Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: January 2nd to January 9th
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.
Elixir De Nutz - Wincanton, 7th January 2023
Elixir De Nutz is nine now, but, fitted with cheekpieces for the first time for the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Wincanton on Saturday, he put up a performance that was up there with the best of his career. He had to get the better of an early duel for the lead with fellow front-runner Kiltealy Briggs, but he moved into a clear lead before they got to the second fence, and he didn’t see a rival thereafter. Kiltealy Briggs moved up on his outside again as they raced to the end of the back straight, but Brendan Powell was holding onto plenty at that point. He didn't ask him to pick up until after they jumped the third last fence and, when he did, the response was impressive. He pinged the second last fence and came right away from his rivals over the last and up the run-in to win by over eight lengths in the end in a good time, the fastest comparative time of the day by a fair way and bang on Racing Post par.
Only just beaten by Xcitations at Doncaster over two miles on his previous run, this was a nice step forward from that, up in trip. His record over further than two miles and a furlong reads 21191, the nine at Ascot on his debut this season. He is still relatively lightly-raced over fences for his age and, winner of the Tolworth Hurdle in 2019, he remains unexposed at this intermediate trip. The handicapper raised him by 7lb for this win, but that still only takes him up to a mark of 145, 8lb lower than his peak over hurdles. He will be of interest again now over two and a half miles, with cheekpieces retained, ideally at a flat track. Although he has won at Cheltenham, his best runs have been at flatter tracks, Kempton and Sandown and Doncaster and now Wincanton.
Gemirande - Sandown, 7th January 2023
Gemirande was well beaten by Certainly Red in the end in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Sandown on Saturday, but he did well to finish a good second behind a horse who stays this trip well. Sent to the front from flagfall by Charlie Deutsch, Gemirande jumped and travelled well through the early part of the race, but he nodded on landing over the first of the Railway fences, he got in tight to the second, and he clipped the top of the third, losing momentum at all three fences. Even so, he was able to retain the inside berth from Precious Eleanor as they raced out of the back straight, and he jumped on again at the Pond Fence. Certainly Red moved in behind the leading pair however on the run to the second last fence and he ran out a good winner, but Gemirande kept on well to finish a clear second.
All of Gemirande's best runs before this were on good or good to soft ground. Venetia Williams' horse was 10lb higher here than he was for his previous run when he won at Southwell, but he proved here that he was well up for this mark of 124. Raised 2lb for this, he will be of interest again now his new mark of 126, ideally when he can get back on better ground. He has only just turned seven and this was just his seventh run over fences, so he has the potential for more.
Xcitations - Sandown, 7th January 2023
Xcitations was good in winning the two-mile handicap chase at Sandown on Saturday. He always travelled well through his race for Jack Andrews, up on the outside of the leader Corrigeen Rock from early. His jumping was very good, and he moved to the front as they raced around the home turn and faced up to the second last fence. Grey Diamond was a faller at that obstacle when travelling well, but Xcitations was travelling at least as well at that point, probably a little better, and he found lots from there over the last and up the run-in to win in a good time by nine lengths from Corrigeen Rock, who had run out an impressive winner over the course and distance a month earlier.
Pam Sly's horse won in December and in January last year, and he has now repeated that feat this year. He didn't race again after January last season, so hopefully his trainer can get a good run with him now this term, because he is a really likeable and progressive individual. The handicapper raised him by 7lb for this win to a mark of 140, but there is every chance that he is progressive enough to cope with that hike. He has raced just seven times over fences, and he has won four times. His previous wins had all been on good or good to soft ground, but he proved here that he could operate on soft ground too, and this two-mile trip is a good trip for him.
Cadatharla - Naas, 8th January 2023
Cadatharla was impressive in winning the two-mile-three-furlong Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Hurdle at Naas on Sunday. Settled just behind the leaders early on, he was slightly hampered at the sixth flight when Reflectionist made a mistake in front of him, which saw him drop back towards the rear of the field, but rider Aidan Kelly didn't panic, he allowed his horse recover his rhythm and make his ground gradually again towards the leaders. JP McManus' horse travelled well into the home straight, he moved easily into the lead at the second last flight and, despite making a mistake at the last, he came away from his rivals up the hill and won well.
Colm Murphy's horse had shaped encouragingly in his two previous races, he was only beaten 13 lengths by Arctic Bresil on his previous run and, on his run before that, he had finished seventh in the maiden hurdle that was won by subsequent Grade 3 winner and current Albert Bartlett Hurdle favourite Hiddenvalley Lake, which has worked out really well subsequently. This race appeared to lack strength in-depth, but the runner-up Justicialism was one for one at Naas going into the race, and the third and fourth were both high in the market, and Cadatharla was well on top at the end. The handicapper raised him by 13lb to a mark of 122, but he is only five and this was just his fourth run over hurdles. He has the potential to go beyond his new handicap mark.
Quirke's Gate - Naas, 8th January 2023
Quirke's Gate stayed on well to finish second behind Hunter's Yarn in the two-mile maiden hurdle at Naas on Sunday. The winner was sent off the long odds-on favourite, and he led from flagfall, with the leading group of five clear from early in a well stretched-out field. Quirke's Gate was fifth of the leading quintet, about eight lengths behind the leader as they started off down the back straight. He moved into fourth before they left the back straight, he was third over the second last and he stayed on well up the run-in for Michael O'Sullivan, despite making a mistake at the final flight, to get up for second place in front of Tophill Low.
This was an encouraging return to action by Barry Connell's horse. Sixth in a maiden hurdle behind Grangee on his racecourse debut last season, and sixth in a bumper at Naas next time, this was his first race in over 12 months, and he was relatively strong in the market beforehand. A half-brother to Dash Of Blue, whose two wins were gained over two and a half miles, he shaped here as if a step up in trip would not be a negative. He will be of interest now in another maiden hurdle for a trainer who is going great guns this season, and who appears to have a particularly nice group of novice hurdlers.
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