Fontwell, 12/4/17

A field full of carnival stalls for the kids. And a petting zoo. Which was kept away from the horses, despite the fact that several probably had ponies, sheep or goats as travelling companions, or have to share a bed with the stable cat. Perhaps the concern was that they may find that the sleeping calf needed to emulated, which does not make for effective racing. Would be considered desperate to have a bet on which horse wakes up first?

Going: Good, added Good to Firm patches for race four, which means they were there all along. A significant majority of participants seemed to consider it Good to Firm, but there were an unusually high number of declarations that are more often seen on slightly soft going, which may have clouded some judgements.

Race 1: Butlins Day Visits Yourbestbetforagranddayout Novices’ Hurdle [3m 1.5f]

1: Dingo Dollar     2: Queens Present     3: Black Valentine

Winner owned: M Warren, J Holmes, R Kidner & J Wright, trained: Alan King, ridden: Wayne Hutchinson

Dingo Dollar set off in front at a very slow pace considering the going, and he was still there, but going a bit faster, when they had done their three and a bit laps. Queens Present made a reasonable go of trying to hunt down the winner, but once the sense of threat occurred, Dingo Dollar picked up again, and was opening the gap at the finish. It confirmed that dropping in distance was behind Queens Present being a disappointment last time, but she is currently noticing that there is a difference between staying three miles plus and winning at it.

x   Black Valentine (3rd): Has struggled badly since a win on hurdles debut, and finished tailed off here. However, he was in the mix two out, only to weaken very abruptly. Lack of stamina or is he one of those in dire need of a wind op? He has not been pulling his weight in Paul Nicholls’ title defence.

Race 2: Call Star Sport On 08000 521321 Novices’ Chase [2m 5f]

1: Shantou Valley     2: Red Hanrahan     3: Touch Screen

Winner owned: Mrs Jane Gerard-Pearse, trained: Neil Mulholland, ridden: Noel Fehily

After his mishap in a three runner race last time, Shantou Valley put in a clear round here, with nothing more than a couple of novicey jumps off of a straight line to worry about. Red Hanrahan was the only opponent within sniffing distance of his ability, and whilst he made a race of it to the third last, Shantou Valley was a comfy winner. The other two were tailed off with six to jump, and another that fell last time, Touch Screen, got the better of a battle with chase debutant Moneystown for third place money. A rarely uneventful chase for the novices.

+  Touch Screen (3rd): Ran well on chase debut considering what a bad hurdler he had been, but spoiled the impression by falling next time. This clear round is a nice prep for bottom drawer handicap chases.

+   Moneystown (4th): Got two seconds and a win in some very weak Irish point-to-points, and then showed nothing in hurdles – seemed to have handicapping in mind. He was out of his depth in this company and did not try to take on the main pair. What he did prove, for when he is in class 5 handicaps, is that he is a capable jumper of the bigger obstacles.
Text books tend not to be written for species that do not read, but if there was one for jumping, it would say "Red Hanrahan is doing it wrong."

Race 3: Porto Racing Specialist Horse Racing Saddlery Mares’ Handicap Hurdle [2m 5.5f]

1: Goodnitesweetheart     2: Snippetydoodah     3: Dites Rien

Winner owned: The Twelfth Man Partnership III, trained: Harry Fry, ridden: Niall Madden

Before the race it was quite difficult to select a shortlist from this line up of twelve, even one taking a very late defection to avoid the fast ground provided no real help. Initially the runners got quite strung out, but by the time that they faced up to the winning post, they were looking much more as if the herd instinct had taken collective control. Humans like to describe it as herd instinct, but when people are involved, it is a cult. For a mud lover, Snippetydoodah put up a fine effort to make the running and battle on at the end, but maybe the brainwashing cult has got to her – note that it is not just H2 television channel that can turn crazed speculation into perceived fact within five seconds. Snippetydoodah was put in her place on the home turn as Goodnitesweetheart swept by despite hanging right in the process. Dites Rien was outpaced from the last hurdle on the far side, but tried hard and earned third place for effort.

+   Goodnitesweetheart (1st): Up in trip for her first handicap, she won despite looking less than totally at ease on the track, or perhaps the track layout on such quick ground. That would give hope that she can improve again on something that meets more with her approval.

+   Tricky Issue (5th): Stepped up in trip for her handicap debut and tolerated it, without seeming to relish it. In novice company she was working at two miles, and something between that and today’s distance looks the best fit for now.

x   Daytime Ahead (4th): The bare result was a six lengths fourth place, which is not too bad, but she achieved it despite discomfort with the quick surface. If connections are tempted to try these conditions again, do not expect too much.

UK-Jumping Selection – Dites Rien (3rd): Plugged away gamely in conditions that she struggled to cope with. No shame in the loss, but stamina was the least of her problems, so a rethink on the conditions – races between 2m 3f and 2m 5f – is in order.
Goodnitesweetheart (left) is a little bit too camera aware for comfort. Noel Fehily (right) may have been vanquished here, but has got revenge by telling Niall Madden that he has just jocked him off of Old Harry Rocks later on

Race 4: Star Sports The Gentleman’s Bookmaker Handicap Chase [3m 0.5f]

1: Knight Ofthe Realm     2: Itoldyou     3: Finish The Story

Winner owned: Mrs CJ Dunn, trained: Polly Gundry, ridden: James Best

In a brave dismissal, this race is written off as an important future form guide. In advance it was likeable not for the recent form of the runners, but because eight of the eleven declared were aged eleven or twelve, so were good old chaps that we love to see on a regular basis. When the winner was one of the kids, the race looked worse because Knight Ofthe Realm had previous chase form of PP2FFP. If you are not dismayed by that, then you should be. Admittedly the second place was a loss of just a length (2m 5f on heavy) and the first fall had the makings of a big run before it happened, but Knight Ofthe Realm is definitely one of those horses that the others should be beating, even though he got things right here. Itoldyou has been regularly placed this season, but here he had cheekpieces on. All wins came in a tongue tie, none involving cheekpieces about his person, but he outbattled Finish The Story for second. That could be setting a very low bar to get over, but it was cleared.

+   Thepartysover (4th): Looked a big threat four out, then managed to get boxed in and bumped by the weakening King Charlie and started to lose ground himself. He was a little lame on finishing. Getting trapped by one horse in a big space is not cool, and his chase record is now 0/22, but he showed signs of hitting form and is a much more productive hurdler.

x   Finish The Story (3rd): This year he has managed to break his losing streak by reverting to hurdles, but continues to make really hard work of chasing. This was not the case when he first tried it, so the problems with the job must be mental ones.

x   King Charlie (5th): Pulled up in two chases on good to soft, and finished second in the other two on good, connections noting in the last failure that quicker going was needed – this should have been ideal. Often in the race he looked like he was out of his comfort zone and had already had enough when getting in a physical buffeting with Thepartysover.

x   Bandon Bridge (6th): Started favourite after winning his chase debut, but had jumped without ideal skill and agility in a small field there and in this busier race his lack of athleticism was again exposed. It is not too late to learn, but he is doing it the hard way.

x x   Leg Iron (PU): In a non-controversial statement, his sixth consecutive pulled up is telling us that he has had enough, and at the age of twelve time is against him in finding room for a revival.

Race 5: Call Star Sports Spreads On 08082349709 Maiden Hurdle [2m 1.5f]

1: Gibson Park     2: Old Harry Rocks     3: Jackblack

Winner owned: Rio Gold Racing Club Ltd, trained: Dan Skelton, ridden: Harry Skelton

Before the race it was an interesting event, with most of the runners having done something of interest, and showing potential to improve. The way that the race panned out makes it unlikely that they all did take a leap forward, so it looks like we will be in wait and see mode on them in the short term future. With a record of being a very mediocre Irish flat horse (no wins in thirteen races) and a hurdle debut in exactly the same vein, Gibson Park was not the obvious pick to win. A change of stable, for less than £9,000, transformed him and he sprinted home to move from the back of the pack to victory in the home straight. The first two in the betting failed but without reason to get hysterical. Old Harry Rocks does wobble a bit when he needs to quicken late on, and then tends to fail to accelerate. Fourth placed Peggies Venture was reported to have broken a blood vessel.

+   Jackblack (3rd): A competent bumper run once led to connections trying him on the flat, which was a failure. The first hurdle run, at Plumpton two weeks ago, went OK (so, by implication, better than flat racing) when he finished beaten 14 lengths in a race with the runner-up rated 134. This was solid again, although he did not quite stay and thumped the final hurdle when the heat was on. Get ready for two mile handicap hurdles.

+   The Mighty Ash (6th): Got himself placed twice from five Irish points and then made no impact on bumper debut. The hurdle bow went better, finishing second of thirteen. He flopped in the follow up, but ran very well again here until weakening after the second last. Definite ability exists and now he is at the handicapper’s mercy. A second plus could come when that rating is known.
Gibson Park (yellow, green cap) extricated himself from this rear position. Jogging pal Snow Rescue did not. The Mighty Ash is hiding Old Harry Rocks up front

Race 6: Mares’ Handicap Chase [2m 3f]

1: Lakeshore Lady     2: Easter In Paris     3: Alottrain

Winner owned: Simon & Liz Hunt, trained: David Bridgwater, ridden: Tom Scudamore

Recently Lakeshore Lady and Easter In Paris opposed each other in anger and the latter won by a length. Lakeshore Lady got revenge here, dashing clear nicely at the second fence from the finish. Two things helped her here. A first time visor was clearly effective. And all her best runs were with five or fewer runners, so Frank N Fair defecting due to the ground from the original half dozen was a plus. Last time out Alottarain took against the first use of cheekpieces and with them removed and her yard easing into form, there was a hunch that today might be her day. It turned out to be untrue, although hunches and speculation can only really be unmanifested, as they are not defined as facts.

Race 7: Eartham Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle [2m 3f]

1: Sunnytahliateigan     2: Prouts Pub     3: Cornish Warrior

Winner owned: Phil Hernon, trained: Ian Williams, ridden: David Noonan

Interesting stuff. At face value, the story was a simple case of Prouts Pub trying to make all, burning off most of the oppo an then being sucker punched by a dour, one-paced plod. Behind the scenes there was more going on, as the runner-up was in first time blinkers and clearly responded to them. Sunnytahliateigan was in his first handicap after a right tantrum in his first novice and very indifferent runs since – human choice to not get an inflated rating or horse choice not to bother? At the last he appeared certain to get past the leader on the run-in, but made harder work of it than was necessary. Everyone else was toiling. So we went home.

+ +   Boston De La Roche (4th): Had some novice hurdle form that made a rating for handicaps of 111 look very attractive – and of course some that did not. This was not a good run, but allowing for thirteen months off, debut for the stable, fast ground, first try beyond 2m 1f and first time on sharp turns, there are ways in which better can be worked.

+   Prouts Pub (2nd): Back at his favoured track, looking well handicapped and motivated by the blinkers, he was still not able to win. Tactics did not help, but his rider was probably trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea. It certainly was not necessary to be fifteen lengths clear with a lap remaining, but had she taken a pull to try and save some energy, the horse may have slumped back into pre-headgear indifference. Even getting beaten narrowly was a much improved effort.

x   Sunnytahliateigan (1st): Won fair and square but again looked as if he is not 100% certain that horse racing is the career that he would prefer. Headgear might help, but he is definitely on the approach with caution list.
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