Kempton, 1/5/17

This was family fun day, which is usually a race meeting to avoid. And the Plumpton members absolutely did, despite this being a reciprocal (i.e. freebie) day. UK-Jumping really should have gone to Northaw for the retirement appearance of Did You Ever, formerly a cog in the Empire. However, in his own mind Did You Ever retired some months ago, and merely attended point-to-points on a social basis, so the chance to stay drier at Kempton was decisive. Did You Ever finished fourth.

In the interests of retaining sanity, the course had set up a ghetto in the old Silver Ring, which contained all of the kids entertainments, and the arrangement largely worked fine, although what the horses made of it we shall never know. Some marketing buffoon had tried to force the youths to turn up in superhero fancy dress, but faith in human nature got a boost as many declined. Kudos to the parents that refused to shell out for shoddy costumes, and more to those who took a stand for individuality and not just obeying a faceless diktat like a mindless drone. After all, the kids have got ages for the system to mould them into unimaginative DNA consumption machines. “We don’t need no thought control.”

Going: Good

Race 1: Happy Birthday Moyra Walsh Novice Hurdle [2m]

1: American Gigolo     2: New Agenda     3: Sixties Idol

Winner owned: DA Oliver & GRJ Jones, trained: Charlie Mann, ridden: Noel Fehily

This race was short of strength in depth, and it was no great shock to see that the finish was a scrap between the first couple in the betting. Unless you are paranoid enough to see every runner that gets the description “not shown anything so far” would suddenly get a massive positive response to better going. New Agenda, who has improved on the flat since two half decent hurdle runs last autumn, set out to make all, and proved hard to pass late in the race. Hard, but not impossible, like proving that Sammy Davis Jr, on behalf of the CIA, shot John F Kennedy. Anyway, in the final desperate yards American Gigolo wore him down. Now everyone is thinking that Richard Gere shot JFK.

+   New Agenda (2nd): Now has all of his hurdle runs on this track, so needs to demonstrate an element of versatility, but he has undeniably shown the ability to be a hurdles winner on good or good to firm ground.

+   Sixties Idol (3rd): Has not been able to win on the flat and is rated only 43 there. Her first two hurdle runs showed potential for when in handicaps, and by only conceding between the last couple of hurdles here, she confirmed that view. A loss of only nine lengths might ruin her handicap mark, but she does need to be taken seriously when making the switch.

+   Celma Des Bois (9th): Contested Irish bumpers with a dash of promise, but has not yet repeated it as a hurdler. He has at times been over taxed by the company that he has been keeping, and this race, in which he was not given a hard time at any stage, should help fine tune him for class 5 company.

Race 2: Better Odds With Matchbook Novices Chase [2m 4.5f]

1: Bagad Bihoue     2: Forever Field     3: Midnight Cowboy

Winner owned: Owners Group 009, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

Only three contested this, all of whom were debuting over fences, and had done enough in hurdling to see a possibility of making very decent chasers. Or if the glass is half empty, spoiling the optimism of those who owned them. Bagad Bihoue made all of the running and won. For the most part he jumped extremely confidently, but his concentration deserted him once and he did well to survive an error four out. After that Bagad Bihoue jumped far too big at the last fence and got away with it because Sam Twiston-Davies landed in the saddle rather than the turf. All in all, a good result to start, but with one or two warnings not to get carried away. Forever Field was right on the winner’s heels as they turned for home, but proved a bit disappointingly one paced. Perhaps five months off told more than was expected.

+ + Midnight Cowboy (3rd): More of a three miler over hurdles than the other pair, who both preferred today’s race distance, he made a very acceptable start over fences. He tracked the other two and was then outpaced when the pace quickened in the home straight. He was not given a hard race in vain and his jumping was without problems.

+ Forever Field (2nd): Made no obvious errors along the way, so whilst he is marked down a little for failing to take advantage of Bagad Bihoue’s late mistakes, there is reason to see him doing better in future.

Race 3: Matchbook Racing Is Commission Free Novices Hurdle [3m 0.5f]

1: Follow The Bear     2: Criq Rock     3: For Instance

Winner owned: GB Barlow, trained: Nicky Henderson, ridden: Jeremiah McGrath

The race: Started at a bone achingly slow pace, with For Instance leading and Follow The Bear ahead of the other pair. By the end of it, the field was in single file and had all accepted the inevitability of their finishing position before even reaching the final hurdle. The flabbergasting (part I): Race tactics on For Instance were completely baffling. He was the only runner proven to stay three miles. When the starter let them go, there was a long pause before Aidan Coleman set off in front on For Instance at a very slow pace. Now, if your horse is mentally fried by front running (this one did try in a bumper and lost, but in a good race very narrowly) then all that can be done if nobody gives you a solid lead is sit and suffer. But once you bite the bullet and decided to lead, surely, surely, surely you do it at a good pace, which plays to your own strengths and challenges the unknowns in the opposition.

+   Follow The Bear (1st): Appeared to run less well at 2m 7f than in a shorter race before that and both British pointing runs were at two and a half miles. This would not necessarily prove his stamina all of a sudden, but the style in which he handled the other three was nice enough.

x   Steel Bob (4th): Until a late surge of money for Criq Rock he was threatening to start favourite, although not a short priced one. This was presumably because Harry Fry had won with six of his last thirteen runners, and not people having faith that the six horse Kilbeggan bumper he won was not as bad as it had seemed until now. At a pinch, pulling up at Cheltenham on hurdles debut was forgivable, but his jumping technique left an awful lot to be desired here.
Follow The Bear in front with a lap to go, with For Instance (fake flamboyance for the crowd) and Criq Rock obeying the leader's command

Race 4: Winners Are Welcome At Matchbook Handicap Chase [3m]

1: Roc D’Apsis     2: Al Alfa     3: Fort Worth

Winner owned: David Rea & Miss Diane Fudge, trained: Tom George, ridden: Adrian Heskin

The fourth race was the antithesis of the third, with a trio of horses taking each other on at the front, and forcing a much harder pace – although first impressions pending the meeting-wide time picture was that the winning time was not exceptional. The efforts needed in the early stages meant that as the field came off of the final bend, two were out of contention and the other quintet were all being pushed along vigorously. Al Alfa, as popular in the betting as a bad fart in a small lift despite excellent credentials for the win, made himself very hard to pass, but Roc D’Apsis did manage it approaching the final fence, and opened up nicely on the run-in, whilst Al Alfa concentrated on blocking Fort Worth from getting a run up the rails. Cloudy Bob had finished in the first three ten times from thirteen previous visits to Kempton, and he was not far from doing so again, staying on gamely for fourth after seeming to have had enough at the second last fence.

+   Al Alfa (2nd): A good effort on his second run back from eleven months off, and as he handles most ground, we only need concentrate on races where the course is a sharp, level one.

+   Gallery Exhibition (6th): Won here two weeks ago with help from a faller, although he was the likeliest to prevail at the time. He was quite poor this time around, beaten with a long way to go, but his one other race on such a quick turnaround went badly as well, so if he is given a proper breathing space, he can be given another chance to reproduce the peak.

x   Fort Worth (3rd): Failed to sneak up the inner and get the runner-up spot in a chase for the sixth time. Only one win by way of comparison to all the seconds, and he really does not take a great deal of dissuading when the going gets tough.

Race 5: Matchbook Betting Exchange Handicap Hurdle, Div I [2m 5f]

1: Ballymountain Boy     2: Paddy’s Field     3: Miss Yeats

Winner owned: The Chameleons, trained: Martin Keighley, ridden: Andrew Tinkler

Start by giving lots of credit to Ballymountain Boy, as he pulled hard early on, forced his way to the lead after a lap, and did everything bar horrible jumping to make success as difficult as possible. Yet succeed he did. Now let us give a stern finger wagging to Ballymountain Boy, as he was looking well handicapped on his best performances, and he needs to ensure that this was not a one off positive response to cheekpieces. With a fair way to go, Paddy’s Field was the only danger, but that horse did appear if not quite 100% match ready after three months off, and he did not surge onwards for pressure late in the race. Given that she did not jump especially efficiently and seemingly prefers shorter races with more ease underfoot, Miss Yeats got a good result. And on the subject of horses that are greatly discomforted by races this long, A Boy Named Suzi finished fourth.

+ +   Paddy’s Field (2nd): Last season for him was a shambles thanks to not taking to chases in any shape or form. After a bit of a break he was right back on track here, and before this his best efforts tended to be on undulating tracks. There is still plenty to choose from on those courses.

+   Ballymountain Boy (1st): Won in first time cheekpieces, without necessarily avoiding the things that have stopped him from doing the job without them. Therefore the argument is that he was handicapped to win here, and may still be so in the near future.

+   Gask Ridge (6th): Settled at the rear of the field, made some smooth progress at the end of the back straight, and then decided that he liked it better where he was to start with. Not subject to a hard ride as this all came to pass, which was also his handicap debut, the feeling remains that we have not seen his best yet.

x   Bound Hill (PU): Won his last two, both at Fontwell, but the latest was an uncompetitive four horse affair. He tried to make the running again, but Ballymountain Boy was having none of that, and once headed he gave up fairly quickly. His one run on good going was a chase in which he nearly fell, but this reinforced the idea that softer ground is needed.

Ballymountain Boy – if he looks like this before the race, things are likely to go well. The flesh and bone anchors are important.

Race 6: Matchbook Betting Exchange Handicap Hurdle, Div II [2m 5f]

1: North Hill     2: Quarenta     3: Brass Monkey

Winner owned: Mrs Jacky Allen, trained: Ian Williams, ridden: Richard Johnson

The machines that control our lives had contrived to put as many of the known quantities in division one as they possibly could, and gave us division two as a guessing exercise. It finished up looking a bit like the first part, as two horses were in complete control heading for home, although their coup took place a bit earlier in the race. At the second last flight, Quarenta was being ridden and North Hill was not, which told us how the finish would be played out. Once beaten, Quarenta was eased down, greatly flattering Brass Monkey and The Poodle Faker, who had been travelling with all the finesse of Wile E Coyote dropping anvils onto Roadrunner, and had their sparkle-free commitment made to resemble an actual challenge for second place. The flabbergasting (part II): Arkadios was in here rated 101. He has contested seven hurdle races, completing in only one of them, and that involved being last beaten by 43 lengths. Last time out (admittedly heavily backed) he had a narrow lead when falling two from the finish. For that he was raised six pounds in the handicap. At a pinch, a last obstacle faller can only see rivals sprint a certain distance clear on the run-in, so handicappers can guess. But when departing two out, there was still time for a challenge to implode in a welter of issues, especially with a horse that has such problems even finishing a race, so anyone who thinks that they can change a rating based on what had happened is a charlatan and a blackguard. Inevitably, Arkadios pulled up again.

+   North Hill (1st): Won a fifteen horse race under top weight at Stratford a month ago, despite waiting tactics that are always a hindrance there, but was only raised four pounds. A hat trick is possible if able to time the ability to get in with a penalty to match suitable races.

+   Minella Rebellion (5th): Enjoying, after a fashion, his handicap debut, he made a terrible mess of the third last hurdle and was lucky not to end up on the turf. Doubly inconvenient was that this was the point where North Hill and Quarenta made a serious attack, so he could not recover. Without the error he would probably have been placed.

x   Minella Rebellion (5th): See above, but note that the near fall was all his own doing, so we need to be aware that he could easily repeat the foolishness.

x   Bletchley Castle (PU): In contrast to North Hill, he was raised fifteen pounds for a win and a second about a month ago. He reacted to that very badly here, and in the short term a similar form of protest would appear to be likely.

Race 7: Commission Free Racing At Matchbook Handicap Chase [2m 2f]

1: A Little Magic     2: Artifice Sivola     3: Dunraven Storm

Winner owned: JP McManus, trained: Jonjo O’Neill, ridden: Aidan Coleman

And a little magic was all that it took. Parsnip Pete was right off of his game and pulled up fairly early on when already detached. Meldrum Lad’s winning run was ended by a combined rise in class and small drop in distance. Dunraven Storm looked extremely well in the paddock but could not follow up his win in 2016, likely thanks to age catching up with him. And last year’s victory was the only one that he had managed since late 2014. Artifice Sivola did make a race of it, but when he jumped the second fence from home rather awkwardly, it meant that the race was in the book for A Little Magic. The verdict on A Little Magic was that he did nothing wrong. That is what counts as magic in the age of technology.

x   Dunraven Storm (3rd): Over the years he has been semi-heroic in his achievements, but as far as professional sport is concerned, it looks like time will soon be up. Not that this was a bad run, but where do the wins come from?

x   Meldrum Lad (4th): The handicapper has taken his measure, unless connections can find a race where he gets away with bullying inferior horses from top weight, ideally in a small field.

Race 8: Matchbook Betting Podcast Amateur Riders’ Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Our Three Sons    2: Court In Session     3: Darwins Theory

Winner owned: AJ & Mrs J Ward, trained: Jamie Snowden, ridden: Page Fuller

Last weekend Our Three Sons won at Stratford, with extreme ease, and managed to squeeze in an eight day break whilst still only getting a seven pounds penalty. That is the formula for a popular horse in the betting, and his supporters collected. They were a bit lucky, as Utility had just nicked the lead from Our Three Sons when taking a tumble two out. In trying to avoid Utility, Cup Of Ambition flung his rider to the ground, leaving the places at the mercy of two outsiders, veteran hunter chaser Court In Session and trundling very occasional winner Darwins Theory. One of them was seen collecting a trip wire from Richard Gere after the race.

+   Utility (fell): Regressing since becoming a handicapper, he was in the process of reversing the trend thanks to a first use of a tongue tie when he messed up the second last hurdle completely. If not too phased by this, he should be up to repeating the recovery.

x   Bob’s Boy (4th): Debuting in handicaps and using cheekpieces for the first time over jumps, he plodded around and inherited two places late on. This was a reminder of why, even when the cheekpieces helped, he only won once from fifteen flat races.
The final hurdle and it is all over for Our Three Sons, bar the captions missing a punchline
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