Thankfully after the planned early morning inspection wasn’t needed to pass the course as fit for racing,today’s top class jumping card went ahead.
Haydock must be in some sort of microclimate as all this weeks snow and heavy rain that has been battering the country somehow avoided this neck of the woods for a competitive seven race card on ground that was Heavy and in all Chases the first fence down the back was omitted.
Conditions though were very tough for horse,jockey and racegoer with hail coming in at various points of the afternoon even when racing was occurring on the squelchy mud splattered turf, Only the true and stupid fans were paddock side here after seemingly taking advice from Andy McNab and Sir Ranulph Fiennes on how to go racing in adverse conditions!
On then racing front we had four Grade 2 races with the two feature events being the Peter Marsh Chase and before that the Champion Hurdle Trial that featured an appearance from The New One as he had his final prep race before the festival on what was billed as “The Road To Cheltenham”
12.20 Ideal Recruit Handicap Hurdle,Class 3,3m,12 flights,4yo+ (0-140)
Experience over Youth here as the 11yo Barafundle rolled back the years under Jason Maguire to get the better of the novice Milansbar by a length, always up in the van guard this lightly raced elder making only his 18th start in all battled on and just held off the challenge from his younger counterpart, American Life back in third looks to be coming back to his early self.
This was his first win since 2010 and fully deserved,no doubt he will turn out in the Pertemps here next month and the 3m hurdle in May,he’s not getting any younger but still enjoys his racing.
12.55 CE Facilities Novices’ Chase,Grade 2,2m5f,14 fences,5yo+
The race finally got underway after the horses and officials got moved to the correct start,the riders did get to the 2m5f start but today’s chases used the outer turn which add an extra half furlong per circuit otherwise it could have ended up being run over 2m6f! When they arrived the race got started by flag like a Point.
Just the four here but it was a fine front running performance by the Sue Smith trained 6yo Wakanada who went one better than his last run when beaten in a Grade 2 at Doncaster.
Making all he jumped ok and despite running down some fences which hampered some of the others he was always in command, Cogry came second but was one paced behind the winner,Colour Squadron in third is a perennial loser but always runs a sound and honest race.
As for Wakanada he could go to Cheltenham but an easier option would be the Future Stars race at Ayr in April or maybe the Manifesto at Aintree.
Odds on favourite Close Touch in the colours of The Queen trailed in last,this was a case of the ‘bounce’ factor,he is clearly better than this and can be forgiven, The owner didn’t turn up today,I think she may have other things on her mind at the moment!
1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle,Grade 2,2m,9 flights,4yo+
Unlike his previous win at Taunton over Christmas the winner Aso from the Venetia Williams stable actually had to jump some hurdles today under Liam Treadwell, taking over from pace setter Kiama Bay he worked hard to record a nice 4.5 length success, back in third was Qewy in the Bloomfields colours,this was his debut over hurdles and has a bit of ability in this sphere.
Aso looks a lovely horse and should take his chance in the Supreme but he will be an even better chaser when he goes over the birch.
Kiama Bay showed his 25-1 odds when he fell here in November was no fluke,he is suited by sharper tracks and is a useful yardstick.
2.05 The StanJames.Com Champion Hurdle Trial,Grade 2,2m.9 flights,4yo+
For once this race had a Champion Hurdle contender but it was far from a convincing performance from The New One who despite going off the 1-6 favourite certainly didn’t win like one should.
This is the worst I’ve seen him jump in the five times I have seen him race in the flesh,he went out to his right a few times and clattered a few like a poor novice would, On viewing you would not be rushing to back him for the Cheltenham showpiece after this.
Coming up the straight Bertimont took the bull by the horns as Harry Skelton for his brother Dan adopted the ‘Don’t be put off by one horse’ theory and got first run with two flights to go and was still two lengths in front over the final hurdle before Sam Twiston Davies rallied The New One to finally get up in the last half furlong to land the £32,685 prize.
I have always said that The New One is better suited by 2m4f and shall remain defiant, If this race was being played in the stables at Willie Mullins and Jessica Harrington’s yard this afternoon then I bet Faugheen,Hurricane Fly and Jezki wouldn’t have been that worried.
Bertimont ran a fine race in defeat and while the Champion Hurdle would be too much I’d imagine races like the County Hurdle and the Scottish Champion Hurdle would be better.
Below,The New One.
2.40 888sport Graduation Chase,Class 2,2m5f,14 fences,5yo+
Another win for Sue Smith here as Mwaleshi made all and never saw another horse from the tape being released.
Favourite Carraig Mor could never land a blow and was in trouble turning for home,his fall over at Kempton on Boxing Day looks to have dented his confidence while Third Intention took an early tumble and had a gentle jog on his own coming home on the flat course.
Mwaleshi looked to stay this extra trip quite well,second place Maggio saves his best for Kelso and should be back there in March for a 2m7f Listed Chase and he just hung on from Little Glenshee who was staying on under beaten horses.
3.15 Peter Marsh Chase,Grade 2,Ltd Hcap,3m1f,16 fences,5yo+
This was a real brutal race from the outset with no quarter given and a generous pace even in the testing conditions as the twelve runners battled their way way around the course.
Last year the prize went to Wales and this year it was Scotland who took it as Samstown just hung on from Benbens who was flying at the end and went down by a neck for the Alistair Whillans yard in Hawick.
Vintage Star was twenty four lengths back in third and he was so tired that he was walking over the line at the finish with Toby Lerone behind him.
It will be hard to work out the form of this race as it was run under testing conditions, Samstown was rumoured to be coming back here next month for the Grand National Trial over 3m5f.
3.50 Lynk FM “Fixed Brush” Novices’ Hurdle,Class 4,2m4f,10 flights,4-7yo
Just a turnout of three but they came from England,Scotland and Wales with Scotland coming out on top as One For Arthur from Lucinda Russell’s yard had a real battle down the straight with long time leader Subtle Grey who was giving the winner 6lbs which told in the conditions.
Both horses look ok,One For Arthur jumped these hurdles quite well and could be up for a step in Grade while Subtle Grey from the McCains will be better when sent over fences.
An interesting day to say the least here,It’s still a long time to the Festival and anything can happen until then.
Many eyes will have been on The New One today,it’s still up in the air if he can go close in the Champion Hurdle, my instinct after today is no.
One highlight was myself getting a photo with a female jockey,today I managed to use my charm for Gemma Gracey-Davison.
Next week I should be at a football match,racing wise it will be Warwick all being well for Kingmaker Day.
Until next time Goodbye and pleas keep reading and retweeting.