Journalist Mark Rowntree has put together a list of five horses to follow this winter based in the North.
Times have proved difficult for the vast majority of National Hunt trainers in the Northern region and also across the border in Scotland over recent years, due to a reduction in the number of horses in training following the economic slowdown, coupled with prolonged spells of wet and wintry weather and increased competition from All-Weather racing. However, with a new National Hunt season on the horizon, it’s time to look ahead positively to the future and identify five horses to follow.
Keith Dalgleish/Straightline Bloodstock (5yo g, Milan/Killoughey Babe)
Senor Lombardy was purchased for €125,000 at Goffs in April 2017 as a winner of a 3m maiden Irish Point-to-Point (Ballysteen). Switched to the care of Keith Dalgleish thereafter, he made his UK and rules debut finishing a narrowly beaten second in a Kelso bumper (September), simply finding the combination of a tight track, 2m trip and relatively quick ground to be an unsuitable test.
After a confidence boosting bumper win at Hexham (made all), he returned to Kelso the following month (over 2m6f), and quickly demonstrated his raw natural ability over hurdles by readily disposing of the Rose Dobbin-trained Coole Hall. Although that equally talented rival gained his revenge on improved terms in the French Furze Novices Hurdle at Newcastle the following month, the suspicion from some experienced observers was that stand-in rider Callum Bewley (Brian Hughes at Newbury) didn’t quite make that race enough of a stamina test.
Nevertheless, that was arguably the best novice hurdle in the northern area for some considerable time, and this well-related youngster (dam was a half-sister to the 1999 Irish Grand National winner Glebe Lad) looks to be the ideal type for a staying Novice Chase campaign. A minor issue kept Senor Lombardy off the track for the second half of the 2017/18 season, but more so than any other northern-based horse; he rates as the type to excel over fences (at 3m) on soft ground.
Ruth Jefferson/Mr Richard Collins (5yo g, Getaway/Capelvenere)
Ruth Jefferson has been dealt a rather undeserving hand over the summer losing some of her stable stars to other trainers, but thankfully Richard Collins has confidence in an up-and-coming trainer who continues to strive to undertake the fine work of her late Father Malcolm. Bought for €20,000 in June 2016, Return Ticket made a pleasing start to his racing career in a pair of Catterick bumpers (good to soft). After finishing third on debut to the still unbeaten I’m To Blame (Keith Dalgleish), he absolutely hacked up on his next outing a couple of weeks later (5/4f).
Given a five-month break thereafter, he returned to action when making his hurdling debut (2m maiden) at a hastily arranged fixture at Ayr in May; making the seamless switch to obstacles by downing Swaffham Bulbeck by 6L. Immediately after that race, his trainer told the Racing Post;
“Return Ticket is still a bit green and will have learned a lot from that. He’s had a break as he’s been wanting decent ground. We’ll put him away now and bring him back in the autumn. He will then have a break during the winter and come back in the spring when the ground is better.”
Evidently a sound (good) surface is important to Return Ticket, so all being well, it’s likely to be the spring of 2019 when he fully blossoms. Therefore, he’s one to bear in mind when making your plans for the late season NH Festivals at Aintree and Ayr. With more experience gathered he could ultimately prove to be more than capable of winning a competitive handicap hurdle or two.
Iain Jardine/D&D Armstrong Ltd (6yo g, Fair Mix/Lucylou)
Cool Mix has proved to be a snip at £9,000 from the Goffs UK Doncaster May 2015 sale. His dam Lucylou was an unraced sister to the bumper winners Some Bob Back and Baccarat, as well as the 2m-2m4f hurdle and chase winner You Little Daisy. Predictably, he soon demonstrated ability in bumpers himself; most notably when a 4L runner-up to Pym at Ayr in April 2017, in a race where his owner saddled two other runners (Judge Earle and Donna’s Delight).
Although effective in 2m novice hurdles (with cut) in the early part of the 2017/18 season, he went on to keep finding a few horses stronger; namely Some Reign (Ayr) and Treshnish and McGowan’s Pass (Newcastle). Part of the reason for such mid-season struggles was because he tended to pay the price for his enthusiastic style of racing, so connections were forced to side-step intended targets such as the Premier Hurdle (Kelso), and wait until the better ground arrived.
That patience was duly rewarded when he returned from a two-month break as a vastly improved horse at Ayr (good) in April. Under the expert handling of Irish conditional Liam Quinlan, he cruised clear on his first attempt at 2m4f (second start in a handicap) to score by 7L from Castletown.
In hurdling terms, the handicapper has intervened in the weeks and months since, raising him 12lb to a new career-high mark of 128. Whilst that limits his options over timber (no surprise if he switches back at some stage), the current plan is for a novice chase campaign commencing at either Wetherby on October 17th, or at Carlisle the following week. With a sound surface seemingly key to him fulfilling his potential, he rates as another horse likely to thrive in the second half of the 2018/19 National Hunt season.
I’M TO BLAME
Keith Dalgleish/Paul & Clare Rooney (5yo g, Winged Love/Swap Shop)
Costing £30,000 at Goffs Doncaster May Sale (2016), I’m To Blame enhanced his market value by making a winning NHF debut at Catterick (November 2017). The form of that race was very quickly boosted by the third placed horse, the most promising Return Ticket (Ruth Jefferson) winning on his next start.
Given a break of a couple of months by his trainer Keith Dalgleish, the Paul & Clare Rooney-owned gelding duly followed up under a penalty in fine style (despite drifting left inside the final furlong) at Musselburgh in early 2018. Although the runner-up that afternoon Dr Hooves hasn’t progressed quite as well as expected, he remains well regarded by his trainer Lucinda Russell.
A novice hurdle campaign awaits I’m To Blame, and this brother to the 2m6f winning hurdler Showem Silver should be capable of winning plenty more races over obstacles.
ON A PROMISE
Nicky Richards/Straightline Bloodstock (6yo g, Definite Article/Silvers Promise)
This grey gelding (a half-brother to the 2m5f hurdle/chase winner Lily Little Legs) made a relatively slow start to his racing career, but given his physical appearance (fine stamp of a horse - a real chaser in the making) this was probably to be expected. However, after getting to grips with racing and winning minor novice handicap and handicap hurdles at Wetherby (2m5f+), Hexham (2m7f+) and Market Rasen (2m7f), his handicap mark rose from 91 to 110.
Evidently not troubled by soft ground whatsoever, this €30,000 purchase (Tattersalls Ireland - August 2015) should continue to blossom over fences for a trainer known for a patient approach, and with a fine record over time with his staying handicap chasers.
On A Promise has the scope and size to jump fluently around almost any track in the country (left or right handed), and despite being dismounted after crossing the line at Market Rasen, that was only a precautionary measure (minor knock). He wouldn’t look out of place in competitive Saturday winter handicap chases at the likes of Haydock or Doncaster, and is a potentially smart prospect.
Article Posted on Wednesday 10th October 2018 @ 14.30
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