Fontwell, 26/12/19

A controversial end to the meeting as it was abandoned after five races. The decision to call it quits was not controversial, but the reason was that the track management had railed off vast tracts of the running area, filtering all of the runners into one narrow chute after the final obstacles and all around the top bend and that should be controversial. As the starting points for each race and the use of this area for pulling up after the race ensure that every race has the runners going through this space at least four times and the card had six nine runner races and closed with a fourteen horse line up, the course should have known better from past experience than to ignore it potentially posing a problem again. And it seems that they have learned absolutely zero from when a similar layout led to a void race due to having no room at all to bypass a lame horse.
Does this make sense, or is it just taking Boxing Day racegoers for granted?

If this sounds fussy, bear in mind that premium prices were being charged for this fixture and people that went into the supposed Premier enclosure get a stand that has no capacity to keep the rain off of them (and today it actual focussed rain dripping from the box balconies onto the people standing below, in the small width of supposed shelter). For their money they got two 0-100 and one 0-105 handicaps, two novice hurdles, one of which was cursed with notably poor prize money, plus handicaps in the 0-120 and 0-130 bands. It was no wonder that a couple of people were overheard vowing never to come back.

As for the races, because conditions were so extreme, some horses posted dismal efforts that can be completely forgiven. The jockeys were all very sensible – horses that adore the mud did not have problems ran their races and those horses with more delicate sensibilities were generally eased off fairly early. Tracking the events through the rain was not easy and any notes made on the racecard have been washed away. The camera that shows the horses coming down the home straight was facing into the wind and wet, so totally useless for the big screen too. As far as nutters go, the winners by a country mile were the kids who still wanted to use the fairground rides in the torrential rain.

Going: Heavy (supposed early soft parts on the hurdle course given up on quite early)

Race 1: Southern Contract Lifting Mares’ Handicap Hurdle [2m 5.5f]

1: Runasimi River     2: Jubilympics     3: Sixties Secret

Winner owned: Mrs G Davies, trained: Neil Mulholland, ridden: Millie Wonnacott

In a risky move, topweight Jubilympics started favourite, but she added to the worries of maximum poundage in minimum dryness with pulling very hard, flattening the second hurdle and the second last. Inevitably this eliminated any chances of her winning, but she battled on to hold second. Sixties Secret was only proven to 2m 2f before this and failed at 2m 4f, so her one paced third represents a minor plus. As for Runasimi River, her name implies that these conditions should be right up her stream but her yard was just on the cold list and she had also never raced beyond 2m 4f. Steaming clear after jumping the last with what may have been only a narrow lead showed that the stamina exists for real.

Yeats Baby (6th): Turning out of the back straight she was going very well on the heels of the leaders but then weakened when facing the run for home. She has won three milers on good ground, so watch for better when the going dries out - sometime about October 2020?

x  Ratoute Yutty (4th): In a finish involving two unproven stayers she galloped home the weakest of all from approaching the last and this seemed to be more evidence that two and a half miles is her limit.
The pace may have been slow in the conditions, but Ratoute Yutty is still too quick for the camera operator. Jubilympics hogs the camera with Runasimi River behind her. Fu Fu (8) and Yeats Baby are the other visible pair.

Race 2: Visit Juvenile Maiden Hurdle [2m 1.5f]

1: Manucci     2: Black Abbey     3: I Like Him

Winner owned: John Connolly & Odile Griffith, trained: Amanda Perrett, ridden: Joshua Moore

When he was beaten on his hurdles debut by 23 lengths, Manucci's defence was that the one to beat him was Goshen, on a flat and jumps winning streak that has since extended to five races. Although Manucci's best flat form was in their mud, the conversion of promise into results was not necessarily expected to be in such testing conditions. The race was going to be between him, I Like Him and Black Abbey from as early as four out but the well backed I Like Him wilted from the third last leaving the main challenge to be from Black Abbey. He had won in the French provinces on the flat two months ago and carried that form with him into British jump racing. Yet he never for one second looked like he would pick off Manucci, even during the times that he was invisible. The very separate race for fourth was won by the very patiently ridden Miss Harriett, beating her best flat finish by two places.

x  I Like Him (3rd): His best form has been third at Auteuil, although in one of that track's lowest level races. He has failed to turn this into success, and is beginning to make himself quite unpopular.

Race 3: NJS Group Novices’ Hurdle [2m 1.5f]

1: Neff     2: Cogital     3: Benevolentdictator

Winner owned: Past The Post Racing, trained: Gary Moore, ridden: Joshua Moore

Although a fairly ordinary flat horse, Neff has taken well to jumps. He won a 2m 3f hurdle on good ground at Fontwell on debut and has since been runner-up on good to soft and soft going. Thus the main threat to him was the ground and he handled it rather well. Leaving the back staight only one horse was putting up a fight, but Soldier To Follow tired very quickly and looked to be getting the worst of the battle when he crumpled on landing two out. Neff was in total control and could take it a bit easy on the run-in, whilst Cogital was going through the motions of routing the remainder.

+  Cogital (2nd): Got beaten 25 lengths on his hurdles debut and was done by a flattering 15 lengths here. There is a concern that on the flat he contested seventeen races and was beaten in sixteen of them, but it does appear that he could get something going as a hurdler.

+  Soldier To Follow (F): In the process of running a belter on his hurdles debut, it was spoiled by the late tumble. It may take a confidence booster to get over a race that ended up far too hard for his initial experience of jumping, but the potential to succeed is there.

Race 4: Southern Cranes And Training Division Handicap Chase [2m 2f]

1: Flaminger     2: Templier     3: Tanrudy

Winner owned: Mrs E Avery, trained: Gary Moore, ridden: Joshua Moore

Although he started as odds-on favourite, Flaminger was not bomb-proof for this. It was only ten days since his impressive but not terribly genteel spin around Plumpton last time, so some latent fatigue was a possibility. And there was a fairly obvious alarm bell ringing for a four year old having to lug around 12-4 in rather extreme conditions. He won again but without it being the demolition job wielded at Plumpton. It did help that his main dangers came from a wobbly duo. Templier is hard to win with and Tanrudy has a career blighted with breathing problems. Therefore all Flaminger had to do was not stop suddenly. That he managed. There was some interesting activity at the start. Bredon Hill Lad was not at all keen to take part, although he did reluctantly jump off and eventually get a distant fourth, but Sky Full Of Stars was impressed by the intentions of a wise old beast who his about to turn thirteen, and downed tools after three fences. Did Bredon Hill Lad trick him?

+  Tanrudy (3rd): Posted top notch Irish pointing form in races won by Malone Road, Angels Breath and Eden Du Houx. Sadly it has never been possible to fulfill the potential but since his latest wind op, he has at least managed to hit some consistency in the lower levels - the one exception being a three miler.

Bredon Hill Lad (4th): Nine of his ten wins have come on soft and heavy. Today he looked like a horse who has decided that these numbers will suffice and has prioritised his own convenience.

Empire - Brother Bennett (6th): Did not see out the race in these conditions and looked after himself late in the race. He had been off seven weeks due to being a bit under the weather and the race will have done him good. Will the weather allow him to go to Plumpton on 15th January for the preferred short term target?
Flaminger unphased by near flooding

Race 5: Sky Sports Racing Sky 415 Handicap Hurdle [2m 1.5f]

1: Dostal Phil     2: Jackson Hill     3: Notre Ami

Winner owned: John P McManus, trained: Philip Hobbs, ridden: Richard Johnson

The big race of the day, offering a whole £6,108.12 to the winner. It was nominally a 0-130 but topweighted Dostal Phil was on a mark of 125, so the race was one small notch below the scheduled standard. As was the theme of the day, the contenders and also rans sorted themselves out in the vicinity of the third last. Dostal Phil made it two wins in a row and the only time that he failed to make the first two in his last five runs was when asked to try good ground at Cheltenham, and he was not terrible in failure that day. Winning continues to elude Jackson Hill but he put the effort in to keep Notre Ami a length behind him, just not enough to put any sort of frightener on Dostal Phil. For a horse unproven in mud and beyond two miles, Falcon Sun ran very well up to a point, but did get outstayed on the run-in.

Dostal Phil (1st): Put up a strong effort on testing conditions after nine months off and it is perfectly feasible that he comes on enough to match the amount that he is raised for the success.

+  Falcon Sun (4th): Handled the conditions better than expected and did not lose badly enough to be called a non-stayer. It just would appear that two miles fits his talents better.

Maquisard (PU): The only problems that he had was a race over a distance too long on a sharp track, trying to interlace with his often clumsy jumping. In front from the off, he stayed with the front rank until two out and was quickly pulled up when beaten. This was a much better effort than the result implies, and a two miler on a non-sharp track could see imminent improvement.

x  Hier Encore (7th): Connections quickly realised that the horse is a Fontwell fan and whilst far from unbeatable here, we usually get a decent effort. Heavy as a definite no for him (and his credentials on soft can be easily questioned) so all we can do is wait longer races on better ground in the spring, and even then places outnumber wins.
The top jockeys were well scattered aorund the tracks today and Richard Johnson seems unduly jolly in the conditions after a winner, given the rather mixed bag of cooperation that earlier partners offered. Dostal Phil just wants a clean face.
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