Worcester, 31/7/18

Yaay, it is Pershore Plum Festival day at Worcester. Last time that UK-Jumping was at this meeting, there was complete gridlock exiting the course, but the crowd this time was not quite as big and even Worcester’s infamously dysfunctional access/exit arrangements held up. This is because of a total ban on troublemakers who used to come solely for the purpose of eating apricots. Probably.

Going: Good

Race 1: Widmer, Pershore Handicap Chase [2m 0.5f]

1: Heurtevent     2: Hurricane Rita     3: Accessallareas

Winner owned: Layton T Cheshire, trained: Tony Carroll, ridden: Harry Bannister

This was a teasing opener, as there were some well handicapped horses taking part, the sort that possibly only needed to get near their best to be an appealing option. Choose one. It is probably the wrong one, as the trouble that came with the scenario is that the race was chock full of habitual front runners, so even the most solidly reasoned argument to make a pick could be undone in a jiffy. Deise Vu bit the bullet and set a frantic sort of pace, although with lots of horses running at the limit of what their legs would allow, there were surprisingly few bad jumping errors. Myroundorurs and Accessallareas were the main hasslers in the first half of the race. The winner played his hand leaving the final bend, picking up the leaders coming away from the final fence. It would be fair to say that those people who saw Heurtevent as a betting proposition would mostly have given up earlier in his nineteen race losing streak, probably annoyingly close to the time when it all came good, but he last won when rated 95, and was down on 74 at this time. With his steady and predictable mediocrity so far in 2018, the Placepotters should all have been on, and are entitled to be smug about it. Well done to anyone who spotted this as the day when it all comes together for him. Accessallareas gives a mixed vibe and this may have set him up nicely for the Newton Abbot race at the end of August that he won last year. Since he won a point-to-point in 2011, the only year that has been winless was 2012, where he was not yet handicapped and only had five races. That sounds quite reliable, but the successes come a little bit out of the blue when they happen. Get stuck in Heurtevent spotters.

+  Heurtevent (1st): Has won a few in the past, so two years in the doldrums could easily not be a sign that he does not care at all anymore and did this by luck. He will still be handicapped to win after being reassessed.

+  Hurricane Rita (2nd): She started this at 16/1, and it seemed everyone was only looking at her last race when she pulled up. She was in the rear and outpaced badly at halfway, but responded in slow but sure fashion and even led at the last, so it was the daft pace that foxed her. Before this she had spoiled a promising chase debut with a fall and been placed over course and distance, before a good effort at Hexham. Therefore this show was not something she had failed to do in the past. A sharp course where the pace is more cautious may fit her skills better – she has won at Fakenham.

x  Valshan Time (8th): Last summer he was getting handicapped by enduring hefty defeats in novice races against much superior talents. It was observed then that even under pressure he jumped soundly, which should serve him well in future. This year, against his peers, those skills have not been so good. If he remembers what a neat jump is, he could still win at this level, but the short term prospects are not as appealing as they once were.

x  The Yank (10th): After a good show in a better race last time, it was noted that he would be very attractive in a 0-100 race. This was it, but either he sulked when unable to get to the front, or the decision was taken not to get involved in a silly headbanging session for the lead and he disliked the plan. Either way, it made for an off day, and his effort from two out was a bit pathetic on top of it all. So he needs a class 5 race that can be dominated without hassle.
Hurricane Rita is just a bit quicker away from the last than Heurtevent, but it was not enough in the end. Third placed Vif Argent lost third to the unsighted Accessallareas. Alys Rock is the grey that can be seen, but seen on the retreat.

Race 2: Midshire Communications Beginners’ Chase [2m 7f]

1: Brave Eagle     2: Thumb Stone Blues     3: Qualando

Winner owned: Robert Kirkland, trained: NIcky Henderson, ridden: James Bowen

A solid enough chasing debut for Brave Eagle, the highest rated hurdler in the field. He challenged pace setting Thumb Stone Blues four out, had to have some encouragement to get his head in front, looked a tad vulnerable at the final fence, then had too much pace on the run-in. Thumb Stone Blues was not terribly far behind Brave Eagle as a hurdler and has had wind surgery since he last ran, so giving the favourite a bit of scare is a credit to him without undermining the winning performance. On the other hand, Qualando was almost on a par with Brave Eagle’s hurdling talent and won at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015, but his chasing career really is becoming a struggle.

+ +  Thumb Stone Blues (2nd): Without a run in six months, there were signs here that his wind procedure has helped, and therefore he has a chance to break his duck in chases after finishing second three times in five attempts.

Qualando (3rd): Only once has he been well and truly brushed aside in a chase, and that was the sole try at this far. But even if making allowances for stamina letting him down here, he is not being very convincing over fences in shorter races.

Race 3: Pershore Plum Festival Land O’Plums Handicap Chase [2m 0.5f]

1: I’dliketheoption     2: Croco Bay     3: Lord Ben

Winner owned: JP McManus, trained: Jonjo O’Neill, ridden: Aidan Coleman

Only five turned up, but all had a bit of a chance at the first fence in the home straight, and four were still in it two from home. Croco Bay, racing for the first time since he was fifth in a big field at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, made a cracking attempt at a winning comeback, but he jumped right at the last and lugged over the stands rails. With the fences situated towards the stands side, this was not as bad a problem here as on some days, but by using a “run in a straight line” tactic favoured as helpful by almost everyone, but Euclid in particular, I’dliketheoption got up and won by a length. It is fairly certain that it was a distance that Croco Bay could have saved along the way. As has become normal, veteran Lord Ben led, jumped well and set the race up for others, leaving him with a very solid place.

+ +  Croco Bay (2nd): Put up a belter of a comeback, despite having a bit of a fitness disadvantage against the others, although to call him unfit is exaggerating. There might be a bounce next time, but for the longer term, the handicapper has given him a chance and he is a bit better when there is a hint of cut in the ground.

+  I’dliketheoption (1st): His last two runs, both on course and distance, were not that hot, and this was a second try without a tongue tie, which he proved is not essential. The big difference for him, and one that should continue to be a factor is that he only had 10-11 to carry and bigger weights definitely dent his morale. Being a JP McManus horse, the strengths can get lost a bit in the quiet runs, but for chase wins, think lighter.

x x  Couer Tantre (5th): For some reason he started favourite, despite showing jumping frailties in his three earlier chases (especially an inclination to jump right) and getting his best performances between 2m 2f and 2m 4f. Those concerns both turned out to be totally valid, and he gives an impression that he is not totally sold on chasing as a career path.
Croco Bay in a position he could not retain. Lord Ben (red cap) and Cut The Corner (over the fence) are beaten but on the far side I’dlketheoption is keeping on stoutly.

Race 4: Angel Hotel Pershore Pensham Handicap Hurdle [2m 7f]

1: Three Colours Red     2: Lord Ballim     3: Will O’The West

Winner owned: The Red Partnership, trained: Robert Stephens, ridden: Tom O’Brien

This race lacked a stand out candidate, but the nearest thing was Three Colours Red, who had gone 121 in his three races here, all over today’s distance. He was in a better class of race this time around, but he handled it – just. Think of the film Three Colours Red (good, but does go on a bit, especially if you have worked through the whole trilogy) as a surprisingly accurate guide to what to expect of the horse. Going on a bit is a plus for saying hurdlers. Or the band Three Colours Red (good, but ruined by Creation Records trying to turn them from a punk leaning outfit to being an ersatz Oasis) in that this horse has won last time to follow some futile experiments with racing elsewhere. Lord Ballim was a gutsy loser for a horse never before tried further than 2m 4f. Initially it looked as if his inexperienced jockey had given him rather a lot to do from the rear, but he got into contention soon enough and found Three Colours Red hard to pass on his preferred piste. Hanging right on the run-in may well have made a difference for Lord Ballim in a loss of only half a length. Will O’The West was beaten a head over course and distance last time and got placed again here, but well off of the first two. With his wins coming on soft or heavy, seeing him out this time of year is surprising, but perhaps one day he will be right(eous) with the sun shining on him.

+  Kayla (4th): She has been off of the boil completely this summer, but after getting badly outpaced with a mile and a quarter to go, she at least stayed on dourly to be fourth. It suggests that her time of woe may be temporary, but needing more time to close down. Her record in races between 2m 7.5f and 3m 0.5f (a narrow window!) on good or faster ground is 2112364.

x x  Midnight Shot (6th): Having entered the realms of being competitively handicapped as a chaser and not being able to put up the accompanying performance, he returned to hurdles here and just acted as if he has lost interest in racing.

Race 5: Allens Caravans Estates Novices’ Handicap Hurdle [2m 4f]

1: Chimes Of Dylan     2: Really Super     3: Katebird

Winner owned: Mrs & Mrs James Blyth Currie, trained: Neil King, ridden: Jack Andrews

Into the closing stretch on the card and we are suddenly presented with an incredibly fascinating race. Not for normal people, but if you have read this far the sad news is that you have self-excluded from that grouping of the human race. The line-up included horses with known ability from out of form yards, successful flat horses who had been suspiciously quiet in novice hurdles and are now early in their handicap hurdling career, bumper graduates who had also taking the subtle path to handicaps and even one or two who obviously were not good enough to win novice races but were in a more realistic competition here. The race itself did not solve many conundrums, as Jack Andrews totally outwitted the opposition. Nicking five lengths in the first thirty or forty metres, he afterwards sent first time blinkered Chimes Of Dylan around at much the same pace as everyone else, so when the pack started to close before two out, they were horrified to see Chimes Of Dylan not slowing down at all. At the line it was only a half length to Really Super and four more to the staying on Katebird, who achieved defeat for contrasting reasons – see below. Possibly a race that will throw up an array of future winners. Also a word about Phoebus Lescribaa. He was a complete nightmare in the paddock, wanting to go everywhere that he should not or need not be, and making life very difficult for the lady leading him up, whose attempts to verbally reason with the horse fell on deaf ears. And then he redeemed himself by pocketing her the best turned out prize. If he could extend that cooperation for an extra ten minutes, likeable results would come as well.

+ +  Katebird (3rd): Won four flat races before ambling quietly through novice hurdles. She was placed on her handicap debut and again here, staying on strongly from two out. Despite being only four, she looks as if longer event, or perhaps a course with a stiff finish, is needed.

+  Sensible Friend (4th): Contesting his first handicap after a bumper and novice hurdle career not short of potential, a mistake two out stalled him as he tried to close on the leader. His yard is quiet at present so he may not have got there anyway, and he was a bit awkward at a few other hurdles, but the raw ability is there to be moulded.

+  Macksville (5th): Ex-flat and a bit on the small side, not asked for a lot in novice races, defeated tactically in this first handicap, may do better as eased down when obviously not making the first three.

+ Leoro (9th): Ex-flat, where rated 71 and had three wins. No response to first time blinkers, having usually had cheekpieces before, but other headgear options may work better.

+  Theydon Park (12th): A bumper winner at Huntingdon before going to Ireland and refusing to win for Joseph O’Brien. He has several decent hurdling attempts on his CV and is clearly better than this dreadful showing.

x   Really Super (2nd): To be pipped despite his yard being on the cold list does not look bad, and back on his hurdles debut he was beaten less than a length by flavour of this month Cubswin. However, his head carriage was very ungainly under pressure and he should really have passed Chimes Of Dylan. In the past we would have said he was clearly a monkey, but now we know it could be a wind problem. Either way, the prospects to go one better soon should be addressed pessimistically.
Chimes Of Dylan has the rest well strung out on the run-in, but he did start to tie up from here, Plugging on behind are Really Super, Sensible Friend, Macksville and Katebird

Race 6: Hirons Dooey Tiddesley Wood Mares’ Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Milan Of Crystal     2: Green Or Black     3: Shufoog

Winner owned & trained: Dave Roberts, ridden: Lee Edwards

Five runners and nobody, least of all bookmakers, could decide who was the obvious pick. Not long before the off, the typical book had odds of 11/4, 3/1, 4/1, 4/1, 6/1. However, it ended up with three co-favourites at 11/4, all of whom were seen off by the drifter, although 4/1 to 5/1 is not betting market krypton. That mare was Milan Of Crystal. Four horses came to the second last in a line, and the winner, having looked to have seized a key advantage at the last, was all out to ensure yet another defeat for Green Or Black. Before the race Milan Of Crystal did not look the best handicapped horse around, but her rivals tended to be in the same boat, so the thing that put most wind in her sails was the loss if the good to soft patches brought by the wet weather on Sunday and Monday. Now she will look even worse handicapped for taking a race that eventually unfolded to her convenience.

x  Green Or Black (2nd): It used to look like bad luck regarding what opposition was encountered, but now she has eight hurdle races that have produced five second places and two thirds, by an average of just under four lengths. She also was placed in three of eight flat runs. Wins stand at zero. Can your wallet really handle the damage?

x  The Crazed Moon (5th): Her supporters could predict that the better ground than that she has been meeting and failing on could be a difference maker here. It was not the case, and her effort in the home straight was all very tame. The inexplicable excitement over the recent lunar eclipse did not invigorate her.

Race 7: Pershore Tyres And Kumho Tyres Maiden Hurdle [2m]

1: Carntop     2: Cash In Mind     3: Blushing Red

Winner owned: The Duchess Of Cornwall & Chips Keswick, trained Jamie Snowden, ridden: Gavin Sheehan.

The card ended with a nondescript maiden hurdle, in which the first three handed out a bit of a bashing to the others. Blushing Red dashed off into a clear lead, had a breather and then went on again. With lessons learned from Chimes Of Dylan’s effort earlier, Carntop and Cash In Mind started the chase in plenty of time, and then we had a weird spell where both of those had a brief sighter of the front, only to let Blushing Red back there (possibly, as a strange angled viewpoint in the centre of the track had been chosen to help a quick getaway), From two out Carntop exerted his dominance. He was good enough on the flat - rated 98 - to see this lot off, and after a poor hurdles debut (admittedly in Grade 2 level) and a wind op, he has run better in the last two attempts. He will need to step it up in handicap company, but could find a weak bunch in a novices hurdle that he can bully under a penalty.

+  Cash In Mind (2nd): A four time flat winner, he has been a bit unpredictable in six hurdling attempts, but even if Carntop is destined to be an underachiever over jumps, this effort reminds us that this horse is not a forlorn hope for a win somewhere.
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