KERRKENNY TO STRIKE GOLD IN HANDICAPS
1st - Betway Novices’ Chase, Tuesday 4th February
Monbeg Zena has proved difficult to keep right, only being seen on the track three times in three years, but she maintained her unbeaten record on chasing debut at Market Rasen, albeit in fortuitous circumstances.
Held up at the back of the very small field in a steadily-run race, she was momentarily outpaced at the end of the back straight on the last circuit and had to be shaken up. She responded well and came back on the bridle shortly before 3 out but dived at the fence and landed awkwardly which allowed The Mighty Don to open up an advantage.
Monbeg Zena kept battling under pressure but was still a few lengths behind The Mighty Don when that rival fell at the last, leaving her well clear. Although she was a fortunate winner, this was an encouraging return to the track for Monbeg Zena after 415 days off considering the steadily-run nature of the race was against her.
An opening mark of 122 looks lenient and, if she stays in one piece, Monbeg Zena can take advantage of that in staying handicap chases.
2nd - Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide Novices’ Hurdle, Tuesday 4th February
Kerrkenny Gold had been rather disappointing over hurdles considering the level of ability he showed in bumpers for Mags Mullins but his latest run at Sedgefield suggested that he could make his mark in handicaps.
Bought by Olly Murphy for £60,000 after finishing second to Abacadabras at Galway, he showed little on his first two starts over hurdles before shaping with a bit more promise at Taunton when reported to have a breathing problem. At Sedgefield, Evander gained a big lead early on without much effort and although Kerrkenny Gold tried to challenge turning the final bend, the advantage conceded early on meant that Evander had plenty left to repel him.
Kerrkenny Gold looked uncomfortable on the equine rollercoaster of Sedgefield but it was encouraging that he kept responding to pressure at such an unsuitable course.
Given that he was reported to have a breathing problem at Taunton it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him have a wind op between now and his next run and, on a more galloping track, Kerrkenny Gold can show himself to be better than his opening rating of 109.
3rd - Betway Maiden Stakes, Wednesday 5th February
Godfather showed a bit of promise on debut in the summer at York when green and his inexperience was once again on show at Wolverhampton on his return from a 235-day break.
Quicker away than on debut, he initially tracked the leaders but looked all at sea on the bend and dropped back into a share of last place entering the home straight. Once in the straight he picked up well and ran on to grab third near the line.
Having lost so much ground turning the bend it was encouraging that he showed his true ability once back in a straight line and managed to finish third from an unpromising position entering the straight.
Hopefully that display on the bend will turn out to be a one-off and Godfather can put in a much-improved performance next time.
9th - Killinan Handicap Hurdle, Thursday 6th February
Breezy Bell showed a fair level of form on the flat in Germany and France for Henk Grewe but hadn’t shown much over hurdles in Ireland until shaping much better than the finishing position suggests on her latest start at Thurles.
Held up at the back of the field, she started to make some headway going down the back straight for the final time. She was still at the back of the main pack jumping 3 out before making smooth headway on the wide outside on the long run to 2 out and was tracking the leaders just before turning into the home straight.
However, from that point she couldn’t continue her run and dropped away quickly to finish ninth, beaten 29 lengths. I think the better ground at Thurles suited Breezy Bell, although she may still ideally want it quicker, but the step up 6½ furlongs in trip from her previous handicap run didn’t suit so a return to shorter would help.
It should also be noted that Breezy Bell had worn a tongue tie in the past when running on the flat so the reapplication of one could help too.
3rd - Munster INH Flat Race, Thursday 6th February
Ajero was another horse to catch the eye at Thurles when making a very promising debut in the bumper. He raced quite keenly under restraint a little further back than midfield for the first circuit before starting to make smooth headway after leaving the back straight, cutting through the field on the bridle while others were under pressure. He moved into third entering the straight and then started to be pushed along going through the wings of 2 out.
He continued to make headway down the hill, despite losing his footing slightly on one occasion in the badly cut up ground, but had little left to offer in the last 150 yards and finished 5¾ lengths behind the winner in third. Considering his keenness on the first circuit and the strength of this bumper, Ajero did well to finish as close to the winner as he did.
He looks likely to be suited by speed-favouring tests on decent ground and, as long as he settles better, Ajero looks to have a bright future.
3rd - Tote’s Back Tomorrow With Another Placepot Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race, Friday 7th February
Drenagh showed some promise despite his jumping letting him down in his four runs in Irish point to points, even when completing. Bought for £12,000 towards the end of January, he made his first start under rules for his new connections just over two weeks later in a bumper at Bangor.
He was nudged along through the first half of the race as he appeared to be struggling to cope with the pace but then made headway travelling better turning back towards the starting point.
Pushed along with just over three furlongs to go, he moved into second and although he couldn’t match the speed of Faivoir in the closing stages, Drenagh kept responding to pressure to only be beaten by 3½ lengths in third.
This clearly looked to be an insufficient test of stamina for Drenagh so it was a promising start to his time under rules for Alastair Ralph and he can make his mark in staying novice hurdles next season.
9th - toteplacepot First Bet Of The Day Handicap, Friday 7th February
Musee d’Orsay found five furlongs to be a significantly insufficient test of stamina on his first start for Tony Carroll at Wolverhampton and was stepped up to a mile at Chelmsford. He raced very keenly under restraint towards the back of the field through the first three furlongs. Pushed along two furlongs out, he made some headway but wasn’t able to get close to the leaders under just hands and heels, finishing 5¾ lengths behind the winner in ninth.
This race was dominated by those that raced prominently and Roca Magica, who was held up and finished eleventh, has since comfortably beaten the winner and third, albeit on 6lb better terms with the winner.
Musee d’Orsay’s severe early keenness is a slight concern for the future but in a stronger-run race I think he can show himself to be better than his extremely lowly rating.
5th - Watch Irish Racing On RacingTV Intermediate Open National Hunt Flat Race, Saturday 8th February
A strong bumper closed the card at Warwick and Norley performed best of the newcomers. Having missed the start by a few lengths, he raced at the back of the field and was still in second last turning down the side of the course.
He was still travelling well at the back of the main pack turning the final bend but had horses blocking his path, so he was unable to make headway as the leaders started to quicken. Still in twelfth turning into the straight, he finally got a clear run and stayed on strongly late on to finish fifth, beaten sixth lengths.
Considering how poorly positioned he was when the pace quickened, Norley did well to finish so close to the winner and the first four home had all shown a good level of ability on their previous runs.
He can make his mark over hurdles next season but I expect this chasing type will be seen to best effect over fences in the long term.