KELSO- Saturday March 3rd
Going – Good
Kelso held their headline meeting of the season with a number of Cheltenham or Aintree hopefuls appearing, among them last year’s Grand National winner Ballabriggs. Crowd size was perhaps a little down on expectations at 3,100 and field sizes were disappointing bearing in mind the decent prize money on offer, but the racing was competitive and threw up a few future pointers.
The weather has been comparatively mild and dry for a while, the course had considered watering earlier in the week, but a little rain provided an excellent racing surface.
1.55 2m 110yds Terry Frame Joiners Novices’ Hurdle (Class 4)
Not a strong novice event and it was won by a horse whose stamina was in question before this. MAKBULLET is a seven furlong winner on the flat, but saw out the two miles well enough on this occasion, indeed he stayed on to assert in the final furlong. That being said, he’s always going to be favoured by two miles on quick ground or around a sharp track. He may find life tough under a penalty in this class.
Lucy Alexander set a sound pace on JET MASTER who didn’t have enough left once passed on the run-in. He seemed to run to his mark of 118, and I would imagine will be aimed at Perth meetings in the spring.
SAMSTOWN was dropped back in trip and stayed on into third place on the run-in. He was staying on over half a mile farther at Musselburgh and would be competitive stepped back up in distance. He’s a nice enough sort who should win races.
ABSINTHE was disappointing, faded after the last having chased the leader two out. His previous efforts read well but this was not so encouraging.
SMART RULER briefly threatened going to three out, but couldn’t get any closer. He was a cheap purchase but hints at ability and might get in the mix in lowly handicaps.
2.30 2m 1f Cyril Alexander Memorial Novices’ Chase (Class 4)
DEGAS ART is well exposed and not likely to be improving over fences at this time. He chased the leader until taking over from the last, though forced to work by a lesser rated stablemate. He goes to Cheltenham for a novices’ handicap, but will have his work cut out at the higher level.
KAI BROON jumped nicely created a favourable impression on his chasing debut. He would be better off in handicaps, but he’s rated only 105 and much depends on how the handicapper rates this effort behind against horses rated more than stone better.
CHESTER LAD made the pace but found precious little once passed before the last. He’s best of these three at his best, but seems to need things to go his way.
3.05 2m 1f Bedmax Handicap Chase (104-115)
A popular win for the locally trained and progressive RED TANBER. The chestnut received a fine reception, recording a fifth win of the season for Bruce Mactaggart and Lucy Alexander. He forged clear of front running Freddie Brown on the run-in and still looks to have something in hand of the handicapper. He was beaten by apparent handicap snip Oscar Hill at Musselburgh, but other than that nothing has been near to finding the bottom of him. He now goes to Cheltenham for the Jewson Novices’ Chase which is a big ask, but he’ll certainly jump as well as anything there as he gains a length or two per fence over his rivals at this level and is a chasing natural. I hope Red Tanber does his trainer proud at the Festival.
FREDDIE BROWN put up his best performance for some while. He settled much better in front here, and had all bar the winner seen off by the last. He kept on honestly once passed, and must surely pick up a similar race if he doesn’t catch one as progressive as the winner. He’s an impressive sight in the paddock and the hope is he can move on from this effort.
Veteran POLAR GUNNER looked an absolute picture beforehand and gave a sound account of himself. He was left behind by the first two from two out. He isn’t going to get any favours from the handicapper, but is running well enough that Malcolm Jefferson may be able to coax another win out of him, perhaps around here or at Sedgefield.
KILKENNY ALL STAR jumped poorly early on and never got into the race. He did make a little moderate progress late on, but never got near the leaders.
PAMAK D’AIRY was never in the hunt, while OR DE GRUGY is really out of sorts and even a return to his favourite stamping ground couldn’t conjure up a revival.
3.35 2m 2f totepool Premier Kelso Hurdle (Novices) (Grade 2)
Six recent winners in the field and this looked a fair renewal of Kelso’s highest graded contest of the season.
Lucinda Russell landed the prize for the second year running, the progressive TAP NIGHT seeking off a southerner challenger on the run-in. Before last summer the winner had recorded wins at Belmont Park and Delaware Park, but now he’s adjudged to the different sphere he’s coming on in leaps and bounds. He showed tenacity to wear down Captain Conan on the run-in and was pulling away at the line. Tap Night has a Coral Cup entry though I wonder if Lucinda Russell might just wait a little while for the right race.
Tolworth winner CAPTAIN CONAN raced close up and led going to the last, but he was one paced in the closing stages. Time may prove this to be a fair effort and this fine looking sort has the stamp of a chaser about him.
BURY PARADE forced the pace and paid for his efforts late on. This was a significant rise in class from his Hexham wins and he deserves credit for a fair effort. He probably needs softer ground than he had here.
INTO WAIN ran pretty much to his level in fourth and just found this class a bit too good for him.
UBALTIQUE was an easy winner in the heavy at Pau, but found himself dropped in at the deep end on debut for Donald McCain. This entry would suggest he has more ability than he showed here, and better would be expected with time to adjust to new surroundings.
LUCIA BAY was never going, struggling from three out. A return to mares’ company would be welcomed.
4.10 2m 6f 110yds totepool.com Premier Chase (Class 2)
A race short of three miles isn’t an obvious Grand Natio0nal trial, but last year’s renewal yielded the winner and two finishers in the big race. Ballabriggs made his seasonal re-appearance here but was eclipsed by a quirky winner and two others likely to take in the Aintree classic.
MASTER OF THE HALL, whose wins have all come in small field conditions chases, was ridden with all the mastery one comes to expect from Tony McCoy. He made steady progress from three out, joined issue at the last and was then held up until bursting through at the elbow. He won very cosily in the end. A Kelso regular reported that McCoy noted the odds board in the paddock and said “I wouldn’t back this at 6/4!” Presumably that set the champion a challenge he couldn’t resist.
ACCORDING TO PETE set the pace and tried hard to hold off challenges but couldn’t match the winner’s turn of pace. A stiffer test will suit and he is Aintree bound.
Another Aintree bound contender is ABBEYBRANEY. Held on the book here, he kicked on four out and led until headed after the last. He’s entered in the National and is running well enough to suggest he can acquit himself with credit if given the chance to be Scotland’s runner.
BALLABRIGGS led at the last having eased into contention, but was tapped for pace in the final three hundred yards. Donald McCain expressed himself well satisfied with the effort here. He’ll have a weight to lug around Aintree, but he’s been brought on with the race as his sole focus. I suspect he may find one or two too good, but then I dismissed him after last year’s running of this race…
Jean Macgregor sent out WATERSKI to pick up some pocket money for finishing a remote fifth. He’s woefully slow, but was turned looking a picture!
4.45 2m 6f 110yds Canal Challenge Hunters’ Chase (Class 6)
The hunter ranks are lacking in quality in Scotland at the moment, with the possible exception of Special Portrait, but even the latter struggles in top company. This contest was very ordinary with a group of well exposed performers finishing in a heap. I doubt this would even have constituted a decent Open point.
INVERLOCHY LAD departed at the first at Ayr, but made up for the mishap with a tenacious effort here. Taking up the running going on to the final circuit he stuck on to see off all-comers on the run-in.
HARMONY BRIG is getting on a bit but still retains some ability, though he’s never been the most committed. A recent winner of a point, he had every chance here but was held in the closing stages.
MONTAUK HIGHWAY and COOLE MURPHY are well exposed as moderate in the pointing field and their close proximity to the winner does little to advertise the form, the latter having proved a weak finisher in maiden points.
RAKERIN LAD improved late on under pressure and was never closer than at the finish.
SPELLCHECKER and KILDONNAN should have been involved at their best, but both were disappointing while COMMERCIAL EXPRESS, a distinctly moody customer, didn’t take too much interest.
5.20 2m 6f 110yds Bet totepool Text tote to 89660 Handicap Hurdle (92-107)
An exposed bunch with two of the more likely sorts pulling clear from two out.
SUNDOWN TRAIL travelled well all the way and, brought with a challenge by McCoy approaching the last, forged ahead in the final furlong. Nicky Richards often has his charges tuned up for Kelso and Sundown Trail was produced in peak fitness for this contest. He’s going in the right direction and may score again.
FOUR FIDDLERS made a decent impression on his handicap debut and Lucy Alexander certainly gave as good as she got in the finish against Tony McCoy. This one had looked likely to be suited by a test of stamina and saw the race out well enough. He should have a chance of picking up a similar contest.
HIGHRATE was left in the lead when three departed at the ninth hurdle, but was well held from two out though plugging on for third a fair way behind the second.
POLITICAL PADDY looked very well and hadn’t been asked a question when brought down at the ninth. He has won twice over the course and distance, and might find a soft contest before long.
A poorly conceived Cheltenham Preview was held after racing in the Tweedie Stand Bar. I suspect the event was organised at short notice and the hub-bub from the drinkers made it difficult for speakers to be heard. Lucinda Russell, Peter Scudamore, Richie McGrath, George Primarolo of the Tote and a Timeform representative gave their opinions. Gordon Brown of ATR tried desperately to call for hush but after battling against the noise for 15 minutes the preview was cut short. It is hoped that the event in a more suitable time and place next year.
Lucinda Russell's one to watch was DE BOITRON who goes to Cheltenham off the back of an encouraging run at Musselburgh and 4lbs lower in the handicap.
Scottish trainers go into Cheltenham with their strongest hand for some while. I'll post up a preview over the weekend.