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.