Wednesday, 15 October 2008

An autumn trip south to Hexham

HEXHAM – Saturday October 11th
Going – Soft (Heavy in places)

My first visit to Hexham and a venue which in the main gained my approval, but with a few qualifications.

Viewing is generally good, but I couldn’t find a place where I could get a decent view of the entire course. I settled for the steps of the Club Enclosure, but even from there much of the run-in was obscured. The spectator does have a fine view of the back straight and although the course is basically stiff in nature, there is a significant downhill section on the far side where horses can get outpaced. A stiff westerly windy gave a bit of a chill, though one of the regulars told me that it was positively tropical by Hexham standards.

It would be helpful if there were more covered areas since this is an exposed venue and at the mercy of the elements. The Ramshaw Stand is basically a big building with a load of bars and function rooms. The viewing was not brilliant and it rather redefines the usual idea of a stand. My wife is an occasional racegoer and as with many courses she found the lack of seated areas an inconvenience. As seems to be the case with weekend meetings there were too many of the ‘how much beer can we drink’ brigade. On the positive side paddock area is easily accessed and very popular, and the unsaddling enclosure area intimate enough for a bit of ear-wigging post race conversations.

The course catering left a bit to be desired. Lukewarm steak and kidney pie and peas didn’t impress, and the ‘home-made’ soup was unlikely to have come from anyone’s home. I paid £1.50 for a cup of instant coffee for which the ingredients probably set the caterers back only a few pence.

The racing, while not being of a great standard, was competitive and entertaining. The going was testing, though some professionals seemed to think it didn’t ride quite as tough as the description might suggest, and horses seemed to get home well enough.

2.15 2m ½ f Beginners’ Chase

A pretty ordinary event, but won in impressive style by Howard Johnson’s chasing debutant STRIKING ARTICLE. In retrospect he didn’t have much to beat, with his main market rival clearly needing a longer trip. However he could hardly had won this in easier fashion. Bowling along in front he jumped very well, if just a little sticky at the water jump, and had the race in safe keeping from a long way out. A big strong sort who looks to have been crying out for a try over fences, he should go on to bigger and better things.
THE SHY MAN had winning form over 2m 4f-2m 6f over hurdles and clearly needs further. Looking a real picture for his seasonal debut, he was outpaced down the far side but stayed on well up the hill to wrest second place on the run-in. There’s better to come with a step up in trip.
JAMIE’S BOY went second three out but was caught after the last. This is probably as good as he is and novice handicaps would appear to be his level.
CARRIETAU probably paid the price for chasing the leader and eventually tired into a well beaten fourth. There was enough promise to suggest we’ll see better from him and as a 5 year old has time on his side.
WISE CHOICE was never in the race. He’s better on less testing ground.
NEVSKY BRIDGE was being stretched when coming down at the eighth fence and has yet to make a mark over fences.
PENDLE FOREST was struggling before halfway and pulled up. She reportedly had a breathing problem.

2.45 2m ½ f Mares’ Only Novices’ Hurdle

A distinctly uncompetitive event won easily by the clear form horse.

LAURELDEAN MELODY disputed the lead before taking over 2 out and soon going clear. She kept up the gallop for a comfortable win. She’s consistent at her own level.
MISS CHAMPAGNE stayed on into second place, an improvement on her previous hurdling efforts. If nothing else she did split two previous winners. The jockey and trainer’s post-race conversation along the lines of "she'll jump a fence" suggests she may well be sent chasing soon.
SKY CALLING disputed until 2 out but was then left behind and caught for second on the flat. A fair effort but this is probably as good as she is.
NEW TACTICS was in the rear then made progress at the sixth but never got close enough. Her ability would seem limited but she may be helped by a step back up in trip.
The rest produced very little of any promise. MISS TARANTELLA, a rather scrawny looking mare, looked to hate the tongue-tie in the paddock. She jumped awkwardly at the second and her saddle slipped at which point she was steered off the course.

3.20 2m 4½f 0-110 Handicap Chase

My initials thoughts were that this would fall to one of the chasing debutants. If I’d taken care to check point-to-point form then possibly I’d have favoured the winner, but then again isn’t hindsight a fine thing?

SILLY WUPPLE was a point winner with some fair hurdle form and a NH Flat win in his record. He made a couple of messy jumps but pressed from 3 out and stayed on after being switched left to challenge on the flat. His rider Tom Scudamore was cautioned for overuse of the whip. That being noted, he lacked nothing at the business end and may well progress to win again with the experience under his belt.
JUST FOR MEN made a creditable return after a lay-off. He took the lead on the uphill run to the last, but was overtaken again on the flat. Given that the race will have brought him on a win would seem around the corner.
BALLYNURE disputed or led for much of the way but was one paced once headed up the hill.
INNOMINATE jumped slowly at the fourth and dropped to the rear. Having recovered position he almost came down at the ninth and although eased back into the race found a further effort beyond him. He showed promise over hurdles and with more chasing experience should progress.
SOMETHING GOLD chased the leading group until being outpaced from 3 out. A fair enough return and worth keeping an eye on at least.
ROSIE ALL OVER looked as if she would benefit from the race. She went well to three out then faded and will be fitter for this run.
LORD ON THE RUN never showed and is struggling at the present.
FIRST FOUGHT was behind and was receiving reminders when hitting the seventh, after which he quickly fell away. I got the impression he’d pulled up but apparently he continued in a remote last.
LETHEM PRESENT set the early pace and out jumped her rivals but was headed by the seventh and pulled up before the eleventh.
OH PICKLES lost touch down the back straight for the final time and pulled up.

3.50 3m 0-100 Handicap Hurdle

Not a strong pace on here, and all were going comfortably with a circuit to travel.

Sue Smith did very nicely here, bagging first and third. The winner WHATDOIDOWITHTHAT looked very fit and did the job well on the track. Racing prominently then leading at the ninth, he ran on well to see off his rivals. This gelding stays well and has form with give and on top of the ground so there should be plenty of opportunities.
MANOUBI had shown some promise of a return to form at Perth and ran creditably here. Having moved into a clear second, he chased the leader on the flat. He’s well exposed and probably handicapped to about his mark but is in good form just now.
Third-placed LUCOZADE had moved from Robin Dickin to Sue Smith and been absent for 549 days before this. He had shown only a glimmer of from previously, but turned out looking really fit and well he acquitted himself admirably from 11lbs out of the handicap. Progressing from the rear down the hill towards two out he couldn’t quite get to the leaders and was unable to sustain the effort in the straight. Nevertheless this was a fine effort and there is hope that Lucozade can build on this form.
TOY GUN, an angular gelding who had decked his rider early on in his last two chase outings, set the pace to the ninth and then plugged on for fourth once passed. He was subsequently reported to the stewards as having been injured, but there were no further details.
There wasn’t much of any promise from the rest of a fairly moderate bunch. SHANKLY BOND was never in contention and pulled up, with a report that he’d lost his action.

4.25 2m 4 ½ f Maiden Hurdle

A fair amount of dead wood in this event.

The favourite YOUNGSTOWN walked lazily round the paddock, rather scraping his feet. However, he proved completely different on the track and soon pulled his way to the front. Jumping rather scratchily, he weakened from 3 out. He needs to settle better.
BLACK MOGUL had run some decent races in defeat and showed admirable determination to hold off the less experienced second on the run-in. Very relaxed in the paddock, he settled nicely in second, led briefly up the hill before being headed again, but battled back. He’s got a good attitude and should continue to be competitive.
ANY CURRENCY, a bit fussy in the paddock, looked likely to win before the last but was outbattled. He should have no problem picking up a race.
PROSECCO never quite got to the leaders and was found out by the hill, plodding on into third.
ORMUS was going well two out, but couldn’t produce a further effort. His best chances lie in handicaps.
GRANDE MONSIEUR looked fit but was rather cussed before the start, planting himself for a while and delaying the start. Niggled at halfway through the race he stayed on late.
It was tough to tease out any promise from the remainder.

5.00 3m 1f 0-90 Classified Chase

A pretty desperate staying event, with the ages of two of the major contenders adding up to 27.

TULLY CROSS, have the age of the third and 6 years younger than the second, built on a fair performance behind Huckleberry here last time. Having been niggled for a way he moved into contention three out and stayed on better than his rivals from there. Connections are unlikely to find many such opportunities for him.
FISHERMAN JACK is running creditably for a 13-year-old. He went on three out and threatened to get away, but headed at the last he couldn’t offer any more.
Last year’s winner, 14-year-old MIDNIGHT GUNNER, led jumping well until three out, then the hill did for him and he weakened into third. He’s still giving his owners a bit of fun and seemingly retaining his zest for racing if rather slow these days.
AUGUST ROSE was still in touch when thumping three out which finished her chance. A fair effort in her first chase and she’s not completely without hope of a minor chase wins.
REASONABLY SURE was in touch when giving the third last an even bigger clout than August rose, and he was immediately pulled up, though there didn’t seem to be any lasting damage.
COOLDINE LAD hasn’t completed in four efforts since Feb ’06 and offered precious little encouragement here once the race started in earnest.
ABZUSON hit the second very hard, sending his rider up in the air, but being considerate enough to remain around as Brian Hughes came back down. He was soon behind and pulled up a mile out. I had to check the records on this one since Lee Mackenzie initially called him as a finisher, but then maybe I should have noticed he’d missed the last four!

5.35 2m ½ f Intermediate NH Flat

A few fair pieces of form from previous races from those on show here.

BYGONES OF BRID showed some promise on debut and leading 5f out, scooted clear once turned for home. His performance under a penalty will be a gauge of the form.
TIGER MOSS missed 2007-08 but performed well after the lay-off. She looked fit enough and stayed on for second having raced prominently.
STICK TOGETHER put in two decent placed runs last season before being out of her depth in a Listed race at Sandown. She stayed on from the rear from third. She clearly needs a longer trip, so keep an eye for a hurdle outing over a longer distance.
CAMPINE ROSE kept on into fourth.
BALLYBART, placed in two Irish points, looked in need of the race. He took on the leader from 4f out but paid for that effort in the straight. He showed enough here to suggest he’ll go close in similar company once fitter.
FORREST LEMONS set a decent pace until 5f out, but folded quickly and doesn’t look as if he stays the distance.
QELQUN DE CHAMIREY, shipped over from Ireland, looked to need the race and never showed.

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