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KEMPTON, 18th October 2015
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A larger crowd than expected for Kempton's traditional jump season-opener, catered for by a total of 19 course bookmakers. The racing took place on well-watered good ground, but there were still a few non-runners and no field bigger than seven. All races used the inside (chase course) bends after the winning post and turning for home.
Only four lined up for the opening juvenile hurdle - and one of those, Come Up And See Me, was a 100/1 shot who took an eternity to complete - but it was run at a good gallop thanks to tearaway leader Big McIntosh; the winner Oceane's performance was one of the better ones by a three-year-old up to this stage of the season and drew a 25/1 quote from race sponsors William Hill for the Triumph Hurdle, but it's more likely that none of the final field for the juvenile hurdle-championship next March have been seen out yet, on either side of the Irish Sea.
Oceane (1/3 to 2/9), easily the pick of the paddock, a close-coupled type, wasn't hard pressed to take the lead with two to jump and was pushed clear, a good jump at the last sealing it. The free-going Big McIntosh (medium height) would probably not have held on to his second-place if there'd been a few more runners, shooting off in front, surviving a mistake at the second, and a sitting duck in the last half mile.
Hurdling debutant Goldslinger was second favourite on the back of a made-all win over 1m5f at Chester on his most recent Flat-start, going a good pace from the stalls; however with Big McIntosh in attendance Paul Moloney opted to sit in third place, and though he was close enough four out a mistake at the third last ended any chance. He very much lacks substance, only leggy and light bodied, but should benefit from the experience and, you would think, would be more likely to revert to front running tactics on his next hurdles-run.
There used to be a half-decent 2m novices' chase on this card, even after they did away with the old Charisma Gold Cup, but that was replaced on this card by a 0-120 novices' handicap chase over the same trip, and the outcome isn't expected to be influential on anything much, Lord Lir likely to have run close but for being badly baulked at the second last.
Yabadabadoo (about medium height, well made, lengthy) found disappointingly little against Walden Prince (non-runner on this card) at Huntingdon on October 4th but found plenty more this time, although giving the impression he was idling when hitting the front three out, and he effectively settled it by literally brushing aside the opposition - jumping right at the second last and giving the rallying Lord Lir one hell of a broadside.
The Green Ogre (tallish, rugged up) was held up last, making an error at the seventh, stayed on from three out and was left second by virtue of the misfortune suffered by Lord Lir (medium-to-tallish, light-bodied), who looked a hair-raising ride with mistakes at the second and fifth; surviving those and ridden from the home turn, he was headed but stayed on and wasn't done with when all but knocked over by Yabadabadoo at the second last. Nothing else to note, nine-year-old chase debutant Mini Muck - who isn't very big - falling at the second, having dived at the first.
The first of the two feature races on the card was the 2m Listed novices' hurdle; it looked tight on paper to me, but the betting predicted a decisive winner and proved to be right, with the form looking strong. Dual novice hurdle winner Midnight Shot set a reasonable pace until blundering at the third last, weakening after.
Maputo, a compact gelding who looked well, is one of what seems to be John Ferguson's strongest ever team of horses, this gelding promising more to come with the style marks of this victory, looming up on the bridle going to the second last and nor hard pressed to draw clear from the last.
Swansea Mile, not the tallest but good bodied, surely isn't far off a win as he confirmed his effort behind Cloonacool (possibly one to be with next time) in the Prelude Hurdle at Market Rasen with a good second, held up, ridden to chase the winner going to the second last but unable to do anything about Maputo between the last two.
San Benedeto, one of this website's Ten To Follow for 2015/16, is leggy and sparely made but might well have a handicap hurdle-win in him this season, and his mark is unlikely to go up after this: chasing Midnight Shot, he made a mistake at the fifth and was left in front at the next, little more than a sitting duck for Maputo after.
Next up a 3m 0-115 handicap chase, and if there's anyone to take out of this poor race for the track, it's the runner-up Midnight Cataria.
Fond Memory, a well-made, square-shaped gelding who looked in need of the run, won over 2m on this card in 2014 and, proven at this sort of trip which some of the field weren't, jumped much better than at Warwick on his most recent run and came with a strong run to take the runner-up's measure at the last.
The mare Midnight Cataria, also not that impressive in the paddock, looking as if she'd be better for the run, had been a long way below her hurdles-form since going chasing. The upshot of this was that she raced off her lowest ever handicap mark and, supported from 8/1 to 6/1 (SP 13/2), produced her best chase form to date (also best effort on good ground and away from Ludlow), jumping much better, prominent in the final mile and taking a narrow lead going to the last only for Fond Memory to stay on stronger. Her rating will go up but she should still be competitive on hurdles form.
King's Legacy (well made, rough in coat) doesn't stay this trip and, after he was produced to challenge going to the second last, weakened on the run-in. There wasn't much else, the in-form Koultas King weakening in the straight, pulled up before the last and dismounted.
Once again the Listed 2m hurdle saw the reappearance of The New One and he didn't disappoint his many fans: however he didn't need to be anywhere near his best. As expected Rayvin Black set the pace but he didn't go as quick as was anticipated, meaning that the two outsiders lasted in touch to a few yards after the third last. Runner-up Stephanie Frances is credited with an improved effort.
The New One, not the tallest but stocky in build, looked very well in his coat and fit enough, though leaving the impression that the run would put an edge on him. He didn't have to do much, coming out best in the sprint for home from the last. Reportedly he could go for the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December and would be expected to go close in any hurdle race without any of the strong Irish contingent for the 2016 Champion Hurdle in opposition.
Stephanie Frances (tallish, leggy) was fit enough for her reappearance and posted what looks a personal best, chasing The New One from the second last and holding every chance between the last two, finding only the one pace from the last. With so many mares' hurdle races in the calendar she must surely land two or three this season, but if she were to go for the mares' handicap over 2m6f at Wincanton in November, her stamina would have to be taken on trust as she's yet to be asked to go over significantly further than the minimum trip.
Rayvin Black (leggy, workmanlike) looked well for his reappearance but didn't set the expected good pace, and needed a little persuasion to go round the bend after the winning post; unable to go with the first two from the second last, the jockey readily accepted the situation when easing down close home. It's common knowledge that this one is best when forcing the pace.
The 2m handicap chase looked a tight one, even with two non-runners, but the way it played out it was anything but, only Arkaim and Cody Wyoming ever looking like winning and the jockey on Nearest The Pin riding as if he expected the leaders to come back, which they never did.
Not for the first time the jockey on Arkaim (close coupled, looked well) needed to ride a finish just to get him started, but he was in front after the first and was never headed after going clear, Cody Wyoming just about upsides at the last but Arkaim pulling out more. With his handicap mark likely to go up and and this race deeply uncompetitive on the day, that could well be it from him for a bit.
Cody Wyoming (well made, woolly in his coat) chased the winner pretty much throughout, and got to him at the third last, but he couldn't find extra after jumping the last upsides; Gores Island, on ground faster than ideal, only passed beaten ones; the ex-French Cernunnos (tall, workmanlike, close-coupled, a little wobbly in terms of condition) gets no more chances from me after weakening from the third last and blundering two out, and paddock-pick Nearest The Pin (tall, lengthy) had no chance the way he was ridden, Richard Johnson clearly expecting the leaders to come back to him at some point.
In the closing 2m5f 'National Hunt' novices' hurdle the fourth odds-on favourite of the day went in, Work In Progress's suspect resolution not tested. Of the two ex-Irish pointers in the line-up the least fancied of them, Dark Flame, showed the most and is the one to take out of the race.
Work In Progress (tall, close-coupled) didn't look the easiest or most willing of rides when eighth in a handicap hurdle at Ayr on his final start last season, but none of this opposition were good enough to get him off the bridle and he didn't have to battle for it, as he made most and drew clear without being asked a serious question between the last two. It's too early to suggest that he's turned over a new leaf.
The double-penalised Western Way (workmanlike), still conceding 7 lbs or more to the rest after his amateur rider's claim, was all over the place in blinkers at Fontwell the outing before this, but seemed more tractable in a first-time visor, always chasing the winner and jumping left, unable to stay on from the second last.
Dark Flame was the least fancied of the two recruits from the Irish point-to-point field in this race, but he was the more impressive of the pair on looks - tall and workmanlike - and he looked well. He started a move from the rear with four to jump and was outpaced from the home turn, but stayed on from the second last and nearly got to the runner-up at the last, unable to find extra. He should be winning before long.
The short-term prospects of Charlie Longsdon's Definitly Grey (well supported second favourite, 9/2 to 11/4) are bleak on this evidence, as he lost a good position after a mistake three out, weakening through the field to run a tailed-off last. There isn't much of him, nowhere near a chasing type in height or build, and he looked to be carrying a little excess condition.
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