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.