Stratford, 16/7/17

With it being family fun day and the flawed viewing here bound to be even worse than usual – even before people had put up gazebos in the most obstructive places possible – so a radical approach was adopted. This involved watching the racing from old railway embankment that is now a footpath/cyclepath. After some trial and error, the best spot found is over looking the last fence in the back straight. The negatives are lack of shelter when it rains and not seeing the horses in the paddock when we have e.g. Danandy returning from a long absence. The positives are an equal or better view of the racing than you get in the enclosures, the Carriage Café being open for most of the afternoon, most of the announcements are audible, plenty of benches, lots of friendly dogs (note to Archie and Murphy – you are the only Labradors on the planet who cannot tell the difference between a branch and half of a brick) and even a kestrel harassing some pigeons, just because it could. Realistically, the angle on the finish is a bit weird, and in race three the first impression was that the runner-up had won. Plus in race four it appeared that the eventual runner-up had been only fourth. After that, acclimatisation occurred.

As for the racing, it was a regular Stratford summer card, with eight races testing the stamina of the fun day crowd. The final obstacles over hurdles and chases do draw more than their fair share of errors here, as horses try to quicken once leaving the very tight final turn, but this was the first meeting where it was compulsory for the leader to fluff the last jump.

Going: Good

Race 1: Coventry Telegraph & Birmingham Mail Juvenile Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Taxmeifyoucan     2: Phoenix Dawn     3: The Raven Master

Winner owned: Straightline Bloodstock, trained Keith Dalgleish, ridden: Finian O’Toole

None of the nine runners had any hurdling experience, so there was the risk of it all getting a bit silly, and having a fun fair in their line of sight approaching the first was not helpful. As typical for here, the runners charged at it manically, but less commonly there were no unseats, refusals or ran outs – somehow. Once over it, things all quickened up again, and the way the race panned out confirmed the visual impression that it happened too fast for some. The winner, Taxmeifyoucan, was one of only three that had won on the flat, but he did it with first time cheekpieces (not on here) in a four horse race, so reliability is a question. He hung on by a short head and half a length, but having jumped the final flight worse than Phoenix Dawn and The Raven Master, at least Taxmeifyoucan picked up willingly. At this stage, there is not an inclination to believe this race is going to amount to much.

+   Phoenix Dawn (2nd): Despite having tasted success on the flat – also a four runner race – and been second three times, he was very weak in the betting, and having only gone down narrowly in a style that replicated his flat skills, there is a chance that he goes onto better stuff hurdling.

x   Mauricio (6th): Came out best of the guessing game which decided who should be favourite, but was one of the guilty parties in the failure to go a sensible pace. He needs to learn something about hurdling rather fast. Or rather, doing it more steadily, soon.

x   Lucky Esteem (PU): With a flat rating of 70 and the fillies’ weight allowance, she ought to have been a factor in some shape or form, but she did not look at all happy with her new job.
Despite Lucky Esteem (far right) going right and The Raven Master (far left) going left, the front row generally slowing up, and everyone putting the wind up Taxmeifyoucan (blue & white quarters), shambles was averted at hurdle number one.

Race 2: Peugeot Citroen Handicap Chase [2m 6.5f]

1: Scripturient     2: Shaiyzar     3: That’s The Deal

Winner owned: Monday Gang Syndicate, trained: Gavin Cromwell, ridden: Jonathan Moore

A typically frantic 0-100 chase for the venue. The prize money got carted back to Ireland as Scripturient won with plenty in hand. Irish chase form of 707 gave few clues that he was going to take flight now, but all of those defeats, which were marred by errors under pressure, involved at least some opponents that were too good for this company. Clearly the ones against him now were unable to put the frighteners on. Shaizyar did not run a terrible race overall, but she was not able to stay in a competitive position mid-race and lost her chance there. She needs three miles plus now, but overall has a worryingly low strike rate. On the other hand, thirteen year old That’s The Deal was still full of zest in front, despite this being twelfth run in 2017. It is not his fault that the oppo was too strong for him.

+   Scripturient (1st): Has not had a lot of racing, so it is possible that his physical and mental skills are finally achieving ambience. The ease of the win might give him handicap problems, but a run before being reassessed would have to be taken very seriously.

+   Raising Hope (5th): It appeared as if the going was on the quick side of good, which offsets a little of his excuse of peaking on good to firm. However, his need for hold up tactics was totally unsuitable for this race, and he is perfectly capable of bouncing back elsewhere.

xx   Zama Zama (PU): Over the years he has not been short of off days, but did dig up the odd warm spell. At the moment he seems to have completely lost interest in racing.

UK-Jumping List: Sgt Bull Berry (PU): He is still slightly above the handicap marks from which he gets stuff done, and his insistence on pulling up when not going to win is a variety of consistency – just a bad one.
Scripturient starts to go clear two out, as That’s The Deal is not foot perfect. Between The Waters, who finished just behind That’s The Deal, is labouring in third – this showing just how far back Shaizyar came from.

Race 3: Askews Accountants Handicap Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Our Three Sons     2: Free Stone Hill     3: St Saviour

Winner owned; AJ & Mrs J Ward, trained: Jamie Snowden, ridden: Page Fuller

This was a very predictable race, although it is easy to stick to your plan or vision when there are only five runners. Our Three Sons went off like a scalded cat. Back To Balloo initially went with him, but found the heat too much before a lap had been completed. St Saviour stalked the scouting party. Free Stone Hill was more patient, but made sure that he was tracking the leaders early in the back straight, plenty soon enough to make his challenge, and Dollar And A Dream was always in rear. Into the final turn, Free Stone Hill was going best of the first three, but was tucked on the inner and risked getting boxed in. Instead, St Saviour weakened and a gap came. Free Stone Hill cruised through it, took a slight lead early in the home straight and duly fluffed the last. Our Three Sons stormed back to the front, and clung on by a nose when the challenger got up to speed again.

After time note: In the Racing Post report, Harry Skelton held up his hands and admitted that had he been worried about winning too easily, and that Free Stone Hill could have been far enough ahead to have won despite the error. Kudos to the jockey for his frankness, and perhaps this will be noted when similar instances occur on tracks with a short run-in.

+ +   Our Three Sons (1st): There is an obvious risk of him being handicapped into a class of race that he cannot handle – it even looked like it had happened before today – but his record on sharp level tracks is 222321121. On others it is 49474. So he will always give you hope on the correct layout.

+ +   Free Stone Hill (2nd): The last flight blunder was unprovoked and his own fault, but without it he would have won with comfort. As he is not in the habit of kicking the hurdles out of the way, he has the potential to make amends, although he already seems not too well treated by the handicapper.

Race 4: Eden Vauxhall Handicap Chase [2m 3.5f]

1: Bestwork     2: Sage Monkey     3: Go On Henry

Winner owned: Henacre Racing Club Ltd, trained: Charlie Longsdon, ridden: Aidan Coleman

Apparently we have all been well behaved enough to be treated to two 0-100 handicap chases in the first half of the card. No free ice cream though, which would have been a nice touch. With eleven runners in this, it did get a bit crowded and some that were not keen on being at the front early on found it impossible to force their way into a position to challenge. Ballycool and Next Exit were the two that caught the eye for this, but maybe it was all to do with mostly yellow silks, and for Next Exit this is a perfectly normal way of racing. Meanwhile Bestwork was convincingly winning for the third time in his last four races. There is no glaringly obvious excuse for being so terrible in the exception. There were positives about the effort of Sage Monkey, climbing from fourth to second very late in the race, and it was by far his best effort since coming over from Ireland. The bar for that accolade was set very low. Go On Henry and Alottarain both seemed placed to worry the winner as they crossed the second last, but considering that they were battling each other as well as chasing Bestwork, their response was all a bit tame.

+ +   Sage Monkey (2nd): Given his miserable form in Britain – starting after a year and a half sidelined – there must have been some serious money to make him start at 7/2 for this. The mid-race pace was too much but the rest of his effort was fine for the standard of race, and he is very worthy of attention in a longer event.

+   Ballycool (5th): Rated 96 today, he has three chase wins from marks of 100 or more, so is now qualified for very winnable races. The tactics let him down here, and the impression left was that he is not far from being able to take advantage of the chance that the handicapper has given him.

x   Deise Vu (PU): On the whole he is very good at rolling up some prize money without winning, and that view stands despite his accidental win here in April. Today he was prominent early but had dropped out before the slightly longer race distance here was a factor. So not even his normal partially committed self.
Bestwork jumped this so slickly that he really did spring out of camera shot. The remaining view of Go On Henry (nearest) and Allotarain is worth persevering with.

Race 5: Angels Solicitors Handicap Chase [2m 6.5f]

1: Honkytonktennessee     2: Play The Ace     3: Vikekhal

Winner owned: Rio Gold Racing Club Ltd, trained: Dan Skelton, ridden: Harry Skelton

In his latest close losses, Honkytonktennessee has shaped like a dog of the first order, but on joining Dan Skelton, adding a hood gave him a short, sharp shot of surprised enthusiasm. Enough for two wins. This time it was the first use of cheekpieces that did the probably temporary excited thing. He did wallop the last fence and idle along the run-in, but the magic stimulation had occurred mid-race and Honkytonktennessee had enough safety margin built up. Play The Ace gave it a game try on a course and distance where both Rules wins came, but this was another example where his non-elite strike rate so far makes for gently concerning reading. Vikekhal confirmed the impression from last time that he has exited a form slump, and might have done even better were his stable not so out of sorts. Cernunnos came from a team in far hotter state, but the quickening ground was too much for him – even good is not ideal.

+  Vikekhal (3rd): This is the second race in a row where he has performed a lot less lethargically, coinciding with cheekpieces being added. He could sneak a win before getting bored again.

+   Danandy (6th): Returned from an absence dating to 2015 looking well handicapped, and ran a cracker until the second last fence. He would be very vulnerable to the bounce next time, but the evidence is that he can still get involved from the current rating of 122.

x   Honkytonktennessee (1st): The way that he finished the job is enough to keep us cynical regarding the chances of the cheekpieces sustaining their effect.

Race 6: Mick Baker Memorial Novices Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Dear Sire     2: Rebel Yeats     3: Flying Verse

Winner owned: Green Day Racing, trained: Donald McCain, ridden: Lorcan Murtagh

When making a pre-race pick, it was a close call between what became the first two to finish. The market preferred Rebel Yeats with slightly inferior form but a big weight concession, the conditions of the race suited Dear Sire, who won in dominant fashion. In control at the end of the home straight, he clobbered the last hurdle without freaking himself out. Irish point winner (a weak one) Wells Gold offered nothing of note and finishing at the back of the sextet. Possibly Flying Verse, graduating from bumpers, can be argued to have exceeded expectation, but he was not very close in third.

x   Dear Sire (1st): Tended to fling himself at the hurdles a bit wildly. In this company it was non-critical, but in most races it will hit his chances significantly.

Race 7: Brummies Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, Div I [2m 2.5f]

1: Sky Of Stars     2: Bring Back Charlie     3: Innocent Girl

Winner owned: Touchwood Racing, trained: Olly Murphy, ridden: Graham Watters

Sky Of Stars seemed to have watched and copied Free Stone Hill earlier in the day and failed to understand that what happened cost him the race. He was shaping all over as the winner around the final bend, but both Bring Back Charlie and Innocent Girl outjumped him there – not so much an error on his part as just being less slick. The latter weakened badly from that point, but Bring Back Charlie knuckled down and was only narrowly beaten in the end. So perhaps Sky Of Stars was stabled next to Free Stone Hill and did what passes for taunting where racehorses are concerned. Fourth was Swaledale Lad, who made a bid for glory after lap. It failed and he ended up only fourth, but having won a seller last Boxing Day, he is enthused enough to repeat the trick if dropped to that level.

  Sky Of Stars (1st): Handled the slightly longer race much better than when beaten in a seller in March, and is a little ahead of the handicapper at the moment. Just a little.

+   Bring Back Charlie (2nd): Won off of 87 at Uttoxeter last autumn and is now handicapped back in this general vicinity. The consequence was a competitive effort. He is only 1/18 so far, runner-up four times, but it is high time that he was given a shot at chasing (unless he has tried it at home and jumped like a buffalo).

x   Wonga Swinger (PU): Won two races in April, but he has flopped badly in both tries since, and whatever caused him to snap out of a slump a couple of months ago has gone back into deep hibernation.
Trapper Peak has the lead after about two-thirds of a lap. Wonga Swinger wanted the lead but could not get it, so had an anti-photo tantrum and hid behind Cor Wot An A Apple. The rest, in running order, are Swaledale Lad, Royal Etiquette, Faith Jicaro, Bring Back Charlie, Sky Of Stars and Innocent Girl. Relish this picture, as it is rare for all of the placed horses to come from the very back on this course.

Race 8: Brummies Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, Div II [2m 2.5f]

1: Mr Caffrey     2: Jazz Thyme     3: Ramore Will

Winner owned; Mrs ML Trow, AP Barwell, CJ Sanders, trained: Richard Newland, ridden: Charlie Hammond

Not quite the usual story for the day. Mr Caffrey was everyone’s call at the second last to be the winner. Half way through the long run to the final hurdle, he was being pushed along and it was Jazz Thyme that really caught the eye as cruising along in a way that the oppo could not match. Alas, as they turned for home, it was apparent that Jazz Thyme was not finding anything under pressure, so Mr Caffrey sportingly gave her a chance by clouting the last. She got within a neck of exploiting it, but it seems that Mr Caffrey was rather teasing her along, and he stuck to his guns enough to hang on by a neck.

+   Mr Caffrey (1st): Debuting for a new yard, his old form suggested that a longer race or a stiffer track would be needed, but the new regime has injected a smattering of pace into his weaponry. This win ensued, and choices to add to it are wider.

+   Ramore Will (3rd): Another making a first show for a new stable, he came from Ireland with some very mediocre form under his belt. A price tag of £16,000 suggests that more than one person felt there were races to be won with him, and this counts as a solid opener.

x   Jazz Thyme (2nd): Had not raced for nine months, but can run well fresh so the feeble finish was disappointing. However, her usual tongue tie was missing, so maybe the surrender can be fixed.

  Roja Dove (4th): She has not been in the worst of form lately, but since October 2013 she has only one victory and a severely declined handicapped mark is not really making a difference.

xx   Orion’s Might (7th): Had a golden chance on his first two runs of this season, but had only one win from fifty-two races and has now lapsed into business as usual.
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