Stratford, 3rd August

Course catering update. The good steak and ale pie for £4 is still available. Hurrah. Also present, and it may have been for a while but unnoticed, is the Honest Café. This splendid concept provides teas, coffees, fruit juices and cakes. You pay what you think it is worth and the proceeds go to the charity of the day, in this case the local Mencap. Well done Stratford.

The current trend for clouting the last here was abandoned in chases, but remains intact over hurdles. It really is quite strange. If it was the background or angle of the hurdle, you would expect earlier times that the field jump it to be just as shambolic, but they are not. So the next thought is that the way the jockeys are riding at it on the final lap is the issue, but the problems are equal amongst those horses being furiously ridden along and those cruising in relative comfort. The solution must be that it is very near the ice cream van, which looks a more tempting option at the end of a race…

As for the going, clerk of the course Robert Bellamy was interviewed and stated that the course had not seen a drop of rain all week. As at least six were witnessed before the first race (landing on the Racing Post) this was untrue, and a photo would have been provided had it been known to be needed to combat a falsehood. The fast patches were added after race 3, which suggests that they were present all along.

Going: Good, Good to Firm patches.

Race 1: Happy Birthday Rob Williams Handicap Chase [2m 3.5f]

1: Daulys Anthem     2: Drumlang     3: Sage Monkey

Winner owned: Harold Bowley & Dan Skelton, trained: Dan Skelton, ridden: Harry Skelton

This turned into a complete rout by a horse debuting for the Skelton team. Surely training is more complicated than buying horses with minor breathing problems and sticking a tongue tie on them? Or are there some trainers with an unwisely dogmatic reluctance to use tongue ties? Daulys Anthem won by twenty-six lengths in a race that included several opponents racing from below past winning ratings and hinting recently that they are back in their natural level. The latter might now need a rethink, although it may also have just been the wrong day to go up against Daulys Anthem. Sage Monkey and Go On Henry finished second and third over course and distance last month and did third and fourth here which is an encouraging guideline for the winner.

+   Daulys Anthem (1st): Did not have a hard race in winning what might be a better than average 0-100, so take him seriously if making a quick reappearance.

+   Aregra (7th): Could be supported on his best form in late 2015, but had been off for eleven months. There was money for him, and he looked quite fit. The run, however, had all the signs of being needed, prominent for a long way and weakening three out, so watch for him next time.

x   Drumlang (2nd): Raced from a rating of 84 here, having once won from 121. So this does look as if he has bottomed out, but he just runs too many dodgy races these days to be confident that he will seriously go for win number eight now.
Daulys Anthem leads Aregra (grey) and Asockastar with a circuit to go

Race 2: Bordeaux Undiscovered Wines Selling Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Milrow     2: Dove Mountain     3: Orion’s Might

Winner owned:, trained: Richard Newland, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

With a couple of non-runners this race cut up disappointingly, but t he first two were better than selling class, and Milrow was not short of interest at the auction. Although the final margin was eight lengths, it was a closer race than that implies as Milrow and Dove Mountain delayed their challenge until very late, having had Orion’s Might set the race up for them. Milrow led approaching the last, made a mistake and then had his bacon saved by Dove Mountain hitting it much harder. That sealed it.

xx   Orion’s Might (3rd): Appeared to excel himself when not especially well treated at the weights, but the main two let him have the race to himself (briefly spoiled by impatient Miss Benefitz) and he is now one win from fifty-four races and it is not wise to think of this as normal.
This photo suggests that Milrow may have frightened the life out of Dove Mountain at the final hurdle. It is not illegal.

Race 3: Watch Racing UK On Sky 432 Handicap Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Comanche Chieftain     2: Authorized Too     3: Shining Romeo

Winner owned: B Bell, T Messom & Mrs P Sturgis, trained: Neil King, ridden: Richard Condon
Comanche Chief shows, worryingly, one of the better techniques over the final hurdle.

This was a very hot race. None of the runners looked unexposed enough to be about to embark on a series of wins, but the eight runners had either been performing at their peak over hurdles recently or had not been jumping because they were busy winning flat races. Comanche Chieftain dashed off in front, took a breather with a lap to go and then went on again two out. Entering the home turn it did look as if perhaps he was going to flake out before the final hurdle. In fact, it did not happen and the chasing pack began to find the effort of trying to keep tabs on him a bit much. The last hurdle buffoonery was by Authorized Too (recovered and held on for second) and Tamarillo Grove (was going to be fourth, but fell instead). King Alfonso threatened to play a hand in the finish, then he had a change of mind after the sixth hurdle.

+   Comanche Chief (1st): Six hurdle runs, never out of the first two. He could keep that up for a while.

+   Shining Romeo (3rd): A modest bumper performer who initially went flat racing and got a few wins. He has lately had a rethink about that and not done too badly. Not every handicap that he takes on will be as strong as this one.

x   King Alfonso (4th): As noted above, this was shaping like a big run, then became a very small one. He has only won once from twenty-two races so far, and this showed why.

x   Londonia (7th): This has been a good summer for him, flat and jumps, but now it is August and a bit dank and blustery, and his bubble burst dramatically.
Comanche Chief leads with a lap remaining, but Pengo’s Boy steals the limelight. King Alfonso and Authorized Too are trying to prioritise performance over posing

Race 4: Ian Bird Memorial Novices’ Handicap Chase [2m 3.5f]

1: Theo     2: Capsy De Mee     3: Fair To Middling

Winner owned: P Jenkins & Partner, trained: Richard Newland, ridden: Sam Twiston-Davies

Eight took part in this. Four were having a first go at chases and two had tried it once and failed badly – but could not be written off for just a single bad day. Under the circumstances, this was not the chaos festival that might have evolved. All of them finished and Theo did not win it by strolling clear of blundering oafs. He had won his last three over hurdles, but seems to be a laid back sort who is not going to get overexcited by much – before, during or after the race. Capsy De Mee went for home at third last, but Theo picked up the lead as they turned for home. Fair To Middling came home with a bit of a rattle, having made the running and been ambushed by Capsy De Mee’s early assault, and he nearly got second.

++   Fair To Middling (3rd): Had one chase run when he finished badly tailed off. This was immensely better and after his one hurdle win at Bangor, it may be that sharp tracks are needed. Some may argue that consistency is a mythical concept in his world philosophy, and it has to be admitted that the evidence to disprove that does not currently exist.

+   Capsy De Mee (2nd): Not only was he doing fences for the first time, he was stepped up in distance as well, and it did appear that he failed to really relish the last quarter of a mile. Finishing second hardly screams “non-stayer” but perhaps 2m 2f would be ideal.

x   While You Wait (6th): His early jumping was sticky, without looking like falling, and whilst he warmed up at it, the ground lost had already stymied his chances. That needs to be taken out of his gameplan. It is also worth remembering that four of his five wins date to 2014 or earlier, and three of those were sellers or claimers.

Race 5: Finnick Group Handicap Chase [2m 6.5f]

1: The Trigger     2: Brave Helios     3: Moorlands Mist

Winner owned: No Cream Bun Partnership, trained: Ronan McNally, ridden: Richard Johnson

The second 0-100 handicap chase on the card, and whilst The Trigger won by far less distance than Daulys Anthem, he did it with almost as much ease. He had recently burst into life with success in a fifteen runner Killarney chase, so in comparison this was unstressful stuff, and there were not as many opponents with past glories as he would have met in race one. There was a small bunch of troublemakers harassing him around the final turn, as The Trigger’s stamina was uncertain. From where the defeated may have been getting optimistic, the winner surged clear. Brave Helios ran fairly well to secure second from the pack, but that is often the limit of his ambitions. Moorlands Mist has rolled through the yards of Philip Hobbs, Colin Tizzard and Evan Williams before his debut here for a new one, and he showed up quite well considering that the only track at which he has finished first or second is Chepstow, which is not much like Stratford, other than being next to a well known river.

+   Kilcascan (7th): Had not raced for a while but ran a decent race to the thirteenth and then tied up. It is hard to get fired up over thirteen year old horses winning in the future, but he has been a good contributor over the years and could have one more in him.

x   Brave Helios (2nd): His career score is now two wins and nine second places. Expecting a horse that does that to find a way to win a tough race is a bit unreasonable. Or even win some soft races.

Race 6: Natural Flake Maiden Hurdle [2m 2.5f]

1: Gvs Irportensa     2: Boy In A Bentley     3: Mister Mister

Winner owned: P Molony & J Da Mata, trained: Warren Greatrex, ridden: Richard Johnson

It seemed a race cued for an upset once Boy In A Bentley lined up at odds-on, because given a choice of winning a race or drinking a pond of arsenic solution, he would pick the arsenic every time. Leading approaching the last, it seemed as if the time to say nice things about Boy In A Bentley had come. Oh no, no, no, no. Lugging off to his right (having jumped that way in the race) he opened up daylight on the rail for Gvs Irportensa and also fluffed that final jump a bit and put the brakes on. Gvs Irportensa got up by a length. He was debuting over hurdles after being second in two of three bumpers, but for the reasons above, he still has to prove himself hurdling. The next two home, Mister Mister and Ocean Eleven are also both of interest, and they were close to the first two having stolen third from Chasing Headlights at the final hurdle.

++   Mister Mister (3rd): Won one Irish point but was well beaten in seven of them. Seeing him in the paddock was a case of thinking that he was a big horse that needed time to fulfil his potential. It turned out that the time required was about the next ten minutes. Outpaced at the sixth, he finished very strongly and this improved run was probably not a fluke, despite 100/1 odds. He will learn to fly again and learn to live so free.

++   Ocean Eleven (4th): A decent flat handicapper who won two last autumn, he had gone from bad to OK to slipped up on the flat in three hurdle runs. This was better again and he should be able to make a mark in handicap hurdles.

x   McCools Gold (5th): Also a flat convert, he was not as good as Ocean Eleven at that. His one win there was 2m 1f on fast ground, but on this jumps debut he did not get home, which was a bit surprising.

xx   Boy In A Bentley (2nd): This was arguably his easiest chance yet and he celebrated with a display of elite mulishness in the last few hundred metres. Laugh with him, but do not back him – except in the Placepot.

Race 7: All New Novices’ Handicap Hurdle [2m 6f]

1: Starlit Night     2: Chantecler     3: Beautiful People

Winner owned & trained: Chris Down, ridden: Page Fuller

A vintage Stratford ride was almost blanked out for Starlit Night when Chantecler headed him approaching the last. It seems, however, that Chantecler had been watching race five, because he copied the mistake at the last and hang right thing that was going on there. The result was that Starlit Night fought back and won by a nose. After skipping clear at the start, taking a mid-race breather and then going on again with three-quarters of a lap left, Starlit Night and Page Fuller deserved the win for the perfect tactics on the course. It may be that the winner did not rally so much as plod on in a straight line as Beautiful People suddenly popped up in the last few yards to be only a length behind. We know that she is not one of those unlucky to be missing out on the Steward’s Cup, so rather than imagine her showing a blazing sprint finish, the conclusion is that the first two were going quite slowly.

+   Guerilla Tactics (4th): Won once in point-to-points but was runner-up five times. He had an abortive go at hurdling one day in 2015 at Wexford, then avoided it until recently. He did much better in those, but the problem for here was that in them he ran to a mark between 88 and 93, yet the handicapper put him on 101 for this handicap debut. When he improves a bit or the rating slides (or a bit of both) he can win a race.

x   Beautiful People (3rd): She has now not managed a win in sixteen races. She finished this willingly enough but too late, which is about normal for her, so it probably is not the precursor to a first ever win.

x   Cougar’s Gold (5th): Carried a big weight here due to a penalty for winning ten days ago. It did not seem to be bothering him as he cruised into contention after the second last. From there he found nothing.

xx   Chantecler (2nd): At face value it just seemed unlucky that he hit the last and lost his equilibrium for a while. But then the past record from the flat (one win from seventeen) and hurdles (none from nine) starts to nag away, and the sinister side of his finish is apparent.
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