Jumps Notebook: Imperial power
Will Hayler returns with another four horses to add to the notebook for the remainder of the 2013/14 Jumps season.
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You could be forgiven for thinking that by watching only the action from Ascot and Cheltenham on Saturday, you'd have covered all of the important bases in terms of top-class racing under both codes.
But if you didn't catch Kelso's card, you missed both a cracking finish and a high-class performance from Imperial Vic, narrowly beaten by Green Flag in the Clifford & Martin Firth Memorial Novices' Chase.
Danny Cook might have thought he'd have the pace to himself from the start, but the hard-pulling Witness In Court set off at a furious gallop that thinned the field out quickly and left one of the outsiders a fence behind with a full circuit still left to go.
Imperial Vic accepted the supporting role he was handed, but was still going at a fair old lick himself, and it is to his enormous credit that when Green Flag - ridden considerably more patiently - came to challenge him on the run to the final fence, he fought tooth and nail all the way to the line.
Lucinda Russell rates the winner highly, but had Witness In Court not fired up the runner-up for the first half of the race, I'd strongly fancy the finishing placings to have been reversed here.
In any case, this is decent form. Balding Banker, who barely cleared the last so tired was he from trying to keep up with the early gallop, had looked revitalised for his new trainer on his previous start and is the sort of yardstick who stamps the performance with some quality.
There was a suggestion after the race that Imperial Vic might next go for the Rehearsal Chase on Fighting Fifth day at the end of next month and that would look a fascinating target, despite the fact that the handicapper has nudged him up 2lb to 137 for this effort and that he would be taking on seasoned chasers in that race.
He gallops remorselessly and he jumps like an absolute natural. Keep Imperial Vic - and his able trainer Michael Smith, who had another highly-promising winner elsewhere on the Kelso card - firmly on your side.
Bradley proved expensive to follow last season, and yes I am talking out of my pocket, but he caught the eye closing late into fifth place at Cheltenham in the Showcase Trophy.
I suspect he probably doesn't want either soft ground or too much racing, as it looked me as if he wasn't trying particularly hard when well beaten in bottomless ground at Cheltenham and Warwick in the deepest and darkest part of the winter last season.
But it was in the same race as this last season that Bradley warmed up with an almost-identical performance for the Grade Three three-and-a-quarter-mile handicap chase at the Paddy Power meeting in which he went down by inches to subsequent Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude 12 months ago.
That race must surely again be on the cards and he can line up from a 5lb lower mark this time around, the handicapper helpfully chipping 2lb off for this comeback run.
The extra test of stamina he will face next time (and I simply can't believe Fergal O'Brien has another race in mind for Bradley) will clearly suit, and if the going comes up good to soft or something similar, he should already be high on your shortlist for that meeting.
Also taking the eye at Cheltenham last week was Five Star Wilsham, a back-to-form second in the Fine & Country Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase under the inexperienced Vicky Wade.
Put bluntly, this is a horse who near enough lost the plot for a while. Having been a smart handicap hurdler three seasons ago, he started well enough as a novice chaser but then missed a whole year - presumably through injury - and when he came back in midsummer earlier this year showed very little in the way of sparkle.
However. after another three months away - during which, and this is only a guess, I wonder whether connections might have had a look at his wind - this effort was much more like it.
It's a bit of a gamble as to whether he can repeat it, but he's too well-handicapped off a mark of 117 - the same rating from which he scored most recently over hurdles at Doncaster in March 2011 - to not want to keep him onside.
Finally, it's back to last Wednesday's Wetherby card - a meeting run throughout in persistent rain and where the wonderful Lie Forrit returned to winning ways on his first start for Lucinda Russell.
Lie Forrit may well win again now that his new connections have ironed out some of the creases from last season.
But it's Big Water who I want to flag up here, after his fifth in the Read Racing UK Columnists Handicap Hurdle.
Neither the trip nor the rapidly-deteriorating conditions looked ideal beforehand for Alan Swinbank's runner and he was a notable market drifter in the build-up to this contest.
But he would have gone close to winning but for getting too close to an unsustainable early pace and although he looked to be going well under Paddy Brennan two out, his effort peetered out on the run-in as he dropped back to finish fifth.
A useful bumper performer and a decent novice hurdler, he doesn't have too many miles on the clock and has more to give this season, especially with this run under his belt.