Plumpton, 30/1/17

Even by Plumpton standards this was an uninspiring card. There were two £10,000 handicaps, which attracted just six runners apiece, but in each case it was very hard to rule anyone completely out of contention nor get wildly enthused about any one horse. Added to that were a couple of novice hurdles with odds-on favourites which had something to prove over hurdles, but not really eye-catching opponents to take them on with. And to complete it, two really horrible handicaps that were difficult to enthuse over in any shape or form.

Going: Heavy (Soft places)

Race 1: Bill Cornford Memorial Maiden Hurdle [2m]

1: The Caller     2: Oscars Boss     3: Gregarious

Winner owned: EOD Racing, trained: Warren Greatrex, ridden: Gavin Sheehan

The feature of this race was the torrent of support for favourite Oscars Boss, for whom the usual cliché does not convey the belief - essentially the idea was that he was totally invincible bar alien intervention. Odds of 4/7 contracted into 1/4, but the vincibility proved rather greater than people clearly expected. His bumper form in Ireland was very solid, but he had not hurdled before and was inclined to be slow at a few. By the third last it was clear that this was not going to be the cakewalk indicated in the betting and eventually The Caller saw him off quite easily. The funny thing is that last time out The Caller ran a similar sort of race here, but at least put that disappointment behind him. Regressive flat buffoon Gregarious finally took a forward step this time, always being in the vicinity of Oscars Boss.

+   Oscars Boss: This was not good enough, but it was his hurdle debut and the strength of his bumper form remains. The Caller gave us a reminder not to be totally unforgiving over one bad day.

+   Argyle: On jockey bookings he was the second string of Gary Moore, but finished fourth, ahead of his stable mate. He ran well until running out of puff two from the finish, and whilst winning novice races might be asking too much, one decent follow up run could get him handicapped. The one note of warning relates to his inability to win any flat race at all, leaving him need of a hurdling revelation.
Heading off into the mist - Gregarious, the grey, leads The Caller and Oscars Boss. Nearest the camera are, left to right, Royal Hall, Fennann and Fishergate.

Race 2: Graham Warner Retirement Novices' Handicap Chase [2m 1f]

1: Instingtive    2: Yourholidayisover     3: Jump And Jump

Winner owned: Tom Taylor Racing, trained: Gary Moore, ridden: Jamie Moore

There were a lot of unknowns about this race, so the simple approach was to let it play out with other people funding the betting market. It did teach us one thing - the tonic effect of blinkers and tongue tie was a one off for Yourholidayisover. Given the patient ride he needs, he was delivered very late on, led for some of the run-in and was then outbattled by Instingtive. So plentiful dose of what was the problem before the win here last time. Rather oddly, there were people who blamed the jockey for leaving it too late, which rather ignored the history of Yourholidayisover and the fact that he did actually get to the front in time. Instingtive was debuting in both chases and handicaps having flopped in all four hurdles and two out of three bumpers. This matched his one past solid display, but that reflected the limitations of the oppo as much as anything.

+   Instingtive: Learning nothing from giving the runner-up the benefit of the doubt two weeks ago, he gets credit for improvement shown and putting up a respectable show of jumping at the first try.

x   Jump And Jump: Carried top weight in bad conditions, which could be a contributory factor to some laboured (but not dangerous) jumping. However, pointing form of PFFR does leave us wondering whether he truly understands what is being asked of him.

x   Clonusker: Chase debut, perfect course, distance and going, but fell. Proceed with caution.

xx   Yourholidayisover: He was given tentative credit for finally winning here last time, but he really did give this one away.

UK-Jumping Selection: Taroum: Is a late spring/early summer fan, and considering it was wet and misty and clearly not able to be mistaken for his favourite time of year, he did well to hang on to a place until the run-in.

Race 3:  Crystal Services Novices' Hurdle [2m 4.5f]

1: Jerrysback     2: Jaisalmer     3: Groundunderrepair

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

After the harsh lessons of the first race, another unproven bumper horse was odds-on here. Jerrysback was the horse, having won once from Irish points. The form of these did not look terribly awe inspiring, but horses have gone on to great things from worse. And it did help that the opposition today that could boast of promising bumper form had faltered somewhat when moving over jumps. Patiently ridden, Jerrysback did not look as if he would dominate at the bottom of the back straight, but when he was facing the stands, he surged clear in encouraging style. Being a very big horse with an oil tanker's turning circle, he may have found Plumpton a bit too awkward to whizz around.

+   Jerrysback: Justified the market support, and is potentially better than what was needed to put this race to bed.

+   Jaisalmer: Showed a little promise in his bumper, but plenty less here on hurdle debut. This was an improved second attempt and he generally is headed in the right direction.

+   King Uther: Won a small field bumper at Fontwell, the failed in Grade 2 company at Aintree. His hurdles debut had ended in a fall, and with half a lap to go, it seemed that he was not going to be involved in the finish at all. When it was too late he picked up really well, beaten about ten lengths. Hope is restored for when he can be kept in better contention.

x   Clondaw Bisto: Was not awful on hurdling debut, only to pull up in his most recent run, and here he was the weakest finisher of all. A few alarm bells are ringing that he is on the wane already.

Race 4: Patrick Bolton 60th Birthday Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle [3m 1f]

1: Eminent Poet     2: City Supreme     3: Stay Out Of Court

Winner owned: BC Dice, trained: Venetia Williams, ridden: Charlie Deutsch

With the conditions so testing, it was a race that would require oodles of stamina (as opposed to oodles of noodles, or an ample quantity of poodles) to complete the job. Eminent Poet was not necessarily one of those to fit the bill. He tried the distance once before, failed, and was quickly sent back to shorter. Now older and stronger, he did this convincingly, and under top weight as well. Not scooting off too freely in front helped. City Supreme was the last to stay in contention with him, doing enough to not blame heavy ground. It was one or both of a two week turnaround between races or the missing hood that spoiled his ability to win.Unsurprisingly, the filed finished at scattered intervals.

+   City Supreme: Seems to need a hood, and maybe a tongue tie as well. He has also failed steadily on quick reappearances. This was not terrible and those are good reasons to think better can come his way.

x   Stay Out Of Court: Making his handicap debut, he had been second at three miles in the past, but beaten a long way. He had first time cheekpieces on here, and they appeared, if anything, to have a negative impact.

x   Margot Fontance: After a surprisingly dynamic start to her hurdles career she failed to stay this far on heavy ground. Watch for her in a shorter race, but 2m 5f at Plumpton or Fontwell could turn out to be not far enough.Dilemmas, dilemmas, dilemmas.

Race 5: Strong Flavours Handicap Chase [3m 1.5f]

1: Royal Salute     2: Talk Of The South     3: Have A Go Hero

Winner owned: Anthony Honeyball Racing Club Ltd, trained: Anthony Honeyball, ridden: Harry Cobden

The vibe of the previous race was that time between races for one horse could have affected the result. This time Royal Salute (all wins after at least 30 days off) did a very sound job on the back of a two week break. Funny old game, ain't it? He had put the race in the bag at the last, where Talk Of The South was staying on too slowly to change the result and Like Sully was pulled up after a weird sort of stumble on landing - fortunately he walked away looking OK after being dismounted. This drop out left the first two finishers comfortably clear of the remainder.

x   Have A Go Hero: Won two of seven Irish points, but in losing two novice chases to get a handicap mark, his jumping skill had left something to be desired. It remained the case even when in something closer to his comfortable level.

x   You Too Pet: Stays well, had been second twice recently and had an appealing weight concession from the opposition, which the mud would surely exaggerate. Alas, he failed to make a factor of himself, perhaps finding Plumpton a course too awkward. A golden opportunity allowed to drift away.

Race 6: To Have And To Hire Events Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Bol D'Air   2: Royal Etiquette   3: Kastani Beach

Winner owned: Phil Hernon, trained: Chris Gordon, ridden: Tom Cannon

Having established himself as a committed dodgepot lately, the fact that Royal Etiquette was initially favourite for this should have been enough to strike terror into the hearts of Plumpton punters left, right and centre, and the gloomy conditions did aid those too terrified to actually watch what may unfold before their eyes. Royal Etiquette was deprived of the honour of leading the market by Bol D'Air, who had been as long as 8/1 on Sunday night. Those people expecting a messiah against the loons would have been disappointed. After coming over from France, Bol D'Air only lasted two races with Paul Nicholls and had pulled far too hard on debut for the current team. It had got him a derisory handicap mark, and despite being less patient than ideal in front, his effort was enough to intimidate the pursuit. The final margin was at least ten lengths, despite being eased plenty.

x   Kastani Beach: May be building up for another stab at the military riders' handicap hurdle at Sandown in early March. This sluggish display, ending in a barely deserved third, shows that there is still a lot of progress to be made.

xx   Royal Etiquette: Needs little excuse to run up the white flag, and that was what he did after the third last.

xx   Istimraar: Travelled relatively sweetly through the race, but when he was asked to put in some effort in going after Bol D'Air, response was severely lacking. In his ample career, he has done plenty to make us expect this.
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