Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: November 11th to 18th
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.
Hector Javilex - Cheltenham, November 11th 2022
Hector Javilex did well to finish fourth in the conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle at Cheltenham last Friday, having raced prominently from flagfall. He settled in second place early on behind the keen-going outsider Cheng Gong, with the field well stretched out behind them from early. He moved up to join the leader at the top of the hill, and he jumped into the lead at the third-last flight. He quickly came under a ride from Lilly Pinchin on the run to the second-last flight as Fine Casting moved up on the outside, but he responded well to pressure. He jumped the final flight almost beside the new leader but, in the end, his early exertions took their toll up the hill, and he faded to finish fourth behind Sweet Will.
It was a fine performance by Charlie Longsdon's horse to keep on as well as he did after racing prominently in a race in which the winner and the third both came from well back in the field.
It was just his fifth run over hurdles too. Winner of his two hurdle races last March, he wasn't beaten that far in the Grade 2 Persian War Hurdle at Chepstow on his first run back after his summer break, and this was probably a step forward from that. The handicapper raised him by just 2lb to a mark of 125, and he has the potential to go beyond that mark now. He is only five. He stays this two-mile-five-furlong trip well and, second in a point-to-point, he could get three miles over hurdles in time. He goes well on this goodish ground.
Fontana Ellissi - Cheltenham, November 12th 2022
Fontana Ellissi put up a good performance to finish second behind Annual Invictus in the three-mile handicap hurdle at Cheltenham last Saturday. Held up at the back of the field early on by Robbie Dunne, he made good progress from the second-last flight. He got in tight to the last, the usual second last, which wasn't ideal, but, only sixth as they raced to the home turn, he stayed on well from there. He was short of room as they raced around the by-passed final fence, and his rider had to check his momentum at that point. When moved towards the far side, he stayed on best of all to move into second place, going down by three parts of a length in the end.
Samuel Drinkwater's horse did well to get as close as he did. It was a race in which the pace held up well, the winner made just about all the running and the third horse, Sidi Ismael, raced in second place from early, while the fourth horse, Punxsutawney Phil, raced in third from the top of the hill. Fontana Ellissi did well to get in among them from the rear, and he wasn't helped by having his momentum checked in the home straight. The handicapper raised him by just 2lb for this to a mark of 120, and that was more than fair. He is not obviously unexposed - this was his 17th run over hurdles - but he is only six, and this was his first run over three miles. He has the scope to progress now at this distance and, while he probably wouldn't want the ground to be too testing, good to soft is fine.
Ga Law - Cheltenham, November 12th 2022
Noted here before as a horse to follow after his seasonal return in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree, Ga Law is worth noting again after his victory in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham last Saturday. He did well to win as things didn't go well for him throughout the race. Well back in the field early on, it didn't look likely when they started to run down the hill and Jonathan Burke started to ask him for an effort. Still only sixth and well behind the leader Storm Control as they raced to the home turn, it appeared that a few of his rivals were travelling better than him at that point, but, moved to the outside as they rounded the home turn, he started to make his ground towards the leaders. He got in tight to the second-last fence, which didn't help, and he was tight again at the last. However, French Dynamite wasn't great at the last fence either, and Ga Law stayed on strongly up the hill to get up and win by three parts of a length.
It was a really game effort by Jamie Snowden's horse, and he should be able to step forward again from this. He has now won four of his seven chases, and he raced here as if he would appreciate a stiffer test of stamina now. He kept good company as a novice two seasons ago, won the Grade 2 Rising Stars Novices' Chase at Wincanton, was third in the Henry VIII Chase and second in the Pendil Chase. Off the track for all of last season, he looks like an even better horse now. The handicapper raised him by 6lb for Saturday's win to a mark of 148, but that was not harsh. He is only six and has raced just seven times over fences so has the potential to continue progressing now, especially over longer trips.
Get My Drift - Navan, November 13th 2022
Hollow Games was very good in winning the two-mile-one-furlong beginners' chase at Navan last Sunday, but Get My Drift put up a nice performance to finish third behind him. Settled towards the rear of the field early on by Mark Walsh and towards the outside, his jumping was very good in the main for a debutant. He moved up nicely at the end of the back straight to latch onto the end of the leading group of seven, he travelled well into the home straight, and he jumped the third-last fence in a share of third place. He just got a little out-paced when they quickened from the second-last fence, but he stayed on well up the run-in to just get the better of Colonel Mustard for third place.
It was a really encouraging run by Mouse Morris' horse in his first chase, his first run since Punchestown in April. It was a race that was dominated by Hollow Games from the front, and in which it was difficult for the hold-up horses to get involved. The other three horses who, with Get My Drift, filled the first four places all raced prominently, and Hollow Games was faster from the second-last fence to the winning line than Captain Guinness was in the Fortria Chase later in the day. Get My Drift didn't win over hurdles after he won his maiden hurdle at the 2020 Leopardstown Christmas Festival, but he ran some decent races in defeat, including when finishing third in a competitive handicap hurdle at the 2021 Leopardstown Christmas Festival. Also, he jumped his fences so well here, there is every chance that he will be a better chaser than hurdler. He should be able to win his beginners' chase soon before stepping up in grade.
Ferns Lock- Fairyhouse, November 15th 2022
Ferns Lock was seriously impressive in winning the hunters' chase at Fairyhouse last Tuesday. Sent to the front from flagfall by Barry O'Neill, his jumping was superb, and he had his rivals on the stretch from a long way out. Three lengths clear jumping the third-last fence, he travelled well into the home straight as his rivals came under pressure. He jumped the last two fences well and came right away from his rivals, appearing to finish with plenty of energy left 12 lengths clear of his rivals.
There was an awful lot to like about this performance from David Christie's horse, on his first run in a hunters' chase. He had only run in three point-to-points before this, two of which he had won, but the quality of his jumping belied his inexperience. This is a race that David Christie and Barry O'Neill won last year with Vaucelet, who went on to win the Frank & Teresa O'Reilly Memorial Hunters' Chase at Fairyhouse, before finishing a close-up second behind Billaway in the Champion Hunters' Chase at Punchestown in April. He then followed that up by winning the Horse and Hound Cup at Stratford in May. Ferns Lock looks like a hugely exciting recruit, and he will be of interest again wherever he goes next.
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