Despite the presence of the leading trio of National Hunt jockeys in England – Tony McCoy, Richard Johnson and Jason Maguire – it was Grand National winning jockey Ryan Mania who stole the show at Hexham with a treble on the eight race card.
Mania landed the opener aboard Indigo Rock on his first ride for local trainer Michael Smith, and went onto complete the treble in the two divisions of the 3m Handicap Hurdle for Dianne Sayer aboard Solis and Auberge. Indigo Rock landed what on paper appeared to be a decent looking 3m Novices Hurdle staying on well to see off Irish raider Soweheard and recent course winner Oscar Tanner. Whilst the winner showed considerable improvement today in reversing the placings with recent Wetherby conqueror Loose Performer on seven pounds better terms, Loose Performer put in a very laboured effort. Soweheard appeared to run in snatches, but handled the step upto three miles well. Given his form in Irish points he looks a chasing prospect for next year. However, I’d like to see a little more of him on track, because he looked a shade quirky in the paddock, but one must make some allowances for the warm day and sizeable crowd in attendance. Oscar Tanner handled both the step up in trip and grade well (2m4f Maiden Hurdle winner) and ran creditably to finish a staying on third. Given he’s only a five year old making just a second start over hurdles for his new yard, this goes down as a very good effort. Perhaps Loose Performer has had enough for now and needs a Summer break, but looking at David O’Meara’s horse physically, he looks the type to make a more than fair chaser.
Solis was all the rage in the market ahead of Division One of the 3m Handicap Hurdle and the fast ground loving ten year old made no mistake in seeing off Karen Tutty’s mare Saddlers Mot. Solis had shown good form at this sort of trip in the past, most notably when splitting fair yard sticks Corky Dancer and Grey Command here last month. Doubtless he’ll be kept on the go when the ground remains fast. Similar comments apply to the mare Saddlers Mot, who continues to improve with each and every run. She travelled well throughout, and lost little in defeat. Mania landed the treble (a double for Cumbria based Dianne Sayer) with a smooth success aboard Auberge in Division Two of this three mile contest. The 9yo made light of a whopping 13lb penalty earned for seeing off the aforementioned Corky Dancer here at the previous meeting. The mare again travelled with supreme ease, taking it up a shade earlier than last time out with a fine leap at the third last, and despite being kept upto her work from the last hurdle always looked likely to prevail. Now a three time career winner from forty starts, the mare will have to defy a probably similar draconian rise to score again. On the plus side, she’s thriving for decent ground and showing the benefit of a good break between February and June.
Happy Connections – Auberge
Richard Johnson made no mistake on his sole mount on the card with a straightforward success aboard Tim Vaughan’s Vale of Glamorgan raider Great Oak. This 7yo mare will have gained plenty of confidence from today’s exercise gallop, winning on just her second start for a stable whose relatively infrequent runners invariably perform with great credit at Hexham. The 4yo filly Just Fabulous took a fierce hold for most of the early part of the race under Barry Keniry, and will need to learn to settle to be competitive going forward, whilst the debutant More Like Mum looked very hard work both in the parade for her handler and on track (depositing Fearghal Davis twice) prior to being withdrawn.
Although the Champion jockey AP McCoy departed empty handed after three rides, his nearest jockeys Championship pursuer Jason Maguire notched another winner in the concluding bumper aboard Gordon Elliott’s Definite Row. Allowed to dictate from the front off a funereal pace, this was a fine ride from Maguire. Quickening up out of the dip aboard clearly the best horse in the race, he soon put the others to the sword and the relaxed looking 4yo filly bounced back after a shade disappointing effort last time at Sligo. Reportedly, she’s a filly who likes a fast surface, so it was no surprise to see the market confidence rewarded. Malcolm Jefferson’s filly Retrieve The Stick was best of the rest (although well beaten). The first off the bridle as the pace quickened, the race clearly wasn’t run to suit her, and she may have benefitted by being allowed to stride on early doors. However, in all honesty, she’d probably not have troubled the winner on this evidence. By Revoque, she may also appreciate some juice in the ground. Although this bumper probably lacked strength in depth, many of the horses looked decent sorts physically on paddock inspection (including Coccinelle) who has now shown precious little in two quick NHF runs.
Granaruid landed the 2m4f Amateur Riders Handicap Hurdle for Alison Hamilton and Conor Shoemark, staying on up the hill to pass both Weybridge Lad and Born to Shine who had looked set to fight out the finish. The well backed latter, found little after appearing by far the most likely winner and was held when taking a heavy fall at the last. Dropped back in trip, and although no star, the 5yo should be much more competitive in similar grade.
The veteran Chernik found the trip of 2m4f not to his liking, despite being sent off favourite in a weak looking Handicap Chase. However, the race produced the finish of the day with Martin Todhunter’s Lucy Alexander ridden Presenting Junior nailing the luckless Attycran on the line. Despite Alexander rightly earning the plaudits for her well timed challenge, the ride of Badger McAlister on Attycran was equally worthy of mention. Given every chance to gain a well earned first success, the likeable 23 race maiden deserves to lose this tag sooner rather than later. A victim of his own consistency, Attycran remains everything that is wrong with the handicapping of horses. Given absolutely no respite from the assessor despite a clear inability to win from his current mark, he continues to wear his heart on his sleeve to sadly no avail. As a punter, I find it increasingly frustrating to see a horse inching up the handicap for running consistently well for not winning. Hopefully connections will be rewarded eventually when the handicapper relents.
Last word on the day must be for the most impressive winner on the card – Lucinda Russell’s Castlelawn. A year to the day since the late and much missed Campbell Gillies rode his last winner aboard Fog Patches, it was apt that his stable and good friend Peter Buchanan should have a winner. Absorbing a ten pound penalty with disdain, this front running, generally fluent jumping 6yo made all to score with authority despite a stopping weight of 11st 13lbs. Given the fact the race looked to contain plenty of other front running types this was a very taking performance, and Castlelawn is clearly a horse to follow; being another to have benefitted from a mid season break and decent ground. He looks tailor made to plunder a good prize at Perth in the weeks ahead.
Another good afternoon of sport at Hexham, with the sizeable crowd broadly on top in the punting stakes with a succession of well supported winners. The Northumberland venue wraps up for the Summer after its popular Ladies Day next Sunday (23rd June). After a busy April, May and June, this will give the track some recovery time, but full marks must go out to James Armstrong and his grounds team for producing an excellent ‘safe’ racing surface given what appeared to be a tricky weather forecast in the 24 hours prior to racing. Watering on the Friday was proven to be 100% the correct decision given the warm temperatures and drying Saturday wind. Doubtless, the course will be presented in a similar maticulous fashion next weekend.