Kempton, 24/2/18

A busy afternoon at Kempton, probably boosted by an advance offer with £5 admission for a card featuring three Grade 2 races and a Grade 3 handicap chase. On the day the course announced that the rugby would be shown as well, but once racing had finished there was no sign of it. And the bars were closed at what would have been half time anyway. A masterclass in building goodwill and then throwing it away almost instantly. It is possible that the incessant announcements referring to the sponsors' 2% commission rates may have driven everyone insane anyway.

Going: Good (Good to Soft places)

Race 1: Back Or Lay On Betdaq Handicap Hurdle [2m 5f]

1: Kings Walk     2: The Mighty Don     3: Wolfcatcher

Winner owned: Mrs Jean R Bishop, trained: Colin Tizzard, ridden: Harry Cobden

Other than the main chase this was the most unfathomable race of the day (6/1 the field in the betting plus some nice looking horses taking part) and the result blasted away a fair swathe of Jackpots and Placepots. Despite four months off, Kings Walk stood out in the paddock as very fit, and with the Tizzard team in strong form (nine of the fourteen runners hailed from yards with at least 20% winners in the last fortnight) he was ready to run a mighty race. At the last it looked as if Kings Walk might break into "skip clear" mode, but The Mighty Don battled back very gamely and the margin was only a neck. Wolfcatcher, who was held up anyway, made a couple of mid-race mistakes that left him with a lot of work to do and pinching third by a short head from Django Django was the silkiest purse to be concocted from the sow's ear.

+   Kings Walk (1st): This was only the second win in a not terribly busy career. More will hopefully be on the way when he tackles chasing.

+   My Charity (8th): Only had three hurdle races to his name, and the best result had been at Worcester in October, followed by a couple of declining efforts. This was a very difficult time and place to be debuting in handicaps, and he will find better opportunities.

+   Morning Herald (11th): This was her first race since December 2016 and whilst she made no show at the finish, she meandered through the first couple of miles well enough. She should gradually find her way back.

x   Wolfcatcher (3rd): He has no wins since his juvenile hurdle debut late in 2015, so despite the obvious encouragement of this result in a fair quality race, it may be expensive to presume he is about to break the losing run.

Race 2: Betdaq Now 2% Commission Pendil Novices' Chase, Grade 2 [2m 4.5f]

1: Cyrname     2: The Unit     3: For Good Measure

Winner owned: Mrs Johnny de la Hey, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Sean Bowen

This was a complete farce of a non-event. The field jumped off in scattered single file, in the order Cyrname, The Unit, For Good Measure, Petrou and nothing changed at any point during the race. Nobody actually made a move to change that, other than when Cyrname flung himself mindlessly at the fourth last and Sean Bowen did very well to stay in the saddle. The Unit has the potential to match up to Cyrname over fences in time. He was a slow learner over hurdles last season, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he takes on fences in the same cautious style. Petrou did not jump well enough to close the margin, but being involved did not appear to be a high priority on his return from a mid-winter break.

+   For Good Measure (3rd): Stayed on heartily to be nearest at the finish. He seems to appreciate the undulating tracks more, so on one of those and when actually being a trier, improvement is on the cards.

Race 3: Betdaq ChangingForTheBettor Adonis Juvenile Hurdle, Grade 2 [2m]

1: Redicean     2: Malaya     3: Beau Gosse

Winner owned: Apple Tree Stud, trained: Alan King, ridden: Wayne Hutchinson

This outcome made it a hurdle career for Redicean of three course and distance races and three wins. The difference this time was that he won by seven lengths instead of ten and did so against some worthwhile opposition, living up to his reputation this time. The pre-race monetary action was for Malaya, who had won a listed race at Auteuil but not quite shone so brightly in Britain - two seconds and success in a four horse race. She made a race of it but had no answer to Redicean's turn of foot. It is significant that she has an entry in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham, where she is likely to have a high weight, but does not have one to try and use the fillies' weight allowance in the Triumph Hurdle. The most fascinating entry was Beau Gosse. He had disappointed in the big Grade 1 three year olds' hurdle at Auteuil in November, but previously had beaten the first two, Master Dino and Tunis. The run in Britain was reportedly in search of non-bottomless going, but he did not handle our traditional hurdles brilliantly, understandably jumping in a style more suited to French brush hurdles. That cost him ground that Redicean and Malaya were too good to allow to be recovered.

+ +   Redicean (1st): Previously in the faction that believed him to be unproven as regards to being ante-post Triumph Hurdle favourite, UK-Jumping is now more convinced, although not up to speed on what Irish-trained horses are in the equation.

x   Kasparenko (6th): Given a rough option for his hurdles debut, his status as a 94-rated middle distance flat handicapper made for a sixty lengths loss being rated as extremely disappointing, and not a clue that stepping down in class will be a huge difference maker. The one possible excuse would be the absence of blinkers, which were habitually used on the flat.

Race 4: Sky Bet Dovecote Novices' Hurdle, Grade 2 [2m]

1: Global Citizen     2: Scarlet Dragon     3: Michael's Mount

Winner owned: The Megsons, trained: Ben Pauling, ridden: Daryl Jacob

Global Citizen took on a decent looking Grade 2 and won it in impressive fashion. He led turning away from the stands, kicked on around the final bend and was comfortably clear at the last. He had only won one very modest hurdle at Southwell, but performances like this raised the issue of how he managed to get beaten in not one, but two novice hurdles prior to that. A change of stable seems to have done the trick. Scarlet Dragon was making his hurdles debut, but as a five time flat winner with a 107-rating he should be up to competing at this level. He made one notable error en route and pulled quite hard early on, but otherwise took to it well. Michael's Mount was a lesser, yet still classy, flat handicapper to Scarlet Dragon, but he had run once over hurdles, winning at Doncaster very easily, and he sets a fair standard for what it would take to beat him. The same is true of the fourth, Mont Des Avaloirs, who was thirteen lengths third in a Grade 1 novice last time. It is possible that fitting the hood here did not have the desired effect - although he ran pretty well until fading from between the last two obstacles.

+ +   Global Citizen (1st): Has burst into life since joining his current yard, and he probably has not finished his winning yet.

+ +   Scarlet Dragon(2nd): Could have done a lot worse on his hurdles debut, and has the ability to make a career over jumps. He has entries at Cheltenham but might lack the experience to get away with it on such a high stage.

+   MIchael's Mount (3rd): Did enough to substantiate the good impression from his hurdles debut.

  Shoal Bay (6th): Won a bumper and his hurdles debut at Taunton, then was beaten only nine lengths by some top novices at Cheltenham. That did not make him the first choice to win this, but it should have been enough for him to be involved at the business end. Instead he was some thirty lengths back. Counter productive introduction of the tongue tie, or just having his limitations exposed?

x   Humphrey Bogart (8th): Drew pre-race attention for having finished fifth in the Derby. Unfortunately it was the 2016 renewal, and he last ran in August that year. It is tempting to be forgiving of this hefty loss due to the absence, but Nicky Henderson does not usually have even those which have been absent so long ending up so far out of contention.

Race 5: Betdaq Handicap Chase, Grade 3 [3m]

1: Master Dee     2: Ballykan     3: Theatre Territory

Winner owned: Paul & Clare Rooney, trained: Fergal O'Brien, trained: Barry Geraghty

When the Racing Post sponsored this race they were often guilty of overhyping the winner of it, and since the naming has bounced around other organisations, the response to the outcome has tended to be a bit more rational. That is a shame for Master Dee, as he is exactly the sort of horse that ought not to be able to win this type of race and deserves attention for managing to do so. In a twenty-two race career (two of them Irish points), he had never finished outside the first three. That is an amazing record, to never even have such an off day that he pulls up or ends up in anonymous midfield. The side effect should be that the handicapper has elevated him beyond potential for success and his three chase victories had been in four or five horse races. So stalking around at the back of this and winning going away, with plenty up his sleeve is really an unusual outcome. Ballykan also came from off of the pace, which was not a surprise as it looked like Loose Chips sank ships by setting an unsustainable pace and the likes of Go Conquer and Josses Hill dared not let him have his way. Most if those in the first half of the field early in the race began to drop out with a mile or so remaining.

+   Master Dee (1st): What circumstances would lead to him not being placed? He does do best on sharp tracks, but results of 3323221123 is hardly failing when not on them.

  Ballykan (2nd): Has not won for a while and looks workably handicapped at the moment. The last couple of years have seen him fail to be placed at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals in spring, although he did not necessarily run badly in them. Better luck this year? Or better luck aiming sights elsewhere?

+   Theatre Territory (3rd): Moved to the front going very easily on the final turn but did not stay this race as well as the first two - he had not raced beyond 2m 5f before. The plus assumes that shorter races will be on the immediate agenda.

x   Acting Lass (9th): Started favourite after winning all three previous chases, but they were small fields and he found this fifteen horse race too much, despite wisely going for patient tactics.

x   Josses Hill (PU): In the past he got a thumbs up here for having apparently got his head around chasing in a way that was not possible before. That sustained itself for a few months, but he has returned to struggle mode.
Most people associated with success are pleased - Master Dee is feeling the pressure of maintaining his never unplaced sequence.

Race 6: Betdaq 2% Commission Exchange Handicap Chase [2m 4.5f]

1: Favorito Buck's     2: Kayf Blanco     3: Enjoy Responsibly

Winner owned: Mrs Johnny de la Hey, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Harry Cobden

On a good card, this race was a bit of a blot, with none of the eight runners boasting ideal credentials for tackling it. Someone had to win, and it proved to be Favorito Buck's. His problem has been that since winning his only race in France, he had been mostly hopeless, one near miss over 2m 2f here in November being an exception. Whatever normally stops him living up to potential was on holiday now, and he scraped past Kayf Blanco by a neck - a horse that in thirty previous races has just two wins and fifteen instances of second or third place. Favorito Buck's is not the first to only narrowly pip him, but let us not get carried away with what it required. Turning for home, Enjoy Responsibly seemed the most likely winner, but either horse or jockey took a view that going down the stand side was the preferred option (odds-on is that it was the horse hanging) and that did not work. Interesting side note - I'dliketheoption marked his chase debut in August 2016 by losing to Master Dee by only half a length. Next time they were set for another ding-dong, only for I'dliketheoption to unseat. He had the same rider as Master Dee today, but was not in any way inspired by events half an hour earlier.

+   No Ceiling (PU): Won his most recent race, but with one exception on Boxing Day, he has never run well going right-handed. That is enought to consider forgiving this flop, although he also pulled ridiculously hard until allowed to lead.

x x   Kayf Blanco (2nd): Came close to the win. He is a bigger fan of coming close to the win that he is of actually winning. A much bigger fan.

x x   Rothman (5th): Is cut from the same cloth as Kayf Blanco - 27 runs, 2 wins, 10 second places, 5 third places. In this instance he even kicked in the groin those people who hd taken the hint and used him as a good option in the final leg of the Placepot.
One mention too many of 2% freaks out people into taking weird photographs in the style of Rob Zombie film making. Favorito Buck's has the margin on Kayf Blanco

Race 7: Betdaq Free Trading Tools Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race [2m]

1: Danny Kirwan     2: Pym     3: Larkbarrow Lad

Winner owned: Mrs Johnny de la Hey, trained: Paul Nicholls, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

In the days before Graded level bumpers, this race was often the best bumper of the season, but it has lost much lustre over the years. There were nine runners here and they looked like a promising bunch. Pym was expected to be favourite, despite running here being stated as simply to keep his novice hurdling status for next season. He was deposed by money for Danny Kirwan in the betting and also in the race. Danny Kirwan had won his only Irish point easily, but did not have much to beat. He was not stressed to make it 2/2 here, and was worth more than the two lengths margin at the line. Larkbarrow Lad debuted with third place in a modest Southwell event. His effort here demonstrated that he got something from the experience.

+   Danny Kirwan (1st): Gets one plus for this impressive effort. Time could well tell that he was worthy of two.

+   Pym (2nd): Won on his debut last spring at Ayr. The unbeaten record has not lasted long, but he ought to make an impact in the world of hurdles.

+   Brigade Of Guards (5th): One of two newcomers in the line-up, he was beaten six lengths without being given an excessively fraught first look at racing. Better should be on the way.
It took all day but a decent picture was just about possible. With a lap to play they are Condaw Ace, Larkbarrow Lad, Pym, Saturdaynightfever, From The Heart, Special Acceptance, Potters Tale and shadow hugging Brigade Of Guards. Danny Kirwan is conspicuously not visible - he might be hidden by Special Acceptance.
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