MUSSELBURGH – Saturday February 11th
Going – Good to Soft
With the weather warming significantly in Scotland, the go ahead Musselburgh executive quickly investigated the possibility of re-arranging their Cheltenham Trials Meeting. The BHA were obliging and the East Lothian track were able to run the fixture with tweaks to race conditions to allow for competition from Newbury, which was called off anyway. Pity then that Channel 4 Morning line coverage seemed much more concerned with what wasn’t taking place rather than what was. There was upside though, since Derek Thompson’s Channel 4 commitments gave our ears a two hour rest from the normal ear-bashing they suffer at such gatherings!
The main contest, the Scottish County Hurdle, was downgraded a little, but was still a cracking contest, and looking at overall average Official Ratings I suspect this may have been the strongest card staged in Musselburgh 25 years of jump fixtures. Southern raider numbers were down, although one traveller from Oxfordshire took advantage of opportunities.
A sprinkling over rain over the previous couple of days eased the ground to just on the soft side, but it’s as good a jumping surface as you will get at this time of year.
1.30 John Smith’s Novices’ Hurdle (Class 4)
Ding! Ding! Round One!. In the yellow corner, representing ‘The North’, EBANOUR from the yard of Donald McCain, and in the orange corner, representing ‘The South’, CROSS OF HONOUR from the yard of Charlie Longsdon.
The result was comfortable points victory for the Chipping Norton* yard of Longsdon, a trainer who I have a lot of time for and who’s runners always command respect. CROSS OF HONOUR travelled comfortably and forged clear from two out, winning eased down significantly. The gelding had been entered a number of times recently so his trainer was only too happy to travel to Scotland to get a run. He has an entry in the ‘Neptune Investment’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, but the trainer’s favoured line is to go for a handicap. Whatever he goes for he does look potentially a 140+ animal.
EBANOUR couldn’t match the winner in the straight, the blinkers maybe not having the same effect as last time. That being said his last three runs read solidly enough and he should pick up another race at his level.
SAMSTOWN, well outpaced in a fourteen furlong bumper in January last year, made a decent impression on his hurdling debut giving encouragement for the future. He stayed on up the straight and forced Ebanour to an effort to hold on for second.
VENITZIA faded in the straight and looks likely to be better off in handicaps.
EDMUND cost £20,000 as a three-year-old and showed enough on hurdling debut to hint that he can return some of that in time. He made an effort three out but couldn’t get to the leaders. I don’t think he’s the finished article and he should strengthen with another summer behind him.
*Before anyone asks, I used to live in Oxfordshire and in Olde Northe’s Oxon Book Of Geography ‘The Midlands’ starts at Banbury, so Chippy counts as ‘The South’! Mind you, by the same token ‘The North’ starts north of Stoke/Nottingham and there’s still a darned long way to Musselburgh.
2.05 2m John Smith’s Scottish Triumph (Juvenile) Hurdle (Class 3)
This event will more likely point to the Fred Winter hurdle than the Triumph at Cheltenham, though the winning trainer is concerned his charge may not get a run to be handicapped for that. Charlie Longsdon notched a quick double as WEST BRIT led two out and ran on well for victory. The winner has had a wind operation since pulling up at Plumpton and also had a tongue strap applied. He’s entered in the Triumph but it would be a big step up from this to have an impact in that event, though he might be worth a try at the Aintree equivalent which sometimes doesn’t take as much winning.
KIE shrugged off a poor run at Kempton to perform nearer to his best here. He’ll find his level in handicaps I would imagine and is a live sort if able to get a relatively uncontested lead.
ORTHODOX LAD, making the trip from Ledbury for Ed De Giles and looking nicely fit, built on a promising Ludlow debut. He tried to get on terms three out, not quite got near enough to threaten the winner but kept on under encouragement for third place. He will find easier opportunities.
RED INCA stayed on from the rear for fourth but was never in the race.
Catterick winner CREEKSIDE looked a fair bit more substantial than the rest in the paddock. He was found wanting from the home turn and struggled into fifth place. He may have found this track a bit sharp in the company.
In my opinion LAUGHING JACK was the pick of the paddock, but he was very geed-up, pulled hard going down and in the race, and predictably faded in the straight. He was a free-going sort on the flat and this needs to be kept in check if he’s to score over hurdles.
Sadly UNCLE BRYN took a horrid fall at the last when held in fourth, struggled to get up then collapsed and had to be put down.
2.35 3m ½f John Smith’s Stayers’ (103-133) Handicap Hurdle
A cracking finish here with two necks separating the first three. The in-form course specialist EVERAARD stuck his neck out in determined fashion to hold on here, raised significantly in class from his last hurdles race. Three close here won’t have harmed his handicap mark unduly, but opportunities have now run out for this season at Musselburgh.
DEVOTION TO DUTY battled hard but was held close home. He’s capable of winning a similar race but isn’t guaranteed to reproduce the form.
Potentially the best prospect here might be MOONLIGHT DRIVE, lightly raced under Rules. He made up a heck of a lot of ground in the straight, but just lacked a little extra from the last. A fine effort though and he seems better suited by the decent ground encountered here. It’s surely only a matter of time before he wins a race.
DIZZY RIVER was not disgraced in fourth, keeping on but held form the last. ALDERLEY ROVER couldn’t get to grips with the first three from two out and doesn’t look especially well handicapped over hurdles or fences right now.
ARCTIC COURT led until three out and could only muster a steady pace afterwards. He needs a stiffer test than this course presents.
Charlie Longsdon’s OSTLAND was made favourite to provide a stable treble, but he was outpaced from two out and weakened in the closing stages.
MORE EQUITY found the company here a bit too tough and is better over fences.
3.10 2m John Smith’s Scottish Champion Chase (Handicap) for the Bowes-Lyons Cup (117-138)
A decent competitive turn out for an apparently grandly named race, though there is a significant reason for the race title. The Queen Mother’s family name was Bowes-Lyon, and the event is intended to be the Scottish equivalent of Cheltenham’s Queen Mother Champion Chase. A perpetual trophy has been donated by the Bowes-Lyon family and the aim is to attract even stronger fields in future.
A whole host of contestants jumped the last two at close quarters, but sadly for them the winner TARA ROYAL had kicked on before two out and didn’t look likely to be caught. He’s been a bit below par since showing as a promising novice last season, but given that he cracked his pelvis just before Cheltenham last year that’s no surprise. He could well go on to trouble better company.
WOODY WALLER set the pace and kept on to the line, despite jumping left markedly so up the straight. He had not exhibited this trait before and may want a left-handed track, given that his finishing position suggests he was not otherwise troubled.
DE BOITRON came back to something near his best, staying on for third. Ferdy Murphy’s stable are normally at their best in the spring, and it’s significant that the trainer appears to still have a little bit of condition to work off this one. It would be no surprise to see De Boitron step up on this.
QUITO DU TRESOR probably found the two miles around here a bit sharp in the company. His target is likely to be the Grand Annual, and the chances are he might renew rivalry with De Boitron.
KOSTA BRAVA put up a decent effort from the bottom of the weights and will find easier opportunities. He has proved best around the minimum trip and is back on his latest winning mark.
ULTIMATE was well backed but couldn’t make an impact from three out having raced prominently.
GRACCHUS found this race a bit competitive and was held from three out.
LIGHTENING ROD won at Hexham but looks on a tough mark at 134. He was outpointed in the straight.
SANTA’S SON is an odd looking creature with a long neck and short legs. It doesn’t seem to have stopped him achieving things though, and he has 8 career wins. He was well held here but is aimed at the Topham Trophy.
SAFARI ADVENTURES, often an exuberant front runner, looks down in the dumps at the moment and took precious little interest.
3.45 2m John Smith’s Scottish County Hurdle (Handicap) (118-139)
A strong renewal of this contest, quite possibly the strongest contested of any hurdle this season in Scotland, and I suspect only the Scottish Champion at Ayr might match it. Twelve of the thirteen had won this season and the other one was a winner at Cheltenham last March.
There was a furious pace from the start set by Dontpaytheferryman pressed by Ubi ace. The latter seemed best placed to take the race approaching the last, but STORMY WEATHER came through off a hold up ride and prevailed close home. Not totally disgraced in Grade 1 contests earlier this term, the winner showed he is well up to the class of decent handicap company. Assuming he gets into the race there seems no reason why he shouldn’t acquit himself well enough in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, where there should be no shortage of pace. Whatever route he takes he will be competitive in upcoming handicaps.
UBI ACE ran a cracker off top weight, looking the winner at the last only to be denied close home. He’s having a rattling good season and goes to Cheltenham with every chance of a prominent finish.
All credit to DONTPAYTHEFERRYMAN, a course specialist and stable companion of the winner. Tanking along at the head of the field in typical style, he looked held once passed but knuckled down and was coming back at the finish. He’s in fine heart and might be worth an interest should his trainer find a flat contest at Southwell, or perhaps back here for a suitable handicap in spring or summer. He’s entered in a handicap hurdle at Musselburgh this Thursday (16th) where he takes on the progressive Simply Ned.
Decent novice INGLEBY SPIRIT performed with credit in this company, coming with an effort two out but just unable to keep the momentum going. He’ll find easier tasks than this and should win again before long.
SHADOWS LENGTHEN couldn’t make a significant impression approaching the last and was held in fifth. He’s a big strong individual who should make up into a chaser before long.
Novice CRY FOR FREEDOM wasn’t disgraced in sixth on only his fourth hurdles outing. He’ll have opportunities in a lower class handicap or a novice contest under a penalty.
ZAFRANAGAR got on to the heels of the leaders three out but couldn’t make any further impression after that. He may need a little more cut in the ground to be seen at his best.
The form of the handicap hurdle on New Year’s Day was put firmly in its place here. That race was a muddling affair and the three principals, PALAWI, NINE STORIES and ALSAHIL couldn’t make a mark on this occasion. However, the latter is lightly raced and can do better.
A novice handicap chase winner at the Cheltenham Festival last year, DIVERS was bandaged in front and always struggled here. This was no sort of prep for March and I’d be wary of him at present.
4.20 2m 4f John Smith’s future Champions Novices’ Chase (Class 3)
This race has yielded some decent winners since its inception, and this renewal appears no different with Lucinda Russell’s progressive gelding BOLD SIR BRIAN taking the honours. He had a scare when having to avoid fallen Chester Lad at the twelfth, but was never in any trouble after that to see off Stopped Out who is a fair marker. Bold Sir Brian has strengthened up in recent months and now has a number of options, the Jewson at Cheltenham, or maybe going to Aintree or Ayr in April. He is potentially very decent.
STOPPED OUT is a consistent sort who keeps running into one too good over fences. He didn’t do too much wrong, if clearly outpaced from four out, and there must surely be chase for him before long.
DOUBLE EXPRESSO has had problems, bleeding when competing in a claiming hurdle at Taunton, and never competitive here. He completed in his own time, inheriting third by virtue of two rivals falling. His prospects look bleak at anything other than base level.
CHESTER LAD made this a decent test, bowling along nicely in front until getting too low at the twelfth and taking a spectacular tumble. He seemed to be alright afterwards.
BOGSIDE tried valiantly to match the front two but was making no impression when crashing to the ground four out. He needs his sights lowered a little.
4.50 John Smith’s (113-130) Handicap Hurdle
The closing contest was dominated by two progressive novices. Newmarket challenger CAPE DUTCH had enough in hand to comfortably hold off Worcestershire based COTILLION on the run-in, the pair clear of the remainder. The winner will presumably be aimed at Cheltenham, perhaps for one of the handicaps. The second might just be shunted out of this class now, but probably has ability to be competitive in a slightly higher grade.
The more exposed THE STARBOARD BOW could never match the first two but stayed on for third. This is his trip and he has now dropped to manageable mark.
HIGGY’S BOY kept from the rear for fourth, but he hasn’t won for three years and is struggling off his current mark. He’s dropped to 123 after this run, but 120 might be the magic figure class wise.
SIMONSIDE set the pace until passed before two out. He was tapped for pace from that point.