Friday, 10 April 2009

A Visit To Sedgefield

SEDGEFIELD – Tuesday 7th April

Going – Good to Firm

Having spent the season writing sagely about events at Sedgefield I thought that it was about time I visited the place!

We stayed at Lumley Castle Hotel which overlooks the Riverside Cricket Ground at Chester-Le-Street. A pleasant enough place to stay, though rooms in the castle are rather dimly lit. Chester-Le-Street as a town is desperately suffering from the economic downturn and presumably it's proximity to the Metro Centre. Lot's of posh houses to the east of the town, but I suspect they stay away from the town centre. If using Chester-Le-Street as a base, Durham is well worth a visit, and when we pottered over to the coast we found a nice cafe on the sea front at Seaham, not generally noted as a tourist destination but worth dropping in if you are passing.

Sedgefield is another small Northern course which basically sticks at doing what it’s good at, that is providing bread and butter racing in decent surroundings with a decent atmosphere. The facilities are compact and functional, with enough covered to standing to satisfy the crowd. I found the best place to see ‘as near as damn it’ the entire course was on the terracing past the winning post. The slight disadvantage is that the straight is head on, but such is the layout of the course that this is a problem in any of the stands. There was no big screen but a decent pair of binoculars gives a good view all round, with the runners going out of sight only for a second or two at the end of the back straight.

The course is noticeable undulating, with a rise up the back straight followed by a fall once turned for home, though with an uphill final 100 yards. I can understand why this is a course specialists’ venue. The paddock and unsaddling area are in front of the stands, though this does present the age old problem of a course exit for the horses before the winning post, and Gamma Velorum sought to prove this point in the last race. Viewing of the parade ring is only on two sides which does mean you have to be early to get a position, though the pre-parade ring can be easily accessed.

The race card is an A3 sheet folded five ways and it’s a format that works quite well, although the information is confined to race details and misses out a lot of course information supplied at other venues.

The going was reported as fast but decent by the jockeys, the bends cutting up a little. The decent field sizes near or on the safety limits reflect that view.

2.20 2m 4f Class 4 Novices’ Hurdle

This was a distinctly uncompetitive event where only a handful could be given a chance.

I noted SCALE BANK as having big hooves, which often signifies one who copes with soft ground, but he had no problem with the fast ground here. He was battling with Posh Bird when the latter came down at the last, and he went on to win by 42 lengths. He handles this ground and should be competitive off a mark of 104 in handicaps.
Irish challenger POSH BIRD had come under the shove but was battling hard when coming down at the last. She should win a race but took a heavy fall here.
MARDOOD plugged on for second and probably ran near his mark of 77, but he’s basically slow, and the presence of apparently very slow BERNSHAW in third sums up most of the field.
HIGHTORI is rated 100, but that is based on two season old form and he doesn’t seem to have retained that ability.
SPEARMAN, a well backed Irish point winner but an angular gelding that didn’t please the eye, went out like a light after the sixth and was pulled up. He was reported as having a breathing problem, but I got the impression he rapped himself on the hurdle as well.
THE CLASSIC FOX provided pre-race entertainment on his intended hurdling debut. He looked an awkward sort in the paddock and then dumped Barry Keniry exiting the paddock. Once re-united, Keniry was helpless as The Classic Fox hurtled off on a circuit of the course before the inevitable withdrawal. He was poor when last seen on the flat in 2005 and looks a nutcase.

2.50 2m ½ f Class 4 Novices’ Chase

This wasn’t a bad contest at the ‘front end’ with four rated in the range 117 to 125.

INGRATITUDE, a 35000gns purchase from Nicky Henderson’s stable, won over hurdles at Kempton when last seen in December, having previously been successful in a Towcester chase. He came clear from two out here and looks like one who may make hay while the sun shines.
ALL FOR THE CAUSE went on at the sixth but couldn’t respond once passed on the run to the last.
THE DUKE’S SPEECH was below par again and struggled from three out, though kept going well enough to hold third. The application of blinkers didn’t seem to make a difference.
PILCA was always going to struggle on these terms and ran to form in fourth.
HEAVENLY CHORUS made an eye-catching chasing debut, staying on in the straight. She’s a hurdles winner and on this evidence there is something to work on over fences. She likes fast ground though an initial chase rating of 108 looks a bit stiff.
MADGE was beaten a long way in sixth.
OUSTE looked fit enough but was well held when falling at the last.
ABLE DARA, FORTUNE’S FOOL, THE RINGER, headstrong in the paddock but showed nothing on the track, and OVERLAW are all very slow and pulled up.
KINGOFTHESWINGERS was losing touch when unseating at the seventh.

3.20 2m 1f Class Selling Novices’ Hurdle

Since these events are pretty much ‘what you see is one you get’ we adjourned for a bite to eat before this event. These events fill well perhaps due to John Wade’s continued support of the Series which culminates in a decent value Final in June, and on this occasion the race was oversubscribed by 11.

This event may well have thrown up a decent contender for the Final in CAN’T REMEMBER who stepped up on moderate Bumper form to take this cosily. Ridden after the second last she took over at the last and asserted on the run-in in a manner which suggests she can go on to better things. She was bought by Andy Crook for 6,800gns.
NEWGATE is basically selling class and ran adequately in second but was held in the latter stages.
THUNDERWING never got to the leaders but kept on for third. Rated 98, it might have been reasonable to expect better at this level.
CATHERINES VERSE was headed two out and kept on and was clear of the remaining poor bunch.
LINDSEYFIELD LODGE showed just a glimmer of ability in a chase last time but reverted to type on this occasion.

3.50 2m 4f 0-110 Handicap Chase

Nominally the feature event of the afternoon, though everything is relative.

LAWAAHEB has changed stables and was coming off a 313 day break and was set up nicely for this race. Always going nicely in behind the leaders, he led before the last and was driven out. He’s consistent, though only wins in turn.
NAVAL ATTACHE looked harshly treated following his maiden win here, but proved that his current rating of 88 is quite fair, chasing the winner from two out and staying on determinedly up the hill. This was a decent effort and he has come along nicely in recent weeks.
GENERAL HARDI broke his maiden in an uncompetitive event at Newcastle over three miles, but suggested here that another win is not far away. Making the pace to use his stamina, he couldn’t match the speed of the first two close home, but stepped up in trip there seems no reason why he shouldn’t pick up another race.
BUCKSTRUTHER has always looked more likely to make a chaser and showed more promise than on his previous two attempts over fences. He couldn’t quite go the pace from three out but kept on for fourth. He has time on his side and is progressing at his own level.
LONGDALE plugged on to dead heat for fourth and generally runs best here.
WHATADIFFERENCE never got seriously competitive, making some progress from the back at the top of the hill, but mustering no more afterwards.
PARKING TICKET never got involved and his recent form is moderate.
IMTIHAN raced prominently early on but was struggling after the tenth fence.
MAJOR CATCH jumped deliberately and had no chance from four out.
WHATCANYASAY was always in the rear and has gone off the boil.
AVIATION impressed in the paddock, but lost touch by halfway on the track.

4.20 3m 3f 0-90 Handicap Chase

POLAR GALE seemed to benefit from a break, having had a wind operation, and stayed on from three out. His best form is round here or at Catterick and, provided he stays in good health should continue to be competitive in similar events here in the coming months.
The one to take from this is SIMPLY SMASHING, equipped with a tongue-tie, who jumped really well out in front. He saw out this trip well and should stay extreme distances and looks one for a win in the coming months.
KIDITHOU was well backed but never near enough to get in a serious blow, staying on for third place.
HEVER ROAD improved on three dire displays previous to this, running prominently before fading from the top of the hill.
PRINCE OF SLANE ran a good race last timer at Warwick, but never got in a blow here. He has ability but it’s ages since he won and he’s basically frustrating these days.
CELTIC FLOW, an infrequent visitor to the track these days, ran well to three out then weakened.
The Smith pair of SCOTT’S MILL and PRESENTING ALF once again disappointed.
MATMATA DE TENDRON normally goes well round here, and his hurdle run last time proved fast ground is no problem, but he was going backwards at the top of the hill.
TREEHOUSE looked no better in a handicap than he has in novice events and those who backed him in to 7/1 must be eternal optimists.
BADGER was struggling before halfway and dropped back to finish last.
STONERIGGS SILVER and AMOUR DARIA are slow and both pulled up, joined by ISLAND KEY who is capable of better but didn’t get involved stepping up in trip.

4.50 2m 1f 0-90 Handicap Hurdle

Another low quality contest, this time with a slightly controversial finish.

GAMMA VELORUM looked plenty fit enough following a break. He was under driving at the top of the hill, but kept responding and led after the last. He then veered right, despite Campbell Gillies giving him a couple of cracks with whip in right hand. He ran across Simple Jim who stumbled, but Gamma Velorum went clear despite veering again close home. Gillies was given a 5-day suspension for ‘careless riding’ which means he misses the Perth Festival meeting, but to my mind he could not have done much more and, far from being ‘careless’, did his level best to straighten the horse. Sometimes I do wonder if I’m watching the same race as the officials. I can’t help thinking they had to be seen to be taking action rather than doing the right thing.
FOLLOW ON stayed on in the latter stages for second. He probably ran to his mark, but bear in mind most of these were out of form.
SIMPLE JIM was under the cosh approaching the last and was held when hampered and stumbling on the flat. He probably lost second on the flat but wouldn’t have won and seemed to have reached an end-stop on this mark.
HARCAS was detached by the fourth but made up a stack of ground to finish 11 ½ lengths down. It would be nice to think this signals a return to form, but he doesn’t look one to trust.
CEILIDH LASS was another to stay on from the rear. She’s lightly raced and may be suited by a longer distance.
PETE looked to be going really well to two out but folded tamely.
It’s difficult to take any encouragement from the remaining runners.

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