Kempton, 22/10/17

Welcome to Paul Nicholls benefit Sunday in Surrey. He had six runners on the card and went home with four winners and two seconds, one of the latter only being beaten by a stablemate. In an unusual bout of heroics, Oliver’s Hill proved to be the only horse from the Rest Of The World team to finish in front of a Ditcheat inmate.

Slightly strange was the way that some of the races finished, with the horses looking as if they were running into a ferocious headwind. The slight breeze did not qualify for that and it was probably a case of too many aggressive front runners making the races more stamina testing than is normal for Kempton.

Going: Good

Race 1: Matchbook Betting Exchange Juvenile Hurdle [2m]

1: Risk And Roll     2: Jumping Jack     3: Charlie Chaplin

Winner owned: Mrs Johnny De La Hey, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

There was £9,000 prize money for this race, more than for the vastly superior novices’ handicap chase which followed, and the field did not merit that financial commitment. As a race, the substandard line up (the best two flat horses were not overly blessed with stamina) was enlivened by the crazy antics of Jumping Jack. Coming off of the final turn he hung badly out to the left and after being straightened up to jump the second last, he went left in the process of jumping. Not satisfied with the refusal of David Noonan to take the hint, Jumping Jack also hung very badly on the run-in and still only lost by three lengths as Risk And Roll plodded slowly, but more importantly, in a direct route to the winning line. It was an unimpressive success after an awful British debut at Fontwell, but perhaps he is a stayer being built – this was only the third run – and two mile hurdling is not designed to show his best light. A bad omen for the form is having the apparently talent-free Charlie Chaplin, who was miles behind Jumping Jack on hurdles debut, only three more lengths back and eased when not going to do any better.

x x   Jumping Jack (2nd): All over the shop. Be very wary in future.
Jumping Jack demands that his full adventures are documented

Race 2: Matchbook Betting Podcast Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase [2m 2f]

1: Exitas     2: Volt Face     3: Movie Legend

Winner owned & trained: Phil Middleton, ridden: Conor Shoemark

This race has the makings of a fair source of future winners, but it also saw some departures en route to the result. Saint Contest, a smallish four year old, unseated after not appearing to make a mistake at the first fence and the other youngster, Siruh Du Lac, made mistakes and pulled up when the pressure was increased. Royal Debutante fell two out when beaten and Free Stone Hill also took a tumble, but six fences earlier. The race went to Exitas, who had the experience of nine earlier chase runs to deploy. He outjumped Volt Face at the last yet somehow managed to be slower away and lose the narrow lead gained. It took him until about six inches from the line to put his nose in front. The first two had gone clear, and the next five home finished in a clump – the finishing order of them could have come out completely different with a fairly trivial external influence. Even the beat of the wings of just one of the many crows lurking to see what would surface once the ground had been dug over a little.

+ +   Land League (6th): Did not have any luck in running, being inconvenienced by the mystery departure of Saint Contest and getting sandwiched at the next. The exercise was one of aggro avoidance after that and he has scope to improve a lot for with the run under his belt and an education in avoiding ruffians.

+   Volt Face (2nd): It was probably fatigue that caused him to peck at the last, which cost him the race. The fact that his four race chase career now has three second places is not a sign of wobbly attitude. Yet.

+   Movie Legend (3rd): Already has a chase win over 2m 1f to his name and defeat was in part due to returning from the summer off. But the bulk of his form suggests that longer races will be a better fit to his attributes, as he has already done well in them.

+  Bach De Clermont (4th): Had no excuses on the fitness front, but had not any chase experience. It all went quite well until he forgot to go over two of the last three and tried to brush them aside instead. Give up on him at this job at your peril, as he ought to have learned a valuable lesson here.
Volt Face, Bach De Clermont and Bay Boy Du Pouldu (left to right) dominate early. Exitas is hiding behind the latter.

Race 3: Better Odds With Matchbook Novices’ Hurdle (Listed) [2m]

1: Amour De Nuit     2: Listen To The Man     3: Cockney Wren

Winner owned: Andrew Williams, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

Since March we have witnessed Amour De Nuit alternating first and second placed finishes. A win was scheduled, a win came. Not for the first time, he cruised along in comfort and then found less than expected, making what was shaping like a cakewalk into a little bit of hard work. However, he was not in danger of being worried into a loss by Listen To The Man, who is probably a little less talented but a bit more in love with grim combat than the winner. A fairly close third went to Cockney Wren on her hurdles debut, just outlasting pace setter New Agenda.

+   Cockney Wren (3rd): Finished in the first three every time she ran in bumpers, although none of the four were especially eyecatching races. Thinking from those displays that she looks like a stayer of the future was wrong footed, as two miles around Kempton seemed to suit well.

  Saxo Jack (5th): Having taken well to hurdling, his form was still a little behind the best of these, but it was good enough to imagine him being more competitive than he proved to be – always in rear, never got to be dangerous to the main players.

Race 4: Smarter Bets With Matchbook Handicap Chase [2m 2f]

1: Oliver’s Hill     2: Marracudja     3: Workbench

Winner owned: Mrs Frank Caudwell, trained: Lawney Hill, ridden: Aidan Coleman

Pearls Legend and Back By Midnight refused to let things as crude as starting the race just before a bend force them to slow down early on, and this race was run at quite a clip. Perhaps inevitably the finish was about to be fought out by the two that opted to go slowest at the beginning, Oliver’s Hill and Workbench. Their 1-2 punch was confounded by Marracudja’s stubborn refusal to let the Nicholls team down here after having led the pursuit of the pace making duo. The winner has adapted to shorter races surprisingly well lately, but his stamina was the edge over the runner-up this time around. Noche De Reyes fell at fence eight, not his first error, and badly hampered Breath Of Blighty, who appeared to be sneaking forward at the time.

x   Back By Midnight (4th): Went too fast for his own good and did not last home on this comeback run. However, he does not have much of a strike rate and his one win was when on an autumn return, so it may not pay to be too forgiving about this or optimistic over what happens next.

x   Braavos (7th): Jumped indifferently and pulled up on his chase debut. Today he did better early but gave up tamely after an error at fence ten. The initial verdict is that he is not a chaser.
A general scene setter in which the last three are Oliver’s Hill, Workbench and Breath Of Blighty

Race 5: Matchbook VIP Hurdle (Listed) [2m]

1: Old Guard     2: San Benedeto     3: Miss Spent

Winner owned: The Brooks, Stewart Families, J Kyle, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Harry Cobden

Quite a neat win for Old Guard, even allowing for him having the benefit of a creditable tune up spin at Chepstow last week. However, he has looked like two and a half miles plus is his best distance these days, and sharp track races have not usually brought out his best, so he struck a blow for iconoclasm too. Admittedly San Benedeto did appear as if he would come on for the run a little and Miss Spent is rated 34 pounds below Old Guard and only got the seven pounds mares allowance here. Therefore, Old Guard did not need to be 100% to put this is the bag, just be able to produce a nice burst from the final flight to open a little daylight.

+  San Benedeto (2nd): Won four chases on the spin last season, and this run will have got him ready to try and regain that thread. He is not especially strong on undulating tracks, which will restrict his winning options in the top level races that he is likely to be on tour through. In all other respects expect full steam ahead.

  Miss Spent (3rd): Even allowing for the possibility that the first pair were not at their very best, she ran above her 115 rating. The two finishers behind her (one a stable mate) were rated 139 and 140, which will be hard for the handicapper to ignore. She could go over fences, but one previous try was marred by sloppy jumping. Finding a race for her is about to become a nightmare task.

Race 6: Matchbook Casino Handicap Chase [3m]

1: Better Days     2: Heroes Or Ghosts     3: Ramore Will

Winner owned: Mrs Lorna Berryman, trained: Nigel Twiston-Davies, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

A battling win for Better Days, who got into contention late on the far side only to waste the gain with a mistake four fences out. Approaching the last he had joined the leader again, and when that horse, Heroes Or Ghosts, pecked at the final fence, he got the edge needed. It was a brave effort, but also suggested that he is being eased out of his ideal level after a few wins. He is, however, proven at 3m 2f and the future may lie in even longer races. Heroes Or Ghosts ran his best race so far on a right-handed course, and he is not easy to win with so no more could be expected. Ramore Will ran better than when getting his fortunate Plumpton win. Having finally noticed how well Upbeat Cobbler runs in her autumn debut (F1211, with the second being close and the fall being when destined for a place at worst), she broke with tradition and got tailed off this time. It is incredibly annoying when horse change policy at random in this fashion.

+   Fight Commander (4th): The letter sent to him explaining consistency got lost in the post, but he ran well in this first race for seven months. Keep him onside when he finds right-handed tracks.

x   Heroes Or Ghosts (2nd): Does plenty of likeable things, but winning is not really one of them – so far only one success has come from seventeen races under Rules.

Race 7: RPLC Novices’ Hurdle [2m 5f]

1: Present Man     2: Tynecastle Park     3: De Rasher Counter

Winner owned: Woodhouse & Sutton, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Bryony Frost

The betting was strongly convinced that decent chaser Present Man would have what was needed to break his hurdles duck, and given the inexperience and potential inability of his four opponents, it was not likely to need improvement on his three second places in the past. Present Man made extremely hard work of it, scrambling home from Tynecastle Park. The runner-up had been in the frame all three times that he had raced over hurdles, but been considerably more dangerous in the couple over two miles than the single longer race. Hot on their heels was De Rasher Counter, winner of an Irish point and a Clonmel bumper. That form suggests some ability, so perhaps rather than Present Man underperform, it was Tynecastle Park excelling himself.

+   De Rasher Counter (3rd): Making his British and hurdling debut after a nice long summer holiday, there would appear to be a strong chance that he can improve on this.
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