Monday, 2 May 2011

Perth Festival 2011

This year’s festival, taking place a little later than normal due to a late Easter, was blessed with sunny skies and excellent crowds, culminating in 8,000 present for the last day which coincided with the Royal Wedding holiday. The watered ground was just what connections had been crying out for following a period of fast ground and small fields. The management must be thankful that the River Tay runs close by allowing a plentiful supply of irrigation water, the river taking ‘first pick’ before the city supply intake a little further downstream.

A quirk of timing meant that there were a plethora of Intermediate contests. Since this was effectively ‘last season’s meeting’ as it were, those races previously novice events would have been diminished in quality as many would be rendered ineligible. A tweak of race conditions allowed 2010-11 qualified novices to take their place.

Job commitments meant I was only able to take in the Friday card in person, but I kept an eye on the rest of the meeting courtesy of AtTheRaces.

Wednesday 27th April

Going – Good

2.10 2m Aberdeen Asset Management Maiden Hurdle (Division 1) (Class 4)

Nigel Twiston-Davies, often prominent in Perth trainers’ tables, wasted no time in getting off the mark with hurdles newcomer WHAT A WARRIOR. This wasn’t a strong contest, but he put his main rivals away with the minimum of fuss and should have no trouble seeing off novice company under a penalty.
FIDDLERS REEL, a dual point winner, returned after a long break to run a promising second. Racing a bit keenly early on he had enough left to hold on for second. He should pick up a race somewhere along the line, possibly when stepped up to chasing.
Fife-trained PAPAMOA had shown promise previously and wasn’t disgraced in third. Another returning from a break, he was in touch with the leaders two out and kept on into third. A stamina test should suit and he would prove interesting once qualified for handicaps.
PYJAMA GAME had run some promising races in defeat in bumpers. He was perhaps a shade disappointing in fourth, but has some speed and should build on the experience.
MASTER ACT wasn’t disgraced in fifth on hurdles debut, in the firing line two out before fading. He’s a long term project and is worth keeping and eye on.

2.45 2m Aberdeen Asset Management Maiden Hurdle (Division 2) (Class 4)

SIVOLA DE SIVOLA looked to have the edge on previous form and prove that so, pulling clear on the run-in. He’s been highly tried but this was more his level and he should build on the win if campaigned sensibly.
LORD REDSGIRTH challenged approaching the last but was held. He has ability and Gordon Elliott will presumably bring him back to Perth and place him to advantage.
FOUR FIDDLERS performed similarly to stablemate Papamoa in running third. He might always run into one or two too good in non-handicaps, but will benefit once qualified for handicaps.
Long standing maiden RAIN STOPS PLAY flattered for a while before giving way, while BRAVE SPARTACUS kept on for fifth and might prove a chaser in the long term.

3.20 3m 110yds EBF Future Champions NH Intermediate Hurdle (Class 2)

BLENHEIM BROOK turned round Sandown form with Mic’s Delight. I thought connections were aiming a little high with that Sandown effort, but a convincing performance from this progressive gelding proved them right. He quickened clear before the last and, though idling, still had a bit to spare. This winning pointer goes forward as a prospect for staying handicaps next winter and then a novice chase career.
MIC’S DELIGHT made much of the running, but was held before the last. His previous races had been over stiff tracks and that was the difference here as he couldn’t match the winner from two out.
EIGHT IS MY NUMBER is a big strong sort whose future lies over fences. He was tapped for pace from the home bend, but he will leave this effort well behind over the bigger obstacles.
Locally trained WATERSKI was well outclassed but picked up prize money for turning up and completing.

3.55 2m Aberdeen Asset Management Intermediate Chase (Class 3)

A disappointing turn out here, but NINE STORIES has more than enough to hold a less than committed second. He stayed on well to make it 2 out of 2 in chases for the in-form Howard Johnson stable.
WIKAALA has plenty of ability, but doesn’t match it with will and was easily outbattled from the last. He wants a bigger field and the chance to be kidded home.
FIGHTSTAR jumped a bit awkwardly on his chasing debut and was held from three out. He wasn’t convincing over hurdles, needs to improve his fencing and to be aimed a little lower.
WIND SHUFFLE set the pace but disappointed once again, fading quickly from three out.

4.30 2m 110yds Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer Handicap Hurdle (0-132)

The tongue-tie had a negative effect on PLAN A last time and my research suggests it’s not the panacea it might be. The win rate for first time tongue-ties is a little over 6%, the problem being that the application suggests and inherent problem anyway. Divested of the ‘aid’, PLAN A notched up Gordon Elliott’s first winner of a very successful meeting, driven out to hold his main challenger. This wasn’t the strongest 0-135 contest and he’ll have tougher tasks if bumped up a few pounds for this.
EXOTIC MAN led briefly before the last but gave way to a better4 opponent on the run-in.
BOGSIDE was held approaching the last and seems better suited by the stiffer test presented at Kelso.
JEWELLED DAGGER came off best of the Jim Goldie pair, fading before the last but presumably coming on for the run, while TOSHI never got in a blow and remains below par.

5.05 3m Aberdeen Asset Managers Handicap Chase (0-132) – Scottish Memories Challenge Cup

This was contested by a well exposed bunch of chasers of which the handicapper has a fair measure. SHAKE THE BARLEY has run some fair races in recent times and notched up a second stable win on the afternoon. Racing in midfield he progressed to lead two out and stayed on under pressure form the last.
Lightly raced LOGAN’S RUN closed under pressure from the last but was too late to trouble the winner. He would have more prospect than the others here of progressing.
OR DE GRUGY ran better than he has done for a while. The Kelso specialist was outpaced going to two out, but stayed on again after last for third.
APPLEADAY won’t have been helped by a 5lb rise for a defeat at Ascot and was held from two out having set the pace to three out. He went well enough around this sharp track.
BROOKLYN BROWNIE kept on from two out though never threatening. He will presumably be aimed at The Perth Gold Cup in early June.
THIRD LEVEL TOM was going well approaching three out but found little, while SOUBRIQUET lost his place at the thirteenth and never got seriously involved.
ET MAINTENANT didn’t see out trip, YABORA was tailed off from four out and SCHINDLER’S MAZE pulled up, unable to make a mark from out of the handicap.

5.35 3m 110yds Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer Amateur Riders’ Handicap Hurdle (0-105)

OSCAR’S BALLAD built on the promise of his third at Down Royal, challenging before the last and running on well. The leaders went a strong gallop and Jamie Codd picked off his rivals in the last mile. Gordon Elliott has a knack of getting improvement out of his handicappers and a follow up is possible.
BANOGE kept on for second but isn’t especially reliable, though he takes credit for sticking at the job having raced up with a strong pace.
Maiden BELOW THE DECK ran creditably to fill third, while DELIGHTFULLY stayed on late for fourth and really needs a stiff finish to stop the others.

Thursday April 28th

Going – Good (Good to Soft in places)

2.20 2m 110yds Free Race Replays On Intermediate Hurdle (Class 4)

Progressive filly SOUNDS OF THUNDER provided Gordon Elliott’s third winner of the meeting, pulling clear after two out. She’s a progressive sort, seeing off three other previous winners, and was following up a Tramore maiden win.
RUMBLE OF THUNDER ran well enough in second given that the sharp track wouldn’t have played to his strengths. He was one paced from two out but held second under pressure and will benefit from a greater test of stamina.
BOW BADGER was held from two out not far in front of the exposed TOLEDO GOLD who’s more of a low grade handicapper. The rest were well seen off.
Favourite RENARD D’IRLANDE was beaten two out and quickly pulled up after the flight.

2.50 3m Bill And Bunny Cadogan Memorial Intermediate Handicap Chase (0-121)

COLUMBUS SECRET is a striking big strong gelding who has progressed quietly through the winter. This looked a step up on his Southwell win and the race was in safe keeping from two out. His jumping isn’t foot perfect but providing it is sharpened he can mix it with better rivals.
SOTOVIK ran as well as he has fro some time, but his jumping was sloppy and a win doesn’t look imminent.
POSH BIRD was held from tow out. She did better over half a mile further at Downpatrick with some cut and such conditions might slow the others down for her.
ROSSINI’S DANCER was well off his game on a hat-trick bid while THE PADDY PREMIUM was beaten four out on his first run for the Alexander yard.
Three were pulled up. CAYO LAVENTADO was never going with great fluency, PLATIN GROUNDS never took much interest and FLYING SQUAD was never going. The latter’s trainer, Milton Harris, has been declared not a ‘fit and proper person’ to hold a licence, which doesn’t inspire, though he continues on a temporary licence until an appeal is heard.

3.20 3m 110yds Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer Intermediate Handicap Hurdle (0-114)

The fact that this race was won by a 10-year-old maiden doesn’t provide much encouragement for those beaten. Gordon Elliott once again proved his talent at producing improvement where others can’t was proven by WESTERN BOUND, providing a fourth win of the meeting for the County Meath yard.
VALLANI stayed on for second and has performed creditably in recent times.
The remainder look an eminently beatable bunch, though the sixth to finish, CROP WALKER will not have been seen to his best round this sharp track. Kate Walton might still eke out a win at a stiffer track.

3.50 2m 4f 110yds Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer Handicap Chase (for the Kilmany Cup) (0-138)

The Kilmany Cup has had various re-inventions in recent years. It’s been a three mile conditions chase in recent years, but reverted to a handicap this year, a more competitive field resulting.
DOOR BOY has been aimed at decent handicaps in recent months but has been found wanting. He’s useful on his day, better than the 126 mark he ran off here, and stays three miles so there should be further opportunities.
Progressive ROUDOUDOU VILLE is on to keep on the right side. The six-year-old stayed on to take second place and is going the right way.
PREMIER DANE stayed on to take third place. He’s put up two decent efforts since returning to chasing and would be of interest if dropped in class. His mark of 118 allows a bit of room for manoeuvre.
STORYMAKER kept on for fourth but couldn’t threaten the leaders. He’s been highly tried recently, and was by no means disgraced when finishing midfield at Cheltenham, but would be suited by some cut in the ground.
One or two back in the field may have had one race too many for now, notably SAFARI ADVENTURES who faded quickly after leading to the eleventh. SONGE looks high in weights and laboured for most of the way.

4.20 3m 2f 110yds Weatherbys Bank Champion Stayers Hunters’ Chase (Perth Hunt Cup)

The Alexanders were well represented in the training and riding stakes in what is their local hunter championship. Kit Alexander rode a fine race to win on COMMERCIAL EXPRESS trained by Lucy Alexander. Brought into contention four out, Commercial Express was squeezed up at the last, but switched right he produced a burst to catch the two horses in front of him in the final 100 yards. The family have a good grounding in the pointing field and the stable is making progress on the Rules front, this result added to two places on the first day of this meeting getting their 2011-12 season off to a sound start.
SIR BATHWICK jumped well in front and still looked most likely at the last. He was ridden after the last but had no time to respond once headed.
SCOTCH WARRIOR had every chance at the last but was run out of it close home.
NOIR ET VERT was beaten three out while GLACIAL RAMBLER ran a bit better than of late before giving way in the straight.

4.50 2m 4f 110yds PJO Industrial Handicap Hurdle (0-129)

Gordon Elliott closed an excellent day with a 1-2 in the closing handicap hurdle. MARTIN SCRUFF held off the challenge of stablemate HEARTHSTEAD DREAM on the run-in. In this form neither seem harshly handicapped and it’s worth keeping an eye out for further raids here or at Ffos Las.
Sadly WASHINGTON IRVING collapsed and died after finishing third. He never quiet fulfilled his promise over hurdles and the suspicion was that something was hurting him at the business end of races.
SOUTH O’ THE BORDER, one who goes well here, was held approaching the last. He doesn’t look especially well treated at the moment.

Friday April 29th

Going – Good

A bumper crowd pitched up in glorious sunshine for the final day of the Festival. This does bring it’s problems though, with big queues for everything and decent viewing positions difficult to be had on the Grandstand side. As the afternoon went on the crunching sound of trodden on plastic glasses could be heard regularly, and more than one punter got covered in split beer. A few in the crowd had had too much to drink far too early in the proceedings and their behaviour was boorish.

I took myself off to more quiet locations down by the last hurdle and last fence, the latter in particular a calm spot to follow the races. It’s out of earshot of the commentary, but with binoculars and a memory for colours I can follow the action well enough.

2.20 2m 110yds Scot Ads National Hunt Maiden Hurdle (Class 4)

Meeting winner number six for Gordon Elliott came via DEFINITE ALL STAR who was probably going best when left clear at the last. It’s been hard work getting a win out of this seven-year-old but he’s a nice sort with a fair amount of ability. He has enough about him to score again.
THE COCKNEY MACKEM challenged from two out but seemed to be going less well than the winner when falling at the last. He has shown enough to suggest that a small race is his for the taking.
Add REAPING THE REWARD to the notebook for an excellent second place coming off a two year lay-off. He wasn’t hurried, held up at the rear, but made significant progress three out and stayed on up the straight. This tall, leggy gelding has presumably been difficult to keep fit, but he seems to have a decent engine and Andrew Parker should be able to place him to win.
MAR OCEAN threatened two out but couldn’t raise his game from that point. Patrick Griffin will presumably bring him back to the Scotland on the north soon.
DIZZY RIVER kept on for fourth. He’s now qualified for handicaps which will help him.
Tom George’s COOLBEG ran prominently for some way, but looks more of a chasing type.

2.50 2m 4f 110yds Book Mijas Villa on 01241 879662 Intermediate Handicap Hurdle (0-115)

POKFULHAM has run a succession of decent races through winter and spring. He’s proved a good deal better than the class of the seller he won at Musselburgh, and came clear readily. He will go up for this win, but Jim Goldie apparently intends to keep him on the go through the summer and he might be good enough to add another win.
COUER DE FOU, who has been given time between races, chased the leaders to the last and kept on under pressure.
Make a note of ANAY CAR who finished third. Although he wouldn’t have won, he was stopped in his tracks when distracted by a plastic bag approaching the last flight. He hit the hurdle and couldn’t recover, losing second in the process, but he proved that his Newcastle fall hasn’t troubled him. Anay Car has ability and Howard Johnson should find a small handicap for him.
ROYAL AND ANCIENT and LATIN CONNECTION followed close behind but both are eminently beatable.
SOLE WITNESS led until two out, falling at the last when beaten. He sideswiped MR NOBODY as he got to his feet, but the latter was doing no more than passing beaten rivals at the time. Wilson Renwick did well to avoid the hooves as he rolled clear of Sole Witness.

3.25 2m 4f 110yds Lonmar Global Risks Intermediate Handicap Chase (0-123)

With four from the previous day declining to turn out again, using that irritating facility of ‘self certification’, and one other defecting, we were left with five runners. While it would not be fair to point at those involved here, self certification is a licence for connections to take the mickey out of those who support the sport through the betting market. Either you run or you provide a proper reason for withdrawal, and if you don’t intend to run two days in a row then don’t enter as such. Off-course punters, who, it should be remembered, contribute significantly to the sport, have no chance when half the runners defect.
One final point is that it’s about time the crowd were informed as to why horses have been declared non-runners. The only course I can remember reasons being given was Wolverhampton. It would make a change from “the trainer states that xxxxx will not run”, which authorities seem to think sufficient.

Back to the action and PEACHEY MOMENT won this under a fine ride by Graham Lee. Jumping well all the way round the winner came to the last swinging on the bridle, pinged the fence and came clear with a minimum of fuss. There’s much more in the tank here and I’d be amazed if the winner doesn’t score again.
The winner’s rider had to point out another plastic bag lying on the course while inspecting the last fence before the start. The groundstaff should perhaps be a bit more wary of such hazards.
COTTAGE ACRE jumped well enough in front but found the winner too good from the last.
STOLEN LIGHT was held by better opponents. He will find softer events than this around the likes of Sedgefield and Cartmel.
CATCH BOB fell early on and sustained a fatal injury. The vet was on hand to sedate him, but the screens took an age to appear and the remaining runners were going pass before they were put up.
THE COCKNEY SQUIRE was left behind down the far side and pulled up before four out.

4.00 2m Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer Handicap Chase(0-129)

I would guess that most must have got a hint of who was the main sponsor of the festival by this point!

REGENT’S SECRET has not always been the easiest character to ride, but his record around Perth is excellent and now stands at 5 wins from 9 races. Whereas he has to be held up at some tracks he regularly runs with the pace at Perth. Racing keenly but always handy, he came to challenge on the flat and led close home. He’s not overburdened on the 103 he ran off here and might still be placed to add to his Perth collection.
QUITO DU TRESOR, a decent fifth at Cheltenham and not disgraced at Ayr, led jumping well. A particularly good leap four out gained a couple of lengths, but he couldn’t resist the winner’s challenge in the shadow of the post. The track and conditions suit.
GRINGO raced at the back and was never comfortable. He passed two late on but never threatened and that’s been a theme of his recent runs.
FRED BOJANGALS has not been at his best of late and was held from the home turn as was PROFESSOR HIGGINS.

4.35 3m 7f Press & Journal Highland National Handicap Chase (0-118) for the Julian Llewellyn Palmer Memorial Trophy

This event didn’t boast the numbers of previous years but provided an excellent contest with the closest finish of the three days.

PETITE MARGOT hasn’t always been the easiest ride and often requires stoking up from early on. On this occasion she applied herself from the start, always making sure she was at the head of affairs. As Bally Wall came to challenge at the last she stuck her head down, produced a fluent leap and battled determinedly to the line. The race fell to her on the nod but on the day she was a worthy winner.
Shortly to visit Kayf Tara, I’ll look forward to seeing how her son or daughter performs on the track. If ever there was mating designed to produce a stayer, it must be this one.
BALLY WALL did nothing wrong. Raced in midfield, Keith Donoghue brought him to challenge going well at the last. He looked the likely winner, but the leader found just enough to hold on. Bally Wall looks a type to fight out the finish of similar staying contests.
KEENAN’S FUTURE progressed through the field in the final mile, but seemed to lack the commitment of the first two.
BALLYCARRON LAD race up with or in touch with the pace for much of the way. He couldn’t keep up the effort once turned for home.
Second in this event in 2009, but pulled up in the mud last year, KELLS CASTLE has not been in the same form of late. He was another to race prominently but found wanting from three out.
LAMPION DU BOST didn’t see out the trip, weakening on the home turn.
SAMMY SPIDERMAN has proved me wrong by seeing out 3m 1f, but he found 3m 7f beyond him. He had a tough task from 7lbs wrong anyway.
SAPHIRE NIGHT raced in the rear and was outpaced down the far side for the last time, pulling up before three out.
DUKEOFCHESTERWOOD was another to race in rear. He was hampered when Mersey came down at the water, but in truth was never going well enough to get involved and pulled up before four out.
ITS TEESCOMPONENTS raced in similar fashion to recent outings. She went well up front for a long way but weakened quickly approaching three out and was soon pulled up.
Racing at the rear of the pack, MERSEY stumbled on landing over the water (fence 16) and fell.
CARSONSTOWN BOY, a winner here over hurdles in 2009, raced in midfield and was well held when coming down at the last. He’s not been able to match his hurdles form over fences.

That was story of this year’s renewal of one of my favourite races.

5.10 3m 3f Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (0-128)

There aren’t many hurdles of this distance over a season, more so on the Irish circuit, so I’m sure Gordon Elliott was glad to be able to place TRENDELENBURG to win this. Elliott thus ended with seven wins in the three days.
Trendelenburg looked a bit of a handicap snip and I’m sure a few trainers might like to ask Elliott how it gets away with it! Held up off a decent pace by talented Scottish youngster Callum Whillans, he made steady progress through the field from four out and eased to the front going very well. He had to be rousted to hold off a determined runner-up, but the margin may be a blessing to keep a workable handicap mark.
JAUNTY JOURNEY made the pace or was in touch for most of the way. He looked held approaching the last but responded to his rider’s urgings to push the winner. His best form has come on soft ground but it could be that a true stamina test is what he needs.
ELZAHANN, in and out over fences, ran respectably in third. She is a fair front running chaser on her day at her level.
CATLEEN kept on for fourth. She often gets close but remains a maiden.
BORERO is a bit of an all or nothing performer with recent form figures 0P01P16. He set a strong pace before giving way before two out.

5.40 Evening Express Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (Class 5)

DOME RUN had shown enough in two runs to suggest this race was there for the taking, given that many here were never likely to excel in a two mile flat race. He came clear in the final three furlongs and would be a prospect over hurdles.
Howard Johnson’s VIKING CHIEF was presented looking fit for his first outing. He chased the leader from two out and ran well enough, but what you see is what you get.
The long term notebook should be pulled out for the third ANITOPIA. A brother to winning chaser Primrose Time, this gelding is a big, rather angular chasing type and, on this evidence, he’s blessed with an engine to match his frame. Brian Hughes commented afterwards that he had run around a bit when asked for his effort but had performed well given that the course is not likely to see him at his best. He will need a stiffer track and softer ground, but Linda Perratt has a fine jumps prospect on her hands. Remember this one.
He was followed on by the arguably even bigger MARLEE MOURINHO trained just down the road at Glenfarg by Lucy Normile. My paddock judgement was that he will need time, so a fourth place here promises much.
The third contender from the ‘land of the giants’ was HARRY HANDSOME who lives up to his name. He was tapped for speed in the straight but is a chasing sort who will be seen to better effect in time.
Lucinda Russell’s TEAR N TURN was well beaten but is a tall mare that needs to fill out. She’s only a five-year-old and will benefit from another winter behind her. She led racing keenly for six furlongs but struggled after. Not an immediate prospect but don’t give up on her.

Thus with notebook busy with jumping prospects the Perth Festival drew to a close. We stopped for a meal in Perth, a place with stacks of choice for an evening out, and then back on the road to Dunfermline. We passed the SIS vans, presumably on their way to the Heart of All England meeting at Hexham, of which more to follow.

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