Fontwell, 23/8/18

The first south-eastern jumps meeting of the incoming autumn always suggests that some mighty wave of activity is about to launch into action. Of course, it turns out to be lie. What we get is a smattering of further inconsequential Fontwells and a one off Plumpton Sunday whilst waiting eight or so weeks for everyone to join in. It should be illegal to treat people like this.

Going: Good (Good to Firm places)

Race 1: Netbetsport Handicap Hurdle [2m 3f]

1: Mr Fickle     2: Sea's Aria     3: Master Ring

Winner owned: Gary Moore Racing, trained: Gary Moore, ridden: Joshua Moore

The opening race was the hardest on the card to predict, but the daytime betting action on it seemed to have been quite lively. The winner was not one that seemed to have attracted popular support in the early duelling, but as far as Mr Fickle is concerned, the clue is in the name. He did not always make random decisions on whether to make an effort or not, but that is how he goes these days. Today was a very functional one, after he ended last season in decent nick and remained well handicapped on his best. Sea's Aria had also had one of his better days on course, distance and going last time, but he was not anywhere near matching Mr Fickle for pace. He comfortably kept second because handicap debutant Master Ring had no finishing kick at all, although he was dismounted after the finish, so may well have had a minor knock. Outside the places, Serveontime ran a moderately interesting race, nearing the form that got him a couple of close seconds late in 2017. An interesting note is that the first three all were on rating of 101 or 100 and the committed class 5 handicappers could not quite cope with them. Talking of coping, the final hurdle was omitted twice, suppsoedly because of damage, but there was no obvious sign of people trying to replace the flattened section. Surely a bit of effort is not amiss.

+  Mr Fickle (1st): After rehandicapping he may just still be on a winnable mark, but do not assume he is totally reliable in his use of it.

+  Servetontime (6th): Came close to winning last autumn and ran a race that revived faith that he can find something that prevents him happily trundling past the twenty races as a maiden yardstick.
After success both Mr Fickle and Mr Moore do their best to look cool. The horse has forgotten that the design of visor inflicted upon him makes that impossible.

Race 2: Netbet Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap Chase [2m 2f]

1: Oliver's Hill     2: Walden Prince     3: Code Of Law

Winner owned: Mrs Frank Caudwell, trained: Lawney Hill, ridden: James King

Of the four runners, Oliver's Hill was the third in the betting, but this was one case where the market was wrong. He had run two very modest races so far this summer, but he did that in 2016 and 2017 before springing into life at the third try. That strategy worked pretty well again on a course and distance where he had delivered last year. Walden Prince made a spectacular jump at fence eight, but instead of putting the wind up Oliver's Hill, it was Walden Prince who was a bit hesitant at the next two. He fought back from the inconvenience, but had nothing extra when left with a two lengths deficit over the final fence.

+  Oliver's Hill (1st): He is only nine, so why would the pattern of two weak runs after a break leading into a fine third spin not be continued?

x  Code Of Law (3rd): Has regular tries in class 4 company and gets stuffed every time, even when he finished second or third. We know what he is and what he is not (he is not, for instance, the president of Tajikstan) and should only consider him in class 5 level.

x x  Fair Frank (PU): Had a short and unchallenging hurdles career then won on his chase debut. Alas it has been unrelenting failure since, and even adding a hood, and a tongue tie, and cheekpieces, he did not offer anything better now. That win was either a fluke or he found that it was all that he had the appetite for.
Oliver's Hill and grey Fair Frank are quick to skip over the first, with the vulnerable flanks protected by Code Of Law (left) and Walden Prince (right)

Race 3: Josie O'Leary Pineapple Novices' Hurdle [2m 1.5f]

1: West Drive     2: Competition     3: Robin Des Mana

Winner owned: B Siddle & BD Haynes, trained: Gary Moore, ridden: Jamie Moore

Despite containing two horses that were seeking a hat trick and an 86-rated flat convert this race threatened to be strangely uncompelling. The latter was West Drive, and the treble seekers were Competition (learning not to pull like an idiot, but one win was a three horse race) and Robin Des Mana (won two chases in the past and two recent hurdles for Gordon Elliott, but the latest was a seller and he had changed stable). From the rest all that it was reasonable to hope for was improvement into contention from Cora Sundrop. Robin Des Mana ran a bt freely and could not keep tabs on the first two under pressure. Competition was looking likely to beat West Drive, but he fluffed the last two hurdles and got beaten half a length. Bear in mind that West Drive's flat rating dwarfs Competition's 55, yet West Drive struggled to see him off when receiving a fourteen pounds. Thus it is assessed as a successful but not spectacular hurdles debut.

Reason To Believe (4th): Ambled round in last and then made some neat late progress when the first two were out of reach. He nearly nicked third place. On this effort he could be a factor in a class 5 handicap. A flat rating in the low 40s reminds us that winning novice hurdles would never have been a reasonable expectation.

+  Bit More (6th): Finished second in a modest Open Maiden at Kingston Blount in May but was less fascinating in two other points and a bumper. She had a mostly gentle hurdles debut and lacked pace when asked to improve. Watch her progress to see if she can do a bit more (ho ho) in long distance handicaps.

Race 4: Finesse Hairdressing Sponsored By TI Engineering Crane Services Handicap Hurdle [2m 1.5f]

1: Romanor     2: Holryale     3: Monday Club

Winner owned: The Rumble Racing Club, trained: Seamus Mullins, ridden: Daniel Sansom

Back in May some of us backed Romanor to win a modest maiden hurdle at Plumpton. He finished fourth. And not a close fourth. Since then he has had two wins and a third in better company and it becomes all the more mysterious how he managed to be such a non-factor that day. This race was a good example as he jumped the last with a slight deficit from Holryale, but managed to sprint away for an eight length win. Romanor did rather clatter through the obstacle, but Holryale made a more momentum sapping mess of it. Holryale has only once finished out of the first three in eleven races under Rules, and that involved a loss of fewer than three lengths. He is a known quantity not devoid of talent, yet Romanor made him look like a desperate plodder here. A bit like Monday Club, in fact. He is a horse who has been very consistent as well and probably has the ability to win this but one success from thirty races is a statistic with a reason. East Indies set a pace that he could not sustain. Jackblack thumped hurdle seven and was hesitant with his athletic skills thereafter.

+  Romanor (1st): He has surprised the world this summer. He could continue to do so.

x x  Monday Club (3rd): He won a four horse seller on the flat in 2016. There have been no further wins, and a third of the remaining races saw him end up second or third. Do not be fooled by the days that he shows winning standards of form whilst digging out another defeat.
Not a great picture into the setting sun, but it shows Holryale (2) and Romanor both making the last hurdle more difficult than it needs to be.

Race 5: Novices' Handicap Chase [2m 5.5f]

1: Walk Waterford     2: Eric The Third     3: Between The Waters

Winner owned: The Dream Big Syndicate, trained: Olly Murphy, ridden: Richard Johnson

Although a mere 0-100 race there were some in here that are young and inexperienced enough to not yet rule out ascending the giddy heights of a class higher. A rather comfortable destruction of them by Walk Waterford may lead to timescales on that progress being reviewed. In some cases leading to an extension by quite a long way. Up until recently Walk Waterford had travelled a rather strange course back and forth between Jackdaw's Castle and Irish pointing, but it had somehow prepared him well for this. Eric The Third has been splendidly combative since he came over from Ireland, steadily in the first two. Even when he looked likely to be consigned to fourth, he battle on to hold another second place. It compliments Walk Waterford well that he saw the runner-up off so readily.

+ +  Walk Waterford (1st): Chase debut and first time in cheekpieces makes for a very happy bunny. Hopefully it will continue.

+  Eric The Third (2nd): Showed a fine attitude and not every race will have a challenge like Walk Waterford in his path.

x  Between The Waters (3rd): Does his best on this course and distance, but that still does not add up to wins. The word "yet" might need to be applied, but how many chances can we give him?

x  Samson (4th): Yet another solid, in the mix sort of run, and yet another defeat. He has soaked up less of his fans' cash than Between The Waters, but getting a head in front will need a very bad race.

x  Diplomatico (7th): Sat at the back and was slow at a couple of early fences. He made up the ground patiently, had place chances and then went out like a light at the second last. He is better at two miles, but does not finish those races especially strongly either.

Race 6: Yeomans Honda Handicap Hurdle [2m 5.5f]

1: Whatthebutlersaw     2: Sensible Friend     3: Jalingo

Wnner owned: Mrs P Ffrench Davis & D FFrench Davis, trained: Dominic Ffrench Davis, ridden: Mark Grant

This was the eventful race that the crowd was crying out for. Sensible Friend went for home early but Whatthebutlersaw had taken his measure by the last. Unfortunately nobody had consulted that final hurdle on the outcome, and so it did as much as it could to trip up Whatthebutlersaw. The horse is pretty determined and helpful, so he did his best to keep galloping and let Mark Grant worry about not ending up on the ground. When he had all of his weight on one side and was dragging the horse towards the rails, prospects looked bleak, but once that was sorted, Sensible Friend was too tired to retrieve a win against an opponent broadly galloping on directly to the winning post. Going back to December 2016, Whatthebutlersaw has won four of his last seven and finished runner-up twice more. It has to be feared that he will now finally be promoted beyond the limit of his talents. Running his best race since having a wind operation was enough to get third for Jalingo although a threat to actually win was not observed. I'm Always Trying started even money favourite and provided us with another case history of improvement in chases not being able to be replicated over the lesser obstacles.

+  Sensible Friend (2nd): A youthful but big sort, he jumped the traditional hurdles better than the brush sort at Worcester, yet still could not win. Look forward to him trying fences.

x  Get Home Now (6th): Recent runs have not been his best, but this represented a drop in class that ought to have suited. He was being rushed along a lap out and did not seem to notice how this was meant to be easier. However, he did have top weight and he is 1/21 now when lugging over 11 stone, compared to 5/32 at 11 stone or under. It overrode and spoiled his previous 221 results at Fontwell.

x x  Jalingo (3rd): It would be easy to take lots of positives from his effort, but in his period of novice hurdling pinnacles, he won once and was second six times, by an average of under two lengths. Winning is not his persona priority.

x x  Royal Irish Hussar (7th): Had become very wobbly in his commitment and two races on from a wind operation, no difference has obviously been made.

Race 7: Sheil Persad Standard Open National Hun Flat Race [2m 1.5f]

1: Longhouse Sale     2: Represented     3: Templepark

Winner owned: Paul & Clare Rooney, trained: Dan Skelton, ridden: Harry Skelton

Longhouse Sale took his winning run to five, one point and four bumpers. This was not nearly as easy as past bumpers have been, but he has been gelded since his last run, and that success was only eighteen days back - unless he had accidentally been listed as an entire and it was a retrospective admin thing it seems like a miracle recovery from the vet's intervention. It is the sort of sequence of events that can lead punters to lose sleep pondering the implications. However, should a psychologist then ask what keeps you awake at night, answering "horse testicles" is a quick route to ending up on some sort of register. Longhouse Sale may well have not run at his best, with the patiently ridden Represented closing on him all the way home, but never appearing to be doing so rapidly enough to nick an upset. Still, beating twice runner-up Templepark was fair enough and a bounce back from a below par effort at Plumpton in May.

+  Represented (2nd): Even if Longhouse Sale was not at his best, this still represented (groan) and reasonably good effort.

+  Templepark (3rd): Finished two lengths behind the runner-up, so if that horse gets a plus, he has earned one too.
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