Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: December 26th to January 2nd
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.
Longhouse Poet - Limerick, 26th December 2022
Longhouse Poet kept on well to win the two-and-a-half-mile hurdle at Limerick on St Stephen's Day. Always prominent, in front or just up on the outside of Summer Melody, he moved on as they left the back straight final time. It looked like favourite Pinkerton was travelling better than him on his inside as they rounded the home turn, but Longhouse Poet picked up well from the second last flight as the favourite came off the bridle, and he stayed on well for Ricky Doyle over the last and up the run-in to win by a length from Bois De Clamart, with Pinkerton just behind in third.
Pulled up in a Pertemps qualifier at Punchestown in November on his seasonal return, this was much more like it from Martin Brassil's horse. Winner of the Thyestes Chase in January off a mark of 145, he travelled well for a long way in the Grand National at Aintree in April, he jumped the big fences really well, before his early exertions told and he tired from the second last fence. A year older now, a year stronger, it is probable that his astute trainer has had the 2023 Grand National in mind for him since last April. Interestingly, Martin Brassil sent out Numbersixvalverde to win the Thyestes Chase in 2005 before he sent him to Aintree to win the Grand National in 2006, bagging an Irish Grand National along the way.
Ain't That A Shame - Leopardstown, 27th December 2022
Ain't That A Shame ran another big race in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown on Tuesday. Settled in mid-division early on by Rachael Blackmore and along the inside, he made progress towards the leaders as they by-passed the fourth last fence and raced to the end of the back straight. A good jump at the third last fence saw him move up into third place, and he moved easily into the lead as they raced around the home turn, which is probably around about the point at which he traded at 1.56 in-running. He came under a ride on the run to the final fence, at which he got in tight and lost momentum. He was caught and passed by the winner Real Steel just after the last, but he still kept on up the run-in to go down by just over a length in the end.
It is remarkable that Ain't That A Shame has not yet won a chase. Now that Gaillard Du Mesnil has got off the mark over fences, he must be one of the best maiden chasers in training. And he has been unlucky, he was just caught by Champagne Platinum in a beginners' chase at Navan last January, and he was just caught by The Big Dog in the Munster National at Limerick in October. The Leopardstown Chase back at Leopardstown looks like a good target for him now. It isn't that he doesn't stay three miles, but he travels so well through his races, it may be that a slight drop back down in trip, to two miles and five furlongs, could suit him well. And we know that he can operate at Leopardstown, and in these big-field handicaps.
Good Land - Leopardstown, 27th December 2022
Good Land was impressive in winning the two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle at Leopardstown on Thursday. Sent to the front from early, Michael O'Sullivan quickly had him settled into a nice racing rhythm. The rider didn't panic when Embassy Gardens moved up on his outside on the run to the final flight, the usual second last. He didn't really ask his horse for his effort until they straightened up for home and, when he gave his horse a squeeze, the response was impressive. Good Land came right away from his rivals around the by-passed final flight, putting eight lengths between himself and his closest pursuer by the time he got to the winning line.
There were three hurdle races run over this course and distance on the day, and Good Land posted the fastest time of the three, over three seconds faster than the other two, and he was about two seconds faster from the third last flight to the winning line than the 147-rated Shewearsitwell was in winning the Grade 3 mares' hurdle, and Good Land was carrying 10lb more, even allowing for his rider's 5lb claim. Barry Connell's horse was impressive in winning his bumper at Wexford in October, a bumper from which the third horse, Landrake, has since come out and won twice over hurdles, and he did well to win here as well as he did, given that it was effectively his hurdling debut. He unseated at the first flight at Fairyhouse on his only previous attempt.
This maiden hurdle is a race that has been won by good horses in the past, with a roll of honour that includes Journey With Me, Stattler, Castlebawn West, Acapella Bourgeois and Windsor Park, and it is interesting that Barry Connell said that the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy Hurdle back at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival was in his mind now for Good Land. He should be a player in that race and, a half-brother to Fifrelet, a winner over two miles and five and a half furlongs, and out of a half-sister to stayer Tony Star, he could step up to three miles in time.
Maskada - Limerick, 28th December 2022
Mentioned here before after she fell at the second last fence when travelling well in a mares' handicap chase at Fairyhouse in November, Maskada is worth another mention now after she won the Tim Duggan Memorial Handicap Chase at Limerick last Wednesday. She was keen enough early on, and there was always a fear that those exertions would take their toll on the heavy ground in the latter stages of the race, but that fear proved ultimately to be unfounded. She travelled well through her race for Sean O'Keeffe towards the inside and in mid-division. She moved up just behind the leaders on the run around the home turn, moved to the outside early in the home straight, and she stayed on strongly over the last two fences to get the better of Krabat, keeping on well enough to withstand the last challenge from the well-backed Rebel Gold on the far side. She was actually going away again at the line.
It was a really likeable performance by Henry de Bromhead's mare. We obviously don't know how she would have fared at Fairyhouse had she not come down, but she had to have gone close, and that race is working out well, with the winner Malina Girl finishing second - admittedly a fairly remote second - to Allegorie De Vassy next time, and the runner-up Operational Mix winning a handicap hurdle at Limerick on Tuesday. Winner of a listed mares' chase last January for Stuart Edmonds, this was just Maskada's third run for Henry de Bromhead, and it was just her second run of the season, her first completion. The handicapper raised her by 8lb to a mark of 140, but she has just turned seven and she has the potential to go beyond that mark now. She handles soft ground well. All her best runs have been at right-handed tracks, but that may be more down to happenstance than anything else, and the Leopardstown Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival looks like a good target for her now.
Shanty Alley - Newbury, 31st December 2022
Shanty Alley ran a big race to finish second to Grumpy Charley in the Mandarin Chase at Newbury on New Year's Eve. Prominent from early, up on the outside of the leader Laskalin, he travelled well through his race for Conor O'Farrell, and he moved nicely up on the outside of the leader as they rounded the home turn. Laskalin picked up at that point, but Shanty Alley went with him easily, and they quickly established a break on the rest of the field. He moved into the lead on the run to the fourth last fence, but he got in tight to that obstacle, which allowed Laskalin back up on his inside. He got the better of that rival at the second last fence, by which time Grumpy Charley emerged as his only challenger on the near side. He couldn't repel that challenge, but he kept on well all the way to the line, going down by just three parts of a length in the end, with five and a half lengths back to Laskalin in third.
This was Shany Alley's 16th chase, but he is in the form of his life at present. Winner of two staying novice handicap chases two seasons ago, Ben Case's horse failed to complete in three runs last season, but a wind operation at the end of last season appears to have rejuvenated him. The handicapper raised him by 4lb for his Mandarin Chase run, which was fair, it takes him up to a mark of 129, still 3lb lower than his peak. He will be of interest now in another good staying handicap chase. The Sky Bet Chase at the end of this month at Doncaster, a track at which he won impressively as a novice, would be an interesting target for him now.
Saint Sam - Fairyhouse, 31st December 2022
Saint Sam ran out an impressive winner of the two-and-a-half-mile hurdle at Punchestown on New Year's Eve. Sent to the front from flagfall by Paul Townend, the Saint Des Saints gelding was a little keen early on, as he usually is, and he made a mistake at the fourth and fifth flights, but, apart from that, his jumping was very good. He kept on well all the way to the line, he had over six lengths in hand of Any Second Now and Run For Oscar by the time he got to the winning line, and the winning time was good.
This was Saint Sam's seasonal return, his first run since last April and his first run over hurdles since he finished fifth in the Grade 1 Champion Four-Year-Olds' Hurdle at the 2021 Punchestown Festival. Also, it was his first run over a distance in excess of two miles and a furlong, and he saw it out well. A high-class two-mile novice chaser last season, it is interesting that his trainer Willie Mullins spoke afterwards about potentially keeping him over hurdles now and possibly stepping him up again in trip. He could morph into an interesting candidate for the Stayers' Hurdle now if he did step up in trip, in a division that is wide open at present. He has only just turned six - eight of the last nine Stayers' Hurdle winners were six or seven - he should progress from this and, on his only completed run at Cheltenham, he finished second in the 2021 Fred Winter Hurdle.
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