Sale RFC v Carlisle, League North 1 West, Saturday 23rd February 2013

Heywood Road in the leafy suburb of Sale which is a few stops away from the two Old Trafford grounds of Manchester United and Lancashire County Cricket Club and has been home to Sale for a good length of time while the more professionally well known team Sale Sharks now ply their trade in Salford after moving from Stockport at the end of last season. 

Sale is a very plush area and full of nice large and no doubt very expensive houses and the Metrolink has a couple of pubs outside and walking back after the match I noticed a collection of people watching the QPR v Manchester United match outside on the telly with a very interesting smell in the air of something being smoked which certainly didn’t seem to be tobacco, Still whatever makes you calm during football. 
Today it was Rugby Union and this afternoon was a top of the table clash in League 1 North West with the visitors being Carlisle who are currently in third position before kick off and six points behind Sale who are in turn behind table toppers Liverpool St Helens in what is a competitive league. 
Before the match I had a good look at the pitch and it was not the best looking, their was grass on it but also plenty of sand so at times it looked like a lot of kickback would occur which is something that the jockeys who ride at Southwell would be able to teach them a thing or two. 
After a quick pre match cup of tea it was onto the game and despite a little snow shower which made no difference as it didn’t stick and promptly vanished the game kicked off by referee Ben Ward who was making his first ever visit to the ground from his base in the Midlands. 
The first half was cagey to being with Sale having an early chance after about 6 mins when getting a penalty but full back Scott Redfern sent it wide of the posts from what looked an easy kickable position. 
Through most of the first half each team seemed to be copying the other in the way that they made good position before kicking the ball when getting to around thirty meters out to try to advance but the ball was promptly kicked back making the efforts looking futile in the process. 
Sale had good possession but the Carlisle tough defence held their line well but it didn’t help with Sam Stelmeszak fluffing his lines when losing his grip on the ball after being passed the ball from out of the scrums. 
Eventually and finally the deadlock was broken around the 34 min mark when Sales well paced winger Christian Lillie went over from going around the defence and bursting inside the Carlisle 22 and got the first points which was followed by Scott Redferns conversion then after the visitors missed their second penalty of the day which hit the post it was Sale who went over again when the same try and conversion combination duly obliged infront of the sticks and at half time it was Sale RFC 14-Carlisle 0. 
Second half and after the traditional half time ablutions it was back to the match, Carlisle began to attack but lost position which resulted in a fast counter attack from Sale from inside their own half right down to the oppositions 22 but nothing came from it in the end. 
After more back and forth attack a big moment occurred when Sale were down to fourteen men when they had Prop Nathan Bailey sent off for head-butting on 55 mins and Carlisle had a way back which finally came to fruition on 65 mins when Barry Earl scored a try after a thirty meter drive which was followed up the conversion to bring the scores to 14-7
Sale sensing something else could happen being down to fourteen men had a try disallowed just a few minutes later when scoring but got compensation straightaway from winning a ball against a Carlisle line out and played out wide for Christian Lillie to get his hat trick of tries but the conversion was missed to make it 19-7
With the time slowly ticking away Carlisle brought it back to 19-12 when Barry Earl scored his second of the day with a try in the right hand corner but the conversion was missed. 
The last play of the day came right on full time when Sale got a penalty which was missed by Scott Redfern then the referee blew his whistle and Sale celebrated getting the points albeit only four and not five due to only scoring three tries and Carlisle got a bonus point by losing less than seven.
After this match Sale now go top of the league due to Liverpool St Helens losing at Vale of Lune but LSH stay second.
So a reasonable match with £5 entry and a free programme, Not the classiest game but during the joys of a Six Nations weekend it’s always good to get to a match in the flesh and enjoy live sport in its purest form. 
Full time Sale RFC 19 Carlisle 12. 

Haydock Park,Grand National Trial Day,Saturday 16th February 2013

The first meeting of 2013 at my local course and a very good card of National Hunt racing to enjoy as many horses have their preparations for the upcoming Cheltenham and Aintree festivals in the months ahead.

Today was a day for lovers of long distance events with four races over three miles and one race over three and a half miles with one race apiece over two miles and two and a half miles respectively.

Race One was the Victor Ludorum Hurdle for 4yo only over 2m,this race went to the Micky Hammond trained Only Orsenfoolsies who followed up his recent Catterick win with a gusty performance to get the better of Zamdy Man by 2.5 lengths,The winner looks fairly useful and has ability but might not be upto Triumph Hurdle winning standards,maybe the Fred Winter if he gets a good weight may be more his thing or possibly a Scottish Champion Hurdle later in the year, Runner up Zamdy Man now qualifies for handicaps but the handicapper may not be that lenient for him to begin with.

Race Two was the Grade Two Rendlesham Hurdle over 3m and this was an all the way victory for Across the Bay from Donald McCains yard and huge win for jockey Henry Brooke to hold off the very good Trustan Times by 1.25 lengths, a winner of two chases at Kelso and Carlisle this season he was going over the smaller obstacles since finishing 7th when carrying top weight in the Welsh National last month, This run will have brought his confidence back but it’s doubtful he will go for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham but he will no doubt be aimed at something, Trustan Times ran a grand race in defeat but could well go for the Liverpool Hurdle which may suit him given the way he travels plus with no Big Buck’s it is possible that race could be for the taking.

Race Three was the feature race of the day, The Grand National Trial over the stamina sapping 3m4f , a field of fourteen long distance specialist faced the starter with two previous winners in the contest also this seasons Welsh,Sussex and London National winners plus the Classic Chase winner from Warwick back in January, it was a good quality field and it went the way of the vastly improved Well Refreshed from Gary Moore’s yard in Lower Beeding,Held up in the early stages he made plenty of ground up down the back straight and turning for home began to extend his lead before a making a real hash of the last fence but this didn’t affect him to much as he went on to record a 10 length victory of previous Warwick scorer Rigadin de Beauchene who tried to follow up a recent Classic Chase win but lost no honour in coming second behind a real quality winner.

In third was the Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude who did stay on but his Gold Cup entry could well be a waste of time and yet again he follows in a long line of Welsh National winners who struggle in their next race as that Chepstow marathon always takes a lot out of them and leaves a mark for the rest of the season, All credit to the winner though as he won his first chase at Fontwell off a rating of 100 and now wins this off 129 so expect the handicapper to give him a real clobbering, not entered in the National it could well be a trip to Fairyhouse or Ayr unless they pop into Uttoxeter next month.

It was The Prestige Novices Hurdle next for Race Four over 3m, just the five runners and a classy performance from the Alan King trained Two Rockers, unbeaten in a Point and two novice events at Towcester this season he traveled well and was still on the bridle at the last flight before being asked to pick up which he duly did to record a 5l win over Ardklilly Witness with Shotgun Paddy back in third being the only ones who finished the race, The winner is a nice likeable type who could end up going Chasing next term and will be one to watch if he does, in the short term connections may go and take their chance in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival and he would have as good a chance as any due to it always being a wide open contest.

The fifth contest was a competitive Novices Handicap Chase over 2m4f and recent Wetherby victor Cloudy Too followed up here with another good performance from this improving 7yo from Sue Smiths yard, travelling and jumping well he defeated favourite Ohio Gold by 8 lengths to give Wayne Hutchinson a double on the card, His jumping has improved in his last two races and he remains on the upgrade so be worth noting where he gets aimed at and if they keep him at this trip or have a go over further later on, Ohio Gold ran well enough but probably needs to be dropped a few pounds before he wins again.

Race Six was another Pertemps Qualifier but oddly this was only a nine runner event as most of the time these races have double figure fields and it was a fourth straight win for Seymour Eric who kept stable mate Mauricetheathlete company for the first circuit before taking over and dotting home by 4.5 lengths from Knock a Hand who ran a personal best for the season with Bouggler back in third who was never able to challenge, Again as with the feature race all eyes will be what the handicapper does to this winner who began the season winning at the now sadly closed Hereford off a rating of 85 and today won on 121, hopefully he should get in the final and very much deserves to as he could be the Hunt Ball of the 2012/13 season.

The final race of the day was the Walrus Hunters Chase or as every Hunter Chase that is run between now and Cheltenham called a Foxhunters Trial. This was again over 3m and named the Walrus due to when this meeting used to be a two day event the first day all had races named with Lewis Carroll connections, anyway back to the race and it was the favourite Cottage Oak who duly obliged seeing off Current Exchange by 13 lengths with former Becher Chase winner Vic Venturi an honourable third, The winner is prominent in the betting for the Cheltenham Foxhunters and if he wins that and goes on to land the Aintree one he will win his owners an extra £25,000 or £10,000 should he land just one of them.

A very enjoyable afternoon of racing was had by all, along with good company which always makes the day even nicer.

Last season this meeting threw up a good few Festival winners including the Grand National winner, doubt any of today’s winners may do the same but then again stranger things to happen in this wonderful sport of ours.

Leigh Miners Rangers v Methley Royals, BARLA National Cup Round One

Due to the weather I had to abandon my original plan of covering the local football match between Atherton Colls and Daisy Hill which had succumb to a waterlogged pitch,after some searching online I found this game was fine and with my tickets for the Rugby League World Cup all bought I decided to cover this game and get me some much needed match practise for later in the year.

Today the match was switched from Leigh’s traditional home of Twist Lane to Sutton Park just off Manchester Road and next to the factory of Waterfields Bakery (other bakeries available and plenty in Leigh!) due to maintenance work going on and Sutton Park is normally where the junior section play but today the bigger boys were on the turf.

It was the first competitive game of the season for Leigh today against Methley Royals who are based in amongst the bigger RL places of Leeds,Wakefield and Castleford so its fair to say they have most of their matches watched by their respective scouts to see if any talented youngsters are on the way through and could make the grade at higher level.

The first half commenced on what looked a heavy surface but one you would not mind being tackled on compared to a firmer sunny one and both teams seemed to feeling the other one out,the best early attempt came to Leigh on about 18mins when Steven Marsh dropped a fairly simple pass to go in at the corner no doubt to the Royals they were breathing a sigh of relief when he let go.

It took till the 23rd min for the first points of the day when Leigh who were in possession went for a high kick on the last tackle but this was caught by Full Back David Williams of Methley who caught in his own try line then came out did a quick tap restart and promptly scooted through the Leigh defence and did a full length dash to get the ball over the try line and Alan White followed the easy conversion 0-6.

Just six minutes later after some useful play Andrew Hodson  got Leigh back in the game going over the line but as was proved to be a hindrance later on Leigh missed the conversion following the try so the scores were now 4-6.

More play carried on and as half time was slowly approaching and the rain was falling on the good couple of hundred people who turned out for this and the home team would be happy to go in with this score but it was the visitors who got a psychological edge on 35mins by Stuart Biscomb who got his hand on over the try line followed by a kick through the defence on the fifth tackle and again Alan White duly topped up the extra two points so going in at half time it was Leigh MR 4-Methley Royals 12.

Second half came and it took Leigh all of seven minutes to get back in the game when Sean Pendlebury scored in the corner of the clubhouse end but as again with the first try the conversion got missed so the score was now 8-12.

Royals responded and on the 54th min and winger Josh Dixon went very wide through the Leigh defence and managed to avoid some tackles and got the ball down next to the sticks and yet again Alan White put the ball between the posts to make it 8-18.

More attacking from both teams carried on as the game continued and the Royals incredibly well built Second Row Dale Cogan who was built like the proverbial Brick Privvy powered through the defence on a fifty meter charge on the fifth tackle and it took about three players to finally bring him to ground for the handover.

Getting onto the 70th min and Leigh got a restart after Todd Appleby was brought down and the switch of play out to the left resulted in Sean Pendlebury getting his second try and this meant Leigh were back in the game but alas the conversion got missed so this now made it 12-18.

However the Royals dealt their hosts a cruel blow when they effectively made sure the win was in the bag with a drop goal on the 78th min which made up for the one they missed just a few minutes before this one by Scrum Half Andy Speake who must have felt like Johnny Wilkinson by winning a match in this style.

So an enjoyable match, not the classiest teams but this is the amateur level of the game and a whole world away from Super League and Championship rugby but for £2.50 and a free programme included it is a nice enough way to spend an afternoon.

Looking at players for the future I would heartily recommend the Methley Royals Full Back young David Williams, only Sixteen and has plenty of pace on him, would not surprise me if he gets picked up by a higher quality team and loaned out at Championship level in the years to come.

Full Time Leigh Miners Rangers 12 Methley Royals 19.

Wetherby Races,Towton Day,Saturday 2nd February 2013.

Yorkshire was my destination as today was Towton Novices Chase Day at Wetherby,although it was also dubbed Irish Day which meant a marquee with Guinness on tap (Other Stouts available) and a band doing the traditional fiddly de music which is all racecourses seem to think you need. 

Anyway a seven race card and some fair quality on show and the crowd was a very sparse one for a Saturday, no doubt many looked at the weather last Sunday and decided to make alternative arrangements for the day. 
Race One was a fairly competitive Handicap Hurdle over 2m and this went the way of the improving Billy Twyford, trained by Lawney Hill and only having his second start for her managed to get up on the line to win by the shortest of short heads to overpower Shammick Boy who was always in the van guard and was unlucky to lose but deserves another go at some point, The winner looks decent and will probably be better going up in trip to 2m4f soon. 
Race Two was the Wilmot-Smith Memorial Cup Hunter Chase, only the seven for this and the victor was Palypso de Creek,trained by Mrs Jane Dawson and ridden by Clare Hart jumped well to begin with then made a real Horlicks at the eighth and lost some ground but the rider never panicked and put him back in going down the back straight to eventually run out a 13 length winner over Benefit Night, The Foxhunters at Cheltenham will beckon now for this horse but he has gone over the big greens at Aintree in a Becher Chase so that could also be in the pipeline should anything get in the way before hand. 
On to Race Three now and this was a 2m6f Novice Hurdle for stayers and a real gutsy staying performance from Seebright, a winner of a bumper at Chepstow last month he showed his toughness and durability to overhaul the big favourite Big Society by just over 2.5 lengths, Victor Dartnell has had a tough winter this season but Seebright could be the horse who will bring better fortunes to him, No idea where he will head to next but next season Seebright could well end up going over the bigger obstacles. Back in fourth was Chestertern for Jennie Candlish and this was his third start so will now end up going handicapping and will be interesting to see what his rating will be. 
Fourth race of the day was long distance Handicap Hurdle over 3m1f and pardon my French but their could have been a few jockey bollockings after this race, From the start Kayf Aramis,Pause and Clause and eventual winner Herdsman set off and made the running and for a good while they were over 20 lengths clear of the other four rivals and it was only the eventual runner up the mare Tweedledrum who came from out of the pack to challenge the winner and went down by a neck in defeat to Herdsman,trained in Bingley by Sue Smith and owned by Trevor Hemmings, he may not be the classiest horse but showed heart and guts to hang on, The most interesting performance was by Kayf Aramis who traveled well to begin with then wanted to pull himself up going out on the second circuit then went and blundered the second last when still in contention and finished an honourable third.  
The Fifth and feature race was the Grade Two Towton Novices Chase over 3m1f,today was the thirteenth running of this event and while it always gets a single figure field it is still a race which produces quality horses such as former Welsh National winner Halcon Generlardais,previous Charlie Hall winner Ollie Magern and Keen Leader who was a real favourite of mine are on the roll of honour. 
The 2013 renewal went to a chasing debutant in Goulanes from David Pipes yard and driven out by Tom Scudamore who made up an amazing three lengths on the run in to deny Super Duty from the Donald McCain yard by a head, the winner needed every yard of this distance where as Super Duty probably will be suited by a return to 2m4f but both horses are 7yo and have plenty good days infront of them, back in third was Fentara who could end up going for the Four Miler at the Festival but she has earned some useful Black Type by getting placed in this contest,The only faller of the day was Fill the Power who got a good mention in my Warwick write up, he came back safe and I would hope they consider the Scottish National with him. 
As for the first and second expect the RSA Chase and Jewson Novices being targets next month for them, although David Pipe has Dynaste for the RSA so he has two useful and quality horses to do battle with as the jumps season slowly approaches the business end. 
Race Six was a decent looking 2m4f Handicap Chase albeit with a few out of form and Cloudy Too gave Sue Smith her second winner of the day under a nice ride from Timmy Murphy, a real quality horseman when it comes to giving a horse a hold up ride and taken very wide throughout the race for fresher turf he ran out a ready winner to beat Dunowen Point by 3.5 lengths with Lease Lend who seems to do all his racing at Wetherby back in third, the first two will probably end up going for big festival handicaps and could still have improvement in them, possibly the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury next month would be races to be targeted for the pair. 
Race Seven was the last race of the day and it was a National Hunt flat race over 2m and the main horse was the David Pipe trained 4yo Baltimore Rock, a winner at Bangor on debut for Peter Niven he was subsequently bought for £130,000 and sent to David Pipe, he had some opposition in this race the most notable one being Dakar Run from Richard Fahey who in turn was formerly trained in Newmarket by Luca Cumani but never made it to the course so ended up at the sales and now lives in a new stable in Malton. 
The race went to debutant Dakar Run who travelled well in the race and saw off Baltimore Rock by 4.5 lengths and showed a useful turn of foot, The second horse ran well but giving the winner 7lbs he could not live with him on the run in, I would imagine the Aintree bumper for the winner but being a 4yo I would not be surprised if Richard Fahey ran him on the flat in the summer and stick him in a few middle distance maidens to begin with before having a hurdles career later on. 
So a good days jump racing then, some nice performances and the crowd were treated to some cracking finishes and for someone who has been denied any racing for the last two Saturdays it was great to be out on course and in the open air for the afternoon.