Sunday, July 24, 2016


A week of racing staged in - for the greater part – very warm and sunny conditions came to an end at Carlisle, Pontefract and Uttoxeter today, and it was the action at the last-named that jogged my memory about one of the most amusing pieces of racing telly I think I’ve ever seen, or likely ever will.

Wasn’t it about this time ten years ago, I thought, that Robert Cooper had visited Uttoxeter on a rather hotter raceday than today, frying pan in hand, and proceeded to try to fry an egg on the floor of the paddock or public area – and more or less succeeded?

Indeed it was.  A quick bit of research later confirmed that the anniversary had just passed, but also that my memory of a hot day hadn’t become exaggerated and embellished at all with the passing of time.  July 2006, the Met Office website advises, was the warmest day on record for much of England and Wales, with temperatures reaching their highest in many places on Wednesday 19th, the day of Sir Bob’s Uttoxeter visit.

A specific temperature for the course that day still evades me at the time of writing this, but Met Office maps would place a conservative estimate of temperature for that corner of Staffordshire at 32 degrees, and possibly closer to 34.  No wonder Cooper's attempt got as far as it did.  

Opportunities to pause for breath during the working day at the Sportsman were few and far between, but with monitors covering all racing channels within eyeshot it was impossible for some of us in the racing office not to be drawn for a while to the sight of Attheraces’ king of whimsy trying to score himself his impromptu late cooked breakfast.

It was hilarious, inventive, original programming, and you’d almost wish another heatwave upon a day of racing covered live by ATR, if only to see how the same protagonist might fare repeating the exercise with a link of sausages.

(Not that the news it was hot outside was a revelation to us down in Hammersmith, you understand, as London was a good few degrees hotter and certainly stuffier than Uttoxeter, and the completely glass-panelled Sportsman office amplified the heat to a degree that even the aircon couldn’t cope with entirely adequately.  Put any typos in my copy back then down to hot, sweaty, slippery keyboards inducing mistakes – that’s my story, at least).

It's doubtless that concern will have been raised in the run-up to the meeting, and certainly during it, that conditions had tipped too far for racing to proceed safely, not least as Uttoxeter’s jumps card – inclusive of a novice chase and handicap hurdle each run over as far as three miles – compelled horses to run further and carry an awful lot more weight than their Flat contemporaries at Catterick and Lingfield on the same afternoon in the unprecedented, searing heat.

Sometimes, however, we don’t trust our sport’s human participants enough to do the right thing by their equine accomplices in potentially trying situations.

Ten out of 50 runners across the six races were pulled up, most of them in lieu of being forced further by their riders on a hot day in a lost cause; 27 horses came out of their respective races well enough to be able to race again no later than the end of the following month, so within six weeks; and nothing paid the ultimate price.

And there was water.  Lots of it.  At this remove I’d struggle to recall whether by mid-2006 racing was already in the habit of providing, as an absolute matter of routine, as much water paddockside as required to slake thirsts or revive the hot and wobbly; but either way, every horse in need of a dousing duly, and conspicuously, got one at Uttoxeter that day.

Ditto at Worcester’s jumps fixture played out in only slightly less strong heat that evening, where the ready supply from the adjacent River Severn gave rise to a bucket of water count to rival a typical episode of Tiswas.  Again, all 64 competitors reportedly came home from the races that evening (albeit with a small number of firm ground-induced lamenesses).  Again, lost causes weren’t pursued foolishly by riders.  Again, around half of those to run were out again before the end of August.

Racing in extreme heat wouldn’t be an ideal, preferred scenario, but if the admittedly limited evidence of this time almost exactly ten years ago is any guide it’s not a uniquely dangerous one if due responsibility is exercised – something all may wish to consider should temperatures hike up yet further at any stage this summer.

And if they do, remind me to go racing at an ATR track, ketchup and bun at the ready.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Just over a week has passed now since the news broke of ITV wresting the rights to terrestrial televised racing from Channel 4, and inevitably a lot of the talk since then - a disproportionate quantity, to this observer - has diverted down the route of the merits of the presenting teams from both of those channels, past, present and future.

Please God this blog post doesn't provide too much more of the same, but apologies if so.

First things first.  Whoever IMG had got in (or retained) for the relaunched Channel 4 Racing would have had to follow the same editorial, presentational and stylistic remit. Unless we can be unequivocal that this current remit would have suited the Highflyer-employed team any better than the IMG-employed one, the conclusion I’d draw is that the current incumbents are the best people for the job at hand.

How good or not they are isn’t the issue – they’re meeting the expectations of them. The show’s producer Carl Hicks doesn’t ask the team for knockabout irreverence. Accordingly, his on-screen employees don’t provide it.

I had to raise at least one eyebrow at a comment made last weekend in the Racing Post by Andrew Franklin, head of Channel 4 Racing for its first 28 years of existence, praising the former Highflyer team for maintaining a dignified silence in the years since their replacement.

This almost a year to the day since he’d torn a strip off IMG’s falling ratings in the same publication, and barely 48 hours since John Fairley, his former wingman on the show, had done the same in much more abrasive terms.

All this without forgetting, of course, a certain Mr McCririck’s ultimately doomed legal challenge – hardly quiet, meek acceptance.

Loyalty to Franklin, incidentally, was the key driver behind John Francome’s decision not to accept any offer (were any forthcoming) to join the IMG-produced product, and it’s improbable that his position will soften with the move to ITV and ITV4 unless Franklin is at the helm. The 5/1 price quoted in places for the return of Francome thus represents dire value as far as I’m concerned.

As for the aforementioned McCririck, I expect that the relative lack of interest in the opinion pieces that he has uploaded to his Youtube channel won’t have gone entirely unnoticed by the would-be employers at ITV, with a number of pieces still struggling to rack up even a triple-figure number of views a month after upload. Mention of the channel in Robin Gibson’s column in the Post last Sunday doesn’t appear to have made any material difference.

There’s appreciable desire on one other forum I frequent for the emphasis on betting to be reduced once the coverage of racing passes to ITV/ITV4. For better or for worse, that’s the very last thing I expect will happen.

ITV simply isn’t able to adopt that same lofty position as the BBC could during the 1970s and 1980s in particular, whereby they didn’t so much as acknowledge the existence of SPs beyond any mention Sir Peter O’Sullevan may have made of them and had no commercial imperative to do so (q.v. a useful historical piece on TV racing coverage by Brough Scott, again in last Sunday’s Post).

ITV Racing will get the bookies and exchanges onside, be that directly through the making available of advertising slots or indirectly through extensive lip service to betting mediums during the programme itself, because they daren’t not.

Furthermore, consider just what the provenance is of ITV4. To all intents and purposes, this is the TV channel formerly known as Granada Men & Motors, which should give away plenty about whom it regards as its target audience.

If in any doubt, however, a helpful information sheet buried within the ITV Media website contains a few salient lines, reproduced verbatim:

ITV4 is a haven of sport and cult classics, feeding your inner fan.

At its heart, ITV4 has an extensive range of incredible sporting action including the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifiers, French Open tennis, Tour de France cycling, Isle of Man TT motorbike racing, Formula E motor racing, Masters Darts, Aviva Premiership rugby and Rugby World Cup. Sporting documentaries such as Sports Life Stories also offer unprecedented behind the scenes insights into the lives of sporting legends.
Other important channel offerings include cult classic Magnum P.I., US acquisitions Storage Wars and Pawn Stars, and action-packed blockbusters such as Bond films and Fight Club.

The channel’s core audience is 25-44 year old males looking for great escapism that’s an antidote to the everyday.

Channel Highlights
– Weekly reach of 10.6m, 6.2m Men
– Strong Male profile with 62% of all viewers being Men
– Tour de France final day was watched by 1.2m and a 7% share
– ITV4 is the 6th biggest digital channel for Men
– ITV4 had its highest ever all time and prime time share for 16-34 Men for Q1 in 2015
– ITV4 is having its highest ever prime time share for 16-34 Men since launch so far in 2015


Those, like I, who have enjoyed the channel’s coverage of the tennis and cycling will already know that ITV4 manages to ply its trade nowadays without being quite so unwittingly (and almost parodically) Clarkson-esque, Blokey Bloke Bloke as it did during its Men & Motors incarnation.

Knuckles have finally been picked up from off the ground, and by some distance.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t alter my view that the sort of people ITV(4) is gunning for with the racing broadcasting are far less likely to be the more mature or bucolic devotees among the Highflyer-era Channel 4 Racing viewing audience, and far more the blokes who pop up every 15 minutes at the moment telling us that this is the Ladbrokes Life.

It’ll be after people (men and women, one hopes, despite the channel’s marked male reach) of a certain age, with as much of a propensity to spend the leisure pound on a punt as on anything else.

I’d expect the temptation will be great to cast people of a comparable age as presenters and pundits, too.

I don’t even think it’s too far-fetched to suggest that there may yet be some eyeing up (if there hasn’t been already) of what works on Sky Sports’ flagship Soccer Saturday, with a view to tapping in to the same sort of market or even tempting some of it into channel-hopping between it and the horses.

The news that the ITV4 coverage stands a strong chance of being studio-based does immediately suggest an in-house presenter-pundits-presenter model, albeit with the one big difference to Soccer Saturday of still showing the live action rather than have said pundit screaming excitedly at a monitor visible to him/her only.

Even so, how soon before the living room set resonates to the cries of "they'll be dancing in the streets of Ffos Las tonight, Jeff...", or similar?

Monday, October 20, 2014


Better late than delayed interminably, the 2015 Rules Fixture List was finally released, blinking and naked but no less sizeable than its immediate predecessors, onto the BHA website today. 

Evidence of the most extensive consultation process in recent times was promised; the subjecting of the (re)allocation of fixtures to a set of more forensic, performance-driven criteria than before would, it was inferred, be impossible to miss.

Maybe.  Truth be told, an initial glance at the list reveals no seismic consequences wrought by that process, but like the Magic Eye pictures briefly and madly popular about two decades ago, perhaps a longer stare at the calendar of 1,471 events programmed (a net rise of seven on 2014) will start to reveal them.  This blog post is unlikely to represent your author’s only comment on the list - not by a long chalk.

One significant change to which the eyes were instantly drawn, however, was one concerning Cartmel's fixtures programme for 2015, with the Lakeland idyll now upping its portfolio to eight racedays but losing its Whit Saturday evening allocation to Salisbury.

Is that by design?  Given Lord Cavendish's insistences in racecards in recent years how pivotal Bank Holiday racing is to Cartmel's business model, it’s not wise to assume that it definitely is. 

There are still two days' racing at the track in May, albeit on Whit Monday and the following Wednesday, and logic would suggest that holding on to the Saturday and losing the Wednesday would have represented the ideal.  The latter is practically always comfortably the least well-attended of the three days’ racing at the Cumbria track over Whit week, and indeed has trailed in as the course’s least well-attended fixture of the whole year in six of the past ten years, whereas the Bank Holiday Saturday fixture has yet to attract a paying crowd of under 6,000 on any occasion so far this century and is surely nothing to give up lightly.

There is, it would be an understatement to say, a following for and expectation of Whit Saturday racing at Cartmel dating back some four decades now; a following which, if turned away for what may even be just a year, might just quickly get used to the idea of not coming back.

Either way, the Cartmel programme now comprises two-day meetings on each of the four months from May to August, including the first ever Sunday fixture on June 28th (in competition with Uttoxeter's Summer Cup fixture). At last, the country's final pocket of resistance against Sabbath racing acquiesces.  As a nod to more godly pursuits than lobbing money at competitive thoroughbreds in between raids on the famous Village Shop, however,will this now become the meeting upon which Cartmel’s long-established practice of blessing a racehorse takes place?

That aside, it's disappointing to observe that there's nothing for Northern-based jumps connections or enthusiasts at Cartmel or elsewhere for an entire month between Perth's mid-July and mid-August fixtures.

Sedgefield won't race any sooner during high summer than late-August anymore, and Hexham have never entertained July and August fixtures, but somewhere ought to step into the breach to bridge what otherwise constitutes the entire calendar year’s longest break without National Hunt action north of the M62.  

Where’s left, though - Kelso?  Aintree?  Heaven forfend as its embracing of Flat racing starts to take off in earnest during 2015, but – Wetherby?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Barbury Racecourse (LH 8F, 18J)
Sun, 1 Dec 2013 (Good to firm, good in places becoming Dead)

Not the race it promised to be at initial entry stage, with none of Bubbly Breeze, Champagne Rosie (last year’s Leading Mare), Goodnight Vienna, Kostaquarta, Paddycards and – in particular – Theatre Queen turning out.  Thenford Ryde attempted to pick up where he left off in April 2012 by jumping off in front in another bid to make all, but he was a spent force by halfway.

HALL KELLY bid his time under Abigail Banks, and having been produced wide turning for home assumed the lead approaching the last.  A sticky leap (not his first) there didn’t go punished – indeed, the length or so advantage held at that point had extended to all of 7l by the line as successive rivals faded or failed to go through fully with their efforts.  The bare margin flatters the Saddler’s Hall 8yo a touch, and another fair step forward would be needed before a decent Ladies’ Open could be considered within compass, but he continues to provide a lot of fun for connections.

LUCKY LANE’s two wins for Jane Clark were gained on occasions where he could get away with it stamina-wise, but anything other than a slovenly early pace around this galloping track threatened to stretch his reserves to the limit.  His luck ran out between the final two, but not before giving Dr Elizabeth Smee a good spin – likely more satisfying than many of those that her previous horse Final Veto (sadly lost during the close-season) could produce in the previous couple of seasons. 

A Staff College-qualified horse, maybe the likes of Hackwood Park and Peper Harow will provide the greatest opportunities to add to his win tally this term.

Niggled as early as the seventh, AS IT IS never looked entirely at ease on the surface and did rather inherit third place late on.  He’d looked mildly progressive under the right conditions until his Whitfield third last April, and another outing back on something softer should say more about how much extra there really is to come.

Sarah McQueen’s new Irish import JAMRHAM might also have appreciated a deeper surface than today’s judged on his previous winning form.  Even allowing for that, however, the manner in which the 6yo flicked from carrying a double handful (following a cute ride from Joe Knox) to producing nothing when asked two out hardly extoled his virtues as one who’d deign to convert an opportunity even when underfoot conditions suit more.

CARRIGKERRY never threatened under Katy Lyons, a late deputy for the sidelined Page Fuller, though in mitigation this did represent a step of two rungs up the ladder from his last-time Garthorpe Maiden win.


The first race in the programme of Mares’ Maidens that go a long way to identifying the season’s Leading Mare, although the eventual winner of that accolade in 2012-13, Champagne Rosie, managed just a third-placed finish in this corresponding event 12 months earlier.

PAMPELONNE represented trainer Sylvia Edmunds and owner John Busby, responsible for 2011-12 Leading Mare Briery Star, but entered the contest with possible stamina questions to answer having never raced beyond an extended 2m4f in 20 winless Rules starts previously (and having never placed at 2m3f or beyond).  Sam Davies-Thomas didn’t ride the Oscar seven-year-old as if lasting home was of primary concern, however, sending her on at two-thirds distance. 

A line of thought among some racegoers after the contest was that the tactic might not have reaped maximum dividends had the runner-up been kept under wraps a little longer, but Edmunds mare wasn’t really flagging close home and might well have found extra if required.  She can be placed to advantage to avoid the really good Restricted horses from here on and continue to rack up points for Leading Mare, with most surfaces seemingly coming alike to her if her Rules cv is any guide.

Andrew Doyle committed Monmouthshire raider BACH ME round the outside of Pampelonne going into the dip after three out, but the bid for glory was already starting to waver when a jump to the right at the penultimate obstacle brought her back to the eventual winner.  This would be as close as she’s come to breaking her duck in six Points so far, but it may require holding on to her until the last possible moment if she is to stand a chance of finally converting a potential winning opportunity. 

Godfrey Maundrell’s MINOR CHORD, whose uncle Rhythm King was of course a prolific source of wins for the same connections, gave it another fair go from the front but not for the first time found the petrol gauge flickering at around 2m4f.  No longer eligible for the same short Maidens she contested up until May of this year, the prospects of her landing a Point sadly appear slimmer than before.

DOUBLE BUD, carrying 2lb overweight, had unseated twice in three outings last Pointing season, and her round of jumping on this reappearance often looked that of a mare with confidence issues – the brakes were jammed on at least three times on the opening circuit.  She’s likely to see out this 3m Pointing trip in the fullness of time, but there are technique issues to address at least as pressingly as those of stamina.

Four-year-old debutante TIGERALLEY betrayed a degree of immaturity in the preliminaries, but was given a patient ride by Sam Painting and was warming nicely to the task when exiting in fourth place six fences from home - too far out to be overly dogmatic as to how close she might have gone with a clear round.  The exploits both under Rules and between the flags of the Revoque filly’s half-siblings make for a mixed bag (ranging as they do from improving recent Warwick novice handicap chase winner Alpancho to 14-year-old Restricted ever-present Caged Tiger), and time will tell whether she can prove the equal or better of these.


With much of the most feared or intriguing opposition, not least one-time Champion Hurdle second Khyber Kim, not making an appearance, the stage looked set in this Ladies’ event for a return to winning ways for COTTAGE OAK.  What the Cheltenham Foxhunter third delivered, however, fell well short of expectations.

Sound or even lively as it was, the ground ought not to have inconvenienced Joseph O’Shea’s charge – his form for Gordon Elliott was hardly bereft of winning efforts on quick surfaces.  Nor should the strong gallop set by BALLAGIO have knocked the Flemensfirth gelding out of his stride, as he, along with his other rivals, basically ignored Frankie Hickman’s mount until he weakened sharply early on the final circuit. 

For whatever reason, however, Cottage Oak’s jumping was consistently substandard – steep at the sixth, too close in at the ninth, and otherwise generally short of fluency despite the gelding’s familiarity with the challenge the course sets (he won the Men’s Open at the corresponding fixture in 2012-13).  Gina Andrews’ report to the stewards subsequently that her partner didn’t take a cut at his fences was no surprise; and the immediate question worth raising is whether anything about last season’s itinerary, including as it did appearances at both Cheltenham and Aintree, has left its mark.

All of which risks overshadowing the achievement in victory of LATEST TREND, which whilst as unexpected as odds of 20-1 would imply looked to have nothing in the way of fluke about it.  A scratchy leap at the fourth was as close as Bridget Andrews came to enduring the same jumping meltdown as her sister’s partner, and the Moscow Society seven-year-old could hardly have been travelling better when looming upsides the by then floundering Cottage Oak three from home. 

Another ex-Tim Vaughan horse (after Quedillac) to reappear in Ladies’ Opens for trainer Stuart Penny, Latest Trend hadn’t revived for a crack at National Hunt fences in the summer but found these slightly smaller obstacles no inconvenience.  With that in mind, and given his greater effectiveness on drier surfaces under Rules (he was campaigned primarily as a summer jumper with good reason), he looks the sort who could be best deployed around the Larkhills and Badbury Ringses of this world assuming the ground at such venues remains as sound (or faster) as it often does.

One-time Coral Cup sixth STONEMASTER had made awfully hard work of breaking his chasing duck, finally doing so at the fourteenth attempt at Kilbeggan in July (2m6f, good) on his final outing for Dessie Hughes.  Yet to fail to complete in 41 Rules and Pointing starts following a 6l second here, he looks certain to provide a safe number for Emily Rucker in Ladies’ Points, but having been sent close enough by his pilot to lay down a stern challenge to the leaders from five out it was a bit disappointing that he didn’t give Latest Trend more to do up the final home straight.  Visored for that Irish chasing win, perhaps the return of headgear could polarise his thoughts more in that regard.

Former Alan King (and hence Barbury) inmate MISTER CHANCER managed just one outing in his initial Pointing campaign last term, finding Master Medic too classy in a small-field Milborne St Andrew affair (soft).  Eventualy a 15l fourth here, he might well have needed what was still just a second outing in 18 months, and whilst yet to score beyond 2m4f in any mode of racing he didn’t look a dubious stayer here (nor necessarily should he, with winners at up to 3m in the immediate family).


The list of classy absentees from the initial entry of the Mens Open was at least as long as that of the Intermediate, with the assorted connections of Berties Dream (2013 Pertemps Final fifth), Bellsinni Ron, Ashfield’s Dream, Lorikarad, Ninetieth Minute (one-time Coral Cup winner), Offshore Account and Rebel Du Maquis all opting to sit the race out with their respective charges.

What remained was a thin-looking four-runner event, but one that Peter and Niff Mason will have been delighted that, although definitely thinking about it on a couple of occasions on the way round, SHY JOHN consented to win under pillar-to-post tactics that represented a marked change from his usual.

Not committed until the final fence when accounting for 12 rivals in the Intermediate on this card in 2012-13, today’s small field wouldn't have been as conducive to Shy John being ridden softly, softly until produced later through the pack.  Had he not strode on, however, it’s uncertain that any of his rivals would have done, judged on their Rules outings at least - Otto The Great has led early in races before but isn't an inveterate front-runner; Seigneur Des Bois has never front-run as far as can be discerned; and although a front-runner over 2m4.5f at Southwell on his final Rules start Clouded Thoughts would have had no vested interest in doing so here with stamina much beyond that trip still in doubt.

A win in spite of getting to boss his field rather than because of it, then, and the chances of this switch to front-running becoming permanent are surely slim.  Only twice out of the frame in 13 Point starts, winning five, the Kier Park seven-year-old still has time on his side to find the improvement needed to land better Opens than this, so long as enough falls right.

Under pressure and relegated to last six out, SEIGNEUR DES BOIS rather inherited second place following the fall of one rival and capitulation of another.  The half-brother to last season’s (subsequently disqualified) “Thrusters” winner Saphir Des Bois has good-ground winning Rules form if you look far enough back, but last winter’s best chasing efforts for Tom George were logged in barely raceable conditions at Ffos Las, so a step up on this performance once able to get his toe in wouldn’t surprise inordinately.

Bred by his former owner John Dawson Cotton, former Guillaume Macaire and Nicky Henderson inmate OTTO THE GREAT had claimed two novice events (one a four-runner Doncaster 3m chase) earlier in 2013 but also let down favourite-backers in five of his other 10 Rules starts and on balance would have to have rated a disappointment for his vaunted former connections.  The initial foray into Pointing for this handsome grey also proved a let-down, with the response to pressure from the top of the final back straight amounting to little.  Trip and ground should not have inconvenienced, nor the small field, and he has something to prove now.

CLOUDED THOUGHTS, representing the Case team that had enjoyed its biggest winner under Rules with the errant Deep Trouble at Sandown 24 hours earlier (thanks in no small part to a ride of the season candidate from Leighton Aspell), looked to be the last credible challenger to Shy John when coming down three out.  Stamina for the full 3m wasn’t entirely assured entering the contest and, given the point of his departure, arguably still isn’t.


No shortage of thrills and spills in the season’s first Novice Riders’ contest, not least after an initial false start from which EURO FARMER and TEENANDO required a good three furlongs to pull up.

Going 3m3f in a 3m race might just have proven the difference between victory and defeat for Euro Farmer, a wholly willing – if not entirely 100% foot-perfect – conveyance for Laura Jenkins but just not quite able to resist the late thrust up the run-in of KORNATI KID, at 11 two years his junior.  Jenkins, a winner once each last season on Euro Farmer and Sizing America for boss Sally Randell, should find further opportunities to score in this grade for as long as relatively inexperienced handling continues to amuse her teenage partner (it did throughout 2012-13).

The mere actuality of Kornati Kid passing the post in front doesn’t tell the entire story of his afternoon’s work, however, as the Kayf Tara gelding made an almighty blunder at the final fence on the penultimate circuit – one which his partner, first-time Point rider Charlie Marshall, 16, did extremely well to survived (airborne, and one hand off the reigns). 

Clearly the propensity to make some shocking errors that prevented this former Philip Hobbs inmate from reaching the very top in novice chases remains, but so too does enough of the class that facilitated wins at up to Grade 2 level in that sphere.  As such, he could consistently prove to be a cut above a lot of performers in Novice Riders’ events this winter, if only the mistakes don’t get too much in the way.

Incidentally, this success rather belatedly completed a hat-trick between the flags for Kornati Kid, the first two legs having been secured in Opens at Brafield-on-the-Green and Mollington for Anabel and Ollie Murphy in spring 2012.

Although beaten only 3.5l in the end, THE FOX’S DECREE was seemingly ridden to last the trip on this first start at 3m for over three years and was never closer than at the finish.  He looked a safer ride than most here, however, and can continue to impart the confidence gained over 50 previous National Hunt starts to his new owner-rider Kate Derrick.

Class told from three out with GAMATO, still winless outside of Maiden class after 25 Pointing starts but a regular finisher nowadays under Robert Defago.

BLEUVITO fared no better this week than last, albeit at a course whose left-handed orientation will likely not have suited him as well as Cottenham.

NATURAL ACTION isn’t always that inclined to put everything in, and an edgy, sweaty demeanour here marked him out as one of the less appealing in the preliminaries.  He was soothed into the race beautifully by Sean Bowen, however, and was in the process of throwing down a serious challenge when making his one and only mistake three out, giving his very promising-looking partner no chance.  He’s better than a record at Barbury now of FPU would automatically imply, and compensation ought to await in Novice Riders’ company before too soon if consenting to operate as willingly for Bowen hereafter.

Last seen getting outpaced in a 3m5f contest on soft ground at Taunton in March, and generally happiest when set more exacting stamina tests than Barbury on good to firm / good was ever going to offer today, sending off SONA SASTA the favourite was just plain potty.  Seventh and beaten at the time, he was one of three participants to dump the rider (James Jackson-Stops) at the last, along with the similarly well-held pair of SHAKE THE BOTTLE (Kate Mieczkowska) and BE ASHORED (Beth Eckley).


Regrettably, racing ended for the second weekend running with a runner in the concluding event breaking down irreparably, David Brace’s Irish import and second favourite DOLMEL ROCK going wrong out in front with just under a circuit to travel.

Victorious in the 2012-13 edition of this contest with Knockdhu, Tom Lacey’s decision to plump for ILLICIT ILLUSION from his pair of initial entries proved the right one, as the Heron Island 5yo found plentifully for pressure leaving the final back straight and already looked to have matters in hand before a fine leap at the last further reduced any doubt.  Owned by Paul Drinkwater, but guest-ridden by Tom Weston whilst Sam Drinkwater recovers from a foot injury sustained schooling, the effectiveness of many of his unraced dam’s siblings at sub-3m trips (notably 14-time chase winner Glemot) augured well ahead of a drop to 2m4f for Illicit Illusion, following four Irish outings at the full distance in which his finishing effort only once endured to the line all that strongly.

Karen Hobbs’ new recruit RISE TO IT was rarely, if ever, quite as close to the speed as the winner, but stayed on well late on without ever looking about to give the favourite a serious fright.  A half-brother to Commander Kev, one-time winner of the “Cuckoo” at Folkestone for the same handler, he ought to be able to withstand the step up to 3m.

HARRY’S CHOICE couldn’t get an uncontested lead until Dolmel Rock’s demise gifted it to him, and the effort of fighting for it left him suitably softened up for those delivered to challenge after three out.  The first foal of a mare whose only defeat for Ray York in three Points and a bumper came on her debut here, this wasn’t a bad introduction and a speedier track may suit.

Sirrell Griffiths’s WELSH DESIGNE, equipped with a tongue-tie on debut, raced in fourth or fifth throughout without ever threatening a whole lot more.  The tactical speed that facilitated his dam’s bumper win doesn’t seem to have been inherited.

A half-brother to a multiple loser off marks in the 40s in Polytrack handicaps, PEMBLETON DRIVE argued a far less compelling case than some on paper here but did travel fairly eye-catchingly through the contest before curling up early in the straight.  A more sustained effort is clearly going to be needed to take even a weaker short Maiden than this, but there’s definitely a bit of something about him.