Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: January 28th - February 3rd
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.
No Grey Area's - Thurles, 27th Jan
6yo Gelding, Martin Hassett
No Grey Area's only finished fourth in the two-mile handicap hurdle at Thurles on Wednesday, but he ran better than the bare form of the run suggests.
Settled nicely towards the rear of the field early on and towards the inside, Martin Hassett's horse travelled well through his race for Pa King. He was just starting to make his ground when a mistake at the final flight in the back straight checked his forward momentum. He got caught in behind horses then as they raced towards the end of the back straight. No better than ninth of the 10 runners as they raced out of the back straight, he made progress across the top of the track, and he moved into fifth place as they levelled up for home. He looked a threat at that point, but he tired on the run to the last, and he just kept on from there to take fourth place behind Blanketontheground.
This was a race in which, as things panned out, it was probably an advantage to race prominently. The first three home, the three horses who finished in front of No Grey Area's, occupied three of the first five places from early, they were first, second and third as they raced to the end of the back straight, and they all raced a little wide. By contrast, No Grey Area's raced in rear. Also, that mistake at the final flight in the back straight halted his progress at a crucial time in the race when he probably needed to get closer to the leaders. He had to do a lot of running just to recover his position.
He had beaten the winner of Wednesday's race, Blanketontheground, in a rated novices' hurdle at Limerick on his previous run. That race panned out better for him and he won nicely under a fine hold-up ride by Pa King, who delivered him with a well-timed challenge to hit the front on the run-in. Wednesday's race panned out differently however, with the prominent racers doing best. He was 10lb worse off with Blanketontheground on Wednesday, including riders' claims, but he was still entitled to finish closer to her than he did.
Martin Hassett's horse remains of interest. The handicapper raised him by 8lb for his Limerick win, but he will still be of interest in a handicap off his mark of 115. He is only six and he has raced just seven times over hurdles. He goes well on heavy ground, and he still has the potential to go beyond his mark of 115.
Enjoy D'Allen - Thurles, 27th Jan
7yo Gelding, Ciaran Murphy
Enjoy D'Allen put up another game performance to land the two-mile-five-furlong handicap chase at Thurles on Wednesday. Racing just behind the leaders from early, he made progress on the outside as they raced to the end of the back straight to move into second place behind Tikkanen Express and R'Evelyn Pleasure as they raced across the top of the track. He wasn't overly fluent at the second last, and he came under pressure as they raced around the home turn. It appeared as if he wasn't travelling as well as R'Evelyn Pleasure as they straightened up for the final fence, but he stayed on well for pressure, joined the leader just after they had landed over the final fence, and he surged away to win by four lengths.
It was a fine performance by Ciaran Murphy's horse. He was a progressive horse for Peter Fahey in the autumn, and he has continued that progress now since he has joined Ciaran Murphy and Dot Love. The Network gelding provided Ciaran Murphy with his first winner since he took over the licence when he stayed on well to win at Fairyhouse two weeks earlier, and he provided him with his second winner here. And there was a similar style about both victories, on neither occasion did he travel like the most likely winner until relatively late in the race, but he surged ahead on the run-in in both races. The handicapper raised him by 8lb for his Fairyhouse win, and he raised him by another 9lb for his Thurles win, but he continues his forward run and he has the potential go higher than his new mark of 136. He is only seven, he has raced just six times over fences, and he is on a good upward trajectory now. As well as that, he races like he could do even better over a longer trip, so he could progress again for a step up to three miles.
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Coko Beach - Gowran Park, 28th Jan
6yo Gelding, Gordon Elliott
Noted after he finished second behind his stable companion Pencilfulloflead on his chasing bow at Galway in October, Coko Beach is worthy of mention again following his impressive performance in landing the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park on Thursday.
He was very good in winning the Thyestes. He missed the kick a little, but he had the pace to get himself into a good position from early. After that, he did everything easily for Jack Kennedy. His jumping was very good, easy and accurate and he travelled like the most likely winner from a long way out. He jumped to the front at the third last fence, and he was very good at the last two as well, he pinged the last and he stayed on well up the run in to win by four lengths from his stable companion Run Wild Fred, running through the line and leaving the impression that he had more left to give.
Gordon Elliott's horse was a good hurdler, he finished second in the Fred Winter Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival as a juvenile, but he always threatened to be a better chaser. He was beaten in all his four chases before Thursday, but all those runs were all over distances that were short of three miles, and one of them was in the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase against Envoi Allen. Stepped up to three miles and one furlong on Thursday and fitted with a set of blinkers, he put up the best performance of his career.
The handicapper raised him by 12lb for Thursday's win, to a mark of 150, but he is only six, he was the youngest horse in the Thyestes, and that was just his fifth run over fences, so he has the potential to progress beyond his new mark. He would be of interest if he took his chance in the Ultima Chase at the Cheltenham Festival off that mark, but the National Hunt Chase looks like a more attractive Cheltenham Festival target now. He would be one of the highest-rated horses in that race - he is officially rated just 1lb inferior to his stable companion Galvin, who is a big player in the race, but who is around one-third the price of Coko Beach - and his two runs at the Cheltenham Festival have both been good. As mentioned, he finished second in the Fred Winter Hurdle in 2019 and he did well to keep on as well as he did in the Coral Cup last year after being badly hampered at the second last flight. He still has to prove his stamina for three miles and six furlongs, but he stayed three miles and one furlong well on Thursday on attritional ground, and there is every chance that he will stay the trip all right.
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Run Wild Fred - Gowran Park, 28th Jan
7yo Gelding, Gordon Elliott
Runner-up Run Wild Fred was the other horse to take out of the Thyestes Chase. The Shantou gelding was settled further back in the field than his stable companion Coko Beach by Sean Flanagan, but he got into his racing rhythm and, while he wasn't as fluent over a few of his fences as his stable companion he was still able to make nice progress as they raced to the end of the back straight final time. He jumped into fifth place at the fourth last fence and, while he came under pressure on the run around the home turn, he stayed on well from the third last fence. It never looked like he was going to catch Coko Beach, but he did well to keep on as well as he did to take second place, especially given that he wasn't fluent at any of the three fences in the home straight.
It was a good step forward by the Gigginstown House horse. Winner of two of his four bumpers and of two of his four races over hurdles, he hasn't won yet over fences, but his last two runs now have been very good. On his last run before Thursday, he was only just beaten by the talented Longhouse Poet in a beginners' chase at Punchestown over an extended three miles, when he had The Big Dog back in third. He stays three miles well, he won a Grade 3 novices' hurdle at Punchestown last February, and he shapes as if he could do even better if he went beyond three miles over fences. The handicapper raised him by 4lb to a mark of 140, but that is still 4lb lower than his mark over hurdles, and he has the potential to go beyond that over fences. He could be a horse for one of the big staying handicap chases in the spring, he could be an Irish National horse.
Diol Ker - Gowran Park, 28th Jan
7yo Gelding, Noel Meade
Diol Ker was only just beaten by Sams Profile in the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park on Thursday. Prominent from early, second behind early leader Mary Frances, Noel Meade's horse travelled best of all to the home turn up on the outside of the leader. He came under pressure on the run to the second last flight as his stable companion Sixshooter came up on his outside, but he found plenty for pressure. He hit the front briefly on the run between the final two flights before Sams Profile headed him on the run to the last. He battled back well though on the attritional ground after he had been headed. Switched to his left on the run-in, he came back at Sams Profile and got to within a half a length of him by the time they got to the winning line.
It was a big performance by Sams Profile, to come back and win a Galmoy Hurdle, but it was a big run too by Diol Ker to get as close to him as he did, with the pair of them pulling well clear of Sixshooter in third. And it was interesting that Sean Flanagan chose to ride Diol Ker in front of Sixshooter, despite the fact that the other Noel Meade representative was shorter in the market.
A point-to-point winner, Diol Ker got off the mark on his fourth attempt over hurdles, staying on strongly to beat Monkfish and Escaria Ten in a two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse in November 2019. He didn't run again after that until he made his chasing bow in a hot beginners' chase at Galway in October, which was won by subsequent Grade 2 winner Pencilfulloflead, with Thyestes Chase winner Coko Beach finishing second. Sent off as favourite for that race, he got no further than the fifth fence, and he was beaten on his next two runs over fences. He got back on track over hurdles though, at Limerick's Christmas Festival, when he stayed on well to get back up and beat Born By The Sea over two and a half miles, off an unsuitably slow pace and over a distance that should have been shorter than ideal for him. He stepped forward from that again on Thursday, stepped up to three miles and fitted with cheekpieces for the first time.
It appears that the plan for the Gigginstown House horse is to remain over hurdles now, with the Stayers' Hurdle a likely target, and he could be a little under the radar still. He will be of interest in any or all of the good staying hurdles at the spring festivals.
Floressa - Doncaster, 30th Jan
6yo Mare, Nicky Henderson
Floressa was beaten by a better mare at the weights on the day in Miranda in the Grade 2 Yorkshire Rose Mares' Hurdle at Doncaster on Saturday, but she ran well in defeat, on ground that was probably softer than ideal for her.
She settled into a nice rhythm from early behind a fast pace that Sopat set, and her jumping was really good. She was fast and fluent and low at most of her obstacles. She moved easily into the lead on the run around the home turn, and the only rival who could go with her was Miranda. It was apparent before the second last flight that Paul Nicholls' mare was travelling better, but Floressa still kept on well all the way to the line, going down by just four lengths in the end, conceding 4lb to her, with the first two well clear of Marie's Rock in third.
While Floressa handled the soft ground well, you have to think that she will be even better when the ground gets a little bit better. Winner of the Gerry Feilden Hurdle at Newbury in November off a mark of 141, it was understandable that she was no match for Silver Streak and Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle on her previous run, but she got to within a neck of the 157-rated Ballyandy that day. She is only six and she still has scope for progression. She could still be ahead of her handicap mark of 143.
Breakeven - Naas, 31st Jan
6yo Gelding, Thomas Mullins
Breakeven ran well to finish third behind Limestone Rock in the first division of the two-mile-three-furlong maiden hurdle at Naas on Sunday. Settled in mid-division early on by Sean O'Keeffe, Tom Mullins' horse travelled well through his race and his jumping was good. He travelled well to the home turn, eighth of the leading group of eight that broke away from the field. Sixth jumping the second last flight, he stayed on well from there. He had no chance with Limestone Rock, who made all and ran out an impressive winner, but he kept on well up the run-in to get the better of El Barra for third place.
This was much more like it from Breakeven. A dual point-to-point winner for Denis Murphy, the Scorpion gelding kept on well to win his bumper over two and a half miles at Tipperary last August on his first run under Rules. He came up short in each of his first two runs over hurdles, but this was a nice step forward again. It appears that his jumping is improving with experience, and he stays two and a half miles well.
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