Newton Abbot, 23/7/17

A busy family day at Newton Abbot and the rain that was threatened only turned up in the odd spot, passing almost unnoticed. Occasional racegoers who decided that number three was lucky and to stick with it, found they in fact came unstuck, as number three was a non-runner in the next four races and lost the last two. Then the meeting ended with a bookies nightmare – a dead heat for third in an eight runner race, and all of those each-way bets to sort out and explain. This was actually their second problem of the day as race two had eight go to post and one withdrawn lame at the start, leaving them to handle people who had expected three places and also a small Rule 4 deduction. Still, Monday will probably be uneventful. For the stats people, there were two standout training records on display here, with both Paul Nicholls and Richard Newland boasting a 30% win rate on the course. They had two runners apiece, in the same races, won one each, both times with their horse that was favourite. Easy peasy, lemon thingy?

Going: Good to Soft (Soft places)

Race 1: Racing Partnership TRP Novices Handicap Hurdle [2m 1f]

1: Knight Commander     2: Arty Campbell     3: Findusatgorcombe

Winner owned: The Rebelle Boys, trained: Olly Murphy, ridden: Richard Johnson

Ultimately, Knight Commander won this quite easily. The strong suspicion was that after the field went at a cautiously sedate pace until three out (except Fauve, who refused to go slowly to even beyond the start line), Knight Commander was the only one to really handle the ground conditions. For the other four, as soon as the riders were working hard, the horses were floundering. For the winner this represented handicap debut success after being really inept in three novice hurdle attempts. He had seven months off and a change of stable since last appearing, and it would be nice to think that the official explanation was “the previous trainer handled him like a buffoon” or “I had to get my hands on him because he was previously not off for all his worth.” However, from Olly Murphy’s point of view, this is unlikely, as he took over Knight Commander from his Mum, and would not want to risk being sent to bed without any supper or having a month’s ban from watching SpongeBob Square Pants. Which may be connected to Findus At Gorcombe. Or perhaps not.

x   Weld Arab (5th): Had top weight because he had actually shown the modicum of promise that the others seemed to lack. He had been beaten six times in handicaps, but this was the weakest opposition that he had run into so far. Therefore, even allowing for the ground concerns, his effort was disappointing.

xx   Arty Campbell (2nd): Won four times on the flat and got a rating up to a very respectable 83, but since converting to jumps he has been very disinclined to remind us how that was achieved.

xx   Fauve (Ref): With results of late being shockingly bad, people were hopefully disinclined to be backing him. Anyone whose resolve on this topic was wavering did get a reminder here to stand firm on the avoidance.
Leader Knight Commander jumped the last better than it looks in this photo, but there is no mistaking Arty Campbell's mistake

Race 2: John Bircham Memorial Maiden Hurdle [2m 5.5f]

1: Whoshotwho     2: Silver Quay     3: Horse Force One

Winner owned: The Blue Bar Partnership, trained: Nicky Henderson, ridden: Nico de Boinville

The second race was a maiden hurdle of the weak kind. In the betting Horse Force One was all the rage, although his two bumper wins were also very sub-standard looking races and he had not tackled hurdles before. His performance was at the bottom end of expectation and when he tired (wrong going perhaps) Horse Force One was using all of his force in battering the hurdles instead of going over them. As this was going on, Whoshotwho cruised into the lead and surged a long way clear without having to dig especially deep to do so, and Silver Quay jumped the last two hurdles slightly less awkwardly than the favourite, allowing him to nick a distant second. Let us now have an aside regarding Postdata in the Racing Post, which selected Silver Quay as their option. He was flagged as handling good to soft from flat form, which often fails to translate to jumps, but is not a total dud of an opinion. Trainer form was flagged as neutral, despite a losing run that stood at 35. Ability got a double tick, based on a flat rating of 77, possibly viable in a race like this, but with no jumps experience at all, the strong positive is dubious. And finally recent form was flagged as strongly positive. He had only one run for the stable (after a couple of months off), finishing third in a lady riders’ flat race, but beaten ten lengths. Again, a highly unconvincing credential. So should Postdata be retitled Post Crazed Speculation?

+   Whoshotwho (1st): Went 371 in bumpers, the middle race being a spectacular disaster and the other two hinting that it was the exception, not the rule. He ran well enough on hurdles debut and confirmed the idea that he is improving with experience. The form so far does not amount to much, but do not underestimate his power to develop upon it.

x   Horse Force One (3rd): With the possible impact of the going in mind, it still did look as if his limitations were ruthlessly exposed here.

Race 3: Packexe Protecting What Matters Novices Chase [2m 0.5f]

1: Bagad Bihoue     2: Vosne Romanee     3: Ivor’s Queen

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

It had been proven that Bagad Bihoue could jump really well in a small field, and having just three opponents was leaving the race in a state with which he was familiar. There was a legitimate concern that on ground easier than good he may just curl up and surrender pathetically. He did not, the good to soft ground had no effect his jumping at all and thus he won. Bagad Bihoue was on level weights with the runner-up, who was rated six pounds lower and did nothing at all wrong in the race, and beat him by about four lengths – seeming to have a little bit in hand. Ivor’s Queen was receiving seventeen pounds from the winner, is rated twenty five pounds lower, and lost by seven lengths – she stayed on stoutly without really looking like any better than third place was coming. Is this not a good case for leaving all of their ratings unchanged?

+   Ivor’s Queen (3rd): As noted above, she ran more or less to her rating against the winner, but of the trio she was the one who was a mystery as she fell in her only other chase and was rated on her hurdles performances. This showed that she could be winning handicaps, or the occasional mediocre mares only novice over fences, and she showed no obvious hangover from the tumble.
A typical shot of Bagad Bihoue showing the fences who is boss

Race 4: Packexe Over The Edge Juvenile Hurdle [2m 1f]

1: Charlie Rascal     2: Amadeus Rox     3: Phoenix Dawn

Winner owned: The Horse Players Two, trained: Neil Mulholland, ridden: Noel Fehily

At face value it was a less than ordinary juvenile race, featuring the second and fourth from the equally less than ordinary event at Stratford a week earlier. The prize money to the first was in excess of £7,000 and it is not the sort of pot that this bunch can be expected to contest habitually. As it turned out, the race unfolded in a fashion that got the crowd really quite animated. Phoenix Dawn made the running, but his jumping seemed to have regressed from last week and he was a bit hesitant at most flights of hurdles. Amadeus Rox was ridden to head him turning for home, but Charlie Rascal was cruising along behind the new leader and pounced at the last, which he misjudged. Amadeus Rox rallied, but Charlie Rascal just held on. Phoenix Dawn was beaten three lengths, conceding more than that with the errors made during the race.

+   Charlie Rascal (1st): Lost a two year old race on the flat with honour, but the rest of his career non-jumping was pretty terrible, and he ended up rated just 55. He has changed yards for hurdling and at least looks like a horse designed for the new job, so progress is possible – with a wary eye on that regressive flat career.

+   Vision De Gloire (5th): Represents Nick Williams yard, who along with Nigel Twiston-Davies is the leading British exponent of debuting horses in juvenile hurdles without flat or bumper experience. This one fitted that bill and showed his naivety throughout. The end result was uninspiring, but improvement seems inevitable (he is also listed as not having been gelded). There may even be enough progress to consider victory in future.

x   Phoenix Dawn (3rd): Got a tentative positive after his hurdles debut, and this cancels it out as he did not move on from that run at all.
Phoenix Dawn opts for a wide landing base for safety reasons as Yorkshire Star (red & white) gives him as wide a berth as possible. Amadeus Rox and Charlie Rascal lead the chase. Vision De Gloire and Performance Art enjoy a background role.

Race 5: SIS Handicap Chase [3m 2f]

1: Strumble Head     2: Beuvron     3: Patricktom Boru

Winner owned: Jonathan Martin, trained: Peter Bowen, ridden: James Bowen

An all the way win for Strumble Head, although he tied up badly after the second last, feeling the effects of an aggressive attack from the moment that they started. He held on by a rapidly diminishing length and three-quarters, having been a dozen or more lengths clear approaching the second last. Beuvron, who has won six point-to-points, had been a Rules failure in Britain after three French wins (two hurdles, one chase), but it seems that he has finally got his handicap chase act together, and is not to be blamed too much for not beating a well handicapped opponent that managed to snap out of a spell of woeful form. Tail Of Intrigue got the best of the three way tussle to be favourite. Supporters did not get much fun from following him, as the story abruptly ended with a fall at fence three.

+   Strumble Head (1st): As he was a twelve year old, it did appear that his form decline may be a career ending one. Today was the day that he showed some of his old fire, repeating his 2016 victory in this race, on ground that would normally be a negative – although not a total destroyer of his chance. He did not jump right today either, so must have been in a very good mood. With the first two clear, the only worry is that the handicapper raises them both too far.

+   Beuvron (2nd): Performed as his pointing efforts have suggested is possible, but his race displays have not matched – although there were signs of enlightenment in his two recent third places. In each of those he had taken on one of today’s rivals and he now turned the tables on both of them. Better luck next time? Especially if he can keep tabs on the leader a bit better.

x   Calin Du Brizais (4th): Has a nasty habit of making mistakes late in races, when the pace picks up and he is rushed along a bit more. In his last two races he had won because he survived those errors better, not because he avoided them, and getting raised eighteen pounds for them has pushed him out of his least-discomfort zone.

Race 6: Handicap Hurdle [2m 2.5f]

1: Theo     2: Treasure The Ridge     3: Bistouri D’Honore

Winner owned: P Jenkins & Partner, trained: Richard Newland, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

The trickiest race of the day, although two non-runners did give people a squeak of picking out the winner. There was a strong positive response from the crowd as favourite Theo picked off Treasure The Ridge at the final hurdle. The pair were well clear of a weakening Bistouri D’Honore and the remaining runners were scattered further back. Hat trick completed, in uneventful style – where uneventful is a pleasing lack of worry and drama. And there was not much to catch the eye from those trailing in forlornly behind.

+   Treasure The Ridge (2nd): There is a concern that his appealing 108 handicap mark gets shot out of the water for finishing twelve lengths or more clear of the rest of the runners, but there is also the hope that the handicappers see the well defeated enemies for the rabble that they proved to be (on the day). Apart from his debut, he has tended to perform OK without posing danger over hurdles, and the feeling is that one day he will get it right. The only concern is that the latest of his six flat wins was back in 2014 (only one race in all of 2016).

x   Bistouri D’Honore (3rd): He has managed to win two hurdles, including his previous run over 2m 1f on this track in first time hood and cheekpieces. However, the headgear did not seem to work for a second time and disappointments like this now dominate his record.

x   What A Scorcher (5th): Fairly prominent in the betting, his last run was a very close second on the flat at Chepstow. However, his two hurdle spins in the winter were terrible, and he seems to currently have forgotten whatever skills got him two hurdles wins in 2016 and a half length second in this very race a year earlier. He could snap back into functional mode at any time, but may just be fed up with hurdling.

Race 7: SIS Trading Services Handicap Hurdle [3m 2.5f]

1: Sutter’s Hill     2: Kentford Heiress     3: Superman De La Rue & Sam Noir (dead heat)

Winner owned: RER Williams, trained: Evan Williams, ridden: Mitchell Bastyan

This was a proper staying hurdle, with horses that were known to relish a long trip even if not tested over quite this far plus a front runner that ensured a fierce pace and no hiding place for the those whose stamina was borderline. Superman De La Rue was the one at the head of affairs, with the 2016 winner Archie Rice sitting just behind him, nagging him to go faster and faster. As the leader jumped the first hurdle in the home straight with just over a lap remaining, Superman De La Rue was already blowing hard and seemed unlikely to see out the final circuit. Instead of folding, he was not headed until three out and scrapped away excellently to dead heat for third with the very inconsistent Sam Noir, beaten only a quarter of a length. Popular favourite Sutter’s Mill just edged home in front, at the expense of Kentford Heiress, who lost more than the nose that she lost by when wandering into the second last and not pinging the final flight.

++   Superman De La Rue (3rd): A productive pointer when fit, he had never tried this far over hurdles, and fought like mad to make it a success. This time it failed, but he should be able to pull off something a couple of slots better.

+   Sutter’s Mill (1st): When he contests races over 2m 7f or more, the scorecard now reads 25121. Watch out for when he switches to long distance chases, and despite being active in summer, he is very comfy on soft going.

+   Kentford Heiress (2nd): Her career contains an awful lot of failures, but if sticking to races on sharp, left-handed, level courses, she has thirteen runs resulting in four wins, three honourably close losses and a first past the post which in which she was disqualified. Losing by a nose confirmed that she stays this far as well.

+   Bankhall (8th): Joined a new yard and reminded them that he hates chasing by pulling up in two of those races. This was the return to hurdles, and for a long way he led the group chasing the clear leaders. Nothing came of it in the end, but he is capable of slowly perking up as the new team get to know him.
Kentford Heiress leads Superman De La Rue two out, with Backoftherock in third but about to fade. Sneaking into view is Sutter's Mill (black & white) with Archie Rice having had enough as well.
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