3/8/2016 1:06:36 PM
Monday 18th January - Sunday 24th January 2016
BUN DORAN – POINT-TO-POINTER
A full-brother to leading Cheltenham Festival hope, Shantou Village, Bun Doran made a superb debut under rules in a Chepstow bumper in early November before disappointing on his hurdling debut at Newbury later that month, where he could only manage a well beaten fourth. However, the form of that race makes for much better reading now with the second and third running well on their subsequent starts and given that I had my reservations as to whether that was Bun Doran’s true running at the time, it was no surprise to see him run out an impressive winner of the concluding ‘Fixed Brush’ Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday. There is little doubt that this was a much easier race than he had contested on the previous occasion but the manner in which he dominated this field with bold front-running tactics was pleasing and the turn of foot that he produced when straightening-up for home was scintillating. He appeared to take to the fixed brush hurdles like a duck to water and that was no surprise given that I have always regarded him as an embryonic chaser. He was included in this year’s publication as a winner of his sole point and anything that he achieved over hurdles was always going to be a bonus. It will be interesting to see how the handicapper reacts to his Haydock romp and assuming that he isn’t too harsh, he could be aimed a decent handicap hurdle in the spring. Given the form that he is already showing in this sphere, he rates as an extremely exciting chasing prospect when the time comes and is definitely one to follow.
DOUVAN – TOP PROSPECT
Douvan once again enhanced his Racing Post Arkle credentials when running-out an impressive winner of the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown on Sunday. Taking into account that he was the long odds-on favourite on this occasion, it is fair to say that he proved very little but the old cliché of ‘you can only beat what is put in front of you’ comes to mind here and he dispatched his two rivals with the minimum of fuss. This was by far his best jumping display and I was particularly pleased with how he came up for Ruby Walsh when he was asked for a big leap at the final fence. After his sublime Supreme Novices’ Hurdle victory at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, I have been waiting for this awesome son of Walk In The Park to tackle the larger obstacles and I am over the moon that he has proved himself to be just as effective in this sphere. The Racing Post Arkle is now at his mercy and although his current odds of 4/7 make little appeal from a betting perspective, there is no chance that I will be taking him on as I believe he is a superstar chaser in the making.
The week in brief
LAKE VIEW LAD kept decent company on his only start across the Irish Sea when third in a Punchestown bumper behind the useful Nambour before being subsequently sold for £70,000 to Kevin Ross on behalf of Neil Alexander. After winning a bumper for his new connections at Hexham in November, he failed to complete on his two hurdling starts before making amends at Ayr on Tuesday. There was nothing wrong with his jumping on this occasion as he landed the odds when running out a comfortable five length winner. Given that there was little depth to this maiden hurdle, I expect that the handicapper may give Lake View Lad a fairly lenient handicap mark and I expect he can make his presence felt in handicap hurdles.
UAINTSEENOTHINYET created a deep impression at Fairyhouse on Wednesday when winning the two and a half maiden hurdle. He travelled beautifully throughout the race and after producing some exuberant jumps in the hands of Barry Geraghty, he showed a likeable attitude in the closing stages to deny the consistent Space Cadet by 2 ½ lengths. This 5-year-old is a gorgeous horse with plenty of size and scope about him and for that reason, I expect him to be carefully campaigned for the remainder of this season. Edward Harty is understandably excited to switch this son of Yeats to the larger obstacles and he is a horse that is well worth following for the foreseeable future.
The Margaret Mullins-trained SHE’S OTTO made an encouraging start to her racing career when finishing second in the concluding bumper on the same Fairyhouse card. Although she was ultimately unable to peg back the winner, she came from a long way off the pace, showing plenty of determination to cut the margin of the winning distance at the line and ought to be winning a similar contest in the future. It must be noted that she had a hard race in deep ground on this occasion and therefore, I expect her to be given a small break before returning in the spring.
After finishing second to Emerging Talent on New Year’s Day, GALA BALL went one better at Wincanton on Thursday, running-out an impressive twelve length winner of the two mile novices’ hurdle. It should be noted that this 6-year-old son of Flemensfirth was the stable second-string with Richard Johnson opting to ride favourite Casper King who attempted to come from a long way back but couldn’t peg back the eventual winner. This race boasts a decent record with previous winners including Thistlecrack (2015), Baltimore Rock (2014) and Shutthefrontdoor (2013) so it is fair to say that it often goes to a horse with a promising future. The front-running tactics clearly suited this Philip Hobbs-trained gelding and I expect connections to employ similar tactics in the future. He was only rated 118 prior to this victory and with his future most certainly in handicaps, he should prove well worth following.
ALPHA DES OBEAUX kept decent company as a novice hurdler last season and after a couple of solid efforts in open company this term, he got his head in front at Gowran Park on Thursday in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle. After what I thought was a laboured effort on his second start of the season at Leopardstown, it was impressive to see him travel so strongly throughout this race and after a mistake at the third-last he was immediately back on the bridle before steadily drawing clear from the small but select field to score by eleven lengths. I have always regarded this Mouse Morris-trained gelding as a long-term chasing prospect but this performance most definitely earned him a crack at the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Although the majority of his races have come when there is ease in the ground his two decent efforts in the spring prove that this is not essential and for that reason I rate him as a lively contender for the staying hurdlers ultimate prize.
After achieving an official rating of 148 over hurdles, I expected MALA BEACH to progress into a top-class staying novice chaser last season but after being restricted to only three outings and two slightly disappointing efforts this year, he made his handicap chase debut in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park off a mark of 142. Davy Russell positioned this Gordon Elliott-trained gelding perfectly throughout and although he made a couple of mistakes on the way around, he came to the last with what looked like a winning run. However, he was unable to get past the game winner, My Murphy, on the drive to the line and given that his conqueror probably relished the underfoot conditions more, he lost absolutely nothing in defeat. I expect that Mala Beach will prove himself better than his current rating of 142, especially when tackling better ground and he can make his presence felt in a similar event in the spring.
The concluding bumper at Gowran Park on Thursday looked an informative event on paper and with little separating the main market principles at finish, I had no reason to alter my opinion post-race. Avenir D'Une Vie was sent off the odds-on favourite for the successful father and son combination of Willie and Patrick Mullins, but he was unable to live with NEW TO THIS TOWN in the closing stages as the Jessica Harrington-trained gelding motored home to score by a comfortable 1 ¾ lengths. This son of Milan had created a good impression on debut at Thurles last month and I rate this performance as another step forward with him tackling stiffer opposition on this occasion. I expect that Harrington will bide her time with this 5-year-old this term with a switch to timber in the autumn seemingly on the cards. He will be an exciting recruit to the hurdling ranks and definitely one that I anticipate will have the ability to compete in graded hurdles in the future.
Since PADDY’S FIELD fell behind Onefitzall on his hurdling debut at Uttoxeter, I have been waiting for him to reappear as he caught my eye that day as a future winner of a novice hurdle and he confirmed that promise when running-out the winner of the Walking The Courses Novices’ Hurdle at Market Rasen on Friday. Although his jumping left a bit to be desired at times, he got the job done in workmanlike fashion and I feel that he is the type of horse that will appreciate a test of stamina in the future. He is still lightly raced and although there are more races to be won over hurdles with him, I expect that Ben Pauling will campaign him carefully this season with one eye on the future. He should make a lovely staying handicap chaser in the future and is one who enters the notebook as a long-term prospect.
At the moment BALLYALTON is remembered as the horse who chased home Faugheen in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, but after his latest second place behind Aso at Market Rasen, I think that Ian Williams’ charge is starting to find his feet over the larger obstacles and I predict that he will shed his maiden tag in that sphere sooner rather than later. His best runs over timber were on good ground so it is positive that he ran such an encouraging race, behind a useful rival, on testing ground conditions on his latest outing. It is also worth noting that he has now been given a handicap mark over fences of 140 (6lb lower than his hurdles mark) and it would be no surprise if his connections attempted to exploit this in the 0-140 Novices’ Handicap Chase on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival. Although he would be carrying top weight, he has plenty of class and it would not be out of the question for him to defy this type of mark, especially considering that he is almost certain to encounter quicker ground conditions in March. However, I do feel that he is likely to appreciate a step-up to three miles at some stage and taking that into account, he should find plenty of opportunities in handicap company.
Willie Mullins unleashed VROUM VROUM MAG on British soil for the first time in her career and she made no mistake by defying her short odds to land the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday. Many questioned the strength of her form coming into the race but the Rich Ricci-owned mare was a cut above her rivals on this occasion and by scoring by an easy 3 ½ lengths, she enhanced her Cheltenham Festival claims. Although she proved that she stays the three mile trip on this occasion, I have my doubts as to whether this is her best trip and I expect that she might get found out against better opponents in the World Hurdle over a stiff three miles. The Grade 1 Mares Hurdle over two and a half miles would be the obvious target for this high-class mare but it appears that Rich Ricci intends to run Annie Power in that race so it seems unlikely she will take up her engagement in that particular contest. She also has the option of running in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase which trip-wise would suit her better, in my opinion. However, given that she has raced over hurdles the last twice, I do expect to see her take her chance in the World Hurdle.
The two mile and three furlong handicap hurdle at Ascot on Saturday was a fiercely competitive event and for different reasons, I noted down three horses who should be followed in the future. I have long been a fan of the winner, ROCK THE KASBAH, and he defied another career-high mark of 144 to gamely land the prize. I have had Philip Hobbs’ gelding down as one who will progress into a lovely chaser in the future since winning a bumper at Ffos Las in October 2014 and based on the level of form that he is showing over timber, he ought to take high-rank in the novice chase division next season. KILCREA VALE came into the race as an inexperienced hurdler and taking that into account, he ran a good race to finish sixth in what was only his fourth career start. I expect that this experience will have taught him plenty and although he has been given a tough opening mark of 147, he is one to consider for the spring festivals where he should be competitive in handicap hurdles. It was the other Nicky Henderson-trained runner SUGAR BARON who is the last horse worth taking out of this race. After being sent off as the 7/1 co-favourite, he appeared to get outpaced at a crucial stage and on this evidence, he is desperate for a longer trip. I advise that Sugar Baron enters your notebook as a long-term prospect as I expect it will be in staying chases where he will prove worth following.
Hardly original but UN DE SCEAUX earned a mention in this week’s review with a pleasing victory in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase at Ascot. After falling on his seasonal reappearance for a second consecutive season, this Willie Mullins-trained trailblazer made no mistake at the second time of asking as he dispatched former Champion Chase winner, Sire De Grugy with the minimum of fuss. In my opinion, he now holds all the aces when it comes to the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, where even a rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre may struggle to peg him back.
BRISTOL DE MAI made it three wins from five starts over fences with a commanding victory in the Grade 2 Altcar Novices' Chase at Haydock on Saturday. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ 5-year-old had strong form in the book coming into this race including a solid second in a Grade 1 behind Ar Mad and for that reason, it was surprising that he was sent off as the second favourite. However, this dashing grey galloped his rivals into submission with another brilliant display of jumping and he sauntered to an easy 32 length win from Amore Alato, throwing his hat into the Cheltenham Festival ring. The JLT Novices’ Chase is probably his most likely festival target, however, it must be noted that Twiston-Davies did say post-race that he will also be considered for the RSA Novices’ Chase. His jumping is a real asset and although there would be questions about how he will handle a quicker surface, he is a horse with plenty of potential and should be taken very seriously in either race.
With Bun Doran running away with the ‘Fixed Brush’ Novices Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday it was easy to detract from any other promising performances in behind but the runner-up VINTAGE CLOUDS is definitely worth a mention after a fine display to finish six lengths behind the impressive winner, attempting to give away a 7lb penalty. The front pair were thirty six lengths clear of the remainder and with both horses having plenty of size and scope to jump a fence in the future, it is likely that they both have a bright future when switching to the larger obstacles. Vintage Clouds stuck on gamely after coming under pressure rounding the home turn and his ability to find under pressure is something that will stand him in good stead in the future. I expect Sue Smith will target a couple more novice hurdle races before switching him to fences in the autumn, where he ought to be competitive in in the staying novice chase division.
After finishing a satisfactory fourteen lengths behind Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Min on his hurdling debut, GURTEEN contested a bumper on his next outing where he beat well-regarded Some Neck by one and a half lengths. He was switched back to the hurdling ranks at Navan on Saturday where he blew his rivals away, coming to the last with plenty left in the tank, before easing down to record an impressive three length victory. Gurteen should be capable of winning a decent pot for Robert Tyner but taking into account that he could be the best horse he has ever trained, I expect he will be campaigned with the future in mind. Obviously this performance further enhances the reputation of Min which hardly needed enhancement after his breathtaking win in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novices Hurdle and at the time of writing, he still looks the one to beat in the Festival curtain raiser, in my opinion.
FASCINO RUSTICO was making his chasing debut for his new stable at Navan and, in my opinion he looked like opening his account for Gordon Elliott at the first time of asking before tipping up at the final fence. Regardless of whether or not you felt that he had the race at his mercy when coming to grief, there are still plenty of positives to be taken from this performance including the way he settled in a first time hood and that his jumping was pretty assured on the whole. Assuming that he is none the worse following his final fence departure, I expect this talented hurdler to be pencilled in for another novice chase in the coming weeks and if he can repeat this performance, he would have a very good chance of shedding his maiden tag over the larger obstacles next time out.
Plenty have cribbed FAUGHEEN’S jumping technique in the past but other than a mistake at the final flight, I was pleased with his jumping in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday as he destroyed his two stablemates Arctic Fire and Nichols Canyon to record what I deem as his most impressive performance of his career to date. As expected, Ruby Walsh dominated proceedings aboard the reigning Champion Hurdler from the outset and as he gradually increased the tempo his four rivals were unable to live with him. Turning into the straight the writing was already well and truly on the wall for Nichols Canyon and although Arctic Fire kept on honourably, Faugheen never broke sweat as he cantered to a fifteen length success. With the lack of an English Champion Hurdle contender at present, the race looks Faugheen’s to lose and victory in the two mile championship event will mean that he can take his place among the other multiple Champion Hurdle winners and begin to gain the respect that he most definitely deserves.