AYR – Saturday March 7th
Going – Heavy (soft in places), but with rain arriving mid afternoon I’m sure it would have been Heavy all round by the sixth race.
A very disappointing turn-out, but given that the going has been soft or heavy here all season, and at the likes of Carlisle, then we are probably running out of heavy ground performers ready to run. In the event 34 runners in 7 races provided decent entertainment for a comparatively sparse crowd.
I had intended to give what looked a below par card a miss. However, I took up an offer of a spare owners’ badge from David Parry who runs a dozen partnerships with horses trained by Ferdy Murphy. One of the partnerships has a runner at Cheltenham this coming week so look out for the talented, but a shade enigmatic Nine De Sivola in the National Hunt Chase. My only previous remote involvement as a connection was attendance at Windsor when a racing club horse ran in a six furlong seller. It was tailed off and if you read further on you’ll see my luck hasn’t changed much!
2.25 2m 2f Class 4 Novices’ Hurdle
The day was tagged Irish Raceday, though I can’t say I saw an awful lot ‘Irish’ going on. However, three of the runners in this race travelled over the Irish Sea and saved a Lucinda Russell walkover!
It was pretty much a case of the result telling the full story. It was a slog for the three Irish runners up the straight and they basically kept on each at their own pace.
OH SO HUMBEL justified favouritism, dictating the pace and then gradually forging clear over the last three. He stepped up on his Downpatrick second and might have more chance travelling over here in future.
MIGHTY MASSINI struggled to even finish a point-to-point, but has at least shown a fair amount of ability over hurdles and followed the winner home. He had his tailed tied up which always strikes me as sensible in the mud.
SCOLBOA MUSIC MAN didn’t find enough from three out. He won here previously but his two main opponents here were a bit better than the opposition on his then.
TOMMY TOBOUGG jumped big and got left behind in the final mile. He hasn’t shown much promise yet, but may be worth a go on better ground.
2.45 2m 4f 0-125 Handicap Chase
This was a decent opportunity for CORLANDE, a soft/heavy ground specialist, against opposition with questions to answer. His last race was two weeks previously and he looked in good nick for this run. He was always in the first two, leading before the last and staying on. Although he has won at Kelso, his record suggests one who is favoured by a flat track, but bear in mind that cut in the ground seems a must.
SOMETHING SILVER, back to a more favourable trip, jumped well in the lead but had only the one pace when headed before the last. A good enough and he is another who relishes these conditions. His best form has been at Ayr, but then most of his races have been at Ayr.
CADOUDALAS was comfortably held from three out. He’s still learning over fences and seems best on slightly better ground. He is probably better than the bare form here suggests and worth keeping in mind.
ASTON LAD has not looked the most natural fencer and had a tough task here. He struggled after hitting the eleventh and was a remote fourth when unseating at the last.
SOTOVIK showed promise on his return from a long lay-off last time, but maybe felt the effect of those exertions on this occasion. Conditions suited, but he was struggling in the straight and was pulled up before two out.
3.20 2m 4f 0-125 Handicap Hurdle
Graham Lee gave an exemplary ride on the talented by not altogether predictable KEMPSKI. One thing clear about this gelding is that Ayr is his course and heavy is his ground. He’s at his happiest setting the pace, so the small field played into his hands here. Lee saved enough to enable Kempski to hold on from a determined pursuer in Echo Point. His trainer pointed out that Kempski hates the whip so his rider was under instructions to keep the persuader tucked away. Rayson Nixon recorded his seventh win this season from 47 runners, a fine record for a stable with horses of comparatively limited ability.
ECHO POINT’s recent form has been up and down, but he gave things a good go here, gradually clawing back the winner’s advantage but finding the post coming too soon. He’s versatile as he’s run creditably in chases which gives Nicky Richards an option or two.
MANADAM has every chance two out but couldn’t raise his game to that of the winner. He’s handicapped to his mark now and finding one or two too good.
YOUNG ALBERT stretched his losing run to 11. He showed promise as a novice but hasn’t moved on from there. His better form is at shorter trips and I’d like to see him tried back around the minimum.
MONOLITH lost touch from the seventh and came home in his own time. He did win in heavy on the flat, a Windsor maiden 8 years ago, but he appears not to relish going this testing.
3.55 2m 0-125 Handicap Chase
The rain was falling steadily by this point and got increasingly heavier as the afternoon progressed.
SELECTION BOX ran off 106 in Ireland, yet won off 121 here which demonstrates the gulf in method or assessment between the UK and Irish handicappers. His trainer appeared to clock that he wasn’t badly off and the horse did the business, running on well in the closing stages. His future depends on how both handicappers handle the result. Why they can’t get together and have one scale I haven’t a clue, with modern technology you would have thought consultation would be a doddle.
I commented to my neighbour in the stand that ORMELLO looked out of it four out, yet he stayed on again from two out for second. I’ve seen him race any amount of times since he joined the Russell yard and I still haven’t fathomed him. A trip to take on the Punchestown banks last time ended in disappointment.
DANCER’S SERENADE never threatened once they started racing in earnest. Conditions and course suited, so there wasn’t much of an excuse.
NELSON DU RONCERAY, returning from hurdling, set a decent pace but faded from two out. This was his first effort in a handicap over fences and it could be that he’s plenty high enough.
4.30 3m ½ f 0-110 Novices’ Handicap Hurdle
Notes from the remaining races were done from memory since my notebook was starting to get a bit soggy!
The result pretty much followed the form here with steadily progressing LOCKSTOWN picking up from three out and going clear to win with a stack in hand to provide Graham Lee with his third winner of the afternoon. His problem will be if he has a big rise in the ratings since this race was uncompetitive.
SEEKING STRAIGHT appeared only a day after a second place here but performed very well and must have an iron constitution. Regrettably he was once again vulnerable to anything that could raise the pace even a jot and he could only keep on for second place. He’ll need things to fall for him and some even more paceless opponents to win, but it’s worth noting his record at Ayr is P23822 and all in soft or heavy. I have a bit of a soft spot for this one since connections blagged me into the unsaddling area on his hurdles debut!
Everything else was left behind in the straight, CLASSIC ACT finishing a well held third. He’s got closer at Hexham and Carlisle, so may need an uphill finish to slow the others down.
FLEMROSS and SOUL ANGEL retreated from three out and HARRISON’S STAR never got competitive.
5.05 3m 5f 0-110 Handicap Chase
The main event as far as our party was concerned with the DPRP Nellerie Partnership running LUCKY NELLERIE. A very soggy group waited until as late as possible to enter the parade ring. The horse himself was brought in late as he is ‘a bit of monkey’ who has lot of energy to expend, a fact confirmed by the cross-noseband, two paddock handlers and being mounted on the walk. He did look in excellent condition having had a five-week break since running down the field in a competitive four miler at Doncaster.
LUCKY NELLERIE was able to take his place in 0-110 class for the first time for over a year. Ferdy Murphy and Graham Lee had worked out both a Plan A and a Plan B dependent on the pace on in the race. In the event, even down to Plan Z wouldn’t have been any use since the gelding misjudged the first fence, slipped on landing and came slithering almost to a halt. He stood up but Lee had to check that his mount was sound and by the time the pair were ready the field had gone. In such testing conditions chasing the others would have been futile so a day was called. Lee cantered his mount back and he seemed to be none the worse. There should be other chances for Lucky Nellerie in this grade.
Meanwhile, back on the racecourse in the teeming rain, proven out and out stayers SKENFRITH and DICKIE LEWIS shared the pace, the latter the one we had identified as the horse to beat. In the event the enigmatic but sometimes talented stayer SKENFRITH galloped the remainder into the mud, coming away from his challenger in the straight. He’s one I’d always consider for these events, but the patience of a saint is required waiting for the win! Much jumping up and down and hugging amongst connections.
DICKIE LEWIS emptied out three from home and just held on as those behind came at him. It was very gruelling out there and he may well need a little rest, but the Highland National might suit if the going came up on the soft side in late April.
JACKSONVILLE is presumably in handicaps since the ‘three strikes and out rule’ applying to hunter chases keeps him out of many of them. He didn’t get near the lead but finished with an apparent flourish, though it may have been he was just slowing down less fast then Dickie Lewis.
ANOTHER RUM won the National Hunt Chase in 2005 but has studiously avoided winning since. He’s falling down the handicap but not getting any closer to winning. Like Jacksonville he stayed on and would have caught Dickie Lewis in another 100 yards.
MATMATA DE TENDRON is suited by testing conditions, but his best form is at Sedgefield and he was never going here, eventually calling it a day two out.
5.35 2m NH Flat
If the conditions for this race had been prevalent at midday I think the meeting would have been called off. It was absolutely desperate by this time.
The runners went along at suitably sedate pace in the closing bumper. James Ewart’s interesting prospect TURBO ISLAND had only to see off one serious rival and did so being asked to do no more than he had to. He is an athletic type, but still with a bit of growing to do, showing the low head carriage typical of many a French-bred or influenced jumper. Skenfrith had carried the same colours, so their people had more jumping up and down and hugging to do.
QUANNAPOWITT upheld his line of Northern bumper form, keeping on honestly enough while basically comfortably held. He looks to have the build and ability to mark over obstacles. For trivia buffs, the Racing Post informs me that the name Quannapowitt is that of a lake in Boston, Massachusetts.
BIRNIES BOY lost touch on the final bend and came home in his own time.
These conditions were hardly the best to introduce a newcomer and Brian Harding called it a day on MITHIAN a long way out.
Just to finish this narrative, Ferdy Murphy told us the tale of Tony McCoy’s Friday evening. Having ridden in the 5.05 at Sandown, McCoy departed for a local airfield to be flown to Northern Ireland for a Cheltenham preview evening. Having done his bit he returned the next day to ride in the first at Sandown. McCoy is in my opinion the best jump jockey the sport has ever seen and, on the above evidence, an ambassador for the sport second to none.