Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: December 10th to 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.
Plan Of Attack - Cheltenham, 10th December 2021
Plan Of Attack put up another good performance over Cheltenham's cross-country course to finish third behind Diesel D'Allier in the Glenfarclas Crystal Cup Handicap Chase last Friday. Starting off just behind the leaders, he drifted back in the field early on, so that he was second last after they jumped the eighth obstacle, and last as they set out on their second circuit. He did well to get back into the race from there. It was a race in which it was probably an advantage to race handily, as it often is in these cross-country races. Still well back in a packing field as they raced down the far side final time, he made a mistake at the fourth last, which didn't help, and he wasn't overly fluent at the third last, but he made good ground for Darragh O'Keeffe to move up in behind the leaders over the second last, and he came there on the near side with a big chance on the run to the final obstacle. He just couldn't go on from there, Diesel D'Allier and Potters Corner got away from him, but he still kept on well up the hill to finish a clear third.
This was Plan Of Attack's second run at Cheltenham's cross-country track and, while he was better over the obstacles on this occasion than he was on his debut there in November, he still lacked fluency over the varied obstacles. But he did well to get as close as he did on both occasions, given that he just isn't a natural at the unique track. He could be a well-handicapped horse now though, back on a conventional track. Henry de Bromhead's horse has been dropped to a mark of 134 now by the Irish handicapper, 4lb lower than his mark last Friday, and 6lb lower than his peak. Fourth in the Kim Muir Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2020 off a mark of 140, he was travelling well in the 2021 renewal of the same race when he came down at the third last fence. He obviously goes well at Cheltenham, and he will be of interest if he goes back for the Kim Muir again this season. He has good runs on his CV too though at Aintree and Leopardstown, and he will be of interest wherever he goes next.
Moonlighter - Cheltenham, 11th December 2021
Moonlighter ran way better than his finishing position in fifth place suggests in the two-mile handicap chase at Cheltenham last Saturday. Weak in the market beforehand, he settled nicely for Tom Scudamore in mid-division behind a good pace that Editeur Du Gite set, and his jumping was really good. He moved into third place on the run to the second open ditch, and he travelled well in the leader's slipstream over the fourth last fence. He moved nicely up on the leader's outside on the run down the hill, and he was still travelling well on the run around the home turn. He came under a ride on the run to the second last fence, however, and he just weakened from there up the hill.
It was a disappointing finish to a race in which he promised lots. Pulled up on his only other run at Cheltenham, in the Grand Annual at the Festival in March, it may be that the Cheltenham hills just don't suit him. Nick Williams' horse had a wind operation after that run in the Grand Annual, and he was pulled up when he stopped quickly on his return in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter. This was just his second run back after his wind operation, and it may be that he will be seen to better effect now on a flatter track. The handicapper dropped him by 3lb for Saturday's run, down to a mark of 141, and he could be well handicapped now on that mark. He has run well at Sandown and Newbury in the past, and he will be of interest if and when he returns to one of those tracks.
Takeit Easy - Doncaster, 11th December 2021
Takeit Easy only finished fourth in the two-mile handicap hurdle at Doncaster on Saturday, but there was mitigation. Theo Gillard was allowed a relatively easy lead on Geromino, and the main protagonists were all still travelling well as they rounded the sweeping home turn. Takeit Easy picked up at the third last flight when Paul O'Brien asked him to, but he was squeezed out of it on the run to the second last flight, and he didn't meet that obstacle on a correct stride, with the result that he lost momentum on the landing side just as the pace was increasing. He was playing catch-up after that, and he just kept on over the final flight and up the run-in to take fourth place behind Tommy's Oscar, who just wore down the long-time leader Geromino close home.
Takeit Easy actually beat Tommy's Oscar in a handicap hurdle at Wetherby in October, and he was meeting Ann Hamilton's horse on 6lb better terms on Saturday. Of course, Tommy's Oscar has improved in the interim, he was an impressive winner at Haydock in November. Takeit Easy wasn't seen to best effect either on his last run before Saturday, off a sedate pace in a handicap hurdle at Huntingdon, but he still kept on for second place behind subsequent Gerry Feilden Hurdle winner Onemorefortheroad, with subsequent Doncaster winner Ingleby Hollow back in third. A handicap rating of 134 should be well within range for Pam Sly's horse, and he will be of interest now in a two-mile handicap hurdle in which it looks like there will be a decent pace on.
Explosive Boy - Fairyhouse, 11th December 2021
Explosive Boy ran another encouraging race in finishing sixth behind Breezy Bell in the two-mile handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse on Saturday. It was a race in which the pace held up well, Breezy Bell and Ever So Cool went on in front and they set up a significant gap between themselves and the rest of the field from early. Explosive Boy was held up early on, slightly worse than mid-division, and he travelled well through his race for Bryan Cooper, but he made a mistake at the fourth last flight, just as his rider wanted to get closer to the breakaway leaders. He came under pressure on the outside at that point, but he made good ground around the outside to move into a share of third place as they straightened up for the final two flights, about six lengths behind the two leaders before he tired from. He tired from there though, he just kept on from the second last flight to finish sixth behind the impressive winner Breezy Bell.
Off the track for over two years after he fell on his racecourse debut in March 2019, Tony Martin's horse finished third behind current Albert Bartlett Hurdle favourite Blazing Khal, and subsequent dual winner Gringo D'Aubrelle, in a maiden hurdle at Galway in October on his return, and he ran well for a long way in the maiden hurdle that Uhtred won at Naas in early November. By No Risk At All, the sire of Allaho and Epatante, and out of a mare who won over two miles and five furlongs, it may be that he will improve for stepping up in trip and, still a maiden, he has the potential to go beyond his handicap mark of 109.
Embrun Mitja - Naas, 16th December 2021
Embrun Mitja gave it a really good go from the front in the two-mile-three-furlong beginners' chase at Naas on Thursday. Sent to the front from flagfall by Mike O'Connor, his jumping was very good in the main, he seemed to enjoy himself out in front, and he travelled well down the back straight and into the home straight. His rivals assembled behind him as they turned for home, but he went on again on the run to the second last fence, still travelling well, and he picked up well when his rider asked him for his effort on the run to the last. He nodded a little on landing over the last, which obviously didn't help, but he had favourite Gaillard Du Mesnil, who raced up the stands rail, held, and he looked set for victory, before Capodanno finished off his race strongly to get up and beat him by just over a length.
It was a big performance by Capodanno, to finish off his race as strongly as he did, having made a bad mistake at the second last fence, and he deservedly gained the accolades, but the performance that Embrun Mitja put up in finishing second might go a little under the radar as a result. A winner over two miles on the flat in France, Henry de Bromhead's horse won the maiden hurdle on Thursday's card three years ago on his debut over hurdles. He has obviously had his issues, he was off the track for over two years after he finished third in a novices' handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse in April 2019, but he didn't run badly behind Gabynako and Fury Road on his first run back in a beginners' chase at Fairyhouse in November, and Thursday's run was a nice step forward from that. The two Willie Mullins horses that he split on Thursday, Capodanno and Gaillard Du Mesnil, have hurdles ratings of 147 and 150 respectively, so it was a fair performance by the Gigginstown House horse to get in there among them. It is interesting that he does hold an entry in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas but, if he does run at Christmas, the beginners' chase at Leopardstown is probably a more logical option. That is usually a hot beginners' chase, but he would be an interesting contender if he did take his chance in it. It may be that he will be at his best going left-handed over fences.
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