Leicester, 7/12/17

An interesting travel fail going to this meeting. There was a train fire south of Grantham, which led to whole loads of trains being held at Peterborough. That included the one from Cambridge to Birmingham, via Leicester. Two seconds look at a map would have shown that it is going roughly east to west and nowhere near Grantham, so was it necessary to hold it for half an hour? You would almost think that decisions are being made by someone looking at a map of an area that has all the same place names but in a different layout – New England perhaps. However as the rail line divides at Helpston, it all ended with a nostalgia shot about Pam Sly’s handicap chaser that this site admired in excess of his results and peak performances.

Going: Hurdles – Soft, Chase – Good, Soft patches

Race 1: Knighton Novices’ Hurdle [1m 7.5f]

1: Arthington     2: Brianstorm     3: Lord Marmaduke

Winner owned: Chris Baldwin, trained: Seamus Mullins, ridden: Kevin Jones

Normally a 135-rated contender in a bog standard novice hurdle here would be a warm order, but Arthington was a bit tepid in his attempts to heat up the, erm, heat as far as betting is concerned. He had got his wins in small fields on better going, but his second place at Cheltenham last time should have been more mesmerising. None of this bothered the horse, who popped up in the front rank at the third last looking comfortable and needed only mild encouragement on the run in to convince Brianstorm that he was a beaten contender, although with the hood on the runner-up it had to be body language and not verbal communication that did it. It was a bit more surprising to see Lord Marmaduke emerge for third. His comeback from an absence had been down the field in an absurd tactical race at Sandown, so the potential to show up better was there to see in advance – just not this much better.

+   Glen Rocco (5th): Repeated his noteworthy hurdles debut at Lingfield, but unless connections dig out a weak novice for him next time, wait for handicaps before splashing out.

+   Silk Run (6th): Jumped the first two appallingly and soon got detached, but she stopped the rot on the far side, and in the home straight she even passed a few strugglers. As long as she remembers what she learned(?) mid-race, she too is worth nothing in handicap company.

x   Doctor Haze (7th): Put up a good show at Chepstow in his first race out of the pointing field, but failed miserably to replicate it. He has it all to prove as far as whether he is the real thing.

Race 2: Barkby Conditional Jockeys’ Selling Hurdle [2m 4.5f]

1: Cliffside Park     2: Minstrel Royal     3: Sporty Yankee

Winner owned: Westbourne Racing Club, trained: Olly Murphy, ridden: Jonjo O’Neill

He started favourite and won with some hard work needed, but that was not a total surprise with Cliffside Park as the weights compared to official ratings did not have him thrown in as a gift. Where he had an edge in this company was that he was in recent form, and this was the third victory, all sellers, since mid-summer and this was not his ideal ground. Minstrel Royal ran his best race since leaving Nicky Henderson, helped by the drop in class, and if he had a bit more desire to win, this might have fallen his way. The after race auction drew no bids for a 0-120 horse starting at £3,000. That was surprising, but the auctioneer showed a lack of perseverance that Minstrel Royal would approve of, and it could be argue that Cliffside Park would struggle to win handicaps rated 0-120, has a triple penalty for imminent sellers and does not have enough claiming hurdles around to live on.

x   Minstrel Royal (2nd): Only one once from thirteen races for Nicky Henderson and in four runs (originally typed “ruins” which fits two of them) for the new team he has been inconsistent and not keen to work especially hard. This track suited him, and he still failed. On looks he should be a chaser, but he is soon to turn eight and has hit sellers before chases, which itself speaks volume.

x x   Serenity Now (4th): Caught the eye as a possible selling star when he descended unto this level, but after three runs and three defeats it has clearly not gone anywhere near the best case scenario.
Cliffside Park shortly before he got very indignant about the lack of willing investors at the auction

Race 3: Bradgate Park Handicap Chase [2m]

1: Vocaliser     2: Diamond Rock     3: Canicallyouback

Winner owned: The Songsters, trained: Robin DIckin, ridden: Charlie Poste

A race decided by the presence of a horse from a stable entering a stint of hot form – and Vocaliser did it on the back of a seven months break. A flat winner who never quite cracked hurdling, he had a chase spin to learn the job in spring, and when Diamond Rock loomed up alongside after the last fence, Vocaliser had the will and fitness to fend him off. Diamond Rock repeated his ability to beat Deise Vu and Alpine Secret recently, and did so despite little past experience going right-handed and on galloping courses. This equals him not showing past hidden talent levels but does demonstrate a broader repertoire.

+   Vocaliser (1st): Impressed more than a two lengths win tells and he looks to have got this chasing lark sussed quite quickly, bringing a workable rating from his hurdles career.

+   Minella For Me (4th): So far he has been a non-factor since finishing second to Capitaine in a bumper. This was a drop in class and the hoped for significantly better result did not come. However, failing to be placed was down to a last fence error and he is worth one more chance at this level.
x   Canicallyouback (3rd): Did nothing obviously wrong, other than not dash manically from two out to the winning line, but the general vibe is that he is becoming hard to win with, and that it is his choice, not the racing conditions, behind this.

x   Alpine Secret (5th): In his previous race, at Bangor, he was backed as if a) he was unbeatable and b) was certain to improve massively on a pulled upon chase debut. He managed b) but Diamond Rock handled him fairly comfortably. Again he started favourite, again he was beaten. He is teasing some people a bit nastily, and a second x is not far away.
Vocaliser gets away from the final fence best of all, whereas on the far side Diamond Rock is about to set his challenge. Minella For Me makes the blunder that allowed Canicallyouback to deprive him of third, at worst.

Race 4: Lubenham Mares’ Handicap Hurdle [2m 4.5f]

1: Lagavara     2: Daytime Ahead     3: Miss Fleming

Winner owned: Colin Roberts, trained: Nigel Twiston-Davies, ridden: Jamie Bargary

Put this win down to the jockey. When Lagavara is two lengths down with about seventy metres to go and Daytime Ahead is travelling at more or less than same speed as her, no jockey can be blamed for losing their optimism. Jamie Bargary did not, and when Daytime Ahead faltered in the very late stages, he conjured enough out of Lagavara to win by a nose. A gutsy effort from the winner, especially as she had finished half a length ahead of Daytime Ahead in her last race, and now was seven pounds better off thanks to that rival winning since. It would be great to see the two of them head to head again soon and confound the handicapper by finishing eye to eye for a third time, irrespective of the weights carried. Having finished well clear of the third, both Lagavara and Daytime Ahead cannot avoid some stern treatment imminently with regard to climbing the ratings.
Dontminddboys seems like an amiable old thing, but he appears not to have overly enjoyed the warm glow of victory

Race 5: All New Novices’ Handicap Chase [2m 6.5f]

1: Dontminddboys     2: Dylanseoghan     3: More Than Luck

Winner owned: EPDS Racing Partnership, trained: Robin Dickin, ridden: Jack Quinlan

Robin Dickin swiped both chase prizes with this result, and it was a really competitive race until three out as six of the runners jumped that fence with only about a length splitting them. Amazingly from there Midnight Gem (small mare with twelve stone on her back) managed to lose by fifty lengths and Cup Of Ambition was not a great deal better and so far the main thing that his cup runneth over with is failure to win. Up front Dontminddboys was busy bustling his way to victory, using flying stable form to turn a stretch of earnest but slow places into an earnest and slightly quicker success. Up to now he excelled on easy tracks, especially Towcester, but it turns out that he is just a massive fan of steep hills. Who would have known? Dylanseoghan ran a good race after a year on the sidelines, pinching second by half a length, from More Than Luck, burdened by 12 stone 4 pounds.

+   Dylanseoghan (2nd): He has not had a great deal of racing and came here after a year without a run. Seeming in trouble on the far side of the track, he rallied very well once coming towards the stands and should come on for the run.

+   Zigger Zagger (4th): Without a run for eight months and looking short of full fitness, he actually went to the front before the second last, before drifting back from the temptation of glory. This would almost merit a second plus were it not for the history of some really dodgy jumping off days which undermine the promising days.

  More Than Luck (3rd): Won his last race by a country mile, but with a seven pounds penalty here he ran solidly in failure. It augurs poorly for his chances when the rehandicapping occurs.

Race 6: Marston Trussell Handicap Hurdle [1m 7.5f]

1: Cougar Kid     2: Does It In Style     3: Kalaskadesemilley

Winner owned: The Cross Racing Club, trained: John O’Shea, ridden: Brodie Hampson

Life used to be simpler when all that was needed to assess Cougar Kid was to note that he was perfectly capable of winning whatever race he was in, but that he was totally unable to concentrate enough to do so. Now that common sense seems to have been applied (possibly even permanently!) would we rule him out of a hat trick? Answers on a postcard… Does It In Style gave it a fair shot on his handicap debut, and only lost by a length in the end to a suddenly flourishing opponent. Kalaskadesemilley has not really flourished for a year and changed yard twice in the meantime, but he livened up enough to hold on narrowly for third. There were no lessons from history here in the result as 2015 runner-up Georgieshore lost out narrowly for third and Lost In Newyork (runner-up in 2014, fifth in 2015, won it in 2013) was only seventh, but he had been off for nineteen months – hence missing the 2016 event.

+   Does It In Style (2nd): Is yet to live up to his name, but he did not race on the flat and had a smattering of novice hurdle runs to qualify for this. The smattering of humans present did not look best pleased with this result, but he has plenty of time on his side to put things right – jumping with more certainty under pressure for instance.

Empire: Georgieshore (4th): Showed more enthusiasm than he was doing so late last season. That included jumping the first couple of hurdles as if they were double decker buses. He was only a head off of third place and it adds up to a solid comeback.
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