Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: January 10th to January 15th
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.
Whatcouldhavebeen - Fairyhouse, January 14th 2023
Whatcouldhavebeen ran out a game winner of the two-and-a-quarter-mile mares' maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse on Saturday. Settled just a little better than mid-division early on by Aidan Kelly behind a decent pace that favourite Feddans set, she was seventh of the leading group of seven as they jumped the third-last flight. She made nice progress in behind the leaders as they raced to the home turn, and, while she wasn't obviously travelling best of all at that point, she kept going forward as her rider asked her. A mistake at the second-last flight didn't help, but given a couple of strides to recover her equilibrium, she picked up nicely on the run to the final flight. She jumped that obstacle much better, and she stayed on strongly up the run-in to get the better of Feddans to win, going away, by just over a length, with the pair of them nicely clear of A Law Of Her Own.
It was a nice performance by Jarlath Fahey's mare. This was a decent mares' maiden hurdle; the second and third were both bumper winners and the fourth, Splashing Out, had finished second to dual Grade 1 runner-up Irish Point in her maiden hurdle, and the first four were clear of another bumper winner. Whatcouldhavebeen was progressive on the flat during the latter part of last season - she won a 12-furlong handicap at Galway on heavy ground in October off a mark of 64 on her latest run on the flat. Now rated 72 on the flat, she got stronger here as the race developed and could be even better when she steps up in trip. She is only five, and this was just her third run over hurdles, so she has the potential to continue her progression now over the smaller obstacles.
Corbetts Cross - Fairyhouse, January 14th 2023
Corbetts Cross ran out an impressive winner of the three-mile handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse on Saturday. Settled in fourth place early on by Maxine O'Sullivan, he moved up nicely on the outside as they raced towards the third-last flight. He touched down over that obstacle in a share of the lead. He travelled well around the home turn, moved to the front on the run to the second last and stayed on well over the last two flights to come clear of his rivals. He won by six lengths in the end, but he left the impression that he had much more in hand than that.
Winner of his point-to-point last February and winner of his bumper on debut this season at Cork in October, Eugene O'Sullivan's horse stayed on well to win his maiden hurdle over two miles and five furlongs at Limerick over Christmas, when he beat Seabank Bistro - fourth in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham last March - into second place, with the pair of them clear. He probably improved for that experience, and for the step up to three miles on Saturday - when he was racing in Paul Byrne's colours for the first time - and there is every chance that he will improve again now. The handicapper raised him by 13lb to a mark of 143 for Saturday's win, but it was just his third race over hurdles, so he has bundles of potential for progression. His new handicap rating could still underestimate him, and he will be of interest when he steps up in grade now.
Deere Mark - Kempton, January 14th 2023
Deere Mark only got home by a length-and-a half in the two-mile handicap hurdle that concluded proceedings at Kempton on Saturday, but he travelled like the most likely winner from a long way out, and there could be more to come from him now. Settled in fourth place early on, he was big at the first flight of hurdles, and his jumping lacked fluency thereafter. He didn't really make mistakes as such, but he just wasn't sharp and spent plenty of time negotiating his obstacles. Even so, he travelled well around the home turn in fourth place and moved easily into the home straight behind the ridden-along Kaleb. He moved up to join the leader on the run to the last, travelling easily, and he found plenty on the run-in to go on from that rival, leaving the impression that he was only doing as much as he needed to do.
It was a good day for Sam Thomas, with this win coming just 50 minutes after he had won the Classic Chase at Warwick with Iwilldoit, and Deere Mark looks like an exciting recruit. Winner of his bumper at Hereford last March, he got off the mark over hurdles on his third attempt, back at Hereford just before Christmas. This was a nice step forward from that, as he got the better of Kaleb, himself a progressive five-year-old who had got to within seven lengths of the Tolworth Hurdle winner Tahmuras at Haydock on his previous run, with the pair of them finishing nicely ahead of Head Law, who had been strong in the market and who travelled well into his race.
A 6lb hike for Deere Mark was more than fair, and as a six-year-old who has raced just four times over hurdles, he has bags of scope for progression now. He holds an entry in the Betfair Hurdle, and he could be an interesting contender in that. A strong pace and a big field should suit him well and, if he can improve the fluency of his jumping just a little, he could go well in that race if he gets to line up in it.
Kitty's Light - Kempton, January 14th 2023
Kitty's Light finished almost 20 lengths behind the winner Annsam in the three-mile handicap chase at Kempton on Saturday, but it was still an encouraging run. Towards the rear of the seven-strong field from early, he got out-paced when Adam Wedge started to turn the screw on Annsam in front as they raced down the back straight, and he had to be ridden along as they reached the end of the back straight. He stuck to his task, though. Fifth as they straightened up for home, he stayed on well over the last three fences. He moved into third place on the run to the final fence, and he closed to within less than three lengths of the runner-up, Smarty Wild, by the time they got to the winning line.
It was a good run by Christian Williams' horse on ground that was probably softer than ideal and over a distance that was probably shorter than ideal. He is unusual in that he is a real stayer who relishes a true test of stamina, but his best form is away from soft and heavy ground. The handicapper dropped him by another 3lb for this run, which was very fair, down to a mark of 132. That is 17lb lower than his peak and 12lb lower than the mark on which he started this season.
All his runs this season have been over three miles or shorter, so he will be of interest again now when he goes beyond that distance. He has been placed in the last two renewals of the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown - he was unlucky not to win the race in 2021 - and that is an obvious end-of-season target for him again. It is a good race for him, run over an extended three-and-a-half miles, usually on goodish spring ground. The Scottish Grand National is another legitimate target, a race in which he finished second to his stable companion Win My Wings last year, as is the Eider Chase at Newcastle in late February, if the ground came up good to soft or better there. He will be interesting now the next time he races over an extreme trip on ground that is good to soft or better.
Cahirdown Boy - Punchestown, January 15th 2023
It appeared as if Cahirdown Boy still had at least a little left to give when he came down at the second-last fence in the two-mile-six-furlong beginners' chase at Punchestown on Sunday. Settled nicely early on by Conor McNamara just behind the leader Salmanino and along the inside, his jumping was good in the main. He made a mistake at the first fence down the back straight final time, the sixth last, and he ceded second place to From The Ashes as a consequence, but he was quickly back into his rhythm, and his rider appeared to be fairly relaxed. He travelled well across the top of the track and was moving back up easily on the inside into a share of second place again when he got in tight to the second-last fence and came down.
Of course, it is impossible to know how Eric McNamara's horse would have fared had he safely negotiated the second last, but he was still travelling well at the time, better than ultimate runner-up From The Ashes and at least as well as Salmanino, who made all. He is eight now and has run 23 times over hurdles but obviously hasn't won yet over fences. However, but this was just his seventh chase. On his previous run, he finished a good second to Bonnie Kellie in a handicap chase at Limerick on St. Stephen's Day, and he was probably going to step forward from that here. He has form over shorter, but he won over an extended two-and-three-quarter miles over hurdles, and he will be of interest again over this type of trip over fences, perhaps ideally on better ground.
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