There were not too many people there to bestow adulation upon the winner, so Lisp milks every drop of glory that is possible.

Race 2: Handicap Chase [2m 3.5f]

1: Native Robin     2: Jarlath     3: Bramble Brook

Winner owned: The Punchestown Syndicate, trained: Jeremy Scott, ridden: Nick Scholfield

This proved to be a smashing race, with five of the six runners in contention turning off of the final bend and Le Curieux still in touch, if travelling with no conviction. From the second last they tended to handle things with different degrees of comfort, meaning that the final margins did not reflect the way the outcome was prepared. Native Robin dashed away from the last obstacle with verve and panache, and has hit a warm spell of form that allowed him to be more effective than usual on a sharp bends format, whereas Jarlath was much more laboured and probably would not have been second had Bramble Brook avoided thumping the second last. Cody Wyoming lost his pitch coming off of the all-weather bend back onto mud and whilst he kept on gamely, it never seemed enough to return to the lead. Darebin was probably in second approaching the final jump but faded into fifth over a race distance that he is unproven with.

+   Darebin (5th): Seemed to stay 2m 4f at his first try, which was on good to soft, but now that he encountered genuinely testing ground stamina let him down. Up to 2m 2f on this sort of surface makes him an appealing option in the near future as he ran better than the final result suggests.

x   Bramble Book (3rd): Reverted to his no-win policy after an accidental let down last time in a weaker race. The tongue tie has brought better efforts but he still is hard to trust.
This is the state of the course after two races, when a mere twelve horses had used it. Sadly after this, putting the camera settings back to those of action shots in bad light were forgotten and the photo quality became as bad as the ground.

Race 3: Marigold Somerset At 90 Handicap Hurdle [2m 5.5f]

1: Fourth Act     2: Theo’s Charm     3: I See You Well

Winner owned: Wendy & Malcolm Hezel, trained: Colin Tizzard, ridden: Harry Cobden

With tiresome predictability the cobblers started here, with Fourth Act’s victory being attributed to a wind op even before he had crossed the line. This ignored the fact that a) he had three previous wins, b) he was handicapped on 118 here and has won from 126 in the past, c) the only opponent to have even raced over this far in the past, on any ground, was Theo’s Charm and d) two races before the wind operation he was capable of a seven lengths third in a Grade 3 handicap chase at Cheltenham, and managed two similar runs in late 2016 at major courses. So the wind op could have helped, or Fourth Act might have won this anyway unless a bizarre side effect of the wind op is to make him more ready to handle tight turns. Theo’s Charm has had some chasing misfortune lately but got a bit of spark back on a course that suits him, and the threat from I See You Well dissipated very quickly from the second last – another reason to wonder if the wind op had any effect on the result.

+   Theo’s Charm (2nd): Took his sharp track record to 311232, and it would appear to be a good idea to explore this route more frequently.

+   I See You Well (3rd): Taken wide in search of better ground, that often works here, but conditions had gone beyond it being a help. He had every chance and even a slight lead two out, only for stamina to let him down completely – his 2m 4.5f hurdle win was on good to firm, and as a chaser the best runs have been at around 2 miles. In muddy ground he can bounce back in a shorter race. He also may have a bit of a thing for undulating tracks – the evidence is not yet conclusive.

Race 4: Happy Birthday Mike / Moira Darvill Remembrance Handicap Chase [3m 2f]

1: Mount Oliver     2: For Carmel     3: Goring One

Winner owned: C Hallahan, trained: Neil Mulholland, ridden: Tom Scudamore

Even with eleven runners taking part, it was expected that a 0-100 staying chase in these conditions would be run at a slow pace with completion aforethought. Not so, as a few were keen to get on with it. Only five did finish, and the first four, who were well clear of the other, were either at or near the front throughout. A case of either you enjoyed it or you took your medicine – four departed en route involuntarily – and Mount Oliver surged up the run in as if this were the greatest entertainment of his life. Strange animal, considering that he has refused in a chase when in Ireland. This was the first time that any ability to run a race from start to finish had been shown, having been tailed off even when finishing third. Easy option – credit the extreme ground conditions. For Carmel jumped really well and at times it carried him to the front, but in the final sprint (or facsimile thereof) he was not up to conceding seventeen pounds to the winner. Goring One failed with honour to complete his hat trick. Adding cheekpieces to a horse less than a month before he turns twelve is quite unusual, but in this case it has worked a treat. He was weighted to finish about level with Colmers Hill, but that horse fell at fence fourteen – not his first mistake, although the others had been fairly minor ones. Mini-mare Leith Hill Legasi set the pace and even once headed she plugged onwards with some resolve.

Side note: With the bigger field, prize money went down to eighth place here, but third got £486.54 and everything from fourth to eighth was on £450. Some form of rewarding a better finish, even if only £25 per position would seem to make more sense.

+   For Carmel (2nd): From a yard that has a knack for finding winnable class 5 handicap chases, he put up the sort of performance to show that he could do it, improving nicely on his chase debut. Fewer opponents or perhaps more normal wet ground will help.

x   Colmers Hill (Fell): Got top weight but had two decent runs coming back from twenty months off. His jumping was not spot on, and it is a bit of a warning that developing on the two comeback places may not be totally straight forward for him.

x   Goosen Maverick (Unseated): Finished third in a bad race on heavy last time, but most of his career has been spent avoiding the worst mud – his win came on good to soft. He was losing touch when he landed awkwardly and unseated at the fifteenth, and he looks opposable on heavy, maybe on soft too.

Race 5: Injured Jockeys Fund Novices’ Hurdle [2m 5.5f]

1: Melrose Boy     2: Now Listen Here     3: Boola River

Winner owned: Paul & Clare Rooney, trained: Harry Fry, ridden: Noel Fehily

It was noticed in his past four runs that Melrose Boy had either blundered at the final hurdle and/or hung badly late in his races. The level of form set was quite high, but the reason to worry existed. In a race against three much inferior opponents, Noel Fehily is a jockey that we have to trust not to indulge in any keep the winning margin to a minimum phaffing about, and the race was put to bed by the second last. However, there were signs that Melrose Boy is not strong on concentration, so expect headgear to feature soon if he fails to buck his ideas up. Now Listen Here was beaten fifty lengths, but ran better than that until the final hurdle, failing to stay but just holding off Boola River for second place.

Race 6: Racing Welfare Handicap Chase [2m 2f]

1: Atlantic Roller     2: Keel Haul     3: Gores Island

Winner owned: DS Dennis, trained: Chris Gordon, ridden: James Bowen

There was a chance that this race could get silly as two of the quartet taking part were committed front runners (one other habitual leader was a non-runner, on grounds of applying common sense?) but Atlantic Roller was allowed an uncontested time in front. It did seem that he was more manic than was entirely necessary, but when Keel Haul briefly deprived him of the lead approaching the last, Atlantic Roller fought back the tide that was going against him and won by three lengths in the end. Gores Island travelled through the race as if looking down on the others in complete confidence of his own superiority, but found nothing at all under pressure and quickly got left well behind the first two, only holding third because Mullaghboy’s rider had accepted defeat two fences out and could not get the horse going enough to pass the walking third. In fairness, Mullaghboy had repeated the sporadic mistakes of his other two chase races and riding to finish was a valid option to take. Also, he probably felt left out by having no maritime theme to his name when the water was abundant.

+   Atlantic Roller (1st): Had not won since late-2012, but in those five years and a bit he only had twenty races, and when he is able to dominate a small field, as per here, there have been a few near misses. Expect the odd similar opportunity to be snaffled.

x   Mullaghboy (4th): Has some things still to learn about the art of jumping fences.

x x   Gores Island (3rd): Sharp tracks are not ideal but this implosion happened long after the final turn. He has shown an ability to handle heavy in the past, so there is another excuse ruled out. The inability to liven up despite a drop through the grades does hint that he has rather lost interest in racing.

UK-Jumping Selection: Keel Haul (2nd): At face value, he was shaping as the winner when he hit the last and suffered a critical deceleration at a time when he could ill afford it. But bear in mind that this distance is a touch further than his best, so he may have lost anyway.

Race 7: Spode, Mole, Twiglet, & Dibbler Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race [1m 5.5f]

1: Fontsanta     2: Bang On     3: The Flying Sofa

Winner owned: Tim Syder, trained: Emma Lavelle, ridden: Leighton Aspell

The short price loser came at the very end, in a race that may be better than would be expected in the combination of course and going. The Flying Sofa had set a high standard on debut when a close third in listed company at Ascot. The two opponents with racecourse form had shown nothing, but all three newcomers were interesting – at least until seeing them in the paddock. Bang On (hooded) has some nice relations, although they tend to be slower developing stayers and he came from a yard that tends to not care about winning bumpers. Also hooded, Fontsanta’s yard do win bumpers, and he cost over £100,000 at the sales. He looked the right type but still quite physically under developed and in need of time to grow up. Thank You Before, a stablemate of The Flying Sofa, has some talented close relations as well, and ones excelling on more speed type races, but she needed the run. In the end, the decisive thing was weather-related. Due to conditions, the hurdles were not removed and the runners had to go round them. Large parts of the course were dolled off to save ground, meaning that this diversion made for some very tight squeezes between winging and dolling. Fontsanta and Bang On led into the straight and two horses side by side were able to block off any progress from behind them at various stages. The horse to suffer was The Flying Sofa, who was third but only beaten about a length.

+   Fontsanta, Bang On, The Flying Sofa (1st, 2nd, 3rd): In a race steadily run due to the addition of heavier rain to existing mud and not much room to manoeuvre, they did not thrash the other trio but did enough to merit continued attention.

Fontwell, 21/1/18

A Sunday afternoon in which a very small group of people gathered at Fontwell to watch some horses race. The rumour was that the course would inspect after race three and perhaps have a rethink on raceworthiness, but watching snowbound Chelmsford, waterlogged Pau and Thurles (additional lake obstacle inserted by nature on the day) perhaps shamed Fontwell into keeping going. Also, the rain staying fairly light prior to the final race helped. It could have been very different had it come earlier.

Racegoers also may have found it to be topical (not tropical) to consider a critique of the work of The Eagles.

Don’t your feet get cold in the wintertime [No, it was not that cold, and I have some functional boots]

The sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine [Actually it was snowing when I set off, and days like this, with 100% thick cloud cover but no snow are actually quite common]

It’s hard to tell the night time from the day [Not if you are paying attention]

Going: Heavy

Race 1: Call Star Sports On 08000 521321 Novices’ Hurdle [2m 1.5f]

1: Lisp     2: Angel Of Harlem     3: Airtight

Winner owned: Mr & Mrs R Kelvin-Hughes, trained: Alan King, ridden: Wayne Hutchinson

The two novice hurdles and one bumper on the card all had odds-on favourites heading our way, and the nature of racing is that one of them is going to get in trouble in the very heavy ground. Lisp had arguably the most interesting opponent in Airtight, who had shown bumper ability and was down in grade from his hurdles debut, but she herself had beaten a subsequent winner, Knockanuss, on soft, heavy places, at Plumpton and thus appeared well equipped to handle conditions. She was as untroubled as could be reasonably expected, and due to pulling far too hard, Airtight was unable to even grab second from the small, light and perhaps more buoyant Angel Of Harlem.

+   Airtight (3rd): Has some physical ability but does not use his brain enough yet. Watch out for the addition of headgear, conceivably for his first handicap run.
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