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Fontwell, 30/8/18

We are now into the last knockings of evening racing on turf, and with this being an early start to fit to the fading light, the crowd is understandably small – if you work, it needed time off to make it. It would be an interesting experiment to see if only six races but a 5.00 pm first race made a difference. Probably not, as even the most occasional racegoers try to avoid arriving one minute before the off of the first race.

Going: Good (Good to Firm places) – so much for the drizzly bank holiday in the South East

Race 1: Avantis Wealth-High Return Alternative Investments Handicap Hurdle [2m 1.5f]

1: Magical Thomas     2: High Wells     3: Bulletproof

Winner owned: GP and Miss SJ Hayes, trained: Neil Mulholland, ridden: Tom Scudamore

This race was classic old time August jumping – a 0-100 handicap with more than a fair share of bewilder beasts involved, enough of them to ensure three places for each-way fans. And the market was controlled by the 2017 winner who had also been successful in his last race, just for good measure. Magical Thomas does not often do much to live up to the magical part of his name, but this was his second win in a row - giddy heights by his measure. When he blundered away the lead at hurdle five, trouble loomed, but thanks to a patient recovery (a badly mixed metaphor of doctors and magicians), he was able sneak back past High Wells between the last two hurdles and once he had a couple of lengths in hand on the runner-up, defeat was no longer a consideration. Bulletproof led home a very scattered and ragged pursuit. Bulletproof is a bit of an interesting weirdo. He took up habitual winning rather late in life and did so in all sorts of circumstances. One thing he could be relied on for was running poorly at Fontwell. Here he was well seen off, but poor would be an exaggeration, as if he is having a gradual rethink on this policy.

+   High Wells (2nd): Before today he had not done much over hurdles, but his most recent race was a 1m 6f win on the flat from a rating of 70. He should have the ability to make his mark in class 5 hurdles, with the reservation that he failed to win this mostly unchallenging race.
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High Wells leads Magical Thomas at this stage, with the ones preparing to degenerate into a rabble being Ataman, Blackadder, Ermyn's Emerald, Bulletpoof, Clive Clifton and the mostly hidden Sebs Sensei.

Race 2: Propiteer Investing Together Handicap Chase [2m 3.5f]

1: Turban     2: Ruby Russett     3: Code Of Law

Winner owned: Turbanators, trained: Paul Henderson, ridden: Tom O’Brien

The event of the night, if the betting was to be believed. The very early morning prices had Celtic Thunder, debuting for Olly Murphy, available (probably for modest sums) at 11/8, which seemed very short and based on guesswork around how much he may be improved. By the off he was an absurd 4/9 favourite. After about four hundred metres, including a jumping error and a couple of reminders, those that had steamed in had every right to be very worried. At halfway they had clearly done their money and Celtic Thunder pulled up soon after. If we are honest, most of us cannot resist a little chuckle at such wayward optimism on a grand scale. Turban has, over the years, taken a massive drop in the weights without always showing that he would bottom out at some stage and win (apart for a three horse race), but after the market was badly skewed by Celtic Thunder, he was one of a quartet that lined up at inviting prices. The trainer’s officially recorded explanation was that he “enjoyed being able to dominate” but that is diplomatic speak for “the oppo gave up tamely, apart from one that fell, so it was hard to lose that race.” Even Spiritofchartwell, who loves this place (past record 212121322), was not into the occasion this time. And despite getting the drop into class 5 that he needed, Code Of Law did not make the positive response expected, finishing well behind Ruby Russett.

x   Kahdian (UR): Debuting for Brian Barr, he was the sole danger to Turban when he fluffed the open ditch three from home and ended up riderless. It was a run of promise and the jumping was not an issue before disaster struck, but do not overlook his record – 30 races flat and jumps producing no wins and only one second place.

x   Celtic Thunder (PU): The first phrase would be “don’t buy the hype” but there was no hype, just a betting plunge. He has won four Irish points, two in 2015, then two small field events this year, but his Rules form otherwise oozes mediocrity and it has to be considered very feasible that what we saw here was all that he is.
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Some elite posing for the camera by Tom O'Brien is sadly not matched by Turban

Race 3: Roy Pettifer 70th Birthday Celebration \ Avantis Wealth Handicap Hurdle [3m 2f]

1: More Than Luck     2: Mr Mulliner     3: Dropzone

Winner owned: Elphick’s Hardy Hubbard Banks, trained: Olly Murphy, ridden: David England

Yet again patience paid off, with More Than Luck sitting right at the back for two and three-quarter miles before making relentless progress when the race distance began to take a toll. He led between the last couple of hurdles and relentlessly trundled clear from there. He was not badly handicapped and clearly shook off a couple of bad runs thanks to two months break, but after he has been reassessed for this, that sympathy from the ratings people is likely to have evaporated. Bottom weight Mr Mulliner had made the running until More Than Luck pounced, but at least did well to keep going and come out best of the remainder. Keep To The Beat was an unexpected favourite. She was only pipped in her last race, but that was thee months ago, her yard is well onto the cold list and her career winning tally from thirty-six faces is one. She ended up fourth – about where rational predictions would have put her.

  Mr Mulliner (2nd): At times he can look disinterested in racing, but three years ago he landed a hat trick in Ireland, so there is mileage in him if caught when mentally hot. His form since moving to Britain had previously been abysmal, nine races generating five pulled ups and an unseat. It is possible that he is gently coming to hand.

+   Dropzone (3rd): A bit like Mr Mulliner, when he is off, he is badly off, but over the years he has won four times and it is not impossible that number five is on the way.

x   Norm The Storm (PU): Making his handicap debut, this was also his first race that went beyond 2m 4f. He did not perform like the stayer expected from the choice of race.

Race 4: Avantis Wealth – A F.R.E.S.H. Approach To Investments Handicap Chase [3m 2f]

1: Mercers Court     2: Kings Temptation     3: Desert Retreat

Winner owned: David Nott, Ken Lawrence, Tim Messom, trained: Neil King, ridden: Wayne Hutchinson

Mercers Court won his second race in just over a week – which defied the main negative against him on the day. In his favour was the ability to keep the wins ticking over, a handy Fontwell record in both disciplines of 2U23161 and all wins being in fields of nine of less – there were six here. However, the shortest absence he had before a past win had been seventeen days and he really prefers a bit more than three weeks to chill out. So well done Mercers Court for his battle against adversity. Kings Temptation put up a decent show in second but he has not progressed to the degree expected from his impressive win at Huntingdon in May. You can count the number of bad jumps by Desert Retreat by looking up the number of fences taken – they were more or less equal in number. He has been runner-up six times without winning, and we have to wonder how much has been lost to his bad habits where the skill part is required.

x x   Desert Retreat (3rd): Lost more than the distance he was beaten with sloppy jumping – sometimes slow, sometimes off to the right, sometimes both. But do not be tempted into forgiveness, because this is the story for most of his races.

UK-Jumping Selections: The Wicket Chicken (4th): Another rather sluggish chase effort, although conceding weight, even if only a tiny amount, to the far more proven Mercers Court, shows that she did not have an easy task on her hands here.

Race 5: Astute Property Acquisition Corporation Novices’ Hurdle [2m 5.5f]

1: Haul Away     2: Bugsie Malone     3: Robin Des Mana

Winner owned: Robert Kirkland, trained: Nicky Henderson, ridden: Ned Curtis

A four runner novice hurdle, with all runners having form liberally sprinkled with 1s. You may think it should be fairly straight forward and that the relative hurdle ratings were close enough to expect a tight finish. The second part proved true, but the fairly straight forward bit turned out to be total cobblers. Dual bumper winner and very intriguing hurdle debutante Andapa fell at the first hurdle. She seemed none the worse and not too dismayed by the experience. Front running Bugsie Malone had to be often niggled along but then blotted his copy book badly by hanging sharply right passing the final stand for the third time, carrying Robin Des Mana with him. This left Haul Away a very simple run up the inside and a chance to take control. He jumped with less fluency once having daylight ahead, and gave Bugsie Malone plenty of chance to fight back, only exerting his authority on the run-in.

  Haul Away (1st): He has not looked 100% straight forward in gaining his earlier wins, but the evidence here is that he just needs to be kept covered up until the final hurdle, and then pounce. Some courses make that a tricky wotsit to pull off, but the Fontwell run-in is one that suits that policy.

UK-Jumping Selections: Bugsie Malone (2nd): He has exceeded expectations of this site by winning novice hurdles rather than genteel handicaps, but he is a bit lazy and needs a strong and persistent ride. The incident heading out for the final lap is a new wrinkle, and a bit of a worrying one.

Race 6: London Office Exchange Novices’ Chase [2m 5.5f]

1: Brave Eagle     2: Jaleo     3: Exxaro

Winner owned: Robert Kirkland, trained: Nicky Henderson, ridden: James Bowen

For the second time in a two race chase career Brave Eagle won without impressing. Jaleo had made a good start over fences (second, then first) before a flop last time. Was it the same as at Worcester for Brave Eagle – hard work defeating an opponent that is not as inferior as first impressions indicate? For the future Brave Eagle has a double penalty in novice races and a handicap mark that he has not lived up to, but could yet still match. One to oppose at short prices, but remain open minded if he shows that he is learning from his race. Jaleo recovered the respect that his loss last time washed away, although he too perhaps has not gathered the skills for his 138 rating yet.

x   Exxaro (3rd): Had to improve to compete with the first two at the weights, and with fifteen chases already contended for and lost, there was no reason to expect that. The more negative perspective is that he does not seem ready to crack the code in handicaps either.

Race 7: Avantis Welath – Picking Winners Just Got Easier Handicap Hurdle [2m 3f]

1: Royal Hall     2: Undefined Beauty     3: Wind Place And Sho

Winner owned: GL Moore and Royal Racing, trained: Gary Moore, ridden: Jamie Moore

Stable confidence was apparently high on Royal Hall, a horse that gives the impression that he will give all of the right signals in his work and home routine before reserving the right to do what he likes when it comes to an actual race. Today what he likes equalled victory, following up a Fontwell win over a shorter distance at the end of spring. He did get first run on Vexillum and Undefined Beauty who both waited until after the third last to move from the very back, but both got a clear run exiting the final bend. Vexillum was not good enough to land a blow and Undefined Beauty nearly got on Royal Hall’s tail, but could not extend her effort into the last furlong. Had she done so, the positive mood of the winner probably would have carried him home anyway.

+ +   Vexillum (4th): He has had a wind op since the last hurdles run and warmed up for this with a couple of flat spins, including second place in Jersey. This class 4, 0-120 race is above his level, even on a low weight and he can be followed when back in long distance class 5 events.

+   Undefined Beauty (2nd): Looked a bit less than 100% fit in the paddock, but she ran less than a fortnight ago so may just be a naturally portly lass. Pairing a tongue tie with the hood for the first time had a positive effect on her performance, and she has every chance of going one better soon.

+  Wind Place And Sho (3rd): An underachiever as a jumper so far when considering the raw ability shown in flat racing, this three lengths defeat represented a suggestion that he has finally worked out this job. There is potentially more to come.

x   Royal Hall (1st): Did absolutely nothing wrong here at all, but his overall record hints that he would be under priced to repeat it.

  Gannicus (6th): Gave up winning on the flat three years ago, and after seeingvthe runner-up in his hurdle win gradually get more and more fed up since, he has adopted the same approach to jumping as he did in his flat job.
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