Jockey Derek O’Connor described Jerrysback as ‘one of the most exciting prospects I’ve ridden for a while’ after he’d won a Loughanmore point-to-point by 10 lengths last October. Subsequently sold to JP McManus and sent to Philip Hobbs, he had a light hurdling campaign, just two runs at Plumpton and Wetherby, both of which he won easily. Connections resisted the temptation of a festival engagement and put him away with an eye to the longer term. The longer term is now here. He has both speed and stamina influences in his pedigree, has won both on good to soft and heavy going so should develop into a versatile long-distance novice chaser.
There are many good reasons as to why Debece should be followed this season but few resonate as strongly as this description: ‘Half-brother to Don Poli.’ Don was a real enigma during his heyday but despite his erratic way of racing he was a truly great staying chaser. Like his brother, Debece looks like he will need a test of stamina and some give in the ground to be seen at his best. He improved greatly over hurdles as last season progressed and the distances increased. A good third to the handy The World’s End at Liverpool suggests he could be a force in staying novice chases.
If Douvan returns healthy and well from injury and Willie Mullins keeps him to the minimum distance then the highlight of this, or any other racing season for that matter, will come when he clashes with Altior. Who will prevail? Both are seven-year olds and excusing Douvan’s mystery performance in last season Queen Mother, both are unbeaten over hurdle or fences with Douvan 4lbs ahead of his rival in the official handicap. A spanner was thrown in the works when Altior developed a breathing problem earlier this week, but if they do ever meet then hold on tight for a white-knuckle ride.
This time last year Death Duty was presumed to be an Irish banker for the Cheltenham Festival. A good bumper horse, he augmented his reputation with four hurdles wins in the build-up, but things unwound badly when he unseated Bryan Cooper when well beaten in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle. Beaten again subsequently at Punchestown he went off on his summer holiday shouldering a sense of disappointment and hopes of future redemption. Elliott now regrets running at Cheltenham and is convinced he is stronger than ever and ready to progress. In Gordon we trust.
Bought unraced by the late Alan Potts for a cool quarter of a million this time last year, Finian’s Oscar has already won most of that back in a fine novice hurdling season and he looks set to build on that good start when he graduates to fences this season. He bypassed Cheltenham for Aintree where he won a Grade One and was then narrowly beaten by Barcadys at Punchestown so he has been carefully managed. He showed his current wellbeing when cruising home at Chepstow on his reappearance recently and should rapidly develop into an immensely talented chaser. Runs at Cheltenham later today.
If horses were footballers then Mite Bite would be a cross between Gazza and Cantona. His performance in winning the RSA Novice Chase at the festival will live long in the memory. A fearless front-running performance meant he hadn’t seen another horse for a while and by the time he cleared the last he clearly decided that his work was done for the day and headed towards the Arkle Bar under the stands. He regained his focus when he heard his stablemate Whisper coming from behind and got up on the line by a whisker. A supremely talented chaser, his early season target is the King George on St Stephen’s Day and there is no reason why he can’t win this and then double up in the Gold Cup ten weeks later.
One of the better early season indicators of future success is the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter in early November. Politologue joined some illustrious previous winners such as Best Mate and Azertyioup last week and although he is unlikely to reach their level, he should be competitive in graded races on flat tracks to a maximum of two and half miles on good or soft ground. Desperately unlucky to fall at the last at Aintree having earlier run well behind Yorkhill at Cheltenham, his destiny probably leads to the Ryanair Chase in March and if he stays fresh and jumps around he should get into the mix.
Waiting Patiently is three from three over fences and has already taken some good scalps including Politologue when he won a decent grade two chase over two and a half miles at Haydock in January. The six-year old was given a gentle time last season to allow him space to grow and develop but he still wound up with a healthy rating of 150 which means his time in handicap grade will be short. He was allocated 11-9 in tomorrow’s Bet Victor Gold Cup at Cheltenham’s November meeting but his trainer has decided to bypass this and go directly to top level races.
Although a Grade One winner at Cheltenham in his novice season two years ago, Blaklion has failed to trouble the winners’ enclosure since. However, this should not be misconstrued with a lack of progress as he has been raised 5lbs during that series of seven defeats. His nearest miss was in last year’s Grand National when he looked a certain winner two out but was disadvantaged by an over aggressive ride. The key to his season will be whether his trainer favours preserving his handicap mark for another tilt at Aintree or taking on the top rank chasers through the winter. His second place in the Charlie Hall Chase indicates the latter but he should still be a live National contender, even with a lot of weight to carry, come April.
Keeper Hill reappeared at Stratford last week in his novice chase debut and easily beat his only opponent at odds of 1-12.
This is about as low key a start imaginable but is possibly the first win in a series of many this season in low to medium grade novice chases at unfashionable tracks. A decent hurdler last year, Keeper Hill won four from seven starts but his best performances came in defeat when a strong finishing sixth and seventh in Grade One races at Cheltenham and Aintree. Warren Greatrex is a shrewd trainer and should be able to knock up a sequence typically over two and half miles on soft before being tried at higher levels in the spring.