Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: November 1st to 6th
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.
Knappers Hill - Wincanton, November 5th 2022
You have to love the way that Knappers Hill continues to progress, and he was good again in winning the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton last Saturday. Sent to the front from flagfall by Harry Cobden, he had his three rivals on the stretch from a long way out. Sceau Royal moved menacingly in behind him at the top of the home straight, as the pair of them came away from Knight Salute and Milkwood, but Knappers Hill found lots for pressure. Sceau Royal came under a ride at the second last, and he couldn't really get close to Knappers Hill, who kept on willingly all the way to the line.
It was a fine performance by Paul Nicholls' horse. Sceau Royal had won the last two renewals of this race (as well as the 2016 renewal), so you can be sure that it was a big target for him this season again and that he would have been primed for it. However, Knappers Hill beat him well, with the pair of them finishing well clear of two 145-rated rivals. This was a one-mile-seven-furlong contest on a flat track on fast ground, which was a sharper-than-ideal test for Knappers Hill, and he isn't usually a front-runner, but he did everything really impressively. He is seriously progressive; this was his fourth win on the spin, and it opens up new options for him, both in terms of class-rise and in terms of tactics. It appeared as if he enjoyed himself out in front. He holds an entry in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday November 26th, and he wouldn't be out of place in that Grade 1 contest.
Remastered - Aintree, November 5th 2022
Remastered was good in winning the Pertemps qualifier at Aintree last Saturday. Prominent from early, second behind the leader Johnson's Blue, he moved into the lead at the top of the home straight, and he came clear over the final two flights. He only won by four lengths in the end from Milan Bridge, but he was eased down close home and had much more in hand than that.
It was a really nice return to action by David Pipe's horse. He made his seasonal debut in this race last year, too, when he finished third behind Koshari and Deise Aba. His next run after that last year was in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury, the old Hennessy, in which he was travelling well when he came down at the fourth-last fence. That race is surely the target again this year, for all that his trainer did say that he will be keeping an eye on the ground.
He was rated 133 over hurdles when he finished third in the Aintree race last year and raced off a mark of 132 this year. He is now rated 139 over hurdles after winning that race. He raced off a chase mark of 146 in the Coral Gold Cup last year and will get to race off a mark of 142 in it this year, and he must have a big chance, as long as the ground is soft enough for him. It was only good to soft last year, so any softer would be a bonus, and he looks like a better horse this year now after two wind operations.
El Barra - Cork, November 6th 2022
El Barra did well to win the Grade 3 two-and-a-half-mile novices' chase at Cork last Sunday after making a fairly bad mistake at the second-last fence. Weak in the market beforehand, Willie Mullins' horse travelled well through his race for Paul Townend in third place behind Idas Boy and Grand Paradis. He jumped into second place behind Idas Boy over the third-last fence, and it looked like he was travelling better than the leader when he made that momentum-halting mistake at the second last. Given a little bit of time by Paul Townend to recover his equilibrium, he moved up again on the far side, joined Idas Boy on the run to the last, jumped into the lead over the last and had enough in hand to withstand his rallying rival.
It was a game performance by Susannah Ricci's horse, in beating a progressive and well-backed rival. He is a talented horse and won the EMS Copiers Novices' Handicap Chase at the Punchestown Festival last April, a race that has been won in the past by his stable companions Kemboy and Asterion Forlonge, and a race that is working out really well this year. Runner-up Busselton won the Kerry National in September, fourth-placed Fan De Blues has won his last two chases, fifth-placed Gabbys Cross won the Galway Blazers at the Galway Festival and third-placed French Dynamite won over hurdles at Thurles last month and was only just beaten in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday. Two-and-a-half miles is a good trip for El Barra for now, although he could get three miles at an easy track. His handicap rating of 154 is more than workable, although he could prove to be better this season.
Idas Boy - Cork, November 6th 2022
It could also be worthwhile following Idas Boy. Noel Meade's horse did well to get as close to the talented El Barra in the Grade 3 novices' chase run over two-and-a-half miles, a distance that is probably close to the winner's optimum, and probably on the sharp side for Idas Boy.
The Gigginstown House horse was a good staying novice hurdler last season. He won his maiden at Thurles over two miles and seven furlongs in early November, and he ran Churchstonewarrior to a half a length over the same course and distance two weeks later. He was impressive in winning his beginners' chase over last Sunday's course and distance on his chasing bow last month, but he could do even better if and when he steps back up in trip. He could be a fair bit better as a chaser than as a hurdler, and he will be of interest when he steps up in trip over fences. He goes well on goodish ground too, and he could be an interesting horse for some good staying novice or handicap chases in the spring.
The Cob - Sandown, November 6th 2022
The Cob ran well for a long way in the conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle that opened proceedings at Sandown last Sunday. Weak in the market beforehand on this, his seasonal debut, he shied at the tape a little and lost a good few lengths on the rest of the field as a result. Moved towards the outside then by Luca Morgan, he was keen early on and he pulled his way to the front by the time they got to the first flight. He did settle a little better in front, but that was after he had established a clear break on the rest of the field, setting a decent pace on the heavy ground. He led down the back straight, and, while his jumping was good, it wasn't ideal that he had to be switched quite sharply to his right on the run to the fifth flight in order to stay on the correct course. He travelled well into the home straight, still in front, but he just tired from the second-last flight. Even so, he kept on bravely to retain third place, tiring on the run-in to finish 10 lengths behind the winner Halo Des Obeaux.
This was a nice return to action by Ben Pauling's horse in a race in which he did plenty wrong, and there is every chance that he will progress from it. He is not obviously unexposed - he's an eight-year-old who has now run 13 times over hurdles - but winner of the Grade 2 River Don Hurdle as a novice, he is a potentially well-handicapped horse now on a mark of 129, 10lb lower than his peak. He does go well on this soft ground, but he should do better with a greater test of stamina. He goes well on flat tracks - his best performances have been at Sandown, Haydock, Doncaster and Newbury - so you can allow him a poor run in the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival last March. He will be of interest now in a good staying handicap hurdle ideally on soft ground on a flat track.
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