The crowds flocked in their droves for the traditional curtain raiser at Wetherby,a seven race card of pure quality lay ahead with a real mix of potential stars and established favourites were on show as the jumps season really did move up a gear.
Weather wise today it was a case of four seasons in one day,the sun appeared for a cameo show then the heavens opened and decided to drown the hardy racegoers who didn’t let a bit of rain spoil the enjoyment of seeing the best that National Hunt racing has to offer.
12.45 Racing UK Your Racing Home From Home Novices Chase,Class 4,3m1f,19 fences,4yo+
A six runner event but only a two runner event in quality as former consistent pointer Mendip Express won very easily by twelve lengths from a very tired Bracken House who towed them along for most of the journey until being outpaced and outclassed as the business end approached.
Sixty Something the main player in the race almost capsized at the third fence but with A.P. on board he was not going to let gravity get the better of him,he got back into contention before finally falling at the seventh,he has ability to make a fair chaser but needs to brush up a lot on his jumping.
Mendip Express is an interesting type,I doubt he is RSA class as this stage but he would be on the shortlist for the Four Miler at the Festival at this stage as he looks more an out and out stayer over longer trips in time.
1.15 bet365 Novices Hurdle,Class 3,2m,9 flights,4yo+
Lots of potential quality on show here and it was the cream that came to the top with odds on favourite Gone Too Far putting in a professional performance to best Varom by 2.25 lengths and Gassin Golf again finding a few too good.
The winner looks decent and sets a reasonable standard at this stage,no doubt he will try to follow up under a penalty while Varom was staying on and could be suited a step up in trip at some stage in time and Gassin Golf is a trier but also a frustrating horse as he always runs his race but always gets found out by better horses.
1.50 OLBG.com Mares Hurdle,Listed,2m,9 flight,4yo+
National Hunt racings equivalent of the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf here,two former winners lined up plus a winner from the Aintree meeting mixed in with a few progressive types made this an high quality renewal and surely and upgrade from Listed status in needed in time.
Une Artiste made the early running and turning for home approaching the third last we had six in a line,she was headed and began to weaken as eventual winner Cockney Sparrow who was fit from the flat powered away to land the prize and some valuable Black Type for Dougie Costello and trainer John Quinn,Prima Porta was second and former winner Alasi was third.
Trainer John Quinn is without Countrywide Flame this season so Cockney Sparrow will be assuming top hurdle duties and get sent a bit further up the A1 to Newcastle on the 30th for the Fighting Fifth which will be tougher.
L’Unique was very disappointing but she is only 4 and should not be written off just yet and Une Artiste could be sent chasing now and stepped up in trip.
2.25 bet365.com Novices Limited Handicap Chase,Class 3,2m,13 fences,4yo+ (0-137)
Only three in this but all from top stables and a very impressive round of jumping from Valco de Touzaine under Sam Twiston Davies who rode his first winner for Paul Nicholls here ,making all the running he jumped well and handed chasing debutant It’s A Gimme a sound twelve length beating,they were the only two who got round as Fair Trade who was never travelling well and made a few errors eventually dumped Choc Thornton at the fourth last.
Valco de Touzaine seems best when able to dominate so the flatter front running tracks will be up his street but he can only improve from this run.
3.00 bet365 Hurdle (Registered As The West Yorkshire Hurdle) Grade 2,3m1f,13 flights,4yo+
Despite the absence of At Fishers Cross this was a fascinating contest on paper and so it proved to be with yet another victory for the popular and loveable Tidal Bay who won this race for the second year in a row,last year he won this and followed up with a second spot in the Hennessy then taking the Lexus in the ride of the season,he maybe a 12yo but this is an amazing piece of training by Paul Nicholls who turned him from perennial under achiever to the horse everyone always thought he could be,The Betfair Chase could be next as he seems to be in the form of his life.
Across The Bay made the early running,he faded turning for home but this was probably a prep for the Becher Chase,Medinas who was the 1l runner up drifted left on the run in which might have cost him the win but his next ideal target could be the Ascot Hurdle over 2m4f with the Aintree Hurdle being the main end of season target.
3.35 bet365 Charlie Hall Chase,Grade 2,3m 1f,19 fences,5yo+
A very good renewal of this top historic Northern Steeplechase,the main talking horse coming into this was Long Run,dual King George winner and a former Gold Cup champion,this race had the makings on paper as a formality for him but it’s on turf and not paprt that races are run and for the first time in his career he did not finish in the first three as he trailed home last of the five that finished,he was going quite well as they went down the back for the second time until he made an error at the eleventh fence which was the third of the open ditches which possibly dented his confidence then turning for home he never picked up and ended up a total of 41 lengths behind eventual victor Harry Topper.
Questions will be asked about Long Run,the top rated off 171 it’s highly likely he will miss Haydock and go straight to Kempton on Boxing Day where he has run his best races in the past
Harry Topper was nicely handled last season and missed the big festivals for a race at Kelso where he fell and four fences in he was at the back of the pack but Jason Maguire gave him a couple of taps to let him know whose boss and he responded well as he knuckled down to the job in hand,he led over the last and had a real fight on the run in with 50-1 outsider Wayward Prince and just hung on by a neck,both were 4 lengths ahead of Unioniste who might not be ready for 3m just yet and races like the Peterborough Chase could prove his making,2m4f will also be better for Irish raider Benefficient who didn’t seem to stay.
As for Harry Topper he is only 6yo and probably won’t end up in the Gold Cup,maybe Aintree at the end of the season could suit him as could the 3m a Chases at places like Leopardstown and Newbury.
4.05 Watch Racing UK on Freeview 231 Handicap Hurdle,Class 3,2m4f,11 flights,4yo+ (0-131)
A double for A.P. here on More Than That,only a 5yo he won on his only start to date at the now sadly shut Folkestone last year,held up in the gathering gloom to being with he made good headway before getting the better of Twelve Roses on the run in to hold on by a length,he is a very nice prospect and will go up in the ratings and can be Graded quality soon along with going up in trip as he looks every inch a stayer.
Only four got home in this,it was a very testing race in the conditions but I was most impressed with the winning horse.
A very enjoyable afternoons jump racing then,some real thrills and spills on the track which showed why jump racing is as popular as ever.
The season really is now in full swing and if this was the appetiser then god only knows how good the main courses are going to be over the upcoming months!
At time of writing A.P. McCoy is slowly creeping towards the 4000 winner mark,he is simply the toughest of all sportsmen given all the various injuries he has sustained in his career.
After five meetings in quick succession it’s a brief change of sport on Tuesday as I pop down the road to watch Tonga v Cook Islands in the Rugby League World Cup.
Below,Tidal Bay coming back in.
Below,Harry Topper and the other Charlie Hall Chase finishers.