Huntingdon, 21st May

This was a problematical evening meeting. Firstly, within days of Mark Johnston’s public concern of over watering, the course seemed to have done just that. The going was officially good, but far too many horses were finishing tired in slowly run races to believe it. Also, the fact that the hurdle races in particular went at such a sedate pace does imply that the jockeys also did not believe the conditions were reliably good.

Then there was the sun. For race three one hurdle was omitted on each circuit, which is not too bad as it could easily happen because of an injured horse or jockey. However, sunset was nearly two hours away and the sun was most categorically NOT low in the sky. Next up we again had a last second announcement, long after nearly all bets would have been placed, that only twelve out of sixteen would be jumped. That is very material – imagine the uproar if the race were run over five furlongs shorter than advertised. For the sixth race we were three hurdles short, inevitably, but it had an impact on the outcome as after awkwardly ballooning the first (the sun was directly behind her!) Little Millie consistently outjumped her opposition, gaining ground at every flight. Jump three more and she is probably second. And for the finale, at the off time, the sun was half above the horizon… so they jumped all nineteen (having delayed the start a couple of minutes). Basically if you are thinking of having a bet at a summer evening jumps meeting, you are betting blind.

Going: Good (officially)

Race 1: Yard At Pringle Farm Maiden Hurdle [2m]

1: Mystic Court     2: Rukwa     3: Twist

Winner owned: Mystic Band Of Brothers, trained: Ben Pauling, ridden: Daryl Jacob

Mystic Court’s improved close third at Kempton two weeks ago set a reasonable standard for this, but the way that the race panned out was quite strange (see the intro section regarding state of the ground). Leading from the off, he was strongly threatened by Twist early in the home straight and Rukwa near the line, holding on narrowly for an unimpressive win. The suspicious nature of the form is represented by Rukwa. So unpopular was he in the market that you could get a free £5 bet on him with a tin of beans, and then he got a bit sweaty at the start as well. Running well initially, it looked three from home as if he was dropping away, going from on Mystic Court’s heels to four lengths back. Instead he rallied against the tired first two and would have won with five extra strides to play with. Twist was inexplicably popular with punters, as if they could not believe that an Alan Spence-owned, Nicky Henderson-trained horse could truly be as bad as he was in his first two runs. This was better but it might not mean much.

Rukwa (2nd): Did alright on his hurdles debut eleven days ago, following on from a fall in his only point-to-point. However, the horses ranged against him there had not been an impressive bunch, so the willingness of people to oppose him was understandable. However, he is at least improving.

Race 2: Robinson Manufacturing Glulam Beams Mares’ Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Kiruna Peak     2: Musical Stardust     3: Golden Cannon

Winner owned: The Fob Racing Partnership 7, trained: Fergal O’Brien, ridden: Paddy Brennan

There are some punters who swear by the “trainers for courses” method, where certain yards seem to hit a good strike rate on a track and the wins are at odds that turn a steady profit. This only unravels when the trainer gets desperate and sends horses to the place more in hope than expectation. One of the steady exceptions is Fergal O’Brien at Huntingdon, and this was his only runner of the day. That digression is more interesting than what happened in the race, as they went round in a bunch covered by less than a couple of lengths and turned it into a dash to the line from the third last. Despite not being famous for reliability, Kiruna Peak won the turn of foot test, with her and Musical Stardust leaving the others toiling.

+  Kiruna Peak (1st): Although she won twice on the flat, she had a blank from ten previous hurdling attempts. Having won fair and square, might it be that being able to lead at a modest pace is her magic ingredient. Support her when not likely to be taken on for the lead. Others may note the usual hood and tongue tie being absent and nod sagely. Right here.
After a rare success, Kiruna Peak enjoys posing for a pic in a pleasant sylvan setting

Race 3: Robinson Manufacturing High Performance Timber Engineering Novices’ Handicap Chase [2m 7.5f]

1: Lord In Red     2: Nesterenko     3: Net De Treve

Winner owned: Christian Williams Tracing Club, trained: Christian Williams, ridden: James Bowen

An eventful race. Vaxalco set off in front and was clear from fence three until pulling up lame before the thirteenth. He may not have been able sustain it but he had not been going any faster than the opposition for most of the way, so the pressure was on them to catch him. Early blunders from Nesterenko (close to unseating at the open ditch that was fence two) and Court Out (nearly down at the first after a slip on landing) showed that the pressure of the pursuit could easily have wilted them. Net De Treve was left in front by the pulled up leader, a position he conceded a bit tamely after the third last, only to liven up once in a battle for second with Nesterenko. Meanwhile, Lord In Red had gone through the motions without fuss and won easily. Christian Williams was called in to explain the improved form and presumably gave a four word answer. “Look at the oppo.”

Net De Treve (3rd): Had unknowns entering this regarding stamina, jumping skills and wind. The tame concession once handed a golden chance may only have been down to one of them, but it was a bad way to seek out defeat.

x  Court Out (PU): An erratic performer over hurdles who was having his second run since a wind op, this was also his chase debut and it was nearly over at the first fence. There were other mistakes and it does look as if chasing is not the answer for now.

Race 4: Robinson Manufacturing Joists Handicap Hurdle [2m 3.5f]

1: Thibault     2: The Groovy Hoovy     3: Malangen

Winner owned: Tim Syder, trained: Kim Bailey, ridden: David Bass

The line up lacked a bit of exposure as two and a half milers, with two of the seven new to it, one having had a speculative try when other things seemed to go wrong and one appearing to only stay it on the sort of non-stamina testing layout met here. In addition there was a case of first time blinkers (The Lincoln Lawyer) and two handicap debutants (Northern Bound and Thibault). Good luck with unravelling all of that! A funereal pace did not help enlighten us but Thibault seemed to enjoy noodling around like a gentle workout and then pounced on the tiring Malangen two hurdles out. The Groovy Hoovy, who had been nudged along after an error four out, proved a persistent thorn in his side, but that challenge ran out of steam on the run-in. Malangen was well beaten in third but clear of the other finishers, although fourth placed The Lincoln Lawyer all but fell at the last and might have nicked third had he avoided the blunder.

+  Thibault (1st): Proved to have a neat handicap mark and appreciated the longer race, having never gone beyond two miles before. There are more to be won.

+  The Groovy Hoovy (2nd): Had not been running well since a Southwell win in October, and so far a wind op had not appeared to help one jot. This was a big step in the right direction and maybe connections will let him be a summer jumper this year.

x  Petite Jack (5th): Went to post very late after what looked like a tack problem in the paddock and perhaps it got to him, as he never showed much interest in a race that seemed winnable if his stamina held out. Do note that this is not his first disappointment, and perhaps the pre-race issues are just a convenient excuse, rather than an accurate one. He had been very popular in the betting ring.
Thibault determined to savour the victory

Race 5: Robinson Manufacturing Nationwide Handicap Chase [2m 4f]

1: Overtoujay     2: Picknick Park     3: Kilmoganny

Winner owned: Pete & Pauline Wordingham & Partner, trained: Charles Pogson, ridden: Charlie Todd

Not only did we lose four fences early on, but Zoltan Varga fell early at the first obstacle actually jumped, interfering with Ortenzia and Picknick Park. Ortenzia soon pulled up, but after a hairy dive at the second, Picknick Park worked his way into the race and lost by less than the first couple of fences set him back. Had they jumped something before the third fence perhaps Zoltan Varga (off for nine months) would have settled sooner and we have a very different race. Overtoujay handled the circumstances very well, Kilmoganny was very unhappy with things from three out and Dreyfus, Oscar World and Extreme Appeal (another well supported flop) had all long since eased off.

Picknick Park (2nd): Is now 0/17 but was terribly unlucky here and there must be a class 5 race that he can win somewhere. His trainer seemed remarkably philosophical about events afterwards but presumably someone texted the stable cat to keep a low profile when the horsebox returned.

Race 6: Robinson Manufacturing Roof Truss Handicap Hurdle [3m 1f]

1: For Good Measure     2: Francky Du Berlais     3: Little Millie

Winner owned: JP McManus, trained: Philip Hobbs, ridden: Richard Johnson

Firstly it has to be noted that Three Ways crossed the line in second but was disqualified when Ben Hicks weighed in light. It appears that the chamois leather fell off at some point in the race, possibly early in the back almost-straight. At least he did not have the agony of giving up a win as For Good Measure had sprinted away from him at the second last. Francky Du Berlais redeemed himself a bit for his sulky effort at Plumpton by nearly getting second via a late surge rather than a very late effort from the clerk of the scales. This was his first three miler and he seemed to enjoy it.

Three Ways (Disq): The weight shortage could only have been a couple of pounds so even if he had not left it littering the track a good run on his second race back from almost a year off would have still occurred. It was also a clue regarding the ground as he previously never acted on good but does on job on anything softer.

x  Goodbye Dancer (4th): His recent form has become rather wobbly and adding a tongue tie made no difference.

Race 7: Tim Robinson Memorial Novices’ Hunters’ Chase [2m 7.5f]

1: Saffron Wells     2: Blackwood Rover     3: Bletchley Castle

Winner owned & trained: M Hoskins, ridden: Darren Edwards

As expected Bletchley Castle led them a merry dance from the off, which could have been a big deal with the ground conditions and stayingly suspect opponents against him. Then, in a flashback to a previous version of him, Bletchley Castle walked through the third last and went from first to last. He tried to rally but was none too clever two out and had to settle for watching Saffron Wells pick off Blackwood Rover when that horse made his own nonsense of the final fence. Not being the easiest horse to pick out wins with, Saffron Wells was not a comfortable choice at odds-on, but he got the race to play out as he needed, although Blackwood Rover hardly looked a flying machine when the pressure was on approaching the final fence.
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