A walk in the park
We’ll begin this roundup with the November Handicap. A really competitive field assembled for the highlight on the final day of the Flat turf season, it being rather typical for top-end open handicaps these days that only a couple of three-year-olds were featured, but that ought not be held against the form. Rather unusually for a field of this nature the pace was on the modest side, ensuring that it was difficult to get involved from behind.
Saunter (up 2 lb to 109), tipped up by Andrew Asquith in last week's big-race preview at 14/1 - don't miss this week's preview on Tuesday - proved better than ever to gain the biggest success of his admittedly light career. It was just his second start for an Ian Williams yard that has enjoyed a fine campaign, and his success completed a notable across-the-card double for them with London Prize landing the Elite Hurdle just 15 minutes earlier. Ridden more prominently than of late, he travelled well, before staying on to lead inside final furlong. He's still low mileage heading into next year, when he can be expected to be a fixture in the top-end middle distance handicaps.
Runner-up Chelsea Lad (now 110) also produced a career best, seeing out the longer trip better than might have been expected, this performance ironically coming when relatively unfancied in the betting having been well touted for several handicaps this year. His effectiveness over this trip opens up more options for him heading into 2018. The third Eddystone Rock (stays on 110) bounced back to form; he'll continue to give a good account of himself in races of this ilk.
Elsewhere on Town Moor, Star Rock (up 7 lb to 107) won a good renewal of the listed Gillies Fillies’ Stakes and looks a filly to keep on side next year, still lightly raced enough to think that this may not be her limit. Dream of Dreams (up 3 lb to 117) extended his good course record when beating the hat-trick seeker Perfect Pasture (stays on 115) by a length in the Wentworth Stakes, though what looked a good-quality listed race on paper turned into a race with a typical end-of-season feel, the majority not at their best.
As one door closes, another one opens, and the National Hunt season is really picking up pace. Wincanton’s Badger Ales Trophy card saw a familiar result in the feature as Paul Nicholls recorded an eighth success in the race thanks to Present Man (up 6 lb to 147). The main tactical observation was the relentless gallop resulting in a punishing test of stamina and jumping, most out with the washing before the straight and more than half the 16-strong field failing to complete. The win was another high-profile moment for young conditional Bryony Frost, following in the footsteps of her father Jimmy, who won the race as a jockey in 1996.
Runner-up Final Nudge (up 4 lb to 143) got straight back on the up embarking on only his second season over fences, going down all guns blazing as he came clear with a winner at a similar stage in his career; he's worth another try in a long-distance handicap. The Jean Bishop-owned and Paddy Brennan-ridden Theatre Guide (remains on 153) showed himself as good as ever after seven months off, though his lofty BHA mark means he'll remain vulnerable for win purposes.
Elsewhere on the card, Modus (up 12 lb to 147p) put up one of the performances of the day – and a borderline smart effort - as he maintained his unbeaten record over fences. He is open to further improvement in this sphere and has the potential to prove at least as good a chaser as he was a hurdler, though a bigger field will examine his jumping much more sternly than his two chases so far have.
As touched on above, Cesarewitch runner-up London Prize, with cheekpieces on for the first time, showed himself equally adept in this sphere in landing the Elite Hurdle - his second valuable handicap hurdle victory, having also won last season's Imperial Cup. A real dual-purpose money spinner, he's a fine advert for his in-form trainer and seems sure to go well in other valuable handicaps, with his Flat form strongly suggesting he'll have no trouble going beyond 2m.
Around the cards
Over at Aintree, the 2½m hurdle proved to be a loosener for all three runners, none of whom had been seen since April. Unowhatimeanharry (remains on 163) is about as good a staying hurdler as there is around at the moment, his only defeat since joining his current yard coming in last season's Stayers' Hurdle, and it was to his credit that he overcame the drop in trip returning after seven months off, in a falsely-run race too. He'll presumably bid to follow up his win in last year's Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in three weeks, though he won't be receiving weight from this time. It is shaping up to a deep renewal, too, with Thistlecrack and one of last season’s leading 3m novice hurdlers, The Worlds End, set to make their returns.
At Naas, Ball d’Arc (154) maintained his 100% track record as he won the Poplar Square Chase and should continue to give a good account, though may find himself overtaken later in the season by the second and third. Indeed, the third American Tom (144p) is a very lightly-raced sort who shaped well on his first start for 10 months, going like a winner until the lack of peak fitness began to tell in the straight.
Sunday’s card at Navan featured an all-the-way win for Apple’s Jade (158), who didn’t need to be at her best to see off Jer’s Girl (141). The run should put Gordon Elliott’s very smart mare spot on in her quest for a second Hatton's Grace at Fairyhouse early next month.
Clarcam (up 2 lb to 152) won three times during a very busy 2016/17 campaign and, freshened up by a seven-month break, returned to something like his best in the Fortria Chase. Alisier d’Irlande (also up 2 lb, to 151) saw things out better than has often been the case, but despite the grandstand finish to this Grade 2, it doesn't appeal as strong form for the level.
Like Modus 24 hours earlier, the most visually impressive display came from a novice chaser, the odds-on Footpad (150p)putting himself firmly in the discussion for top honours this season (now Arkle favourite) with a scintillating display on his chasing debut. Runner-up Brelade (137) found only one too good in this sphere for the third time in succession, though again lost little in defeat, just unable to keep tabs on a dual Grade-1 winning hurdler when things got serious in the straight
Sunday also saw the reappearance of Might Bite (166), a top-class 3m novice chaser last season, who was unfortunate not to win all three British Grade 1 events. His all-the-way win at Sandown was a gentle return with much sterner tests ahead, a lot to like about the performance, although he didn't have to run to his best to prevail; he will be a fascinating contender for the King George, the way he attacked the course in the Kauto Star last winter suggesting he will be a danger to all (now general 3/1 favourite).