

Cubao looked a little weak after an absence and faded tamely in the straight.

Race three was the feature novices chase with the full eight lining up, and it was a wide open betting heat with the Henderson-trained Caribean Boy weak in the market after a lengthy absence.

The grey looked a ponderous beast in the prelims, a sturdy sort that looked sure to come on for the run, and with Cotswold Way looking sure to struggle on the rain-softened ground there was plenty of value elsewhere.

Garrettstown again looked the part, and in very good order, but a sharp drift late on was a portent for a lacklustre effort and he returned lame. He's too nice a horse to give up on just yet.

The others of interest were the previously highly tried Nestor Park and The Big Bite, neither of whom had shaped with much promise last time but had far too much form over hurdles to be dismissed.

The money came quite strongly for the latter and he looked much more at home on this left-handed track, despite a few novicey mistakes he still had the engine to power home unchallenged.

He was chased home in the end by Senior Citizen who wouldn't have the size of some others but should find handicaps to his liking, coming into this with a bit to find on the figures.

Nestor Park went sharply left at times but he'd be of interest over 3m while Stay Humble lacked in size although might pick up weaker races in the north.

Another novices hurdle followed and it featured a vulnerable looking jolly in Perfect Predator, who blew a good chance last time with a poor jump at the last and his lack of size and scope is always going to hold him back.

The worsening ground would not have been in his favour but it looked a race of some depth not withstanding the likelihood of there being only a couple of triers.

As the weather closed in it was very hard to catch a glimpse of some of the runners, eventual winner Global Society being one although he looked quite a robust individual.

In the end he had the race sewn up a long way from home as the favourite was never travelling, although this would only be middling form.

Having taken a financial interest in Ask Henry it was interesting to see his jockey sit motionless as the race developed around him, spotting the leaders many lengths after taking the third last.

Whether or not by design this was another encouraging run and it was taking the way he made up ground between the final two flights. Another half mile will be right up his street and if he gets a mark he'll be worth looking out for in the coming weeks.

Le Grand Fromage was held together for much of the trip and he's another likely to build on this following a wind op, having plenty of scope, while the well-related mare Inawhilecrocodile should benefit from an educational run and she was noted staying on stoutly from the final flight.

Just four went to post for the staying chase with none holding solid claims, the market finding it hard to split them. One thing for certain was that Nesterenko wouldn't get home in the conditions, but that still left three.

Stockburn is quirky enough and probably wants better ground, and he was soon on the back foot, the paddock pick was undoubtedly Financial Outcome but the yard has been very quiet and he had been very disappointing in previous efforts. The race took very little winning, as he was the only one that kept jumping and galloping.

Runner-up Ballymagroarty Boy is barely big enough to jump fences and it all looked too much of an effort. He stays well and acts on the ground but he's wasting his time over the larger obstacles.

Theflickeringlight was a warm order in the closing handicap hurdle but the market reminded my of the race at Wetherby at the weekend when Big Bad Bear was sent sent off a hot favourite.

They are handicaps for a reason and the mare has been having a busy time of things, while the race represented another step up with several having genuine claims.

Eventual winner Hawthorn Cottage still has some strengthening to do but she ran well in a fast-run novices hurdle over Christmas and was given another bold ride by her inexperienced jockey, and despite running on the slower part of the track had enough in reserve to fend off Amberose, whose partner may rue not sending her after the leader sooner.

Storm Goddess looked really well for a trainer whose horses are in good form but she wants much better ground than this, as does Eyes Right who was also too keen, but it was a solid enough run from the likeable Legalized and she can pick up a much weaker race than this in due course.