Fontwell, 24/2/19

This is probably the warmest, sunniest National Spirit Hurdle day ever, and therefore invalid in comparison to everything that came before. In fact, everything is invalid in comparison with everything before and the Guido James Zammit Handicap Chase is declared race 0. Followed by the joint Josh Gifford/Pol Pot Memorial Novices’ Chase. This is what happens on a warm day without an ice cream van (although not even Arc can be blamed for thinking that it would be a non-essential tool in late February).

Going: Good to Soft

Race 1: Guido James Zammit Handicap Chase [2m 5.5f]

1: Kings Monarch     2: Fight Commander     3: Gamain

Winner owned & trained: Kerry Lee, ridden: Jamie Moore

An upset to open the meeting. The surprise was that despite being second on the card, Kings Monarch had shown no chasing aptitude in a couple of previous chases. This one was won by over twenty lengths. He clearly had learned something about the job since the last loss, but perhaps it was only “how to survive when Redmond forces an excessively strong pace.” Also bear in mind that Fight Commander has now only one win from fifteen chases but has been runner-up five times and Gamain was never able to insert himself into a competitive place in the field – not amazing given that he really prefers further. So whilst we acknowledge that there was plenty of time for Kings Monarch to do something of unprovoked idiocy, he did not and had victory sewn up two out, bar the fences. The in-form Cougar’s Gold was a disappointing fourth, a loss by too far just to blame the top weight carried.

x  Redmond (5th): Well backed beforehand, he led, jumped very efficiently and seemed set to post a big performance until tying up dramatically at the third last. He now only has one win from fifteen Rules races, which is not enough for the skills shown.
Kings Monarch as a steeplechaser – before today and now

Race 2: NetBet Josh Gifford Memorial Novices’ Chase [2m 2f]

1: Whatswrongwithyou     2: Amour De Nuit     3: Le Cavsa Nostra

Winner owned: 5 Hertford Street Racing Club, trained: Nicky Henderson, ridden: Nico de Boinville

All the eventfulness in this was done after the first fence. Initially Diakali refused to line up. He was deemed withdrawn which would please anyone who backed him but not those who got a 30p in the pound Rule 4 deduction on the winner, nor those who considered the implications for the loser that they supported. When the race began Le Cavsa Nostra set a funereal pace and Whatswrongwithyou ballooned the first fence. Nico de Boinville did well to cling on and Amour De Nuit got an unwanted physical interaction with his main rival. After that the only alteration in the race was when Le Cavsa Nostra weakened from fence ten. Amour De Nuit threatened the winner at the third last but was soon left to struggle on for second.

Amour De Nuit (2nd): So far this season he has got plenty of mileage out of unexceptional talent but here it looked as if the penalties in novice races or handicapper have finally caught up with him.

Race 3: NetBet Casino National Spirit Hurdle, Grade 2 [2m 3f]

1: Vision Des Flos     2: If The Cap Fits     3: Lil Rockerfeller

Winner owned: Ann & Alan Potts Ltd, trained: Colin Tizzard, ridden: Tom Scudamore

This was a bit of a strange race as 66/1 outsider Vive Le Roi (lowest rated and not much helped by the penalty structure) made the running at apparently an unhysterical pace and yet at various points managed to get his more illustrious quintet of opponents in degrees of discomfort – the one possible exception being Vision Des Flos. Although even he only really looked commanding when Vive Le Roi ran out of puff. Prior to that he was just delaying his moments of hard work. If The Cap Fits stayed on honestly but not with excess rapidity for a 155 rated horse and he dies not look so far this season as if he is quite as sharp as a year ago. The biggest flop was Ballymoy, who was first to be struggling and ended up plum last. One win at Bangor did not prove he would like sharp turns but he was previously 111 on good to soft. It would be rash to dismiss him on the back of one bad day and just a risky to trust him implicitly next time.

+  Vision Des Flos (1st): Take out chasing and Grade 1 races and he really is quite consistent and reliable. Now that he is a bit older, stronger and wiser maybe even the top notch hurdles could see him less easily dismissed.

Old Guard (4th): Never has really got it going after Christmas, and sometimes just before it if busier in early autumn. See him in October.
Anyone wondering what a Vision Des Flos is, it is when the humans are all being jolly but the horse manages to conjure up a magic shadow to hide his face in. They do not happen often in real life but appear in a disproportionate number of photos on this site.

Race 4: NetBet Boosts Novices’ Hurdle [2m 3f]

1: Tarada     2: Ashutor     3: Zafar

Winner owned: Trevor Hemmings, trained: Oliver Sherwood, ridden: Leighton Aspell

The first three in the betting ended up dominating the race, with Tarada keeping on powerfully to deliver a win after finishing second in a bumper and on hurdles debut. He saw off Ashutor in a style that suggests there is a stout stayer trying to escape the youthful speedy hurdler suit that someone has so far zipped him into. Inevitably given his owner, he looks like a proper chaser in the making. Ashutor seemed as if he would make more of a race of it as they turned for home. His British debut had been a close second at Ludlow over two miles and going back to that distance may be a good idea. Favourite Zafar did not catch the eye in the paddock being only a slightly built thing, but he did have a black and very shiny coat in the sun. He too had been runner-up for both hurdle races but his limitations were shown here.

+ +  Black Centaur (5th): The highest finisher of three that Colin Tizzard chucked into this race, he was beaten over thirty lengths but just gave a better vibe about the way he approached his defeat. Handicaps loom and he should be on a workable mark.

+  Ashutor (2nd): Does have winning ability and a drop back to 2m 1f or less would help his cause.

+  Colonel Keating (6th): Eighth on his hurdles debut at Newbury in a fair race won by Kateson caught the eye before he failed to stay 2m 7f at Lingfield. He kept on slowly but gamely from the home turn and can make a staying handicap chaser at a low level if he sorts his endurance accordingly.

Grange Ranger (8th): After a promising debut over hurdles on course, distance and going he had gained a tongue tie. The effect was a much wider margin of loss. This may turn out to be a better race, but not by as much as the degree to which he was further adrift.

Race 5: NetBet Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap Hurdle [2m 5.5f]

1: Ostuni     2: Cracker Jak     3: Don’t Tell George

Winner owned: BN Fulton, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Bryony Frost

It is not often that Paul Nicholls manages to conjure up a horse to debut in handicaps from a mark of 100 and the outsider’s interpretation was that Ostuni must be an untrainable dimwit. Apparently that underestimated his brain power as once front running Sheila’s Fancy called things quits he went on for a smooth win. Cracker Jak had livened up on handicap debut after being ineffective in novice company. This effort confirmed that he has found his niche and should be able to win a race somewhere. Don’t Tell George came over like a less speedy version of the not at all speedy Cracker Jak. The strangest race was run by Coastal Drift who was not especially attractively handicapped on his graduation from novice company. He jumped off prominently, was in rear by the third hurdle, then made his way up to third a lap later. From that point he quickly weakened back to seventh. It should get him a drop of a few pounds.

+ +  Don’t Tell George (3rd): The pre-match note was “shown very little so far” which covered a bumper, three novice hurdles and a handicap one, but he is a splendid big horse who should make a chaser, and this better result signals that he is growing up to get ready for that job.

+  Cracker Jak (2nd): Lacked a turn of foot at the business end and may appreciate more positive tactics than employed here. Also note that this was a 0-120 race and his mark of 94 would allow him to drop back into class 5 company, where no turn of foot is the natural state of being.

x  Seaston Spirit (4th): This season had petered out in the attempt to make him into a chaser and this twenty lengths loss returning to hurdles hardly counts as a massive encouragement for the near future.

Sheila’s Fancy (6th): Sprung a 33/1 shock from the front last time over this course and distance. He could not repeat the dose this time, finding the same aggressive tactics were covered by several opponents.

Race 6: NetBet Open Hunter’s Chase [3m 2f]

1: Shantou Flyer     2: Southfield Vic

Winner owned & ridden: David Maxwell, trained: Richard Hobson

Although only five were declared, likely favourite Shantou Flyer had not been overly impressive in his two runs this season, despite a Kelso win, and the other four on their best days (none of whom were currently at that level) might give him some awkward questions to answer. It did not turn out that way. Connetable was a non-runner, Southfield Vic could not keep pace with Shantou Flyer, Tulsa Jack was struggling from the off and Three Faces West went out like a light after a good show for two miles. Shantou Flyer then becomes another easy winner.

x  Three Faces West (PU): When a horse surrenders so quickly either it is a breathing problem or he did not fancy it and pulled himself up. Either way, a horse that with good hunter chase potential has made himself one to shun.
Shantou Flyer leads, Tulsa Jack is nearest the camera, Southfield Vic sits in rear and Three Faces West already is looking to stay out of the public eye.

Race 7: NetBet Betmaker Maiden Open National Hunt Flat Race [2m 1.5f]

1: Hugos Other Horse     2: Thunderstruck     3: Corrany

Winner owned: The Stewart Family, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Harry Cobden

There were some nice enough types in this race, and the way it panned out was in the style of one of those Fontwell above average bumpers that crop up once or twice a season. The first three home were finishing their race strongly rather than struggling home and Hugos Other Horse and Thunderstruck had competitive racecourse experience against paddock pick Corrany, who was making his racing debut, and that seemingly made the difference. If the first four live up to the expectations plonked on them in this paragraph then there is also mileage in looking for some each-way places from those a bit further behind and thus underestimated.

+ +  Corrany (3rd): Other than not winning this first ever run, everything went swimmingly and he should not take long to get off of the mark.

+  Hugos Other Horse (1st), Thunderstruck (2nd): Finished a head apart, running the same sort of race with similar aplomb. Where one goes, the other should match.

+  Heavey (4th): Got beaten in a couple of Irish points but showed ability here. Perhaps more of a staying hurdlers ability than that of a bumper winner, but something to work with all the same.
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