Fontwell, 19/11/17

This is both an irritating and enjoyable meeting. The main bugbear is the Southern National and the way that the course try to make out that it is a major event of the jumps season, when in fact it is a 0-140 staying chase with a £20,000 prize fund. No big deal in the grand scheme of things, but a nice prize if you have a suitable horse for it. It has been part of a movement in which certain racecourses have greedily devalued the concept of the “National” as a prime staying handicap chase. The plus is that aside from those reservations, the Southern National is usually a jolly entertaining race, and this one was no exception.

Also, there is a possible theme for the season developing. At Wincanton recently a slightly portly mare won a competitive novice hurdle impressively. Today a very chubby mare won the Southern National. In coming months, stick with tubby mares, for the gods of racing have declared that it shall be their season.

And finally, stats. With most of the top riders at Cheltenham, three riders stood out for excellent winning rates at Fontwell despite never having the pick of the pack. David Noonan (13/54, 24%) won on two of his four rides, Sean Bowen (9/39, 23%) won on one of three rides and Harry Bannister (5/21, 24%) only had one ride, which did not win.

Going: Good to Soft

Race 1: Toteplacepot Novices’ Handicap Hurdle [2m 5.5f]

1: Wells Gold     2: Quiz Master     3: Cheque En Blanc

Winner owned & trained: Fergal O’Brien, ridden: Alain Cawley

Several talking points emerged here. Firstly another market plunge on Cheque En Blanc went astray. Secondly, the collective jumping skills of the runners left a lot to be desired. Thirdly, there was a late rush of money on Wells Gold, who had not previously shown any special aptitude for hurdling. At the inevitable enquiry, the stable representative explained the improved form as “stable horses are all running well and horse benefitted from racing more prominently.” The first of those observations is perfectly true. The second can cynically be read to mean “we were actually trying this time.” With only half a length in it at the finish, Quiz Master may well have upset the apple cart if his jumping were a bit more efficient.

+   Quiz Master (2nd): A nice big lump typical of the Colin Tizzard team, he has shown up much better since moving into handicaps and he will make a nice chaser, as long as we utilise the cliché of “should respect big fences a bit more.”

+   Dahills Hill (7th): She has shown ability for this level in Ireland, but this was her first race in Britain. Fitness was not a problem, but she may not yet have settled in to her new base, or possibly she needs soft/heavy ground. Give her another chance.

x   Cheque En Blanc (3rd): The money has been down as if expected to be at his best in the last two runs, and he has performed solidly but been defeated in both. Where is the improvement to come from?

Race 2: Mike Brogan’s 40th Birthday Juvenile Hurdle [2m 1.5f]

1: Jukebox Jive     2: Lisp     3: Quothquan

Winner owned: RW Huggins, trained: Anthony Honeyball, ridden: David Noonan

By Fontwell standards this could turn out to be an above average race. Thounder, who finished fourth and seemed to struggle with a high weight, had won two hurdles in reasonably encouraging style and all of the three hurdles debutants that beat him had good vibes in their flat form. Jukebox Jive has a flat rating of 97 and wins at 1, 6f and 2m 2f, so if anything this was on the sharp side for him. It did, however, allow him to outstay the hard pulling Lisp, who only had three runs on the level but got beaten barely a length in one of them. And although from a less high profile yard, Quothquan had a flat mark of 79 and a couple of wins, including 1m 6f recently.

+   Jukebox Jive (1st): Did the job well, and presumably connections will be looking for even longer races as soon as possible.

+   Quothquan (3rd): Made an error at the sixth and although it did not immediately knock him out of the race, it surely contributed to him running out of puff at the last hurdle. He should be able to get this job working for him.

+   Lisp (2nd): Pulled absurdly hard and yet still kept chipping away at Jukebox Jive (in vain) all the way to the line. He can get this right when his head is working right.

x   Lisp (2nd): If he does not sort his brain function out, the talent to make a hurdler will go frustratingly undeployed.
Jukebox Jive is allowed to lead by Rubettes fan Acaro. Cloud Hopper, Ladofash and impatient Lisp follow. Then Quothquan and Thounder keep Master Billie hidden.

Race 3: John Rogerson Memorial Novices’ Handicap Chase [2m 5.5f]

1: Markov     2: Private Malone     3: Lithic

Winner owned: ARW Marsh, trained: Ben Pauling, ridden: Tom Bellamy

The field of six was the smallest on the card, but with the first four battling it out from the final bend and only having five lengths covering them at the line, the entertainment held up as well as any of the other races. Markov, in his first chase, showed all of his jumping inexperience in the early stages of the race, but he got his act together, pounced on the leaders at the final obstacle and stayed on readily up the run-in. Private Malone once finished second in a three horse chase, splitting Silsol and Minella Rocco, but the fact that he was in here off of 124 showed that he set himself a standard that was not sustainable. He did nothing wrong, but whether he can do any better is uncertain – and third place Lithic is from a yard that is not really on tip-top form. The two not involved in the finished has stories to tell. Coillte Lass was struck into and Robin Of Locksley lost a shoe.

+   Markov (1st): Improved his skills as the race went on and as he stayed three miles over hurdles, a longer race may well serve his needs better.

+   Walt (4th): Has run well first time out in defeat for the last two seasons and repeated the trick. He was not too bad in his first look at jumping, with just a couple of minor errors, and he can progress from this respectable kick off. This distance was probably a fraction too far.

x   Robin Of Locksley (PU): Weakened from the twelfth and pulled up, with the loss of a shoe being reported. It should not be ignored that he did not jump very well from the start, presumably when operating with all four shoes.
With rare good timing, Markov (6) is pictured after he has settled to the job. Coillte Lass is in front of him, Lithic beyond him.

Race 4: Totepool Southern National Handicap Chase [3m 3.5f]

1: Cresswell Breeze    2: Cyclop     3: Rathlin Rose

Winner owned: Bright N Breezy, trained: Anthony Honeyball, ridden: Sean Bowen

Five horses jumped the second last in a line, which was a bit surprising as one or two of these did their best to blunder away the chance of victory. The energy wasted on that was shown by the fact that the two who surged clear were the pair who managed a blemish free round. Cresswell Breeze was, as noted above, rather fat-looking in the paddock and she is better on soft or heavy ground. The win here would imply that with a bit of rain, she can offer more next time. Cyclop came here with his stamina and jumping skills open to question/ridicule. What he did was show improvement in both and the ugly as sin silks that his jockey is cursed to wear perhaps distracts and annoys the opposition.

+ +   Cresswell Breeze (1st): She will go up in the weights for this, but improved fitness and wetter going will give her every chance of coping.

+   Rathlin Rose (3rd): Won both military races at Sandown last season and might have found this race a little bit too long for his liking, but he did a good job of setting himself up for the season, with a repeat run at last season’s double viable and ideal, as he has never won a handicap.

x   Shelford (5th): Nothing about this race especially counted against him but he was being ridden along with a mile to go. And as he was rushed, his jumping suffered. It is not an irrecoverable flop but it is a disappointment from a horse that tends to be very consistent, and sets a fear that he is due for a spell of consistency at the bad end of the performance scale.

x   Fergal Mael Dun (6th): Defied stamina fears to finish second in this last year (beating today’s opponents Cyclop, Morney Wing and Mosspark) but his form went through the floor afterwards. He lost this by much less, but woeful jumping prevented him being any form of threat.
Cresswell Breeze is extremely pleased with herself but Sean Bowen squeezes in a needed forty winks

Race 5: Toteexacta Salmon Spray Handicap Hurdle [2m 1.5f]

1: Raven’s Tower     2: Lettheriverrundry     3: Remiluc

Winner owned: Faithful Friends, trained: Ben Pauling, ridden: James Banks

Before the race, it was almost impossible to select one of the nine runners with any sense of conviction (raving lunatics excluded from this generalisation) and after the race it was not certain that we were any the wiser. Raven’s Tower is a bit too much in love with coming second, but breaks his mould occasionally and today was one of them. The stewards looked into his hanging right on the run-in and interfering with Lettheriverrundry, but Raven’s Tower is a tiddler and the runner-up is built to knock down brick walls, so had there been any contact, it is hard to imagine Lettheriverrundry suffering too much. The first time tongue tie helped him in the race, but he would get the note “crying out for fences” had he not already tried it and failed at the job. Remiluc won this race last year, but a rating today of 135 is just over a stone higher and it meant a heroic defeat was the best he could offer.

+   Great Tempo (7th): Went round on the inner, but got squeezed up and nearly forced off of the track approaching the final bend. He was snatched up to avoid disaster and never recovered, so has every chance of a better run next time. His only win was a three horse Hexham race at odds of 1/25, but amongst the flops is non-shambles at Sandown and his rating of 115 is finally creeping towards functional.

x   Billbushay (PU): Despite being sixteen months without a race he started favourite. For most the way he shaped as if getting in the mix at the business end was likely. Then he stopped very quickly approaching the second last and was pulled up before the final hurdle.

Race 6: Totetrifecta Handicap Hurdle [2m 3f]

1: Soulsaver     2: Sixties Idol     3: Bennachie

Winner owned: RJ Matthews, trained: Anthony Honeyball, ridden: David Noonan

Another race that was shaping as if a close multi-horse finish was on the way, but saw the first pair see out the event much more strongly than the ex-challengers. After a poor start to his racing career the conversion to handicaps had seen Soulsaver prove himself much more competitive, and this win was about due. His third over 2m 5.5f here seemed to be a stamina related failure, and the shorter race got a big thumbs up. However, his perceived staying power was what allowed him to keep a surprisingly stubborn Sixties Idol at arms length. Bennachie ran well for 2m 1f and finished the race in gruesomely unhelpful style, and he probably regrets that Be Daring and Shadow Blue got within a length of him and he failed to let them pass.

x   Bennachie (3rd): After his defeat at Plumpton to a handicap blot converting from point-to-points, we were complimentary to this horse. Today he was right up there with every chance at the second last hurdle, but proved a very awkward customer under pressure and weakened rather tamely.

x   Be Daring (4th): As noted above, he surprisingly failed to nick third from Bennachie, but his overall career would suggest that he has a strong polite streak that makes him shy of overtaking.

Race 7: Goring Hotel Handicap Chase [2m 5.5f]

1: Spiritofchartwell     2: Lord Aldervale     3: Goring One

Winner owned: Mrs KH York, trained: Phil York, ridden: Katy Lyons

The last race on a winter Sunday afternoon has a sense of desperation about it, and when it is a 0-100 handicap that vibe is not easily raised. This race fitted the bill to a tee, and only four of the eight completed, with two of them well behind the main pair. In this company, Spiritofchartwell’s consistency of good results is quite a strong weapon and it paid off. Stepping up in trip was a potential negative (despite pointing wins) and after appearing to have pinched the race easily, but he tied up after the last and Lord Aldervale, who had made the running until the home stretch, rallied and nearly got up.

  Lord Aldervale (2nd): This took his score under Rules to 0/29 and was comfortably his nearest miss. After a much better display of jumping in his last couple of runs, we feel thoroughly sorry for him when he misses out so narrowly. But it is not safe to imagine that he soon goes one better.

x   Goring One (3rd): Had just about the perfect race for him – sponsored by his owner – but his thirteenth birthday nears and the age showed.

x x   Minella Web (PU): Jumping the third last it was inconceivable that he was not in the first three, and a possibly he may win it. By the next, which is not a long run, he was losing touch on the first two and out on his feet. He was wisely pulled up without taking on the last. Having dashed away and not heard the post-race announcements, anything under than injury would make it a most ominous showing.

x x   Indy Island (PU): Based on her last few runs, remaining loyalists must be thin on the ground, but for those that do exist, this must surely prove that she has completely lost interest.
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