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Ratcheugh Racing Club By Peter Burgon, Sunday 11th December 2016
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The Geoff Allan Catering Men's Open has 28 entries and promises to be a cracker with the list including Ardea, Auld Thunder, Consigliere, Lilbitluso, Monsieur Jourdain, One Conemara, The Falklander and Wicklow Lad. The progressive Ardea won all three Pointing starts in 2016 and also landed the Heart Of All England Maiden Hunters' Chase at Hexham. Black River has previously beaten Vautour and Irish Cavalier and is now with Sarah Easterby. The Falklander has twice won first time out at Alnwick, while dual course winner, Wicklow Lad represents the in-form Kinneston yard of Nick Alexander, which enjoyed a treble at Ayr on Monday. Proven stayer, Monsieur Jourdain won the 2013, 2014 and 2015 renewals of the Grimthorpe Gold Cup with One Conemara taking this year's coveted prize. Lilbitluso (left) (also entered at Larkhill) was an impressive winner of all 4 Points last term before winning at Cheltenham and finishing runner-up at Stratford.

The Northern Area season has its traditional December opener on Sunday with the Ratcheugh Racing Club fixture taking centre stage at the Ratcheugh Farm course near Alnwick.
It has attracted 106 entries, including plenty of long distance raiders, on a six race card which starts at noon.
The Ancroft Tractors NPPA Club Members Race has 13 entries headed by Jim Pate's Hexham specialist, Barachois Silver, who scored at Alnwick in January 2014 but has yet to strike first time out. Annie Aces has been off the track for a while but usually goes well fresh; S For Estuary won at Overton and Friars Haugh last season , while stable companion, Sounds Of Italy recorded two wins in Ireland in 2015. Summoned (left) beat The Highlander when making a successful debut here last December and would be a popular local winner for owner, George White. Although Whisperdale has only won 2 of his 29 starts between the flags, he is frequently in the mix and has finished in the first four on eighteen occasions.
The two and a half mile Colin McBratney Racing Open Maiden has 18 entries, although 8 of these are also entered in the three mile Open Maiden. Bentons Lad (right) was only beaten half a length when runner-up in a Toomebridge Maiden ten weeks ago and could go close again in either Maiden. Sarah Easterby's runners at Alnwick always warrant respect and her hopes rest with Exclusive Tara or Kalaglen. Lucinda Russell's recent acquisition, Hey Listen finished five lengths 3rd of 10 in a Dowth Hall Maiden on his debut six weeks ago and is open to further improvement. Weston Flame and Desimadonna are others for the shortlist.
Knocklong (left) was unbeaten in five starts from Justin Landy's yard last season and looks the one to beat in the Thornton Hickey Ladies Open Race. The pick of the other 14 entries are Executive Benefit, Mister Marker, Sorcier, Vesperal Dream and Wind Of Hope. Executive Benefit has won 10 of her 18 Pointing starts in the last three years but has been off the track for ten months. The Alan Brown-trained Wind Of Hope was an easy winner of the Duke of Buccleuch's Ladies Open last time out in March and will be partnered by the in-form Rachael McDonald, who gained the biggest success of her career on Harry The Viking in the 40,000 Persimmon Homes Scottish Borders National at Kelso last Sunday. It would be great to see Victoria Pendleton venture north to partner her recent purchase, Vesperal Dream (also entered at Larkhill). Formerly with Paul Nicholls, his last win came at Perth in June 2015.
The three mile Northumberland Leisure Open Maiden has 21 entries. Skipping On is the highest rated and has a definite fitness advantage over his rivals having only been beaten a neck at Cottenham last month. The Sarah Easterby-trained Crazy Penguin finished 3rd to Ballyandy on his debut for Charlie Longsdon in a Worcester Bumper in October 2015; Doesn'tbotherme twice finished runner-up in Mares Maidens in Ireland earlier this year, while Lord Usher has failed to fulfil the promise shown when finishing a close 2nd to Vinnie My Boy in an Aintree Bumper in June 2012.

The concluding Ian Ferguson Racing Restricted Race has 11 entries. Paddock appearance should point punters in the right direction as none of the entries struck first time out last season. Beyond The Glen (right) and My Lady West both landed Maiden contests at Tranwell in April, Nelly La Rue scored there in April 2015 but has been absent for fifteen months, while For A Change showed much improved form after a few runs last term.