Declan Rix

On what was a quiet weekend of racing in the UK and Ireland, Declan Rix picks out two novice performances that caught his eye.

  • Sunday 13 January
  • Blog
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PROGRESSIVE BEAKSTOWN IMPRESSES IN BALLYMORE LEAMINGTON

It was a relatively lowkey weekend of racing in the UK and Ireland, but there were a couple of performances that caught the eye with the future in mind. Top of the list was Beakstown who put up a career best to win the Grade 2 Ballymore Leamington Novices' Hurdle at Warwick by 3¾ lengths.

The former Irish point-to-point winner now resides in the care of Dan Skelton having learned his trade with Andrew Slattery, the man responsible for producing top-class horses like Cooldine and Faugheen. Indeed, after this son of Stowaway won his point-to-point at Turtulla in November 2017, there was a bit of buzz about Beakstown.

It looks like Skelton and owner Bryan Drew stepped in to buy the giant six-year-old and that investment is now starting to look exciting on the back of Saturday’s success. His strong-travelling, slick-jumping and relentless galloping victory was up there with one of the best novice hurdle displays of the season, for all there have been few that have really caught the eye.

For such a big and immature horse, one had to be impressed with how Harry Skelton’s mount travelled around the sharp track. His ability to hurdle quickly given his stature was another element of the victory that didn’t go unnoticed. What this win signified, is we are dealing with a highly progressive, classy horse, and given his size and greenness, there could easily be more to come.

This form looks rock-solid. The runner-up Stoney Mountain is a likable sort who ran his race, while the third home, Finawn Bawn, looks another highly-progressive, big individual. Recent Grade 2 Cheltenham winner Rockpoint was fourth, for all he carried a 5lb penalty from his The Bristol Novices' Hurdle win, which was a weak race. Going forward this will be a contest to keep onside, the first four home have all put up career best efforts.

Beakstown wins at Warwick
The giant Beakstown clears the last during his Grade 2 victory

Where the winner is concerned, connections will now surely look towards Cheltenham. The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (2m5f) or the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (3m) will be the two options open to Beakstown, although there are vibes that he may skip the festival, with the horse’s future chase career in mind.

While admirable, if Beakstown is in good form, healthy, has suitable ground conditions and connections feel he has progressed, a run in the Ballymore (16/1) would surely be too good to pass up. The shorter option of the aforementioned novice events looks most suitable given how he travels and jumps; there is a natural exuberance to him which is likable, but it’s a trait that could easily sink him over 3m at this stage of his career.

I must say, I am tempted by the 16/1 on offer for the Ballymore – that looks about six points too big.

CORRAL MORE THAN OK

I’ve got to admit, I got Ok Corral very wrong on the run-up to his Listed Hampton Novices' Chase at Warwick on Saturday. Nicky Henderson’s inmate really impressed with how he travelled and jumped around Warwick’s sharp track, two keys to his victory I felt he could struggle with on what was essentially pretty good ground.

My fears were unfounded as the nine-year-old travelled and jumped like an old pro, on route to winning by 6 lengths. With top Irish amateur Derek O’Connor coming over to ride the son of Mahler, it was clear connections have the National Hunt Chase (4/1) over 4m on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival in mind.

This victory was so classy however, despite his sizable market drift, I do wonder will connections leave the door ajar to a run in the RSA Chase (16/1)? The enthusiasm showed to travel and jump at speed, the likely slower tempo of the National Hunt Chase may not see him jump as well? Off sedate fractions on his chase debut at Plumpton, he looked rigid in parts, but to be fair, that was his first start over the larger obstacles and he was more than entitled to improve for the experience.

The level JP McManus’s gelding ran to here wouldn’t be good enough to win an RSA, or the recent editions of the National Hunt Chase for that matter, but to run just shy of 150 on his second chase start is impressive. The form is slightly let down by the favourite Rocky's Treasure running comfortably below his best, likely feeling the effects of a busy season, but in beating the Paul Nicholls-trained Secret Investor the race still has a solid look to it.

The National Hunt Chase seems a good fit for OK Corral in some ways, notably stamina, an element that is strongly backed up by his stout and classy pedigree (from the family of Tidal Bay and Scottish Grand National winner Beshabar), but with JP McManus not having another strong RSA contender and Nicky Henderson having a poor record in the four-miler, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world to see OK Corral run on the Wednesday of the festival.

Looking to the future aside, this was an impressive performance from a horse that has had his progress halted through fragility. Saturday was just his ninth career start. Let's hope he can stay sound. 

Declan Rix
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