Monday, 8 February 2010

Musselburgh - John Smith's Cheltenham Trials Day

MUSSELBURGH – Sunday February 7th

Going – Good To Soft (Good in places, Soft on the bends)

Half an inch of rain on from Saturday onwards softened the ground a bit, but everything is relative and Musselburgh was still able to produce a decent surface for its big National Hunt occasion.

Looking at the card it could have been seen as a contest between The North, represented principally by Howard Johnson, and The South represented by Nicky Henderson. Henderson came out best of the duo with two winners from his 6 runners, but Johnson drew a blank and regrettably lost two of his charges to fatal injuries during the afternoon.

The mist hung over Fife and then around Edinburgh as I travelled to the course, though the cloud lifted a little after the second race. The car park was plenty soggy enough, and the neighbouring box park was even worse as it appeared that a number of boxes had to hauled out of the mire. Howard Johnson’s box, parked near the entrance to the public car park, caused a few problems for traffic getting out, but if I was his driver I’d have parked on the hard surface as well.

Derek Thompson was in full flow from my arrival at 12.30 and still rattling on when I left. While his continuous prattle is not my cup of tea, I must admit that he does get the crowd involved, particularly those who aren’t familiar with the sport. Thommo, you have your uses, but just leave me in peace now and again!

Thommo Note 1 – “Where’s Tanganyika?” – Tanganyika is now known as Tanzania. Why didn’t you listen to me?
Thommo Note 2 – “Where’s Dar Es Salaam? ….. Thank you, sir, it’s in Ethiopia!” – No, it’s not, it’s the principal sea port and former capital of Tanzania (see above). Sadly I was at the wrong end of the course to put him right!
Thommo Note 3 – “Scotland have just scored a try!” – Scotland didn’t score any tries….

On the up side there were plenty of informative interviews throughout the afternoon, and it did no harm having a Tote man explain their bets at the start of the meeting.

Meanwhile, on the racecourse …..

1.30 2m 4f Class 3 Novices’ Hurdle

The card opened with a cracking novices’ hurdle, a race from which I would give all seven contestants a chance of winning a race be it sooner or later.

CANDY CREEK won Aintree’s mares’ bumper last season and has transferred that ability to hurdling. She tracked the pace, took over two out and cruised clear with a minimum of fuss. She would clean up any decent mares’ novice prizes if aimed that way, but on the other hand looks sufficiently talented to make her mark in ‘open’ Graded company. In the long term connections must look forward to breeding from a decent mare with various winning relatives.
ALVARADO was tapped for toe from two out and held when hitting the last, but comfortably held the runner-up spot.
BACKSTAGE, the winner of the Perth Gold Cup over fences last summer, has swapped back and forth between hurdles and chases over his career. He’s held by the better novices in these contests but is in good heart and stayed on for third. He is being trained with the Grand National in mind and as an eight-year-old may be reaching his prime as a chaser. Elliott was relieved of £560 since the gelding’s vaccination record was not in order.
The one that I was looking out for here was DEVIL WATER. This one caught my eye on his first run in a hunter chase at Kelso early in 2009. He attempted to singlehandedly demolish every fence on the Borders circuit, yet was still in front and apparently going well when his pilot’s ‘super glue’ ran out four from home. There was evidence of a good engine, but he needed to be taught to give the jumps some respect. Devil Water subsequently disappointed in a hunter event at Perth where a number of the favourites didn’t perform. On his second hurdling appearance Devil Water bowled along in front jumping neatly, which is a good sign, but was outpaced once passed after three out. He stuck to his task against sharper opponents and gave much encouragement for the future. Winner of a maiden point at Overton, Devil Water has a markedly round action suggesting that soft ground will prove most suitable. To my eye he has filled out since his last appearance, looking notably strong and deep-chested these days. I await a re-appearance over fences with interest.
CARTERS REST was always going to have his work cut out in this company. He was outpaced three out but picked up late on to press Devil Water for fourth. He has done enough to suggest that on softer ground and in easier company he can go close.
Third of the Scottish representatives, CUIGNY, was another dropped in a bit above his head here. Predictably he struggled from four out, but he has enough about to suggest he can be competitive if dropped to a lesser contest. He will now qualify for a rating and may have opportunities if aimed at a novices’ handicap.
On the face of it BUBBLY BREEZE’s form does not suggest he will win in the near future. Nevertheless he caught my eye in the paddock as a nice enough sort who will make up into a chaser given time. He’s a brother to decent staying chasers Idle Talk and Belon Gale, and I will keep him tucked in the notebook for the right occasion.

2.00 2m 4f 0-120 Handicap Hurdle

Musselburgh put on a succession of competitive events at this level over the winter. It’s just a pity we have lost so much racing at the course since December.

Repelling southern raiders, Scotland scored a one two and it was celebration time for the Whillans clan, Donal training the winner LEITH WALK and amateur Calum riding his first ever winner. Competently ridden by a jockey who is hoping to go ‘conditional’ next season, the Hawick-based winner burst into the leading group approaching the last and stayed on well. She has been off the track since last June and break seemed to have done her no harm. Her next run will tell us much, but she settled nicely, travelled well and hinted there may be more to come. Whillans had to follow his mount into the unsaddling enclosure, the mare ditched having her rider after the finish.
QUICK WILL stayed on into second place a Ewart stable now hitting form. He went close here at Christmas ’08 and has been a bit under a cloud since, but he has mixed it with slightly better opposition on occasion and looks primed to pick up a race if going on from here.
STOPPED OUT raced prominently and finished best placed of the pacesetters. He’s only a five-year-old and may be capable of progressing, particularly racing on decent ground.
CASUAL AFFAIR ran a creditable race in fourth, but is a jumping maiden and rather frustrating. He does seem the type that might can a bit of confidence if his trainer could find a soft event.
HARRY THE HAWK, having raced close up, took the lead two out and still led at the last but then the petrol ran out. Racing up with the pace, a sharp two miles might be the answer.
The stoutly constructed and normally consistent HAZELDENE dropped out quickly from five out having made the running. The chances are the race was needed but my main concern in the paddock was that he looked a bit stiff when walking. That being said there was no visible problem once galloping.

2.30 2m Class 2 Scottish Triumph (Juvenile Novices’) Hurdle

A small field turned out for this decent prize, but this was nevertheless an interesting contest with a strong Cheltenham contender confirming credentials. The runner-up set a decent pace and saw out his race, so I suggest that the form is sound.

The race was delayed for some twelve minutes as Ultimate’s reins broke on the way to the start. Although the runners were ready at 2.40 they circled to allow a race at Southwell to be completed, though thankfully it was only a six furlong contest! It should be noted that the course and all involved made efforts to get back on track to the point where the last race started on time. Well done to everyone, even though we have more fun and games later (see 3.30 race).

I hadn’t considered the significance of CARLITO BRIGANTE’s win here in November until he doddled up at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting. At that point it became clear that Gordon Elliott had a Triumph Hurdle contender on his hands, provided the going doesn’t get too soft. Good to soft here proved no problem, and the Irish would presumably rate it ‘good’ anyway, Carlito Brigante showing a good turn of foot to race clear of the others from the last. Some doubt has been expressed over the weight of Musselburgh form going forward, but the key point is the going prevailing here and his Leopardstown form dispels worries about different topography.
ULTIMATE bustled along in the lead and stretched his field going to three out. He had three winners struggling from that point but found the winner a bit better. Nevertheless this was a decent performance and he should surely pick up another. Credit goes to Keith Mercer who judged his pace-making as well as he could have done.
ORSIPPUS is consistent but just lacks that ‘oomph’ needed to force his head in front and performed to his best in third.
MELANGE only won a seller, but form since suggests he’s probably a little bit better than that level and he stayed on to press the third on the run-in. He seems to have the right attitude, it’s just a case of his trainer aiming lower. Interestingly Jan Faltejsek was called in to explain why he eased off for a short while after the last. I would guess it was just a slight misjudgement and he certainly rode out strongly enough for third place.
BACCALAUREATE caused a shock with his 100/1 victory at Cheltenham, but it was as you were here. The course probably didn’t help but it’s difficult to relate last week’s win to anything else he has achieved.
ASCENDANT was desperately disappointing following a decent win here recently. He gave way quickly from three out and looked very tired when being led around waiting to give a requested sample.
LADY RUSTY is a narrow, sparely made filly who couldn’t keep up in this company. She was reported as having a breathing problem which doesn’t bode well.

3.00 2m 4f Class 3 Novices’ Chase

A well contested contest this year for an event which primed Kalahari King for the Arkle last season.

I’d put FIENDISH FLAME on to my ‘no longer value’ list after a couple of defeats. I got a slap across the wrists for my impatience here as he set the pace and stayed on too well for six other winners. Having pecked when overjumping at the first, he jumped left early on but settled down nicely and stretched his field going to the fourth last. Nothing got to him after that. Rated 135 before this contest this run will probably justify a mid-140s mark.
WORKING TITLE appeared to run to his 137 level or maybe slightly better in second. He came to challenge three out but was held from two out. He was running a decent race when coming down at Newbury and is a useful animal for Nick Henderson to attack ‘second level’ events with.
DOOR BOY looks a stayer to me and the trip on this ground didn’t play to his strengths. He’s entered in the RSA Chase and seemingly has bit to find, but the stiffer test of stamina looks a must.
DOUBLE VODKA is a fair performer at his level and found three too good though and at worst ran to his rating of 123. He will have chances in lesser company.
MR CRYSTAL was flying a bit high here and had lost touch by the twelfth fence. He still managed to beat THE POLOMOCHE who ran no sort of race and Barry Geraghty reported he was never travelling.
DAR ES SALAAM was touted by a few optimists before racing but the form of his handicap win here was far below the level of this race. He will be better off back in handicaps.
ART BANK was presumably entered in the hope the race might cut up. He jumps well enough, but at his own pace and pootled round detached before Mark Bradburne blew the whistle approaching four out. Off a rating of 72 he wouldn’t be a lost cause in a 0-90 chase and needs aiming in that direction.

3.30 2m 0-142 Scottish County Handicap Hurdle

For the second meeting in a row the fire alarm went off and the grandstand had to be evacuated. On the face of it this appeared to go smoothly although it’s interesting that other activity on the course, Thommo talking, horses parading and jockeys appearing for the next race, continued with few questions asked. The fire engine came through the gate to turn a few heads, the firemen investigated, found no fire, reset the alarm and, after a few children had admired their vehicle, returned from whence they came.

despite all the fuss we were not far short of back on time for the start of this competitive hurdle. Sadly it was marred by the fatal injury caused to RED MOLONEY who broke a shoulder when falling at the second. Brian Hughes was flung clear but it says much for him as a horseman that he was quickly up to calm the stricken gelding. As the field bypassed the hurdle in the final straight Red Moloney was departing this world at the scene of his three hurdling victories.

Nick Henderson entered the lightly raced ERADICATE, last seen running second at the Perth Festival. He led three out and ran on well from the last to capture this decent prize. He is aimed at the County Hurdle at Cheltenham.
PALOMAR is plenty capable at this level but has spent a while in the wilderness since falling over fences here at the same meeting last season. He briefly threatened to take the race but had to settle for a valiant second. Back on form his current mark of 125 doesn’t look over harsh and he should be placed to advantage, possibly in Scotland which has been a regular destination.
I felt that DONTFERRYMAN lacked a bit of acceleration when campaigned on the flat. He regularly placed but couldn’t get his head in front. After a placing at Hamilton I suggested that he needed hurdles to slow the others down, and on the evidence of two recent wins I was right. He has run some decent races this term and possibly just needs a slightly stiffer test, though he takes credit for a good close third here.
GRANDAD BILL performed well for one upped in class on only his fourth hurdles outing, keeping on from two out if held. There will be plenty of easier opportunities and he is likely to land one of them.
DR KILDARE was in contention going to the last but gave way from there. He’s another flying a little above his level and there should be chances dropped in class.
This is EUROPEAN DREAM’s sort of event but questions are being asked off a career high at present and he hasn’t quite enough in the tank to respond.
ALONG THE NILE was second to European Dream last season but hasn’t matched that form since. He was desperately disappointing here, losing touch before the end of the back straight and finishing tailed off.
ASTARADOR was another well below form, running up with the pace before weakening quickly from three out. His chasing form tailed off somewhat and this run gives little cause for immediate optimism.

4.00 2m 4f Claiming Chase

A race that looked like a battlefield by the end. All horses were up by the finish, but it subsequently turned out that an injury suffered on the final bend by the favourite STRIKING ARTICLE required the gelding to be put down. This capped a miserable afternoon for Howard Johnson and Graham Wylie which saw their box return with two empty spaces.

The one contender here who had ability combined with lack of ‘baggage’ was JOHN FORBES. He impressed when beating Fortysecond Street at Catterick and on this occasion had his rivals well held as they departed in the latter stages. He will take on tougher opposition but is capable and has the right attitude.
I reckon YANKEE HOLIDAY is equine psychologist territory, but he seemed to have set aside whatever was troubling him last time. He’s never hit the ground in a race and picked his way past flailing bodies and limbs to come home in his own time for second place. While he makes win backers tear their hair out, and is presumably a bookies’ friend, he has now placed 25 times in 50 races, 24 out of 41 in chases, and regularly contributes to his keep. Although attended by the customary two handlers, and looking a bit fizzy, he does seem to have calmed down a little as a ten-year-old.
LINDSEYFIELD LODGE set the pace but the winner was past and going away when he fell heavily three out. Thankfully he was up OK though Paul Callaghan was a bit battered. The horse’s flailing legs caught SNOWY’s jockey as Scotland’s favourite grey passed and Graham Lee exited stage left. Snowy was entered for £6,000 which most here would consider an insult since we all know he’s priceless. He was held when departing, and was up against it here, but is showing enough zest to suggest we might get a chance to lift the roof once more before our hero departs to retirement.
LAHIB THE FIFTH looked booked for second but took a tired looking fall two out to leave just two standing.
MIDNIGHT STAR, boasting an unimpressive pointing record, isn’t remotely good enough against these, couldn’t keep up and was well behind when falling at the tenth.

4.30 2m Class 5 NH Flat

Time had been recovered by the scheduled time of this event with the runners at post in plenty of time for 4.30. This was a good effort, the course officials no doubt mindful that there’s not much light to play with early in February in the East of Scotland.

This was won by TALE OF TANGANYIKA, a nice looking flat bred animal who showed some of the suggested speed to pull clear from the furlong pole. The first thought that crossed my mind was to wonder whether the stable might aim this one at a flat maiden somewhere along the line in ‘Swinbank’ fashion. His dam was placed in German Classics, a bit below top level but nevertheless a suggestion that a Flat campaign wouldn’t be a lost cause.
ALLOW ME sets the level from Northern bumpers and kept on once passed to hold second. He should be good enough to press for a win over hurdles.
OWEN GLENDOWER won nicely at Taunton on his previous run, but was tapped for pace in the straight here. He never really got near the front but is a nice enough sort for whom a stiffer test will do no harm in time.
ROBBIE wasn’t disgraced in fourth if held from two out, form probably about the same as his previous effort here, while WYSE HILL TEABAGS stepped up on his first effort though he was another to give way from two out.


  1. Great write up as usual my friend.

    Do you think we will be seeing a 'Musselburgh' horse winning the Triumph at the Festival? He looks a shade fast on the Dosage figures but that didn't stop Detroit City (similar Dosage figures).

    3 from 4 over timber and all 3 won in decent fashion...

  2. Thanks for the comments, Ben.

    It's the combination of Carlito Brigante's form at both Leopardstown and Musselburgh that is the key to me. The former shows he can see out a stiffer test, and indeed he arguably won even more comfortably at Leopardstown, whereas at Musselburgh he's twice shown a turn of speed. The ground was an understandable excuse on his first outing.

    He's stockily built and I'd suggest he's not one to be scared of the hurly-burly of the Cheltenham contest. There are always a few to consider going into the Triumph, but Carlito Brigante stands up as good as any.