Ayr – February 24th
Mark Hughes’s progressive SPECIAL PORTRAIT was a comfortable winner of the hunter chase. Word is that the gelding will now make the journey from his Cumbria stable to contest the Foxhunters’ Chase at Cheltenham. The five times pointer will find the task much tougher than this, but he’s on the upgrade and it will be fair pointer to future prospects. The Alexanders’ NOIR ET VERT ran an honest race in second place and there may be an easier opportunity.
Odds-on FLINTY BAY just held PROUD TIMES in the novices’ hurdle, part of a Nicky Richards treble, but the pair were well clear and the form looks solid.
Meanwhile at Huntingdon, James Ewart’s AIKMAN put the southerners to the sword at Huntingdon in the Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle. He was given a soft lead for the first half of the race, but found plenty when challenged by MINELLA CLASS. Aikman took a bit of time to warm up this season, but he’s starting to look a decent performer and Ewart’s charge to Cheltenham with a sound chance of breaking into the places in the 2m 5f novice event on the Wednesday.
Newcastle – February 26th
The ground was bottomless for this meeting and the Eider Chase finish was an unedifying sight. COMPANERO, one who I thought could win a decent race, showed bags of guts to make all and get home. However, he took the last from a walk, and was very tired by the line. He’ll take a long time to recover, as will the second GILES CROSS who, having tried to match the winner, virtually walked through the last. MORGAN BE had been pulled up before the last but, after having a pause for rest, was eventually pushed on to complete. Much as I like my staying chases I can’t see that many get benefit from this event.
Some might consider the equine hero of the day to be TYRONE HOUSE. Plugging on in second behind CHAMIREY in the staying novice chase, John Wade’s gelding decided enough was enough, refusing at the last and sending James Reveley over the fence.
THE TRACEY SHUFFLE won the bumper, forging clear in the final two furlongs. He’s entered in the Festival bumper, as is the second ROCKS RULE. Both will win more races once going jumping, but they will have to up their game a bit more if taking in the Cheltenham event.
More of interest is the third DANCING ART, noted as decent sort by my paddock spy David Cormack of The Racing Forum. He couldn’t hold the first two but wasn’t over punished once held and should win a bumper before advancing to jumping. There’s a nice mix of flat speed and staying power in his pedigree, and he could be in worse hands that those of Keith Reveley.
Kelso – Saturday March 5th
Going – Good to Soft
A healthy crowd of around 3,900 attended Kelso’s feature meeting of the National Hunt season. The weather was cloudy and rather on the chill side, but that made no difference to a decent day’s racing with Scotland taking the feature race.
2.00 2m 1f Bedmax Handicap Chase (0-115) for the Hamilton Memorial Trophy.
An event contested by generally exposed performers, but it provided a tight finish with three fighting out the race from ‘the elbow’.
The veteran POLAR GUNNER retains his enthusiasm and, having disputed from three out, stuck his neck out in determined fashion to hold his younger rivals. He boasts a tally of 12 wins from 40 runs over nine years. Given that he won’t be over punished for this win and that he’s real trier, it’s clear he could add to that list of victories.
BENE LAD raced prominently. He was rather caught for pace approaching the last but was gaining as the runners approached the line. He’s got a solid record in chases, still seems on a reasonable mark and goes particularly well at Kelso.
DUKE OF MALFI ran a sound race to finish third. He led briefly on the run-in, but couldn’t sustain the effort close home. This was a decent effort given that he’s probably better with a bit more cut.
SEEYAAJ got rather outpaced mid race but stayed on late without threatening the first three. He’s a good ground performer, seems in fair heart and will be one to watch in the spring.
GUNS AND BUTTER has suffered breathing problems and dropped away from four out.
TARTAN SNOW was in contention when clipping Bene Lad’s heels on the flat before the ninth fence.
SUPER BABY unseated at the second, taking off too soon and landing on top of the fence. To me he doesn’t look entirely comfortable in his hind quarters and I wonder if something might be ailing him. His brain is plenty sharp enough though as, leading the field riderless; he took the right course at the intersection after the open ditch. One clued up local!
2.30 2m 1f Cyril Alexander Memorial Novices’ Chase (Class 3)
NINE STORIES jumped badly to the right early on. He started to warm to his task down the far side though and was driven out on the run-in. He showed ability over hurdles and should prove a fair recruit to the northern chasing ranks.
Dappled grey SIGNALMAN looked as if the race would be of benefit after a near two year lay-off. He was held up early, progressed into the contest after halfway and kept on from the home turn if held by the winner. There is better to come and it won’t be long before he wins a chase.
ALFIE FLITS jumped better than he did behind Premier Sagas here last time, but his limitations were exposed when outpaced going to two out. He kept on from the last.
HAZELDENE has the build to be a chaser, but his jumping here was not impressive. That being said he stayed in contention for quite a way and will do better if his fencing improves.
WIND SHUFFLE was consistently out jumped from halfway and was well beaten from two out.
3.05 2m ½f Terry Frame Joiners Novices’ Hurdle (Class 4)
Six came well clear of the rest in this contest which looked a fair event.
POKFULHAM won a seller at Musselburgh, but he’s better than that suggests having twice been runner-up in handicaps since. He’s a determined sort and stayed on under driving to secure the race in the final furlong. He should remain competitive in handicaps even off a raised mark of 115.
PROUD TIMES challenged the4 leader up the run-in but couldn’t get his head in front. He did nothing wrong and will surely win a hurdle. A step up in trip wouldn’t do any harm.
Four-year-old PATTERNING raced prominently, led from three out to the last and only gave way in the final furlong. He ahs time on his side and this was a creditable effort.
FREDDIE BROWN once again impressed me on looks. Unfortunately he is proving headstrong, very fidgety in the paddock and pulling hard in behind the leaders. He was outpaced in the straight though keeping on for fourth. I fancy he’ll need a longer trip in time, but he does need to settle better.
THESCOTTISHSOLDIER raced up with the pace but was held form two out. He’s indicated can compete and a mark of 88 suggests he would be best aimed at low level novice handicaps.
BATTLE HONOUR led until headed before two out. He’s been given a mark of 102 in handicaps, not nearly as well treated as TheScottishSoldier.
3.40 2m 6½f totesport.com Premier Chase (Class 2)
This event has proved a decent addition to this card, having been won by the useful Money Trix and Sa Suffit since its inception. The course executive must have been pleased with the small but select field that turned out for this renewal. A couple of reports from usually reliable sources suggested that the last fence was omitted. This wasn’t the case suggesting either that the reporters were unfamiliar with the course, or that they reported from their armchair, or a combination of both!
SKIPPERS BRIG looked aimed for this event. Nicky Richards has specifically targeted races at Kelso before and his charge looked spot on after a light campaign. The race turned into a sprint from the home turn, Skippers Brig passing Ballabriggs in the final furlong. He’s aimed at the National but doesn’t look an out-and-out staying type to me.
BALLABRIGGS in well fancied for the National, being quoted amongst the favourites at present. However, a strong run 3m-3m 2f looks more his cup of tea than an all out staying contest. He jumped well in main until walking through two out. A tough sort he remained at the head of affairs, kicking on after the last only to be denied past the elbow.
CHIEF DAN GEORGE made a couple of slow jumps and was feeling the pinch at the last. He kept on for third, this race having brought him a bit on in preparation for an attempt at repeating last year’s Cheltenham win.
WATCH MY BACK was pushed into contention approaching the last but held on the run-in. The race will definitely help bring him on. His mark has now dropped by 5lbs and it is worth noting that his wins have come around 2m 4f.
Rated 69lbs worse than anything else in the race, Jean McGregor’s WATERSKI pootled round in his own time to earn travel expenses and a few days’ grub.
4.15 2m 2f totesport Premier Kelso Hurdle Race (Grade 2 Novices’ Hurdle)
This was as competitive novice event as there ahs been in the north this season. It featured nine hurdles winners, though ironically the winner had only won a bumper before.
Given time to mature, BOLD SIR BRIAN stepped up significantly on his previous hurdling effort, though supported by a few at decent odds. Held up early, he closed to three out and asserted impressively on the run-in. He’s not entered at Cheltenham but likely to be aimed at an Aintree novice event. He goes there as a progressive type who could surprise a few. Whatever happens in the short term, he has the makings of a chaser in future.
DESERT CRY, turned out looking in very decent condition, challenged at the last but was held in the final furlong. He’s another likely to be held back for Aintree.
WYSE HILL TEABAGS, a surprise winner at Musselburgh last time, proved that no fluke with a decent effort in third. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Jim Goldie targeted the Ayr Scottish National meeting with this one.
MOON INDIGO was once again put in his place by Wyse Hill Teabags. Previous Kelso winner BOGSIDE was held from two out, finishing just in front of PRICELESS ART who should progress with time.
Well fancied STORM BRIG was very disappointing and must surely have had a problem. He was never going and it was rather a surprise that Brian Harding persisted in the last mile. He’s much better than this run suggests.
VOSGES raced prominently early but dropped away three out. He was touted as a Cheltenham possible but a rest might now be on the cards before a tilt at Aintree or Ayr.
4.50 2m 6½f Royal Caledonian Hunt Hunters’ Chase (Class 6)
QOUTICA DE POYANS saw off his field with a bit to spare, making all and jumping well other than a howler at the seventh fence.
SCOTCH WARRIOR didn’t do much wrong in second chasing the winner for most of the race and keeping on if comfortably held.
ARDANACLANCY was outpaced four out but stayed on again in the closing stages to take third place. His Rules wins have been on good and good to firm, so he is one to watch out for as the ground dries out.
VIKING REBEL was best on Official ratings here but held in the straight.
SPELLCHECKER was walked round on the grass in the paddock. He struggled from the twelfth.
Veteran JOEUER D’ESTRUVAL made progress to get involved down the far side, but he gave the fourteenth fence a clout and struggled afterwards. He still retains some ability but needs a weak event if he is to win again.
THINK LUCKY and TWELVE PACES never got seriously involved. The latter has been capable on his day but is moody and seems regressive now.
I SEE A STAR’s rider Miss E Stead weighed in light and was suspended for three days. He was readily outpaced down the far side.
ELLANDSHE plodded round at his own slow pace, adding another completion to his collection.
DOC ROW looked outpaced and held when falling two out.
LAURA’S LIGHT raced in rear, getting well behind before pulling up approaching the last. He’s done nothing in recent times and seems a back number now.
5.25 2m 6½f The Voice Of Rugby Handicap Hurdle
This contest was run in memory of Bill McLaren and supported by The Bill McLaren Foundation which aims to raise money to promote rugby union, provide sporting opportunities for young people and to create an educative centre to include the Bill McLaren Archive.
GOLFER’S CROSSING is a sparely made sort who struggled in a couple of chases for Lucinda Russell. He performed adequately in a novice hurdle last time and was much more at home giving weight to inferiors in a moderate contest.
LEITH WALK picked off the field in the latter stages. She did the same when winning at Musselburgh last year and needs things to fall her way.
KINGS GUARD was checked over by the vet at the start. He made progress to three out but made no impression when ridden before the last.
EVERAARD made some progress form the rear to tow out but never got the leaders.
MOUFA TANGO made progress to the heels of the leaders before falling two out, rider Brian Harding suffering a broken arm in the process.
Sedgefield – Sunday February 6th
CLOUDY TOO comfortably saw off 117 rated EIGHTEEN CARAT and 11 rated MALIN BAY in the opening novices’ hurdle. Second and third look fair measures and the form looks reasonable. CLOUDY TOO is already a point winner and it would be a surprise if he didn’t notch further successes.
The remainder of the card was moderate in nature, the handicappers in particular a well exposed bunch. SAM LORD won the beginners’ chase but he’s been ungenuine in the past, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that the race fell his way. LIGHTENING ROD was eased into the race, perhaps cautious after his fall last time. He wasn’t overpressed in finishing second and might repay the kindness.
Newcastle – Tuesday February 8th
The ground was once again very testing at Gosforth Park, fields were small and the conditions must leave their mark on some of the competitors.
Willie Amos’s WILLIE HALL has progressed nicely at his own level. He just held off ROLECARR in the two mile handicap hurdle but might prove better than the bare form suggests.
Carlisle – Thursday February 10th
Another day of tough slogs in the mud, two fences and one hurdle being missed on each circuit.
BLAZING DIVA won the 3m 2f handicap chase and Sandy Thomson’s mare is in her element in such conditions. She’s entered for the ‘Hexham Four Miler’ in Cheltenham week and could follow up as this race didn’t seem to find the bottom of here. OVERLADY has been struggling, but fifth here was a better effort and she might now start to show up a bit better. She’s another holding the Hexham engagement.
I was pleased to see TEXAS HOLDEM rewarded with the win that a series of honest have deserved. He stayed on too well for ASCENDANT and DICKIE HENDERHOOP, the latter putting in an encouraging performance, in the Hands And Heels contest.
Karen McLintock does well in bumpers and here ROJO VIVO was comfortable winner of the closing contest, clearly suited by the stamina test.
News from Carlisle is that the new hurdles circuit, running inside the chase course, will be used for the first time in the autumn.