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Plumpton, 2/1/17

A drier Sussex National day than last year, but thirty-five of Noah's days in the Ark would also fit that bill.The crowd was down on normal, probably thanks to nobody trusting Southern Rail to get them to and from racing, but the track had done something radical on a racecourse - having people to direct traffic on exit and minimise chaos. This is common sense, so it will never catch on.

Going: Soft

Race 1: Download The Award Winning At The Races App Novices' Hurdle [2m]

1: Golden Birthday     2: Action Replay     3: Count Meribel

Winner owned: GC Stevens, trained: Harry Fry, ridden: Noel Fehily

A pointless and valueless futility with more than half of the hurdles omitted. Commentator Simon Holt conspicuously never referred to it as a low sun, because it was not one. And which jockey was sent to check for the impact of the sun? Noel Fehily, who was riding the speediest horse the race (main threats being more staying types), which was also a heavily backed favourite. So it was pretty much 100% certain that he would say they needed to be omitted, even it suddenly started raining. When it transpired that he was feeling a flu-ridden and gave up some later rides, that only reinforced the sense of a non-neutral decision. Very unsatisfactory, and the placed horses might prove in time to be hard done by.

Race 2: Ultimate Guide To The Jumps attheraces.com.jumps Novices' Chase [2m 1f]

1: Baron Alco     2: Solatentif     3: Starchitect

Winner owned: John Stone, trained: Gary Moore, ridden: Jamie Moore

Baron Alco was not as impressive as in his earlier chase runs, but he was being given quite a stressful time of it by the very promising Laissez Dire, who sadly fell fatally at the fourth last. From then on Solatenif hardly shaped as if he was good enough to catch the winner, but as the jumping in front got more laboured, there was always a ghost of a chance that a bit of dour plodding may catch out Baron Alco. Starchitect has not really taken to fences, and it was noticeable that he lost ground at most fences. Just as apparent was that he made it up fairly readily on the wider gaps between them, and he has not lost his ability. The skill is buried under a concrete slab in the corner of the back garden, and he cannot remember which one.

+   Soletenif (2nd): Finished four lengths runner-up in a Grade 3 novice hurdle at Limerick, and did some other good things as well. This was a perfectly reasonable chasing debut, especially considering that 2m 1f would be a little on the short side, even on soft ground.
+   Starchitect (3rd): If returned to hurdles, he still looks to have the nippiness to do a job.
x   Starchitect (3rd): Is not yet a good enough jumper to trust if he stays over fences

Race 3: Follow At The Races On Instagram EBF Novices Hurdle [2m 4.5f]

1: No Comment     2: Minella Awards     3: Margot Fontane

Winner owned: JP McManus, trained: Philip Hobbs, ridden: Barry Geraghty

By Plumpton standards there were some nicely constructed young(ish) horses in this line up, and whilst dividends might not be immediate, there should be winners to come from this. Despite his yard being recently on the cold list and conceding a lump of weight all round, No Comment breezed around very confidently, and whilst he did not quicken up too much at the business end of things, he always had the long absent Minella Awards held. Margot Fontane has improved no end in hurdles compared to her pointing days in the south-east. It may sound unsporting, but we have to imagine being ridden by the youthfully vigorous Tom Cannon rather than her owner (the area's senior rider by age, probably) has to be seen as an major contributor to this state of affairs. The fear here is that despite receiving fifteen pounds and losing by about ten lengths, the handicapper might rate her too harshly on the back of it. No Comment beat her further on a smaller weight difference here three weeks earlier.

+ +   No Comment (1st): Has responded well to being hooded, and is quite easy to like. The potential as a chaser is very appealing.v Minella Awards (2nd): Lost his Irish point to a good opponent, then only managed two spaced out runs for Nicky Henderson. The unwillingness of past owners to persevere much with him was not a good sign, as it was a shared effort between outfits that do keep their horses around even if they are not going to win championship races, but he ran perfectly well enough here in the first time tongue tie.
+   Kings Walk (4th): This was his third try over hurdles and a step forward on past achievements. He looks the sort for whom this is the start of a general progressive phase.
+   Alpine Secret (6th): Debuted by finishing eighth in a bumper, with six of those in front subsequently winning over hurdles, including the impressive but now injured Robin Roe. The brandy barrel of energy has emptied at the second last in both previous hurdle races, but promise remained. This was a strange run, going from back of the pack, to near the front, to well in rear in a short spell. It might just have been a "do no harm third run for a handicap mark" sort of day, but there appeared to be plenty of each-way support for him. The alternative views are a) never run on soft before, and this holding, almost good to soft type ground was hated or b) as per the hurdle runs before, he might need a wind op. It is too early to give up on him.
x   Chelsea Flyer (5th): Usually gets placed, but is looking fiendishly disposed as regards paying his way - a hood has been tried in the past. This was the first proper uphill finish that he has tackled, and it took little time for him to decide that it was not his thing.

Race 4: Download The At The Races iPad App Handicap Hurdle [2m 4.5f]

1: Kayflin     2: Sober Sailor     3: Ding Ding

Winner owned: Valence Racing, trained: Linda Jewell, ridden: Thomas Garner

The set up of this race was "typical Plumpton 0-100 pooh fight," just lacking passenger monkeys to do the pooh throwing. Instead, rounding the railway bend there were only three left worth considering. A recent winner without a penalty, Sober Sailor seemed to be in command but a revitalised Kayflin took advantage of a nice low weight to outlast the seafarer and prevent the doubling up. After two modest wins and a failed promotion to racing at Sandown, Ding Ding appeared to be a bit too exposed to win this, but she was closing all the way to the line and emerged defeated with credit. At the foot of the hill, Snippetydoodah was a good call to be involved as well, but she weakened alarmingly quickly and pulled up. Normally as consistent as can be expected at this level, where horses get flummoxed by even minor nuisances, this was well below par, and although she trotted back to unsaddle, it would not be surprising to find out that something was amiss this time.

+   Kayflin (1st): Had never managed to get her nose home in front before but had been placed when rated in the 90s before. A mark of 79 allowed her to break a run of frankly incompetent efforts, but now that she has exited the funk, one more for luck cannot be ruled out.
x   Sweet'N'Chic (5th): Another yet to sniff the sweet smell of success, she has run promising enough races for this level, but not for the first time spoiled her chance by jumping significantly off to the right.
x   Bostin (10th): Is becoming an occasional racecourse visitor, and this was his first race since June 2015. Even allowing for his wins being over much longer and on good or fast ground, there was nothing in this to suggest another success is knocking on the door.
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Kayflin just about worries Sober Sailor out of it - running towards the bars presumably aided Kayflin. Ding Ding is closing all the time

Race 5: At The Races Sussex National Handicap Chase [3m 4.5f]

1: Morney Wing     2: Dawson City     3: Azure Fly

Winner owned: The Steeple Chasers, trained: Charlie Mann, ridden: Paddy Brennan

A proper stayers renewal of this, although conditions were less testing than usually applies when the race is in the New Year slot. This meant that more horses were in contention over the last couple of fences than the usual Retreat From Moscow type struggle. However, in contention might be a slight exaggeration as Morney Wing had pinched a couple of lengths in the back straight and was never shaping as if he would give them back, despite a rather tired jump at the last. And even that may have been a false impression, as Paddy Brennan seemed to have a bit of a tack problem on the run-in, which may have begun before the final fence. Either that or he was trying to elbow aside phantom hitchhiker who was risking victory. This is not an easy race for a horse that has never tasted chase success, so well done to Dawson City for being second. Connections will be thinking, "Second. Not again." Over the years Azure Fly has done more than his fair share of mad things, but they have been suppressed lately and his main problem here would have been poor stable form. The form of a recent lower class staying handicap chase here took a knock at face value, but the winner of that, Sartorial Elegance, was still in with every chance when he fell four out, and hampered his patiently ridden past victim Tothemoonandback. From this distance, does it make Sartorial Elegance a team player who is not just interested in ramping up his own reputation or a vindictive bearer of phantom grudges?

+   Morney Wing (1st): This was his first win beyond three miles, but he had been placed more than once at 3m 5f. The way that he did the job would suggest that this will not be the last marathon race success.
+   Top Wood (5th): Had to lug around 12-1 here, but of more concern was that he had been sluggish on both previous races around sharp turns. Guess what? He was a bit sluggish again, but was close enough to be of future interest on easy/galloping courses. He has fallen or unseated in three of the last eight, but they included the Cheltenham Festival and the Scottish National, so be most interested away from the hurly burly of busy days.
x   Dawson City (2nd): Won two hurdles, including a stayers race here two years ago, but he is now 0/9 in chases, with an ugly looking five times in second place. It is at the point where he needs to prove a will to win before we give him unequivocal trust.
x   Nail 'M (pulled up): One of several, such as the winner, to show a return to form last time, he was being hard ridden at the third fence and showed no interest in this race at all.

UK-Jumping Selections: Cailleach Annie (7th): Faced a tough task after only three chases, having unseated in one, and following an error at the twelfth, she jumped with a lack of fluency. Fortunately she completed without mishap and a less competitive race will suit her better.
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Morney Wing safely over the last, to the apparent shock of Dawson City. Right to left, Azure Fly, Onderun and Top Wood pursue the place prizes.

Race 6: Visit Attheraces.com Handicap Chase [2m 3.5f]

1: Johns Luck     2: Like Sully     3: Ray Diamond

Winner owned: John Hobbs, trained: Neil Mulholland, ridden: David Noonan

There is unlikely to be a better finish around Plumpton than this all season, with the first three all putting in performances that were worthy of first prize. Former UK-Jumping horse of the year Ray Diamond tried to make the running, but had to be scrubbed along vigorously for the final lap - rider James Best had just endured three miles of the same on Nail 'M in the big event. Even so, had he not been a little slow at the last two, he probably would have won. Like Sully stalked Ray Diamond much of the way and went on four fences out. The battling veteran proved hard to shake off, but he probably thought that he had Johns Luck covered when that horse rallied on the railway bend and nosed ahead at the second last fence. Then Johns Luck had that frustrated "why won't these idiots just accept the inevitable" moment and only prevailed by a neck and half a length.

+   Johns Luck (1st): A very versatile horse who will win over all sorts of distance, courses and ground conditions as long as he has blinkers and is not required to make the running. Therefore he may adapt to a risen handicap mark by succeeding in a race that bears no resemblance to this one.
+   Like Sully (2nd): Always looked like a mudlover until winning on good ground over this course and distance in the Spring. He has won 3/9 at Plumpton, winning on breaks of 13, 17 and 8 days. It is possible therefore that 23 days since his last run cost him this. Do not be frightened of a quick return.
+   Ray Diamond (3rd): Just turned twelve, he showed all the zest of a horse half his age, if conveniently ignoring the lap when he was being furiously ridden and the others were not. Brown Bear is half his age, but see below. However, he nearly pulled the win out of the fire.
x   Brown Bear (6th): There was a suspicion that his Towcester win owed a lot to extremely bad opposition and in this tougher company he was not overly interested, being well beaten before getting hampered by the fall of Bobbits Way four out.

Race 7: Follow At The Races On Twitter Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Shimba Hills     2: Sir Hubert     3: Orthodox Lad

Winner owned: Shimba Hills/Fortnum Racing Partnership, trained: Lawney Hill, ridden: Nick Scholfield

A huge attack of deja vu going back to the mid-December meeting, when Shimba Hills outscrapped Sir Hubert with a late run over this distance in the final race on the card. The beaten horses varied but otherwise it was so similar that someone had clearly reset The Matrix slightly out of kilter. There are two ways of looking at this. One is that Shimba Hills took a long time and several unconvincing placed runs before he opened his account and for Sir Hubert to twice be outstayed by him is highly unpromising. However, a large chunk of Shimba Hill's jumping career has been when his yard was often on the cold list, and this recent success could just be reflection of him being a horse that has finally hit fine fettle.

+   Catchin Time (5th): Does have a bit of a roguish look about his profile, but since coming to Britain his record on heavy ground is 111442, so that is a time to put him under consideration. His challenge here only faded approaching the final hurdle, so if we get enough rain he seems ready to work on improving that record.
x   Orthodox Lad (3rd): At face value this was a decent stab at upsetting the status quo, beaten only three lengths. However, he has bounced around a few yards, including ones that correct wayward types from elsewhere, yet he has not won since September 2013, and that race was so weak that he started 1/3 favourite. So do not assume that he improves on this next time.
x   Sisania (8th): An OK flat handicapper who had won her hurdle debut, not been terrible next up and disappointed in the third, she looked to be in with an outstanding chance coming down the hill, but went out like a light. Back to the drawing board? Too much of the race went well to simply blame soft ground.
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