Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Musselburgh - Cheltenham Trials Day

MUSSELBURGH – Sunday February 1st

Going – Good (Good To Soft in places)

A decent crowd of around 4,000 was present for Musselburgh’s best card of the season. Indeed this was probably one of the best jumping cards Musselburgh have put on since they began racing under National Hunt Rules in 1987. It does strike me as rather odd that a day's race on a flat track with sharp bends in Scotland holds a Trials day for a meeting at an uppy-downy track in Gloucestershire, but I suppose it's a good selling point. Certainly Nicky Henderson thought it worth the trip from Lambourn.

Derek Thompson spent the afternoon wittering away to all and sundry from his position in the paddock. Tommo is not my cup of tea, but on this occasion he provided plenty of useful information for the punters and did some good interviews, and can at least be said to be giving novice racegoers some idea about the sport. He provided some continuity for the crowd in the gaps between races.

A few extra catering wagons had been brought in to feed the throng and, though there were queues, they served their purpose well. The hidden gem of the Rosebery Cafe seems to miss the hustle and bustle a bit, but is well worth a visit for one of the better value cups of coffee on the racing circuit and for some decent cakes and sandwiches.

The snow that arrived on Monday was presaged by a stiff chilly breeze blowing off the North Sea. The course had dried out in the days preceding the meeting.

1.30 2m 4f Class 3 Novices’ Hurdle

A few competitive in this heat, but the majority were making up the numbers. The Fife and Kinross women’s brigade arrived mob-handed, with Glenfarg-based Lucy Normile running four, Lucinda Russell sending two from Milnathort and another pair travelling form Sue Bradburne’s Cupar yard.

KNOCKARA BEAU ended a lean spell for his trainer George Charlton, looking on his toes and ready in the paddock and winning nicely. He proved useful as a bumper horse last year, and proved no slouch over hurdles on this occasion. He was moved up to the leader after the fifth, took over on the home bend and then had too much pace for the runner-up on the run to the line. I got the impression there was a little more in the tank. A step up in trip once again would do him no harm.
DIVERS won here last time and lost nothing in defeat under a penalty. His mark of 119 sets the level for the race. The first two kicked on clear of a promising third and I reckon the form is sound.
STORMIN EXIT, who led home the Fife and Kinross representatives, caught my eye on two bumper efforts and may a sound enough hurdling debut here behind proven performers. He set the pace as previously, but was outpaced once turned for home but stayed on for third. His best chance over hurdles looks to be a minor maiden event in the short term, but whatever happens I think this one will win races.
LORD RAGNAR went well for a way but was quickly left behind from the third last. He is a big gelding who probably needs a bit of time to strengthen up and was presumably here as a box filler for more talented stable-mates. There was enough here to suggest he’ll offer more given time and might be one to watch out for round the likes of Ludlow and Hereford in a while.
FIRST STREAM, a Group 1 performer in Germany, hadn’t been stretched when misjudging the seventh and coming down. He was easy in the market, which reflects the fact the Howard Johnson’s runners were reported held up by recent bad weather.
FRANCESCO looked fit enough but proved slow, and LADY CHATELAINE ran to more or less her previous level, the visor not making an appreciable difference.

2.00 2m 4f 0-120 Handicap Hurdle

This appeared a potentially well contested event, but in the end the first pair were able to dictate. Whether they could do the same again if bustled up a bit is debatable.

STROBE was lifted 15lbs for his second to Woody Waller in a novice event here last time. This looked harsh, given that he’d been well held by Kyber here off a lower mark earlier. However, Strobe maintained the last time out form level, comfortably turning the tables on Kyber. He was allowed to dictate the pace for the final circuit, along with Danish Rebel, and the two never looked like being caught once they kicked on entering the home straight.
The 10lb claims for the first two riders must surely have helped, and Alex Voy on the winner showed his promise, outriding Jakub Kocman on the flat. Voy comes form nearby Haddington and looks an interesting prospect on the evidence to date.
DANISH REBEL was hindered by a slipped saddle last time. He ran some fair races last season and kept on for second having contested the lead. He will no doubt go up a few pounds for this but this run suggests he has prospects in this class.
DONT TELL THE WIFE, making his handicap debut, stayed on for third without ever threatening the two leaders. He won a bumper at Towcester in heavy, so is likely to appreciate more of a stamina test and has found his level in this company.
SIMPLE JIM led the pursuers three out having been out the back early, but couldn’t get any closer. He was put in a difficult position when the leaders pushed on. This probably wasn’t a bad effort on that basis and he should be competitive in similar events.
I couldn’t get enthusiastic about any of the others. KYBER was favourite and held Strobe on previous form, but never looked like winning this. The step up in trip might not have favoured him as much as the winner, but he just seemed below par. NOSFERATU was well backed but performed poorly. STAINLEY was pulled up and seems well out of sorts at the moment.

2.30 2m Class 2 4yo Novices’ Hurdle

Billed as a Triumph Hurdle Trial, but I fancy the best here might be more ‘Fred Winter’ material if taken to the Cheltenham Festival.

Nicky Henderson travelled to Musselburgh for the first time to take advantage of the better ground. I got the impression he was suitably impressed and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him visit again. Henderson’s GIORGIO QUERCUS disappointed in testing conditions at Chepstow, but Musselburgh is totally different, and revelling on the faster ground he came away from the last. It was a sound performance but he has many lengths to find for the Triumph Hurdle and I’d expect the Fred Winter Handicap to be the target. I’d be surprised if his 130 handicap mark changed much if at all for this.
NINE STORIES ran better than some Howard Johnson competitors at the meeting. He had every chance at the last but was held on the flat. Two mile novices or handicaps on decent ground and sharp tracks look his level.
WEST WITH THE WIND won here in December, but found the opposition tougher. He set a decent pace, but couldn’t summon up enough extra once passed. It looks as if he’s more stamina oriented than the first two.
SACRILEGE placed twice previously wasn’t good enough. He stayed on and will win a novice event once his sights are lowered a bit.
TREEKO was poor on the Flat in Ireland and was out of his depth on hurdling debut. On this evidence he’s selling class.
RECOIL pulled up in a seller last time but, tongue-tied here, at least managed a completion. He’s very slow.

3.00 2m 4f Class 3 Novices’ Chase

The course executive must have been well pleased to see some decent novices turn up for this event.

KALAHARI KING is being quoted in single figures for the Arkle, but I can’t get that enthusiastic about him on this evidence. He had to work hard to see off a decent but not star novice in Astarador. He jumped well and got the upper hand essentially because he got the last right and the second didn’t. It could be argued that he will be better suited by a drop back to two miles, particularly given fast ground, but I fancy there will be one or two too good at the top level.
ASTARADOR, whose chase win came when gifted a lead by a shambles of a start, went along nicely in front, though awkward at one or two fences. The winner was under driving coming to the last but got a better leap than Astarador whose handicap mark of 135 would appear to set the level here.
WATERSKI bumbled round at the back, picking off his wooden spoon rival in the straight to gain a third prize.
UPTOWN LAD looked as if the race would bring him on. He had no chance and had to settle for fourth, though his jumping improved after being sticky over the first four. He has won three times earlier in his career, and with this race behind him a small handicap might not be out of the question.
PALOMAR, wearing earplugs as previously observed, was fit and on his toes. He was settled chasing the leaders, but was being stretched when hitting four out and well held when tumbling at the second last. The impression is he’s more comfortable seeing off inferior opponents.
HERNANDO’S BOY went comfortably enough before falling heavily at twelfth. He got up and appeared to be unharmed. Given that he’d gone well enough he should win again when aimed at easier contests.

3.30 2m 0-135 Scottish County Handicap Hurdle

Possibly the best class handicap hurdle ever run at the course, the race was run at a decent gallop with proven front runner Bywell Beau setting the pace. There were six in with a live chance at the last.

EUROPEAN DREAM has two ways of going, ‘go or ‘slow’ and Paddy Aspell reported that he knew the horse was on a going day as he headed down to the start. The gelding has to be held up until the last possible moment, so the fact that there were six in contention jumping the last must have been a help. For all that he can have off days his hurdles record is very good with 4 wins and 6 places from 18 efforts, so he’s always worth consideration in this type of event.
ALONG THE NILE was dropped back to a trip that suited him better than the two and a half miles he tried here last time. He challenged late on couldn’t quite get to the winner. He likes this course and needs decent ground; he’s not done anything on ground softer than good to soft.
AMAZING KING had won twice in two goes here, but the rise for his last win just held him on this occasion. Nevertheless this was a very good effort and he suffered a little as Along The Nile drifted on the run to the line. He does go well here but off a current mark of 131 his chances at the course are limited.
HIBIKI, making the long trip from Somerset, has proved consistent over hurdles and ran another creditable race. He couldn’t produce the speed of the first two on the run-in. To a certain extent he pays the price for his placed efforts as he is gradually rising up the weights.
JOE JO STAR was bottom weight here so up against superiors and certainly didn’t disgrace himself. He has been kept on the go on the all-weather since his win here, and is in decent form. He shouldn’t go up in the weights for the fifth here, and looks a sound proposition if dropped in class. Decent ground does seem to be a key on turf.
BOLODENKA was moved up in class having run Kyber close here last time. He was in contention at the last but felt the pinch on the run-in. On the evidence of his last two runs he barely sees out the trip, so fast grounds and a sharp track look essential, and he needs to be dropped in class.
BYWELL BEAU led the field at a decent gallop but gave way three out. He still retains his zest for racing, despite an indifferent spell chasing, and if his trainer can find a handicap hurdle at Kelso then he might just manage another win.
FOLK TUNE was shifted up 7lbs for his win here last time and that mark of 122 looks as if it will stop him.

4.00 2m 4f Class 4 Claiming Chase

There are very few claiming chases run in the UK, and I’m not sure I can remember a horse being claimed out any that I have seen. To me horses in these races seem to be entered at way over the value people are likely to pay anyway.

Evan Williams spotted an excellent opportunity to place CHRYSANDER and his charged had a little too much for a runner-up racing off 25lbs worse than handicap terms. The winner is suited by decent ground, which is almost a constant here, but would struggle to get into any handicap chase at Musselburgh given his current rating of 132. His rating owes much to his novice form and on this evidence he might find handicaps tough.
CATEGORICAL won this race last year and, for all that he has only recorded two wins over jumps, gives his running on most occasions. His future prospects depend on how the handicapper views this form. Given that he was close behind a 132, and beat two 117s comfortably he may be penalised. Even if we judge Snowy to have run to form in third then based on today’s terms Categorical would be moved up about 10lbs.
SNOWY ran as well as could be expected in third. He led but understandably had no answer over the last four fences.
ET MAINTENANT is rated a respectable 117, but his purchase of 6500gns seems a little low for a double winner this season. It could be he will need a little time to adjust to new surroundings, and he was below his best in conditions that should have suited.
BESTOFTHEBROWNIES was below form, as were many from the Johnson stable at this meeting. His two wins have come on good to firm at Sedgefield, and he could be better come the spring.
BARTON SUN, ridden by a Louis Bouldoires a Frenchman who rides cross-country chases, had no hope at the weights and trailed the field.
SYBELLIUS D’ARTAIX, who looked fit and on his toes, has ability but has shown very little for a couple of years. He lost touch from 6 out and pulled up.
ARIGNA unseated early and has shown nothing in three runs since moving from Ireland.
OCEAN DANCER was tried in a tongue tie here but was stones wrong at the weights and had no chance.
LOFTY LEADER was struggling after a circuit and his form has gone totally to pot in the last year and a half.

4.30 2m NH Flat Race

This was an interesting bumper run in the gathering gloom. As usual in these events there was a vast range of abilities.

Nicky Henderson introduced a nice looking sort in BELLVANO who was reported as attracting interest in the Cheltenham Bumper market. Whether he’s good enough for that I’m not sure, and I’d need further evidence, but he saw off a determined second and the pair pulled clear in the straight. He clearly seems to have plenty of raw ability and a second outing might give us more of a clue. If he does go to Cheltenham I would be happier if a stronger jockey then Mr J.P.Magnier were riding since, although he’s a fair enough amateur, the pros would outride him.
Karen McLintock has a decent bumper horse in Bygones Of Brid, and the evidence is that she has another distinctly useful recruit in NODFORMS VIOLET. He’s a big strong sort and a keen walker. He ran in snatches and got hampered on the stands’ bend and then took a bit of time to get back into the race but picked up ground in the straight. He was outpointed in the final furlong, but was well clear of the third and must surely win a bumper, and next outing if kept to this level. Nodforms Violet will learn from this and I suspect there is better to come.
EXCITING CAR showed promise on a single outing last season and kept on for third twelve lengths adrift of the second. He looked fit enough for this run, so would probably have to avoid anything decent if he’s to pick up a bumper, but there are plenty of run of the mill events on the northern circuit.
RED ONION was once gain found wanting in the latter stages having been in touch to half a mile out.
BUNGLASHA JAKE weakened quickly from two out. He was an expensive Wylie purchase having won a maiden Irish point and looks like a chaser.
DUAL OBSESSION looked to need the race and, having lost her place early on, found everything happening too quick for her. She’s a half-sister to Trabolgan and Huka Lodge, so a bit of time, a distance of ground and some jumps in the way will all help.

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