Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: January 22nd - 27th
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.
Craigneiche - Ascot, 23rd Jan
7yo Gelding, Nicky Henderson
Craigneiche sprang a mild surprise by winning the Holloway's Handicap Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday, but he ran out an impressive winner, and it may be that he will still be under-rated after this.
Nicky Henderson's horse was weak in the market too, on this, his first run in over a year, and he reportedly wasn't on his best behaviour beforehand. He was a little keen too through the early stages of the race, despite the fact that Paddys Motorbike set a good pace. He was kept towards the outside by Tom Cannon, probably with a view to giving him a good sight of his hurdles, given his lack of experience, but that probably wasn't a disadvantage, the better ground was probably towards the outside.
Still keen as they raced into Swinley Bottom, he moved up on the outside of leaders Paddys Motorbike and Kateson on the run to the fourth last flight. He came under pressure on landing over that obstacle, it appeared as if he wasn't travelling as well as the two leaders, or as well as some of his rivals in behind, including Arrivederci and Dans Le Vent, and he looked booked for third place at best as they rounded the home turn and as Dans Le Vent started to stay on from the rear, but he found lots in the home straight. He was almost upsides new leader Kateson at the second last flight, he had moved into a three-length lead by the time they jumped the last, and he stayed on well up the run-in to win by seven lengths in the end in a good time.
The handicapper raised him by 12lb for this to a mark of 139, but he has the potential to go higher still. Winner of his only bumper, he finished third to The Big Breakaway in a novices' hurdle at Newbury on his debut last season and, on his only other run last term, he won his maiden hurdle at Doncaster last January. This was his first run since, and it was his first handicap, so his potential for further progression is obvious. He stays this two-and-a-half-mile trip well and, out of a bumper winner, he raced here as if he would have no problem stepping up in trip. He will be of interest in another handicap now off his new mark of 139. The Heroes Handicap Hurdle over three miles at Sandown on Scilly Isles Chase day could be a good next step for him. That, or the two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle back at Ascot on Ascot Chase day.
Paddys Motorbike - Ascot, 23rd Jan
9yo Gelding, Sam Thomas
Paddys Motorbike is the other horse to take out of the Holloway's Handicap Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday. There was a lot of competition for the early lead, and it was a competition that Paddys Motorbike won, but he probably had to expend a fair amount of energy in order to get to the front, and he set a fair pace on the ground once he got there. He jumped well and he travelled well in front, and he lasted in front until the home turn, when Kateson and Craigneiche moved on in front of him, and he weakened from there to finish fifth in the end.
He ran better than that though. He probably had to go faster than ideal in order to bag the lead, and he raced towards the inside throughout, probably on the worst of the ground. The four horses who finished in front of him all raced off the inside rail. He went into the race on an upward curve, having won his previous two races, both novice hurdles, and he was sent off as favourite for Saturday's competitive race on the back of those two wins. Fifth in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2019 when he was with Nigel Twiston-Davies, he was off the track from July 2019 until he made his debut for Sam Thomas in a maiden hurdle at Chepstow in October this season.
He is nine, but he has had his issues and, consequently, he is relatively lightly raced for his age. The handicapper dropped him by 1lb after Saturday's race to a mark of 130, and that is a mark off which he will be of interest again in another good handicap hurdle, ideally returned to a track that favours prominent racers over hurdles.
Cobolobo - Ascot, 23rd Jan
9yo Gelding, Jonjo O'Neil
Cobolobo did well to finish second in the three-mile handicap chase at Ascot on Saturday. There was plenty of potential pace in the race, and Jonjo O'Neill's horse made all the running to win on his previous run at Exeter, so it wasn't surprising that he was involved in the early battle for the lead.
It was a battle that he ultimately ceded to De Forgotten One, but he just settled in behind that rival in second place early on, with the front pair a little way clear of the rest of the field. He remained in second place until the ultimate winner Enqarde moved up on his outside at the third last fence and relegated him to third, and it looked like he would weaken from there, but he stuck to his task well. He moved back into second place at the second last fence as De Forgotten One weakened and, while it never looked like he was going to get to Enqarde, he kept on well to retain second place, ahead of Crossley Tender and Yalltari.
It was another good run by Jonjo O'Neill's horse, racing off a mark of 128, 8lb higher than the mark off which he won at Exeter on his previous outing. He was ridden forward that day in his first-time cheekpieces, and that is a combination that seems to suit him well. He will be of interest again now, cheekpieces retained, perhaps at a track that favours prominent racers and ideally when he doesn't have too much competition for the early lead.
Jerrysback - Ascot, 23rd Jan
9yo Gelding, Philip Hobbs
Jerrysback stayed on well to take third place behind the game front-running Dashel Drasher in the two-mile-five-furlong handicap chase at Ascot on Saturday. Settled nicely in mid-division early on by Richard Johnson, it took Jerrysback a little while to warm to his task, but he had settled into his rhythm by the time they raced up the home straight first time. Dashel Drasher set an unrelenting pace in front, and most of his rivals were happy to allow him off. Jerrysback made nice progress as they raced to the sixth last fence, and he moved into fourth place as they rounded the home turn. He stayed on well from there too. It never really looked like he was going to get to Dashel Drasher, but he moved into third place at the second last fence, and he kept on well from there to get to within four lengths of the winner by the time they got to the winning line.
It was a most encouraging comeback run by Philip Hobbs' horse. Two for two over hurdles four seasons ago, he has raced just eight times over fences since, including just twice last season, and this was his first run since he finished third behind fellow JP McManus-owned horse Regal Encore in the Silver Cup at Ascot in December 2019. He has obviously had his issues, but he will be of interest if he can get a good run at racing now. The handicapper left him on his mark of 142 after this, a mark that is 6lb lower than his peak, and that is a mark off which there could be a good handicap chase in him. He will be of interest wherever he goes next, but he goes particularly well at Ascot, and he handles soft ground well.
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Silver Hallmark - Haydock, 23rd Jan
7yo Gelding, Evan Williams
Much of the focus after the Grade 2 Altcar Chase at Haydock on Saturday centered on Allart, and his departure at the second fence in the back straight, and it was a pity that he didn't stand up, because it might have been a good race between him and the winner Silver Hallmark. Fergal O'Brien's horse got into a good rhythm in front for Adam Wedge. His jumping was assured, with the exception of the third fence in the back straight, the fence after the one at which Allart departed, and he had his two remaining rivals on the stretch from the top of the home straight. He picked up well from that point, he jumped the four fences in the home straight well, and he stayed on well up the run-in to come away from Marown, with Galahad Quest well back, third of the three finishers.
While his task was rendered easier than it might have been by Allart's departure, Silver Hallmark could not have done much more than he did. He travelled and jumped like a talented individual, he appeared to win with a fair bit more in hand than the bare winning margin and he clocked a good time. The Shirocco gelding beat McFabulous in winning his maiden hurdle at Chepstow in November last season and, while he was well beaten in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle next time, that just wasn't his running, on soft ground at Sandown, and he didn't race again last season.
He was only just beaten by the Tolworth Hurdle winner Fiddlerontheroof on his chasing bow at Exeter on his debut this season, and this was a nice step forward from that. He handled the heavy ground well, although his trainer said afterwards that he probably didn't want it quite as heavy as it was. His trainer also said that he didn't enter him in any of the Cheltenham Festival novice races, he feels that he needs more experience, but that he could run at Aintree if the ground came up soft. The Altcar Chase has been won in the past by Taquin Du Seuil and Bristol De Mai and Waiting Patiently, and Silver Hallmark is an exciting novice chaser who could be a little under the radar.
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