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Downpatrick, 15th July

This was a first visit to Downpatrick, a course that has been on the “to do” list for a while. The basic reason is that having seen it on television, it looks like a track that exists where one was never intended to fit. Having done zero research on the history of the venue, it appears as if the origins of racing were a challenge to race around the farm in the middle of the course. At times, the old farm track is very narrow indeed – the home straight can be easily blocked by three horses line abreast. In all other respects, bar use of a farm rather than an avenue of trees to stall visibility, it was very reminiscent of Godstone point-to-point, right-handed, undulating, a couple of tight turns but a general D shape that made most of the race tolerably turning and a very steep dip just after the winning post. Being Family Fun Day, the car park was full and into the overspill area with nearly two hours to the first race – a good day for the coffers? And finally, the pre-racing musical choice strongly featured Pearl Jam, which gets a triple thumbs up and made UK-Jumping feel very welcome.

Going: Good (Good to Firm places)

Race 1: The Plus2print Remembering Tony Oakes MBE Hurdle [2m 1.5f]

1: Avenir D’Une Vie     2: Lethal Steps     3: Hammerstein

Winner owned: Gigginstown House Stud, trained: Henry de Bromhead, ridden: Rachel Blackmore

Two non-runners left this as a disappointing three horse opener in what was the quality event on the card. The horses more or less went round in the order that they finished, and when Lethal Steps tried to close down Avenir D’Une Vie, he could make no impression. Hammerstein had a bit more luck in trying to nick second, but also ultimately failed and was eased halfway up the run-in. Avenir D’Une Vie had only won on soft or heavy before, but as noted, this race might not be reliable as a guide to what he can work with in serious company as Lethal Steps seems to be a horse without an optimum distance – his sole hurdle win was 2m 1.5f, but connections appear keen to try all sorts of other distances when available.

Race 2: Tony Patterson Sports Grounds Maiden Hurdle [2m 3f]

1: Construct     2: Steel Cap     3: Guttural

Winner owned: Derek Kierans, trained: John C McConnell, ridden: Donal McInerney

Another all the way winner, but in this case Construct put the effort in to demolish the chances of the oppo, and every time that they tried to up their game, he went for more. As an 81-rated flat horse, Construct had every right to think about dominating this, but it was his hurdles debut, so skills needed proving. Steel Cap had been a bumper debut winner at Kilbeggan but the two words used to summarise his hurdles efforts since were “unrelentingly awful.” Although he left it too late to really threaten Construct and possibly overtook a couple of rivals paying the price of more aggressive tactics, this was a hugely improved display. Guttural got stuck in a gutter of third place for almost the entire race, but trundled past Wooster late on when it seemed that he may be denied a place. That horse had been settled in the rear for much of the race but charged through to challenge at the second last. Just when it seemed he had played his cards perfectly, the effort ended and he managed to not even get placed. Track Mac was in interesting contender, maybe not for the right reasons. In six points he fell four times, at fences 1, 2, 5 and 17 (thankfully not the same race). A better hurdling spin last time implied that he may be coming good, but it was back to not quite square one here.

Ones to watch: Construct, Steel Cap

Race 3: Irish Jockeys Association Mares Maiden Hurdle [2m 3f]

1: Inishbel     2: Laureate     3: So Enjoy

Winner owned: Patrick Joseph McCartan, trained: Colin Bowe, ridden Bryan Cooper

The main feature of this race was that of the eight runners, six represented yards that were on the cold list. Of course, with Irish yards, the stats are not easily available to see if those figures have actually been snapped in point-to-points. And with the smaller fixture list it is easier for the lesser yards to get frozen out for longer periods without the horse running miserably. Nevertheless, it is hard not to imagine that Inishbel’s non-quiet yard was a difference maker for Inishbel (rated 96) against the staying on Laureate (rated 95, stable well up the coldness indicator) when the margin was barely further than one length. In the prelims, Laureate was the paddock pick so doing well was not shocking and getting a bit outpaced two hurdles from home cost her the race. So Enjoy was the one to take on Inishbel at the front. And not get any real benefit from doing so – she might not have been placed had Kashmir Wilde not fluffed the last.

Ones to watch: Laureate
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Inishbel (1) hides So Enjoy at the front, with Laureate in hot pursuit. The rather ragged pursuit is Miraculum, Kashmir Wilde, Altumanina, Carriealice and Miss Lane Fox

Race 4: North Down Marquees Handicap Hurdle [2m 3f]

1: Peaches And Cream      2: Greenandwhitearmy      3: Santa Anna

Winner owned: Ms Kiva O’Brien, trained: Gavin Cromwell, ridden: Jonathon Moore

The biggest field of the day in one of the two handicaps and it ends up with one of the shortest priced horses. And he won in a stroll – the announcement sounded like a hundred and fourteen lengths but it seems that was a listening error, to a degree of one hundred lengths. The race was confusing all round, as Peaches And Cream sported dark blue and white (blueberry and evaporated milk?), then Greenandwhitearmy was on the go in yellow and blue. He only pinched second late on, depriving a brave front running effort from Santa Anna (one previous second place, on this track) from getting the maximum realistic reward. He now has improved from a bad opening salvo to hit the places three times and can win a little handicap. The most interesting horse, for non-racing reasons, was Major Fawcett, who was a big, big danger to Peaches And Cream between the last two hurdles but weakened rapidly from the last. Firstly he is well named – by Sir Percy, out of Bolivia - Percy Fawcett having been a famed, then lost, Amazon forest explorer. He first turned up in South America surveying the likely borders in the rainforest at the request of the squabbling governments. Whilst there he noticed signs of a jungle civilisation more advanced that what was the norm by the time of his survey. The rest of his life, bar World War One in the Royal Artillery, was dedicated to digging out evidence. Unfortunately, his legacy was spoiled by the recent Hollywoodised film “Lost City Of Z” which changed nearly every fact in his tale (the truth is a ripping yarn without edits) and portrayed him as a sort of prototype new-ager/hippie sort, when his method was ruthlessly dependent on observation and facts. The onus is on this horse to put the record straight. He may not be up to it.

Ones to watch: Santa Anna

Race 5: Irish Jockeys In Support Of Downpatrick Racecourse Maiden Hurdle [2m 6f]

1: Happy Lad     2: Hello Pilgrim      3: Killinkere

Winner owned & trained: Hugh Paul Finnegan, ridden: Adam Short

This race took a very different flavour when favourite Monition slipped up after the third hurdle from home. As he had continually jumped left, some sort of incident was no surprise, but this made his record 0/15 over hurdles, and if there is a way to lose, he has a fine nose for it. Happy Lad had been taking Monition on for the lead throughout and tried to skip clear when left alone. The best of the pursuit were soon on his heels and sliding downhill Downthecellar looked all over the winner. However, he jumped and hung left at and after the final obstacle and weakened into fourth. Killinkere was not able to match Happy Lad for pace and Hello Pilgrim’s strong finish came too late to impact the number one slot. There seems to be something to work with in Hello Pilgrim’s case. She won a late season point, then lost her hurdles opener by just a length. A flop followed, but this redeemed it, especially as it did not look as if she was unable to have stuck to her spot in midfield a bit closer to the action before the second last, unless she was hampered by Monition – a hedge meant that seeing the exact chain of events was not possible.

One to watch: Hello Pilgrim

Ones to avoid: Monition
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Happy Lad leads Monition at an early stage. Rank two is Hello Pilgrim (green) and Airdrigh. Downthecellar has stolen half a stride on Repeat That and Killinkere in the rear rank. Eileens Boy is somewhere out of shot or successfully testing a cloaking device.

Race 6: digita.agency Supoprting St Patricks Coastal Ride Handicap Hurdle [2m 6f]

1: Canadian Steel     2: King Of Aran     3: Caerleon Kate

Winner owned: Mrs Shauna Kelly, trained: Noel C Kelly, ridden: Connor Orr

After winning two chases earlier in the summer, Canadian Steel had adapted imperfectly back in the hurdles game, including a not overly close at third at Sligo a day previously. The betting market was totally on his side today and was proven correct. The final margin was less than two lengths but veteran course specialist King Of Aran was never closing fast enough to inspire anyone other than the most raging optimist that the result was going to be changed. However, a course record of 2194112 is to be admired. Caerleon Kate had been niggled along at the fifth hurdle but she eventually responded and actually got to the front before the second last only to prove unable to sustain the effort. The winner had been supported into favourite at the expense of Basil’s Boy, who had won here out of the blue in his last run. He finished fifth now, behind past victims Caerleon Kate and Miracle Way (4th). It sort of backed up the “won a bad race” angle. The paddock pick was Baltygirl, once a very close second in a Thurles maiden hurdle but a faller a week earlier on handicap debut. She was going well as they went behind the farm but from the third last hurdle she dropped out rapidly and pulled up.
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The runners for race six emerge out of the sun's weary glaze at the start of the race. Canadian Steel is right at the very back. The first pair are Yeats Mardy (checks) and Baltygirl (green, white & red), or is Winsor Vixen on the far right also with them?

Race 7: The Two N&M’s Flat Race [2m 3f]

1: Saint Or Sinner     2: Mystery Stowaway     3: Coosan Clover

Winner owned: Pioneer Racing, trained: Gordon Elliott, ridden: Jamie Codd

A significant comment on this race is that the three newcomers were first, second and joint third in the betting. The other four had not done anything of note, but that were all very lightly raced, so not yet beyond redemption. Of that trio Barnet Brook and Saint Or Sinner caught the pre-race eye, but the former, starting favourite, was not quite up to the job. Meanwhile the more compact Saint Or Sinner got stuck into a proper scrap with Mystery Stowaway (had an educational and pulled up in his only point) and the new boy got home by a short head. Mystery Stowaway just needed a race that was five metres further. Coosan Clover had set quite a genteel pace, so the runner-up could also point the finger of blame at that enemy for costing him the race. These youngsters need to learn that it is a mentally harsh sporting environment.

One to note (for likely improvement): Barnet Brook.
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