Kempton, 27/12/18

This seemed to be a day when people were fated not to see much in the way of racing. Fog was the big problem, restricting the view to only the immediate approaches to and from the stands. There were additional man-made problems - out of character with previous years a funfair had been put up in the cheapest enclosure which hid much of the home straight from view of people in the stand and using the seating, which at Kempton is a far better facility than many courses. Even more bizarrely, the big screen in that area was placed to be partially hidden by the funfair. As this is not normal for the layout at the course over Christmas, it is amazing that nobody watched it being assembled and thought "this is not a good idea." And then, as race three finished, the fog began to clear and large parts of the action was visible. It was positively summery...

Going: Good to Soft, Good places

Race 1: 32Red Casino Introductory Juvenile Hurdle [2m]

1: Beat The Judge     2: Chaparral Prince     3: Prabeni

Winner owned: Ed Babington, trained: Gary More, ridden: Joshua Moore

A nice guessing game to get things underway. The first three were two newcomers to jumps split by a horse that had raced once and flopped, but had a wind operation after it. Beat The Judge was only rated in the high 60s as a winless flat horse but he had too much pace for the others from the final hurdle. Chaparral Prince only had a couple of flat runs and certainly shapes as a possible success hurdling, but normally when Nicky Henderson has a juvenile hurdler running in September, as with this one, it is not much of a recommendation. A more interesting positive signal is that they beat Prabeni by about five lengths. He was new to hurdles but had a flat rating of 79 and had finished third, second and first there after his own wind fixing procedure.

+ Beat The Judge (1st): If this result is a cue to go haring off into stronger company it would be risky to presume that he is up to it, but this was enough of a performance to think he can win under a penalty at the lesser tracks.

Prabeni (3rd): Got his flat win at 1m 4f and ran well enough whilst shaping as if a stiffer course or longer race will bring out his best.

x  Deadline Diva (F): Won a couple of flat races over a mile in France and then got stick into a small field hurdle race at Bordeaux successfully. That was in September and she had moved home since, but her fall at the last came when on the retreat and she has a bit to prove as a jumper.
Chaparral Prince (5) seems to be enjoying himself well enough under pressure at the business end, but Beat The Judge (maroon and white) has produced a nasty surprise for the mustard menace. Nebuchadnezzar is in third, just ahead of Deadline Diva and the nausea inducing colour palette on Prabeni.

Race 2: Wayward Lad Novices' Chase, Grade 2 [2m]

1: Dynamite Dollars     2: Kalashnikov     3: Highway One O One

Winner owned: Michael Geoghehan, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Harry Cobden

This was quite a big clash. Grade 1 winning chaser Dynamite Dollars versus Grade 3 winning hurdler Kalashnikov - notably beaten only a neck in Grade 1 company. The big deal here was that Dynamite Dollars had to concede five pounds but he handled Kalashnikov when it came down to a sprint for the line anyway. Come the Arkle and the stiffer track who would be best suited by the different challenge? They both shape as if they would look forward to it, but Dynamite Dollars suffered his only chase defeat there. Meanwhile Kalashnikov has still never finished worse than second, nor been beaten more than four lengths. The pair were miles clear of Highway One O One, who has done OK in chases but not stepped up to top level results as was hoped. It was clear that the commentator was missing use of a monitor or any viewing device as the description of how the field took the far side would, if accurate, involve a world record turn of pace for a horse. It would be an excuse for Maria's Benefit unseating. The horse returns to tell the trainer "I heard the commentator talking about fence eight and I only made it six jumped, so I had a bit of a panic."

Kalashnikov (2nd): Apart from an error in front of the stands with a lap to go - surprise at the crowd emerging from the mist? - he did nothing wrong and still got beaten. Literal handicapping makes Dynamite Dollars the better horse by six pounds, but it would be totally unshocking should Kalashnikov get revenge at level weights on less sharp and/or less level venue.

UK-Jumping selections: Hope's Wishes (4th): Out of her depth here, especially after an uncovincing attack on chases so far, she was ridden to finish and picked up a couple of grand for doing so.
Highway One O One leads Dynamite Dollars (hiding most of Maria's Benefit) and Kalashnikov at the third fence.

Race 3: 32Red Casino Mares' Handicap Hurdle [3m 0.5f]

1: Culture De Sivola     2: Molly Childers     3: Shambra

Winner owned: Larkhills Racing Partnership II, trained: Nick Williams, ridden: Lizzie Kelly

One of the most annoying types of horse is one who has a winning spell when on peak form, gets relatively manageable treatment from the handicapper, then goes on a break and runs well on the return but fails to recover the 1% of magical spark that turns near misses into success. The good new for Culture De Sivola is that she is not annoying - at least by that means of measuring. She won her last two runs of the previous season, lost her winter comeback by only four lengths and then ran on well to nab this race by a couple of lengths. It did help that Molly Childers has found turning sound performance into victories difficult and that horse was on her normal form this time. A fairly messy scrap for third ended up Shambra, Chilli Filli, Jubilympics, but the forecast for that trio changed several times in the home straight.

+  Shambra (3rd): Lacked a race at anywhere near three miles before and after threatening as the field turned for home, she started to lose ground with a strong aroma of non-staying. Then she picked up again and regained third. It was enough to think another go at the distance is worthwhile.

x  Molly Childers (2nd): Seventeen races, one win, eight second places. She hates your wallet and all of the contents.
x  Momella (PU): Steadily successful during 2017, her sole spring festival run was a close third in a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Aintree. Since then her tale has been wind op, change stables, eight months off, fall in first try at three miles, and now she pulled up. She could do with something going right soonish.
With hindsight, this can be read as Culture De Sivola (3) putting her head down for some hard work and Molly Childers thinking "Pah! Let her do it!"

Race 4: Unibet Desert Orchid Chase, Grade 2 [2m]

1: Altior     2: Diego Du Charmil     3: Special Tiara

Winner owned: Mrs Patricia Pugh, trained: Nicky Henderson, ridden: Nico de Boinville

Another stroll for Altior, and the list of horses that could be good enough to threaten him is getting shorter. Nobody seems to be improving up to near his class and some establised dangers are starting to show their age. This was so easy that Nico de Boinville did not return to unsaddle with a face like a smacked bum - cross reference the Christmas Hurdle a day earlier. Diego Du Charmil was three lengths further behind than at Sandown in April, on three pounds better terms and got a minor revenge on Special Tiara from that day.
Altior finishes off a rather simple job. He did not need to go fast enough to spoil the picture but notice how the trees on the far side of the track are suddenly in view.

Race 5: Handicap Chase [3m]

1: Adrien Du Pont     2: Just A Sting     3: Wandrin Star

Winner owned: Mrs Johnny de la Haye, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Harry Cobden

A very competitive and fiercely run handicap chase ended up being won by the horse who has been inclined to waver under pressure and has never seemed especially generously endowed with stamina. Turning to the third last fence, Just A Sting and Wandrin Star were in a face off and being ridden, but Adrien Du Pont was nearby and travelling much more smoothly. It was just a case of how much he found when the muck was flying. Enough was the answer and perhaps the comfort was a sign of lively stable form. Just A Sting seems to relish the variable feast that comes under the catch all of "good to soft ground" and that was enough to get him secod place by a neck from Wandrin Star.

+  Just A Sting (2nd): Trust his affinity for going that is mostly good to soft to pay dividends in the future.

Springtown Lake (4th): Two of his three wins have been going right-handed but that is deceptive as one came in a two horse race. As when he made all at Sandown in November he jumped left often and it would probably be helpful to prioritise left-handed tracks, despite his loss at Haydock before this race.

Adrien Du Pont (1st): Certainly was on a going day, but would he repeat the result in more stamina testing conditions, or a stiffer track, if sticking with three miles? Gut feeling is to oppose him until proven wrong.
Despite distance, mist and a myriad of distractions, Just A Sting (6) spots a camera at work. The line off to the right is Springtown Lake, Adrien Du Point, Ballyheigue Bay and Wandrin Star. The reaction of the latter suggests his neigbour has just farted. Ballyheigue Bay's expression could be one of taking joy at having done so.

Race 6: 32Red Download The App Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Eddiemaurice     2: Unison     3: Maquisard

Winner owned: Mel Mathias, trained: John Flint, ridden: NIck Scholfield

When Eddiemaurice finished second in this last year from a slightly higher rating, the verdict was that it had been a grand effort but he needs a galloping track to win. Not any more, it appears, although his first and second here compare his other three successes and second places covering Ascot, Worcester, Fos Llas and Leicester. Life was made easier for Eddiemaurice when the dash to lead from Maquisard on the final bend somehow convinced the horse to veer left and lose ground two out. This was despite the hurdle looking to be further into the straight than usual. Maquisard never got going at full pop again and Unison, who hd made most of the running, regained the runner-up slot rather than fade into obscurity.

+   Unison (2nd): Has fourteen wins flat and jumps combined and whilst he hardly appears to have a friendly handicap mark, gutsy efforts like this and at Huntingdon last month suggest he can grab win fifteen at some stage this season with a little bit of luck.

+  Pacific De Baune (6th): Came here on the back of a chase unseat and was staying on with place potential when he was hampered two out. That is not how a confidence booster is supposed to play out, but once subject to the aggro he was not given a hard time and is better than the bare result. Softer going could be a source of improvement.

Distingo (10th): Before this he had only been outside the first three in three jumps races - a five lengths fourth and an unseat at Auteuil and a pulled up in a Grade 1 at AIntree in the spring. He suffered the same problem two out as Pacific De Baune, but seemed to be en route to another fail before that occurence.

x  Malaya (F): Her last race was a return to Paris for a four year olds only Grade 1 hurdle. She fell in that as well. As a general confidence concept, consecutive falls are not a a desirable way forward.
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