Plumpton, 14/12/20

A week since the last meeting. Nothing changes. Well the ground threatened to be slightly less muddy but the weather was having none of that and it rained the day before.

Going: Soft, Heavy places

Race 1: Theo's Charm Memorial Novices' Hurdle [2m]

1: Annual Invictus     2: Mon Petit Cheri     3: Ballydoyle

Winner owned: Thomas Michael Smith, trained: Chris Gordon, ridden: Tom Cannon

This race in advance did not appear likely to be of great importance as it consisted of a long odds-on favourite with some very decent form in the book and a whole bunch of lightly raced opponents (as jumpers) who had not achieved a great deal, although several had dropped minor hints that there better may come in time. The way that they went about achieving their inevitable defeat was, with a proper scrap for places, more encouraging than foreseen. The jolly was Annual Invictus, who won this in a stroll. Behind him - well behind - the crazy adventures began. Bucko's Boy, who had jumped sketchily at the start of the race, veered left at the second last and unseated, with the runner-up spot looking his to lose. So he did just that because anything can be resisted but temptation. This allowed 200/1 chance Mon Petit Cheri to nip through and grab second, no doubt to the imminent severe detriment of her handicap rating. A flat rating of 56 and one not terrible hurdle run was enough to make Ballydoyle borderline second favourite but he lacked the patience to see out the race well. Third was held because Brown Bullet did not last it any better.

+ +  Bring The Bacon (6th): His yard is well up on the cold list and loitering at the back for a long way legislated against any bacon deliveries here, or being sandwiched between the first two. However, he did keep on neatly, to prove that his 125/1 fourth last time was not a weird fluke.

+  Annual Invictus (1st): Added nothing to our knowledge of his talent here but he is one not to be ignored when tested in tougher company.

+  Brown Bullet (4th): Probably needs going a bit better than this and is one to be monitoring in handicaps when she gets it.

x  Bucks' Boy (UR): Won a bumper and had two close losses as well, so it was a bit surprising that he only took second spot in the betting close to the off as he was the obvious bridging point between Annual Invictus and the hoi palloi. His jumping skills, or lack thereof, explained the lack of confidence. The x hangs around until he has proven that he can do it.
Annual Invictus trying to break sweat but not convincing anyone that he has done so

Race 2: Novices' Chase [3m 1.5f]

1: Full Back     2: Acey Milan

Winner owned: Ashley Head, trained: Gary Moore, ridden: Joshua Moore

Another Cheltenham Bonus race, but it seems to be the only three miler, so a turn out of just a trio of horses was disappointing. Apart from fluffing the middle fence in the back straight all three times that they jumped it, Full Back looked well at home in front and he had Acey Milan's measure coming around the railway bend. The other runner, Battle Anthem, had shown nothing in three previous chases but one was against Shishkin and the first had been in Grade 2 company before 1,066 days off. He did not jump well enough to exploit the more realistic opposition, and was pulled up.

Acey Milan (2nd): Although he won at AIntree in his initial try over fences, the follow up in Grade 2 company seemed to fail less for lack of raw talent (he was fourth in the 2018 Festival Bumper so ought to be able to run a bit) and less for lack of jumping confidence. He needs to be handled with as much caution as a chaser as would be the case in just about any interaction with former AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi. Interestingly his profile so far is similar to bumper star stablemate Regal Flow, so possibly he just needs a lot more time to work this discipline out properly.

Race 3: Derek Hunnisett Memorial Auction Maiden Hurdle [2m 4.5f]

1: Little Awkward     2: Mountain Leopard     3: Beauvallon Boy

Winner owned: C Boultbee-Brooks, trained: Oliver Sherwood, ridden: Daryl Jacob

Auction maiden hurdles are rare, and this one caught out the training community so that eight of the sixteen entries were not qualified - the fact that the conditions specified that the horses had to have gone through "specified sales" may not have helped. In advance there was no reason to expect much from the race, other than that a pile of support for Venetia Williams' runner, Mountain Leopard, highlighted him as one out to make a great leap forward. Right theory, wrong horse, as Little Awkward turned this into a complete rout, in front from the off and never in any obvious danger of being headed. In the home straight it looked as if Guguss Collonges would be best of the rest but he ran out of puff and was passed by Beauvallon Boy and Mountain Leopard. The former should have been second but made a mess of the last and lost that spot by a nose.

Little Awkward (1st): Not awkward. Quite stylish, actually.

+  Beauvallon Boy (3rd): In his first experience of a racecourse, he unseated at halfway trying to sidestep a faller. This showed that there is something raw that can be wrought into a functional hurdler.
Little Awkward continues the trend for the hurdle winners to hug the stands rail

Race 4: Weekly Race Passes Half Price Handicap Chase [3m 1.5f]

1: Benevolentdictator     2: Garrane     3: Fizzelstix

Winner owned: The Knights Of Pleasure, trained: Gary Moore, ridden: Joshua Moore

An unimpressive race that gave a first impression of being form from which we should avert our eyes in future. Benevolentdictator did not travel sweetly and made his share of mistakes, inheriting the race when everyone else's reserves evaporated on the final turn. Slapdash jumps at the last two could not stop him. Garrane often grinds to a near halt with half a mile to go then rallies when he has become certain it is too late. He did not really even do the latter here.

Benevolentdictator (1st): Won by a very comfortable fourteen lengths in the end, which makes it look very begrudging to give him an x, but the manner of the success was quite ugly. Future votes will be cast for alternative candidates, no doubt at great personal risk.

Garrane (2nd): Now boasts no wins, five seconds and three thirds from his thirteen chases. Other than now having got past a traditional superstition there seems limited hope for the duck to break soon.

Fizzlestix (3rd): Did little visibly wrong, so it is ominous that he could not cope with the distinctly erratic efforts ranged against him.

Don Lami (4th): Like his stablemate Acey Milan he had made a winning chase debut (in this case despite his jumping rather than helped by it) but when returning for his second try a year later he had not got anywhere near a repeat. It did not take much to discourage him here. One possible excuse is preferring a level track but he is opposable in all chases at present.
It would not be Plumpton without a rear view of the horses, although in this case they are only walking so it is less blurry. Left to right they are Dylanseoghan, Garrane, Don Lami, Benevolentdictator and Fizzlestix

Race 5: Visit The Top Horses Section Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Legal OK     2: Air Hair Lair     3: Amlovi

Winner owned, trained & ridden: Phil York

The first of two 0-100 races for which it was possible to make a case for almost every runner as a potential winner and also read each horse as poised to run very poorly. This one was blighted by five of the initial fifteen dropping out. Then Sixties Secret took and early tumble. And with half a mile to run the line up was scytheed down to five serious competitors by actual galloping performance on the day. By the final bend, only two mattered. Arguably that was actually only one, as Legal OK, proven on course and distance with heavy ground twice last season, had already established a dominant lead. Air Hair Lair had been in hot pursuit and was downgraded to "losing touch, at least trying hard." O'Rahilly, who does well in two mile hurdles at Plumpton but not hurdles elsewhere, nor chases in any circumstance, threatened to be much more seriously involved, but his run evaporated from the station bend and Amlovi came from out of the clouds to nick third place.

Legal OK (1st): Ran no better than OK on seasonal debut and then did not seem to fancy chasing last time out. This return to what he knows cheered him right up. Just like feeding a herring to a seal.

Air Hair Lair (2nd): Qualified for this in defeats behind HIghway One O Two (twice) and Goshen, so ought to have found this extremely more amenable company - assuming that the run was needed on his seasonal reppearance. Finishing second showed that it helped, but a ten lengths loss had a whiff of under delivery. Perhaps he really wants less muddy conditions.

x  Sadma (6th): Certainly had the ability to be winning from his current mark of 82 but the three career successes include only one in the last five years and there was no sign of number four being around the corner even though he was performing well in losses only four races back.

x  Penny Poet (7th): Looks reasonably handicapped on paper but since an eighteen month absence she has run poorly on the flat twice and coming back to hurdles was not the answer. In early 2019 she lined up against Epatante in a mares' novices' hurdle and started only 8/1 to win it. Hindsight has suggested that her twenty-three lengths loss was not a disaster but not truly representative of her talents either.

Race 6: Follow The Road To Cheltenham Handicap Chase [2m 3.5f]

1: Burgess Dream     2: Impulsive Leader     3: Soarlikeaneagle

Winner owned: The Beano Partnership, trained: Anna Newton-Smith, ridden: Rex Dingle

The runners somehow made this look like a nigh on impossible stamina challenge, with half on them pulling up after two miles. It could be seen from past achievements how Burgess Dream could win on this course, distance and going but recent runs were discouraging and his superior results tended to clump around races over three miles or longer. Perhaps the bubble of additional gravity that suddenly made this race such hard work was very much in his favour. In search of a hat trick, Hab Sab made the running as per usual but errors at the fourth last and third last really knocked the life out of him and he was soon headed by the winner and second. Impulsive Leader is yet to win but there was hope to be had from the latter stages of her Leicester run last time and she was very well treated against Hab Sab on their run here in March. The serious pursuit of the leader ended two out, but Hab Sab's goose was cooked by then, so runner-up spot was assured. Soarlikeaneagle's third was a great triumph of hope over reality as he did not jump especially well and was miles behind three out. Even so, the official margin that he was behind Burgess Dream, twenty-six lengths, felt like so much more that some Korean soldiers could have set up a demilitarised zone in it.

+  Gentleman's Dream (PU): At face value this was an effort of zero encouragement after finishing ten lengths fifth on his chase debut. However! That run had been his first for 1,339 days and a reappearance less than three weeks later made for a prime bounce candidate. Hence the potential for a recovery next time. Perhaps not immediately a win, but this is absolutely forgiveable.

x  Krujers Girl (PU): After a respectable fourth on chase debut she seemed just the sort of horse to find cheekpieces making a key difference. Apparently not.

Empire - Brother Bennett (PU): In a race that was probably right on his stamina limit anyway, he was deeply unimpressed by Hab Sab's forcing tactics and a mistake at the top of the back straight convinced him that it was all too much aggro today.

Race 7: Sky Sports Racing Channel 415 Mares' Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race [2m 1.5f]

1: Precious     2: Victorias Peak     3: Honest Oscar

Winner owned: Phillip Cartwright, trained: Anthony Honeyball, ridden: Aidan Coleman

This was not a bad looking race and the winner was strongly fancied by a yard that really knows the time of day in mares' bumpers. Precious spent the first half of the race disengaging herself from an angry wizened old hobbit and the energy spent meant that passing the station for the second time it did look as if Honest Oscar might surpass her. However, Precious got first run and the lack of any form of race for a year caught out Honest Oscar coming up the straight. Victorias Peak, who had led initially but been outpaced in the back straight, showed a good attitude to grab second place back and Cool Stone (having her first ever race, like the winner) also stuck on heartily having been outpaced too, when in a far worse position. An interesting side note, Nicky Henderson had a newcomer in here and she was not placed. Considering that the yard wins over a quarter of bumpers contested, he seems to be struggling to pinpoint what it takes to land such races here (see also last Monday's bumper) - underestimating the oppo perhaps?

+ +  Precious (1st): Potentially decent opponents were handled like a more experienced horse and she is the sort to win more bumpers - the mares' races in the Spring, erm, spring to mind.

+  Victorias Peak (2nd): It took four attempts to win and become more marketable in Irish points, and the time she did win there were only four opponents. She added to her staying race potential here.

+  Honest Oscar (3rd): She was third in Irish point too, behind a couple of mares who were sold for eyewatering numbers. She probably needed the run this time but ran pretty well anyway.

+  Cool Stone (4th): It took a while for the penny to drop but she ended up with an encouraging start.
The light largely spoiled it, but the bumper gets a picture, for a change. Out wide is Heptonshall, but in the middle Precious leads from Victoria's Peak, with Honest Oscar mostly hidden in fourth
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