With the summer well and truly behind us we welcomed back racing at jumps HQ over the weekend for ‘The Showcase’ meeting over two days and it was a return to not just mine but I’m sure plenty of others’ second home. After one of the hottest summers that I’ve witnessed you could tell that winter jumping was back with bitterly cold winds on day one followed up by persistent rain on day two. Not pleasant at all! Here’s my round-up and a few horses to take out of the first meeting of the new season.
Day One Review:
The meeting was kickstarted with the ‘Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle’ which was dominated by the Irish contingent with a 1-2-3 and it was Barry Geraghty on board Canardier who took the spoils for Dermot McCloughlin to give the Co-Meath-based trainer a first winner here on only his second visit. His gelding won a shade cosily from the hat-trick seeking Go Another One with the pair pulling away from the others and I’d be keen to keep an eye on them both going forward especially on the better ground in which they encountered here.
The ‘squareintheair.com Novice Chase’ was next up and it didn’t lack in controversy. Firstly, Dear Sire came down two-out when seemingly full of running and about to take over from Diakali who had been handed an uncontested lead from the off, before One For Billy, who was about to challenge the leader up his inner on the run-in, jumped the tapes and looked as if he wanted to go on another circuit of the course, which left Gary Moore’s Diakali to an easy success. I believe that if all three had finished then the eventual winner would have placed third and Dear Sire would have taken the spoils with One For Billy just in behind.
Now if you thought that race had an unusual ending then who would have thought that lightning would strike twice in the same day. Irish-raider Oighear Dubh had the race at his mercy with a three-length lead and no obstacles in front of him but unbelievably did exactly the same as One For Billy earlier in the day and went straight through the roping handing Presenting Julio what he thought was a gimme but he was treading water at this point and from a way back Dan Skelton’s Sam Red, along with Fifty Shades, came flying past to give Dan and brother Harry a very fortunate win. Not sure there’s much to take out this race apart from how bad I feel for connections of Oighear Dubh who is certain to be put up a few pounds for not winning and missing a wonderful opportunity for them to enjoy being a winning trainer/jockey/owner at Cheltenham which would be most people’s dream.
The first big-field handicap of the new season was the ‘Brandon Hill Capital Handicap Hurdle’ with 20 going to post. First Assignment managed to reel in long-time leader Vive Le Roi to deny him a hat-trick and it gave favourite-backers a dream start to the meeting having won the first three. At the age of five on just his third start in handicap company there’s a strong possibility of further improvement in the coming months. Christmas In April made a very pleasing stable debut after leaving Nicky Henderson for Colin Tizzard in third so should come on for that run whilst Mr Antolini, carrying his fair share of weight, along with 66/1 shot Water Sprite, both merit consideration next time, especially the latter who looked a real threat approaching the last before weakening up the hill. A drop in trip or a flatter track should suit Gordon Elliott’s inmate.
We saw quite an impressive winner in the ‘Foundation Developments Ltd Maiden Hurdle’ as Olly Murphy combined with the champ Richard Johnson to score with the five-year old Thomas Darby who made up a fair amount of ground between the last two hurdles to catch both Elixir De Nutz and Bang On Frankie. The gelding showed a nice turn of foot to win going away. He was a little green on the run in and is sure to come on for more race experience so goes in the notebook after making it 2/2 under rules.
Lil Rockerfeller took the ‘Matchbook Time To Move Over Novices’ Chase’ to add to a previous Uttoxeter victory taking his chasing record to 2/2 though wasn’t overly impressive in the jumping department and he’ll need to brush up on that attribute if he’s to be competitive against stronger opposition.
The finale on day one was the ‘Matchbook Betting Podcast Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle’ and it produced what I thought was the performance of the meeting. Storm Rising was hardly asked a question by his jockey Charlie Hammond and the four-length winning distance doesn’t do his victory justice on paper as he was hard held at the line and although a big rise in the weights will be forthcoming there should be a lot more to come with him only a five-year old and this being his stable debut. Magic Dancer was finishing well enough in 2nd to suggest that he’s still capable of being competitive from his current mark, he just bumped into one here.
Day Two Review:
A 16-runner handicap chase is what I love watching throughout the winter months and that’s what we were given to begin proceedings on day two and what a pulsating finish it was with Relentless Dreamer just edging out one of my favourite horses and winner of this race last year, Cogry. Only a neck separated the pair in favour of Rebecca Curtis’ gelding with them pulling 11-lengths clear of the remainder. Of those in behind Callet Mad (aged six) should have more to come over fences on just his second start whilst Shantou Village shaped as though a drop in trip will suit as he just didn’t get the trip and he’s handicapped to win races off his current mark.
Pearl Of The West gave John McConnell his first win at Prestbury Park in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle after being well backed just before the off. The disappointment was Philip Hobbs’ Gumball who never really landed a blow but Redicean, who was conceding weight all round, ran a really nice race in second (beaten three-lengths). He may be better on a flatter track but certainly showed here that he can be competitive enough on this undulated course.
Modus and Duke Of Navan fought out a thrilling finish in the ‘Randox Health Handicap Chase’ with the former just managing to get up in the shadows of the posts to deny the admirable ten-year old and I must admit I just couldn’t see Modus winning this before the off having gained most his successes over two-and-a-half, I thought the drop back in trip over fences wouldn’t suit as his jumping has been questionable but he was much slicker this time around and looks set for a nice campaign.
The first qualifier for next year’s Pertemps threw up yet another tight finish and for me it was a shame to see the admirable Sykes, at the age of nine, just get pipped for this prize having outrun his odds on numerous occasions in recent years in this grade without winning. It was Nick Gifford’s The Mighty Don though who took the spoils and looks open to further progress this season if staying over hurdles (which after not jumping fluently and unseating his rider on chase debut, looks likely). He looks better with a bit of give in the ground so keep a look out for this six-year old in the coming months. I’m keen to follow the fourth horse though, Theclockisticking for Stuart Edmonds. That was his first go at 3m after a staying-on fifth at Chepstow a fortnight prior over 2m3f, he kept on nicely despite the ground deteriorating and is sure to have more to give at this trip with better ground his ideal conditions. One other who took the eye was Notwhatiam who was a faller three out when travelling powerfully into the race and had actually joined the aforementioned Theclockisticking at that flight. There’s no guarantee that he’d have got up the hill but is another to watch as that was only his second start for the Skelton yard having won on stable debut and is definitely dangerous off his current mark.
The last three races on the card didn’t produce many runners though we saw a nice prospect in the form of the Gordon Elliott-trained Dinons who routed his six-runner field in the ‘Randox Health Novices’ Hurdle’ a horse his trainer likes, to land a five-timer. The ‘Move Over To Matchbook Novices’ Chase’ only had the three finishers after a N/R and a faller and it again was Elliott who landed a quick double with Cubomania making it 5/7 over fences and the grey who jumped and travelled nicely throughout should continue his upward curve in this sphere, whilst it was no real surprise to see local-trainer Fergal O’Brien land the concluding bumper (won that race last year with Herecomestheboom) with his heavily-backed Strong Glance justifying favouritism though I’m not sure if much will come out of that race this season.
PERFORMANCE of the meeting: STORM RISING (Dr. Richard Newland)
DISAPPOINTMENT of the meeting: GUMBALL (Philip Hobbs)
- Go Another One
- First Assignment
- Christmas In April
- Water Sprite
- Thomas Darby
- Storm Rising
- Magic Dancer
- Callet Mad
- Shantou Village
- The Mighty Don