Huntingdon, 23/5/17

A small crowd for Ladies’ Evening. Perhaps people do not think £22 to get in, for which there was no race higher than class 4, and the entertainment (in the loosest sense of the word) was a fourth rate bunch of Take That impersonators, represents a fantastic deal. They would, of course, be right. The suspicion is that had if been £15, the extra crowd could have made up the take on the gate. With no race bearing greater than £6,500 total prize money, the admission income was not needed to subsidise the payouts.

Going: Good (a hot day and a breeze means it was probably a bit quicker by the end of the card).

Race 1: Ticket Giveaways At 188Bet Maiden Hurdle [2m]

1: New Agenda     2: Major Davis     3: Stonecoldsoba

Winner owned: Bowden C Magee, trained: Paul Webber, ridden: Richard Johnson

When you see all (or almost all) of a horse’s runs it is hard not to get attached to them, even when they keep getting beaten. That was the case here for New Agenda, who was subject to an unusual plunge, lumped on from 1/2 down to 1/4 in the ring. It was a brave call as whilst his three past hurdle races were in tougher company than this, New Agenda’s method has been to treat every race as a succession of three furlong sprints, with the inevitable lack of a finishing flourish. A repeat might make him vulnerable here, but after about fifty metres it was clear that he was happy to go a sensible pace in front, and the race was plain sailing after that. The second favourite Hatem has some interesting form so far, but with work to do to match up to New Agenda, and it was noteworthy that connections did not try to exploit his handicap mark of 114. Thoughts of nicking a second prize money may have been in the air, but even that failed.

+ +   Sandy Cove (4th): A winner seven times on the flat, he was last successful at 1m 6f, so this race is probably too much of a speedster’s test for him. On hurdles debut he jumped poorly and was over sixty lengths behind New Agenda. Today it was only thirty lengths, although his old foe did not have a hard race. More progress is very possible in handicap company.

+   Major Davis (2nd): Finished second to Capitaine in a small field on hurdling debut and whilst that possibly flattered him, he again showed that there is something to work with today. An added bonus was not ending up close enough to New Agenda to torpedo his handicap mark.

+  Stonecoldsoba (3rd): Only merited a 59 rating on the flat and his hurdles form so far is not much better, but he is worth being interested in when he gets into class 5 handicaps.

Race 2: Follow Us On Twitter At 188Bet Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Lake Chapala     2: Calling Des Blins      3: Jackthejourneyman

Winner owned: Butler Spencer Partnership, trained: Chris Gordon, ridden: Marc Goldstein

Having done enough of this racing lark to know better, the place chosen to stand and watch this was the most idiotically daft one possible – almost the whole race was played out with sun in the eyes. Fortunately not much really happened until the third last. At that point the field were still well bunched, but top weight Torhousemuir fell when looking a strong contender, and brought Marmont grinding to a halt, leading to him being as good as pulled up soon after. At the other end Lake Chapala was busy completing his hat trick for Chris Gordon.

+   Marmont (8th): Has done some stuff of interest in his short career, and can still develop on it, leading us to forgive the bad luck endured now. The worry is that his only placing was a close second behind Sisania (who was unplaced here and has not flourished since), but time is on his side.

x   Lake Chapala (1st): In the past he was less angry about hurdling, but also less successful, never having won one. And he had been subject to a weights rise for his recent chase wins, which was also not very fair, so he had to work hard to get this race sealed. No problems in his mind today, but Chris Gordon still seems like a Wile E Coyote player in this game, standing there holding a Lake Chapala shaped bomb where the fuse has almost burned out.
Lake Chapala gets stuck in on the rails. By going it alone on the shortest route off of the bend, Calling Des Blins takes second from Jackthejourneyman

Race 3: 188Bet Handicap Chase [2m 4f]

1: Hepijeu     2: That’s The Deal     3: Miami Present

Winner owned: Countrywide Vehicle Rentals Taxi Hire, trained: Charlie Longsdon, ridden: Aidan Coleman

On a list of horses that you would trust with your last pound, excluding all those not trained in the UK, Hepijeu normally rates about number 9,423. When presented with a race that took as little winning as this, he gets a chance to break into the top 8,500 and the only horse to give Hepijeu a worry was That’s The Deal, a thirteen year old having his fifth run in thirty-two days. That is the sort of stress levels that even Hepijeu does not melt against.

  Hepijeu (1st): History tells us that disappointment next time is extremely likely (unless he can dig out a set of opponents just like this – then it would be very feasible that he makes it an improbable double).

Race 4: Extra Place Races At 188Bet Handicap Hurdle [2m 3.5f]

1: Pongo Twistleton     2: Knight’s Parade     3: Royal Battalion

Winner owned: The Megsons, trained: Jonjo O’Neill, ridden: Aidan Coleman

Ironically for the sponsors, one of the few non-runners on the night knocked this down to seven runners and only two places. The ones that lined up did not have a great deal to distinguish them, and it was the uncertainties that made the difference – Pongo Twistleton reacted very positively to the tongue tie and confirmed that he does stay this far. He needed a bit of a niggle along to get to the front at the third last, but once there it was never threatened that he would concede the slot and in the end he even verged on the impressive, for 0-110 level. Two of the less likely contenders followed him home. Knight’s Parade scores 0/13 for consistency and his yard was high on the cold list. A good run here, who knows (not even the horse?) what he will do next time. Royal Battalion had old form of good enough level but recently had been horribly out of sorts and always ran poorly going right-handed. So even a fourteen lengths third here represents a pick up in fortune.

+   Pongo Twistleton (1st): It did appear that good to fastish ground, two and a half miles and a tongue tie is the magic formula for him.

  Oakidoaki (5th): Nearly fell at the last, which cost him fourth place, and whilst this was not the quality of handicap debut hoped for, he had not run for three months, and he looked a little bit less match fit than the oppo. Keep tracking his adventures, as he is not devoid of ability.

x x   Defining Year (8th): Much has been made of the number of winners Dan Skelton has managed in May, but bear in mind that he seems to have dug out a vast number of horses to run at this time, so the strike is very good, but not extraordinary. And there are some duds knocking about – like Defining Year, who is not showing the same degree of encouragement as when trained in Ireland.
Pongo Twistleton enjoyed the sweet smell of success

Race 5: Champions League Betting At 188Bet Novices’ Chase

1: Cobra De Mai     2: Moabit

Winner owned: Norman Lake & Susan Carsberg, trained: Dan Skelton, ridden: Harry Skelton

This was a competitive three runner race and even people who just like to back the outsider of three had their work cut out. With little to choose between the trio, it needed the market to take against one runner to get a clear outsider. The trouble was, there was nothing to prompt that action – even Moabit’s lack of chase experience was hardly a guaranteed problem. For most of the betting time, Moabit was propping the list up, but a late weakening left the patient outsider backer quids in as Cobra De Mai was edging it. And lo! The reported SP had the two of them both 2/1. The favourite, Kayf Blanco, who ran well enough in a red hot race on chase debut, crashed out at the fourth. Novicey jumping from Moabit then left Cobra De Mai to win unchallenged.

x   Cobra De Mai (1st): Did absolutely nothing wrong here, but had been whacked up in the handicap for his impressive chase debut, and more of the same here could give him a really ugly looking official rating. Remove the x if the handicapper is more helpful, because he certainly can jump.

x   Kayf Blanco (Fell): Finished fourth on chase debut behind Charbel, Le Prezien and Top Notch. A repeat here would have been hard to beat, but instead he took a heavy fall at the fourth – seemed more of an awkward landing than bad jump. Now we have to wait and see if it has put the wind up him.
Not a good picture, but it goes imply that Moabit (2nd) may not have been an innocent bystander in Kayf Blanco's accident

Race 6: Live Casino At 188Bet Handicap Hurdle [3m 1f]

1: The Happy Chappy     2: Golanova     3: Benefit Of Luck

Winner owned: The Happy Folders, trained: Sarah Humphrey, ridden: Nick Scholfield

A complete upset of a result, with all three placed horses returned at odds of 16/1. It was quite an unusual way for the race to pan out, especially if we follow the way that The Happy Chappy approached it. Midfield early on, with a lap gone he edged onto the tail of the leader. This was a brief injection of skill, and he was soon pushed along, so that by the time the field were at the fourth last he was stone last of the nine. On the final turn The Happy Chappy passed a couple of stragglers, and this seemed to cheer him up no end. From there, he cut through the remainder in time to lead over the last and win going away. Golanova has the odd hurdle run for variety, and put in one of his better efforts to be second, using his known staying power to nick the position from the rather less stamina laden Benefit Of Luck by a short head.

+   The Happy Chappy (1st): Won both point-to-points in the Devon/Cornwall area and moved to Paul Nicholls. One race later he was out on his ear, and achieved little in three runs for Sarah Humphrey, who was on the cold list for a fair while before this race. He was even thirty lengths behind Midnight Monty last time, but tonight he was a reformed character. It could continue now that the yard seems to be sneaking into form.

+   Benefit Of Luck (3rd): Had a horrifying brain freeze and ran out in a bumper, but since joining Harry Whittington he had been very well behaved. As a hurdler he has been best at 2m and seemed a poor candidate for a race this long. He actually did quite well, and even outplodded for second by Golanova, he has opened a whole new world of three mile opportunities (or 2m 6f ones) for himself.

x   Midnight Monty (4th): Recovered from pulling up twice to make all and win over course and distance in first time blinkers just over three weeks ago. Seven lengths fourth was not awful, but did suggest that the blinkers only had a limited benefit for him. Ballyheigue Bay not letting him go from the front could also have dented the chances of doubling up.

x   Sebastian Beach (5th): In cheekpieces for the first time, he did not appear to gain anything from the using them, and even had a rare failure to claim a small amount of prize money.

The Poodle Faker (PU): Performed reasonably in bumpers, but has regressed since going hurdling. There were two new factors here – up in distance a lot and first time blinkers. These are not the factors you are looking for, as the result indicates.
The Happy Chappy in full flight - something never seen on a racecourse before

Race 7: Boxing Betting At 188Bet Novices Hunters Chase [2m 7.5f]

1: Broken Eagle     2: Always Archie     3: Proximo

Winner owned; J Exelby, trained: Alan Hill, ridden: Joe Hill

The betting market showed strong inclination to go with Always Archie, but in this case was horribly wrong, and he was well beaten with more than mile to go. After hitting the second, his jumping was steadily scrappy and plodding on to secure the runner-up slot late in the race meant nothing, as Broken Eagle was about forty lengths ahead and had already eased down. When he slaughtered two modest line-ups early in the season to take his pointing score to played 13, won 10, this was the sort of stuff expected of Broken Eagle. Since then he has had four runs. A walkover in a point, a fall in the Aintree Foxhunters, a win in a two runner point and a pulled up at the Cheltenham Hunter Chase night, although over only two miles. Tonight he jumped the oppo silly which allowed him to surge clear in the final half lap, and even if the runner-up was not at his best, six time point winner Proximo was also battered into submission. Interesting point – Legend To Be was a non-runner, officially due to travel problems. But this was announced before the first race (three and a half hours before the off) and both stablemates managed to arrive – and run excellently – in earlier races.

+   Broken Eagle (1st): Beginning to suspect the key is that he has to dominate, which was not possible at Aintree and Cheltenham. This does not necessitate a small field in point-to-points, where he may meet plenty of inferior horses, but they are a serious aid in hunter chases. The preferred scenario is unlikely to arise at Stratford in June, even if the course would suit Broken Eagle’s front running. Also a factor was that the official explanation for the Cheltenham flop was that good ground was not fast enough for him, whereas this was (as noted earlier) likely to be riding on the fast side at this late stage of the day.
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