Stratford, 8/11/20

This was a good card for people who like short-priced favourites in handicaps with decent field sizes. It also meant that most races were all about one question - horse x has set the pace, can he or she hang on to the line? That was especially key in chases as the omitted last fence made for an enormous run-in with a late slalom in it.

Going: Good to Soft.
Some interesting mushrooms at Stratford. Possibly Indigo Pinkgill - best not eaten. Or maybe Entoloma Lampropus - not often seen.

Race 1: Alveston Handicap Hurdle [2m 2.5f]

1: Cremant     2: Phoenix Dawn     3: Dan Gun

Winner owned: Phil Simmonds, trained: Neil Mulholland, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

Yes of course, sixteen declared, one non-runner. The 18/1 fourth, Stubborn Logic, is quite intuitively named in the circumstances and having first time blinkers and tongue tie my have made him moderately popular with punters. He also set the pace and was, for his supporters, agonisingly swamped by the first three in the home straight. Clobbering the second last had not helped his cause but there was something visually irresistable about the fashion in which Cremant put the race to bed. Phoenix Dawn had been claimed by Richard Newland after ending up a long price second in a claimer a week earlier. The betting habit of getting behind every debutant for the yard is a known phenomenon but starting odds-on for this did seem the wrong side of rational after so little time in his new home.

+ +  Cremant (1st): Lightly raced over hurdles, this win followed two very decent placed runs and in the big field he probably should have been vying for favouritism. Another win is very viable.

+  Outlaw Jack (6th): Yet to make much of an impression in hurdles on all sorts of courses and distances, he failed to handle the very tight turns here but then ran on, slowly but with purpose, once in the home straight. He is worth looking out for as a possible each-way place on easy or galloping tracks.
Stubborn Logic, Escort'namix, Phoenix Daw and Azari lead a lap out. The others are still deciding what the deal is but Cremant leads the decision making process.

Race 2: Bishopton Novices' Handicap Chase, Div I [2m 5f]

1: Innisfree Lad     2: Cracker Jak     3: Debden Bank

Winner owned: Rees, Hardwick, Allum & Saville, trained: Tom Symonds, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

In his pre-race chat with the connections that were present, Sam Twiston-Davies summed up with "if he isn't enjoying it, I will ease off" or words to that effect. That was not a shockingly downbeat forecast as in four previous chases Innisfree Lad had run poorly in three and his status as odds-on favourite was a not totally convincing side effect of having recently won a couple of hurdles. The worst case scenario was avoided and Innisfree Lad surged homewards once there was no more jumping to do. Cracker Jak had pulled ferociously hard in front and thus did well to keep pushing the winner all the way to the line. The winning margin was only a length and Debden Bank, who was caught a bit flat footed when the dash for home started two fences out, was only two more back in third.

+ Innisfree Lad (1st): Could have more wins in him if permanently infused with a love for chasing.

+ Debden Bridge (3rd): Did not run badly on his chase/handicap debut when last out in February and this longer race was right up his street. Success looms.

Arizona Glory (4th): Got a respectable finishing position and was only beaten by about eight lengths, but this was achieved despite a clumsy round of jumping. A problem if he keeps doing it.

Empire: Pete's Choice (7th): Got a bit disappointingly outpaced from the second last but he was not enjoying the tight home turn, so it probably cost him only a place or two. One course crossed out of the future visits list.   here.
The dash to glory. Innisfree Lad, Cracker Jak and then Debden Bridge all wonder why Buck Bravo is allowed to go without a rider.

Race 3: Bishopton Novices' Handicap Chase, Div II [2m 5f]

1: Dubai Outlaw     2: Miss Gemstone     3: Watar Allstar

Winner owned: Mark E Smith, trained: DJ Jeffreys, ridden: Kielan Woods

Finally the Stratford sort of race that we know and love, apart from what is now an untraditional wintry back drop. The reason why it was typical for the track is that the first two vied with each other to lead throughout, jumped indifferently (Dubai Outlaw nearly knocked Into The Woods out of the woods at fence one) but found that subtleties such as dextrous jumping skill were not important if the oppo were slightly off of the leaders' pace. In the end Dubai Outlaw used the marathon run-in to make it an easy success but Miss Gemstone, who clouted three out, only held second by a neck as Watar Allstar finished with some purpose. The third is a big old unit and would not have found this course ideal for his purpose. Kapitaliste would have disrupted the places somehow had he not fallen at the final fence - not his first error.

+   Apple Mack (5th): The rule for fence one was "everyone bump into someone else" and he was one of those to come out worst. His saddle slipped and Micheal Nolan did well to stay in the race. In the circumstances, fifth was a handy fitness and schooling session.

x   Dubai Outlaw (1st): With a chase win under his bandana, he is likely to be popular in the betting in coming races but he is opposable until his jumping improves.

Race 4: Dodwell Novices' Hurdle [2m 2.5f]

1: Witness Protection     2: Fantastikas     3: Master Templar

Winner owned: Foxtrot Racing Witness Protection, trained: Martin Keighley, ridden: James Best

After posting a handy looking display at Huntingdon on hurdles debut, Prince Escalus started long odds-on but he was not as regally serene going in this direction and making the running did not burn off the big dangers. Witness Protection did not have too bad form himself since leaving Irish points and he ran out a comfortable ten lengths winner as the favourite ran out of steam quickly in the last quarter of a mile. The surprise was that Fantastikas got second as he jumped so poorly in the early stages that just finishing was looking like a lofty ambition. Master Templar did not appear to improve for the first time tongue tie, losing by almost as far as he was beaten in a possibly very strong race in October.

+  Fantastikas (2nd): Vastly improved in the final mile and if he remembers what went right come future appearances, wins are to be had.

+  Animal (5th): Making his hurdles debut after showing up well in bumpers, he still looked very green and was taken around quite cautiously in the early stages. Like Fantastikas, he livened up a great deal late in the race and likely has massive room for improvement.
x  Prince Escalus (4th): Be very careful of him on left-handed courses. Very careful.

Race 5: Binton Novices' Handicap Chase [2m 1f]

1: Enzo D'Airy     2: Bathiva     3: Prince Llywelyn

Winner owned: Dr Moira Hamlin, trained: Venetia Williams, ridden: Charlie Deutsch

After wide margin chasing victories either side of summer Bathiva was odds-on for this, but funnily enough the handicapper had noticed them too and put him up a lot (although here he had only a seven pound penalty for the latest, as the weights had to be published before his new mark was assessed). He became the second straight short priced loser, holding on to be runner-up but brushed aside by Enzo D'Airy who brought with him the triple action of first time in chase, first time in a handicap and first run after a wind op. Despite being a strong bumper performer, Prince Llywelyn had not got his act together hurdling. Unlike the winner, the combo of first chase, first handicap, recent wind op (a second one) did not make a difference. The ying and the yang of the formbook all shown in the placed runners of one race.

+  Enzo D'Airy (2nd): With the Bathiva bubble bursting it may not have been the toughest race around but for reasons stated above, his mark of 110 may be well below his true capability.

+  Romanor (4th): Slightly spoiled a course record that reads 1311 before this run. The drop back to 2m 1f did not suit, despite it not being an aeon since he could cope with the minimum trip. But...

x Romanor (4th): ...hold up tactics are normal for him. However one early small error was not an excuse for being so far back when the pace picked up. He does not make things easy for himself.

Race 6: Wilmcote Handicap Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Minnie Escape     2: Lady Cylla     3: Scrutinise

Winner owned: The Second Brayford Partnership, trained: Victor Dartnall, ridden: James Best

This race looked to be run at a frantic pace, something which Legal OK makes happen when allowed to, as here. However the end result was quite a modest time, with a caveat that the adjustment for the going was done on the fly. Legal OK slowed up quite dramatically in the middle of the back straight, but still somehow held fourth place from a point where ending up nowhere seemed the most probable outcome. Minnie Escape and Lady Cylla had passed the leader on the final bend and the in-form Scrutinise took third after the last hurdle. After those four it was just stragglers and pulled ups, which again hints at a rapid race. Perhaps the hurdle track was riding softer than the official going - there had been some rain leading up to this race. Minnie Escape's two previous wins were in mares only races, so by getting this one under her belt, she expanded her repertoire. But what does it all mean?

x  Lady Cylla (2nd): A decent display at face value but she is now 0/13 in her career, all but one of them being hurdles. The defence is that this is the closest that she has got yet, coincidentally after her rating had declined from 117 to 91.

Race 7: Loxley Handicap Chase [2m 3.5f]

1: Coby Nine     2: Kilpin     3: More Buck's

Winner owned: Team Dunn & WBB, trained: Alexandra Dunn, ridden: Mitchell Bastyan

It was getting rather miserable in the dark and drizzle by this point, but coloured umbrellas showed that one or two hardy souls were still in station on railway embankment. Splendid commitment in the circumstances. The only natural front runner in this was Kapsize, who sometimes appears a little too determined to live up to his name. He was not actually that bad over the fences here and ironically he folded rapidly on the home turn when the aerial dangers had passed. At this stage Coby Nine was weaving his way through the field, having jumped with more skill than on his first attempt last month. Kilpin was the first to pass Kapsize but it always seemed that Coby Nine's progress was unstoppable. More Buck's was making his seventh appearance already since summer and this was just about the best effort yet.

+  Kilpin (2nd): Spoiled his chase debut with one bad late error. That was avoided now and he ran well, despite being another beaten favourite.

+  Minella Voucher (UR): Despite having won three of ten previous chases and had a wind op before this, which was also a drop in class, he was allowed to start at 50/1 here. Out of contention when unseating two out, he has surely not declined as badly as that implies - unless the wind surgery was a total diasaster?

x  More Bucks' (3rd): DId not convince that this was an omen of getting back to his best form. "His best" is something that he may measure in different ways to human beings.

Race 8: Walton Maiden Open National Hunt Flat Race [2m 0.5f]

1: Rainyday Woman     2: Harde Fashion     3: Fontana Ellissi

Winner owned: Mrs S White, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Megan Nicholls

As it was getting very dark and gloomy, interest in waiting around for a bumper that was going to be nigh on invisible to the naked eye waned rapidly. Apologies to those waiting anxiously for some critical insights. You may be on the wrong website. At least the winner was weather appropriate.
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