Plumpton, 15/4/18

The sporting weekend had been a dismal chain of events that ended on an up. Chronologically the occurences were:

Go to Lordswood v Croydon football, only to see the latter throw away a comfortable lead due to a combination of their own lack of composure and some woeful refereeing inconsistency.

Old Mid Whitgiftian RFC then lose their penultimate league game to ensure that they cannot qualify for the end of season promotion play-off.

That dreadful O'Leary man from Ryanair wins the Grand National, made worse when the desperate attention seeking fizzog of Rich Ricci pops up on television in the aftermath.

The Sunday plan was to be at Godstone point-to-point to see Ididandididn't in the maiden, but after winning the Ladies Open at High Easter (congratulations to Louise Burnell on a winning first ride), the horse box packed up and was abandoned in Essex for later recovery.

By next morning, bad had gone to worse as the yard's foal born on Thursday had died on Saturday night, so there was understandably no appetite to go to Godstone.

Predictably, alas, it turns out that the animal rights extremists were dishonestly using pictures of the screens being up at Becher's Brook to claim that a horse had been killed there, when it was actually an injured rider behind them.

This did mean rerouting to Plumpton, only the second ever time that a Godstone meeting has been missed, but Brother Bennett, usually leading the role of being the vet's retirement plan, finally got his first win since joining the Empire.

Good old Plumpton saves the weekend! On a day promoting home grown Sussex produce they also had two troupes of morris dancers. The ones in black grab, with flame-like adornments in red, yellow and orange opted to dance in the rain and go home when the sun came out (apart from one, who stayed for a punt on the bumper). How we hate those foul weather morris gangs.

Finally, the limited notes made for this meeting first got rained upon then accidentally got wrapped up in an unfinished chicken shish kebab (chili and garlic sauce), so apologies if the jottings below come across as sparse and ill-informed.

Going: Good to Soft, Good patches that were rained away by mid-afternoon.

Race 1: Enhanced Place Odds At 188Bet Maiden Hurdle [2m]

1: Six Gun Serenade     2: Dancing Doug     3: Mr Jack

Winner owned: Jack Callaghan, trained: Suzi Best, ridden: Brendan Powell

Two weeks ago here, the novice two mile hurdle saw the first three made up of consistent and reliable horses rated 117, 116 and 115. The fourth and fifth that day, beaten about nine lengths, finished first and third this time around, with a 102 rated mare in fourth. For Six Gun Serenade his post-Irish pointing career has been blighted by injury, but Brendan Powell deployed him late in this, so the advantage over bumper convert Dancing Doug and the improving Mr Jack might have been wider with more aggressive tactics. Sunday In The Park, the 102-rated horse, started favourite despite her yard being out of form, so all of those around her nearing a rating can ring the handicapper and explain why she did not run to her mark. No doubt the calls are expected...

  Dancing Doug (2nd): Only minor promise was shown in bumpers, and the horse that easily beat him when second last time ran poorly in the closing bumper here. However, he made a good fist of his hurdles debut and can make more progress.

  Mr Jack (3rd): After pulling up in his first two races ever he has shown marked improvement in the last couple and should be capable of winning handicap hurdles. He was the slowest over the final flight, but fought back for third, almost second.

+   Venetian Proposal (5th): Pulled up on her hurdles debut after an horrendous seven hour trip to Hereford. She showed much more here, staying on nicely. Awkward jumps at the fourth and eighth put her on the back foot, but she can be schooled out of that.

+   Atalanta's Gold (6th): Showed nothing in her first two career races, but sixth here, beaten eleven lengths, was a greatly more encouraging effort and she only lost fifth because Venetian Proposal showed greater stamina. She is going the right way.
A modest quality maiden hurdle need not make for a boring race - at the last hurdle the contenders, left to right, are Mr Jack, Six Gun Serenade, Sunday In The Park and Dancing Doug.

Race 2: In Play Betting At 188Bet Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Chase [2m 3.5f]

1: Bennachie     2: Champion Chase     3: Remember Forever

Winner owned: Oceans Racing, trained: Tim Vaughan, ridden: Charlie Deutsch

Another exciting finish beckoned, but jumping errors by rivals released Bennachie for a seven lengths success in the end - his first win for three years. Two fences out he was under serious pressure from Mr Jim. That horse blundered there, but being sandwiched between the winner and Champion Chase kept horse and jockey more or less upright. Undaunted by the helpful opponents, Mr Jim shed his rider at the last, seeming to be getting the worst of the arugment at the time. This left the 2017 winner (on good to firm) Remember Forever to have third place. She could obviously blame the going for her failure to finish of a solid first mile and a half, but it did Mr Jim no harm, and he really is a fast grounds specialist.

+ +   Mr Jim (UR): His form on good to firm is 123 (the win being course and distance), he has not run on good, and before today he was unplaced in all seven runs on good to soft or soft. If the ground dries out quickly he is ready to strike, and may deal with good if given the chance.

+   Remember Forever (3rd): Her two wins have been on heavy and good to firm, but the general trend is to run better as she encounters less mud. She too is close to another big run.

x   Champion Chase (2nd): He has not done anything desperately wrong in his last three, but each time the outcome has been second place, and the question is what more can he summon up? Worse oppo is all that there is, and he only has limited influence over that. Maybe he can bribe opponents to fake a limp, paying them off in bales of hay.

Race 3: Premier League Betting At 188Bet Handicap Hurdle [2m 4.5f]

1: Rothman     2: Midnight Maestro     3: Nesterenko

Winner owned: Roger Alwen, Mrs Heather Alwen, trained: Chris Gordon, ridden: Tom Cannon

Before today Rothman had won twice. He had also been runner-up on eleven occasions and third in five more. It can be noted that the chase record was far more alarming than the hurdles one, but one of the phrases not expected to ever appear on UK-Jumping is "Rothman dashed clear from two out and won easily." Perhaps he may have been his usual self had there been pressure on him, but this was a big field and none of them managed to emerge to do that. The temptation is to write him off for a couple more years, but Chris Gordon does have a knack for being able to sustain a few races worth of cooperation when these roguish types get in a good mood. Midnight Maestro was one of the first in the pack to come under strong urging, but he picked up eventually and ran on for a clear second - when it was all too late. Searching made the running at a modest speed, hence plenty being in with a chance on the railway bend. It was noted that Searching did not set a searching pace, but then Simon Holt said it in commentary, and his one is recorded for posterity, not scrawled on a bit of soggy newspaper. So be it.

+   Wolfcatcher (6th): He was right in the mix, but was nearly brought down when The Premier Celtic fell at the front of the pack two out. He faded after that, but only gets one tentative plus because since a win and second in his first couple of hurdle runs, he has now only a solitary third place as a peak from ten attempts.

  Puppet Warrior (4th): Made notable progress from the second last, which initially looked like a good run. When it is put in the context of his career overall, results of 2223-2822344, it seems to be his normal way of failing to quite make first place.

x   Ballygown Bay (PU): Debuting in handicaps after finishing third in two bumpers and two hurdles, he did not show much. In the short term be wary to giving too much credit for the initial results.
Searching leads after nearly a mile, from Nesterenko and an unusually jolly Rothman in yellow and red. Midnight Maestro has the white cap just behind him.

Race 4: Download The App At 188Bet Handicap Chase [3m 1.5f]

1: Holbrook Park     2: Frank N Fair     3: Cap Horner

Winner owned: Mrs CHN Chamberlain, trained: Neil King, ridden: Harry Teal

Were it not for Rothman winning race three, this would appear to have had a very strange outcome. Normally any vaguely competitive race (i.e. more than two serious opponents) is enough for Holbrook Park to down tools. His credentials for staying a race this long are dubious as well. And if neither of those snakes rose to strike him and his supporters with their icy venom, it was raining as well. Today was one that Holbrook Park decided was not primed to jack it in, despite having the game Frank N Fair trying to reel him back from the point where they passed the station. Otherwise the race was quite normal. Leo Luna led and thumped the third, then Indian Castle, alongside him, walloped the next. This did not lead to a litany of blunders, and after a mile and a half Leo Luna lost interest beyond Jamie Moore's powers of inspiration. Finally, Indian Castle faded out of it, to minimise the risk of him breaking his four year losing streak.

+   Cap Horner (3rd): The up and coming youngster of the field, his last win had been at three miles and it looked as if this extra distance was just a bit too much. He can get back on the winning trail when in a lesser stamina test, despite a big climb in the weights.

x   Invicta Lake (UR): More evidence that chasing is not really his thing. Wait for a return to hurdling.

x x   Holbrook Park (1st): Unless connections can dig up a functional small field race, which they do at regular intervals, he is not trusted for a repeat of this.

x x   Indian Castle (4th): As mentioned he has not won for four years. This season he has gone close in big fields at a higher level, but failing to translate it to a lesser level is a bad omen.

Race 5: Happy 21st Birthday Sophie Mellett Handicap Hurdle [3m 1f]

1: Moving In Style     2: Sweet'N'Chic     3: Indian Reel

Winner owned: Brian Derrick, trained: Neil Mulholland, ridden: Philip Donovan

This was another close finish, with less than a length splitting Moving In Style and Sweet'N'Chic at the line. The two of them, looking each other in the eye and giving no quarter, forged twenty lengths ahead of Indian Reel, who came to this on the back of a decent effort at Huntingdon. If that was repeated then the first couple did an excellent job, but the suspicion has to be that Indian Reel did not perform to his previous standard. The first two had no reason to care about that, although by being still winless, perhaps Sweet'N'Chic might have had more motivation to take the chance offered now.

+ +    Moving In Style (1st): An Irish point winner, she has now won two staying handicap hurdles since graduating from some terrible novice hurdle form. There is every chance that she is still well enough ahead of the handicapper to cope with a big rise coming.

+   Sweet'N'Chic (2nd): She now has no wins from fifteen races, but over this course and distance she has two runs, and lost them by two and a half and now three-quarters of a length. The formula for breaking the sequence of woe appears quite obvious.

x   Kublai (8th): He was in good form last summer and posted a respectable return at two and a half miles here a fortnight back. This was a diabolical effort, losing touch with almost a mile remaining. He has won twice at 2m 5f, so more devilment was at play than stamina issues.
Sweet'N'Chic (dark blue) got this close to Moving In Style, but no closer

Race 6: Best Odds Guaranteed At 188Bet Handicap Chase [2m 1f]

1: Brother Bennett     2: Millen Dollar Man     3: Torhousemuir

Winnner owned: The Secret Circle, trained: Zoe Davison, ridden: Page Fuller

Yet another tight one, with Brother Bennett getting up to nick the race from Millen Dollar Man by a short head. Apart from both fluffing the ninth fence in minor fashion, the first two got their edge on the rest by means of efficient handling of the fences. The race is judged in similar style to the fifth - the first two battling each other motivated each to go well clear of the remainder, although third placed Torhousemuir seemed doomed to be last at the end of the back straight, only to pass those who give up easily, and a below par Mr Muddle.

+   Millen Dollar Man (2nd): Unseated in his only chase in Ireland and jumped moderately in the only British one before today. He was much more fluent this time, and a dismal 1/39 strike rate can be improved if he makes it a habit.

+   Show's Over (5th): After a good run last time this was disappointing. However, apart from one very flaky race here, his record is much better on level tracks, so give him another chance on a layout like that.

x   Mr Muddle (6th): His course and distance record before today was 121, and at two and a half miles his score was 22433. His weight of 12 stone 7 pounds did not help, but it is perhaps a sign that he thinks that he has done enough for one career.

x x   Yourholidayisover (7th): He has never been a frequent winner - played 65, won 2 now - but he was battering the places in 2017. Now he cannot do that and it took only a gentle nudge from Brotther Bennett at the second last to convince him to call it a day.

Empire: Brother Bennett (1st): Extricated himself from he Empire doghouse with his first win since bumpers. He cannot be said to have been back to his best, as a repeat of his chase debut would have led to a win by twenty or more lengths, but he can add to the score as long as he remains ailment free and stays happy that competing is not about to bring in more travails.
The order at the start is Show's Over, No No Cardinal (98% hidden), Yourholidayisover, Mr Muddle (having a wobble), Torhousemuir, Millen Dollar Man and Brother Bennett. Within 2m 1f it had almost completely reversed.

Race 7: 188Bet Live Casino Intermeidate Open National Hunt Flat Race [2m 1.5f]

1: Baddesley Knight     2: Scorpion Haze     3: Black Lightning

Winner owned: Richard & Mrs Carol Chesire, trained: Chris Gordon, ridden: Tom Cannon

There is a trend this season that Plumpton bumpers can viably be contested by horses with attributes beyond dull plodding, and this was possibly the best one yet. Two of the runners had put up good efforts at Newbury before coming here, which is a very unusual career trajectory. They finished first and third, to tell us that the Newbury race was not a dud. Baddesley Knight was an impressive winner, despite having no real idea of what racing requires and struggling to run in a straight line. He was leaving a gutsy Scorpion Haze (cheekpieced after tryng three bumpers and losing all by an average of two and a half lengths) toiling, and he in turn was well ahead of Black Lightning, who was not convincing on the bends but rallied in the home run.

+ +   Baddesley Knight (1st): Looks a handy prospect and do not be drawn into the cliche of "it was only Plumpton."

+   Scorpion Haze (2nd): By completing four bumpers he is forced into hurdling next time, and his consistent ability means that all he needs to do to get off of the mark is jump properly.

x   Irish Odyssey (8th): Won a four runner Fontwell race on debut when well odds-on, and he was challenging for favourtism on the back of it. He could not cope and was as good as pulled up in the home straight.
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