In the second installment of a new blog for attheraces.com, Andrew Gibson reflects on the last week, looks ahead to the meeting at Hexham on Saturday and talks to trainer Mickey Hammond.
Welcome to a new blog for attheraces.com. Over the course of the summer months I will be taking a close look at plenty of action from the ‘Summer Jumps’ meetings; this week I'm reviewing the last week, chatting to Micky Hammond and taking a look ahead to Saturday's card at Hexham.
The attheraces.com Beginners Chase at Hexham on 1June brought together two 130+ horses from the top southern stables. The 139 rated Who’s My Jockey from the Philip Hobbs yard just got the better of the Dan Skelton-trained No Hassle Hoff who was rated 132 coming into the race.
In this six runner chase the Maurice Barnes trained Too Wise Man was allowed an easy lead throughout and, although he has performed perfectly well on this chasing debut; at the same time he is probably more than a little flattered to finish so close to two more experienced horses, both of whom, in turn, maybe more than a little flattered by their respective marks.
Who’s My Jockey appeared to be the first of the three leaders beaten when dropping back into third place three from home. At this point he was under pressure and going least well. Even before the final flight he looked set for that third place finish; from thereon in, however, the leader waited in front and the eventual third horse to finish tired on the run in. The most positive comment to make about this success is that at least he has got off the mark over fences at the second time of asking. On the evidence of the quality of this performance, however, his connections will need to find a similarly weak chase for him to follow up with a penalty.
Back in second spot No Hassle Hoff’s performance epitomised why he is now on a losing run of 12 races. He joined the long-time leader on the approach to the final fence and was easily going best of the three still in with a chance. After appearing likely to draw clear early on the run in he managed to throw the race away by waiting in front before eventually being overhauled close to the line. He clearly has a lot more ability than his recent record would imply; consequently he is not a horse I would want on my side until he shows something different. Of course he may well pick up a relatively weak race or two at this time of year; nevertheless, given the name of his trainer he is always likely to trade shorter than he should in the market – particularly when one considers his recent win to run ratio.
On the same day at Worcester the Alan King trained Potterman won the Arctic Spas Novices' Chase on the card in impressive looking style. He jumped and travelled beautifully throughout and was ten lengths clear at the line despite jumping the final fence next to the eventual runner-up Notwhatiam. The Skelton horse was carrying a penalty and weakened badly which accentuated the winning margin of Potterman. Despite how impressive he appeared in the finish here he is now rated 139 as a chaser after this debut success. His winning margin was arguably as much to do with the runner up tiring badly; moreover he has been beaten off marks of 126, 126, 129 and 130 in four of his latest five efforts over hurdles. As good as he appeared to be in the finish at Worcester I suspect that a mark of 139 overstates his ability as a chaser at this moment in time.
Moving on a few days to Perth on the 7 June where the Brian Ellison trained Nietzsche made a winning start to his chasing career in the Coretrax Technology Novices' Chase. On this day the second favourite was beaten after three fences and Nietzsche only managed to wear down the favourite Caius Marcius in the final 50 yards. Consequently the form itself is little to write home about as the runner-up had taken four runs to get off the mark over the larger obstacles when successful in a particularly weak looking contest at Sedgefield.
In essence Nietzsche had one target horse to aim at up the home straight and took plenty of time to finally wear down that rival close to the finish. He was in receipt of weight and his connections will do well to find another race as uncompetitive as this one in the short term. Hopefully Nietzsche will improve for this chasing debut and be of most interest further down the line when he contests novice handicap chases.
TRAINER IN FOCUS
The Micky Hammond yard is one that I have a particularly strong affection for. Skywards Reward won three races whilst competing in the name of my website before sadly losing his life at Hexham in April. Caliption and Onlyfoolsownhorses are also trained by Micky and both will run in ‘The Cheltenham Trail’ colours in the coming months. The latter named also has PROFORM RACING on the owners title and was due to run at Hexham this Saturday; unfortunately the testing conditions would not be in his favour so we will wait for another day.
The opposite is often true of many of the runners from the Micky Hammond yard that usually have a preference for a softer surface. He has three interesting runners at the Northumbrian track on Saturday. I spoke with Micky early this morning and he kindly offered his thoughts on his runners for tomorrow:
BLACK KETTLE – “He will enjoy the ground; he runs well at the course and should hold every chance. He jumps well in the main and was giving plenty of weight to the winner last time out. He will be off for his summer holidays after tomorrow so we are hoping he can sign off with a big run at Hexham”.
ONLY ORSENFOOLSIES – “He was a very brave winner at Carlisle on the flat last time out. He wore checkpieces for the first time that day and will retain them for tomorrow. I think his recent flat form is of a high level and Billy Garritty will take the ride. I doubt there is a better 7lb claimer in the north of England. I do not think we could say that ‘Foolsies’ is well-in on the best of his form; however, he is in the best of health and the 7lb we claim will be a big plus. He loves testing ground and it is a case of the more rain the better for him as he goes through heavy going like a rotavator”!
WITNESS – “He will cope with the ground and can run well at an each-way price. He may find one or two too good for him and would not have as good a chance as the first two; that said he will hopefully go well”.
“I also run a really nice horse tomorrow at York called Frankelio and he should perform well. I am not certain his stall position will be in his favour; however he is a horse to watch out for whatever happens tomorrow. Also I must mention a lovely two-year-old we are running at Ripon on Thursday. Just Jean finished second to a highly-regarded sort from the Mark Johnston yard last week and she has improved significantly at home since”.
Micky holds a 14.10% strike rate for his horses when competing on heavy ground which is significantly better than his strike rate on any other surface. I thought Only Orsenfoolsies looked especially interesting tomorrow and this notion is supported by his stats. He has a 6/32 record when competing on soft or heavy going and a 2/30 on any other ground. Likewise his place strike rate on heavy and soft is 17/32 which compares extremely favourably with his place strike rate of 6/30 when competing on a faster surface.
THE WEEK AHEAD
As the meeting at Worcester has been abandoned, we are left with Hexham as the sole National Hunt meeting over the weekend in England.
I notice that only five horses have been declared for the 3.55, the Hadrian Healthcare Handicap Hurdle which is a pity as I was hoping for a double figure field size for Only Orsenfoolsies which would have added to the chances of him running on past plenty of tiring rivals up the hill. He should still acquit himself well and he will be of interest at the right price.
Of the rest, Cairnshill has been raised 11lbs on the strength of two recent wins on a sound surface. Lord Wishes has won on heavy ground so cannot be totally ruled out; nonetheless, the vast majority of his positive form has come when he has competed on a decent surface. Black Key is yet to show anything in his four runs for Donald McCain; whilst Altruism appears to be one to mark up when he returns to race at Cartmel. Finally Lomachenko competes for the first time since an interesting trainer switch from Nicky Henderson to S B Crawford. On balance this is a very winnable contest and one where Only Orsenfoolsies should be very competitive.
I thought the Sick Children's Trust Handicap Hurdle at 4.30 looked like an interesting handicap hurdle to consider; especially as two horses from my notebook (Darling Miss and Tickenwolf) are set to line-up.
In the penultimate race on the aforementioned Perth card on 7 June the Gordon Elliott mare Darling Miss took the three mile handicap hurdle in fine style. She travelled well throughout and had more in hand than her nine length winning margin would suggest. I thought that the runner-up Always Tipsy also enjoyed a positive trip round and so it is to the credit of Darling Miss that she was still able to draw clear of that ten year old very quickly from the final hurdle to the line. At the time I suspected Darling Miss would be hard to beat if returning to race quickly under a penalty in a similar type of race. The only negative with her at Hexham is that she has yet to prove herself on very soft ground. That same comment applies to Board Of Trade and Simply Mani; furthermore, whilst both Witness and Tickenwolf have won on a testing surface, they are both at their best in quicker conditions.
Tickenwolf has tended to save his best performances for Hexham in the past and was an emphatic winner at the Northumbrian track on 1 June. In the Racing Partnership Handicap Hurdle he was briefly outpaced on the turn for home before his stamina kicked in on the approach to the final hurdle. From thereon in he drew clear very quickly under a hard drive on the good to soft ground. Unfortunately he finished seven lengths clear at the line which has resulted in a 9lbs hike in his hurdle rating. He will need a sound surface and, perhaps, a longer trip to give him his best chance of success off 120.
Tickenwolf had gradually dropped down the weights over the previous few months so was competing off a very low starting mark for his new trainer. Consequently he has every chance of going in again for his new yard providing he gets his optimum conditions. I suspect that Tickenwolf and Darling Miss are both ahead of the handicapper at the moment. No matter which horse comes out on top at Hexham in the 4.30 there will inevitably be an element of ‘by default’ attached to that success given that all six entries would arguably be best on faster going. My hope is that whichever one of Tickenwolf or Darling Miss gets beaten tomorrow (perhaps both of them) I will have the chance of supporting them at bigger odds when they are competing in a similar race on a more suitable surface.
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