I WAS talking to Nicky Richards at the Newcastle Eider meeting about his unpredictable Artic Night, who had twice disappointed since landing a gamble in the mud at Carlisle in December.
“He’s going to the sales,” said the Greystoke trainer, shaking his head in exasperation, “but he might win another soft-ground handicap.”
As nap material, the six-year-old is in the last-chance saloon in the Christopher Hoad 21st Birthday Celebration Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at Ayr today. He was second to Rebel Swing in this corresponding event last year off a 3lb lower mark and I am hoping a return to three miles on heavy ground will revive his fortunes.
It was a mystery why he was so well supported when justifying favouritism at Carlisle in December, bearing in mind he had little to recommend him on his two previous starts.
Backed to follow up at Newcastle three weeks later, he was on and off the bridle and making heavy weather of it turning for home and he beat only one runner. It was a similar story at Wetherby where he was struggling a long way out and was out with the washing at the finish.
His trainer stresses that testing ground is essential for Artic Night, who gives the impression he is unwilling to put his best foot forward and keeps a bit for himself.
While my selection carries an obvious wealth warning, he will have his ideal conditions and I hope he will see off an obvious threat in Right Enough.
I thought long and hard about tipping Mr Woods at Carlisle on Thursday. Here was a horse that was dangerously well handicapped after a series of disappointing efforts that saw his rating tumble.
However, he had failed to complete in eight of his 10 previous races, and I decided to leave him and the race alone.
It goes without saying that he sprung back to life and ran out a decisive winner on ground that I wasn’t convinced he appreciated. I had a good idea he was going to be in the shake-up when he took up a prominent position before jumping into the lead at the 11th.
In his heyday, when he did me a couple of good turns, he loved to race from the front but for some unknown reason he had been held up in recent times and never got competitive. His jumping also suffered and one wondered if he had lost the plot completely.
Surprisingly, he was gambled on at Ayr on his previous start and never looked like featuring, yet he started favourite again at Carlisle.
Although he likes going right-handed at the Cumbria venue, it would have taken a giant leap in faith to stick with him and, anyway, I would have been disappointed at 7-2 had I tipped or backed him.
His victory was the first for Borders trainer Harriet Graham since last August and she brings the 10-year-old out within 48 hours hoping for a double-quick follow-up in the Dennis Clancy & Sons Ltd Irvine Handicap Chase.
He has a 7lb penalty but will be higher than that when reassessed and I am more concerned about this race coming so soon after Carlisle. If none the worse, and in the same sort of form, he should have the measure of Sophie Leech’s Fontwell winner Master D’Or, who makes the long haul from Elton in Gloucester.
The Pipe family have made a habit of winning the Imperial Cup at Sandown and giving the winner the chance of picking up a big bonus if successful again at Cheltenham next week.
This year the Pond House stable relies on Master Of Arts, who last ran over hurdles in the 2009 Triumph Hurdle. He is 10lb lower than the rating he was given after his juvenile campaign and he has since done nothing of note on the Flat.
Master Of Arts remains an intriguing runners, however, while Ted Spread, a Pattern class performer on the Flat for Mark Tompkins, was so impressive at Fontwell on his third hurdles run and could well defy a 15lb hike in weight.
My advice is an each way bet on Ile De Re, who was useful on the Flat and gained back-to-back hurdle successes at Huntingdon and over today’s course and distance following a couple of promising placed efforts. Judged on his Flat rating he looks well enough in off a mark of 124 and has nothing on his back.