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WINCANTON, 10th November 2018
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Showers on and off throughout the day didn't put people off coming to Wincanton for its number one raceday, indeed I don't think I've seen it busier, with the queues for the toilets between races well out of the door. The going was still given as good, despite all the rain that had fallen during the week.
First up was a two-mile novices' hurdle in which Grand Sancy justified favouritism, with a couple of promising performances behind. With the race taking place in about the heaviest shower all day, a medium-at-best pace didn't crank up until the home turn.
Grand Sancy, who'd taken what used to be the Free Handicap Hurdle at Chepstow on his reappearance, made it two wins from three starts this season with a decisive display, taking a keen hold, looming up at the second last and coming clear with the runner-up between the last two, asserting from the last. This best-to-date marks this second-season novice as a possible for a big two-mile handicap hurdle.
Shiroccan Roll is a tallish, good bodied chasing type who's the one to take out of the race for the long term. He showed enough here to suggest that he can win a novices' hurdle, and that despite several mistakes, not worse than fourth throughout, niggled along and making his effort in the straight, holding every chance until the winner asserted after the last, his final error coming there. There's more to come from this one.
Brigade Of Guards, medium height and leggy, looked as though the run would bring him on and shaped with promise on this hurdling debut, in touch coming off the home turn, just beginning to come under the cosh when making a mistake two out, sticking to his task between the last two though well held at the last. He shaped promisingly in a Kempton bumper last February and confirmed that here, and with stacks of stamina in his pedigree, in the fullness of time he should be fine over two and a half miles or more.
Next up a conditional jockeys' handicap chase over two and a half miles; it was a 0-125 event, but the winner Capeland suggested that he could be better than that in winning for the first time over fences (and for just over two years).
Capeland, tall, well made and carrying condition despite having had a recent run (perhaps the type to always carry a bit of excess), gained what seemed an unlikely win, looking held at the second last before putting in a strong effort under Bryony Frost from the last, making up two lengths on Buster Thomas to lead close home. The manner of his victory suggests that he'll be fine over further, as does his pedigree - half-brother Urano won over three miles-plus. Only a six-year-old, this might be a good season for him.
Buster Thomas is a strange-shaped individual, a tall, close-coupled, deep-girthed sort. Always up with the pace, he disputed the lead from three out and, asserting going to the last, looked the winner at that stage, only for Capeland to come and nab him close home. He looked a bit backward beforehand, and has run well enough to suggest that a win should come his way.
Forth Bridge (medium to tallish) did okay, leading from the 12th until the runner-up went on, sticking to his task, but the disappointment of the race was Ballinure (well made), who looked burly on his first run for 70 days and, jumping left up with the pace, first came off the bridle after the ninth, weakening at the 13th and, having dropped away, was eventually pulled up before the second last.
Arguably not much strength in depth in the two-mile five-furlong mares' handicap hurdle, in which the fourth home Little Miss Poet should perhaps have done better than she did, but first and second both posted a best effort to date.
If You Say Run (tallish, lengthy, 7/4 to an SP of 6/4) was essentially unchallenged, asserting over Litterale Ci between the last two, although she gave supporters a scare by hanging so far to her left on the run-in that she nearly ended up in the grandstand. The likes of the similar race to this at Cheltenham in December, and all the Listed mares' hurdles that are in the calendar nowadays, pick themselves as potential targets.
Litterale Ci (about medium height, deep girthed) is likely to meet the winner again at least once down the line as, having posted her best form to date herself, she'll almost certainly be heading for the same races; chasing the winner from the second last, she could find no extra on the run-in, although coming clear of the third.
In the past Talent To Amuse has taken a keen hold and not got home over trips longer than two miles, but this run suggests that she might be worth another try at the trip as she settled this time, held her place when pushed along going to the home turn and briefly held a chance straightening up, but was under a ride and not going as well as If You Say Run, fading approaching the last before sticking to her task on the run-in.
Little Miss Poet (3/1 to 7/2), a medium-height, good bodied, well shaped mare, gave the impression that she could have done better if she'd been better positioned going to the home turn, but she was waited with at the back and was yet to make a forward move when things took shape going to the home turn, ridden and keeping on past beaten ones before and after the second last, but unable to do any more from nearing the last - she's worth another chance.
A good renewal of the Grade 2 Rising Stars Novices' Chase over two and a half miles followed, with a good winner in Bags Groove and a promising runner-up in Secret Investor, who might prove the better of the pair in the long term.
Bags Groove is not the most eye-filling physical type, only medium height, but he's taken extremely well to fences and he was a joy to watch here, looking particularly well in his coat beforehand, making all the running, jumping soundly and kicking on from the third last, his only error coming at the last when he was already safe with the race. With a rating of 147 from me after this, he's one of the leading novice chasers at this stage of the season and it'll be interesting to see where he goes next - he wouldn't be out of place if he were to drop in trip for the Henry VIII at Sandown in December.
Secret Investor (7/4 to 6/4) was the pick of the paddock, a tall, well-made gelding who very much fills the eye. Coming off the back of a reappearance win in the Persian War Novices' Hurdle at Chepstow, he was set a tough task on this chasing debut and acquitted himself very well, moving upsides Bags Groove briefly at the 11th but fighting a losing battle in the straight, handling the fences well. Only six, there's much more to come from this one.
The first two brushed the other two finishers aside, with Theligny unable to live with them after a mistake at the fifth (also jumped big ninth) - mid-grade handicaps, maybe Class 2 at a push, will present him with opportunities over fences, and the 66/1 outsider Full (medium height, well made), who was on a hattrick after two hurdles wins at this track but who'd yet to win a chase after six previous attempts, tailed off from the 12th having been held up.
There was a case for Majestic Moll if the betting was a guide, with her SP 5/1, but she lagged the first two on hurdles ratings - not only that but she was easily the smallest in this field, only workmanlike, and although she'd won at Worcester previously over fences, her lack of size was probably her undoing, a blunder at the second effectively meaning game over as she dropped to the rear, pulled up after the fourth.
The Elite Hurdle over two miles, formerly run as a limited handicap, was upgraded to Grade 2 status; however Champion Hurdle candidates were not present in this renewal, either before or after the race - there is a reasonable chance of a big handicap-winner being in here, though.
Verdana Blue (workmanlike, good quartered) is progressing; she's reportedly to be prepared for the Champion Hurdle and the feeling is that, although she's a long way off that level on this form (148 with me), the impression is that we haven't seen the best of her yet. She definitely posted high style marks, tracking the leaders from the second last, switched from the inner to make a challenge going to the last, taking the lead off If The Cap Fits as soon as he hit the front and running on strongly to assert on the run-in under a hand ride. It was a decisive victory, and a run in a better race - maybe the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December - could show connections where they stand with her.
If The Cap Fits (tallish, light bodied) looked well for his reappearance and ran a best-to-date over hurdles, posting 20 lbs of improvement on his best of last season (beat Diese Des Bieffes at Kempton on Boxing Day but wasn't seen again), chasing We Have A Dream, going the better on the home turn, pushed along and, though not picking up straight away, hitting the front nearing the last - as soon as he did that Verdana Blue grabbed him, and If The Cap Fits was readily outpaced on the run-in. It's hard to think that he'll go up much for this, but it shouldn't stop him being competitive in a good handicap hurdle.
We Have A Dream (medium to tallish, workmanlike, looked well) was unbeaten since joining the Henderson-yard going in to this, but arguably this going (despite the considerable rain during the week and on the day) wasn't testing enough for him - remembering that it was barely raceable when he won the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow - and that, plus making his own running, contributed to his first defeat for his present stable, as he was the first of the principals to come under a push on the home turn, and couldn't do any more when headed between the last two, as yet again this was another case of the previous season's juveniles failing to come up to expectations against older horses.
The same for Adonis-winner Redicean, who looks to have grown a bit since viewed in the paddock at Kempton that day (now a tallish sort) - the market suggested that little was expected, fourth best at 9/1, and he came off the bit and was pushed along after leaving the back straight, already held when coming off the home turn.
Smaoineamh Alainn (medium height, workmanlike, looked well) was a 40/1 shot and outclassed on ratings (both mine and official), but ran well for a long way, lasting to approaching the home turn in a good position before weakening, and wouldn't be hopeless off a mark in the 130s in a handicap next time, having been successful off 129 at Cheltenham last December in a 0-140 event.
So to the 2018 renewal of the Badger Ales Trophy Handicap Chase, with a 16-strong field running for the £34,170-first prize. It seemed competitive on paper, but not so the way it panned out, with the first two pulling clear, and Present Man clearly read the script.
Present Man looked the part in the paddock, and is a tall, workmanlike individual. As could have been predicted Bryony Frost sent him on, and though he ended up chasing On Demand for much of the way, he was going best off the home turn, pulled clear with the runner-up from the second last and maintained a two-length advantage to the line under pressure to follow up his 2017 success in the race.
Connections said it themselves after the race, and some punters are sure to have reached the same conclusion, either pre- or post-race; this was Present Man's Gold Cup, and although they also added that the Grand National is a potential target, this is likely to be it from him for the season, as was the case in 2017/18.
Sumkindofking was one of the less impressive physical types on show, only medium height and close coupled, but he'd run well enough in defeat behind Bigbadjohn at the last meeting to suggest that, if all dropped right, he could take a hand in a race of this nature and so it proved, visibly closing at the 16th, in the leading group on the turn, staying on into second three out and pulling clear with Present Man from the second last, but it was clear that only a mistake from the eventual winner would give Sumkindofking a chance at the last and that didn't happen. This ranks as a best-to-date, though, and suggests that by no means should he be dismissed from calculations next time.
Fingerontheswitch (tallish, light bodied, on his toes), turned out quickly after winning a 0-125 handicap at Wetherby a week ago, ran above expectations, struggling to get out of the midfield until passing a few in the air at the second last and taking third going to the last, too far away to make an impression on the first two. Behind him it's hard to be enthusiastic, Summer jumper Aunty Ann (smallest horse in the race by far) doing well to hold her prominent place once coming under a ride from the 16th, only losing her place after the third last and Ramses De Teillee (medium height, looked well) unable to sustain a good move from midfield to get in contention, short of room on the inside turning in and unable to find extra under a ride.
The mare On Demand (medium height, looked particularly well in her coat) ran well for a long way despite several mistakes (worst a blunder at the 12th), finally losing the on-and-off lead she'd enjoyed approaching the third last, a blunder at the next finishing her off. She'll find easier pickings in mares' company.
Of those who pulled up, the most disappointing were the fortunate Cheltenham winner Sam Red (medium height), who lost his place under a push at the 14th and lost further ground to be last but one at the 17th; Bigbadjohn (tall, leggy), who was vigorously ridden after a mistake at the 14th and dropped back to last two fences later, extending his poor record in big fields (heavy defeats or failing to complete on all starts in fields of ten or more); and El Bandit, who'd been off for 543 days since failing to impress with his jumping in a three-runner novice at Warwick in May 2017, which was his one and only chase prior to this - given those circumstances this was an impossible task, and anyone daft enough to take the 5/1 or similarly skinny odds about him never held out much hope, a move to get into the mid-pack widest of all after the 12th coming to nothing, a mistake four out finishing him off.
As always on this card, it finished with a bumper (in full, an intermediate open NH Flat Race) - and quite possibly a good one at that, with some chasing types present (Espion, the winner Flic Ou Voyou and Jeremiah James the best types) and a couple of others unfurnished right now and likely to make up into chasing sorts themselves (these being Myboysam and Cushuish).
Flic Ou Voyou, only a four year-old, could go over fences now; in terms of this race he was perhaps gifted it, as he assumed a clear lead after half a mile and, moving best off the home turn, was unchallenged as he maintained his lead under pressure in the last two furlongs - but with bumpers it's not so much about the here-and-now, more the long term, and this one is likely to be around in two years' time.
Ruthless Article, only a workmanlike gelding, took a keen hold early and hit a flat spot after going okay to the home turn, outpaced in the straight and third best for much of it until staying on well to go second in the last furlong, shaping as though two and a half miles will suit when the time comes (half-brother Steel Bob won over two miles seven furlongs).
At Its Own Expense is more of a 'now' horse, a medium-height, workmanlike gelding who looked well, but perhaps wasn't as fit as he looked beforehand, travelling comfortably tracking the leaders until shaken up on the bend, shaken up and staying on until weakening in the straight, often changing his legs and losing second in the last 75 yards. If one of these is going to win a bumper next time it might well be this one.
Jeremiah James was a bit backward (also two handlers) and rather blew up after travelling comfortably to the turn - he's a future chaser - while much the greenest of the field was Espion, who's in the same ownership as that good handicap chaser of a few seasons ago Gunther McBride; he's well made and was fit, but was reluctant to leave the paddock and needed a deal of persuasion to go out on to the course - he was very hard work in the first mile of the race as well, but maybe got the idea late on as he passed a couple under a ride.
Horses to take out of the meeting
If The Cap Fits
At Its Own Expense