The Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby has been a Christmas highlight for sixty-five years. With its trip of three miles, this premier handicap saw its heyday in the 1980s when both Forgive N’ Forget and The Thinker won the race en route to Cheltenham Gold Cup glory. Even though the field has decreased by over half since declarations, the quality has remained.
It would perhaps be a surprise for one of these twelve runners to win the coveted prize in March, but Chantry House was widely considered a potential Gold Cup contender after his almost-perfect campaign as a novice chaser. Nicky Henderson used Wetherby as a confidence-boosting outing in preparation for the spring festivals and it was extremely effective as Chantry House won at both Cheltenham and Aintree. It appeared as though he would continue on that upward trajectory into open company when he demolished The Big Breakaway in the listed intermediate chase at Sandown. However, after this, arguably, he has not put in a good performance. He was never comfortable in the King George and pulled up. Next time, he did win the Cotswold Chase, but he travelled poorly and kept clipping the top of his obstacles. Luckily, he remained on his feet but finished exhausted. He couldn’t keep jockey James Bowen on board when taking a long stride at the fourth obstacle in the Many Clouds Chase earlier this month and he is vulnerable to a silly mistake, as seen in his first point-to-point. At Aintree, he was having his first start since a wind operation after being pulled up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It is fair to assume connections have been underwhelmed with his last two starts, especially as Henderson reportedly said that they had him spot-on for the Many Clouds Chase. It is only the second time Robbie Dunne will have ridden for Nicky Henderson after Queens Rock earlier on the card and this will be Chantry House’s first experience of a handicap. The horse has immense amounts of class, but the fact he has not finished three of his last four races has to be a concern.
JP McManus is double handed in the race with Chantry House and Sporting John. Trained by Phillip Hobbs, Sporting John was a surprise winner of the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase in 2021 after being beaten thirty-three lengths in a beginners chase behind Fiddlerontheroof and Silver Hallmark. It could be argued that the trip of two miles three was too short for Sporting John, but the first two made it a good test of stamina, something that Sporting John has proven himself to have. Fiddlerontheroof finished fifth in the Grand National last season so he had less right to be winning over that trip. The good to soft ground shouldn’t have been a problem for Sporting John; he just didn’t find anything off the bridle. He trailed behind the pack in the Scilly Isles on very heavy ground and it was masterful from Richard Johnson to give the horse time and he was produced perfectly. He fell in the 2021 Brown Advisory when detached and a mistake knocked his confidence at Aintree, when he was pulled up. Connections chose to send him over hurdles after that and he hasn’t been seen over fences since. He has run just once this term and he was beaten convincingly enough by Proschema. Like Chantry House, he has a lot of class, but it remains to be seen whether Sporting John is up to a chasing task like this.
On the other hand, there is no doubt Top Ville Ben is tailor-made for this race. He won it back in 2019, carrying the largest weight (11st11lbs) to victory since Merrymen carried 12st6lbs in 1960, and finished third in 2021. Like Sporting John, he mixes between running over hurdles and fences, mainly to protect his handicap mark for the Grand National. He pulled up after three out in 2022’s renewal and, on seasonal reappearance, he finished a very tired third in a class three handicap hurdle at Lingfield, carrying 12st1lbs. He has had nearly fifty days off the track and is 7lbs lower than when he won this and 3lbs lower than last year’s renewal. Philip Kirby has had only one runner over obstacles in the last fortnight, which raises a slight concern about his horses’ form, but he has sent out two winners on the flat. However, Top Ville Ben is admirably consistent and loves Wetherby.
Lostintranslation and Windsor Avenue, like Top Ville Ben, are ten-year-olds. Lostintranslation has been superb horse for the Tizzard team over the last five years. The racing community will, no doubt, be wishing him and the other runners from the yard lots of success during the Christmas period with the loss of Cue Card recently and the Welsh Grand National being ran in the memory of Kim Gingell, Joe Tizzard’s late sister. Lostintranslation has his own emotional story with his colours resembling the Minions, a film loved by the owners’ late son. Kielan Woods rides the horse for the first time and it could be his first time riding for the yard, too. Lostintranslation finished third in the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup and pulled up in the 2021 renewal. He only made his handicap debut in the Ultima Handicap Chase in 2022 and he got round in the Grand National next time out. His seasonal reappearance for the 2022/23 season was in the Coral Gold Cup, where he did not get a particularly good start, meaning he was on the back foot throughout and was last of the finishers.
Fanion D’Estruval had a similarly poor start to the Coral Gold Cup and, jumping occasionally right, he was never in touch with the back markers of the main group, even when turning for home. However, he did stay on through beaten horses under a persistent Lucy Turner, who rides him again here. He has run in the last two Ryanair Chases and the Coral Gold Cup trip was by far the furthest he had ever raced, but he seemed to stay so this three mile trip should be in his capabilities. Considering he has never won a graded race, his consistency has hampered him as he finds himself with top weight against some classy rivals. Turner’s 5lbs claim will be useful and Venetia Williams has placed her graded performers in handicaps with much success this season, including L’Homme Presse in the Rehearsal Chase on the same day as the Coral Gold Cup.
The Rehearsal Chase from Newcastle offers hints for this contest as three runners reappear here – Into Overdrive, Windsor Avenue and Aye Right. Into Overdrive had an excellent end to last season when connections put cheekpieces on him and it worked brilliantly. He won three races with the first of which off 112 and his reappearance for this season came in a premier handicap at Wetherby over two miles three and a half furlongs. He was clearly the leader when stumbling at three out and asserted with impressive ease. He earned his place in the Rehearsal Chase field and shared the lead with L’Homme Presse throughout. He got lit up occasionally after making some slight errors and did get slightly close to the last, but he stayed on with a brilliant attitude. He went up 10lbs for that success but finds himself at the bottom of the handicap here and he is an exciting horse for the Mark Walford team.
Windsor Avenue had to be pushed along in the early stages to keep his position, but, where it mattered, he stayed on well into fourth in the Rehearsal Chase. Connections took off the blinkers he had been wearing for his previous four starts. They had worked wonders for the first outing when he won the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster bravely. After that, the ground for the Premier Chase at Kelso went against him and he did not seem to enjoy the Topham over Grand National fences. His jumping was poor on his reappearance in a veterans’ chase at Aintree, so much so Nathan Moscrop pulled him up. The headgear is kept off for this race after he ran much better at Newcastle.
Aye Right put in an uncharacteristically poor performance in the Rehearsal Chase. It was the first time he had ever been pulled up and he was well-beaten by the last fence down the back straight. Normally, he likes to lead so, as there was nothing physically wrong with him, he perhaps just did not enjoy being boxed in on the rail. Typically, he travels very well as was seen in the Cotswold Chase when he didn’t quite last home against Chantry House and he led the Gold Cup field for the middle part of the race before weakening out of it. He was out-classed on those two occasions, but he is typically comfortable at this level, shown when he won the Rehearsal Chase in 2021 and placed in the Ultima earlier that year. Similar to Fanion D’Estruval, Aye Right has been admirably consistent without winning and his handicap mark reflects this, which makes him vulnerable to some of his younger, less exposed rivals.
For example, Shan Blue has a handicap mark of 148, which appears to be underestimating his ability. He started his chasing career at Wetherby with two successes, including a course and distance win. He won the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase two Christmases ago and he followed in Sporting John in the Scilly Isles. He perhaps hit the front too soon after taking on Paint The Dream for the lead, meaning Sporting John was able to catch him. He followed in Chantry House at both the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals, so there is ground to be made up with this rival. Last season, Shan Blue was 2/1 favourite for the Charlie Hall Chase and would have romped in as he was twenty lengths ahead before falling at three out. He met a setback in between that race and his next start in the Ryanair where he was sixth of seven. He probably needed the run at that trip as he ran much better next time at the Aintree festival. He had 11st5lbs in a handicap over three miles and he was second to Sam Brown. This is Shan Blue’s first trip and, if he is fit after over two hundred and sixty days off, he will be a player.
Kalashnikov has been off the track for six hundred and forty-eight days and his last win came in a grade one novice chase at Aintree in April 2019. Since then, he has only run eight times and he is far from straight forward, but Amy Murphy and her team know him so well. He has ran consistently in good races, including finishing fourth to Allaho in the 2021 Ryanair when he was last seen. He had cheekpieces and a tongue tie on that day, but connections have removed the cheekpieces for this race. Even though he has been off the track for almost two years, he is still only nine years old and can be competitive in future good handicaps. This is a tough ask off such a long break, however.
Amy Murphy trains Kalashnikov for her father and Ruth Jefferson is looking to emulate her own father, Malcolm, by winning this race. The late trainer saddled the winner in both 2011 and 2012 with According To Pete and Cape Tribulation. Cape Tribulation finished fifth in the West Yorkshire Hurdle as his preparation for the race, which Sporting John came fourth in. Ruth has Sounds Russian, who has only had ten starts, in this year’s renewal. It appears chasing would always be his game and he won his second, third and fourth starts over the bigger obstacles. He ran a blinder in the Novices’ Champion Handicap Chase at Ayr when getting to within half a length of Dusart. His step into open company started flawlessly in the Edinburgh Gin Handicap Chase at Kelso on 22nd October. He beat Aye Right, who was carrying 6lbs more, but, two months later, Sounds Russian is rated 1lbs higher than his rival and, with Aye Right’s claimer taking off 5lbs, they meet on numerically unfavourable terms. However, when comparing their most recent races, Sounds Russian comes out on top. He ran in the Many Clouds Chase, which Chantry House unseated in, and he was only beaten four and a quarter lengths in fourth place. To get so close to Grand National winner Noble Yeats, Dashel Drasher and Ahoy Senor is the standout piece of form on offer. If he replicates that, he has a sensational chance.
Last but not least is the second of the two Phillip Hobbs runners, Zanza. This son of Arcadia has already had three starts this season. His reappearance effort in October over hurdles was poor, but he went to Wetherby next time with blinkers on, which seemed to invigorate him. The trip was two miles, three and a half furlongs so he was occasionally out-paced. A poor jump at the last didn’t help his chances and he had to give 6lbs to a horse who was rated 1lbs higher than him. The winning margin was less than two lengths and that race probably put him spot on for the Sir Peter O’Sullevan memorial race at Newbury. He was emphatic; he asserted as they jumped two out and streaked twelve lengths clear. He was put up 10lbs by the handicapper for that to 144, but his highest career mark has been 148 so, with hindsight, he was probably extremely well-handicapped for the Newbury race. Even still, if he is feeling up for it again, he is a contender.
This is a fascinating race because the race contains seasoned handicappers and classy graded performers, who have some question marks about them. Chantry House’s jumping is a concern and he has not finished a race in a while, but this contest, whilst competitive, is much easier than he is used to. Sporting John has not had a run over fences since April 2021. Shan Blue has the break to overcome, but, judging by the performance he was going to put in before falling in the 2021 Charlie Hall, he could be well-handicapped. The value in the race could be Top Ville Ben at 25/1. He has won and placed in the race before and has been rated as high as 164 in his pomp. The only horse to have been rated higher is Lostintranslation, who achieved a career high mark of 173 but won off 161, and he is not ‘gone at the game’. Sounds Russian’s run last time was very straightforward and he proved himself to not be out-of-place in grade two company. However, carrying 11st12lbs could make him vulnerable here. As a result, INTO OVERDRIVE looks an appealing option. He showed all the desirable characteristics of a contender for this kind of race and he also showed he still had improvement to come with some moments of keenness after a mistake. Mark Walford is an underrated trainer and Into Overdrive should be able to put in a bold show here and fly the flag for the yard.
The weather has defeated both Lingfield Park and Chelmsford City’s valiant efforts to hold their Saturday afternoon All Weather meetings. Instead of gazing all the way to March as a distraction from the void created by the abandonments, let’s focus on next month when Lingfield are holding their three-day Winter Million meeting with a total prize value of £1,000,000.
Beginning on Friday 20th January, the opening day sees a seven-race card of National Hunt action. The feature race, the Sovereign Handicap Hurdle, has an increased prize fund of £110,000 and was won by Metier, the subsequent November Handicap winner, in 2022. There is a novice chase worth £50,000 and a three-mile handicap hurdle worth £65,000 as supporting acts.
Flat racing takes centre stage on the Saturday with, hopefully, a much less frozen Polytrack than what was seen this morning. The ‘Winter Oaks’ heads the bill, albeit sharing very few similar characteristics with the Epsom Oaks. The trip is one mile and two furlongs for fillies aged four years or over. The race received a maximum field of fourteen runners in 2022 and, with it being worth £100,000 in 2023, it is fair to assume it will be well-targeted by trainers this time around.
The final day is a fitting climax for this new development. Local pride will surely be on show for the Surrey National, which was won by The Galloping Bear in 2022. He progressed on from that to land the Haydock Grand National Trial, but was disqualified only recently after he tested positive for a banned substance. Bristol De Mai became the winner by default and had previously run in the Fleur De Lys Chase, which will no doubt be the headline contest of the meeting. In 2022, Two For Gold won in excellent style with Dashel Drasher following him home. This race is a potential target for Bristol De Mai, once again, but he will most likely be considered an underdog if Grand National hero Noble Yeats takes his chance, as owner Robert Waley-Cohen has implied.
Noble Yeats bounced back from a pitiful effort over in France to win at Wexford in October. He returned to Aintree for the Many Clouds Chase and showed a turn of foot more like a two-mile chaser’s than that of a Grand National winner. This cemented him as a leading player for the top-tier chases and, as he’s still only seven, he appears to have the world at his hooves.
Emmett Mullins effectively targets valuable prizes, so there is no surprise they are suggesting this £165,000 contest for Noble Yeats. It could be a constructive stepping stone towards the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, but winning this would massively affect his handicap mark, which could prove critical if connections are considering a title defence in the greatest steeplechase of them all.
As was seen today, Lingfield is at the weather’s mercy. Ground conditions were described as heavy in 2022, which is perfect for mud-lovers like Metier and, of course, Bristol De Mai. Despite winning on heavy at Wexford, these conditions at Lingfield probably would not be ideal for Noble Yeats and some connections may also be reluctant to race their horses on such testing conditions with an eye on the Cheltenham Festival.
However, Love Envoi, who took the opening contest of the meeting in 2022, won a grade two at Sandown and the Mares’ Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival within two months of the Lingfield success. Similarly, other winners from the meeting, Frero Banbou, Top Ville Ben, Our Jester, Ballygrifincottage and War Lord, ran impressive races in good company, including at the Festival, shortly afterwards.
With the media, trainers and racing fans’ mindsets ever-increasingly orientated around March, the Lingfield Winter Million meeting appears to be a valuable – both monetarily and for the future of the sport – addition to the calendar, which seems to have been forgotten about. It looks immense value for racing fans with all three days costing only £20 in advance, especially when you consider the entry fees for many of the larger racecourses and attendees could see Grand National winner, Noble Yeats.
Ireland has the Dublin Racing Festival and this meeting has the potential to become a focal point where British challengers can state their claims for the festival’s races, albeit not in class one company.
Currently, there appears to be a valuable framework of races for the connections of two and a half mile hurdlers to exploit – the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day; the Winter Million’s Weatherbys-sponsored hurdle race on 22nd January and the National Spirit at the end of February.
However, with Noble Yeats being aimed at the Fleur De Lys Chase, there are now four notable races that could be used as Gold Cup trials in Britain: the three-mile Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock, the three-mile and a furlong Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham and the three-mile Denman Chase at Newbury. This will mean that leading British contenders have the potential to be spread between at least these four races and, whilst this is an unpopular statement amongst the training ranks, the connections have alternative options available to avoid their most-feared rivals.
There is much doom and gloom in the sport with the race programme; poor funding; the impending – and highly controversial – changes surrounding the whip; constant debate around welfare and meetings falling victim to adverse weather conditions. Discussions about the Cheltenham are not the only antidotes to these morose feelings: quality racedays that showcase the very essence of this great sport occur throughout the early part of the year. In particular, the Lingfield Winter Million appears to be perfect for National Hunt fans to look forward to as the prize money on offer will, no doubt, create competitive racing.
One of the rising stars of the training ranks is Katie Scott. Based in the Scottish borders, she is having her best year by far, sitting on a total of seventeen winners, already eight more than in 2021.
Horse racing is something that has always been a part of Katie’s life, “When I was younger, my parents had point-to-pointers and I grew up through the Pony Club. We’d have common rides in the Borders, going to the point-to-points and it just sort of developed from there. I started helping out at Alister Whillans, who trained locally, going to the races, riding out at weekends and it then sort of followed on from there”.
Training was first a hobby before Katie decided to commit, “I started off training point-to-pointers in the afternoons after my job and that sort of took off and became full time and I thought, right, do or die, either take the plunge and go under rules or you’re gonna be stuck doing this forever. So, then, we made the plunge, applied for a licence and started off from that”.
The location of Katie’s training base means that Kelso is her closest track, but she has ended up being more flat-orientated, “Our two, sort of, luckiest tracks have ended up being Musselburgh and Ayr”.
“I think Ayr is very fair,” she elaborated, “I don’t think you get a lot of hard luck stories around there, flat or jumps. I don’t think you’re hugely hindered by the draw on the flat and I think the jumps as well – it’s a big, flat, galloping track and I really like it”.
Katie and her team’s success at the track continued with stable star Gweedore, who won the opening handicap on Ayr Gold Cup Day under Jason Hart, who Katie uses as much as possible. That was Gweedore’s ninth win for Katie from thirty-six starts and it was an important success for the team as it was live on ITV Racing. “We love him to bits,” Katie said, “He’s very hardy. He’s fantastic, but it’s just finding the right race for him”.
This appears to be an issue for many trainers lately, “There are piles of horses balloted out in class six races and all these have paying owners that want to run. It’s getting to the end of the season and they all feed hard done by because their horses are just going to be standing in a stable”.
The race programme is a highly debated matter and Katie offered her opinion, “I know some trainers are pushing for cutting three-hundred races and I think that’s a bit extreme. I think the plan that was put forward with more racing at the bottom and building it up as a pyramid might work for the horse population the way it is. A lot of the races you see empty, especially in the North, are those 0-90 grade. There’re too many options for these above average horses and they’re all avoiding each other”.
“I think sometimes it is quite hard, certainly the way the programme book works, it ends up like there’s voids in races or low runners, but when you take a step back, from my point of view, and I might be wrong, but it’s not totally to do with the lack of horses but the lack of planning. So, there’ll be like four races for one horse in a week and then nothing for three weeks so that horse will run once, whereas if those races were spaced out, it might run every week and I think that programme building could have a lot to do with sort of improving the racing nationally”.
Katie is very good at keeping her horses fit and running consistently well throughout the season. Gweedore has shown this, running thirteen times with three wins and four places. As well as Ayr, he graced the winners’ enclosure on ITV earlier on in the season when he won the Silver Arrow at Musselburgh on seasonal reappearance. This is significant for Katie as, “when you’re a small yard, people question whether you can get a horse fit off a long break, we had him spot on that day and he came out and won really well”.
Colinton has been excellent for Katie this season, too. He won three of his first four starts in 2022 and one of those victories was at Catterick, “We’ve had a lot of luck at Catterick, which is totally different [to Ayr] – it is really undulating and, with your draw, you need a bit of luck”. Colinton won going away that day and, since then, he has won a good race at Haydock and finished an admirable fourth at Musselburgh off top weight in a Sunday Series race.
The Sunday Series is a concept Katie is in support of, “It is an absolutely fantastic initiative. We started off the year with two, sort of, eligible to run in it. Then, we ran them both, one was placed and one wasn’t, but they both ended up being too highly rated so, I dunno. Hopefully, we’ll have some for next year”.
Looking at the upcoming National Hunt season, there will be a few horses for followers of the Scott yard to keep an eye on, “We’ve got five or six jumpers in, no flag bearers for us at the moment with our jumps lot, but we’ve got a couple of nice handicappers. We got a new one at the sales what hopefully might go on and do well so that’s exciting”.
I met Katie at URSA Major Racing’s ‘Owners’ Day’ at York Racecourse and she trains two horses for the syndicate. Far From A Ruby has been a credit to the racing club and her win at Ayr in August was impressive. An exciting daughter of Gutaifan, Justathimble, will be running in the Battenburg colours in the upcoming weeks. Her dam won six races and this filly looks like she will be good fun over the winter.
Katie was extremely complementary about syndicates and racing clubs, “When you look at the cost of having a horse in training, if it wasn’t for clubs and syndicates, it’s very elitist, whereas this opens the door for anyone, really, to get involved. You know, you could have a share in a horse for the price it costs to go to the pub for a pint on a Saturday night!”
I would like to thank Katie for talking to me and end with her advice for someone looking to working in racing that, I think, applied to life in general, “Work hard and stick at it. I think sometimes you have to remember that bad days are a bad day and you have to move on. I sort of think that the life we lead, the job we do, the highs are very high and the lows are very low. Sometimes, you just have to sort of try and stay in the middle and enjoy the good days and you have to learn to deal with the bad days”.
This is my fifth annual 20 To Watch article. The four previous lists have all seen at least one Cheltenham Festival winner and multiple graded winners.
I relish the challenge of finding obscure horses – they might not end up as superstars, but they should win races. It is important to appreciate the day-to-day of racing and I’m hoping the research I have done will pay off. It is very easy to just put up the classy novices from last season, but I think this list will contain horses that won’t be included in other people’s horse to follow blogs.
Only one horse included this year has won a grade one so far and there are many unexposed types included. Twenty different yards are represented; they vary in size and are located in all four corners of Britain and Ireland. The horses are owned by nineteen different owners, who I believe should have a very good season with their pinpointed horses.
Without further ado, here are the twenty horses I think will be very successful during the 2022/23 National Hunt season…
No 1- Halibut
5yo Black Gelding (Balko x A Merveille (Network))
Trainer – Emmett Mullins
Owner – Chris Jones
Breeder – M Francois-Marie Cottin
The first horse on the list comes from the stable of Grand National-winning trainer Emmett Mullins. Halibut was bought by George Mullins from the Osarus Maison-Laffite Sale in 2017, when he was a foal, for €30,000. He was later withdrawn from the Tattersalls August National Hunt Sale in 2020 and, by this point, he was already broken in. Balko has consistently produced lovely stock and Halibut is the first progeny of A Merveille, a hurdle winner over two miles two in France who placed twice over fences. She is a half sister to two-mile chaser Editeur De Gite. Halibut made his debut as a five-year-old in the concluding race of the 2021/22 season at Punchestown, wearing George Mullins’ colours. They went dawdling through the early stages and he made easy progress, going wide around the field under a motionless jockey. When push came to shove, he hung right on onto the rail and finished third. His next outing was in the race that exciting Walk In The Park gelding Demandrivingdouvan made his debut and both horses were buried amongst runners. Halibut travelled well through the race and was faced with a wall of horses but battled on well for third. He is a raw horse and two winners have come out of each of his races. He will no doubt improve for an obstacle in front of him and is an interesting prospect for a shrewd training operation.
No2 – Life In The Park
5yo Bay Gelding (Walk In The Park x Jeanquiri (Masonnien))
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Owner – Barry Maloney
Breeder – Minch Bloodstock & AV Bloodstock
Life In The Park is, you guessed it, by Walk In The Park, a sire who produces versatile stock – from two-mile chaser Douvan to Grand National-placed Walk In The Mill. Life In The Park sits comfortably in the middle in terms of trip and, after being bought for €28,000 from the 2020 Land Rover NH Sale by Rob James and Eamon Doyle, he made his debut in a three mile point-to-point at Fairyhouse in April 2021. He hunted down the long-time leader and was going well turning in, but he took a Galopin Des Champs-esque fall with less than a furlong to go. He reappeared in November under the care of Henry De Bromhead and put in a good run to be third behind Freedom To Dream, who has placed in graded company and finished fourth in the Martin Pipe since. Life In The Park chased down Hunters Yarn to be third and this is a horse I am keen on, which is how I found this Walk In The Park gelding. He ran again shortly after and something was amiss as he finished sixth and the vet reported he was blowing hard post-race. After 103 days off, he made all to be a pleasing winner at Tramore, leading to a tilt at the opening handicap on day two of the Punchestown Festival. He shared second and third with a rival throughout and, once he hit the front, the other horse couldn’t get past him. He won by one and three-quarter lengths under a peach from Mark O’Connor. The horse jumped superbly and it is hard to believe he fell in his point judging by that. Life In The Park made his debut for this season on 21st September, unfortunately before this list was published. Making his debut over fences, he won over two miles six by four and a half lengths. He is an exciting recruit to the chasing ranks, but his rating of 129 over hurdles looks like something worth taking advantage of in the upcoming year.
No3 – Persian Time
4yo Bay Gelding (Califet x Persian Forest (Presenting))
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Owner – The McNeill Family and Prodec Networks Ltd
Breeder – Clarendon Farm Ltd
I am extremely excited to see what Persian Time can do. A son of Califet, he went unsold at the January Foal Sale in 2019, before being bought for €31,000 from the Goffs Land Rover Sale two years later by Monbeg Stables. He raced in a point-to-point for Sean Thomas Doyle where he led before four out. He got in deep to three out, landed a bit short at the second last and made a sprawling jump at the last, but held onto second place. The winner, Peaky Boy, has been sold since for £240,000. Persian Time’s jumping will need to be slicker, but natural progression and tutelage at Henderson’s yard are on his side. He will have learnt plenty from his point-to-point experience because he had to get himself out of a few scary moments. The McNeill Family have since purchased him and he was in Henderson’s yard by mid-April, after the point-to-point in March. They also own Persian Time’s full brother, Restandbethankful, who won a bumper and three races over hurdles. A win over fences is looking highly likely. Their dam, Persian Forest, is a full sibling to a graded-winning chaser, Our Ben, and she is a half sister to Countess Camilla (by Bob’s Return), a producer of black-type winning National Hunt horses. She is out of a dual winning hurdler and Presenting as a damsire has resulted in the likes of Might Bite, Paisley Park and Somerby. Persian Time looks set to have a successful novice hurdle campaign this term.
No4 – Red Rookie
7yo Chestnut Gelding (Black Sam Bellamy x Auction Belle (Auction House))
Trainer – Emma Lavelle
Owner – The hawk Inn syndicate 3
Breeder – R P Phillips
After a fairly successful novice chase campaign, Red Rookie has scope to be a smart two-mile handicap chaser for the Lavelle team. He had been sold for £50,000 after finishing third in a point-to-point, where he jumped well and wasn’t given an overly hard time. He was beaten by Broken Halo, who sold for £140,000 at the same sale. Red Rookie won two bumpers and had three starts over hurdles with one win, but it seems as though he was always going to be a chaser. The form of his first start over fences is incredible with the eleven horses behind him winning sixteen races between them and the winner, Witness Protection, has not ran since. Next time, he was 2/1 favourite for a class three novices’ handicap chase at Ascot, but he took a long stride and fell. When back on the racecourse, he ballooned the first, but got into a good rhythm after. The two leaders didn’t do themselves any favours by going so quick and Red Rookie hunted them down under a patient Tom Bellamy. He had to work hard to assert, but won comfortably in the end. Connections then pitted him into the Arkle for which he was an 80/1 shot. Bellamy let him get a good sight at his fences whilst on the outside and he would’ve been fifth if not for making a similar mistake as the incident at Ascot. If he stays on his feet this season, he will be very competitive in two-mile races.
No5 – Flooring Porter
7yo Bay Gelding (Yeats x Lillymile (Revoque))
Trainer – Gavin Cromwell
Owner – Flooring Porter Syndicate
Breeder – Sean Murphy
If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I absolutely adore Flooring Porter. With hindsight, the fact he was bought for £6000 as a foal in 2015 and unsold at the Goffs Land Rover Sale 2018 is unbelievable. He was a good racehorse in the early part of his career, but really suggested he would be capable of ascending to the upper echelons of the staying ranks with his demolition job in a fiercely competitive field at Navan in December 2020. That performance earned him a spot in the grade one Christmas Hurdle. He was ahead by a clear margin before the first hurdle and did hang left after the last, but he won impressively. It was straight to the Stayers Hurdle, where he repelled all rivals and, albeit hanging right, won by three and a quarter lengths. Punchestown next time was a non-event and he was gassy and fresh at Navan on seasonal reappearance. This led him to take a stride out at the second last and hit the deck. His jumping has never been spotless and he is quirky. The start became the problem at Christmas, as he attempted to defend his title, when Paul Townsend and Klassical Dream seized the opportunity and gathered a massive lead. This meant that Flooring Porter was constantly playing catch-up to a horse in a rhythm and hanging into the rail did not help his chances of passing the Mullins horse in the closing stages. In the Stayers Hurdle, Flooring Porter put all of that behind him to win under a masterful Danny Mullins. It cannot be underestimated how much strength is required to keep Flooring Porter straight and balanced. However, at Aintree, a flat-footed jump at the last handed Sire De Berlais the advantage and he could not regain the ground, especially when he was impeded. It is worth remembering that Flooring Porter is only seven years old and has much more to give.
No6 – Viva Lavilla
6yo Brown Gelding (Getaway x Viva Forever (Lando))
Trainer – Dan Skelton
Owner – Darren & Annaley Yates
Breeder – Grove View Stud Limited
After being bought for €8500 as a foal, Viva Lavilla ran in a four-year-old maiden point-to-point at Lingstown, the one Shishkin won in 2018. Viva Lavilla’s winning time was the fastest of the day and he really dug deep to prevail. Six of the eight runners in behind have won races since. He was withdrawn from the Tattersalls December Cheltenham Sale in 2020 and reappeared for Dan Skelton in the Yates colours at Lingfield almost a year later. His jumping won the day and, kept up to his work, he took the last like it was a chase fence. He is a massive horse and his peak stride length during that race was 24.35 feet (Shishkin and Energumene’s are in the region of 22 feet). Viva Lavilla’s next task was a grade two at Sandown and he changed leads to challenge, but the eventual winner, Lossiemouth, knocked the hurdle down in front of him, which would have put him off. The form has worked out and, next time at Warwick, he began to take closer order after the seventh, travelling beautifully. He didn’t have the turn of foot to stay with the ex-flat winner and was eventually fourth, but he beat home Aintree handicap hurdle winner, Party Business. His most recent run was at Wetherby in February, where he was locked into a battle with the eventual winner, but there was a wide distance between them on the track and that wouldn’t have helped. In behind, the form is good with Mark Walford’s Johnson’s Blue winning four times since. Out of a two-mile hurdle winner, Viva Lavilla looks built to relish fences and he could potentially slip under the radar from a talented string.
No7 – Yes Indeed
5yo Bay Gelding (Martaline x She Hates Me (Hawk Wing))
Trainer – Jonjo O’Neill
Owner – Michael O’Flynn & Roe Hill Farm
Breeder – Marie-Christine Gabeur
Any progeny of Martaline always catches my eye and Yes Indeed is particularly interesting as he is out of a Hawk Wing mare, She Hates Me. This mare placed multiple times over hurdles and on the flat. She has already produced a black type performer in England, Never Adapt, who tragically suffered a fatal injury in the 2020 Betfair Hurdle. She Hates Me is also a half sibling to Top Notch, the sixteen-times winner and grade one scorer, and Never Forget, a group two winner. Yes Indeed began his career in France for owner/breeder Ecurie Gabeur and in the capable hands of training combination Guillme Macaire and Hector de Lageneste. He ran into Quilixios on debut, but it was when he turned four, with four runs at Auteuil, when he began to show his ability. He won over two miles two; finished second in a conditions race; won a two mile six listed chase and was fifth in grade one company, beaten seven and a quarter lengths. Yes Indeed then joined Jonjo O’Neill and he was detached on debut in a class two after an error knocked his momentum. He was given a British handicap mark of 142, which meant he carried 11st3lbs (11st was the most he carried in France) against much older and more experienced rivals. After a break, he was second at Newbury when he travelled superbly, but produced little off the bridle. A pattern of poor jumps has emerged in his three British starts and the most recent outing saw take the final open ditch by its roots and lose a shoe after becoming taken aback by the fast pace. He appears to be the kind of horse who will benefit massively for another summer on his back as he is a big horse and still relatively young for the racing he has had. If everything comes together, his current rating of 137 looks to have scope to allow him to win races.
No8 – Il Etait Temps
4yo grey Gelding (Jukebox Jury x Une Des Sources (Dom Alco))
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Owner – Barnane Stud
Breeder – E Clayeux & S C Ecurie Couderc
Il Etait Temps is another French recruit and was bred by Emmanuel Clayeux, who trained him, in conjunction with the owners he races for in the early part of his career. This grey son of Jukebox Jury ran twice in France in AQPS National Hunt flat races, finishing fifth and second. On both occasions, he seemed to get out-paced at the mile and a half trip. He moved to Willie Mullins’ yard and was thrown in the deep end dramatically, debuting over hurdles at the Dublin Racing Festival in the grade one juvenile hurdle. He was keen at times and travelled well enough on the rail. The field was well-grouped going to the second last with Il Etait Temps on the outside. He was locked in a private battle with The Tide Turns, which he won, meaning he finished third. Next, he headed to the Triumph Hurdle, flattening the first obstacle and running keen. He hung into the second last, but jockey Danny Mullins was riding and he handles Flooring Porter’s quirky moments, so this was no concern. Mullins delivered Il Etait Temps at the last but didn’t have the legs to get up the hill, once again behind Vauban. Il Etait Temps has plenty of right to be sick of his stablemate as, next time, he lined up against the leading juvenile at the Punchestown Festival. Vauban and Fil Dor were given a massive lead by the other four riders, who had absolutely no chance of catching them. Il Etait Temps was outbattled by the colt, HMS Seahorse, and finished fourth. I am not typically a fan of juveniles in their second season hurdling, but the horse is still a novice and these three runs in grade one company will put him in an excellent position, ready for the early season graded races against novices with much less experience.
No9 – Butch
5yo Bay Gelding (Kayf Tara x Leading On (Presenting))
Trainer – Olly Murphy
Owner – McNeill Family
Breeder – Aiden Murphy
Butch comes from a family of proven National Hunt performers with his dam, Leading On, being a half-sibling to winning chasers King’s Temptation, Princely Player and Bertie’s Desire. She has produced two winners to date – Haraki Gulf won a bumper and has placed over hurdles and Eavesdropping has won two hurdle races and a bumper. The latter is in training with Olly Murphy, like Butch. It is possible that Butch didn’t necessarily debut as early as anticipated as, when I visited Olly Murphy’s yard in October 2021, he said that Butch would run in a bumper “this side of Christmas” and that he already “jumps well”. His debut came on 6th March 2022 at Huntingdon, where he had previously been a non-runner in January. There were a few very green types in the race, but Adrian Heskin kept him out of the scrummaging, settled in a lovely rhythm. The eventual winner, Crambo, switched on and off the bridle throughout, but slip-streamed Butch throughout the race. It was his reluctance to go forward that helped him to win as he managed to take the inside route on the home turn. Butch travelled well into the lead, but, as the commentator said, he was “worried out of it” by Crambo, which can be credited to inexperience and this was Crambo’s second course and distance victory. The winning margin was only a half length and Crambo was later entered in the grade two bumper at Aintree, where he was predicted to be a 14/1 shot. Butch, named after the late The Butcher Said, is a beautiful horse with a massive future over obstacles.
No10 – Haute Estime
5yo Bya Mare (Walk In The Park x Terre Haute (Oscar))
Trainer – Lucinda Russell
Owner – Brahms & Liszt
Breeder – Denis Duggan
Haute Estime is from Walk In The Park’s first Irish Crop and out of an unraced Oscar mare, who is a full sibling to three black type performers, including two eight-time winners, and horses who readily stayed three miles five furlongs. Haute Estime was picked up for €12,000 at Tattersalls Ireland November NH Sale in 2017 and returned to the sales ring at Arqana, two years later. She was purchased on behalf of Lucinda Russell for €40,000. On debut, Haute Estime was 50/1 and unlucky to run into Eileendover, who has proved herself to be a classy filly under flat rules. It was clear that Haute Estime’s future was over obstacles and she made an eye-catching start to hurdles, winning at Kelso in early October. She was only four at this point and ran in a listed hurdle at Haydock next time, but two miles proved to be too short against that company. Upped in trip, she returned to Haydock, needing to be brave, clawing back her rival’s lead to prevail by a half-length. She went to the grade two Jane Seymour at Sandown next time on awful ground. She led alongside one of last year’s 20 To Watch horse, Swincombe Fleat, but both fillies faded. Haute Estime was too keen and raced too prominently, which rarely ends well on that kind of ground under a penalty. She went to Aintree for the three-mile novice hurdle and was free through the early stages. With a mile to go, she was one of the back markers and she made a mess of four out. Considering this, she ran an incredible race to finish third, beaten only eight and a half lengths. She was entered over fences at Perth on the 22nd September, but the ground was unsuitable.
No11 – Super Superjack
5yo Chestnut Gelding (Harbour Watch x La Palma (Sinndar))
Trainer – Milton Harris
Owner – L R Turland
Breeder – L R Turland
Super Superjack, named after Jack Grealish, is a bit of a left-field choice. He doesn’t particularly have the pedigree for the National Hunt game with his dam being out of a group two winner for Khalid Abdullah, who herself is a full sibling to Spanish Moon. This five-year-old chestnut has proved himself to be a good flat stayer and has had twenty-three starts with five wins, seven seconds and a third. He was withdrawn from the horses-in-training sale in October 2021 and he has done well for connections since with form figures of 2112326. The victories were clear margin successes at Goodwood and Ascot over two miles. Next time, he was second to Evaluation, who was winning for the third time this season off a mark of 79. Since then, Keith Dalgleish’s horse has won four races in total and is now competing off 93, meaning Super Superjack ran into a very well-handicapped horse. Next time, he was only beaten a half length at Salisbury and by three quarters of a length at Glorious Goodwood, when he had no luck in running. He ran at the Shergar Cup and finished sixth. His actual performance was much better than the number suggests as it was a blanket finish where he was only beaten just over a length. In an interview with ITV Racing at the Shergar Cup meeting, Milton Harris said that Super Superjack could be novice hurdling to a decent standard as he jumps well at home. The yard tasted grade one glory with Knight Salute last season and have flat performers Postmark and Scriptwriter to go to war with this winter. The only concern I have about Super Superjack is his ability to handle soft ground as he has underperformed on heavy ground, but he has won on good to soft at Bath.
No12 – Shakermaker
5yo Grey Gelding (Mastercraftsman x Fine Threads (Barathea))
Trainer – Jamie Snowden
Owner – Sir Chips Keswick
Breeder – Lady Bamford
Shakermaker is an Oasis song, a toy I had as a kid that allowed you to make slushies and a very handsome racehorse. He is a typical grey Mastercraftsman and the stallion has produced a few nice National Hunt horses like Bussleton, Scaramanga and Metier, who all happen to be bays. Shakermaker’s dam won on the flat and is a full sibling to an American grade two winner. The combination of being by Mastercraftsman and out of a Barathea mare has resulted in four horses and three, bar Shakermaker, have won races: jumper Razoul, talented flat horse Soto Sizzler and flat winner Vayner. Shakermaker has already lived at three different training establishments, starting at Ed Walker’s before he was bought by Jeremiah McGrath for 8500gns in August 2020. He went over the Irish Sea to Stuart Crawford, where he ran once, tongue-tied on debut. He settled nicely and travelled supremely around the home turn. The jockey obviously wasn’t concerned as he was looking around, but Naughtinesse swooped late and Shakermaker didn’t really respond to the whip. It was a pleasing debut effort and Tom Malone picked him up for £75,000 at the Cheltenham sale for Jamie Snowden. I look forward to seeing how he gets on in Britain.
No13 – Nells Son
7yo Bay Gelding (Trans Island x Miss Nellie (Presenting))
Trainer – Nicky Richards
Owner – Langdale Bloodstock
Breeder – Langdale Racing & Bloodstock
Nells Son is a homebred and he is out of a mare from the family of Hey Big Spender. She produced three fillies before Nells Son and two of them have won. He is by Trans Island, who has had I Like To Move It as his flag bearer lately. Interestingly, Nells Son was a colt when he was second on debut in a bumper, but he was gelded soon after. When he returned for the 2020/21 season, he won an Ayr bumper by just short of three lengths, travelling strongly, and he followed that up with a win at Kelso under a penalty. His debut over hurdles was in October 2021 and, when Danny McMennamin asked for a jump at three out, he really delivered, repelling all challengers. It was probably the penalty that led to Half Track reversing the form at Ayr as he had been fourth to Nells Son previously. Nells Son’s next task was a grade two at Haydock and he was caught off guard by his rival’s acceleration. He did make ground between the third and fourth last, but finished fourth, probably not appreciating the drop back to two miles in such hot company. In March, Sean O’Keeffe rode him at Kelso in a grade two and stalked his main rival, North Lodge, throughout the race. He challenged wide and it was a tooth-and-nail battle between the two geldings, but Nells Son prevailed by a length. North Lodge reversed that form at Aintree where he was third and Nells Son was fourth. Like at Haydock, he was caught out in the company, but was left in fourth after poor Elle Est Belle collapsed. Nells Son will go chasing and he is an exciting prospect.
No14 – Gaelic Park
6yo Bay Gelding
Trainer – Charlie Longsdon
Owner – Gaelic Park Syndicate
Breeder – M Conaghan
I was extremely taken by Gaelic Park when he made his winning bumper debut at Warwick. The strength of the race is now questionable, but he led with his ears pricked and responded really well for pressure when he was taken on for the lead. He powered clear up the straight to win by two lengths. He was tenacious and the same was seen in his point-to-point ninety-one days before. He did make a mess of three out and eventually regained ground on the leaders. It is a short run-in at Loughbrickland after the last, which he fortunately jumped well, and he became locked in a battle with Hymac, who has won since. Gaelic Park prevailed by a short head and he was in the Tattersalls Cheltenham December Sale shortly after. He didn’t sell for £70,000, but Charlie Longsdon picked him up privately. Judging by how well the form of his point-to-point has worked out, he looks a good purchase, even though his second start under rules was not that good. He ran a bit free and carried a penalty. In the final strides, he lost second, which seemed to suggest he could want a longer trip this season. He is beautifully bred: out of a half sister to a sixteen times winning racemare and from Ocavango’s first crop. His dam has also produced two-time grade one winning chaser Chantry House; grade three winner The Last Day; Sefton Handicap Chase placed Linnel and On The Shannon, a winning chaser. Gaelic Park has an excellent attitude and should make into another nice horse from the family.
No15 – Flash Collonges
7yo Bay Gelding (Saddler Maker x Prouesse Collonges (Apple Tree))
Trainer – Paul Nicholls
Owner – The Gi Gi Syndicate
Breeder – A A E C Delorme Freres
Flash Collonges is an interesting second season novice. This lightly raced son of Saddler Maker definitely seems to have more to offer after only eight starts. Bought for €90,000 in 2018, he made a perfect start for Paul Nicholls on hurdles debut with a win, but he had a terrible fall on his second try. It must not have caused him much concern, though, as he returned less than three weeks later at Newbury, where he was beaten half a length whilst giving weight. He concluded his novice hurdle campaign with wins at Wincanton and Doncaster. He was given a wind op over the winter before his first start over fences in the grade two John Francome Novices Chase. He jumped solidly enough for a first effort, but he stood no chance against Ahoy Senor and was beaten forty-five lengths. Flash Collonges hit the cross fence on his next start at Newbury and was pulled up. The official reason for his poor run was listed as being due to the soft/heavy going. He found himself facing Dusart next time and, when the Henderson horse strode into the lead, Flash Collonges had to be nudged into the bridle. Harry Cobden soon got him upsides and, for the most part, it was like a schooling exercise, keeping to Dusart’s girths until that horse quickened. Flash Collonges had to work hard to finish second after being the first off the bridle. He will relish staying trips this season – his is from the family of Neptune Collonges, after all.
No16 – The Real Whacker
6yo Bay Gelding (Mahler x Credit Box (Witness Box))
Trainer – Ann Duffied
Owner – Partick Neville, John Twiss
Breeder – Mrs B Keane
Patrick Neville bought The Real Whacker for €21,000 at the 2019 Goffs Land Rover Sale. This son of Mahler is the third produce of a hardy winner over hurdles and fences, Credit Box, but The Real Whacker is her first foal to race. He began his career in training with Neville, beaten twenty-six lengths over hurdles in September 2021. Shortly after, he moved to Ann Duffield’s yard, but Neville retained ownership in partnership with John Twiss and it appear that The Real Whacker alternates between running in Duffield’s colours and theirs. He was impressive on debut for his new stable, other than a bad jump at the fourth last, but he had settled well in-running and asserted to win the race with his ears pricked. He easily put daylight between himself and his rivals. The River Don Novices Hurdle at Doncaster was his next target – he was very keen in the early stages with his head in the air and tail swishing. Harry Skelton kept him far away from his rivals for a significant part of the race. He was travelling best of all amongst horses and could have won, but hanging cost him the race. Judging from videos, he is a light-framed, tall horse and twice now, most critically at the Cheltenham Festival, he has been a non-runner due to a soundness issue. As he is so unexposed, he is a very promising young horse for the Duffield team.
No17 – Blazing Khal
6yo Bay Gelding (Kalanisi x Blazing Sonnet (Oscar))
Trainer – Charles Byrnes
Owner – Byrnes Bloodstock Limited
Breeder – W Austin
When Blazing Khal won his bumper on the fifth attempt in December 2020, I don’t think many people anticipated that he would go on to do what he has done over hurdles in such a short space of time last season. His first start over obstacles was in October 2021 at Galway. They went fast over two miles three and he was nestled amongst the pack before he put the race to bed in the final half furlong to win clearly. Charles Byrnes sent him to Cheltenham for a grade two novices’ hurdle in November. He was held up and began to press forward on the home turn. He did receive a bump from Gelino Bello at two out and wandered greenly at the last, but he asserted impressively in the final stages. Again, Blazing Khal faced off with second-placed Gelino Bello and third placed Current Mood in December over three miles at Cheltenham. Tucked in amongst runners, an error at two out saw him become boxed in before the last, travelling smoothly. He looked around again going into the last, but skipped clear, increasing the winning margin from the last time he encountered Gelino Bello. This rival has since won a grade one at Aintree. Unfortunately, Blazing Khal sustained an injury after the December race, which ruled him out for the rest of the campaign. Over fences in 2022/23 will be the making of him.
No18 – Firestream
5yo Bay Gelding (Yeats x Swincombe Fleat (Exit To Nowhere))
Trainer – Anthony Honeyball
Owner – Buckingham, Chapman, Langford & Ritzema
Breeder – M C and Mrs Yeo
Firestream is following in the hoof-steps of his full sister, Swincombe Fleat, who featured on my 20 To Watch last season. The dam, Swincombe Flame, was a talented race mare, winning a listed bumper, two hurdle races and consistently placing in graded company. Her start as a broodmare has been faultless with Master Debonair, also by Yeats, landing a listed bumper and grade two hurdle. Swincombe Fleat has won a bumper and a hurdle; she is trained by Anthony Honeyball, who bought Firestream in Summer 2020. Around the same time, Firestream didn’t sell at the June Derby sale held in August. He debuted in a bumper in October 2021 at Ascot. He finished fourth, but wasn’t beaten far and two of his rivals who finished ahead had previous experience. Next time, he was prominent in a field of sixteen runners and was passed by debutant Clifton Bridge in the final furlong. Everything came together eye-catchingly at Exeter next time when Firestream travelled beautifully, only getting lonely when he was ten lengths clear of his rivals. The softer ground probably impeded his attempt to back up that victory at Newbury. Aidan Coleman switched him off on the rail and there was a dawdling pace, which turned into a sprint. He was denied third by a neck, but, over a little bit further with a hurdle in front of him, he will be back in the winners’ enclosure this season.
No19 – Ashington
7yo Bay Gelding (Canford Cliffs x Kadoma (Danehill Dancer))
Trainer – Mark Walford
Owner – URSA Major Racing
Breeder – Springfield Farm Partnership
Ashington joins the URSA Major Racing team for the 2022/23 season. He is the third winning-most horse for Canford Cliffs under National Hunt rules. Out of a half sister to German group winner Karpino, he was sold for 55,000gns at Tattersalls Book Two in 2016, after which he embarked on a career on the flat with Luca Cumani. At a horses-in-training sale in 2018, he was bought for £100,000 to go into training with John Quinn, for whom he won two races. Ashington ran into some smart horses when he started over obstacles during his time with Quinn, including Sebastopol, Tegerek at Cheltenham and Mick Maestro. The owners moved him to Brian Ellison in late 2020, early 2021 and the Scottish County Hurdle was a bit too hot for him on debut for Ellison. Next time, however, he won at Sedgefield, beating Minella Trump and Good Boy Bobby. Minella Trump has subsequently won nine races from ten starts and Good Boy Bobby won a listed and a grade three chase. Ashington won a novice chase in June 2021 and won on his fourth start last season by ten lengths, once again at Sedgefield. His last two starts have been poor, but it does mean he has dropped 2lbs in the handicap. He appreciates better ground and he’s been flying at his new home with Mark Walford, after he was picked up for £14,000 by URSA Major Racing, which looks like a bargain. Shares sold out quickly in this horse, but there are other exciting types to get involved in on their website. Ashington will be targeted at the Go Northern series throughout the season and will be good fun for connections.
6yo Bay Gelding (Saddler Maker x Ula De Mai (Passing Sale))
Trainer – Rose Dobbin
Owner – Mr and Mrs Duncan Davidson
Breeder – Nicholas Touzaint & Jean-Yves Touzaint
First, I must establish that I don’t know whether Gentleman de Mai is still in training. I really hope he is. He has a fantastic pedigree: his dam is an unraced Passing Sale half sister to Bristol De Mai, who is by Saddler Maker, like Gentleman de Mai. He was bought for €110,000 as a three-year-old from the Tattersalls Ireland June Derby Sale in 2019. He ran in a point-to-point that November under Jamie Codd for Denis Paul Murphy. The winner was Journey With Me, who has won twice over hurdles and was as short as 5/1 for the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival, but, unfortunately, he fell. The form behind him and Gentleman de Mai is poor, but they were significantly clear. In his debut for current trainer, Rose Dobbin, at Ayr almost a year ago, Gentleman de Mai settled well on the rail. He put in a few big leaps and had two runners to aim at up the straight. Once the penny dropped, he won comfortably by two and a half lengths. The yard has won the Eider Chase and Borders National in the past and hopefully this horse can be a flag bearer.
Last Saturday saw the three-year-old Vadeni battle back to repel the late challenge of Mishriff in the Coral-Eclipse and, in the craziness of the political landscape, one thing is a certainty – the Darley July Cup at Newmarket looks to be another scintillating clash of the generations.
The winning prize value has increased by 15% compared to last year’s total and fourteen runners are set to line up in this premier six furlong contest. Twelve of these contested three different races at Royal Ascot – the Platinum Jubilee Stakes, the Commonwealth Cup and the Wokingham Handicap.
Platinum Jubilee Stakes
The Platinum Jubilee was held on good to firm ground over six furlongs. The runners were four years old or older and, throughout the meeting, there was no apparent draw bias, yet jockeys tended to come down the middle, rather than alongside the rail, which is the course the winner plotted.
Overall, it was an even break by all runners. American runner Campanelle led in the early stages on the far side and, to begin with, Emaraaty Ana slipstreamed before moving to race alongside and Double Or Bubble assumed that position. Creative Force was on the far edge of this group. Alcohol Free was buried inside the group and was slipstreamed by Happy Romance. Artorius was last, under a patient Jamie Spencer.
Things opened up as they passed the two-pole with Naval Crown making his challenge down the rail after the Australian runner, Home Affairs, burned out. He helped to give the Godolphin horse something to aim at. On the other side, his stablemate Creative Force had been left with a lot to do after halfway and was having to battle between Japanese runner Grenadier Guards and Minzaal. Creative Force and Naval Crown were locked in an epic tussle, which led to Naval Crown a neck ahead at the line, yet the pair were separated by a significant portion of the track. Potentially, Naval Crown outstayed CreativeForce as he has strong form over a mile. It was a super performance by this son of Dubawi because he had very little company, whereas Creative Force was surrounded by rivals throughout, which probably meant the latter had to do more in the running of the race and Naval Crown had to only respond to his rider’s urgings, which he did in a willing style. Newmarket’s July course has a steep uphill finish, which will play to the strengths of horses who stay further and that is an advantage for these two.
Australian horse Artorius finished off his race incredibly eye-catchingly to dead heat for third and it is fair to assume his challenge will be better-timed during this race because Jamie Spencer will be familiar with his characteristics. He received a two day ban for whip usage and the horse was accidentally smacked across the face by a rival’s whip.
At some point within the last few furlongs, Double Or Bubble probably hit the front but wasn’t given a hard time when she had no more to give. Of the other mares in the race, Happy Romance plugged on through horses to be seventh and Alcohol Free had a coming together with Emaraaty Ana, which left them both unbalanced but he came off worse than the filly and faded.
Emaraaty Ana was last season’s Haydock Sprint Cup hero in what was a very successful season for the gelding. He placed in class one races during the early part of the year, although they were followed by two below-par runs behind Starman at York and then eleventh in the July Cup. He actually showed himself really well in the Nunthorpe over five furlongs, which put him spot on for reversing the form with Starman at Haydock. He found himself in America next with a good fourth in the Breeder’s Cup Turf Sprint. However, he has made a poor start to 2022 with two fifteenth place finishes in Meydan (the first of which was when he was found to have mucus build up, which would’ve hampered his respiratory capabilities in the race) and he filled the same placing at Ascot. That isn’t possible in the July Cup as there are only fourteen runners, but he seems as though he could do with being back over five furlongs so he is interesting if he goes to the Nunthorpe.
Happy Romance and Creative Force were both behind Emaraaty Ana at Haydock, but reversed the form with him multiple times since. Happy Romance must be a delight to own – she has won six races and took connections to the biggest stages. She won a group three before the Haydock race and, after it, she finished eleventh in the Champion Sprint, which Creative Force won. Her 2022 campaign kicked off with a sensational second in Meydan with Naval Crown,Creative Force and Emaraaty Ana in behind. The form with the Godolphin horses as obviously reversed at Ascot, where the ground was potentially on the quick side for her. It is likely to be fast at Newmarket for the July Cup.
Creative Force is only a four-year-old, but it feels like he has been around for much longer. The gelding operation he received at the end of his two-year-old campaign worked wonders as he rattled up a four timer after turning three and it culminated in winning the Jersey Stakes. His fifth in this race last year was good and, next time, he was far too keen when returning to seven furlongs on soft ground. The good to firm ground, uncharacteristic of Haydock, ruined his chances in the Sprint Cup and he returned to winning ways in the Champion Stakes – a very successful three-year-old campaign. He was found to be lame after Meydan in March when he finished fourteenth and the Ascot run obviously shows that he handles fast ground, but some cut in the ground would heighten his chances.
He is closely matched with his stablemate, Naval Crown, seemingly. Naval Crown comes out best when comparing their races against each other because Creative Force sustained an injury when racing in Meydan when Naval Crown was fourth. The latter started his career over seven furlongs with his two-year-old season ending with two third places in group three company, one of which was over a mile on heavy ground. He won a listed race over a mile in Meydan at the beginning of 2022 and was campaigned with the Guineas in mind, finishing second in the Free Handicap and fourth in the 2000 Guineas. After this, he dropped back to seven furlongs to be second to Creative Force in the Jersey Stakes and he was then eighth in the Prix Jean Prat. This season, he won a group two over seven furlongs, before finishing down the field in to more races in Riyadh and Meydan. The Platinum Jubilee was only his second ever start over six furlongs and he was so impressive: he’ll definitely be hard to beat in the July Cup.
Only a neck and half length split Naval Crown, Creative Force and Artorius when the Aussie dead-heated with Campanelle. He has to carry 9st8 like the older horses as, even though he is three-years-old currently, he will be a four-year-old in October as he is a southern-hemisphere bred colt. He won a group one at two and received over £150,000 more than what he would win if he passed the post first in this contest. British racing holds prestige, which is probably why they are campaigning him over here, and he has been ultra-consistent back home, but his form slightly worsened with his two runs before he came to England. His British rating puts him well within the top contenders and a big run can be expected.
Double Or Bubble won the Abernant Stakes on seasonal reappearance, like Oxted did on the way to his July Cup victory. However, she ran in the interim at Ascot and put up a bold showing before fading out of contention. The strange thing is – if one was to watch the race with no prior knowledge of the mare, then it would be fair to say she was a five furlong horse who didn’t last home over six. In actual fact, she has won over seven furlongs in the past. She has a fondness for the Rowley Mile, like her dam, who won over a mile and a half on debut in 2008 at the track. Double Or Bubble’s siblings contest races over much further than six furlongs. Jack Mitchell knows this filly very well, but, whether she is up to this calibre of contest is unlikely.
Alcohol Free won the six furlong group one Cheveley Park Stakes as a two year old and asserted herself as a top miler during the next season, winning the Fred Darling, Coronation Stakes and Sussex Stakes and placing in the Falmouth. She progressed into much higher company after the Sussex Stakes and was somewhat found out, causing connections to drop her back to six furlongs. She comes across as a quirky, buzzy filly (remember her throwing Oisin Murphy after the Coronation Stakes last year?) and her run at this year’s Royal Ascot wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t good. The raced proved her to be vulnerable to the male sprinters and, with the three-year-olds joining in for the July Cup, she is at something of a disadvantage. However, she really is a super filly and it wouldn’t be a surprise if she was in the winners’ enclosure at four thirty this Saturday.
The Commonwealth Cup is a six furlong race for three year old colts or fillies only – no geldings are allowed. It is over the same course and distance as the Platinum Jubilee and the ground was good to firm.
Perfect Power won the race and he was buried on the flank of the far side group. To a certain extent, Christophe Soumillon was nudging the colt to keep his position in the early stages. By the closing furlongs, the two horses in front of him were going backwards, so he had to switch right to get a gap to have daylight. It benefitted him to have Ehraz on his right to help him to keep straight before finally asserting to win in excellent style. He won four out of his six races at two, including the Prix Morny and Middle Park. Connections eyed up the 2000 Guineas after he won the seven furlong Greeham Stakes. His run in the Classic wasn’t drastically bad, but they have acknowledged that sprinting is what he is good at and he returned to six furlongs for the Commonwealth Cup. He will be held up and faces a brand-new test in this race.
Flaming Rib was shrewdly campaigned over nine races in handicaps and novice races last season when he won his final four races as a two-year-old, ending in a listed race over six furlongs. He ran in the Greeenham Stakes and finished six of six, meaning any 2000 Guineas plans were ruled out. So, he went to his local track Chester instead and put in a pleasing win. He was a good second at Haydock to El Caballo, but he under performed at Royal Ascot. Flaming Rib is a brave colt by Ribchester and he’s definitely fast as he showed at Ascot when they just couldn’t go quick enough for him, but it remains to be seen if he is up to this.
It is not confirmed yet, either, that Cadamosto has actually trained on from two. He was a very early two-year-old: ready on the 21st March but then a non-runner twice. He eventually made a lovely debut and was a non-runner four more times. He was then fourth to Perfect Power in the Norfolk and seventh in the Railway Stakes. After his winter break, he was third to New York City, who was left in this race until a very late stage. This form means he has six lengths to make up on TwilightJet. He was fifth to Tiber Flow and went to the Commonwealth Cup as a 40/1 shot. It was an interesting run, blinkered for the first time. Ryan Moore clearly had a plan and joined the larger group to his left, which meant he was able to slipstream Flotus, who has gone on to win at York in sensational style, boosting the form of these three colts. As the groups merged, Moore and Cadamosto got slightly lucky in that they still had a clear passage through. In the final half a furlong, he hung right onto the heals of Perfect Power, even when Moore had his whip in his right hand. It led to Moore having to stop riding and correct him, which was probably why he finished fourth, not second. Ten Sovereigns finished fourth in the Commonwealth Cup before winning too.
A horse who severely underperformed in the Commonwealth Cup was Twilight Jet. He scoped dirty, which explains his awkward jump from the stalls and Leigh Roche easing down before the furlong pole. Before that, he has had some good form to his name and connections have been vocal about the standard they consider him to be. He ran eleven times as a two-year-old and made five trips to England and one to America. He won a group three on the Rowley course and it looks like he has trained on after beating New York City by three lengths. He is a very fast horse and this is his biggest test.
The Wokingham Handicap is another six furlong race that was held on good to firm ground.
Blackrod finished seventh and, as it is a handicap, he carried 9st3 and the number cloth twenty. He was drawn in twenty-five and it looked as though he would have to make his own running for a while, but rivals pulled to be alongside him and he had some company. He was marginally nudged along throughout and one of the first to be rousted along. To his credit, he stayed bang there for a long way, despite this. He wasn’t given a hard time when he was headed. He has only raced once in class one company so this is a massive step up in grade, but he is a course and distance winner in a big field when drawn high. On his first start of the season, he won at the other Newmarket course and he was third in the Ayr Silver Cup before Ascot. He is bred to win this, being by Mayson, who sired Oxted to win in 2020.
Romantic Proposal is an ultra-consistent Irish mare and has aged like a fine wine. She started out her career over a mile and won twice over seven furlongs as a two-year-old. She raced against a lot of English handicappers in the 2020 campaign when they went over to Ireland. Her win that season was over six and a half furlongs at the Curragh. She looked like a new filly at four, running well in class one company and winning at the Curragh again – this time in a group one, beating A Case Of You by a half-length. Her return to action in April was a good listed run over five furlongs. She has a useful combination of speed and stamina.
Last by no means least is the Japanese raider, King Hermes. He is only three years old so must have an excellent constitution to travel such a long way. He is by six-times (five of those over six furlongs) group one winner Lord Kanaloa, who absolutely romped in on his final ever start beating Slade Power and Sole Power. He has had a successful time at stud so far as the sire of Almond Eye. King Hermes is a half sibling to a filly with black type, but probably found herself just short of class one company, considering this, her career earnings are huge. Their dam didn’t win but King Hermes won on his debut, over six furlongs by two lengths. It is very difficult to tell how he stacks up against the other runners.
The graphic shows the draw of the first four home in the last three renewals of the July Cup and the 2022 renewal of the Heritage Handicap over six furlongs on the Thursday of the meeting. The most popular draw to occur is number four, which Blackrod will be jumping out of.
However, this has to be taken into consideration with the pace angles in the race. There is no confirmed font runner who is guaranteed to run from the lead. From the looks of things, the horses most likely to be prominent are Flaming Rib, Twilight Jet and perhaps Blackrod, based on their most recent few runs. This means that Naval Crown is drawn on his own again with little pace around him as Alcohol Free and Artorius are confirmed hold up horses. Emaraaty Ana could potentially be front-rank too, but, as he didn’t get home last time, connections may try a different tactic. The Japanese raider King Hermes has very good gate speed and I would love to see him bowl along in front and play catch-me-if-you-can, as he has confirmed stamina.
PERFECT POWER could be something very special for the sprinting division. He should be suited to the July course and his allowance puts the key older horses at a massive disadvantage. Creative Force and Naval Crown will, no doubt, be huge players again at the finish with Naval Crown looking to have value in his price. Flaming Rib and Blackrod could surprise a few people as their connections wouldn’t pitch them in at the deep end without a good reason. Flaming Rib ran a massive race at Ascot and Blackrod likes the track. It would be great to have a Japanese winner and there is no reason to discount King Hermes.
Hopefully, we will be seeing another Christophe Soumillon celebration – perhaps after the horses have pulled up this time!
Art and horse racing have been interlinked for hundreds of years. Oil paintings of blue-blooded equines adorn the walls of palaces and art movements have continually influenced the portrayal of racehorses. Inspired by the impressionists, artist Elizabeth Armstrong will be a familiar face for plenty of racegoers and her paintings are incredibly popular amongst racing fans.
I had seen Elizabeth’s work on social media and in the trade stand at Cheltenham before, but I spoke to her for the first time at the Lambourn Open Day, when I purchased a stunning print of Enable. “Some artists wouldn’t like to do that,” she told me of having a stand at the open day, “But I like to talk about my work and I think it is good to get it out there.”
Elizabeth always wanted to be an artist, encouraged by her father, “He was an architect so I used to bunk off school and go to building sites with him. That’s really what I wanted to do. Many years ago, you only needed GCSEs to get into art school so I got five GCSEs and went to Croydon School of Art.” After doing a foundation course, Elizabeth went to Goldsmiths to do a degree in textiles and embroidery, which is why she tends to use textiles within her work.
Elizabeth’s paintings are vivid and colourful, something that is created by a range of techniques, “Because I went to Goldsmiths and used lots of mixed media there, I have always used mark making with different materials. I use ink, water colour. I mix my own pigments which is quite interesting because the colours are much more vibrant. I use tea and coffee in my work for the pigment and I think the colour is quite ideal for the horse. I think it is quite a good equine colour. I use lots of different materials and I’m always up for experimenting.”
“When I left Goldsmiths, after three or four years, I then went travelling. I was offered a job with the BBC in set design but I turned it down,” she laughs, “I went travelling for three or four years. I wasn’t really into racing at that time; I got into racing about twenty years ago.”
Art led Elizabeth to horse racing, “The interest in racing came from when I went to Jersey for a personal reason. I messaged a guy who had horses training at the time in Newmarket with a young trainer there and he was an art collector and, obviously coming from Jersey, he was quite wealthy. When he saw my type of art, he encouraged me to paint the horse in art. From then on, he sent me lots of samples for a year of how he thought it would look good and I sort of absorbed them all and started doing it.”
Then, Elizabeth needed a way to sell her art and was approached by Johnny Weatherby, who bought two paintings through an agent and, later on, they worked together at Ascot Racecourse, “They developed Ascot Racecourse and Johnny Weatherby at the time was the president or the managing director and we had an art sale there for three years because local people didn’t really like the sort of architecture and the changes of the whole Ascot Racecourse because it is very historical. So, they thought, if they brought in some local artists to kind of talk to the general public and demonstrate, it would help and it did the trick.
“Then, they invited me to, because I was cheeky and asked if I could, stay on because I really enjoyed the process of like showing my work because I hadn’t really done it, taking down people’s details and getting your own mailing list. So, I worked there for about three years but, by then, they sort of changed the whole structure and they didn’t have trade stands, just had their own shop, now.” Elizabeth explained.
Her involvement with racecourses did not stop there, “I was then approached by the then marketing manager at Royal Windsor Racecourse, called Matthew Foxton-Duffy, and he liked my style. He bought a couple of paintings and he said would you like to come and be the artist in residence at Royal Windsor and that involves me being there when I want to attend showing my own art with my paintings, similar to at Cheltenham, and also producing art around the racetrack that is modern, different and contemporary, which I have done for the last six or seven years.”
As well as racecourses, Elizabeth has created art work for owners in order to commemorate massive successes, “I work with a lot of textures like horse hair and cloth and a really nice guy came to the preview night [of a gallery opening] and he was the owner of a horse called Auroras Encore, who won the Grand National in 2013. He had a very big beautiful house on the border with Scotland and he wanted a big black and white piece. He said, ‘I want it like the Guernica by Picasso.’ So, I created about a nine foot by seven foot piece of art for him of his horse jumping a fence and it’s amazing with horse hair cloth. When he saw it, he loved it and he said, ‘Where’s the bridle?’ and I said, ‘You wanted it like Picasso!’ as he always painted the horses without a bridle.”
Racing fans may be more familiar with Elizabeth’s smaller water colour pieces, “When you add water to it, you can splash it around to encourage the movement, which I think with national hunt and flat horses, that’s what they are trained to do. That’s how they shine out with their movements. They’re flight animals so they move pretty fast!”
Elizabeth now lives near Wantage, “It’s a very creative, beautiful area. All the lovely undulating hills – great for painting!” She is also planning to hold workshops with women once a month when the actual workshop is built, “I’ve got six people already who want to do it, but I’ve got to build the actual studio.” So, if hearing about Elizabeth’s journey as an equine artist has inspired you, perhaps get in contact with her to find out more about workshops.
In my opinion, Elizabeth’s paintings are marvellous and capture the dynamic, colourful excitement of the sport. I have a superb print of Enable, that matches the pink of my bedroom as well as cards of Smad Place, Snow Leopardess and Shishkin brightening up my room. Her artwork is a necessity for any racing fan’s memorabilia collection!
The Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup is the jewel in the crown of the Cheltenham Festival and, to some, of the entire National Hunt season. It is one of the most coveted prizes in the sport and twenty-five horses currently hold provisional entries.
Just six of last season’s contenders could line up in this year’s renewal – Minella Indo (1st), A Plus Tard (2nd), Al Boum Photo (3rd), Royal Pagaille (6th), Santini (PU) and Lostintranslation (PU). Lostintranslation has an Ultima entry, as well as one for the Ryanair, as does Allaho, Asterion Forlonge, Chatham Street Lad, Conflated, Franco De Port, Melon and Saint Calvados.
This year’s renewal has a wonderfully open look to it. At present, there is no standout performer in the division. The key players have somewhat taken it in turns to win the critical races in the lead up to the centrepiece.
I have selected ten key races that offer form-lines for the Gold Cup –
The Cheltenham Festival ended with Irish domination but it was Frodon who got first blood for the 2021/22 season over in Ireland. The English raider won in typical Frodon style – from the front and jumping boldly. 2021 Gold Cup winner Minella Indo stalked him through the race with Galvin and Delta Work accompanying each other a few lengths behind.
With about a mile to go, Rachael Blackmore hassled Minella Indo up to Frodon’s girths but couldn’t loom upsides. Galvin and Delta Work moved to contest the lead with the other two horses as Minella Indo was under pressure. Meanwhile, Galvin nosed ahead momentarily after the last, before being out-battled and finished second. Delta Work was closing in on Minella Indo at the line. It was slightly disappointing from Henry De Bromhead’s charge, but apparently he wasn’t quite fit.
* 20/11/21 – Betfair Chase, Haydock
A Plus Tard became the first Irish horse to win the Haydock showpiece and he did so in fantastic style. Once the field turned for home, A Plus Tard switched out from the slipstream of Royal Pagaille and Rachael Blackmore remained motionless, meanwhile Charlie Deutsch in the pink and green Rich Ricci silks began to scrub along.
Soon, A Plus Tard was an ever-growing number of lengths clear, announcing himself as fighting fit and ready to dominate the season ahead. In behind, Imperial Aura jumped with poor accuracy throughout. His best jump placed him in the firing line between Royal Pagaille and Bristol De Mai. This was short-lived with David Bass asking for a big stride and the gelding crumbling on landing after the next obstacle.
An eyecatcher was Chatham Street Lad, who raced eagerly and finished a brilliant third, especially considering he sustained an injury to his knee that required stitches.
4/12/21 – Many Clouds Chase, Aintree
The Many Clouds Chase field contained some true favourites, like Tiger Roll and Native River. It was a strong grade two with a good size field. However, it was the turn of youngster Protektorat to land the spoils. It was a demolition job, to put it simply. Being at the track, I didn’t fully appreciate how lit up Protektorat became as they galloped down the back straight on each circuit, which only makes his winning effort more impressive. Conditions were terrible that day and horses were finishing very tired. Imperial Aura pulled up before they embarked on the second circuit. Later, Protektorat out-jumped Native River as they exited the back straight and, ridden by Bridget Andrews, jumped the last few obstacles and came home twenty-five lengths clear.
* 5/12/21 – John Durkan Chase, Punchestown
The 2021 John Durkan was filled with quality horses in glorious sunshine, meaning a few fences had to be omitted. Allaho had his own way in the lead. The runners settled down with Melon and Asterion Forlonge stalking him on the inner and Tornado Flyer and Franco De Port in the back half of the field. Tornado Flyer put in a poor jump at the first and the complexity of the race didn’t especially change until they went around the last dolled-off obstacle when he seemed to become unbalanced, which caused him to be completely outpaced. Asterion Forlonge was about to give Allaho something to think about until he launched Bryan Cooper out of the saddle at the third last, hampering Melon. Allaho made a mess of the second last but it didn’t dent his finish, winning by two lengths. Tornado Flyer stayed on incredibly well, seemingly unsuited to the trip. Franco De Port dropped out of contention and it was a solid performance by Melon to be third.
* 26/12/21 – King George VI Chase, Kempton
For many, not all, there was a surprise winner of the King George – Tornado Flyer. Like at Punchestown, he made an error at the first and languished in the second half of the field for most of the way. Chantry House landed sharply at the first ditch and Saint Calvados made an error when detached. Both horses raced wide, but only Saint Calvados looked enthusiastic about his racing, fresh after having ten months off. Mister Fisher made fiddly errors throughout. Chantry House had to be ridden to embark on the second circuit and Minella Indo had to be pushed along after the first fence going away from the stands.
Bryony Frost on Frodon slowed down the pace of the race to get a breather on the turn into the back straight, reducing the distances between each horse. A poor jump by Chantry House forced Nico De Boinville to pull him up, meanwhile Saint Calvados was pulling double up the outside. By the fourteenth, Minella Indo had dropped out of contention and Gavin Sheehan was allowing Saint Calvados to stride into the lead, a manoeuvre that has caused Sheehan to no longer have the ride on the Brooks horses with Paul Nicholls.
Lostintranslation was being pushed along severely as they turned for home but Danny Mullins was waiting to time it right on Tornado Flyer. He jumped into the lead at two out and, for a fleeting second, it looked as though Asterion Forlonge would play a part, but, like at Punchestown, he came to grief and parted company with Bryan Cooper. No one knows how much of an impact he would have played in proceedings but Tornado Flyer stayed the three miles impressively, seemingly benefitting from the extra distance compared to the John Durkan.
* 28/12/21 – Savills Chase, Leopardstown
Galvin raced prominently in this race, compared to the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at the start of the season, filling the second spot for most of the way. Melon followed him, with Delta Work, Franco De Port and A Plus Tard in behind. Kemboy took them along at a good pace and, at four out, Franco De Port edged into third momentarily and Galvin took closer order to the leader.
A Plus Tard travelling much better than Galvin as they turned for home. Davy Russell managed to switch his mount to be on A Plus Tard’s right and, after the last, switched his whip and Galvin seemed to grow wings to bridge the roughly two length deficit and nab A Plus Tard on the line. The horse well and truly stayed the trip and was extremely brave.
29/01/22 – Cotswold Chase, Cheltenham
Watching it, the runners didn’t seem to be going overly quick on good ground; officially, it was 8.81s slow. Santini led them along with Chantry House and Aye Right following. Chantry House’s jumping was inaccurate and stunted. He seemed to catch the top of the fences and his head would go up and his backend land sharply. It never looked like he would fall but, with an eye on the fast-paced, elite Gold Cup, the knocks to his momentum are hardly ideal, as seen in the King George. Fence seventeen saw him put in a slow leap, causing him to be pushed along, slightly detached from Santini and Aye Right, who was travelling best, as they progressed into the straight.
Santini had the benefit of the rail to help him with his challenge until Aye Right switched and forced Nick Scholfield to plot a new course on the seemingly revitalised ten-year-old. Chantry House accelerated to be in the lead at the last and put his head down to win. It took so much out of him and he finished a very tired horse. That isn’t ideal, considering how much more of a test the Gold Cup is.
* 5/02/22 – Irish Gold Cup, Leopardstown
Minella Indo had a new jockey for this race, Robbie Power. He was ridden in a less prominent position than he was in the King George, alongside Delta Work. Similarly, Asterion Forlonge was ridden conservatively but never really showed up. Conflated followed Frodon up the inner and was first to take closer order. At the final ditch, he flew into the lead, catching everyone else off guard. By the turn for home, there was daylight between him and his rivals, who were all being pushed along. He popped the last and, despite Minella Indo’s admirable attempts, Conflated won by six and a half lengths. He improved massively on all known form and Davy Russell gave him a good ride.
12/02/22 – Denman Chase, Newbury
Only two horses in the line-up for the Denman Chase, a key trial, actually had entries in the Gold Cup – Royal Pagaille and Imperial Aura. Clan Des Obeaux is not a Cheltenham fan, De Rasher Counter was coming off an injury-enforced absence and Eldorado Allen was trying three miles for the first time. Brendan Powell was able to dictate the pace on Eldorado Allen and it worked effectively, enabling the grey, who was widely acknowledged as a two miler before this point, to stay three miles and win in great style. Imperial Aura put in a bold display of jumping to accompany him and raced with confidence. Sadly, a poor jump completely knocked the stuffing out of him and he pulled up sharply. He has so much ability; it must be so frustrating for connections. Hopefully, nothing is seriously wrong with him. It would be a surprise to see him in the Gold Cup after his last two performances. Royal Pagaille had bravely won the Peter Marsh three weeks previously but he was no match for Eldorado Allen. Despite jumping the second last neck-and-neck, he couldn’t create an advantage and, whilst battling back, was second by two and a quarter lengths.
Other Notable Races
The 19th February saw both the Red Mills Chase and the Ascot Chase. In the Red Mills, over two and a half miles, Gold Cup entrant Melon stormed to a six-length victory. He beat much lesser company but this success was his first since landing a beginners’ chase in December 2019. Unfortunately, Chatham Street Lad was a non-runner after getting cast in his box and it would’ve been fascinating to see how he got on. Hopefully, it hasn’t derailed his Cheltenham target but I guess it will be touch and go.
Over at Ascot, it was the Irish that prevailed with Fakir D’Oudairies taking the spoils, amongst just four finishers. He looks well on target for the Ryanair and Aintree beyond that. Lostintranslation ran in the race too, but hated the ground, eventually pulling up. The yard also has Eldorado Allen in the Ryanair and it wouldn’t be unfeasible to see Lostintranslation try his luck in the shorter top-tier chase as his form figures over three miles plus since winning the 2019 Betfair Chase read: P33PP5. Interestingly, he has been handed an entry in the Ultima, which would be his first ever run in handicap company.
Also pulling up was Saint Calvados, who ran so eye-catchingly in the King George. He was unable to build on that effort because he burst a blood vessel. Paul Nicholls has sorted out plenty of horses with that issue before, but it would be a surprise to see him at Cheltenham. The Ryanair is the target for Mister Fisher, despite his Gold Cup entry, after finishing a tired fourth on conditions that didn’t suit in the Ascot Chase.
How The Form Worked Out
Defined by the position of Delta Work and Melon, who appeared most in the aforementioned races (*starred*), I complied the lengths between each horse to make a prospective finishing order, shown in the image above. The result would be…
2nd A Plus Tard / Allaho (joint)
5th Tornado Flyer
6th Minella Indo
7th Franco De Port
8th Royal Pagaille
9th Asterion Forlonge
10th Saint Calvados
11th Delta Work
13th Chatham Street Lad
As you can see, there is an Irish domination here typical of last year’s Festival. It seems, in this particular race, the Irish have a stranglehold on the top contenders. Also, they have been running against each other all season and, when they have ventured over to England, their horses win, take A Plus Tard and Tornado Flyer as examples.
Four of the entrants have no direct form ties previously addressed –
Ahoy Senor – I was so excited to see Ahoy Senor over fences after his sensational grade one novice hurdle win at Aintree; fences were always going to be his game. After unseating first time out over the larger obstacles, he has developed a reputation for being a novicey jumper. He travels so powerfully through his races and his run at Wetherby will have taught him so much. It has been fascinating to watch how he has mentally developed through the season. I would be disappointed if he didn’t go to the Gold Cup but he is in excellent hands with Lucinda Russell.
Al Boum Photo – If anyone’s credentials have been boosted from just standing in a stable, it is Al Boum Photo. A dual Gold Cup winner, he was third last year behind Minella Indo and A Plus Tard, staying on at the finish but never threatening. He was second to Clan Des Obeaux at Punchestown after that and won his race at Tramore as he has done on the last three New Year’s Days. The debate about whether he should run more always surrounds him but we have to trust Willie Mullins to have him fit on the day.
Fiddlerontheroof – Colin Tizzard’s charge started his season winning the Colin Parker at Carlisle and it put him spot on for a tilt at the Ladbrokes Trophy, a race that used to be a plum trial for the Gold Cup. Marginally hampered by Remastered’s unfortunate fall at the top of the home straight, he had a target to aim at with Cloudy Glen out in front. He made up a massive number of lengths between the third last and final fence, but he had to fiddle to get a stride, whereas Charlie Deutsch completely gunned his mount into the last, winning him the race. When next seen, Fiddlerontheroof got tired and wobbly on soft ground at Ascot with a missing shoe and was caught close home by Fortescue, who carried almost a stone less. I rave about Monkfish who was six lengths ahead of him at last season’s Festival, so I would be a hypocrite not to give Fiddlerontheroof a small each-way chance.
Run Wild Fred – This horse has so many entries, but much more experience over fences than most of his fellow novices. He began his career over fences in October 2020 and ran consistently against good horses. Last April, he finished second in the Irish Grand National but still didn’t win a race until the Troytown in November. He was beaten eight lengths by Fury Road in a grade one and they chose to keep him at home on 22nd February because of the ground. He’ll be fresh for the Festival but will probably head to the National Hunt Chase.
Mount Ida – It is wonderful to see a mare in this race. She looks to emulate Dubacilla, who finished second to Master Oats in the Gold Cup and fourth to Royal Athlete in the Grand National of 1995. Mount Ida is similarly a tough, talented mare, but often has large breaks between her races, suggesting she is far from straightforward. She won a mares’ race at Clonmel in November and won again, beating Elimay, on New Years’ Day. Winner of the Kim Muir last season, she stays incredibly well and it would be a tragedy if she went to the Mares’ Chase instead.
Final Line-Up Predictions
15 Runners – Al Boum Photo (Paul Townsend), A Plus Tard (Rachael Blackmore), Aye Right (Brian Hughes), Chantry House (Nico De Boinville), Conflated (Jack Kennedy), Delta Work (Mark Walsh), Fiddlerontheroof (Brendan Powell), Franco De Port (Mr Patrick Mullins), Galvin (Davy Russell), Minella Indo (Robbie Power), Protektorat (Harry Skelton), Royal Pagaille (Charlie Deutsch), Santini (Nick Scholfield), Tornado Flyer (Danny Mullins), Mount Ida (Mr Jamie Codd).
There is a distinct absence of front runners in the Gold Cup. Recently, this responsibility has fallen to Frodon but he has been given an entry in the Ultima instead. I can’t help feeling as though this brings the form of the Leopardstown Champion Chase into question. The race contained Galvin, Minella Indo and Delta Work with the latter pair being beaten significantly enough by Frodon, who hasn’t looked the force of old since then.
Gordon Elliott could potentially have four runners in the race so one of his could be on pace-making duties. If Mount Ida’s definitive target is the Grand National, she could take them along in front rank, like she did on her first start of the campaign. If they’re aiming her at this, she could be held up and produced late like she was in the Kim Muir last season, in which she beat Ladbrokes Trophy hero Cloudy Glen.
When Galvin came good in the Savills, he raced more prominently than on his previous outing. He has stamina in abundance and looked slightly outpaced before staying on strongly. He could do all of the donkey-work in front and still be comfortable but, regardless of how the race plays out, he will always be vulnerable to a horse with a better change of gear, like when he was outpaced by Imperial Aura’s finishing kick at the Festival in 2020.
Ahoy Senor could lead the field, despite being untried at the trip, if connections choose to run him. It would allow him to be given a good sight at his fences, something that is critical for his success. The new course will suit him perfectly and he would be a great addition to the line-up. That seems unlikely now, unfortunately. Another English runner with a chance is Santini and, when he finished second in 2020, he was prominent. His run in the Cotswold Chase was massively encouraging and it seems as though there is still plenty of life in the ten-year-old.
The winner of the 2020 Gold Cup was Al Boum Photo and, this year, he appears to be a promising each way contender. The only downside is the negative reports coming from the Willie Mullins camp. Apparently, his work at home hasn’t been ideal and, with only one run under his belt this campaign, he might not be fit enough. However, the Tramore race and straight to Cheltenham usually works for him. I will be shocked if he is out of the top four.
His stablemate Tornado Flyer is very exciting over this trip. As the King George winner, he would be excellent to see him complete the double. I’m very keen on his jockey Danny Mullins as a contender for Champion Jockey at the meeting, obviously with fierce competition from colleague Paul Townsend. Tornado Flyer does have a few weaknesses. Occasionally, he puts in scrappy jumps early on and he is yet to try this trip. There aren’t many suggestions based on his pedigree that he will stay this far, being a relation of Hurricane Fly. He seems a relatively trip-less horse as he has raced against Chacun Pour Soi over two miles and a furlong. He seems like a horse who always tries his best and one of a few who actually want rain.
Henry De Bromhead has a strong hand in this once again with 2021 first and second Minella Indo and A Plus Tard. There is a critical factor vouching for A Plus Tard’s chances: Robbie Power rode Minella Indo last time out when Racheal Blackmore didn’t have a ride in the race. It seems as though Rachael is remaining loyal to Cheveley Park-owned A Plus Tard. For me, he has been the most consistent of all entrants this season. He put the English horses in their place at Haydock and he wasn’t dreadful in behind Galvin, only beaten a short head. I have a niggly doubt about his stamina against the formidable Cheltenham Hill. Obviously, he hacked up in the novices’ handicap chase in 2019 but this is six and a half furlongs further. Playing devil’s advocate, last year, was he even closing down on Minella Indo at the line or was the winner just idling?
Minella Indo hasn’t had the stamina test of the Gold Cup yet this season. He started out in a three-mile point to point and never won a bumper. His first win over hurdles came when he broke my heart, beating Commander Of Fleet in the Ballymore, a three mile race with the Cheltenham Hill helping him massively. He didn’t have the finishing speed of Champ in the RSA. In the Gold Cup, his ears were pricked after the last, which suggests he has more in the tank. Jack Kennedy had to change his hands as the crowd appeared on his right and the horse lost concentration. If he had put his head down and battled like A Plus Tard was, the winning margin would’ve been larger than one and a quarter lengths. However, he hasn’t been the same horse since that win – well-beaten by Frodon, pulled up in the King George and beaten by Conflated, who, on all known form, was not entitled to finish ahead of him. Minella Indo’s form wasn’t sensational before the Gold Cup last year; we can expect him to be finely tuned for this important day, even though the De Bromhead yard has been quiet in comparison to last season’s heroics.
Conflated is one of the new challengers within this division. I expect Davy Russell to pick his stablemate Galvin and Jack Kennedy, who rode Minella Indo to victory last year, to accompany Conflated, who I find fascinating. He had been down the field in graded company as a novice hurdler and he managed to win a grade three in an unspectacular novice chase campaign. His prep for this season was a run on the flat! He unseated in the Kerry National and then followed in Eklat De Rire in October. He won a Grade B handicap chase under a conditional jockey in December and then, somehow, managed to win the Irish Gold Cup against a great field of runners. The Gold Cup will show whether he was the beneficiary of a good ride or a lively contender for these kind of races in the future.
So, after all that, onto my selection!
I have been keen on PROTEKTORAT since the Many Clouds Chase and, especially, after he was announced as an entry on 5th January. Pricewise’s suggestion has sliced his price massively. He has been a model of consistency for the Skelton team and his only bad run within the last two years was in the 2020 Coral Cup when he finished tenth. He faultlessly began his novice chasing campaign at Carlisle and Cheltenham before his form slightly tailed off at Wincanton and Kelso. A wind operation and tongue tie put him spot on for the Manifesto Novices Chase at Aintree. He was completely excellent. Since then, the form has been strong with The Shunter placing in competitive Irish handicaps afterwards; Hitman running consistently in open grade one company; Phoenix Way winning at Ascot; Eldorado Allen landing the Haldon Gold Cup and Denman Chase, and Fusil Raffles successful in the Charlie Hall.
Protektorat has raced only twice this season. The first was at Cheltenham over two miles four on the old course with good ground underfoot. Off top weight, he made a horrible error at the fifth fence and, fortunately, he remained on his feet. He did incredibly well to stay on for second. This was probably why connections chose to try him over three miles and one furlong at Aintree. He easily stayed the trip on soft ground and I think the fast pace of a Gold Cup will help him to settle. If they don’t go particularly quick, I think he will still have a good change of gear for the closing stages. I’m not too concerned about him staying as he finished so well at Aintree. He is versatile in terms of the ground and his dam won on heavy over two miles five in France. His sire Saint De Saints has had two runners in the Gold Cup before – the admirably consistent Djackadam between 2015 and 2018 and Lyreen Legend in 2014.
The way I have approached my analysis of the race shows that there is no superstar within this division. My model of the six races reflects the competitive but unclear nature of the Irish form. As a result, I have been drawn to Protektorat as an exciting, unknown quantity. He will be fresh and well ready for his attempt to seize the jewel in the Cheltenham Festival’s crown.
2021 has been a great year of racing, but it hasn’t been a great year for racing.
I have always had an interest in horse racing, which stemmed from watching Channel Four on a Saturday afternoon at my Grandad’s side. Inspired, I dreamt of being the first female jockey to win the Grand National (but the fantastic Rachael Blackmore beat me to it!) I would do this riding a horse called ‘Scrumdillydumtious’ and we would win it five times. It makes me smile at the innocence of that. I know now that it would be somewhat impossible for a horse to win five consecutive Nationals as they can rarely sustain their form at that level for five years straight.
For as long as I can remember, I have been besotted with racehorses and, unlike regular teenage girls, pictures of horses and jockeys adorn my bedroom walls instead of popstars. I am passionate about attracting more young people to the sport, so two definite highlights of my year were the days when I created content for Careers In Racing’s Instagram page for their events at Doncaster and Warwick.
The first of these was an Explore Racing Day in August that began at the National Horseracing College in Doncaster, where our group was shown what it is like to study there. Later, I made my first trip to their local racecourse for the Racing League meeting. This concept has received criticism, but I am pleased to see that it will return in 2022. This particular raceday was so competitive, with the winning margin being no more than a length in all seven races. The prize pot was £50,000 per race and that is excellent for those who were able to take part, considering one of the biggest complaints throughout the year has been about insufficient prize money. I am not sure whether racing fans bought into the team aspect as much as the creators may have hoped, but I think its popularity will grow.
My trip to Warwick for the Pony Racing Authority’s Taster Day was incredible. Over one hundred children and their parents visited the racecourse to learn more about the industry. I strongly believe that horse racing is a sport young people can love and this day really showed that. All of the children seemed to be having a great time with the multiple activities and behind-the-scenes insight into the racecourse. There were four pony races that day and some extremely talented young riders showcased their skills. Hopefully, this day will have given the attendees a passion for horse racing that will last a lifetime.
In September, I was lucky enough to spend a morning at Olly Murphy’s yard and I am so grateful for the time Olly spent with me, answering my questions and chatting about his horses. His facilities are incredible and the horses were so happy – you could tell how loved they are. Some even wandered away from their food to come over for some fuss. It was amazing to meet Champagnesuperover and Linelee King, who I have followed for their entire careers, as well as some exciting youngsters like Butch and Go Dante. The team have been absolutely flying in the early stages of the new season with the likes of Brewin’upastorm and Thomas Darby winning big races and their success is well-earned and well-deserved.
In October, I visited Dan Skelton’s training operation. At the main yard, Lodge Hill, I was delighted to have my picture taken with long-time favourites Beakstown and Nube Negra. Alne Park Stud is a new venture for the Skelton team and they stand Dink, who is my absolute favourite stallion. You can’t help but go “Wow!” when you see him. He really is spectacular and a true gentleman, who was happy to stand and lap up our attention. Dan’s wife, Grace, gave me an incredibly fun and informative tour.
In early December, my family and I braved the elements and attended Aintree’s Becher Chase meeting. For me, this day encompassed everything that is great about the sport. I have made many friends through the horse racing social media community and I finally had the opportunity to put faces to names. It was such a laugh meeting the gang from the Under Starters Orders Podcast, who kindly had me on the show this year. The equine talent on the card made me giddy with excitement and the air was full of anticipation before the Cotswold Chase as everyone tried to spot Tiger Roll. He really is tiny! With hindsight, it was particularly special to see Native River too, now that he has gone off for a very well-deserved retirement. In the Becher, Snow Leopardess and Aidan Coleman made easy work of the infamous Grand National fences. Now, all roads must lead to the big race in April for this excellent mare. Before this race, I loved watching the horses as they went out onto the track because you really get a glimpse of their personalities – it was funny to see Abaya Du Mathan sticking his tongue out as he strolled down the walk-way. Occasionally, you get little tit-bits from the jockeys too like Craig Nichol, who partnered Hill Sixteen and said something along the lines of “let’s see how we get on against these big bastards”. They got on rather well, finishing a narrowly-beaten second.
I have loved every second of my racing trips this year. However, sometimes, I feel as though I’m guilty of looking at racing through rose-tinted glasses. My February 2020 article ‘Should Young People Get Into Horse Racing?’ was in defence of the sport, as I dissected the factors that could deter people from becoming involved in horse racing. However, in 2021, even more complex and difficult issues have surfaced, which have made it difficult to be a horse racing fan.
I love this sport because of the horses, but how can you say its participants and fans respect these beautiful creatures when that photo emerged? Or, when a BBC documentary reveals that a horse, who won multiple grade twos and ran in the Ladbrokes Trophy, ended up executed in a disgraceful abattoir because of a mysterious horse dealer (that no one has actually named yet)?
I am sure any racing fan will agree that it gets tiring defending racing to those who believe it is cruel. I am lucky that my friends support my ‘crazy obsession’ and I am very grateful to my mum and dad for encouraging my ambitions and accompanying me to various racing yards and courses around the country. However, occasionally, I encounter people who are less enthusiastic about my interest and like to ask, “Don’t you think it’s cruel, Samantha?”. I often reply with an impolitely forceful “No!”. Of course I don’t, or why would I be a fan?
The only thing I hate about horse racing is the fatalities. I could never hate racing but I think, one day this year, I declared that sentiment through tears and snot. It was the 21st of February, a Sunday. The Newbury Denman Chase card had been rescheduled to the day after the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot, a card that saw three horses (Severano, Yalltari and L’Ami Serge) die in consecutive races. Then, in the Denman Chase, a wonderful horse called The Conditional went wrong. The thought of it still brings a lump to my throat. I had watched this horse run in January 2020 at Warwick. I saw him again at Cheltenham when he won the Ultima – what a day that must’ve been for connections! He never ran a bad race, always tried his heart out and the whole thing was just utterly and completely unfair. He didn’t deserve to lose his life whilst racing. I turned the TV off after that. I couldn’t stomach it.
Over the last few weeks, two major court cases have put the weighing room dynamic under scrutiny. The Bryony Frost and Robbie Dunne case drew attention to bullying and sexual assault amongst jockeys. This has caused many people to question whether the British Horseracing Authority and Professional Jockeys Association are living up to their responsibility to protect their participants. Additionally, the repercussions from the High Court ruling regarding Freddie Tylicki’s horrific, life-changing injuries on that fateful day at Kempton will be felt in racing – and sport as a whole – for many years to come.
Overwhelmingly, racing has only been reported on by the mass media when the aforementioned issues have emerged. These are quite often the only glimpses of horse racing that most people will have and attach the poor actions of a minority onto the majority. They are left unaware of the other side of the story – the beautiful and exciting moments that happen every single raceday.
Throughout my GCSEs and now my A Levels, my teachers constantly told me that an article like this needs to be wrapped up with a conclusion that gives a self-assured, definitive, final judgement, but I can’t give you that. Racing’s situation is not black and white – it’s far from simple. I’d be lying or delusional if I said I had all the answers because I don’t. No one does. Despite this, everything I have mentioned here cannot be swept under the carpet and ignored.
In 2022, we all need to come together to help make positive changes to the sport.
Futurum Regem apart, yesterday was a below average day, but we move onto the final day of action for the Christmas festivals at Leopardstown and Limerick.
The first of my six selections on day runs in the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Chase at Leopardstown off at 12:00. Averne is falling to a tempting mark for the Cromwell team, but I think the stablemate, Shes Some Doll could be thrown in on handicap debut. She was last seen making the breakthrough over fences at Tramore winning over todays trip very impressively, beating subsequent winner Earths Furies who won off a mark of 97 at Limerick. Shes Some Doll runs of a mark of 98 which I think is very generous. Though she is a novice, she does not lack for experience over fences having had the three runs before making the breakthrough last time out. I think she will take a bit of beating with Brien Kane in the saddle at a price of 13/2.
The first selections at Limerick comes in the opening race and is Wishmoor for the Johnny Levins team. While his recent form is far from inspiring, he will love the return to Limerick and the heavy ground. He was a cosy winner of this race twelve months ago off a five-pound lower mark when going off 11/4 joint favourite. Heavy ground seems to be the key to him, and he will get that if Limerick passes the inspection in the morning. If he can recapture lasts years form his price of 16/1 will seem very generous.
The Advent Surety Irish EBF Mares Hurdle looks to be a cracker on paper with Shewearsitwell making her seasonal debut after being very impressive when last seen at Tipperary, but I am going to take her in with Heaven Help Us. She was far from disgraced in graded company last time out in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham against the geldings over two miles. She was a very impressive winner of the Coral Cup at the festival last year and returns to a similar trip here after her runs over shorter trips this year. She is getting weight off her main market rivals, and I think she could take some pegging back with King George winning jockey Danny Mullins in the saddle at a price of 6/1.
While it may appear there is no super star in the Neville Hotel Novice Chase it is a very intriguing event. The winner will have to do something special to match Galopin De Champs breath-taking performance on day three. Run Wild Fred could go and bolt up like he did in the Troytown but at the prices I will be leaving him alone. I am going to give Fury Road another chance. He was called a few names after his last run when appearing to stop once hitting the front at the back of the last in the Drinmore. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The trip was always going to be on the sharp side for him over the two and a half miles around Fairyhouse on quick ground. That being said, he jumped and travelled very well. The step up in trip and application of the cheekpieces should only help and I think he is worth taking a chance on at 15/2.
My penultimate selection runs in the Greenmount Equine Hospital Rated Novice Hurdle over two miles off at 2:05. I will be siding with the Philip Fenton trained runner, Lake Chad. He returned this year after two and a half years off the track to finish a close third at Clonmel in October. Next time out over course and distance he won as easy as he liked on heavy ground. He then ran twice more within four days of that win and was not disgraced either time, but I think they were too soon after the win. He has been off for over a month now and come into the race after a nice gap since last seen. He comes into the race eleven pounds higher than winning over course and distance, but I do not think that will stop him. Mikey Hamil gets on well with him and rides again claiming three pounds. If he turns up in the same form he was in last month he will go very close at 14/1.
My final selection come at Leopardstown in the penultimate race and is the Roger McGrath trained mare, Sweet Street. I would easily put a line through her last run when being well bet at Cork off the back of a career best run at Fairyhouse a week previous. She was beaten three lengths by the improving Chemical Energy on good ground. She was an eye catcher in a maiden hurdle over course and distance back in March when bet by the talented Royal Illusion. There is a slight question mark over the trip being on the sharp side for her, but I think if she can be handy early on, the slower ground should bring her stamina into it late on. I do not think a mark of 116 is the cap of her ability and think she will outrun her odds of 33/1.
After one winner and two horses in the placings yesterday, I have five selections to keep in mind for racing in Ireland on Tuesday.
The first of those runs in the Irish Daily Star Christmas Handicap Hurdle off at 12:35 at Leopardstown. I like the Dermot McLoughlin trained runner The Great White. He was an impressive winner in Limerick back in April, getting the better of Definiteadare by eleven lengths. He then backed up quickly at Punchestown when he underperformed, I think that run is easy excusable based on the quick turn around off a career best run. He has since run three times over fences and been placed in two of those events. He has been off since July, and I think that will play to his strengths. His win at Limerick came off the back of a break and I think being fresh will be the key to him. I think he still has the potential to be better than a 106 rated horse over hurdles and I think he will go close at 12/1.
The next race is the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle over three miles, a race that splits opinions due to the structure of the qualifying system for the final at Cheltenham. I was a big fan of Gentlemansgame last year and he is a very interesting runner off top weight, but my selection is Futurum Regem who runs off a very light racing weight. He has won his last two outings and looks to be a progressive type. The first of those wins came at Navan over two miles and six furlongs, winning by a very impressive nine lengths. He was last seen over two and a half miles when he got up in the shadows of the post to win a very competitive handicap. The step up to three miles looks sure to suit judged on his past two races. Neil Ryan has had a fantastic start to his career in racing and claims a very valuable seven pounds here. I think he will go very close at 12/1.
The final selection at Leopardstown comes in the Dornan Engineering Christmas Hurdle off at 1:45. The top two in the market set a high standard but I am going to take them on with Abacadbras. On ratings he has a few pounds to find with a few of his rivals, but I think the step up in trip could see him bridge the gap. He is a renowned strong traveller that may just do enough to get involved here. He was last seen in the Hattons Grace when he finished a distant third behind Honeysuckle, he has shown over the past few years that he needs a run to get up to speed. The form of his Aintree hurdle could hardly be working out any better with many of those who finished in behind coming out and winning. He should be the last horse off the bridle and if he gets the trip, I think he will be bang there at a tempting each way price.
The first of two selections at Limerick runs in the D Pack Packaging Handicap Hurdle off at 2:05. I like the chances of Chenery for now Grade 1 winning jockey Ian Power. She did not run a bad race last time out on her first start over fences. Prior to that she had been running on unsuitable ground and as a result has been falling back down the handicap to just a two-pound higher mark then when last seen winning in March on heavy ground. The ground and trip will be ideal and runs in the first-time blinkers which should sharpen her up. I think she has a great chance and will go very close at 14/1.
The final selection on the day comes in the Tim Duggan Memorial Handicap Chase off at 2:40. I like the Martin Brassil trained runner, Longhouse Poet. He was towards the top of the market for both the National Hunt chase at Cheltenham and the Irish Grand National before being taken out of both due to the ground being too quick as he is thought to be a soft to heavy ground horse, conditions he will get here. This will be his first run in just under a year leaving a question mark over fitness. He was last seen winning his beginners chase at Punchestown getting the better of two subsequent winners of significant staying chases. He was just below top grade as a novice hurdler, and I think he is a better chaser. The drop in trip is a slight concern but the testing conditions should make it a proper test of stamina. I think he will prove to be better than a mark of 145 in these conditions and could take a bit of beating.