Donn McClean's Horses to Follow: April 10th - 17th
Before we dive in, some basic rules for a horses to follow list is to keep them in a tracker and on your radar for the next three runs, bearing in mind ideal conditions across variables like venue, ground, opposition and price are satisfactory to you as a punter. This column should help you build up a list that proves profitable under those circumstances, provides timely reminders to reduce repeated form study and assist with your enjoyment of a season be it National Hunt or Flat racing in the UK and Ireland and sometimes beyond.
Khuzaam - Lingfield, 2nd April
5yo Gelding, Roger Varian
Khuzaam is not exactly under the radar, but he was seriously impressive in winning the All-Weather Mile Championships Final at Lingfield on Good Friday, and he might be under-rated when he goes back on turf. He was keen enough through the early part of the race, up on the outside of early leader Canagat, who set a fast pace but, the further they went, the better he travelled. He moved up on the outside of the leader as they rounded the home turn and, when Jack Mitchell asked him to pick up at the two-furlong marker, he quickened up impressively. He quickly put three lengths between himself and his pursuers, and he kept on strongly up the home straight to win by five lengths from the talented Mums Tipple, a 109-rated horse, with the 105-rated Bless Him staying on well from the rear to take third place.
It was a big performance by Roger Varian's horse. He travelled like the best horse through the race off a fast pace, the manner in which he picked up and came away from talented rivals was impressive, and he clocked a fast time. He won just two of his first eight races, he finished second in five of the other six, but he is two for two now since he was gelded.
This was a career-best performance and, while he is five now, he has only run 10 times in his life, and he is on a serious upward trajectory now. He will have to prove that he can be as good on turf as on an artificial surface, he hasn't run on turf since he finished second in a handicap at Yarmouth in September 2019, and his dam was at her best on all-weather, but she is a half-sister to Guineas winner Ghanaati, from the family of Nashwan, and there is every chance that Khuzaam can be at least as good on turf. He doesn't hold any lofty entries, but he will be of interest now when he steps up into listed or Group company back on turf.
Funambule Sivola - Aintree, 10th April
6yo Gelding, Venetia Williams
The Maghull Chase was all about Shishkin obviously, he was sent off the 1/8 favourite and he won in the end, but he didn't have as much in hand of Funambule Sivola as the market suggested he would have.
Shishkin may have under-performed, he had to have had a hard race in the Arkle at Cheltenham just three and a half weeks earlier, when he clocked a fast time. For all that he won well, but Funambule Sivola still emerges from this race with huge credit. He travelled into the race well, he jumped well and he was the only one who was able to mount a challenge to Shishkin. Also, there was a fraction of a second, just after Shishkin got in tight to the final fence and landed without momentum, that you weren't certain that Funambule Sivola wouldn't give him a real race. In the end, he went down by just four lengths to a horse who was rated 20lb superior to him, and he finished miles clear of his other rivals in a race that was run in a fast time, 0.33secs/furlong faster than Racing Post par.
It was another step forward by Venetia Williams' horse. Zero for six over hurdles, including four since he arrived from France, he won four of his six handicap chases for Williams before Saturday this season, progressing as he gained experience and moving up the ratings. Winner of a two-mile handicap chase at Chepstow in February on soft ground off a mark of 133, he was impressive in beating his two rivals at Ascot at the end of last month off a mark of 141. An 8lb hike still left him with 20lb to find with Shishkin on official ratings, so he did really well to get as close to him as he did. He looks like a real two-mile chaser - his poorest run was over two and a half miles on soft ground at Sandown on Tingle Creek weekend - and it appears that he is as effective on good ground as he is on soft ground. He is only six, and he is an exciting prospect for next season.
Farclas - Aintree, 10th April
7yo Gelding, Denise Foster
It was a remarkable Grand National, a fantastic result and a brilliant performance by Minella Times, trained to the minute by Henry de Bromhead and ridden to perfection by Rachael Blackmore. JP McManus' horse is only eight, and he won with such authority that he could go and win it again, even after the handicapper has had his say. He has to be the first horse on your list for next year's Grand National.
It was a fascinating race, and there were other horses who ran well in defeat and whose performances can be upgraded. Any Second Now is the most obvious, he made a mistake at the 10th, where rider Mark Walsh did really well to slip his reins and minimise the loss of momentum, and he was badly hampered when Double Shuffle fell in front of him at the 12th. Ted Walsh's horse is nine now and he will be 10 next year but the 2019 Kim Muir winner should still make it onto your 2022 list. Balko Des Flos ran a massive race at a massive price, he took really well to the fences and he came from well back early on after being hampered at The Chair to finish second, while Discorama also ran a big race, starting off in rear and making nice ground into a good position, but probably doing a little more than rider Bryan Cooper would have wanted him to do before fading as his early exertions took their toll.
Farclas also ran really well for a long way. Starting off in the front rank, the Gigginstown House horse was very good over the first four fences, but Jack Kennedy was happy to allow him drop back a little into the second rank, just behind the leaders. He travelled well though, and he was economic over lots of his fences, skimming through the tops of them Tiger Roll-esque instead of jumping out over them. There were a couple of little momentum-stallers on the way around. Burrows Saint jumped across him a little at the 11th fence, and he took a bit of a false step on landing over the 13th, but his rider always looked happy that his horse was in a nice rhythm. He made a slight mistake at the fourth last fence, and he was in tight to the third last, and the leaders got away from him from there a little. But he remained with the leading group, ninth of the group of nine as they raced around the home turn and faced up to the second last fence. Jack Kennedy held him together over the second last fence and, although a tired horse jumping the last, he kept on admirably up the run-in to finish fifth.
It was a massive run from a seven-year-old. While eight-year-olds have now won four of the last six renewals of the Grand National, seven-year-olds have a truly terrible record in the race. Bogskar in 1940 remains the last seven-year-old to win the race, and the best-placed seven-year-old finisher since the turn of the millennium before Saturday was Big Fella Thanks, who finished sixth behind Mon Mome in 2009. Farclas went one place better on Saturday. Interestingly, Big Fella Thanks went back to the Grand National in 2010 and finished fourth.
Denise Foster's horse is a classy and progressive young staying chaser. Winner of the Triumph Hurdle in 2018 - another trait that he shares, as well as his maroon and white silks, with Tiger Roll - he was placed in three big handicap chases this season, the Paddy Power Chase, in which he was one place behind Minella Times, the Leopardstown Chase and the Paddy Power Plate at Cheltenham. It wouldn't be surprising if connections aimed exclusively at next year's Grand National with him from now and in a race in which eight-year-olds now have a really good record, he should be on your very short list for 2022.
Luke Short - Leopardstown, 11th April 2021
4yo Gelding, Derville Meade
Luke Short did well to come from the rear to get up and take third place behind Real Appeal in the seven-furlong handicap at Leopardstown. Well enough away from his outside draw in stall 12, the Sayif gelding settled nicely towards the rear of the field for Sam Ewing. Declan McDonogh got to the front on Pulse Of Shanghai and steadied it down, and Sam Ewing had to bide his time until he could wheel to the outside in the home straight and ask his horse for his effort. Just 15th of the 16 runners as they raced inside the two-furlong marker, Luke Short picked up well when he got into the clear towards the near side, and he stayed on well past horses to get up for third place. It never looked like he was going to catch the well-backed winner Real Appeal, who picked up well just in front of him, but he ran all the way to the line, just failing to catch Dream Today for the runner-up spot.
It was a good run by Noel Meade's horse on his seasonal debut. Winner of a nursery at Naas over a mile in September 2019, he only raced three times last year as a three-year-old, and he looked good in winning an apprentices' rated race over a mile at Leopardstown on the second of those runs. He should come on for this run, his first since last September, and he shaped as if he would benefit from a step back up to a mile. He obviously goes well at Leopardstown, so he will be of particular interest if and when he goes back there, and his best runs have been on good ground.
Beat Le Bon - Newmarket, 13th April
5yo Gelding, Richard Hannon
Beat Le Bon did well to finish as close as he did in the Class 2 handicap at Newmarket on Tuesday. It was a race in which, and a day on which, it was an advantage to race prominently and towards the stands rail. The first four home in this race were drawn, respectively, eight, nine, 11 and 12 of 13 stalls (12 runners, with Gallipoli withdrawn from stall seven after bursting out the front of the stalls before the starter said go), and the four of them occupied the first four places from flagfall. By contrast, Beat Le Bon was drawn in stall four, towards the far side, and he was restrained towards the rear of the field. As well as that, he was keen early on, he wasted energy in wanting to go faster than rider Sean Levey wanted him to go. Still a little keen passing the four-furlong marker, he picked up on the run to the two-furlong pole. It never looked like he was going to get to the winner Double Or Bubble, who ran out an impressive winner, but he kept on really well out in the centre of the track to finish fifth, missing out by a short head and a nose for third place.
Richard Hannon's horse did not lack for race fitness going into the race as he had run four times since the turn of the calendar year, but three of those runs were on all-weather and one was in the Listed Doncaster Mile. Winner of the Golden Mile at Goodwood in 2019, his four runs last season were all in Group company, and he proved his class when he finished second behind Regal Reality in the Group 3 Sovereign Stakes at Salisbury last August. This was his first run in a turf handicap since his Golden Mile win, and this run suggests that his current rating of 105, 5lb lower than his peak, could underrate him at least a little. Gelded at the end of last season, he will be of interest in a valuable handicap now, or in a listed race, ideally over a mile, although he is also effective over seven furlongs. He goes well on good and fast ground, and he will be of particular interest when he goes back to Goodwood, where he has run three times and won twice. The Golden Mile would be a legitimate target again this season.
Portfolio - Newmarket, 14th April
3yo Filly, Sir Michael Stoute
Portfolio put up a nice performance to finish third in the one-mile three-year-old fillies' maiden at Newmarket on Wednesday. Weak in the market beforehand, she was settled nicely in mid-division early on by Ryan Moore and over against the far rail. She travelled well through her race and, ridden along as they raced into the Dip, she kept on well. Fifth on the run to the furlong marker, she kept on well through the final furlong to get up and take third place behind Delta Bay, Professional Widow and Rikmah, who all raced handily from flagfall. Portfolio only finished fourth, but she was only beaten a total of a length by the winner, and she was keeping on well all the way to the line.
It was a nice performance by Sir Michael Stoute's filly, on her seasonal debut and just her third run ever. She shaped encouragingly on her racecourse debut over seven furlongs at Kempton last September and, while she didn't build on it next time, back over the same course and distance, this was much more like it. She stayed the mile well here and, by Deep Impact out of Diploma, who won over 10 furlongs, she could improve again as she steps up in distance.
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