Weekend Thoughts 22nd and 23rd February 2014

The going at Chepstow was heavy. Monkey Kingdom held on grimly in the opener to land something of a gamble. The form looks modest with the winning trainer considers the horse a chaser for next season. Poole Master rallied well on the extended run-in (last fence omitted) to catch Grey Gold close home. The runner-up dispelled any thoughts he is best going left-handed, leaving the impression he may well have won had the final fence not been omitted. Buddy Bolero, returned to hurdles off a 6lb lower handicap mark with a 5lb claimer on board, ran out an easy winner of the three-mile handicap hurdle. Second and third are useful yardsticks suggesting the form is solid. Buddy Bolero needs soft/heavy ground to show his best, suggesting the final at Cheltenham is not perhaps the race for him. Binge Drinker stayed on well to land the Bumper. He looks a nice sort that reportedly jumps well at home.

At Fairyhouse on soft to heavy ground, the opening juvenile hurdle went to the Willie Mullins Abbyssial. Having made all and jumped well he held on in a driving finish (flashed tail under pressure) from his odds-on stablemate Adriana Des Mottes. RPR’s suggest the winner is 9lb short of the best juveniles. Gerdago, improved to finish third, looking a likely sort for handicaps, while fourth placed Blue Hell travelled well until after second last flight. He should improve for this first run outside France. One His Own ran out an impressive winner of the Bobbyjo Chase. The appalling round of jumping from Mount Benbulben simplified his task. Warne won the Hunter Chase looking in the sort of form to go close in the Aintree version of the Foxhunters’ Chase. The Bumper went to Willie Mullins’s Westhorpe. He showed a nice turn of foot go clear  a furling and a half from home, holding on well when challenged by the runner-up Fine Article. The pair drew well clear suggesting it as an above average contest. Westhorpe will improve on this having run green when let down by his capable jockey. The runner up is a fine big sort that will make a chaser in the future. The winners RPR suggests improvement will be needed if he is dispatched to Cheltenham.

Kempton Park was soft with heavy patches on the lakeside bend. In the opener, Present View showed improved form to come home clear of a decent type in Ballinvarrig. Both the second and third ran to their best form, suggesting the winner should go well if turning up at Cheltenham. It should be noted he has run two good races on good to soft; one at Kempton Park while the other came when successful in an Irish-Point.

The Adonis Hurdle looked a good race on paper. Activial jumped well and stayed on powerfully to go clear on the run-in. His RPR leaves him short of what will be needed in the Triumph Hurdle. However, he paid a handsome compliment to Calipto who beat him at Newbury in late November. Commissioned jumped and travelled well in first time blinkers. He kept on well without looking the most straightforward of horses. On the plus side, this was only the fifth race of his career having had three runs on the flat in 2013. The contest was run at a decent pace thanks to Solar Impulse’s efforts up front. Whilst his jumping was novicey at times, he kept on surprisingly well to finish third. Likely to take his chance in the Fred Winter, he would be a player in that event if consenting to settle. Alcala ran a sound race in fourth on his start in the UK. A big horse he should do well over fences next season. Goodwood Mirage compromised his chance by consistently jumping out to the left. The first time hood saw him settle better and he will be interesting on better ground in a handicap.

Balder Succes’s love affair with small fields continued in the Pendil Novices Chase. Thanks to the front running duties carried out by Loose Chips, the winner clocked a 6.90-second faster time than Present Time in the first race. At the third last Fox Appeal and Balder Succes jumped on chased by Gods Own. Fox Appeal jumped ahead at the second last though Balder Succes quickly drew level approaching the last. Jumping that well, he showed a good turn of foot to see off Fox Appeal and God’s Own who ran on gamely to snatch second. The third home has now run his last three races to the same RPR, while the second improved his figure. Balder Succes has proved he stays two and a half-miles and is effective on good through to heavy ground. If he can reproduce this form in a bigger field, another nice prize should come his way.

Irving ran out an easy winner of the Dovecote Hurdle improving his RPR by 3lb. He travels like a dream in his races and put the race to bed approaching the final flight. He will need to brush up his jumping at Cheltenham, as he was less than fluent at several flights including the last. Looking ahead to the Festival, we are in the dark as to how he will handle both a left-handed and undulating track. Amore Alato is a consistent sort running to his best form. Given his style of racing, he is always likely to be vulnerable to something with a turn of foot. Cup Final is improving and will find a race in due course. First Mohican made too many mistakes and left the impression he is not over keen at this game. Germany Calling was an eyecatcher. Always thereabouts, he travelled and jumped in good style despite racing exuberantly after an extended break. In addition, he was not knocked about at any stage.

Bally Legend ran out a worthy winner of the valuable BetBright Chase. Joining in the fun three from home, he jumping the last two lengths clear holding on well on the run to the line. Bally Legend loves this track as a chase record of 2, 1, 2, 4, 1, displays. Held up in rear, Bury Parade ran wide turning away from the stands, he began to make steady headway down the far side. Challenging at the second last, he switched left on the run to the final fence. He ran on strongly but never looked like reeling in the winner. A shade unlucky, he would be capable of further success if keeping his mind on the job through his races. Profile suggests he is best on soft/heavy, going right-handed. Tour Des Champs returned to his best. Making most of the running, his jumping was better in a first time visor. Despite a slight mistake at the third last, he battled on all the way to the line. If he can avoid mistakes, he should run well in a handicap at the Cheltenham Festival. Ardkilly Witness ran another sound race appearing to need a stiffer track or a slightly longer trip. He may have been a couple of lengths close had he not lost momentum when squeezed for room on the home turn. His best form has come on right-handed tracks on good to soft through to heavy. Niceonefrankie ran well coming from off the pace. He has another handicap in him dropped in grade, off a slightly lower handicap mark. Following a three-month break Standing Ovation ran a nice race until weakening after the third last. He prefers good ground.

Full Shift ran out a cosy winner of the two-mile five-furlong handicap hurdle. He will improve again for this run and prove best on a sounder surface.

Aqalim utilised his flat breeding speed to take the Bumper in a tight three-way finish. Clondaw Banker was just done for toe off what was a farcical early pace. Hurricane Vic showed promise in fourth on his debut.

Newcastle was heavy, soft in places. Pinerolo jumped well in the opening race; battling on gamely when looking beaten. A likeable sort he appears to handle most ground conditions. In the Eider Chase, Wyck Hill returned to his best having raced prominently throughout. He recorded the same RPR as when last successful. The form looks solid with the consistent Smoking Aces finishing strongly into a close second. Both Ballypatrick and Safran De Cotte ran close to their best RPR’s. The latter is running into form after a lean time this season.

Two performances caught the eye on Sunday. Narrowly denied in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell, Mister Eckhart showed he is returning to his best. He looks on target for handicaps at both Cheltenham and Aintree, where he placed on both occasions in 2013. In the Bumper at Naas, Killultagh Vic recorded an excellent RPR putting him second top of that division. Mr Mullins has a strong hand for Cheltenham with Black Hercules and Shaneshill waiting in the wings. Beaten sixteen-lengths Golantilla travelled easily until blowing up with two-furlongs to run. He is likely to improve considerably and remains a player in the Festival Bumper.