Catterick, 24/11/17

This was the second ever visit to Catterick, a long time after the first, and nothing much had been changed. Some things, however, had been forgotten.

a) The jumps course is beyond the flat course, so jumps fans are a bit detached from the action – although at least the stands are not set miles back as well, as per Newbury.

b) The choice of catering for a small course is good, and admirably individual.

c) The sun faces the stands. In summer the high sun makes this no more than an irritation. In winter the low sun is right in the eyes, so only one or two horses can be tracked down the far side.

d) The crowds would be greater if only fewer potential attendees were slaughtered en route. A few years ago Jeremy Clarkson was castigated for accusing lorry drivers of murdering prostitutes. Where he was wrong was narrowing down the range of victims. This all started when close three days earlier to some dangerous driving by a Tesco HGV on the way back from Fakenham. After leaving Market Rasen, a Marks & Spencers lorry on the A1 indulged in moderately homicidal activity. Later on a Coates lorry upped the game by trying to change lanes in a two lane part of the A1 with vehicles alongside – twice. And on the way back it was a Fisher Food Services lorry doing the same. We all know that an overpopulated country in an overpopulated world can spare a few people, but the country is united in faith that the expendable ones are useless hipster poseurs (and in their deepest heart of hearts, the hipsters know it as well), not racegoers. So, if you do know someone who has recently gained an HGV licence, the top item on your list for Father Christmas should be a catsuit made from Kevlar.

Going: Good to Soft

Race 1: Jump Season Starts Now Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle [2m 3.5f]

1: Romulus Du Donjon     2: Manny Owens     3: Allfredandnobell

Winner owned: Major General C Ramsay & R Roberts

A bit of tunnel vision for the race title, ignoring goings on outside North Yorkshire. And tunnel vision sufficed for the race, with the first two well clear of the rest. Both represented stables on the cold list. The decision came down to Rose Dobbin (Romulus Du Donjon) being slightly cold and Jonjo O’Neill (Manny Owens) very very cold. It is very easy to imagine that were the stable firing Manny Owens would have been able to run the race a quarter of a second faster, which would have sufficed for the win. But maybe not, as the stable broke the losing run just over an hour later, at Ffos Las. The rest were very distant. The paddock pick was outsider Wolfslair, but exiting the hubbub of the Gordon Elliott set up has not so far seen him cheer up at all, and he was beaten miles.

+   Dulce Panem (4th): Made a decent British debut at Carlisle, but took a step backwards this time in a slightly longer race. He failed to win in plenty of attempts in France, but the hunch is that something will be found for him over here. No idea what it is.

x   Allfredandnobel (3rd): Won a maiden hurdle in January, but has not managed repeat the form. At a time of day where it had not yet warmed up fully he got a bit sweaty, and not too much needs to be read into this third place.
Romulus Du Donjon - spots the coffee stand and wants to celebrate with a latte

Race 2: Racing UK Profits Returned To Racing Handicap Chase [2m 3f]

1: Middlebrow     2: Oak Vintage     3: King Golan

Winner owned: TG Leslie, trained: Donald McCain, ridden: Will Kennedy

This was a case of the first pair telling the first and second in the opener that anything they could do, we can do better. The wide margin back to the pack was even greater here. The only runner in any sort of functional recent form was Oak Vintage, who inevitably started favourite, and duly got beaten by Middlebrow, whose only previous chase was a rather shambolic failure. Oak Vintage went through the motions again and duly got a place unimpressively. Third may well have gone to Roman Numeral, who fell at the last fence. He was quite tired at the time, and it is definitely possible that the once tailed off King Golan may have reeled him in on the run-in.

+   Middlebrow (1st): Held no appeal on his only other chase run, but he showed a lot of improvement in his skills here, and going on to more success is actually an option and showed a bit more stamina here as well.

x x   Christmas Twenty (PU): There are things in his hurdles form (winless hurdles form, it should be noted) that continue to appeal, but in chases he has seven chase runs which include pulling up in four and being tailed off twice more.
King Golan leads the way into the final circuit, monitored by Oak Vintage. Middlebrow is third, pursued with a sort of zest by Minella Suite, Roman Numeral and My Idea

Race 3: Watch Racing UK Anywhere Novices’ Hurdle [2m 3.5f]

1: Espoir De Teillee     2: Jack Devine     3: Blairs Cove

Winner owned: RS Brookhouse, trained: Neil Mulholland, ridden: Blairs Cove

Espoir De Teille put in an impressive win on hurdles debut, jumping a bit carefully at times, but doing nothing seriously wrong. In contrast Blairs Cove, who was with him at the time but not travelling as sweetly, clouted the second last hurdle and soon weakened after it, leading to him losing second place to Jack Devine who stayed on without ever having posed a huge threat to Espoir De Teillee. It would appear that Blairs Cove really knocked he stuffing out of himself with the error and did not put up his true form.

+ +   Espoir De Teillee (1st): Will need stop getting in close and jumping slowly at his hurdles if he is to progress, but there seems to be a great deal more ability present than would be expected for an average midweek novice hurdle. As he lost his Irish point due to a fall when he likely winner, continued indifferent agility would lead to a rapid retreat from initial optimism. He also looked as if he would come on a bit for the run.

+ +   Jack Devine (2nd): Won three Irish points, he had done an OK job on hurdles debut and showed ability again. He may need to wait for chases, but handicap hurdling is also an option, especially if the handicapper does not take his beating a 130-rated horse in Blairs Cove – who conceded him twelve pounds – too literally.

+   Black Art (4th): A nice medium sized stocky horse of the type that Sue Smith habitually finds success with, he was close second in a lesser race at Hexham last time, and somewhere down the line, this effort may not look too bad.
Espoir De Teillee has enough post-race energy to wonder why somebody is standing in such a stupid place to try and photograph him

Race 4: Go Racing In Yorkshire Winter Festival Handicap Chase [3m 1f]

1: Delusionofgrandeur     2: Thumb Stone Blues     3: Strongly Suggested

Winner owned: Mcgoldrick Racing 3, trained: Sue Smith, ridden: Danny Cook

A win here took Delusionofgrandeur into official Catterick specialist territory, with four visits seeing him win four times – three wins is unofficial specialist, but popularly taken as enough. The problem for him is that he was carrying 11-12 in a reasonable quality 0-135 race, so all of the staying success here will soon have carried outside the range of races that Catterick stages. Fortunately he has won at Wetherby and Hexham as well. Thumb Stone Blues just got the better of a scrap for second with Strongly Suggested, but it unfolded slowly and some horses that had been tailed off on the final bend ended up in a bunch from second to fifth that were split by only a couple of lengths.

  Strongly Suggested (3rd): Has won ten times, but nine have been on good or good to firm, so his performance on ground that tests his tolerance was rather decent. All but one win were also from significantly lower handicap marks.

x   Thumb Stone Blues (2nd): In fourteen runs, he has only been out of the first three once (a Punchestown Festival bumper) and has won three times. But the nagging doubt is that eight second places is telling a tale of limited commitment.

UK Jumping Selections -Total Assets (5th): Finished the race quite close to the action, but never seemed to have more than a place in reach. He should be spot on when connections find a race back at Kelso.

Race 5: Injured Jockeys Fund Novices’ Hurdle [1m 7.5f]

1: Rockalzaro     2: The Steward     3: Parthenius

Winner owned: Firstservesolutions Ltd, trained: Donald McCain, ridden: Will Kennedy

A race not short of numbers but apparently modest in quality. The battle for a long way was between the two most obviously talented contenders and Rockalzaro, the second favourite, came out on top. Like his stablemake earlier, Parthenius finished rather tamely and was beaten for second place late on.

+   The Steward (2nd): Debuting over hurdles after more than fifteen months off, he was a 96-rated flat horse and showed that some degree of that talent has been retained. With the power of hindsight, 16/1 on a horse rated so highly in a modest race should have been exploited, but he had been an all-weather specialist on the flat.

x   Jacbequick (5th): Rated 81 on the flat, he was a six time winner there, but his best distance was just short of a mile and we have two hurdle races that leave his stamina open to question, well, open to dismissal.
Inexplicably grim faces after Rockalzaro's win - the horse is impishly pleased that he has annoyed the humans

Race 6: Come Racing New Year’s Day Beginners’ Chase [2m 3f]

1: Divine Spear     2: Alzammaar     3: Ramonex

Winner owned: Middleham Park Racing LXII, trained: Nicky Henderson, ridden: Brian Hughes

Ahead of the race this was a choice between the potential of chase debutant Divine Spear and the had-a-go-and-did-it-well Alzammaar, rated fractionally higher. The runners did a decent job of chasing and Divine Spear came out on top, putting the race to bed two out and not having to have a hard time on the run-in. Close behind Alzammaar was Ramonex, who had been horrendously tailed off on his chase debut, and makes us wonder if the form should be taken literally. Wait and see.

x  Valgor Du Ronceray (4th): Beaten thirteen lengths, his big plus was finishing as his past chase record was F2U3U. A completion was due and he will also have fight fear and superstition next time. Note that he is not foot perfect when completing.

Race 7: Racing Again 19th December Intermediate Open National Hunt Flat Race [1m 7.5f]

1: I’m To Blame     2: Going Gold     3: Return Ticket

Winner owned: Paul & Clare Rooney, trained: Keith Dalgleish, ridden: Craig Nichol

The form of those with racing experience was quite mediocre, leading to the favourite being Lough Ryn, who had been fifteen lengths fourth in a Naas bumper. It was not a surprise therefore that the three newcomers to racing, all from yards that are not averse to winning bumpers, end up first, third and fourth. The fifth had won a bumper in the past but was returning from two years off. The fact that the quintet were well clear of the rest may be a good sign – like the previous race it is best to let time tell us what this all means (other than the meeting is over, we go home, and perhaps do not leave it another twenty-five years before a return visit).

+   I’m To Blame (1st), Return Ticket (3rd), It’s Buster (4th): An interesting set of racing debuts. It would be nice if all three did good stuff from here on in, but probably we should expect one to have a good future, one a bad future and one an indifferent future.

+   Going Gold (4th): Won an Irish point but did not flourish in a couple of bumpers for Rebecca Curtis. Did a move to Richard Hobson cause improvement, or did the journey up from Gloucestershire find him in an easier race.
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