Bar one little blip just after the New Year, the northern weather has remained generally favourable in recent days. Unfortunately a cold snap cost us a 'well filled' Sunday meeting at Kelso, but I've four meetings to catch up with from the last week or so.
CATTERICK - Wednesday January 11th
Going - Good to Soft
The staying beginners' chase might have yielded a couple of fair chasers. BEST LEGEND raced prominently and then forged on from three out. He was made to work hard by a tenacious second, but held on all out. He’s lightly raced for a 10 year old, having been pointing in 2007 in Ireland before going absent for four years. This was the fourth race his trainer had managed to get into him in recent weeks, and the experience seems to be doing no harm. He has a chance of picking up a staying novice chase under a penalty.
RIVER D'OR has had some tougher tasks than this handicap company. He found the winner apparently getting away three out, but a sustained effort from before the last saw him go close. Unlike the winner he has years on his side and, now that he is operating at a more reasonable level, he showed enough to suggest a similar race is within his compass.
DOVE HILL showed promise on chasing debut early last year, but dropped away down the far side. He has ability and I hope this was temporary blip.
COUNTESS COMET made a pleasing debut in the two mile novices' hurdle. It should be noted that two of the major players the contest but the winner did things well enough. She would certainly be strong contender under a penalty in any mares' novice event. The second MAGIC CAT is warming to his task over hurdles. He was left in the lead when the favourite departed two out, but an untidy jump at the last cost him.
Previous winner STAR IN FLIGHT looked likely to take the race, but unseated when coming clear two out. He has plenty of pace but his jumping technique could be improved.
The North Yorkshire Grand National over 3m 6f was won by a maiden chaser in POSH BIRD. It is worth noting that one of her previous best efforts was on her only other try over an extended trip when second over 3m 4f at Down Royal. She stayed on well and was in little trouble once taking over two out, suggesting that she has now found her forte and that this won't be her only chase win.
COOL MISSION was another trying an extended trip for the first time, and he performed soundly in finishing second. A stumble three out didn't help, but on balance he was second best. He's certainly worth looking at in similar contests on the northern circuit.
APACHE BLUE has jumped up the ratings in recent times and may have found the last increase a little beyond him, though third place was no disgrace. He can still find easier races off his mark of 110.
DYSTONIAS REVENGE needs the field to come back to him and never got into the contest here. He kept on up the straight without threatening the leaders. DERMATOLOGISTE won a lesser event over the trip at Bangor, but never got in a serious blow in the last mile. PEGASUS PRINCE was stepped up in trip and probably found it beyond him. He's got speed at shorter trips and a drop back down would do no harm.
STAR BEAT raced in the lead for a long way but, having been overtaken down the far side, found his chance had gone by the home turn.
HENNESSY didn't show much interest here, driven along early and pulled up before the sixteenth. He's been well behind in his last four races and it may be time to draw stumps.
NEXT TO NOWHERE won the two mile novices' handicap chase, but was third best on the day and very lucky. Having been left in the lead three out, he looked likely to be second to ZAZAMIX before that one came down at the last. Even then fast finishing GENTLEMAN JEFF nearly got up on the line.
I wouldn’t get over excited about any of the above trio, but OTTO QUERCUS went really well in front until hitting three out and coming down. He ran creditably behind Red Tanber at Musselburgh before Christmas, and should be capable of finding consolation for this.
The bumper form should turn out to be solid. Alan Swinbank's BIG WATER whizzed past Donald McCain's SMADYNIUM close home. Both youngsters have enough in pedigree and looks to suggest they can make a mark over hurdles, though they can be placed to win in similar company to this before going over obstacles. James Ewart's UEUETEOTL was found wanting for pace in the final furlongs, but he will probably be seen to better effect on a stiffer track.
MUSSELBURGH - Friday January 13th
Going - Good
The groundstaff at Musselburgh have won the Groundstaff of the Year Award in the Dual Purpose course category, with Ascot in second place. They have regularly produced an excellent surface for racing, and once again good ground prevailed for this meeting.
All races on the card were sponsored by Country Refreshments who provide on course catering at Musselburgh.
12.40 2m Maiden Hurdle (Class 5)
A run of the mill maiden to open the card and many will struggle to make any mark over jumps.
WHITE FUSION had raced too keenly when pulled up at Wetherby first time over hurdles. He raced prominently here but not over keenly, battling hard to hold on from two others after taking over the lead after three out. I suspect he will need to stick to this sort of ground to show his best over hurdles.
ARTISAN pushed the winner hard from three out and went down fighting hard, while BOWDLER'S MAGIC rallied well after being headed in the straight. The pair would have some chance of picking up a similar contest.
The favourite LEMON DROP RED was found wanting from before the last. Three times a winner over 1m 4f on the flat, it could be that a slightly stiffer test is required over hurdles.
MAKBULLET, considered good enough to contest a Class 2 hurdle here last time, was held on the flat.
Big gelding ZARU wouldn't be seen to his best around here, so he takes some credit some four lengths back in sixth.
PAS TROP TARD, noted after his Kelso run, was held up before unseating at the sixth.
1.10 2m Beginners' Chase (Class 5)
This wasn't a bad event Class 5 contest and I suspect future winners will come out of it.
CHARMINSTER showed promise at Sedgefield and asserted from two out on this occasion. He's been well placed to date by his shrewd trainer, not finishing out of the first two in six attempts under Rules. Further success awaits and it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see him back here for the 2m 4f contest on Cheltenham Trials Day.
DEGAS ART jumped deliberately early on, but settled into a better rhythm as the race went on. He kept on after the winner from three out though unable to make an impression. He struggled a bit when sent chasing previously, but showed some promise here, and time might show the form to be more than respectable.
VOSGES led until three out, where a mistake didn't help his cause, and he could only keep on at one pace afterwards. He's not been disgraced in any of his attempts over fences, and a handicap may be his best chance.
BOGSIDE jumped untidily early on and never got into the race, while JUST MADDIE found the company too exacting here and needs to be aimed at novice handicaps.
1.40 2m Selling Hurdle (Class 5)
DONTPAYTHEFERRYMAN acquired blinkers here, a surprise to me since he's always seemed honest enough. I suspect the drop in class did the trick as he was able to gallop this selling field into submission. I presume came here as his options are more limited given the stiffer all-weather mark limits opportunities at Southwell. This course suits as he can wind up the pace and keeps galloping.
RED SKIPPER briefly threatened in the straight, but a mistake two put paid to his chances of catching the winner. He's not a prolific winner for one blessed with some ability.
Juvenile PHILHARMONIC HALL disappointed, well held from three out.
KICKAHEAD, one with a fair record at a lowly level over hurdles, was weak in the market and took a keen hold under restraint. He unseated at the fourth.
2.10 2m 4f (85-102) Handicap Chase
RED TANBER made it three chase wins in a row around here, hardly turning in hair in seeing off three opponents on this occasion. He came readily clear from two out and I wouldn't think his new mark of 108 should stop him winning again. Another opportunity presents itself over the course and distance on January 25th.
MARKADAM confirmed his hurdles win was no fluke, performing soundly in taking second place. There's a chance he can find a similar contest if he avoids a progressive type.
BAAHER was a lucky winner here earlier in the season and was comfortably held in the straight on this occasion.
BALLYMACDUFF, having show improved form over hurdles last time, does not convince over fences and faded from five out.
2.40 3m 110yds (70-95) Handicap Hurdle
VIA ARCHIMEDE broke his duck over hurdles, leading all the way and hanging on after kicking on before three out. This form does not inspire since the three who finished close behind, AUBERGE, HOTGROVE BOY and VELVET VIC can boast only one win between them in 58 attempts.
FORCEFIELD had conditions and class in his favour but unseated at the eighth flight.
RAINING HORSE found things no easier over hurdles than he has done in chases and was well beaten.
3.10 3m (99-125) Handicap Chase
I had EVERAARD marked out as a bit of a plodder. Evidence suggests that, particularly around Musselburgh, that is slightly unfair and he took his record here to 3 wins from efforts. Chasing the leader to the last he summoned up a decent finish and snatched the race on the line.
MORE EQUITY looked the winner up the straight only to be pipped close home. This was her best effort of recent times.
KOSTA BRAVA picked his way through the field late on but never got near the leaders. His racing has been done over shorter distances, but this effort does at least hint that he cane be effective over this trip.
SEIZE got to the tails of the leaders four out, but could make no impression from there.
ROSSINI'S DANCER should get involved at this level, but he made too many jumping errors on this occasion.
FRED BOJANGALS never got in a blow, and I'd be surprised if there's anything to be gained by running him at this trip.
SAFARI ADVENTURES led for over two miles then gave way. He doesn't appear to stay the three miles and needs dropping back at least half a mile.
3.40 2m NH Flat Race (Class 6)
KEENELAND came into this race with one 4yos point behind him in Ireland, such contests apparently acting as a shop window for selling on these days. That being said he was a 100,000 Euro purchase as a yearling and £25,000 at Cheltenham in December. He was plenty sharp enough to take this race, quickening two out and holding off a single pursuer. The McCain stable is flying this season, there's jump winning blood in the family and he's in good hands.
PHOENIX RETURNS had hinted at ability previously but may need more time to be seen at his best.
The third HARRIS GARDEN is jump bred and should make more impact given time.
AYR - Tuesday January 17th
Going - Good to soft, Good in places)
Ayr was able to offer decent ground at a time of year when they normally race with a fair bit of cut. The first fence in the straight has now appeared, but the next fence is yet to be constructed.
To save on typing (!), I'll acknowledge at the start that all races were sponsored by Betvictor.com.
1.10 2m Maiden Hurdle (Class 5)
LEXI'S BOY ran no sort of race first time out over hurdles when pulled up at Kelso, but was on his game here with the race won before the last. He looks good enough to progress from here, presuming any problem is behind him.
FIND A KEY was held by the winner, but this Hexham bumper winner did enough to suggest that a maiden or novice victory is well within his powers.
GOODLUKIN LUCY led the field a merry gallop to three out and kept on once headed. She would be of interest in mares' only company and can be placed to advantage by under-rated trainer Maurice Barnes.
Massive gelding TUTCHEC seems to be getting the hang of things and showed promise with a fourth place. He caught the eye at Hexham in the spring as a long term prospect, with a big frame to fill, and the pieces are slowly falling into place.
1.40 2m 4f Novices' Chase (Class 3)
YES TOM, a winner here over hurdles last year, won this race in the style of a fair performer, easing clear in the straight. He fell last time in a big field, but the form of his fourth looks pretty decent, the winner having acquitted himself respectably in two Grade 2 events.
BLENHEIM BROOK might just have run into a decent performer, and in any case is giving the impression that he needs three miles to be most effective. He was tapped for speed from the home turn but kept on.
DOWD'S DESTINY was held from three out, but he finished lame.
STORMING GALE led early but quickly dropped back when headed at the eighth and was pulled up before three out.
2.15 3m 1f (85-104) Handicap Chase
Visored for the first time, ALLANARD was not threatened from four out. A rise for this win might take him out of his comfort zone.
Course specialist SAMMY SPIDERMAN may have wanted the ground a bit softer as his wins here have come in deeper ground. Allowing for that then this was a good effort.
Irish runners MAPLE VALLEY GALE and BALLYCARRON LAD chased the leader four out but could never get in a challenging position.
QUINDER SPRING was well off his game in a well beaten fifth, his decent form being on softer ground.
ISHLANA was pulled up at the thirteenth. She took a long time to break her duck in Irish points and her Rules form is uninspiring.
DUKE OF MALFI, who had appeared not to stay 21 furlongs on two occasions, unsurprisingly didn't see out this trip. Back to the minimum trip, methinks!
2.40 3m 110yds (95-105) Handicap Hurdle
SHOOTING TIMES, a winner here last March over a slightly shorter trip, returned to form after some lack lustre efforts. He came to challenge between the last two and held on well. His Ayr form has been significantly better than his runs elsewhere.
GLEANN NA NDOCHAIS cruised into contention before three out, but was then asked a question as the winner loomed before the last. He hadn't been asked a serious finishing question in his previous races and inexperienced showed here as he wandered approaching the last. Getting his act together, he rallied again after the last flight and stayed on. I'm sure he can win another handicap before long.
DELIGHTFULLY had every chance between the last two but was held on the flat. He's an exposed sort favoured by a stiffer test of stamina these days, mud and an uphill finish being a help.
Exposed RISK RUNNER ran passably well if held approaching the last, while EASTER VIC was tapped for speed from two out.
3.10 2m 4f (74-98) Novices' Handicap Hurdle
A moderate event won in decent style by TOTAL REBELLION who had hinted at ability on his previous outing. Now handicapped he was able to find his level here, and I suspect not having to climb the North face of the Eig..., sorry Towcester hill, may have helped.
HARRY HANDSOME caught the eye when I first saw him in the spring. He's gradually coming to hand and has enough about him to get in the mix in a similar company, with prospects of making up into a chaser in time.
Sophie Leech isn't frightened to notch up the horse box miles from here Gloucestershire yard, and OLD MAGIC has done plenty of travelling having run at Newton Abbot, Carlisle and Exeter in recent times. He kept on from two out and may need a stiffer test of stamina, though he failed to make an impact over three miles in Ireland.
Once again well backed by optimist followers, DICKIE HENDERHOOP fell at the seventh when well in touch. There are people out there who have presumably seen something that I've missed.
Inconsistent STORMION had a non going day and was well beaten, while SYDNEY COVE looked another Nick Alexander horse just a gallop or two short of his best.
3.40 2m 4f (89-115) Handicap Chase (Conditional Jockeys)
OCKEY DE NEULLIAC, lightly raced for a ten-year-old, is a handsome animal who hadn't quite fulfilled promise over fences. He beat a small field here in impressive style and might just need things his own way, as he picked off his opponents in the straight.
BANOGE stayed on for second but had no chance with the winner.
SOMETHING SILVER generally needs a race or two after a break. This second race might have put him straight, and he has a good record at Ayr.
ALEXANDER OATS was never going with any ease and the enigmatic PRIMROSE TIME slipped back into frustrating mode in a well held fifth place.
4.10 2m NH Flat (Class 6)
Two pulled well clear in this six runner contest.
Irish trained YOUNG PALM is first foal of a once raced but well related mare who appears to have passed on family talent. He strode clear in the final furlong and the Crawford yard has a fair prospect on their hands.
HOWABOUTNOW set the standard with is Bangor win and wasn't disgraced in second. The maiden point-to-point he won in Ireland was a weak affair, but he is bred to be at his best with a test of stamina and has established a sound base in bumpers.
BLAZIN WHITE FACE had been entered in a staying mares' novice hurdle at Kelso's abandoned meeting, and presumably came to this to get a race into here. Outpaced in the straight, she will show up better once hurdling over a distance of ground.
CATTERICK - Friday January 20th
Going - Good To Soft (Soft in places)
ENDEAVOR won the opening handicap hurdle and Dianne Sayer has done well to get four wins out of this one who was still only on a mark of 83. He can be a cussed soul on occasions, having given problems at the start on a few occasions. He idled once in front, not exerting himself any more than absolutely required, but is capable at this level and won't be overweighted after reassessment.
STOPPED OUT once again found one too good in the beginners' chase over 2m 3f, Venetia Williams's CARRICKBOY being too good on this occasion. The second had a decent win record over hurdles and should find a chase eventually. CAPTAIN PAULIE is probably better than fourth place here suggests but has proved adept at hiding his ability since arriving from Ireland. He kept on late without threatening.
RUDEMEISTER stayed on to deny FINNEGAN PADDY close home in the staying novices hurdle and is progressing nicely for Andrew Parker. Penalised SOUDAIN was held from two out, but he may well be one to remember if he goes chasing.
QUEL ELITE showed promise last season, but his last two runs suggests he may have a physical problem as he's struggled to get involved at the business end and hung badly right up the straight here. Caution is advised until he hints at something better.
ALTAN KHAN was a comfortable winner of what seemed a competitive Class 3 two mile chase. He led before the last and had plenty in hand on the run-in if idling a bit. He looks best around the minimum trip at sharp tracks.
LATERLY set a decent pace and stuck at his task up the home straight. Competing for the early lead with CARRIETAU, he quickly got the better of that one who is inclined to lose heart if taken on. Laterly had most of the field beaten but couldn't hold the winner, though this was a sound effort and he would be shoo-in for a small field contest.
FREDDIE BROWN raced near the pace and kept on at one pace for third, though once again unable to raise his game at the business end.
RED KINGDOM kept on for third, giving the impression he would have a chance in lower class, but his overall record is not encouraging.
ALLOW ME found the stiffer test here over 2m 3f preferable to the sharp two miles at Musselburgh. He raced handily, took over two out and galloped on from that point. Given chances at this sort of distance I believe he will continue to progress.
Consistent TEENAGE IDOL is a good marker in second, while SHADOWS LENGTHEN flattered for a while around two out but could only keep on for third. Lightly raced DISTIME picked up places through the field late on, should benefit from this experience might be worth considering in similar company.
In first time blinkers BARDOLET had the staying handicap chase (3m 1f 110yds) in safe keeping from three out having dictated the pace most of the way, being heavily eased on the run-in. I suspect he is best when taking on inferiors and future prospects depend on how the handicapper judges this.
Well exposed 'old soak' TOULOUSE EXPRESS had a going day, keeping on for second having been taken wide in typical Kenny Johnson fashion. It would be nice if Toulouse Express could step up on this next time as it will be his 100th race, and he does boast a record which has seen 9 wins and 22 second or third places.
BEAU DANDY has time on his side as a seven year old and third here was a creditable effort on only his fifth Rules effort, and first in a handicap. He has won a couple of points and in John Wade's hands he's likely to land a small staying handicap.
SAMSON COLLONGES probably has speed to win a race like this, but his jumping wasn't good enough to permit serious involvement.
FEELING PECKISH is only 8 and his record of outings already eclipses that of Toulouse Express. This was his 108th race in all disciplines, but he wouldn't go down as strong betting material with a solitary Ludlow win to show for his exertions.
Musselburgh winner DEFINITE APPEAL wasn't completely out of the contest when unseating four out.
DOYLY CARTE won the bumper in impressive style. The opposition won't go down as the strongest, the second and third looking long term projects, but she could no more than beat it comfortably. She is a half-sister to Dandino out of a half-sister to a French Oaks winner, so you would expect plenty of speed around the minimum trip over jumps. She might conceivably be worth a try in a Flat maiden in the spring.
CRANBERRY ICE is being brought along steadily by John Wade and confirmed Carlisle promise with a respectable second here.
CLASSIC RALLY looks one to carry forward for the future. A big long striding type, he won't have been particularly suited by this track but kept on in the closing stages, despite showing signs of greenness. He's bred to need further than the minimum trip and will come into his own once going jumping.
Back in sixth place BACH PEDDLING hinted at ability, keeping on past a few late on to give connections hope for the future.
ONES TO NOTE
RED TANBER - notched up the hat-trick with the comfort that suggests he hasn't finished winning yet.
POSH BIRD – Second and first from two tries at 3m 4f+ and worth persisting with at extended trips.
DISTIME - promising fourth on handicap hurdling bow and should benefit from the experience
BEAU DANDY - creditable third on handicap chasing bow and capable of picking up a handicap chase.