For a normal Wednesday leading up to Christmas, we were treated with two quality meetings from Newbury and Ludlow with some really nice pointers for the future, especially in the novice events. I was in attendance at the latter with fellow OnTheOtherHoof contributer Michael Andrews (yes he’s alive still!) where we enjoyed some highly competitive handicaps, a fascinating maiden hurdle and a bumper in which the winner looks a smart acquisition to the racing game. This was also accompanied by a mares’ novice hurdle which featured some potential on show, especially the first two home.
The two mile maiden hurdle began the card with Barry Geraghty and Nicky Henderson gaining the first leg of their double on the card with Days Of Heaven, who won easily in the first time hood, but not after some of his pre-race antics which cost him at both Aintree and Newbury. He walked around the paddock as quiet as a mouse, however, once led out onto the course he became lit up and for a moment, it looked as though he would bolt to the start. Luckily, Barry Geraghty kicked his feet out the irons and managed to get him to the start in one piece.
He then misbehaved as the race started but unlike Newbury, he didn’t forfeit much ground to his rivals and travelled by far the best horse throughout the contest before kicking clear under a hands and heels ride. Once he’d jumped off, he was relatively keen but he did settle down, the hood being a massive help. Whilst he clearly has his quirks about him, he is definitely a very talented individual and it will be very interesting to see what mark the handicapper gives him. He could very easily be the type of horse for a Betfair Hurdle, in which he could get covered up in a big field and produced late with his turn of foot.
The runner up Alto Des Mottes had bumped into one at Taunton in Zulu Oscar and did the exact same here. On paddock appearance, he looked a shell of a horse who can only keep on improving and he can definitely win a similar event in the none too distant future. Sir Ivan performed well on his hurdles debut apart from a mistake three out and plugged on at the one pace. A step up in trip will see him in a much better light.
The Philip Hobbs pair of Ink Master and Neck Or Nothing were both interesting for different reasons. The former shaped well for a long way and is better than the bare result shows as he did set a fair enough tempo. He is another now eligible for handicaps where he could take potential advantage of a nice mark. The latter had physically matured over the summer and looked a different horse than what contested the Champion Bumper, however, he did work himself up before the race as he sweated up badly and got rid of Richard Johnson down at the start. He did travel kindly but didn’t have an answer when the leaders kicked going to the second last. He will need to handle preliminaries better if to fulfil the promise shown in bumpers last year.
Further down the pack, two others caught the eye. Routine Procedure who finished tenth beaten sixty six lengths looked a lovely chasing type who would improve once he went markedly up in trip and Amoruccio who should get a mark after today and similar comments apply.
The feature staying handicap chase went the way of Royal Player for Richard Johnson and Philip Hobbs. Having made a mistake at the first, he was given a lovely patient ride, especially as he was keen during the early part of the race. He got into a nice rhythm at the rear of the field and picked off each contender one by one, finishing with Gorsky Island who was going for the hat trick of wins at Ludlow.
It was a fine performance from the winner who was only having his second start over fences under rules but he has some interesting Point to Point form, having finished fifth behind No More Heroes and third behind Racing Pulse. Where they go next will depend on what the handicapper makes of it, however, he cannot go up too steeply in grade with him needing at least one more run over fences.
Gorsky Island did absolutely nothing wrong here. He jumped really well and travelled like the winner for the majority of the contest and was beaten simply by a better handicapped horse on the day. Although he is out of Turtle Island who was a renowned soft ground lover, he has shaped well on good to soft ground and if having a big spring target, the Topham Trophy could suit him with his fluent jumping. The drop in distance there wouldn’t be a concern at all as he looks as though he would be able to lay up with the pace.
Grove Pride ran his best race for almost two years as he jumped for fun in the lead at his trainer’s local track. If finding a similar race over course and distance, he should be able to get another win out of him whilst Five Star Wilsham travelled well enough and if he drops down the weights again, he definitely has the capability to win a race.
Opening Batsman was a shade disappointing as he seemed to get outpaced on the final circuit before plugging on. He isn’t one to give up on just yet, especially if he is re-equipped with the blinkers that he had in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown. He could return to Kempton for the Racing Plus Chase which he won two years ago whilst other market rival My Wigwam Or Yours drifted out in the market just before the off and failed to build on his debut effort over fences behind Ned Stark.
The mares’ novice hurdle saw the return of Tara Mist who was sent off a shade of odds on. She gave her backers two notable moments of concern; the first one being at the fourth last where she completely guessed at the hurdle and again at the last. However, she had plenty in reserve to see off the tough Ballyhollow who attempted to make every yard of the running.
Tara Mist had shown a fair level of form in mares bumpers last season including when third behind Avispa in the Aintree Mares Bumper, a track which would have been too sharp for her over two miles. This distance at the moment is ideal for her and she will definitely get three miles in time. Another mares’ novice hurdle just to get her jumping better would be an ideal plan for the current moment before Graded company later in the season.
Ballyhollow also had useful bumper form with Tara Mist having finished behind her twice last season. She went very well from the front and would be suited by a stiffer test of stamina. She will make a nice chaser when she goes over the larger obstacles.
The concluding bumper had a fascinating contender in Chocca Wocca, a daughter of Chomba Womba who was also trained by Nicky Henderson and she duly obliged to give Geraghty/Henderson a double on the day in very taking style, beating what looks a pretty useful field with two other newcomers Wabanaki and Sandygate filling out the places.
Although she was receiving the seven pound fillies’ allowance, it was a highly impressive debut. Compared to The Outlaw who finished fourth here, Chocca Wocca was tiny but was lovely to look at. The main attribute to her winning performance was the way she stuck her neck out in a really likeable manner. The obvious long term aim would be the Aintree Mares Bumper where a flat track on goodish ground would really play to her strengths. Her turn of foot out of that ground today was noteworthy.
Wabanaki was plenty relaxed enough in the parade ring but once he got on the track, he decided to play up a little bit, which he is entitled to do as it was his racecourse debut. In defeat though, he has ran a more than respectable enough effort giving Chocca Wocca seven pounds. Sandygate also ran a nice race on his debut and will shape better over a much longer distance in time. The Outlaw misbehaved on his way out onto the course when dislodging Sam Twiston-Davies and seemed to resent the use of the whip in the closing stages by hanging violently. He may just need more time to mature but it could also reflect his character.
To end the blog, one standout performance at Newbury deserves a fair mention having got the excitement levels sky high. The hurdling debut of Value At Risk. A very useful bumper horse, he first went into my notebook on debut at Fairyhouse where he made his own running and won very nicely before winning again at Leopardstown over Christmas. Those two performances were enough to convince me to back him for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham where he disappointed slightly but then bounced right back when third to Shaneshill at Punchestown.
He was going to be included in my horses to follow pieces, however, due to an error in which I believed he’d moved stables; it felt ethically wrong to have him in the list when with his former trainer. Skip forward to November and he is moved to Dan Skelton, an exciting addition to the yard of one of the up and coming stars of the training ranks.
Just like his first bumper win at Fairyhouse, he went out and made every single yard of the running and won as he pleased. He beat a rival in Foryourinformation who ran last time out at Newbury and was beaten seven and a quarter lengths by Out Sam. Value At Risk beat him twenty two lengths on the bridle. In the post-race winning interview, he paid homage to his former boss Paul Nicholls which spoke volumes and gets me really excited for this horse’s future. Why? It means that Value At Risk has gone to the right trainer who knows to look after him this year and build him up in a manner similar to what Nicholls would with his star chasers. All I can say is, he will definitely be featuring on my horses to follow list next year when going chasing.
Ink Master – Shaped better than the distance beaten suggests and will be interesting in handicap hurdles.
Routine Procedure – A long term prospect.
Gorsky Island – Something like the Topham Trophy could suit really well.
Opening Batsmen – When he gets blinkers back on.
Chocca Wocca – The Aintree Mares Bumper should be the main target and a speed track like Aintree would suit.
Value At Risk – Need I say more?