Taunton, 30/12/19

After a decidedly unsatisfactry experience at Fontwell on Boxing Day, it was time to go to Taunton and suffer a different but still unsatisfactory day to follow it up. A minor fuss was made because the Arc chairman was owner of one of the runners early on the card, but instead of showing him how to run a course properly, the normally reliable Taunton fell down badly.

Race 3: It was decided three seconds before the off time that more than half of the fences would be missed out. As this was a novices' handicap chase, this is an especially significant step and many, many bets would already have been placed with consideration to suspect or unproven jumping skills.

Race 4: More than half the hurdles omitted, although we could at least guess that it was coming. Just before the third race, the likely favourite, Silver Forever, was declared a non-runner but the crowd were never told why. As she feature's in one of UK-Jumping's lines in the London Racing Club 6 To Follow, this was a major event.

Race 5: The problem in the past two races was that low cloud on the Blackdown Hills was causing a serious glare as the sunlight diffused. By the time of this race, the sun had moved on by a hour and the cloud largely gone. Inexplicably more than half the fences were again bypassed. After this was announced, Cap Horner was withdrawn, causing a drop to fifteen runners and from four to three places. He was just about a long enough price to avod a Rule 4 too. Again there was no announcement as to the reason made for racegoers. As fifteen horses converged on the first bend without any fences to filter the order, the concertina effect caused Troed Y Melin to stumble and unseat.

Race 6: After the total absence of common sense in race 5, there was no announcement as to how many hurdles would be used here. The first inkling we had was a minute of so from the off when commentator Mike Cattermole noted that nobody seemed to be dolling off hurdles, but from his tone it was clear that he was speculating without information too.

This is nowhere near good enough and it was no surprise to see the big crowd start to disperse by the fifth race.

Going: Soft

Race 1: Annual Membership 2020 Available Today Juvenile Hurdle [2m 0.5f]

1: Blacko     2: Zoffee     3: The Pink'n

Although he got turned over at odds-on here, to follow a defeat at 11/10 on hurdling debut, Zoffee did nothing wrong - he just ran into a horse that was a fraction too quick on the run-in. Blacko's origins in France meant that he went into hurdles from day one as a professional athlete, so we have no direct comparison as to what his flat racing skills may have been, but Zoffee was rated a healthy 85. His win was, however, on good to firm, and the mud may just have blunted his nippiness enough to let Blacko come out on top. They were at least ten lengths clear of previous winner The Pink'n, who held the minor place narrowly from Night Edition and Novus Aditus, the latter not without support at 200/1.

Night Edition (5th): Does have a French flat win to his name, but it was at Cluny, which is very much in the bottom drawer. There is some talent to work with when he gets into handicaps.

x  Chex Hans (7th): He had gained a tongue tie since being beaten at Fontwell but he again pulled too hard for his own good. He had kept pace with the others easily for over a mile and a half, so there appears to be some raw material. The horse just needs to cooperate more.    here.
Dieppe hurdler Blacko is this much better than ex-flat prima donna Zoffee when it mattered. Or it could be argued that Blacko's jumping was this much better.

Race 2: Newton King Novices's Hurdle [2m 3f]

1: Republican     2: Flic Ou Voyou     3: Fitzroy

Winner owned: Edward J Ware, trained: Oliver Sherwood, ridden: Leighton Aspell

This had quite an odd finish as there was a steward's enquiry but it seemed to take a long time to be announced and then longer than expected to achieve a predictable outcome. Upon landing ovr the last, Republican hung left, but at the earliest practical moment, Leighton Aspell switched his whip into the correct (i.e. left) hand and reduced the degree of lug but could not stop it completely. The final margin was only a head, but with no (or perhaps the most minimal) contact and an unusually long run-in for Taunton, Flic Ou Voyou had plenty of time and room to get in front, but just could not quite make it. Whilst he and Republican were busy giving it the old wah-hey without a punch being thrown, Fitzroy sneaked up on them by running in a straight line and only finished a length and a quarter behind them.

+ +  The Jitterbug (4th): Unseated on his British pointing debut then won a maiden at Bratton Down. This was his first run since that, nineteen months ago, and it did not go at all badly. Staying chases anyone?

+  Flic Ou Voyou (2nd): The average margin of his three hurdle losses has been 1.33 lengths but he is a big chasing type who has a much longer term career to worry over.

Fitzroy (3rd): Disappointed in his most recent run but took a positive view of having a hood and will run into less taxing novice hurdles than this.

+ Malachys Girl (5th): Tackled five Irish points, with one win and three second places. She had been no more than OK in her previous runs under Rules but this comeback after a year off suggested that her current rating of 107 can be very functional.

+  Eros (6th): Debuting over hurdles after not managing a place in two bumpers, he sat at the back for a long time, made a sortie forward with half a circuit to go and then trod water in the final stages. The future for him should have a bit more to offer.    ere.
Mrs Trout (13) could not stay in this position and Malachys Girl (12) also faded, but to a lesser degree. Lurking in behind with all the menace of a bull shark in a small river are Flic Ou Voyou and Republican

Race 3: Setsquare Recruitment Novices' Handicap Chase [2m 7f]

1: Manofthemountain     2: Putdecashonthedash     3: Sizing Cusimano

Winner owned: Paul G Jacobs, trained: Emma Lavelle, ridden: Ben Jones

Risible nonsense number one, with nine fences bypassed. The winner had landed two uncompetitive chases but unseated when pitched into more testing company. A deserved and inevitable win or not? After the race Paul Webber was summoned t the stewards' room regarding the performance of Elite Garde. The official statement says no abnormality was reported by the vet but as the horses runs extremely slowly but jumps superbly it would be nice to think that the stewards were robustly informed that omitting nine fences killed any chance that the horse may had.

Race 4: Byerley Stud Mares' Novices Hurdle, Listed [2m 0.5f]

1: Marie's Rock     2: Midnight's Gift     3: It's Probably Me

Winner owned: MIddleham Park Racing XLII, trained: NIcky Henderson, ridden: Nico de Boinville

Risible nonsense number two, with five hurdles omitted. There was no time to check out the form for two mile flat races on soft.

Race 5: Brain Tumour Research Handicap Chase [3m 2.5f]

1: Grand Tempo     2: The Boola Bee     3: Kilcrea Bridge

Winner owned: David Pipe Racing Club, trained: David Pipe, ridden: Fergus Gillard

Risible nonsense number three with ten fences omitted. The horse that won this, Grand Tempo, had shown signs of chasing aptitude in only one of seven chases before this. He has had a wind op, but it is inconceivable (in the Vizzini sense of the word) that The Boola Bee (ten prior chases, twice each in first, second or third) could not have made up the head she was beaten with the benefit of ten extra fences. Upon arriving home, it was discovered that Cap Horner was withdrawn as a response to the removal of so many fences. Well done to Seamus Mullins and owner Mark Adams for making a very valid point. Rumours that Martin Pipe was spotted sidling into the racecourse office with a handful of ten pound notes get the full Francis Urquhart - "You might say that, I couldn't possibly comment." Conspiracy buffs, light up your keyboards!

Race 6: Invest Southwest Handicap Hurdle [3m]

1: Kansas City Chief     2: Normandy Soldier     3: Winter Getaway

Winner owned: Tony Bloom, trained: Neil Mulholland, ridden: Robbie Dunne

Whoooo, a proper race. A very confusing one, but a proper, proper race. Kansas City Chief made most of the running, going wide all the way and only losing first place at times when that cost him a little on the bends. The result proves that the tactics, whether ground based or weird Kansas Ciy Chief thought process inspired, worked. The winner had come on a lot for his recent return to action and clearly appreciated a drop in class. Possibly when the handicapper is a rethink, he will be forced back out of his comfort zone. For an inexperienced unproven stayer, Normandy Soldier did a very tolerable job to claim second. Like the runner-up, Winter Getaway was up in distance and on handicap debut and her third was a surprisingly solid result given how weakly the form of her novice races is working out. So this is a race to follow or a race to shun, depending on which one of the first three you hook the assessment into.

Normandy Soldier (2nd): In his handicap debut and unproven beyond 2m 5.5f, this was a sound performance and he will find winnable staying hurdles.

+  Compadre (5th): Did not run especially well here but his yard has not really been going strongly lately and his real excellence is in chases, where he has three wins from eleven starts on right-handed courses. Better to come?
Kansas City Chief shows the way from Jersey Bean, Dinos Benefit, Normandy Soldier (hiding Winter Getaway). The rear ranks are Thegallantway, Marmont and Compadre.

Race 7: 2 For 1 Entry 7th January Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle [2m 3f]

1: Lightly Squeezed     2: Twenty Twenty     3: Starsky     4: Candyman Can

Winner owned: J Davies, G Brown & P Govier, trained: Harry Fry, ridden: Bryan Carver

A proper cavalry charge to finish the racing, although as a 0-110 it was not the nutjob fest that some tracks produce. The oddity was that numbers 1, 2 and 3 finished first, second and third, and the fifth, sixth and seventh were numbers 7, 5, 6. Who gets the blame for ruining it all at fourth? Bottom weight Candyman Can for overachievement or Farm The Rock for a timid show? Back to the point, those brave enough to steam in at evens did not really have too many moments of fright from Lightly Squeezed. Twenty Twenty gained a placed for the fifth time in the six races since he last won.

+ +  Mead Vale (5th): A good 2018 drifted away in 2019 and after a brought down and a fall in September, connections had the inspired idea of sending him over fences. He unseated. Failing to make the running from pillar to post he showed a good spirit once headed, helped by cheekpieces on for the first time, and seems to be back on a positive vibe.

Lightly Squeezed (1st): Compared to a rather tentative earlier career, he has gone bat droppings crazy for victories in the last few months and he probably has not finished yet.

+  Daytime Ahead (10th): Her record in handicaps at Wincanton is 11213. She has occasionally finished close on sharp courses, but usually does not. This can be ignored when she returns to her spiritual home.

Twenty Twenty (2nd): Keeps nudging up the handicap without winning and even if he lost by enough not to get more of the same, where will this sequence of places end? 
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