Plumpton, 16/1/19

A long, long time ago, before the dawn of history, lived a strange race of people, the racecourses. Nobody knew who they were, or what they were doing, but somehow they convinced the Competition & Markets Authority that they had the knowledge and wisdom to decided their own fixtures, instead of the BHA organising it on the basis of what is best for the sport. This week we had instance number 967 of that view being open to severe doubt. On Monday there was a jumps meeting at Fontwell, on Tuesday there was one at Lingfield. Today (Wednesday, to save anyone looking it up), the four fixtures in the whole of the nation were jumps at Newbury and Plumpton, all-weather at Lingfield and Kempton. Madness. And next week after Ascot on Saturday, the only jumps racing south of Warwick and east of Exeter is at Fakenham on Thursday and then Huntingdon the following day. But from Sunday 27th, we go back to square one, featuring Fontwell, Kempton, Lingfield and Plumpton on consecutive days. Also, first impression is that based on the paltry crowd, the Plumpton regulars would rather be sticking to the Monday slot that has been regular since the 1980s.

Another issue, one covered extensively on Sky Sports Racing, was the damage to the open ditch done when Yourholidayisover took off far too early and crashed through the fence as he was landing. For the subsequent veterans’ chase, which bypassed it three times, Page Fuller noted that Dylanseoghan, not unfamiliar with making his way around Plumpton, hung left towards the fence as the field went passed. The logical interpretation is that Dylanseoghan did not understand the sudden route around rather than over the fence. Additionally, the fact that bypassing the fence involves lots of flag waving and whistles to alert the riders potentially has a confusing effect on the horses, which has further potential to lead to an undesirable bit of chaos if one runner were to over react. In this instance the damage was immediately against the inner wing, so the common sense and safe option would be to have a stretch of spare wing available to rig up quickly in a way that realigns the approach to omit the damaged part whilst still jumping the fence. Obviously this would not apply if the middle of the fence is the problem, but there is plenty of time between races to organise this and brief the jockeys accordingly, plus the communication tools between clerk of the course and groundstaff are already in place to get it done.

For totally random reasons, this was not a day to be obsessing over stable form. Paul Webber, Suzy Smith and Suzi Best all broke frustratingly long sojourns on the cold list, perhaps to combat weather that was milder and damper than the cold and dry forecast earlier in the week. All this might seem fairly trivial in the grand scheme of things, but not one person was spotted giving a hoot about the political machinations around Brexit.

Going: Race 1 – Good, although this was clearly untrue because it was immediately changed to Good to Soft. After race 3 it was officially Soft, which was a natural progression given the rain.

Race 1: Book For Plumpton’s Easter Festival Now! Novices’ Hurdle [2m]

1: Baddesley Knight     2: Fly To Mars     3: Mach One

Winner owned: Richard & Carol Cheshire, trained: Chris Gordon, ridden: Tom Cannon

The field ended up rather scattered for this. Considering that Baddesley Knight has started to shape as if his natural environment may lie in more exalted surroundings than Plumpton and Fly To Mars had run really well here before being outclassed at Kempton on Boxing Day, that way of unfolding was not unexpected. Baddesley Knight stalked Fly To Mars throughout and had gone to the front before his rival made a hash of the final flight. He is not far off of winning a novice hurdle. Long time leader Mach One had long since shaken off nearly all of the oppo, including Fontwell winner West Drive who last ran in August and probably came here seeking quicker ground than he got. Third was not a terrible outcome but the wide margin of loss tempered the positives a touch.

+ +  Witches Glen (4th): On her debut under Rules last time she finished well adrift in midfield but caught the eye as the right sort of mare. This time the same visual stimulus applied but she got a better finishing position. She did lose by about forty lengths but if the first pair live up to expectation, that sort of loss would prove no barrier to her having staying handicap hurdle success.

+  Fly To Mars (2nd): Has done more or less enough to be winning hurdles but the world and his wife are going to be ready for him.

Site Selections – Baddesley Knight (1st): Picked for his prowess to be in longer races, he is quick enough to win two milers as well, against suitable opponents.

Race 2: Follow Smart Stats Live At Handicap Chase [2m 1f]

1: Very Live     2: Edgar     3: Brother Bennett

Winner owned: Miss Sheena Pilkington & Partner, trained: Paul Webber, ridden: Gavin Sheehan

The first event of note in this was when Yourholidayisover bashed a hole in the open ditch. Given he is not keen on winning, the main weapon he has to gain our sympathy is relentless completion and saving your Placepot. Those instincts cut in immediately and as soon as Robbie Dunne was off, the horse was up and running along without batting an eyelid. This was not insignificant as The Boola Bee was bowling along quite quickly in front, encouraged by Edgar, so Yourholidayisover was running fast entirely voluntarily – a moment to savour. Getting back to the relevant bits, when The Boola Bee had used up her honey reserves, Edgar was left in front and working ominously well but Very Live managed to push his way alongside at the last fence and be much the sharper on the run-in. This was his first win for three years, but he was rated 92 today and had won before from 98, so with the rain in his favour, this was not one Very Live dared miss out on.

Very Live (1st): He is handicapped to win again, although trust that he will do so needs to be rationed.

+  Edgar (2nd): Had returned from a long absence with two dismal showings on the flat. This demonstrated that they had done him some fitness good and a class 5 win is definitely possible. But not certain.

x  Maratt (PU): Ran surprisingly well on debut over fences against far better horses in a beginners’ chase, losing by only ten lengths. The handicapper had taken the form with a pinch of salt the size of a fist, and the horse jumped tentatively and was unable to get in the race.

Empire – Brother Bennett (3rd): Popped up in the frame again in what probably amounts to his best course and distance combination. However having put his best foot completely forwards, only managing third was a touch disappointing.
The field sets sail for the wild unknown that is the South Downs. Very Live is on this side, near the front in brown and orange silks, hiding Edgar and with The Boola Bee nearby. Yourholdiayisover is in high vis red and yellow. Meanwhile Anti Cool his trying to hide Jack Quinlan, but Brother Bennett and Maratt are trying to get lost in the mist.

Race 3: Free Alerts With My Timeform Tracker Handicap Hurdle [3m 1f]

1: Potters Hedger     2: Three Star General     3: Ruby Yeats

Winner owned: Mrs J May, trained: Lucy Wadham, ridden: Jack Quinlan

The feature of this race was having eight runners and only three proven to stay. They were Sackett (not a lover of tight bends but in a tongue tie for the first time), Mauna Kea (won his last two but up a lot in the weights) and Mogestic (out of form and best in bigger fields). However Potters Hedger had won last time at 2m 7.5f, her longest race to date, and she took the extra quarter of a mile in her stride, seeing off Three Star General, whose two runs at three miles or more had ended in him unseating and pulling up. He looked ready to be close to a win three hurdles out but lost his rhythm on the railway turn and Potters Hedger passed him quite readily. The first time visor helped Ruby Yeats a bit, perhaps not enough to break her losing run and the three lengths second to Verdana Blue has long since been proven as unrepresentative of what to expect from her. Verdana Blue prefers not to discuss it. Mauna Kea proved to be a bit fascinating. He was pulled up at the back turning for home but in the process of cantering up the straight he caught a couple of the stragglers who were still taking part. This run need not have been as bad as the result shows.

+  Three Star General (2nd): Had cheekpieces on here, which do not appear to have been a very successful addition to his kit even before today, and all of his first and second places have been on galloping tracks. So a change of venue and headgear could well turn his fortunes around.

Race 4: Download The Free Timeform App Veterans’ Handicap Chase [3m 1.5f]

1: Uhlan Bute     2: Dylanseoghan     3: Kilfinichen Bay

Winner owned: The Autumn Partnership, trained: Venetia Williams, ridden: Charlie Deutsch

A couple of years ago it was Charlie Longsdon who had quickly mastered the veteran’s chase concept and he fielded here for our visual delight Kilfinichen Bay. This splendid animal once won nine times in twelve race spell for him and despite the inevitable raised handicap mark, he added four more successes at regular intervals. This race was right up his street, or indeed river, but the mud is not at all in his favour and he was not good enough to handle the less exposed Dylanseoghan. The pair of them were anyway put firmly put in their place by never that prolific Uhlan Bute. The winner is trained by Venetia Williams, who is now competing for the virtual throne of supreme trainer of veteran chasers. The ground changing also harmed the chances of Dylanseoghan but the way that Uhlan Bute thundered around Plumpton on this occasion implies that he would have taken a lot of beating whatever going had presented itself. Out of form but well handicapped Wizards Bridge failed to dig out a revival nor gave a clue that one is just around the corner.

+  Dylanseoghan (2nd): Gained his two wins with a mid-spring flourish last year and although he does not leap from the page as well handicapped, a repeat performance would not be surprising.

+  Topper Thornton (PU): Has no history of being able to cope with left-handed, sharp tracks and gave up completely after two miles. As the soft going was probably not helping, he can be given a chance to bounce back, as long as it is not this type of course and ground.

x  Ballyheigue Bay (PU): Last won a chase four years ago and he has a bad record in chases going left-handed, even when in better form.

x x  Anteros (4th): Oddly seemed to attract a fair bit of betting support, which is not normal for a good hurdler who is 0/7 in chases. The theory that he has not got a chaser’s skills and brain was enhanced with this display.
Uhlan Bute gets a celebratory belly tickle. Charlie Deutsch strangely seems to be enjoying it the most

Race 5: Strong Flavours Catering Novices’ Hurdle [2m 4.5f]

1: Debestyman     2: Manning Estate     3: Coastal Drift

Winner owned: The Plumpton Party, trained: Suzy Smith, ridden: Gavin Sheehan

The Rules career of Debestyman, since an Irish point win in not the worst race of that type, had been promising bumper run, disappointing follow up, very promising hurdles debut. At the foot of the back straight it was looking more likely that another negative moment was coming. However, horse and rider were in total harmony in having faith that the ones in front would not last, and it paid off. Manning Estate was just a bit one-paced from approaching the last and Coastal Drift, who was the last runner on the bridle, did not find a great deal when the pressure was on. Notch one up to Debestyman. The owning partnership name suggests that he should be a regular here, as long as he does not run himself above qualifying for the typical Plumpton race.

+  Reallyradical (4th): Failed to win in Irish points but managed a place in three out of five. That did not make him a hugely appealing selection here. Ending up eight lengths behind the winner and five behind 123-rated Manning Estate was a pretty decent start for him to build upon.

Race 6: SW Catering Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Generous Jack     2: King Muro     3: Hab Sab

Winner owned: Ne-Chance, trained: Suzi Best, ridden: Daryl Jacob

The complexion of this race had changed with the weather and of the three horses that deserved a tick for soft ground compatibility, Generous Jack and King Muro were two of them. Along with Hab Sab, who sported the legendary Joker Jack colours and was running in the vicinity of the owner’s birthday, they went clear of the competition from the third last hurdle, with Generous Jack navigating them around the railway bend in very dark conditions – perhaps 4.10 was a bit late for the last race given that we are at the time of year where gloomy cloud is likely to crop up. Initially it appeared that King Muro was ready to pounce and win but instead Generous Jack found a bit extra and in the end there was hard work to be done for King Muro to hang on for second place.

+  Generous Jack (1st): Showed ability but not much brain when bumpering and did not adapt to hurdles all that well. In December he had his first race since autumn 2016 and made a decent fist of it. Next time blinkers were left off and he had a bounce effect hit him. Today the headgear returned and we saw a horse who was very effective and well behaved. He is potentially still ahead of the handicapper but the blinkers look like a must have.

+  King Muro (2nd): Had been with Fergal O’Brien, with whom he had a fundamental disagreement as regards chasing – the horse believing strongly that it is somebody else’s job. On the debut for Mike Roberts he had run OK, and with the return to full headgear of hood and tongue tie, he did enough to suggest hurdle success is not far away.

Hab Sab (3rd): Does not impress with his bare results but having seen him run a few times there have been moments when he looked as if something better was about to develop, only to waft away on the breeze. The neutral observer is still not sure what his ideal distance and going is, but at least anyone who has been looking for improvement can now see that the promise was not a complete figment of their imagination. The total failure to make a chaser of him ought to be an idea now consigned to history.

Buchaill Beag (4th): Definitely has the ability for this class 5 level, and maybe even the lower reaches of class 4, but he looks mentally very fragile. He was overly keen to get on with things from the moment that he appeared in the paddock and after being around about the lead for the first half of the race, he dropped away in the back straight. To some extent the defeat can be blamed on ground previously avoided but he has all the makings of a risky option in more helpful conditions as well.

x  Chance It (6th): Proved to be extremely popular in the betting due to i) move to Jeremy Scott suddenly eliminating contempt for muddy ground? ii) Bottom weight in the testing ground? iii) One handicap run in Ireland in 2017? Whatever the reason, it was a failure as after setting out at the back he was not at all able to make any progress when some was needed.
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