MUSSLEBURGH – Sunday March 1st
Going – Good To Firm
Musselburgh hosted the finale to its jumps season. The recent drier weather meant that the quick drying links turf was now on the fast side of good. The weather was a mixture of sun and showers, and the sprinkling of rain may just have taken the edge off the going. As predicted after the first meeting. The word ‘good’ appeared in the description of the going at all meetings, and this means decent fields on a regular basis since trainers will aim their decent ground horses at Musselburgh.
2.30 2m Class 4 Novices’ Hurdle
Howard Johnson has dominated the trainers’ table at the course this winner and the first race here provided a ‘penalty kick’ for his CARAVEL. The ‘ball’ was duly slotted away, the gelding coming clear after the second last. Decent ground is the key and Caravel will presumably have his sights raised to Aintree.
CASUAL AFFAIR had shown promise in two previous outings and once again showed up favourably. He was held from before the last, but kept on determinedly after the winner. He must surely pick up a novice hurdle before long, and might be one for a novice or maiden at the Perth festival.
SPEED UP, returning from chasing, never seriously threatened the front two but plugged on for third.
HILL BILLY ROCK is strong sort who pulled going down. He stepped up on his opening Doncaster effort, having a chance two out but then unable to raise any more than one pace. He’s going the right way, but may still need a little time.
PONTOP was a bumper winner, but is proving moderate over hurdles to date. He couldn’t go with the leaders from two out.
MISS TARANTELLA looks more of a racehorse now than she did at Hexham in October and was on much better terms with the world than she was that day. Her two runs since that have been much better. She was basically held in this class, racing prominently to six furlongs out before fading, but will still be one to consider dropped back to low level handicaps.
I couldn’t draw any encouragement from the remainder.
3.00 2m 4f 0-110 Handicap Chase
There was a sharp shower before this race.
JOHNNY ROCHE, equipped with an X-noseband, pulled hard going down. The headstrong nature didn’t affect him unduly in the race, and nor did a 403-day layoff, as he came through smoothly to take it up three out and win with a bit to spare. He is lightly raced and looks progressive.
CATEGORICAL is starting to get rather frustrating. He runs a lot of sound races as his form figures would testify, but doesn’t get his head in front that often for one of his ability. He never got into the argument here, but stayed on late for second.
GUNS AND BUTTER looked trained to the minute as there was hardly a spare ounce on him, despite being off the track for a couple of months. On the track he disappointed, being brought with a chance to three out but offering no more from that point. It could be that softer ground would help.
According to the man behind me, connected by phone to a colleague watching the exchanges, ZA BEAU was offered at 6/5 when leading on the final bend. At that price laying her was money for old rope since she’s held in this class and neither of us thought there was much chance she would stay in front. She was held by better opponents here and faded in the straight.
SOUTH BRONX is capable on his day but in unpredictable and made no significant show here.
PEN GWEN was in the rear and receiving reminders by halfway, with no real response.
STONERIGGS MERC, bandaged in front, was prominent early but had called enough by as they exited the back straight for the final time.
BENMADIGAN’s jumping was poor and he was tailed off by the twelfth. He didn’t look on good terms with himself in the paddock.
3.30 2m 0-130 Handicap Hurdle
The last of a sequence of competitive handicaps at the minimum distance here over the season, but the top rated was 8lbs less than the top mark. The contest was run in heavy rain.
TOSHI was last seen tripping over the tumbling Tony Dobbin at Kelso back in November 2007. He was in the process of running a decent race that day behind Akarem, but suffered a chipped knee which had kept him off the course. In the meantime Jim Goldie acquired the gelding from Peter Monteith, and his patience paid off as the gelding moved through the field in the straight, leading on the flat to win a little cosily. Toshi could be on a decent mark and it would be no surprise to see another win this spring.
LOS NADIS has got his jumping together now. He got away with it as a novice since his superior speed set him up, but since facing better company in handicaps he had struggled. However, he went well here and looked the possible winner two out only to be overhauled after the last.
HAZELDENE appears to be progressing. He led and stretched on going down the back straight. Having led the field it was to his credit that he was still in contention going to the last, but there was nothing left after that. In a competitive field this was a fine effort and he should be capable of picking up a run of the mill handicap hurdle.
JOE JO STAR came to hold every chance two out, but rapped the hurdle hard unbalancing his rider, and from that point his chance had gone. A sound enough effort which proved he remains competitive off his current mark.
STROBE was asked significantly tougher questions in this company than in his previous races, particularly bearing in mind he is suited by further. Ultimately he found the rise in class too hard to overcome, but ran a sound enough race if offering only one pace in the straight. One to watch out for stepped up in trip and maybe eased a little in class.
QUICK WILL had conditions to suit but, having been prominent for a mile and a half, dropped away in the straight.
CALCUTTA CUP, moved up from novice events, made no impact. Evidence suggests he barely sees out the two miles and the tougher competition would put pressure on him.
ALONG THE NILE was going well enough when falling at the sixth flight.
4.00 3m ½ f 0-120 Handicap Hurdle
The rain which had been falling for much of the last hour cleared before the start. This looked another competitive contest.
PERCUTANT won here in January and progressed from that leading two out and staying on to capture a second win. He overcame a 9lb rise here, is lightly raced, progressive and looks capable of dealing with a step up to the next grade.
ORANG OUTAN returned to hurdling here, having run respectably over fences at Catterick. Wearing the familiar Ewart sheepskin noseband and white boots, he raced prominently. He jumped big at the early hurdles, adjusting back to the smaller obstacles, but settled after a while. He looked outpaced two out but stayed on determinedly on the flat. He’s versatile and his able trainer should place him to advantage before long.
SINGHALONGTASVEER was better off with the winner for 1 ¼ lengths, but is more exposed and ran to his previous level. He generally gives a good account of himself.
KYBER raced up with the pace or led for a long way, eventually only able to raise one pace from two out. This was better than last time and he seems to stay, but the handicapper may well have caught up with him.
ITZACLICHE, sweating significantly in the preliminaries, was at the back for a long way but plugged on past tiring rivals in the straight.
FESTIVAL KING looked fit enough after a break and had every chance three out but gave way. A hike of 12lbs hasn’t helped him in hurdles.
DORIS’S GIFT raced prominently to four out and then weakened.
RUSTY RED made no impact on return after 11 months off and STAINLEY made no show moved up in trip.
The Johnson pair of SONARA and LABOREC were both in trouble a long way out.
4.30 3m 0-95 Handicap Chase
The jump races at Musselburgh closed for the season with a plodders' championship.
SNOWY retains ability, but is handicapped to his mark and needs to be caught on the right day. He went prominent after a circuit and wound it up from four out, staying on to win with a bit in hand. He’ll go up for this and will have a job on his hands to win again.
STRAVAIGIN is honest enough and had conditions to suit, but hasn’t got a turn of pace and when she hit the fourth last the odds were against here. She stayed on after the winner on the flat. If Jim Goldie could find a race over an extended distance, fast ground and a flat track she would be in her element. I identified the Highland National as a possible, but the bottom rated last year was on her mark of 95 so she wouldn’t be guaranteed to get in as she is on that mark now.
SHULMIN is much better round Sedgefield over 3m 3f, so did creditably to finish a staying on third here. Watch out for her back at her favourite track.
It was difficult to find any encouragement amongst the rest who were, in racecard order;
ARCTIC GHOST is a handsome grey who impresses in the paddock but appears slow and clumsy right now and, having jumped awkwardly early, fell at the sixth.
NELLIEDONETHAT, even allowing for a rise up the handicap, seems to have gone over the top now given the going wasn’t an obvious excuse.
YANKEE HOLIDAY has re-acquired the x-noseband and looked as fizzy as ever. He has placed over this distance but it’s basically too far and his winning form is fast receding into the past. He runs often presumably because he has so much energy to burn, but his best bet would have to be an uncompetitive fast ground race at shorter, probably at Perth.
BAKER FLINN was making his first appearance for Alistair Crow after a year and a half lay-off. He struggled from the tenth.
ESQUILLON was very novicey in her jumping and couldn’t keep up, being detached from the third fence. She has no immediate prospects over fences.
MR TWINS never got to the front and had had his fill by the fourteenth.
GRAND MANNER, who has had a seriously interrupted career, made no serious show.
JBALLINGALL, off the track for 803 days, was up with the pace for a way. He might at least be worth watching to see if his old form returns.
HICKORY LANE still doesn’t threaten even off 75.
KING;’S ENVOY is slow and clumsy and added to his record of failures. Somewhere in the past I actually found an excuse to back this one!
5.00 2m Class 5 NH Flat
Various strands of bumper form met in what looked a fair event despite a smallish field.
It was fitting that Howard Johnson should finish a season of dominance at Musselburgh with a winner in the final contest. ALVARADO looked fit and would appear to have progressed more than his previous conqueror Hunters Belt. He did show a few flashes of temperament though, ditching Denis O’Regan in front of the stands and then flashing his tail as he got a lead down to the start. He came to challenge three out but had to be encouraged to go about his business if doing it well enough in the final furlong. He has ability but on what he showed here I would be a little wary.
HILLVIEW BOY strikes me as a nice sort with a bit of scope. He pulled hard in the rear early but came through to chase the winner in the final furlong. His form looks solid as Saveiro, whom he beat at Doncaster, won easily here next time. He handles the fast ground and might be one to watch in the coming months.
NICK THE DREAMER has improved for joining Alan Swinbank. He set the pace and didn’t give in easily once headed. This looks sound form and he is going the right way.
Even allowing for a switch in the weights, it was reasonable to expect HUNTERS BELT might have been closer. It could be that he was cherry ripe first time where a few here have progressed. It is possible a slight ease in the ground would help.
TIPSY DARA is related to a couple of staying winners. She found things happening too quickly and will need time.