Unfortunately I’ve had very little time to spend doing any writing of late. Picking through my notes from what has been a busy two or three weeks I’ll highlight significant performances, and there’s a full report from Musselburgh’s Cheltenham Trials Day.
MUSSELBURGH – Wednesday January 26th
The weather having relented, Musselburgh is now back in the swing of things. The rains hadn’t hit by this time and the ground was a touch on the fast side.
Exposed SILVERLORD won the opening novice hurdle and might find things hard under a double penalty. The fast ground and sharp track seem best for him.
KAOLAK once again ran a decent race only to find one too good.
ANEYEFORANEYE won a moderate mares’ novices’ event. She has improved with the step up in trip, though may struggle in open company. If entered for another mares’ only event she would be worth noting under a penalty.
AGHILL stepped up on previous form to win what looked a very moderate 0-100 three mile handicap chase. This win will mean a step up to the next grade and he will find that tough. COPPER’S GOLD is fair marker in second at this level.
FROGGY LANE went well enough before falling at the thirteenth. He didn’t handle the bends though, running very wide, and may need a more galloping track. He might be interesting at a fancy price in upcoming engagements assuming he’s none the worse for his fall.
WALDVOGEL came off a long break to win part two of the two mile novices’ hurdle. He beat AIKMAN who is a fair measure, the latter rallying in typical ‘Ewart charge’ style once headed. BOGSIDE has had an interrupted start to his career but third here was a fair effort and there is probably better to come.
EVERAARD won a very moderate 0-110 staying hurdle from well exposed VALLANI, the latter putting up a personal best. Not a race that looked one for future winners.
John Wade’s runners had the 2m 4f 0-120 chase between them. TYRONE HOUSE saw off PERSIAN PRINCE with the others well held. Lucinda Russell’s GO SILVER BULLET was in rear from the twelfth and seems regressive.
FELIX YONGER secured the bumper for Hoard Johnson, forging ahead in the final furlong. There was a hint of a barging match between four in the final furlong and it’s most likely all are fairly moderate, though third placed John Quinn’s DISTIME may well progress.
AYR – Monday January 31st
DARNA confirmed the favourable impression her gave at Ayr’s New Year meeting. Despite being keen early on he had plenty in hand to see off DESERT CRY and previous winner VIVALDI.
I drew attention to FREDDIE BROWN in the spring. He was too keen here and had nothing left in the straight, fading to fifth. Provided he settles, and with this race under his belt, I expect better.
BALLABRIGGS stayed on target for Aintree with a nice win in the two and half mile novices’ chase. This would hardly have played to his strengths, but he was too good once staying power came into play late on. He’s in good heart and Donald McCain can be trusted with his placement. YES TOM stayed on well and won’t always meet one as good as the winner. KING’S GREY was tapped for pace from two out but not disgraced in third.
GOLFER’S CROSSING had not impressed in two chase efforts, but he performed passably well in fourth, outpaced from two out. He’s worth keeping an eye on as he seems to have some ability.
PREMIERS SAGAS, placed in decent handicap company previously, saw off the novices’ chase field and is progressive. BENNY BE GOOD stayed on well for second and will win a chase soon. STEADY TIGER’s jumping still doesn’t cut the mustard and he needs to get his act together.
FESTIVAL KING jumped his rivals silly in the 2m 5f handicap chase. He’s likely to remain eligible for Class 4 events and can win again.
LAHIB THE FIFTH was second but is basically a bit frustrating if capable on his day. I’d back him at long odds, on the basis he might pop in, but not when at the front of the market. DALLAS BELL stayed on down the straight and needs a stiffer test.
QUICUYO won the two mile handicap chase. TARTAN SNOW showed improved form in second and seems to be getting his act together over fences.
THE COCKNEY SQUIRE has ability, but he was much too keen early on and finished a very tired third.
Top weight TEENAGE IDOL beat a moderate field of two mile handicap hurdlers from which I’d struggle to take any value from the beaten horses.
ANYCHANCEDAVE was pushed out to win the closing bumper from INOOGOO, the par clear and both looking to have potential to take hurdling. Nick Alexander’s FOUR FIDDLERS will need a test over fences in time, but has progressed steadily and kept on for third if held from three furlongs out. The latter is worth keeping an eye on.
NEWCASTLE – Wednesday February 2nd - Soft (Good To Soft in places)
Although the ground wasn’t described as heavy it did seem very holding. Many runners simply didn’t get home and a few beaten out of sight or pulled up can be forgiven.
BUBBLY BREEZE struck me as a potential chaser when I saw him in the flesh last season. He’s not likely to be any great shakes, but new trainer Pauline Robson should be capable of prising a race or two from him, hopefully at fancy price. He was going well enough when unseating three out in the opening conditionals’ hurdle. To me he’s more of a chaser and might be interesting if aimed a novices’ handicap chase off what might prove a generous mark.
Stuart Coltherd’s JANAL has been in fine heart of late. Previously frustrating he’s been seeing off the opposition nicely in moderate northern handicap chases. He was tired here but held on from SOUL ANGEL with frustrating NATIVE COLL back in third. The latter is probably better than he lets on, but he’s not getting any younger and chances continue to pass him by.
Alistair Whillans has potential Cheltenham prospect on his hands in STORM BRIG, convincing winner of what looked a fair two mile novices’ hurdle. This one has not been rushed and probably has fair bit more in the tank.
BUNCLODY and BOLLIN FELIX lost nothing in following home a decent winner. Both can take a novice event in the north.
MUSSELBURGH – Sunday February 6th
Going – Soft (Good To Soft in places)
Rain threatened but largely stayed away for Musselburgh’s showpiece jumps meeting, though the ground had softened following a damp week. The attendance of 2,300 was resperctable given a poor weather forecast.
Nick Henderson brought four horses to the track, but required one disappointment before deciding the ground was too soft for the other three.
Derek Thompson spent the afternoon wittering on incessantly from the parade ring. While he does keep the crowd happy, judging by the number listening, it grates when trying to assess the runners pre-race.
1.30 2m 4f Scottish Racing Novices’ Hurdle (Class 3)
This was a fair event despite the small field with Jim Goldie’s WYSE HILL TEABAGS causing a surprise, staying on with some zest to hold off what I suspect were two under performing but more fancied contenders. This one is going the right way and relished the stiffer test, having been hampered when getting into contention on his previous outing over hurdles. Goldie is normally sharp at targeting events for this sort and will no doubt find something in the spring.
MOON INDIGO never got to the winner and might well need a better surface to be seen at his best. That being said, his 130 official rating sets the standard.
Nick Henderson’s SKINT reflected the state of favourite backers after this race. Hard at work coming out of the back straight for the second time he never got to the leaders. He’s better than this given faster ground.
BRIDLINGTONBYGONES wasn’t good enough in this company and will have easier opportunities.
Kilbeggan maiden GENTLEMAN JEFF looks more of chasing type. He led, jumping neatly, until three out before fading and seems likely to be better if sent fencing.
GEARBOX travelled 400 miles to be outclassed on his hurdling debut. His trainer reported that he was unsuited by the going, but he needs aiming lower.
2.00 2m 4f Racing UK (0-120) Handicap Hurdle
SANTA’S SON ran below par when moved to the Pogsons’ yard. Rejuvenated by a return to Howard Johnson’s stable he won this with a bit to spare. Kicking on before three out, nothing got near to him. He’ll go up in the weights for this, no help to an 11-year-old, but at least he seems in good heart back in familiar surroundings.
POKFULHAM stepped up on his selling win here last time out, keeping on determinedly after the winner and well clear of the third. He seems to be progressing quite nicely and has enough about him to suggest a handicap win is not far away.
AMIR PASHA kept on for third without getting near the leaders.
MASTER FONG seemed very fit and though progressing three out could never threaten. His winning form is on better ground and 113 looks a plenty stiff enough mark.
GRANDAD BILL stayed on through beaten horses but is another not looking particularly favourably treated.
SUNARRI was held up, presumably with a head-to-head battle expected, and never got into the race. If he gets into a race that he can dictate this performance can be forgotten.
HAZELDENE, looking well enough of a break, led until weakening before three out.
ALTAN KHAN looked well but made no impact. The trip didn’t seem an excuse, though he may be seen to more effect on a faster surface.
2.30 2m John Smith’s Scottish Triumph Hurdle (Class 2)
The top three were rated 120 plus and this didn’t look a bad contest. It may throw up Cheltenham possibles, the Fred Winter Handicap being the obvious target for the first three.
VOSGES is a battled hardened warrior and showed plenty of determination to see off his main rival. James Ewart is concerned that the northern hurdlers aren’t well handicapped against the southerners, which may mitigate against a Festival target. However, Vosges won’t lack for effort and the stiff finish at Cheltenham should help him.
Ewart was on crutches, victim of a ‘fall off a wall’, though he was rather reticent to give any details!
THE STARBOARD BOW bounced back from a disappointing effort at Ayr, pushing the winner all the way in a cracking finish. Peter Scudamore reported that the Fred Winter Hurdle is the target.
DANCEINTOTHELIGHT looked to be going well entering the straight, but was quickly outpaced on the run to three out. He kept on again late on and, given that he’s a Hexham winner, a stiffer track might suit him better.
JOLLY ROGER was outpaced from three out. ELTHEEB was held when falling heavily at the last, while the race was only just warming up when MEETINGS MAN unseated at the fifth.
I get the impression ANANDA KANDA is better regarded than a lost touch from the fourth and pulled up suggests. This was dropped in at the deep end and she needs to aimed lower.
£700 purchase TRULY MAGIC was out of her depth.
3.00 2m 4f John Smith’s Novices’ Chase (Class 3)
Only three runners turned out for what has proved a decent addition to this card in recent times. However, they put on a decent contest, with all three capable of wins at their level.
Film Festival set a steady pace, DIVERS being settled at the back. The slow pace didn’t suit him particularly as he jumped stickily for a circuit. However, once the pace picked up he jumped more assuredly and it was a fine leap at the last gave him an advantage he held on with determination. Well held at Cheltenham behind Time For Rupert, handicaps at the better meetings look the target for Ferdy Murphy’s charge, one of a string of horses owned by David Parry run partnerships. Parry was seen enthusiastically cheering home his gelding from the terracing steps, a host of thrilled owners greeting the winner in the unsaddling area.
NAFAATH matched the winner to the last but lost a length there and that made the difference. I suspect the distance stretches this one’s stamina and slightly better ground will aid him. He has a good attitude and the winner’s spot beckons.
Not quite as good as the other two, FILM FESTIVAL set the pace and matched them to the last, only to held from that point. He ran to his form and will be competitive in decent northern handicaps.
3.35 2m John Smith’s Scottish County (0-140) Handicap Hurdle
This was a contest full of largely exposed but nevertheless decent handicappers.
David Pipe completed the set of winners at British courses, scoring with his first runner at Musselburgh, HUNTERVIEW. He’s not necessarily the most committed of individuals but benefits from the chance to dominate his opponents. Competing for the lead from the start at a decent pace, he kept up the gallop from the home turn and was never in danger. His Cheltenham targets are either the County Hurdle or the Coral Cup. He goes there lightly raced and in good form.
EUROPEAN DREAM needs covering up and picked off a fair few up the straight. His deal situation is to be tucked in close to the pace and being produced for a burst after the last. He’s not easy to catch right but is the sort who can pop in at decent price for those with patience.
ULTIMATE set the pace with Hunterview and wasn’t disgraced in keeping on for third. This was a fair effort and he’s one to bear in mind for similar events, particularly when likely to gain an uncontested lead.
LESLINGTAYLOR, out of form this season, showed he’s no back number by keeping on for fourth.
BUREAUCRAT made steady late progress into fifth. Off a mark of 117 there’s scope for a drop in class and Kate Walton might be able to find a handicap for this one.
CUNNING CLARETS was well held here, but has been asked tough questions twice running and might just be better off up the weights against inferiors.
James Ewart raced a French recruit in PREMIER GRAND CRU, running off 131 here. Struggling from the fifth here, he’s a nice looking sort who will probably do better in time.
KUDU COUNTRY raced prominently but dropped away quickly three out and was pulled up. He was reported as lame.
ORSIPPUS was withdrawn and the following cryptic paragraph appeared in the www.britishhorseracing.com Stewards’ Room report:
‘The Stewards held an enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the withdrawal of the top weight ORSIPPUS(USA). They interviewed Michael Smith, the trainer, and forwarded his comments to the British Horseracing Authority for further investigation.’
Make of that what you will!
4.10 2m Racing UK on Sky 432 (0-120) Handicap Chase
ELITE LAND is a versatile sort who is regularly there or thereabouts. Close up in a flat race at Southwell in January, he had this contest in safe keeping from three out.
FOLK TUNE kept on for second without getting to the winner. He often runs fairly well but only wins occasionally.
SEEYAAJ led until whacking three out. He was held from that point, but this was a fair effort following a break and Lucinda Russell can place him to advantage.
EARL GREZ raced prominently but was held from three out and tended to lug left over his fences in the final straight.
OD D’OUDAIRIES lost touch from four out and Graham Lee reported his jumping was not fluent. My race note of ‘nt fluent’ suggests I can least match that experienced professional’s opinion!
FOLLOW THE SUN jumped poorly in rear. His recent prominent form has been off high weights in a lower class.
KIT CARSON struggled from halfway and was pulled up before four out. What win prospects he has will surely be in a lower class.
4.40 2m Racing UK Open Intermediate NH Flat (Class 5)
David Pipe wasted no time in adding to his Musselburgh tally, THE TRACEY SHUFFLE proving an easy winner from a small field in the bumper. This one’s a nice sort who looked favoured by the cut in the ground. He eased clear down the straight and will match better opposition than this.
SHANAGARRY was the least taking in the paddock, but stuck on to take second place.
THINK GREEN was left behind from four out, as was SERENADER, third at Carlisle in October but possibly in need of some time.
BELLA REGALO is a nice jumping sort for the future, but hasn’t got the pace for these events and will need time to develop.
MUSSELBURGH – Friday February 11th
Going – Soft
Musselburgh secured a replacement meeting following December and January call offs.
PATTERNING looks a fair juvenile hurdling recruit and ran to hold Catterick third KINGDOM OF MUNSTER after the last. The form might not be too bad, BATTLE HONOUR setting the race up for the first two before giving way from two out.
ALDERLEY ROVER saw off a moderate field in the beginners’ chase. He stayed on down the straight in this three miler and was pushed out to hold his only serious pursuer BALLYMACDUFF. The former might well score under a penalty in novice company, while Ballymacduff looks good enough to win chases.
POLITICAL PENDANT was a well beaten third, while DEVIL WATER is proving to be disappointing for one that showed some zip in his early outings.
DEVOTION TO DUTY was kept up to his work to hold AMIR PASHA in the 2m 4f handicap hurdle. The latter is in fair form and the form looks sound.
LITTLE HERCULES quickened up in decent style to take the two mile novice hurdle. This was a decent jumps bow and this one should take on better company, though as with many Wylie/Johnson horses he’ll be shorter priced than ideal.
TOLEDO GOLD ran a decent race in third, leading and stretching on down the back straight but having no extra to give once passed approaching the last. He might score over a sharp two miles.
MASTER BEAU raced prominently and stayed on for second.
DARK BEN is an exciting sight at this level setting the pace and jumping enthusiastically. He was right on his game on this occasion, keeping up the gallop once turning for home and pinging the closing obstacles.
GO SILVER BULLET ran a bit better than of late over this three mile trip, keeping on for second though not able to get to the winner. I’d always felt he was better on faster ground but he seemed to handle the cut here with no problem.
ZITENKA ran well until hitting two out and will be of interest if appearing within a couple of weeks.
NELLIEDONETHAT was held in fourth, but this was a tough ask in the company and he was not disgraced.
ELZAHANN who has jumped well when leading in the past showed no appetite held up in the rear.
AIKMAN stayed on well to hold consistent RUPERT LAMB in the closing novice hurdle. Both can continue to be competitive but they are exposed and offer little betting value.
AYR – Saturday February 12th
Going – Soft(Heavy in places)
Ayr survived an early morning inspection though the going was testing as it often can be here in the winter. The meeting was rather overshadowed by grim news of equine fatalities at Newbury.
YES TOM won the staying novice hurdle from ARCTIC COURT and SUNNYSIDE, but all three are well exposed. On the plus side they have all shown they have what it takes to win a race.
Bob Goldie’s ALEXANDER OATS popped up at 33/1 in the novices’ chase. There were doubts about the other three, but this half-brother to a couple of point winners took the race on merit. As far as I can tell this was the Ayrshire stable’s first National Hunt winner since May 1996. SIBENEK kept on for second and is a winner this season, but is eminently beatable. STEADY TIGER still doesn’t convince over fences and the race will presumably bring WOODY WALLER on a bit.
LOCKEDINTHEPOCKET was a facile winner of the two and a half mile handicap chase, but will surely be bumped up significantly for this effort. Those behind are much of a muchness, INNOMINATE plugging on for second and GO ON BE A LADY passing a few late on for third.
I’ve got a decent opinion of REINDEER DIPPIN and he made most of the running to take the Class 3 two mile handicap chase. I think he has ability to take on better opposition.
RAYSROCK kept on for second but is essentially on his mark as are most of the others when they are on song.
GARLETON returned to form, doddling up in the Class 4 staying handicap chase. He’s useful on his day at this level but might now suffer for winning by a wide margin. BEAR DANCING and BLAZING DIVA fought out second place at a ‘safe distance’. Both stay well but the impression is that the handicapper has them taped.
SEEKING POWER ran a lacklustre, never getting involved and being pulled up with some way to go. The same stable’s NATIVE COLL was noticeably below par earlier on the card.
LAST OF THE BUNCH and CHARLIE BUCKET fought out the finish in the 2m 5f Class 4 Handicap Hurdle and look to be going in the right direction. Exposed top weight CURRAHEE stayed on for third.
CIRCUS CLOWN won a poor closing handicap hurdle, but this lightly raced gelding pulled clear in decent style and is probably capable of another win or two. KINGS GUARD is okay at this level and kept on for second in front of SEE THE LEGEND.