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Cottenham, 3/12/17

Cambridge University United Hunts

The original plan for the unfortunate fixture clash was to go to Larkhill, but it turned out that following on from the M4 closure east of Barbury last week, the A303 was closed east of Larkhill. So a quick reroute to Cottenham ensued, filling the need to go to a meeting where almost all horses backed over the years fail to finish. This year was no different, but if there had not been one horse too many in the opener, leading to it being divided, the first faller would almost certainly have been left well alone. See, divided races are not all wine and roses (and dark finishes to the meeting).

Going: Good, Good to Firm places

Race 1: Toad’s School Of Driving PPORA Club Members, Division I, 2m 4f

1: Celtic Silver      2: Very Intense     3: Ballybough Gorta

Winner owned: Mrs RC Hayward, trained: Tom Ellis, ridden: Gina Andrews

Celtic Silver was the obvious pick in this division, which appeared to be the weaker of the two. He waited until fence eleven before getting out of harm’s possible way in front. Soon after that he was clear and unchallenged, with a small last fence error being the sole risk. Behind him Very Intense was trying to close the gap, but failing in a way that was a bit disappointing after his successful first season at this job last term. For a horse that won a few handicap chases from ratings in the 120s Ballybough Gorta had disappointed as a pointer (one win in a small field from twelve tries) and on this evidence the move to Alan Hill has not redirected his efforts successfully – although he was not the fittest combatant that the yard will send out this season. The horse that got the UK-Jumping cursed financial investment was Curragh Hall. His pointing form was absolutely terrible before this, but he did win a minor handicap hurdle over two miles a couple of years ago. Standing out for fitness and wellbeing, he led at the sixth, thumped the tenth and came down at the next. Until then it was his best ever pointing show and if he ever does anything it will be in 2m 4f race. Best name award is for Best Director (by Oscar, out of Taneys Leader), but as things stand he is not due any awards for athletic performance. Fifth here was good by his standards.
Ballybough Gorta (cheekpieces) and Curragh Hall show the way onto the final circuit. Very Intense (24) and We Never Give Up form the second rank. The next three are Time Is Tickin, Shah Of Persia and Best Director. Tiny bits of Celtic Silver are in view behind Very Intense.

Race 2: Toad’s School Of Driving PPORA Club Members, Division II, 2m 4f

1: Gallox Bridge     2: Derksen     3: Mr Syntax

Winner owned & trained: Annabel Wheatley, ridden: James Martin

Under Rules it was really two miles good, longer bad for Gallox Bridge, but he did once win a 2m 4f novice hurdle accidentally, and this race allowed him to get off of the mark in points. It seemed a fairly steadily run race and he was able to dash clear off of the home turn and put the race to bed by the last fence. However, Derksen finished with a proper rattle and only failed by a length when Gallox Bridge’s stamina ebbed away. After making the running, as usual, Derksen had looked cooked three out, and it was his comparative staying power that dragged him back into the race. Exclusive Rights tried to force a strongly run race, but she could not managed it on ground this quick and Mr Syntax denied her even a place to reward the effort. The money appeared to be for Itftiraaq, a capable two miler who did a solid job on his only Rules chase and finished second in Market Rasen’s big summer hurdle last year. Oddly enough he seemed to be struggling for pace before possible stamina shortage cut in. A weak start, but it has to be imagined that the plan is short hunter chases.

Race 3: Baileys Mens Open

1: Bear’s Affair     2: Full Trottle    3: Bivouac

Winner owned: GB Barlow, trained: Philip Rowley, ridden: Alex Edwards

This was a really strong race for week three of the season, and it was a fine show by Bear’s Affair to win it. Last season, as a hunter chaser, he had one win and a fall when long odds on, so there had been a hint that Bear’s Affair was getting just a bit apathetic about his career. This resolutely undid that idea. Full Trottle took a lot of wearing down and the final margin was a head. It was a another good show on his seasonal debut and what we have learned is not to be concerned if Full Trottle does not appear quite so sharply fit as the oppo. Should be begin next year looking like he has swallowed a barrel that would be a different scenario. Approaching the last Bivouac was right on their heels but he just got a bit outpaced when the heat was seriously raised. A fair pipe opener. Flop of the race was Bay Sly. He started off in front, but was not always very fluent at the fences and hit the eighth hard. Once headed around fence twelve, he immediately lost interest and was pulled up soon after. A nastily sulky effort. Another non-finisher was Pantxoa, who still had a shot at third when shedding his rider two out.

Race 4: Skinner’s Pet Foods Ladies Open

1: Bound For Glory     2: Foxcub     3: Letbeso

Winner owned & trained: DMG Fitch-Peyton, ridden: Hannah Lewis

After Sagalyrique seemed to win this ever since December pointing was invented, his retirement opened a window of opportunity and Bound For Glory has responded by landing this event two years in a row. Last year it was a modest five horse affair, but this was a tougher challenge. The race was all a bit dithery and the time, unusually, was the same as the Mens race, and now Bound For Glory needs to go on from this in a manner that did not pan out last season. Some/many were quite surprised that his willing abandonment of manic front-running has not been the revelation that could be explained. When he was a handicap chaser Foxcub found 2m 5f plenty far enough but he lasted home on this easy challenge. His campaign will need some careful planning to find the races distances and tracks that he can deal with. Duke Of Lucca, in contrast, was a much more persistent stayer and was not tested enough by his short hunter chase season in the spring. Even Cottenham would not be a perfect fit and he did jump left often on this occasion – not something he has been known for in the past. As was a bit of a theme for the Open races, Letbeso was a good enough handicap chaser to be seen as capable of winning these sort of races, but he is treating them as a gentle retirement activity. Western Diva fell at the second last when not out of contention for third. Asking for more would have been a tad optimistic.

Race 5: Dakin Estates Restricted

1: Hawkhurst     2: Urban Storm     3: Brave Jaq

Winner owned: Keith Loads & Alan Hill, trained: Alan Hill, ridden: Joe Hill

It is hard to know what to make of this race. Hawkhurst looked well and won easily on stable debut, but others had coaxed promise out of him in the past, and the proof of the pudding will be if Alan Hill can get the horse to be less of a pudding next time. Urban Storm is habitually placed, so beating him twenty lengths is a good yardstick. Where will the consistency come from? Brave Jaq did a good job despite pulling hard, then a mistake two out stopped him in his tracks – not that he was going to stress out Hawkhurst at that point anyway. One to possibly note from down the field is Tick Tock Ten. He needed the race here and can be forgiven fading from contention, but he did only win a modest looking 2m 4f race and developing into a Restricted contender is not certain.

Race 6: Hardcastle Burton Open Maiden

1: This Breac     2: Fair Exchange     3: Chasetheisland

Winner owned: Two Farmers And A Butcher Partnership, trained: Andrew Pennock, ridden: Evan David

And so we close, as has become traditional, with two maidens. This one was wild and unpredictable, like trying to build a sand castle in a gale force wind. The tone was set when This Breac charged madly at the first fence and ballooned it. Despite this and wasting much energy by pulling hard. It all showed why he had found completing races so difficult in Ireland, but this time he managed not only to finish, but to win. Fair Exchange seemed a big threat as they left the farm building behind them, but he stuttered into the sixteenth and lost several lengths. None of them were recoverable. The winner was not the only one to get the opening obstacle wrong, and one of the sufferers was the only debutant, Latenightpass. After this inconvenience he popped round safe and sure for fourth, well behind. A less stressful experience will no doubt see improvement. However, experience is not necessarily essential. Come On Harriet’s racecard comment began “fifth season mare” which is never a plus in maiden company. The balance is important. See also Desert Retreat for an example.
A bad picture as it got a bit gloomy, but it does convey quite how unprepared This Breac was for this fence. Come On Harriet is out of harm's way on the far side, but Desert Retreat and his rider (third) are in disagreement as to what action needs to be taken

Race 7: ADC Drainage Open Maiden, 4-6 year olds, 2m 4f

1: Full Batten     2: Coyoacan     3: Lyre Lad

Winner owned: The Think Big Partnership, trained: James Owen, ridden: Gina Andrews

This had ten entries, and the only two not to take part had run in the three miler a race earlier. It also had only three finishers and had the commentator not kept his eye on him, Lyre Lad may have been forgotten about due to an out of sight, out of mind scenario. In the end Full Batten won easily, delivering what would be expected from a horse placed three times in Ireland, and then been runner-up in a maiden hurdle. It was not plain sailing, however, as newcomer Anytime Will Do was right in contention when he fell at the second last. The verdict here was that Full Batten just about had his measure but others will disagree and neither perspective is obviously deluded. Hows Johnny inherited second there, only to tip up at the final fence due to fatigue. He had one run in a bumper, well beaten, and if his head is not too freaked by this outcome he can win a maiden. Ditto for Coyoacan, who was well behind but needed the run. In his brief hurdle career, he never raced beyond 2m, so has stamina to prove. Ability is definitely present.
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