Stratford, 13/3/17

Welcome to Chris Gordon day. The trainer had five runners on this date and all of them won. As far as generating publicity is concerned, doing this on the day before Cheltenham is daft, as come Tuesday it will get nowhere near the coverage that it deserved. And as the record before today, covering the last fortnight, was eleven runners and six winners, it was not occurring out of the blue. This course saw 40% of the victories, and the nature of the two showed that sometimes it really is just your day. One horse had three opponents, two of whom had unseated by the second fence. The other had a few more against him, but a couple of dangers ran really flat and the favourite pulled up lame with a circuit to race. Even down at Plumpton the last winner clattered through the last two hurdles and somehow still outstayed the leader to win narrowly.

The other issue raised here was that Stratford have switched to the padded hurdle design, although considering that they are at best third quickest to do so (Newton Abbot and Uttoxeter definitely beat them to it, and maybe somewhere off of the UK-Jumping beaten track has done so as well), the course was taking a bit too much credit for the idea. Raceday compere Tim Peters pondered that it was strange that more tracks had not yet brought the design in. The thought occurred that with more materials and build, the sections are presumably more expensive. However, the padding seems to protect the hurdles as well as the horses, and having fewer parts destroyed by clumsy oafs might pay for the extra up front cost.

Going: Soft

Race 1: Sky Bet First Race Special Juvenile Hurdle [2m 2.5f]

1: Attest     2: Regal Gait     3: Spader

Winner owned: Bolingbroke Bartram Flatt Molony Sutton, trained: Warren Greatrex, ridden: Harry Bannister

The extra quarter of a mile provided a slightly different test for the kids that turned up here. The line up was not the most inspiring, but Attest really caught the eye in the paddock. The trouble was that having flopped with a burst blood vessel on hurdling debut, he had not improved in two subsequent runs where no such problems were reported. As usual for Stratford, the main protagonists were in control at the end of the back straight, and it was Attest versus Regal Gait there. With the chance of a weak finisher from the former, the runner-up plugged away under pressure, and was less than a length down at the last flight. For once Attest was problem free. Favourite Chandos Belle only has a modest level of form, and her yard is short of winners at the moment. She did look well enough on the day and her seven lengths fifth is probably a solid guide to the value of the form.

+   Attest (1st): Comes with associated risks, but seeing him in the flesh does make you think he can be a proper jumper if avoiding the issues. He could come out of this with a functional handicap mark as well - Regal Gait was already rated 107.
+   Zeehan (4th): A 71 rated handicapper on the flat making her jumps debut, the limitations of the oppo resulted in her starting second favourite. She ran OK, but nothing special, but it can be a springboard to something a bit better.

Race 2: Sky Bet Moneyback Everyday At Cheltenham Novices' Limited Handicap Chase [2m 1f]

1: Tara Bridge     2: Lucky Jim

Winner owned: BJ Champion , trained: Chris Gordon, ridden: Leighton Aspell

Mr Cardle dived at the first and unseated his rider. Brother Bennett misjudged the second and unseated his rider. Tara Bridge, who fell last time, was left with one opponent, Lucky Jim, who last raced in September and does not go well fresh. At this point the spot quiz would be "what happened next?" but the answer has already been given away. Maybe time to rethink the layout of these reports.

UK-Jumping selections - Tara Bridge (1st): Was a bit careful at a few fences, but with nothing left to challenge him, the lengths lost did no harm at all, and at the end of the race he was popping away fairly confidently. Just what was needed for him.

Empire - Brother Bennett (unseated): Misjudged the big open ditch that was fence two and whilst he found a leg for himself, he abandoned jockey Frankie Penford to his fate. This is Saxnot getting revenge on UK-Jumping for missing the traditional Plumpton curtain raiser for the Festival for the first time in donkey's years. Should have sacrificed a goat to Woden, just like Chris Gordon did.

Race 3: Sky Bet ROA Racing Post Owners Jackpot Handicap Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Midnight Maestro     2: Brotherly Company     3: Late Night Lily

Winner owned: JP McManus, trained: Alan King, ridden: Wayne Hutchinson

A race won by the least experienced runner, and the way in which Midnight Maestro did it was very positive. He did not cruise round imperiously on the bridle and win without breaking sweat, but he did keep finding a bit more every time asked, and whilst ridden out to the line, Midnight Maestro strikes as the sort who can raise his game to the level demanded. Up until the ascertained level is found. He should make a chaser as well. Brotherly Company put up a good pursuit in his first appearance since the autumn. Those behind this pair found it quite hard work, maybe a bit harder than they were expecting. So we consider Late Night Lily. Looked well, ran... OK. She has been used to less competitive mares' only races, but may adapt to this tougher grade.

+ +   Barrys Jack (5th): Making his debut for Brian Ellison after coming over from Ireland, the drop down to two miles was a surprise policy, and less amazingly, he got outpaced in the last half of the race. He stayed on as willingly as he was able and should be noted when back up to two and half miles.
+   Midnight Maestro (1st): Set to do well over hurdles, but looks like he has the option to try fences early.
+   Brotherly Company (2nd): Is not a soft ground sort of horse, so this was a good try, and had he not already got a bit high in the handicap a second axe could have come his way.
x   Sleepy Haven (4th): Has stumbled into some sort of consistency problem, but his yard has been doing really well lately, so the performance level that gets a one paced fourth would appear likely to reduce as the hot spell fades.
x   Bleu Et Noir (6th): Likes to make the running, but common sense has to apply. Today he blazed off in front, despite the others allowing him a four lengths edge at the start, then the effort imploded half a mile out. Sometimes the opposition is weak enough that he can get away with it, but anyone tempted to support him need eyes wide open about the aspects of his race that can go horribly wrong.
Midnight Maestro (right) again proves that mid-afternoon maestrocity is possible. Blue Et Noir (1) and Sleepy Haven ignore him for a) being smug and b) getting them an x each on this report

Race 4: David Cowgill Memorial Handicap Chase [2m 6.5f]

1: Howlongisafoot      2: Azert De Couer    3: Grandioso

Winner owned: DS Dennis, trained: Chris Gordon, ridden: Leighton Aspell

Lit up by first time cheekpieces (presumably) Altiepix set a good pace for the conditions, but then pulled up lame at halfway. Likely non-stayer Wings Of Smoke was not travelling well early, so really had no chance of lasting this and eventually pulled up. Dr Robin had an offday, as he is wont to do, and called it quits before the fourth last, well behind at the time. Grandioso has won some hunter chases for current connections, but the method depends on running frequently. He had been off for nearly six weeks here, and was sluggish in the race, finishing tailed off. Azert De Couer had a shot at chasing the winner but abruptly ran out of steam at the third last. So that left the prize for Howlongisafoot. He last won in November 2015, when rated 134, but a series of awful runs had got him down to 111 by now. A livelier effort in a loss three weeks ago suggested he had found his level, but the oppo hardly made things difficult for him.

x   Azert De Couer (2nd): Won in convincing style last autumn, but has been disappointing since. There is a case that the slightly longer distance was a problem (overall he shaped as if he would stay). However he was in trouble before stamina failing was an excuse.
x   Dr Robin (Pulled up): Recently he had been at his best and met conditions that need not have caused him a problem, so the bad run was a warning that his hot form has deserted him quickly.
xx   Wings Of Smoke (Pulled up): Has had his share of success in the past, but has lost his way completely. A plummeting handicap mark is not helping at all.

Race 5: Sky Bet Extra Places Every Day Novices' Hunters' Chase [2m 5f]

1: Arthur's Secret     2: Olofi     3: Kristian Gray

Winner owned: Mrs C Banks, trained: Martin Weston, ridden: Abi Banks

A small field hunters' chase still managed to spring an upset. Arthur's Secret got sweaty before the race and appeared to have been too keen bounding off in front, but he jumped very well and had a two lengths lead on favourite Olofi as they came around the final turn. The leader was there to be picked off but Olofi found nothing when asked, and the race was in the bag for Arthur's Secret. The secret seems to be that getting sweaty and horrible is not a bad thing for him.

x   Olofi (2nd): Won a hunter chase at Leicester last time, but days spoiled by lack of response under pressure is not unique in his record. The stiffer finish at Leicester stalling the oppo might have played in his favour, but genteel tracks like this one are not going to do that.

Arthur's Secret pops over the water, with Olofi in hot pursuit. The chasers, left to right, are Squirrel Esquire, Kristian Gray and Lined With Silver

Race 6: Take Advantage With Skybet Maiden Open National Hunt Flat Race [2m 0.5f]

1: Clondaw Castle     2: Hatcher     3: High Noon

Winner owned: J French, D McDermott, S Nelson, T Syder, trained: Tom George, ridden: Adrian Heskin

Bumpers at Stratford are not known for their excellence - the ultra-tight final turn is not everyone's idea of what inexperienced horses want. This one had some interesting sorts in it. Clondaw Castle, for instance. Fell when possibly headed for victory in his first Irish point, and then landed the second. Out Of Style won his only Irish point by fifteen lengths and was sold for E80,000, although he must have some issues as that sole run was two years ago. High Noon and Clementia - newcomers from Emma Lavelle and Tony Martin. Jimmy Bell, another newcomer from a less bumper focused yard, also looked ready to go. The race was set up nicely at the end of the back straight, where the big players swept the pacemaker aside. From there Clondaw Castle took control, seeing off Hatcher and High Noon without too much stress.

+   Clondaw Castle (1st): Has the makings of a nice horse, and the fact that this is not a course associated with top bumper horses should not be held against him.
+   High Noon (3rd): A promising start from a big horse that would probably not find Stratford playing to his strengths.
+   Out Of Style (4th): Needed the exercise after his long absence and can do better if able to stay match ready.
x   Hatcher (2nd): Found nothing under pressure on his debut, an all-weather bumper. He had a hood on today and came through with potential to frighten Clondaw Castle, only to find nothing again. It has started ominously for him.
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