Fakenham, 4/12/17

This meeting was dominated by a steady stream of military planes over the course throughout the afternoon, leading to the splendid overheard conversation of “are they stealth fighters?” followed by “not unless you’re deaf.” It should have been obvious that something was up as driving past the Lakenheath airbase, lots of very happy nutters were scurrying around the perimeter fence, cameras at the ready. Obviously these people are classic British loons, and people driving 140 miles for a race meeting in the wilds of northern Norfolk clearly is not. What is needed for this journey is one of those planes (an Osprey?) that can rotate the angle of the rotors and behave like a helicopter. The miles would then just fly by…

Going: Soft, Good to Soft places

Race 1: Visit Palace House This Christmas Handicap Hurdle [2m 4f]

1: Mamoo     2: Astrum     3: Mullaghboy

Winner owned: The Ridgeway Racing For Fun Partnership, trained: Neil King, ridden: Trevor Whelan

As races go, it held no betting appeal at all, with all five runners carrying serious negatives about them. As a spectacle it ended with three horses scrapping out a slow motion finish and anyone carrying financial interest in the trio got a proper run for their money. The problem with Mamoo was that he had avoided soft ground before now and acted as if the word “quicken” was totally alien to him. In this instance, Astrum was on and off the bridle (in and out of interest?) and could not speed past him, and Mullaghboy did not quite deal with the extra half mile from his recent course win in even more modest and unreliable company. This happened and life will get tougher for them all.

x   Mamoo (1st): Found that he could out last the two challengers on this occasion – but whether he is to be depended on for a repeat is highly doubtful.
Mamoo goes to the post quite sedately, with Lightentertainment. He returned slightly faster, but only slightly.

Race 2: Injured Jockeys Fund For Christmas Presents Handicap Chase [2m 5f]

1: Cody Wyoming     2: Foundation Man     3: Newberry New

Winner owned: The Neardowners, trained: Charlie Mann, ridden: Harry Bannister

In the old days Cody Wyoming was always backable on a sharp track. These days you would still avoid him at non-sharp venues, but he has inserted a great deal of inconsistency into his adventures on supposedly favoured courses. After a sluggish jump a lap out Cody Wyoming had to be pushed along for a while, but then he remembered why he was there, picked up the bit again and was in control from the second last fence. Foundation Man had seemed to have become a bit moody about his racing, but he stuck on in vain for second, albeit much more slowly that the standard that he used to do with ease. The pair had the race to themselves over the last half lap. D’Nailor started favourite, oddly, as the yard was on a losing run of 55, but he pulled up lame. The cold streak was ended at Southwell shortly afterwards, so perhaps the betting market support was not as barmy as seemed at the time.

x   Postbridge (PU): Had run three times for the current yard and been thrashed every time. However, two were novice chases in which he was badly outclassed and there had to be chance of a big improvement now in a realistic handicap. It did not come.
D’Nailor and Foundation Man in front at some part of the race that cannot now be recalled. That’s The Deal and Newberry New are next.

Race 3: West Street North Creake Novices’ Hurdle [2m 4f]

1: Classic Ben     2: Ballinslea Bridge     3: Craigmor

Winner owned; The Lavendon Partnership, trained; Stuart Edmunds, ridden: Ciaran Gethings

Only four took part but three of them made it a very interesting race. The way that it was played out was highly unimpressive, but let us not assume that the first two in particular cannot get their act together, as both were in the first race graduated from bumpers. Ballinslea Bridge led, and jumped right from the beginning. Initially Classic Ben went round on his outside, which seemed to be asking for trouble. However, for the fourth hurdle he sat in behind the leader and followed him right (this IS different to be being carried that way, honestly). From then on, he switched to the inner, but went right with Ballinslea Bridge anyway. Is this his natural tendency, or did Classic Ben just assume that Ballinslea Bridge knew what he was doing and should be copied? Two from home Classic Ben was making hard work of building a lead, but he finally jumped a couple fairly straight and won by a length and a half. A glimpse of the future?

+ +   Craigmor (3rd): Won an Irish point, then finished eighth in a bumper, but by only nine lengths. The hurdle debut had been quieter, but after a mistake at the last he was eased down and was not as inferior to the first two as a fourteen lengths loss implies. Handicaps will be interesting.

+   Classic Ben (1st): Finished second in a nice Sandown bumper and hopefully he will know enough to make this look less confusing in future.

+   Ballinslea Bridge (2nd): Lost his bumpers by a length (Fakenham) and a head (Bangor), both on good going. He needs to sort out his jumping, which should have cost him a lot had Classic Ben not joined in the fun. The basic physical talent exists.

Race 4: Simon Bell Memorial Handicap Hurdle [2m 7.5f]

1: Saucysioux     2: Polarbrook     3: Walter Oneeightone

Winner owned: Olly Murphy Racing Club, trained: Olly Murphy, ridden: Richard Johnson

Since switching to blinkers, Saucysioux had won two staying handicaps with ease, and as the second was a conditional riders race, she had no penalty for that. Consequently she was only eleven pounds higher in the handicap for wins by a combined thirty-eight lengths. Make that three for fifty-two. Walteroneeightone was the only horse to put up a serious fight, and the energy he spent allowed Polarbrook to grab second by a whisker right on the line. So the winner makes it a cakewalk, yet the next three home have barely a length between them. Oh, the each-way tension could be cut with a knife.

x   Phare Isle (5th): Everything here was in his favour, including a small field and a course and distance where he had two wins. So to be last, and destined for that from quite a long way out was most disappointing. The only possible excuse was that getting brought down after about a mile meant that his tune up run was too tuneless for today’s purposes.

Race 5: EPDS Racing Welfare BTO Series 2017 Handicap Chase [2m 0.5f]

1: Bajardo     2: Yourholidayisover     3: Gin And Tonic

Winner owned: Mrs MJ Arnold, trained; Emma-Jane Bishop, ridden: James Banks

A strange race, just like the armada of grey aliens that beset our planet from light years away and yet can only communicate via the medium of kidnapping and vivisection. Hence the display of air power all afternoon. Despite none of the seven runners usually showing any inclination to front run, the field set off for first fence as if pursued by the little grey chaos wielding scalpels and anal probes. Most of them made some sort of mistake there and favourite Lovely Bubbly pulled up before the second, where one or two were still a bit sticky. At halfway Ulis De Vassy hit the deck, leaving Gin And Tonic a few lengths clear – which his chase history told us would not last. Bajardo hit the front at the tenth fence, but Yourholidayisover was going ominously well, and went ahead at the last. Once over it, he downed tools completely (again!) and let the labouring Bajardo take back a narrow win.

+   Gin And Tonic (3rd): His previous two races in cheekpieces had resulted in pulling up, so to get round here was progress, and he did not jump like a hippo, which had been the case last time. It might still go horribly wrong, but compared to hurdling, the handicap mark is very appealing.

x x   Yourholidayisover (2nd): The mystery now is why he occasionally (well, twice in sixty races) has chosen not to surrender woefully after the final obstacle. This is definitely his default setting.

Empire: Brother Bennett (4th): Got away with this course a couple of weeks ago, but at full speed throughout he could not deal with the tight bends and his pop and gallop on jumping does not give a chance to make up ground lost on the turns. Norfolk’s finest is off of the agenda.
Bajardo (1) gets it more or less spot on and Changing The Guard is only slightly awry. Behind them Brother Bennett (5) and Yourholidayisover and not terribly accurate

Race 6: Racing Partnership Juvenile Hurdle [2m]

1: Oxford Blu     2: Staff College     3: Oceanus

Winner owned: Geegeez Co Uk Om, trained: Olly Murphy, ridden: Richard Johnson

As expected at this time of year, the race was populated by a mixed bunch. Oxford Blu may only have been a mid-range handicapper, but he had finished (?) there with a second and a win, at Chester, and he carried it all over to hurdling, winning in comfort. Chunky Staff College handled the track better than might have been feared, but was left toiling by Oxford Blu and would probably have only been third if Oceanus had not clobbered the final hurdle.

+ +   Oxford Blu (1st): Did all that could be asked, and as a stayer on the flat, he should not be limited to two milers.

+   Oceanus (3rd): From sixteen flat races his only win was a selling handicap, but odds of 33/1 here seemed to be out of kilter with what he had the potential to offer. Losing by twenty-one lengths might allow such generous offers to continue.
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