Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: February 17th-24th
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.
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Musical Slave - Ascot, 20th Feb
8yo Gelding, Philip Hobbs
Musical Slave did well to finish third in the three-mile listed handicap chase at Ascot on Saturday, coming from the rear in a race in which the prominent racers did well. The winner Captain Chaos led or disputed the lead from flagfall, while Cobolobo, who also led or disputed from early, finished fifth, and the fourth horse, the 40/1 shot Sub Lieutenant, raced in third place from early. By contrast, Musical Slave raced in rear. Spurned by Richard Johnson in favour of Jerrysback, and weak in the pre-race market, the Philip Hobbs-trained gelding wasn't great at either of the first two fences, with the result that he was stone last of the 10 runners at the third fence. He settled into a rhythm after that, and his jumping was fine, without being overly slick. He got in tight to a few of his fence, including the two fences in the home straight first time as well as the first fence on their final circuit which, while not disastrous, weren't overly helpful as momentum generators. He was last of the remaining eight runners as they raced up the side of the track final time, as the two leaders Captain Chaos and Cobolobo kicked on and had a 10-length break on the rest of the field as they raced to the home turn. Cobolobo weakened from there, but Captain Chaos kept up his relentless gallop. Musical Slave moved into third place around the home turn and, while he ceded second place to his fast-finishing owner-companion Regal Encore at the second last fence, he kept on well enough to finish a clear third.
Winner of three of his six hurdle races, including the Adare Manor Opportunity Series Final at the 2019 Punchestown Festival, JP McManus' horse was a progressive novice chaser last season, his season culminating in a fine run to finish second to this year's Tommy Whittle Chase winner Sam's Adventure in a novices' handicap chase at Uttoxeter's Midlands National meeting in March, on his first attempt at three miles. He shaped encouragingly in a two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase on his seasonal return at Newbury's Ladbrokes Trophy meeting in November, despite not jumping very well, and this was his first run back since he unseated his rider in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster last month. There could still be a good handicap chase in him off this type of mark in the mid to high 130s, especially if he can become more fluent over his fences. The handicapper dropped him by 2lb to a mark of 135 for Saturday's defeat, which was a nice bonus. He remains unexposed over three miles, and he could do even better on better ground as we move into the spring.
Saint Dalina - Ascot, 20th Feb
7yo Mare, Charlie Longsdon
Saint Dalina did well to stay on as well as she did to take third place in the three-mile handicap hurdle at Ascot on Saturday, coming from mid-division in a race in which, and on a day on which generally, it was probably an advantage to be prominent.
Weak in the market beforehand, Saint Dalina lined up in the front rank, but she missed the kick a bit. They went very fast very early, and she was worse than mid-division by the time they jumped the first flight and rounded the first turn.
She travelled well from there though, in mid-division, behind a good pace that J'Ai Froid and Fawsley Spirit set. She came under pressure on landing over the third last flight, but she found plenty for pressure. She moved in behind the two leaders along the inside as they rounded the home turn and, while she couldn't get past either, she stayed on well on the far side all the way to the line to get to within two and a half lengths of the winner J'Ai Froid, just holding onto third place from Flight Deck.
It was a good run by Charlie Longsdon's mare, coming from as far back as she did. The first two home, J'Ai Froid and Fawsley Spirit, occupied the first two places from flagfall, and Saint Dalina was the only one who threatened them in the home straight. Off the mark over hurdles at Ffos Las last March on her final run last season, she has progressed nicely this term, winning a handicap hurdle at Uttoxeter in December and running well to take fourth place in the Pertemps qualifier that Imperial Alcazar won at Warwick in January, racing from 4lb out of the handicap. The handicapper raised her to a mark of 122 after that, and she proved that she was up to that mark on Saturday, racing in cheekpieces for the first time. She probably wasn't helped by the drying ground, but she is only seven, and there could be more to come from her now, ideally with cheekpieces retained. She goes well at Uttoxeter, on soft or heavy ground at Uttoxeter, so she will be of particular interest if she goes there on Midlands National day this year, a day on which the ground is often very soft.
Farinet - Haydock, 20th Feb
6yo Gelding, Venetia Williams
Farinet put up a good performance to take third place in the two-and-a-half-mile novices' handicap chase at Haydock on Saturday.
Fairly weak in the market on this, his first run for Venetia Williams and his first in Britain, he led through the early stages of the race, travelling keenly enough. He was headed after they jumped the middle fence down the back straight, and he got in a little tight to the next, but rider Charlie Deutsch appeared to be happy enough to track the leaders on the run out of the back straight. He travelled well into the home straight too, but he came under pressure on the run to the fourth last fence as Galahad Quest, Marown and The Ferry Master broke clear. It never looked like he was going to get to the front two, but he stayed on well up the run-in to take third place, just five lengths behind runner-up Marown.
It was a really encouraging run by Farinet on his British debut, and his first since he finished second in a two-and-a-half-mile conditions chase in July on his last run in France. It was a performance from which he should be able to build, and he would be interesting if he stepped up in trip next time. He is only six and this was just his sixth run over fences, so he has lots of scope for progression. He will be of interest wherever he goes next, and he will be of particular interest if and when he steps up in trip.
Bushypark- Haydock, 20th Feb
7yo Gelding, Philip Kirby
Bushypark put up a really impressive performance to win the Pertemps qualifier at Haydock on Saturday. Sent to the front from flagfall by Thomas Dowson, he was three lengths clear by the time they got around into the back straight and jumped the first flight, and he extended his lead as they raced down the back straight. The field closed up on him as they raced up the home straight first time, but he stretched them out again down the back straight final time. He led into the home straight, stretched on again on the run to the third last flight, flew that obstacle and kept on well over the last two flights, clearing away from the last and running out a really impressive winner in a good time.
This was a really likeable performance from a seriously progressive horse. Philip Kirby's horse has now won his last five hurdle races over the course of the last three months, and he has progressed dramatically in that time. He won on his seasonal debut at Hexham in November over two and a half miles off a mark of 83, and he has now won his next four. He was well beaten at odds-on in a jumpers' bumper at Newcastle on his last run before Saturday, but he came home lame that day, so you can easily allow him that. He resumed his progress here, proving that he was better even than the mark of 120 off which he raced.
The handicapper raised him by 12lb to a mark of 132, and that may still not be high enough to get him into the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham. Even so, he will be of interest in another stayers' handicap hurdle now, before the ground gets too good. He did win over two and a half miles at Doncaster in December on good to soft ground, but he is probably at his best over three miles on soft or heavy ground.
Es Perfecto - Newbury, 20th Feb
6yo Gelding, Alan King
Es Perfecto put up a good performance to finish fourth in the three-mile handicap hurdle at Newbury on Sunday.
He was slightly hampered at the first flight when Dhowin fell in front of him, which left him further back in the field than rider Tom Bellamy probably wanted. That wasn't necessarily a negative as things turned out, given that they went hard up front, and the hold-up horses came to the fore. Es Perfecto travelled really well through his race, he moved up nicely on the run out of the back straight, and he travelled best of all at the top of the home straight, moving menacingly well through horses to join the front rank after the third last flight. His run flattened out from there, as the three horses on the far side fought out the finish, but he did well to keep on to get the better of Sizable Sam for fourth place on the near side.
It was a fine run by Alan King's horse, and he should progress for the experience. It was just his fourth run over hurdles, it was his first run in a handicap and it was his first run over three miles under Rules. Winner of a point-to-point and out of a sister to staying chaser He Rock's, he should get three miles all right in time in time. It was probably a lack of experience more than a lack of stamina that was his undoing in the end here, but it may be that he will be better over two and a half miles for now.
This was just his fourth run over hurdles, and he will be of interest in another handicap hurdle now off this type of mark in the mid-130s.
First Lord De Cuet - Wincanton, 20th Feb
7yo Gelding, David Pipe
First Lord De Cuet put up a strong performance to win the two-mile-five-furlong handicap hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday. Prominent from early, up in behind a good pace that Kansas City Chief set, he moved up nicely to dispute the lead going down the back straight final time. Three others were up there with him, Kansas City Chief, Oneupmanship and Adicci, and they all travelled well to the end of the back straight, but First Lord De Cuet moved to the front as they left the back straight, and Adicci was the only one of his rivals who was able to travel up in behind him.
Adicci came under pressure, however, as they raced to the second last flight, whereas Jack Tudor was still fairly motionless on the leader at that point. He didn't go for his horse until they had landed over the final flight and, when he did, First Lord De Cuet picked up well, and he came clear to win impressively.
David Pipe's horse continues on a good upwards trajectory. Winner of his maiden hurdle at Southwell in December last season, he hadn't won in five attempts this season before Saturday, but he had finished second three times, including on his previous run at Chepstow, when he got to within two and a half lengths of Nightboattoclyro, who won next time too at Wetherby off a 5lb higher mark. The handicapper raised First Lord De Cuet by 10lb for Saturday's win to a mark of 137, but he is only seven and he will be of interest again off his higher mark. He obviously goes well on this soft ground, but he ran well at Market Rasen last November on goodish ground. Also, he won his point-to-point for Donnchadh Doyle on good ground and he won his bumper on good to soft ground, so he will remain of interest as we move into the spring.
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Espanito Bello - Newbury, 20th Feb
7yo Gelding, Barry Connell
Espanito Bello did well to get as close to Coko Beach as he did in the Grade 2 Ten Up Chase, on his first run in two months and his first run over three miles over fences.
He wasn't brilliant at a few of his fences. He made mistakes at the first and third fences in the back straight final time, and he wasn't great at the last fence before the home turn, but he closed on Coko Beach and Forza Milan at the top of the home straight, and he actually picked up just in front at the third last. He and Coko Beach moved on from Forza Milan at that point, and it looked like Barry Connell's horse might have been getting the better of Coko Beach, when he landed steeply over the final fence, nodded on landing and lost momentum, and with it all chance of winning the race.
We will never know how this would have panned out had Espanito Bello jumped the final fence well, but even if he had run Coko Beach close, it would still have been a fine run by the Turgeon gelding. He looked good in beating Coko Beach and Longhouse Poet in a beginners' chase over two miles and three furlongs at Naas in December on his previous run, and that form has obviously been enhanced since. Coko Beach won the Thyestes Chase in January, and Longhouse Poet stayed on well in a three-mile beginners' chase at Punchestown on New Year's Eve to beat Run Wild Fred, subsequently second to Coko Beach in the Thyestes Chase, and The Big Dog, who won the Grand National Trial at Punchestown last weekend. Espanito Bello saw out this three-mile trip well and, still only seven with just four runs over fences on his CV, he has plenty of scope for progression now, especially if he can brush up on his jumping a little, which he may do as he gains more experience. The handicapper raised him by just 1lb for this to a mark of 147, and that is a mark off which he will be of interest in a high-class staying handicap chase. He stayed this three-mile trip well, and he could be an Irish National horse.
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