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.