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Plumpton, 17/12

The main story of the day before racing started was ARC being up to their old tricks – stitching up everyone else in racing and then trying to bury it behind other sporting news, this time behind the BBCs annual hypocrisy-fest of sporting awards. This time they have shamelessly demanded that the BHA reward them for doing so, expecting additional funding that was based on racecourses giving a high contribution of their own money, not a reduced one. The problem is that for the vast majority of the time courses are not competing with each other for runners. The connections are looking for the right grade of race on the right sort of course, distance and going. That narrows down the choices a great deal.

Going: Soft

Race 1: Happy Birthday Chris Kinane Novices' Hurdle [2m]

1: Brandon Castle     2: Collooney     3: Pete's Choice

Winner owned: IA Low, trained: Neil King, ridden: Bryony Frost

This was not much of a race outside the first two. Collooney had been runner-up in his Irish point, then won a short distance bumper despite an horrendous flat spot mid-race. Only having five runners helped his recovery, so talent was obvious, but experience was possibly a vulnerability. Brandon Castle won seven out of forty-three on the flat and was on a rating of 95, so talent is abundant but this was his hurdles debut. With his recent best being over 1m 6f, the race could have been a bit short, and he was weak in the betting. Then something had to be third at a long price. For a long way Beet Topper was claiming that, but he did not see out the race and was worn down by a horse that was originally aimed at a longer race. In the race Brandon Castle charged off far too keenly, but his stamina allowed him to just hang on, although the margin was only half a length and Collooney was hampered by a faller three out. Could easily have been a result the other way round. After the race Bryony Frost was overheard admitting that Brandon Castle had control of the gallop for the first half of the race but she got him more settled after that - the trick will be harder to pull off against more numerous higher quality opposition. The faller at the bottom of the hill was Uallrightharry, one of four Linda Jewell runners in the field. Although not contesting a high quality of race, Irish pointing form of P321 indicated that he may have been able to stay on well enough to keep third without the tumble.

+ +  Collooney (2nd): Learned some hard facts about racing, ran well up to "could win a race" standard and will not have a penalty next time.

+  Royal Concorde (6th): Finished fifth here in a bumper to If The Cap Fits (now rated 150 over hurdles), but has had two years off since. He looked well, but needed the run, and merits tracking to see what he can offer in handicaps.

x  Brandon Castle (1st): What happens next? Does he stick to two miles, settle better and then get outpaced by horses better suited to that distance? Or does he go up in trip, pull hard again and not last home? Obviously the opposite outcomes are possible for both as well, but he is not one for steaming into at short prices.

Empire: Pete's Choice (3rd): In the frame for the first time after nimbly sidestepping the faller three out. Obviously the question now to ask is whether two miles on testing ground and a stiff track would work for him in handicaps. Decisions, decisions, descisions. But probably two and a half miles or so again, as he only ran here because race three being limited to horses sold at public auction meant that he was not qualified for it. Life was made easier as of the dozen runners, a third of the field started as if a quiet educational at the back was the sole intent.

Race 2: Mayfield Sussex Hop Gin Novices' Chase [3m 1.5f]

1: OK Corral     2: Impulsive Star     3: Len Brennan

Winner owned: JP McManus, trained: Nicky Henderson, ridden: Barry Geraghty

On known ability this was OK Corral's race to lose, but it was his chasing debut and Nicky Henderson sent two long odds-on runners to the Cheltenham bonus races at Plumpton last season only to see them come unstuck at the fences at the bottom of the hill. OK Corral handled them OK, but badly fluffed fence twelve, in front of the stands. Horse was agile, jockey was agile (for an old timer), thus we saw no further problems, and he won a slowly run race far more convincingly than the margin of a couple of lengths. Impulsive Star finished fourth in the four miler at Cheltenham in March (ahead of OK Corral finishing runner-up in the three mile novice hurdle), but he spent much of this race being scrubbed along and only pinched second with a strong effort from the last.

+  OK Corral (1st): This was only his seventh run in three and a half years, so there is no value farting around with him. The fence twelve mistake was very ugly, but did not frighten him and there is no reason why he cannot digest the experience and go onward to better races.

+  Len Brennan (3rd): Finished second to 138 rated opponent on chase debut (two ran) and found someone even better to take on here. He ran a blinder and can take great heart from it, but could have horribly stuffed up his handicap mark. The ratings people can expect a long phone call from Tim Vaughan explaining why the slow pace makes the form unreliable.

Impulsive Star (2nd): His best chase form is strong, but there were many signs of unenthusiastic thoughts throughout this race - at least until he realised that the race was nearly over.

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

1: Mr Pumblechook     2: Viva Vittoria     3: Tractor Fred

Winner owned: David Sewell, trained: Alan King, ridden: Wayne Hutchinson
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Mr Pumblechook - post passing the post

This is a race that will give enormous heart to owners of horses that have been disappointing in bumpers. Mr Pumblechook was well below par for an Alan King horse in them, but in hurdles this autumn/winter he has posted huge improvement. He was beaten four lengths in a strong Bangor race and then a length and a bit by the hugely promising Kateson - sprinting away here to make this a doddle despite crunching the final two flights proved that the earlier form is not to be derided. He was of course well odds-on and the second favourite, Viva Vittoria was ridden utterly to finish second. It would be hard to disprove that it was the best possible placing for her. Tractor Fred was only about a length away from second place, by far his best effort. The pace here was not worst of the day, with Bigdeal ensuring it was solid and jumping aggressively to boot. He did not last home, but made a useful contribution to the day. Well done to him.

+ +  Tractor Fred (3rd): Fell in both Irish points, pulled up on hurdles debut, tailed off at the second attempt. This was a huge leap forward from any of those, and depending on his handicap mark, he suddenly looks a potential winner against his peers in talent level.

+ +  Eclair Du Guye (4th): He has quietly gone about his work and used the odd mistake to avoid any unwanted attention by being close to Mr Pumblechook. Primed for handicaps and when he wins one connections will hopefully celebrate with eclairs du chocolat. It is possible that in a burst of irony that he won the best turned out prize which is currently cash and doughnuts at Plumpton.

+  Viva Vittoria (2nd): Finished second in her sole bumper run, but got a bit of a hammering on her hurdles debut. This was more like it, and a less negative ride would give her the potential to win a mares and fillies novice race.

+  Witches Glen (6th): Finished fourth, third and second in her last three Irish points, although none look like notably strong events. For this hurdles debut she had a tongue tie added and enjoyed a nice midfield run around and will do better in time.
Description
The grey Bigdeal drags them out for the final lap, chased by Further North (noseband), Three In One (big white face) and Mr Pumblechook. Soarlikeaneagle is the one in the blue cap staying well away from the rails. Tractor Fred (pink cap) is admiring the multi-use plastic at closer quarters and Eclair Du Guye is the less prominent grey. Needless to say, Viva Vittoria is out of sight.

Race 4: GE White & Sons Agricultural Buildings Handicap Chase [3m 1.5f]

1: I See You Well    2: The Tin Miner     3: Weststreet

Winner owned: AA Goodman, trained: Seamus Mullins, ridden: Daniel Sansom

A bit of a surprise here as it turned out, against all expectation, that proven stamina was not essential. Two slow laps will do that. Apart from no race beyond 2m 5.5f there was not much negative against I See You Well (the stable had edged onto the bottom of the cold list, but it was far from crisis time), so anyone who expected his stamina to last could easily have picked him out. Others may have gone the other route and chosen 3m 3.5f winner Dylanseoghan who found himself tapped for speed from the second last. The Tin Miner did not manage to totally replicate his faultless round here before, and that doomed him to second. As for Weststreet, after pulling up on his return from an extended absence, a completion and a decent one at that was encouraging. We shall see how far he can take it – this race might have be run in a way that exaggerated his readiness.

+  The Tin Miner (2nd): When he won here two weeks ago, it was noted that he needed to confirm that putting in a clear round was not a one-off. He made a couple of errors this time, but the encouraging point was his morale did not totally implode after them, and there is more confidence that he can pull a winning rabbit out of the, erm, tin one more time.

x x  Little Windmill (PU): Always guilty of blowing very hot or bitterly cold, he had lost interest by the fifth and soon made it four pulled ups in a row. As with Lunar Flow, reasons for expecting peak form are fast disappearing.

UK-Jumping Selections: Lunar Flow (PU): Has had two wind ops this year and it is not looking as if either has sorted his problems. That makes it hard to believe that a return to his best is looming, although his presence on the site list to follow is for easy, left-handed tracks, not sharp ones.
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The Tin Miner leads Lunar Flow (6) from Weststreet and I See You Well (red & black)

Race 5: Bluebell Vineyards Estates Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Seaweed     2: Mercer's Troop     3: Legend Of France

Winner owned: Chris Gordon Racing Club, trained: Chris Gordon, ridden: Tom Cannon

This seemed like the most truly run race of the day and it turned into a fascinating scrap between four horses - the pair who finished 1-2 in a similar 0-100 race here two weeks ago and two three year olds who were sounding out the handicapper's measure of the juvenile hurdle form. The older hands came out first and third, in the opposite order to what they finished before, but the kids look like they have something to work with. This was especially apparent from the work of Molliana in fourth, as she had been badly uncompetitive in her previous races. Seaweed was handicapped to get revenge on Legend Of France, but the suspicion is that the latter was not just dragged down by a higher weight but by being less intensely ready to fire on this occasion. More sort of Legend Of Belgium. The same was true of Sadma, whose career outside of a couple of months in late 2015 is a bit moth eaten. However, he has been chasing and it is possible that he needed a confidence boost from the first spin back at the easier obstacles.

+  Mercer's Troop (2nd): Had a wind op since his third juvenile hurdle run and it helped him, but possibly less than the joy of encountering the lowest level of handicap available.

+  Hurry Henry (8th): Boasts some cracking Irish hurdle form, only for persistent chase entries to send his career into freefall. Looking fit after thirteen months off, he tried to lead but was ridden at the fourth and soon lost all chance of serious involvement. It broke a run of pulling up however, and he is so well handicapped on his best that it is worth tracking him for even a glimmer of resurgence.

Race 6: JH Builders Handicap Chase [2m 3.5f]

1: Shintori     2: Chivers     3: Finnegan's Garden

Winner owned: Mrs R Vicary, trained: Jack Barber, ridden: Nick Scholfield

There seemed to be lots of financial support for Chivers here, presumably because people were happy to forgive his failure to get close to Kalashnikov on chase debut (getting close to Kalashnikovs is known to be inviting trouble). He did perfectly well but was very unlucky to run into Shintori on a good day. Shintori had solid places in two of his chase defeats but was 0/20 before today, trying his longest ever trip, on going uncertain to suit and without the usual tongue tie. What more than offset these was an ultra patient ride, even by Nick Scholfield standards, and also the ability to teleport himself from last to first turning from home without anyone seeing how it happened. Finnegan's Garden was surprised by it and was relegated from a lead out of the railway bend into third place.

+  Chivers (2nd): Did a good job, and will win races when avoiding an opponent who suddenly finds everything falling into place for him.

+  Finnegan's Garden (3rd): Nine ran here. His score when the field is no bigger than six is 3411231U1. Those size of races will not be hard to find after Christmas.

x  Champion Chase (5th): At times he has come close to winning a race only to never quite manage it, and he is currently drifting back into midtable mediocrity.

Muilean Na Madog (8th): Ran a suddenly much improved race last time. This was a reversion back to his old habits, so it is very possible that the previous race was a one-off.

Empire: Brother Bennett (4th): Waited at the back, just in front of the winner, but went to join the leaders sooner and could not quicken enough to get a place. It is a long while since he ran (and failed) over this far and whilst the slow pace makes it uncertain that wants two and a half miles, but he did well enough to encourage further experimenting.

Race 7: Tie The Knot Wedding Catering Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race [2m 1.5f]

1: Ishkara Lady     2: Moroder     3: Jackson Hill

Winner owned: The Horse Flys Partnership, trained: Harry Fry, ridden: Noel Fehily

It is a commonly accepted principle that Plumpton bumper runners tend not to be stars of the future. There are exceptions to that rule, and one of the biggest ones is If The Cap Fits, trained by... Harry Fry. This race saw him field Ishkara Lady for her racing debut and watch her run the oppo ragged. Jackson Hill had been placed twice (the latest, at Sandown, is not working out well). Simply Loveleh (eventually fifth) has two modest second places in the recent past. These were rendered also rans, as the finish concerned Ishkara Lady and her alone. Moroder was also debuting and had some merit in beating the sort of proven types.

+ +  Ishkara Lady (1st): Showed the potential to be a top notch mare.

+  Moroder (2nd): Were she not in the process of being thrashed by the winner, this would have looked like a cracking debut considering what was behind her. We can call it a start that would take her from here to eternity.
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