Taunton, 11/3/19

The wind had dropped in this part of the world over the lasttwenty-four hours, but the deflating experience of following Brother Bennettaround the country for fear of missing a good day was on the cards. Still,there were plenty of other horses to look at, some of whom are less easilydissuaded by the actions of the competition.

Going: Good to Soft
The cheapest but worst view of racing at Taunton, from the top of Staple Hill. Helpful, but not essential, to have access to a serious telescope.

Race 1: William Hill 3 Bet Boosts Per Day Handicap Hurdle [3m]

1: Motts Cross     2: Urtheonethatiwant     3: Princess Midnight

Winner owned: Mrs SM Trump, trained: Chris Down, ridden: Bryan Carver

The pattern of this race was disrupted by the approach of Mr Lando, who yet again set about his race as if having consumed a bucket of speed before going to post. Soon ten lengths or more clear, he did beat down the interest of about half of his opposition but inevitably had insufficient left when the ones wise to his game came alongside. The finish involved Motts Cross and Urtheonethatiwant going eye to eye from the second last hurdle. The winner has previously won at 2m 7f around Exeter and lost narrowly in a Towcester three miler, so there was no danger of him folding, whereas Urtheonethatiwant was beyond 2m 5f for the first time. After a win at Kempton in his most recent race he was an underpriced favourite, but it was not stamina that beat him. There was a big talking point when Sandy Boy came down at the fifth. Initially it was an unseating, but Richard Johnson, in an action where his experience departed him, managed to drag the horse down on top of him. Sandy Boy jumped up and ran off in a huff, but the champion jockey was down for some time. Eventually he decided to let common sense apply and not ride again on the day. It is almost as if there was something important coming up.

+  Motts Cross (1st): He had been off form this season returning from well over two years off and was racing from 88, having won from 101 in his heyday. Now that he has found his level, further success is feasible.

+  Princess Midnight (3rd): A relatively inexperienced five year old, she had run well at Exeter over shorter in her first handicap but not replicated it in a couple of tries at today’s course and distance. This was a recovery of sorts and there is a niche for her somewhere – three mile chases perhaps?
Motts is not at all cross that he has had to work hard but won

Race 2: William Hill 5 Places All Cheltenham Handicaps Maiden Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Scaramanga     2: Melekhov     3: Annsam

Winner owned: Malcolm C Denmark, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

This appeared to be Scaramanga’s to lose as his two appearances showed him to be the finished article whereas the best of the others were either jumps bred works in progress or flat converts looking to rebound from an indifferent start to hurdles. And that was how it panned out. As soon as Scaramanga went ahead from the home turn, nothing was coming from behind to worry him and the success came with plenty in hand. Melekhov won two bumpers but they were at Hexham and Fakenham, not places renowned for top notch bumpering, and he had been a flop on hurdles debut. This was much improved but the suspicion is that the betting market is always looking for an excuse to put him in short – 3/1 here was a silly price after his bad hurdling bow. There was a fine old ding-dong for third, with four horses split by three lengths. On past exploits some trainers may wonder if they wanted to be so close to the first two with handicap marks in mind. Annsam played his hand latest and reaped the minor honour.

+ +  Sally Can’t Wait (6th): She has some to hurdles from Irish pointing and done a fraction better than the two immediately in front of her up to now. Not nicking 3rd, 4th or 5th appeared unimportant on today’s agenda and she will be able to look forward in delight to mares’ handicaps.

+  Moayadd (4th): A 78-rated flat horse with four wins. He had declined massively over hurdles so far but this suggested that he is pitter-pattering back in the right direction as handicaps beckon.

+  Ourmullion (5th): Brought a 74-flat rating with him and proved before today to be much worse even than Moayadd at hurdling. He too may be set up for a spring revival.
Sally Can’t Wait and L ittle Red Lion lead the way but Scaramanga is loitering close behind very smugly. Note nosebanded Moayadd in fourth failing to get feebly detached in mid-race.

Race 3: Follow willhillracing On Twitter Mares’ Handicap Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Tierra Verde     2: Powerful Society     3: Micras

Winner owned: Greenlands Racing Syndicate, trained: Emma Lavelle, ridden: Adam Wedge

Another belter of a finish with the first three split by less than a length and the result able to go in any direction until the last fifty metres. Micras came out worst, having made most of the running and then battled back to lead briefly when the other pair turned up to try and put her in her place. For most of the run from the second last the expectation was that Powerful Society would force her way on to success but one big gasp from Tierra Verde in the winning post’s shadow got her a short head verdict. Even fourth placed Shadow’s Girl was only a couple of lengths back – almost the same distance that Tierra Verde beat her on this course and distance in January. One thing that assisted the outcome was Ruby Russett falling at the sixth as she managed to get in the way of most of the held up runners. The worst hit were Queen Adelaide, Venetian Proposal and Oriental Flame, almost as if Ruby Russett decided to take out every opponent that may appear in an atlas. That is a dumbed down society in a nutshell.

Powerful Society (2nd): From a badly out of form yard, this was a cracking effort. Either she proved that the team have shaken off their ennui or she has more improvement to make on this agonising near miss.

x  Micras (3rd): There was nothing wrong with what Micras did to the naked eye but she has finished second or third in four of her last five races, by an average of shorter than two lengths. The others were with more patient tactics, so what will work for her? 

x  Riviere Argentee (6th): Not long ago she was in the sort of close places form that Micras has. In her last two she has lost the stream of competitiveness and here she notably found almost no extra when coming out of cruise mode.
Quite correctly Tierra Verde turns her back on nefarious activity on the right of picture

Race 4: William Hill Best Odds Guaranteed At Cheltenham Handicap Chase [3m 4f]

1: Samuel Jackson     2: Rolling Dylan     3: Regal Flow

Winner owned: Richard Mitford-Slade & Lucy Johnson, trained: Richard Mitford-Slade, ridden: James Best

As a race this thinned out quite rapidly. Like The Sound was an early unseater, Achille declared enough is enough after two laps, Unioniste not long afterwards and others had already gone in some shape or form at that stage. It left three horses in contention on the final bend, and the veteran Regal Flow was first to crack. That left Rolling Dylan versus Samuel Jackson. In an ideal world, Samuel Jackson would not have fluffed the third, and then not done the same two out. However, he was just fluent enough at the final fence to get back up and do Rolling Dylan on the nod. Not a bad denouement after three and a half miles and it almost allowed Rolling Dylan to make it a treble of Taunton losses by a nose – in the end he went down by a terribly vast head. It also raised a big question – how much would you pay to see a fight between Samuel L Jackson and Bob Dylan. Most people would reply “a lot.” So we were straight on the phone to Dylan, who we felt may be the harder to persuade. He replied, “neeeyahhh, nyahh, neeahhhh.” We take that as a yes. Mr Jackson’s response was a more predictable twelve letter word beginning with M and ending in R.

x  Samuel Jackson (1st): Is likely to take on better oppo from here, the sort who will be less forgiving of his jumping errors at the business end.

Race 5: William Hill Cheltenham Festival £1M Golden Race Handicap Hurdle [2m 3f]

1: Smarty Wild     2: Putting Green      3: Here’s Herbie

Winner owned: Michael and Norma Tuckey, trained: Philip Hobbs, ridden: Tom O’Brien

A twelve horse handicap appeared to be a tricky sort of event to be sporting an odds-on favourite but once Smarty Wild leaped from the pack approaching the second last, it was easy to see where the thought process was coming from. Not an event where it paid to be too clever, although anyone who went after Putting Green each-way got a nice pay out at 25/1. And when his record is reviewed any selection of Putting Green would be very brave to not cover the place possibilities. Five of his six second places have been at odds of 8/1 or more. Smarty Wild was completing a hat trick, the previous success being six days earlier in a conditional riders’ race, so he had no penalty. He will not escape the wrath of the handicapper unscathed after this dominant victory. Somehow the only two horses to have beaten him over hurdles have not won since. They clearly need to stop buffooning about. Here’s Herbie rarely runs a bad race at Taunton but only has one win in the last three years.

+  Sparkleandshine (5th): Lost by more than on his stable debut but the general vibe is that Harry Whittington has got him back on track. Perhaps 2m 3f was too far and a testing two miles is needed.

Putting Green (2nd): For anyone who has forgotten the above paragraph, a quick reminder that he often places, rarely wins. So do not get extra excited about this run.

Race 6: William Hill Leading Racecourse Bookmaker Handicap Chase [2m]

1: Royal Act     2: Western Morning     3: Brother Bennett

Winner owned: Moorland Racing, trained: Sarah-Jayne Davies, ridden: Jason Dixon

This one was easy to predict – just pick the horse that stood out in the paddock. A very shiny dark brown coat, all the signs of being mentally in the right place, first time blinkers and won this race in 2018. There you have it. Royal Act victory. He led most of the way and the only real inconvenience was a mistake at the fourth. Then another three from home. And at the next. And a lesser but still heart stopping mistake over the last. Western Morning was just too one paced to take advantage and Brother Bennett, who had not run for eight weeks, ran out of puff at the last. Chivers is not a superstar waiting to rise above this grade but he struggled on for fourth in unimpressive style.

x  Western Morning (2nd): His win was fair and square up the long Leicester hill and on this evidence he can be competitive in shorter races but is missing the zip to think of winning them.

x  Chivers (4th): The form of his Boxing Day win at Fontwell seems fine in hindsight yet he is not finding it possible to repeat the display.

x  All Kings (6th): Including points he has contested 23 races and won none. Yet in this lowest level he gets stuck with top weight. His best recent runs were 2m at Taunton and 3m 2f at Newton Abbot, so it is not versatility that is his problem.

Empire: Brother Bennett (3rd): Tends to need to keep busy to maintain fitness and eight weeks without a race – minor setback followed by lack of suitable options – found him out late on. There are four suitable Plumpton races in April and if we can choose the one that he finds least philosophically unacceptable, another win is an option. Nobody should take a short price…

Race 7: William Hill Betting TV Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race [2m 0.5f]

1: Miss Honey Ryder     2: Czech Her Out     3: Miss Austen

Winner owned: The Albatross Club, trained: Warren Greatrex, ridden: Harry Teal

The concluding race was almost a horrendous personal financial nightmare. Quite a few had got very frisky in the paddock, even ones with multi-race experience. In the briefest of perusals the horse that caught the eye positively for being athletic and calm was Czech Her Out. Although not the worst bumper of the season, her 27 lengths loss on debut implied that she was a longer term possibility and no more was thought of it. It was thus quite worrying to see her thundering up the home straight with victory well on the cards, and when it was discovered that she had drifted out to 40/1 the magnitude of the near despair became horribly apparent. So great thanks are sent to Harry Teal for carrying out a mighty late surge on previous winner Miss Honey Ryder and getting up by a head. Apologies to connections of Czech Her Out for being too pleased at her defeat. Hot on their heels were newcomers Miss Austen and Whoopsey.

+ +  Czech Her Out (2nd): A likeable type going in the right direction.

+  Miss Austen (3rd): Not the worst behaved of the line-up, this counts as a solid debut even if the race was probably nothing beyond the ordinary

+ Whoopsey (4th): One of the ringleaders of the disruption – you choose your name, you takes your chances? – she was far more business like as the race got under way and it is a reasonable prediction to see big improvement on the way.
Czech Her Out frightening the photographer, only for Miss Honey Ryder to get up and win. Miss Austen is far from out of it and Whoopsey narrowed the gap from where this taken.
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