Something a little different this week as I spent my first day’s racing at Newcastle on Saturday having travelled to watch the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. So here are my reflections on a day out with the lovable Geordie tribes.
First impressions – our group of four had booked the Members Enclosure and I was mightily impressed with the rather grand entrance to said enclosure – classy indeed. The cost was £25 for the day and £17 in Tatts. As usual there were discounts if you book online – we paid £22. However, once inside there’s little to really distinguish the two enclosures and you pay the extra simply to be opposite (more or less) the finishing line. There was also a special offer for all racegoers – 70p off a pint in any bar up to one hour before the first race!
Viewing – Good and bad. Good because there’s plenty of room even on a day such as the Fighting Fifth and the screen is well placed to help racegoers out. The negative is that you are a long way from the horses, especially on the chase track, although that does offer a greater sense of perspective on the run-in.
The track – a left-handed oval of about 1m6f and a fairer track you could not wish to see. No surprise that the likes of Nicky Henderson, Alan King and Jeremy Scott ventured far from home with high-class types. Galloping chasing sorts are ideally suited with 11 fences to be jumped on each circuit so there are rarely excuses to be made for beaten horses here. The fences take a fair amount of jumping but there’s plenty of space for all runners. The more I watched the more I realised that you really do need a strong travelling, sound jumping type around these fences.
Atmosphere – I expected it to be ultra-boisterous – but it wasn’t. Well behaved but with a lovely north-eastern warmth and buzz about the place. The presence of Tony McCoy helped too with racegoers seemingly genuinely thrilled that the multiple champion had foregone the delights of Hennessy day at Newbury to visit their neck of the woods. Both winners partnered by 4000+ man were warmly received.
Ones to watch – I enjoyed the round of jumping provided by Green Flag in the opener – an interesting mixture of careful but fluent. Lucinda Russell has brought him along with considerable intelligence and he seems sure to have more to offer as a steeplechaser. Oscar Rock had his bubble burst by the finishing thrust of Ballyalton and Mr McCoy in the decent novice hurdle but the pair were well clear of the remainder and both should be kept on the right side.
Vintage Star only just succumbed in a prolonged battle with the older and far more experienced Hey Big Spender(nice to see him on the score sheet again) in a pulsating Rehearsal Chase finish but Sue Smith’s charge is progressing well and will be a useful piece of ammunition if honing and refining his jumping skills a little more. It was a splendid effort by a relatively inexperienced chaser all the same. Baile Anrai (3rd) is another to keep an eye on for the impressive Skelton team from his current handicap mark.
Obviously the star of the show was My Tent Or Yours. It’s easy to fall in love with horses and he’s top of my list at present. His victory was comfortable and expected and we are likely to learn far more when he turns up at Kempton over Christmas. To stop myself getting carried away about him, I’ll leave my comments at that, other than to say it was a fine effort by the improving Cockney Sparrow to fill the runner-up spot and the shrewd John Quinn should be able to find an opportunity for his charge to go one better next time.