Huntingdon, 10/5/18

Lots of runners for this Huntingdon meeting, although Nicky Henderson’s day, after he went there in person, showed how quickly luck can turn. Arriving with nine of his past twenty-four horses winning, the quintet today resulted in fell, tailed off odds-on favourite, unseated, anonymous in midfield, non-runner. Mind you, Jonjo O’Neill had an even worse day. Two horses, both got to the start for their races, neither took part. One was withdrawn by the vet, the other whipped round when the tape was released. A long drive back to Gloucestershire…

Going: Good (although late non-runners indicated it was faster by the end of the sunny and breezy afternoon)

Race 1: Smarkets Novices’ Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Cosmic King     2: Working Class     3: Way Out West

Winner owned: Mrs June Watts, trained: Fergal O’Brien, ridden: Paddy Brennan

This featured an interesting bunch of unexposed horses, some of whom had some eye-catching defeats to their name. It may be the sort of race to throw up a fair number of subsequent winners, or just as easily show itself to be a thorough dud as the participants decide they are more than happy with how things have gone to date. For Cosmic King the question mark was how he would cope with the drop back to two miles having peaked at further. Very nicely, thanks, as it turned out, with the suspicion being that he had Bardd’s measure when that horse tipped up at the final hurdle. Working Class did eat into the lead that Cosmic King was given on the run-in, but it never quite felt as if he was going to pass the winner, especially as this seems to be as far as Working Class stays, which is not good for developing a career as a jumper.

+ +  Friary Gold (6th): There are two ways to look at this. Either he is not quick enough for two miles and needs a longer race. Or he is not quick enough to loiter at the back and only try and progress in the final three furlongs or so. The latter approach could be aided by a very stiff finish. Either way, this strong finishing belatedly effort was his best in Britain and he has done some encouraging stuff in Ireland to confirm it no fluke.

+  Figeac (4th): A productive French flat horse, he has disappointed a lot in a brief hurdling career, but the addition of blinkers seemed to show a benefit on this occasion. He is still weighted to qualify for class 5 handicaps (with a big weight) and that would seem to be a very winnable standard of race.

x  Bardd (Fell): No doubt there will be those who felt that he would have got up and won, and we cannot say without fear of error that they are wrong. But this horse has contested eight hurdles, started favourite or joint-favourite in seven of them, and lost each and every one.
The electronic scoreboard takes away the need for a picture caption. Heyyyy, wait….

Race 2: Smarkets Maiden Hurdle [2m 4.5f]

1: Potterman     2: Myplaceatmidnight     3: Commodore Barry

Winner owned: James and Jean Potter, trained: Alan King, ridden: James Bowen

This race was populated by stables capable of fielding classy young hurdlers, but for this day they seemed to have saved up less promising, or more slowly developing, prospects. Haul Away started odds-on favourite but he jumped too indifferently to make anything of it. His two previous races were both using a hood, and it should be expected that some form of headgear returns next time. The race was won quite easily by Potterman, who was delivered late and still had far too much up his sleeve for Myplaceatmidnight. It only took a small amount of urging from the saddle to go from upsides to seven lengths ahead at the line.

+  Potterman (1st): Previously defeated when 4/11 favourite, after losing to a horse now rated 140, he put the record straight here and is not done winning yet.

+  Commodore Barry (3rd): Weakened in the home straight and hit the last to reinforce the defeat to twenty length on hurdles debut, but of the eight runners he gave the strongest vibe of a better future building.

x  Haul Away (6th): Physical ability exists, but the mental skills to make the most of it do not exist. Is that a “yet” or a “will not” scenario?

Race 3: Novices’ Handicap Chase [2m 7.5f]

1: Kings Temptation     2: Canyouringmeback     3: Whin Park

Winner owned: Lady Jane Grosvenor, trained: Ben Case, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

Kings Temptation had never won a race. He lost his chase debut by less than two lengths, doing well after he almost fell at the first and twice he lost hurdles by less than a length, including once on this track. So all it would take to demaiden himself was a clean round and dismissing weak current stable form. That is what Kings Temptation did, although he was helped by Canyouringmeback finding zero acceleration after leading over the final fence – it was still his best effort since his hurdles debut. Whin Park did better than his previous Rules form although he did not quite live up to being the horse that won his last two point-to-points.

+ +  Kings Temptation (1st): He has taken well to fences and can win more races in staying company.

+ +  Miss Yeats (4th): Representing a yard in terrible form for some time, her jumping skills were well up to scratch, but she could not summon up enough of a gallop to make an impact. She is now 0/13, but at least has an avenue to cure that.

+  Whin Park (3rd): Unable to make a winning dive back into the professional game, but it was not a bad run. He is worth further monitoring, especially in two and half milers.

x x  Midnight Gem (5th): The pre-race note said “not a chaser” and she made it look all just too laboured and difficult again.

x x  Plantagenet (PU): On his chase debut, the report on site noted that he jumped badly in the first half of the race, but did it right in the second half, therefore was going the right way. He unseated next time, went back hurdling and on this evidence, still has not understood what is needed of him over fences.
The sun shines on the righteous, and also in strips upon Kings Temptation. Perhaps he has secret desires to be a zebra.

Race 4: Smarkets Handicap Hurdle [3m 1f]

1: Fingerontheswitch     2: Will O’The West     3: Mab Dab

Winner owned: Cahill, Atwell & Crofts, trained: Neil Mulholland, ridden: James Bowen

And so we came upon the dead zone on the card – consecutive fifteen runner handicap hurdles that were guaranteed to drive insane anyone who researched their secrets. Could they be the work of the Necronomicon? Apart from Dauphin enforcing an unexpected flying dismount on his rider at the third and hampering Sartene’s Son to the extent that he pulled up, not much happened in this race, but the extra distance had the chance to slice and dice the field late on. What we had was three jumping the final hurdle in a line, Fingerontheswitch (bright yellow and white colours on a sunny day really do make you think that a cold lemonade is a good idea), Mab Dab and Colt Lightning. Will O’The West was only half a length down, with the same back to Gibbes Bay, who had lost a prominent position mid-race but saw his patience justified as he sneaked back into a prominent slot. That quintet were the first five, with Colt Lightning ending up seven lengths back in fifth, to give an idea of the relative speeds with which they all dealt with the one furlong run-in. After a win at Towcester last time, Bandon Roc could be expected to be involved but having started out in rear, he was one of the first ridden, and only passed a few straggler’s very late on. The ground was against him.

+  Will O’The West (2nd): Mostly well off of his game in chases last winter, this was a return to form. He does do most of his best stuff on easy courses, but is far from infallible on them.

+  Gibbes Bay (4th): All of the first five looked like they may do a job in a similar race, but he gets the call as the one with most potential for improvement.

Colt Lightning (5th): To qualify the comment against Gibbes Bay, he would be the one that would prefer a slightly shorter race – both wins at 2m 5f on soft.

Race 5: Handicap Hurdle [2m 3.5f]

1: Shining Romeo     2: Barton Knoll     3: Early Retirement

Winner owned: John Mangan, trained: Denis Quinn, ridden: Aidan Coleman

As well as surplus runners, this race was not made easy by the fact that most of them had so far specialised or excelled in two milers. It was enough to do a double take in order to check that the right race distance had been noted down. What paid off was loving the location – Shining Romeo is now the winner of three of his six visits, coming from well off the pace to gain a slightly tidy success. Favourite Early Retirement and last time winner Black Buble tried the same trick but judged it less well and ended up third and fourth – perhaps the pace was harder than it looked and the front runners were majorly inconvenienced. Barton Knoll made his attack two out, led briefly and then saw Shining Romeo go on beyond him. It must all be very confusing for a horse who thinks everything has fallen into place perfectly.

+  Black Buble (4th): Up a dozen pounds for his easy Bangor win, he can bounce back in a less hectic environment than this.

+  Balgemmois (5th): Almost fell at hurdle five, so did a good job to cling in there and only lose out on a place late on.

x  Master Of Finance (6th): Shaped like a big player at the second last, only to finish weakly. Just like he did last time. And the time before that. Etc. Etc.

x  Blagapar (8th): Shaping as if he would be favourite until late interest in Early Retirement (there must have been lots of wishful thinking going on), this was his first race since August 2016, having won two just before that. He looked well and fit, but only got an anonymous midfield finish.

Race 6: Smarkets Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase [2m 0.5f]

1: Capitoul     2: Comanche Chieftain     3: Miss Night Owl

Winner owned: Mrpaull Drinkwater/Drr DP Newland, trained: Richard Newland, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

This race always threatened to be mad as despite only having five runners, four of them are utterly committed to the theory that doing it all from the front is the only way that winning can be achieved – three of them were also debuting over fences. As an event it went off kilter in unexpected fashion. Utility whipped round at the start and took no part (he did it subtlety as well, so we could not be totally certain what had gone on). Miss Night Owl got an uncontested lead, apart from the occasional intervention from New Agenda. Capitoul, the token representative of the calm and sensible community, was in third and Comanche Chieftain was surprisingly settled in the rear. Miss Night Owl blew a gasket at the third last. New Agenda fluffed both open ditches and was pulled up after the second one. Capitoul, who had already proved himself a natural at this went on for an unchallenged and facile win, followed home by an inexplicably tired Comanche Chieftain, who had made only a brief effort to get after Capitoul. How did it turn out like this when fireworks were expected?

+  Comanche Chieftain (2nd): As noted above all went well apart from really struggling home in the last furlong or so. However, his only previous race right-handed was a dismal effort so he deserves another chase chance or two going anti-clockwise.
Capitoul is fairly convinced of his own genius

Race 7: Maiden National Hunt Flat Race [2m]

1: Thomas Darby     2: Black Kalanisi     3: Daario Naharis

Winner owned: Mrs Diana L Whateley, trained: Olly Murphy, ridden: Fergus Gregory

The winning favourite was newcomer Thomas Darby, who cost a cool 160,000 Euros at the sales two years ago. Was he impressive? No. Did he run green when in front? Yes. And there is a case for Black Kalanisi being a good yardstick after his debut fourth at Ludlow, and the following regression is forgiven as he was one of several tricked tactically that day. Daario Naharis was not much of a pointer in Ireland, but may be the sort that is more suited to bumpers. The other two close up were Nanny Pat’s (racing debut but from a family very successful in bumpers) and Skyline, who has shown mixed ability but had a wind op and gained a tongue tie since last racing. So it is possible that this race pans out into something of merit, as long as a series of maybes all stack up on the positive side of the balance.
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