Stratford, 20/10/19

With the amount of flooding and waterway encroachment onto dry land that was witnessed going to the track, Stratford had done really well to keep the ground sensible, but it did seem that around the course the water had chosen to be on the ground, not within it. Tactically it meant that on a course helpful to front runners on normal days, the horses coming back from a summer break or looking for better going found it even more difficult to play a part if getting behind early on. Every race had two obstacles omitted, the ones just about nearest to the River Avon.

Going: Soft, Good to Soft places

Race 1: Dave Callanan’s 30th Birthday Maiden Hurdle [2m 6f]

1: Happygolucky     2: Mercy Mercy Me     3: Terrierman

Winner owned: Lady Dulverton, trained: Kim Bailey, ridden: David Bass

This race lacked a truly standout runner or two, but a couple were interesting. Mercy Mercy Me had competed up to Grade 1 level in vain last season, winless without looking like a waste of space. The vibe had been one of regression lately, so caution was required. Sidi Ismael had done well in bumpers, winning one, and not lost by far on hurdles debut. People who find such assessments exciting need a prescription for a mild sedative. That big two were upstaged by Happygolucky, an expensive purchase who had been runner-up in his only Irish point but was unraced for nearly a year. And when we say they were upstaged, we mean very emphatically put in their place.

+ +  Happygolucky (1st): An impressive spin on hurdles debut and with so little racing experience ticked off, there is plenty of scope to improve further.

+  Terrierman (3rd): A winner in one of his three British points, there was nothing at all wrong with this persistent effort on hurdling debut, staying on at the end. He should make the grade.

Sidi Ismael (7th): Ran well on soft ground on his hurdles debut at Kelso and did not mind a bit of slush in bumpers, so getting tailed off here was very disappointing.

x x  Mercy Mercy Me (2nd): Perhaps a missing magic ingredient will be unearthed but the response to being dropped in class this season has been extremely unimpressive.

Race 2: PSA Push To Pass Handicap Hurdle [2m 2.5f]

1: Lochinver     2: Kilinakin     3: Bells Of Peterboro

Winner owned: MacEchern &Thornton Families & C Walsh, trained: Charlie Longsdon, ridden: Paul O’Brien

The biggest field of the day were led a merry dance by Kilinakin, who managed to pinch an eight lengths lead early on and sustain it without needing to go especially quick. These scenarios do usually pan out well for the leader but Lochinver was in the form of his life and cruised through to nab a slight lead on the tricky when wet (and dry) home turn. Kilinakin battled back heartily but was just beaten for toe in the last hundred metres or so. Both of the first two made errors at the last, thus not taking a chance to put the race to bed. Unfortunately the runner-up finished lame, so will not be ready to build on this promising comeback. Despite not getting involved in a storming pace of any description, quite a few of those that were prominent in the back straight weakened out of contention before turning for home and Bells Of Peterboro was able to stay on ploddily for a place, dragging Highland Bobby and Vereina in his wake.

+  The Late Legend (13th): Lightly raced under Rules, he has the size to make a chaser and this was treated very much as a tune-up spin that ought to bring him along very nicely.

Race 3: Visit Selling Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Skeaping     2: First Quest     3: Line Of Beauty

Winner owned & trained: Phil Middleton, ridden: Luca Morgan

Once a horse not obviously showing the passion and drive for great success, Skeaping took this with a bit of comfort one day after battling his way to short head success at Fakenham. Admittedly the poor stable form of his main rival, First Quest, made this race look easier, but connections nabbed the two successes without having even to make the effort of one bid to keep hold of him. First Quest does sit in a slot labelled “surely too good for a seller currently” and the risk of coming here and losing was highlighted when Neil Mulholland was able to claim a 115-rated hurdler with recent wins for just £5,000. With half a lap remaining Initiative was a big threat but he completely failed to last home. Line Of Beauty was not awful but she was not as badly in at the weights as she was beaten so be calm oh beating hearts.

+  First Quest (2nd): Hardly looks to be past his sell by date, so refer more to his Spring 2019 form rather than be dismayed by his losing in a seller.

x  Iballisticvic (4th): His only other hurdles run was on good to firm and a couple of years ago. The ground here may have ballistically ruined his chances but he hardly created the impression of a horse ready to make revelation as a jumper in any sort of conditions.

Race 4: William Hill Leading Racecourse Bookmaker Handicap Chase [2m 5f]

1: One Forty Seven     2: Native Robin     3: Follow The Swallow

Winner owned: Graham and Alison Jelley, trained: Nigel Twiston-Davies, ridden: Jamie Bargary

For this we had a switch of competitive philosophy with a surplus of candidates for the win. There was an early rethink when two of them, Private Malone and Henry’s Joy, collided in mid-air at the first fence. Neither came to grief but both found themselves shuffled to the back and Native Robin had an awkward time avoiding them, although he probably avoided contact. Learning from the risk posed by reckless nutjobs, the 2018 winner One Forty Seven went to the front and more or less stayed there. Native Robin joined him going best of all but did not find as much as looked likely and was only able to score about one forty six. And a quarter. Just behind them at the last and not certainly beaten when he fell there was Western Climate. He had pulled up in six of his last eight but was well supported on this stable debut and the money was not ill-directed.

+  Native Robin (2nd): Does not have a strong first time out record, so to finish up second here, and fairly closely too, augurs well for his imminent races.

+  Western Climate (fell): He has become something of a setback magnet but is extremely well treated on his best and a change of yard appears to have perked him up. As far as a good price goes, the cat is now out of the bag.

Private Malone (PU): Is not inherently lacking in talent and he did get back up to second after the early incident, only to fail to sustain it. However he has not compiled a chase record of 0/15 without reason.

Race 5: FN Pile & Sons Mares’ Handicap Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Sweet Adare     2: Song Of The Sky     3: Darlyn

Winner owned: GD Hake, trained: Victor Dartnall, ridden: James Best

It seemed that this race came and went in the blink of an eye, with Sweet Adare’s blink being much the quicker than that of any of her rivals. Only Perfect Myth and Darlyn had proven themselves on soft going (most had stayed well away) but we can now say that Sweet Adare likes it. She had not won from four hurdle races earlier than today but had been close up twice and only needed a little bit more focus/luck/mud to get this job done. Song Of The Sky has become extremely proficient at failure over jumps, despite having four flat wins to her name. Having won three of her previous four appearances, Darlyn tried hard but is handicapped out of her comfort zone. She just held third from the fast finishing Makety, who whether by intent or accident, found herself stuck in a very disadvantageous position and only made progress after getting in a straight line run for home.

Song Of The Sky (2nd): Her record is now no wins in nine hurdles and five chases, which gives no reason to presume that she showed the final step to curing that here.

x  Another Theatre (6th): With a lap to go her head was in the air and she was not keen on going round any more. Maybe she has a breathing problem as in the course of two wins last season her attitude appeared to be perfectly fine.

Race 6: Keith Appleton Is 60 Today [2m 1f]

1: St Merryn     2: Golander     3: Brother Bennett

Winner owned: Mrs Gill Summers, trained: Rob Summers, ridden: James Best

This was the race that unfolded more like a soft ground event. It was a 0-100 and saw two horses of non-existent achievements put minimum weight to maximum use and finish 1-2. St Merryn (possibly better going on non-sharp tracks and the other way round) pottered slowly along the run-in, pausing only to watch Champion Chase grind to a halt again, and he only had Golander (0/21 under Rules and never beaten by less than seventeen lengths to add to 1/21 in points). Brother Bennett had made a mistake at the open ditch, which was the second from home today, and whilst edging into the lead all the way to the line, he was not looking likely to change the outcome until St Merryn and Golander did a galloping through treacle impersonation on the run-in.

Full Shift (7th): Looked well in the paddock but never got going in the race at all. Checking back, his last win was in December 2015 from a rate 35 pounds higher than today and nor is his record when fresh impressive. So the bad show was predictable and further bad shows can also be forecast.

x  Hurricane Rita (6th): Not at all well handicapped, she was stuck with 12-5 to carry here and connections opted not to have a claiming rider. The mare reacted as if disapproving but is perhaps stuck in a rut of having 0-100 race ability but not a rating for such events.

x x  Champion Chase (4th): Jumped the last in front, ended up fourth. He has been much criticised here in the past and today he used the medium of jumping right as a means to avoid an unintended success.

Empire – Brother Bennett (3rd): He has had problems with the open ditch here in the past and for his first race back from a summer break (he is far too wise to use up all of his energy on the gallops at home) this was a satisfactory display.

Race 7: Kevin Watson Lady Riders’ Handicap Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Don Juan De Gouet     2: Missesgeejay     3: Superefficient

Winner owned: The Henry Daly Racing Club, trained: Henry Daly, ridden: Bryony Frost

As if to show Hurricane Rita where it is at, Don Juan Du Gouet was hit with a weight of 12-3 in this race but gave Bryony Frost an armchair ride. When he was the only one not under pressure before the final turn, the result was not certain because horses had been failing to see out their race from there all afternoon. When he popped over the last hurdle well clear, it was a done deal and he did not have a hard race in the process. The question mark over Don Juan De Gouet on soft ground was washed away. Missesgeejay looked very well but then played up in the paddock and unseated her rider. In the race itself she stayed anchored at the back for too long and only ran on when it was too late. Not a tactical masterclass (whether the choice of jockey or horse), but bearing in mind the performance of the winner, she escaped with the best feasible placing. Superefficient was moderately effective from the front. Damned by faint praise or elevated by faint criticism?

+  Don Juan De Gouet (1st): Is on good terms with himself and needs to be taken seriously for a double up success.

x  Jaxlight (4th): She showed next to no interest in having a jockey on board before the race but having cruised confidently through the race she found nothing under pressure.
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