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STRATFORD, 9th June 2018
Going: GOOD
(Good to Firm in places on the hurdles course)


A busy, and increasingly boozy, evening at Stratford, the ground significantly quicker than it was for the hunter chase-card on the Friday.

Starting with the worst race on the card, a two-mile six-furlong novices' handicap hurdle with not a lot to take out for the future.

Calarules, the pick of the paddock in terms of wellbeing, and well punted from an early 9/2 to 5/2, was in was in a spot of bother when hard ridden after the second last, but led turning for home and clearing away when surviving a mistake at the last. It's taken him 11 attempts to open his account, and a follow-up off a higher mark doesn't seem likely.

Fenlons Court, who initially didn't walk well in the pre-parade ring but loosened up as he continued to parade, lost his place before the third last and under the cosh when blundering two out, and keeping on to go second close home, taking that place off Earcomestom, who was sent to the front after the second last and ridden to pull clear with Calarules turning out of the back straight, but couldn't find more under pressure once headed coming off the home turn.

The first of four reasonably good-quality handicaps was up next, a two-mile three-furlong Class 3 handicap chase. It was a little weakened by the withdrawal of Princeton Royale, but possibly informative with the Summer Plate at Market Rasen in mind, that a possible target for the winner. It was marred by the fall of Work In Progress at the sixth, which caused that fence - also the last - to be omitted on the final circuit.

Imperial Presence (well made, looked well, 7/2 to 11/4) was successful over a trip further than around two miles when making all to win at Kempton in March and repeated the trick over a furlong longer in what was a better race, once again going from the front but with Casino Markets and Voix D'Eau for company, having to work to fend off challengers from what ended up the last fence, and staying on well passing the omitted last.

The Summer Plate will be over another couple of furlongs and there remains a slight question mark over his stamina, but his run style would take him deep into the race with every chance and he showed here that having company doesn't bother him.

Newton Geronimo (dull in his coat) was reluctant to leave the paddock, as is often the case with him, and gave the field a start, but made good ground to hold a chance with three to jump and kept on in the winner's wake from the home turn, carrying his head high in the straight.

Voix D'Eau, surprisingly well supported in the betting (was 3/1 favourite ahead of Imperial Presence when the market opened), usually finds ways out of winning and dropped off the winner approaching the last, while Casino Markets (tall and leggy, on his toes) ran his best race for a long time, up with the pace throughout till ridden and not fluent at the last, weakening and losing third passing the omitted last fence.

KK Lexion was given a tough task on only his second chase-start, and is not a chasing type in appearance, by some way the smallest in this field. After little errors he was playing catch-up throughout the final circuit, and he was well held from the home turn. He's one to be against over fences.

Allelu Alleluia (tall and leggy, looked well though a little worked up as the preliminaries wore on, biggest price seen 9/2) may have won here at Stratford on his only chase start to date, but he nearly blew the turn at the end of the home straight on that occasion and here performed as though needing a right-handed track, not fluent at the first two, jumping wildly right at the eighth and making an even bigger horlicks of that same bend, already tailing off when going right again at the ninth and pulled up after that.

The two-mile Class 2 handicap hurdle had no upper ratings limit so in theory Champion Hurdle-horses could have run in it, but the top weight High Secret was off only 137. It was still as good a race as you'll find over jumps in Britain at this time of year, and included the third and fifth from the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock, that pair finishing in reverse order here at the end of a race run at no more than a medium pace.

All Set To Go had been pulled up at Newton Abbot just five days earlier, but was ahead of Ashkoul in the betting for the Swinton and was the better placed of the pair throughout this less competitive contest, not relinquishing the lead once sent for home turning in, holding on well under pressure. At a subsequent stewards' enquiry, his trainer Kevin Frost attributed the quick improvement in form to the refitting of a tongue-strap, which he hadn't worn for current connections prior to this race but had regularly when with Paul Nicholls (and when last winning a race, at Doncaster in December 2016).

Mystic Sky (two handlers) was at a disadvantage given the run of the race, still in rear after the third last, but to his credit he improved to hold every chance under a ride on the home turn, one paced under pressure after the last, while the favourite Ashkoul (lengthy and light bodied) was shuffled back to the rear of the main group when things cranked up at the second last, unable to land a serious blow under strong pressure from the home turn.

Innocent Touch, only smallish, left the impression when winning a 0-120 handicap at Bangor in May that he'd have done better if he hadn't been sent for home so early, two lengths up over the last but only holding on by a neck. Here he was in front even further from home, as early as the third, so it was no surprise that he folded up tamely once headed on the home turn - he's better than this but there's not much of him, so there might not be much more to come in the longer term.

Next an uncompetitive two-mile one-furlong Class 2 handicap chase, in which there wasn't much of note behind the winner.

Cut The Corner (leggy) was off what looked a maximum 137-mark thanks to his Newton Abbot win on May 9th - disappointing in a bigger field at Uttoxeter behind Drumcliff next time - and took advantage of the failings of others to land this, in front three out and in no danger after the second last, clear when all over the place at the last. Chances are that a rise in the weights for this will put him out of things in the short term.

I couldn't begin to work out why Wadswick Court was running in this two-miler, his first outing over around the minimum distance since November 2015, and he shaped as though needing the two and a half miles that he normally runs over, out the back throughout until staying on under a ride to go second approaching the last and gaining on the run-in.

Noche De Reyes (a little on edge) for all intents and purposes lost his chance when making a mistake at the fourth last, unable to find extra from the home turn and losing second going to the last, while short-priced favourite Poker School (11/10 to 11/8), who last went off at a double figure-price in April 2016 and started 8/1 or shorter on all 18 runs since up to and including this race, looked very well but made mistakes at the second and sixth and couldn't sustain a short-lived effort after the fourth last, dropping back when landing on all fours two out.

On a card where pointers for the future weren't exactly plentiful - which you'd expect at the time of year - there were a couple to take out of an essentially ordinary two-mile novices' hurdle, but there wasn't much going on behind the first five home. Chasing types present were Tommy Hallinan and the biggest horse seen all evening apart from Aubusson in the next, Bachy Baby, who's out of his owner's good staying chaser Bathwick Annie - he's a fine specimen, but got no chance to show anything when pulled up with a slipped saddle before the third. He needs fences, a galloping track and a trip already in all probability.

Aardwolf (11/4 to 9/4) put in a straightforward performance, tracking the leaders, asked to go and win it approaching the last and soon clear. A handicap hurdle is probably the best option although he'll have a steep mark - he was officially 112 prior to this and I only made this performance 99.

Jamacho looked sure to go close beforehand, even with a penalty for his Sedgefield win, and he made most to the home turn, having no answer to the winner approaching the last. I'm not sure what he can win in the short term.

Although Tommy Hallinan is off the Flat (won over a mile and a quarter at Cork), he's a tallish, unfurnished four-year-old who looks a would-be chaser. Here he raced keenly tracking the leaders, held a chance with two to jump then couldn't hold his place under a ride, carrying his head high and not staying on approaching the last. He could do with settling better, but chances are he will win over jumps - he just needs a little time.

Boychick (medium to tallish) was on edge and got into a muck sweat, so comes out of the race with credit for running well when not in a condition to do so beforehand, taking a keen hold and chasing Jamacho, ridden and taking a narrow lead on the home turn, but fading when the winner went on before the last. He's a five-time Flat winner and, though he has a lot of miles on the clock in that sphere, he should do better over hurdles.

The only other to note is the fifth Master Ring, a leggy Dalakhani gelding who won once from only four starts on the Flat. Wearing a first-time tongue-strap, he looked well despite having not run since April 2017 and was up with the pace till ridden and fading from contention after the second last - he should do better over hurdles.

The three-mile three and a half-furlong Class 3 handicap chase proved an attritional contest where stamina was at a premium. By that I mean the stamina of the winning jockey, who persuaded the unwilling Buachaill Alainn to begrudgingly put his best hoof forward, after Sporting Boy had set things up nicely.

There are few less genuine horses than Buachaill Alainn in training, but as had been the case at Cartmel in a veterans' handicap chase when last seen he got there eventually, jockey Sean Bowen once again staking his claim to be included in the next Team GB Olympic rowing squad; having been under pressure for all of the last circuit, he was clearly getting there when left in front at the last.

The tall Aubusson looked out of place running at a Summer jumps card and was outpaced on ground much quicker than he prefers (it has to be heavy for this one ideally), a mistake on the back straight not helping as he got outpaced chasing Sporting Boy, but with that one capitulating, he'd have been second anyway.

Dandy Dan (9/4 to 11/4), well made and deep girthed, is only five, but ran as though wanting further than two and a half miles at Warwick on his previous start and is very much bred to stay this trip and beyond - his dam's dam is Loving Around, the 1996 National Hunt Chase winner - but in the end he ran as though not ready for an extreme trip yet, going a little in snatches, struggling on the final circuit and clearly tiring after the last. He probably wants no more than three miles at this early stage of his career. Behind that one was Gorsky Island, runner-up in this race in 2017, who looked fine in the paddock but was struggling on the back straight on the final circuit.

Sporting Boy had a question mark over his stamina coming in to the race, and after beating off the attentions of closest pursuer Wuff, he pressed on going down the back straight from four out to two out, getting everyone else off the bit - stop the race there and he'd have been a decisive winner, but there was another three furlongs to go, and after coming under a ride straight after the second last, he was clearly empty turning in and about to be swallowed up when unseating at the last.

It only remained to be dazzled by the field for the closing maiden open National Hunt Flat Race, but after paddock viewing the reverse was the case, and I don't think I've seen a less impressive field on looks for a bumper - most of them were unfit, or small, or dip-backed, or a combination of those.

Forget Me Knot, a half-sister to high-class chaser J'y Vole, didn't take the eye - only medium height and sweating - but did enough to beat a moderate bunch, always in the first two, leading three furlongs out and holding on well as Get An Oscar bore down on her close home.

Get An Oscar, out of a thrice-placed maiden hurdler, was the smallest horse seen all evening but showed something, prominent throughout and finishing well in the last 200 yards, well enough to suggest that she'd have got up with another furlong to travel; on pedigree she'll stay three miles, but judged on her size, jumping hurdles might be a problem.

The third Court Royale (tallish and unfurnished), who was prominent throughout, and Bagan (tallish and light bodied, two handlers), who got fourth with a bit of late work despite carrying his head awkwardly, were the best on looks, while fifth Colonel Miller (leggy, two handlers), who put in a good effort till fading under a ride in the straight, was the best in terms of pre-race demeanour. Behind those the Kayf Tara mare Cora Sundrop (medium height, two handlers, needed the run) kept on a little having taken a keen hold, and might do better in time.


Horses to take out of the meeting
Imperial Presence
Tommy Hallinan
Boychick
 

Trainer to follow
Peter Bowen - an unoriginal thing to suggest at this time of year, but one winner and two runners-up here augurs well for the rest of the Summer jumps campaign
 

Top restaurant
If you're going to a Stratford meeting and looking for a bite to eat before racing, look no further than The Blue Boar Inn in Temple Grafton, only a mile and a bit from the track - great food and service, and reasonably priced
 

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