COCONUT TO MAKE A SPLASH IN HANDICAPS
3rd - Download The Boylesports App Handicap Hurdle, Saturday 4th January
An 11yo hurdler wouldn’t be an obvious candidate to feature in this column, particularly one that had only won once in the last four years, but Sadma has hit a rare patch of form this winter and that continued with a fine effort in defeat at Wincanton.
Handy from the off in a race run at a strong pace for the grade, he came under pressure towards the end of the back straight and responded well, going to the front shortly before turning into the home straight.
Headed by Itsonlyrocknroll at 2 out, Sadma kept battling away and was only just beaten for second place, finishing 2¾ lengths behind the winner. The other two horses that he raced with in the early stages of the race were both towards the front of the market and they were beaten by just over 20 lengths, showing just how well Sadma did to finish so close having been prominent throughout in a strongly run race.
This backed up another good run in defeat at Plumpton when he split two next time out winners in Scrutinise and Shimba Hills, and with his mark left unchanged, he should have a good chance to add to his tally in the coming weeks.
5th - Visit attheraces.com/jumps EBF “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle (Qualifier), Sunday 5th January
Fraternel was a big eyecatcher on his debut at Pau almost a year to the day prior to making his British debut at Plumpton where he caught the eye once again. Very keen under restraint in midfield through the first circuit, he started to make some headway before making a slight mistake at the first hurdle in the back straight on the final circuit.
He continued to travel well down the hill but after another mistake at 3 out he was pushed along and couldn’t get in a meaningful challenge position, coming home in fifth. The extreme early keenness is a bit concerning but as he wasn’t anywhere near that keen on his debut in France it’s hoped that he was just very fresh on his first run for a year.
The late drift in the market suggests that he may have looked in need of the outing on paddock appearance and given his size it’s reasonable to think that Plumpton wouldn’t be his ideal track so he could improve plenty next time with a more suitable test.
5th - Hippychick Supports Love Musgrove Maiden Hurdle (Div II), Tuesday 7th January
Dehradun made an inauspicious start to his career when beaten 39 lengths in a maiden at Nottingham but showed far more promise on his hurdling debut at Taunton for Graeme McPherson after 433 days off the track.
Held up, he showed his inexperience in the early stages of the race with some very careful jumps and he was still in second last after making a slight mistake at the last hurdle in the back straight on the final circuit. He came under pressure soon after and squeezed through a gap between Frau Georgia and Panatos but was still some way behind the leading group turning in.
He continued to respond well under pressure and closed strongly after the last to finish fifth, beaten 5½ lengths. Given how clueless he looked early on in the race and that he was coming back off a 433-day break, this was a promising start to Dehradun’s hurdling career and he can progress into being a decent hurdler.
3rd - Luke Watson Memorial Racing Excellence “Hands And Heels” Handicap Chase (Conditionals/Amateurs), Wednesday 8th January
Two horses caught the eye in defeat in the hands and heels handicap chase at Ludlow. The first of those was Lisdoonvarna Lad who looked to be severely hindered by this being a hands and heels race. He had to be shaken up going to the first fence and was off the bridle at various stages of the first circuit while lacking fluency in the jumping department.
He was pushed along for much of the final circuit and eventually started to respond turning the final bend but he couldn’t put in a serious challenge and finished third. The inability to use the whip to concentrate his mind, particularly early on, clearly had a significant negative impact on his performance as he was off the bridle for nearly the whole race.
I think the sharp track would also have been unsuitable for him so a more galloping course in a race where jockeys can use their whips could see him in a much better light in the future.
4th - Luke Watson Memorial Racing Excellence “Hands And Heels” Handicap Chase (Conditionals/Amateurs), Wednesday 8th January
Big Difference in the second horse to take from that race at Ludlow. He was another who was negatively impacted by this being a hands and heels race, albeit far less than Lisdoonvarna Lad, as he looked to lose focus at times during the race and could only be pushed along to regain his position and concentration.
Pushed along leaving the back straight for the final time, he responded well and Luca Morgan briefly had to take a pull to avoid running into the back of Fort Gabriel shortly before turning into the home straight. Big Difference was about a length behind the leader jumping 4 out but having jumped the fence fine he slithered on landing, not far off bringing him to a standstill.
After that he had every right to drop away quickly but he regained his momentum and stayed on well to finish fourth, only 1¾ lengths behind the runner-up. Given how well he stayed on when winning at Market Rasen, I think he may have gone close to winning but for the incident at 4 out so the 1lb drop for this run looks generous.
Stamina has always looked his strong suit and he can pick up a 3m+ handicap chase on good ground this season.
3rd - Jenkinsons Caterers Maiden Hurdle, Wednesday 8th January
Voyage De Retour missed last season with a leg injury but made an encouraging comeback on his hurdling debut at Ludlow after a 633-day break. Having raced a bit keenly for the first circuit, he started to make some headway to chase breakaway leader Kalooki down the back straight.
He was still travelling well turning down the side of the course in fourth place and although he couldn’t get anywhere near Kalooki in the straight, he kept on well under gentle urging to finish third.
The manner in which he travelled through the race after such a long absence was encouraging for the future and hopefully he can have a clear run of health and build on this, particularly when going over fences next season.
4th - View Restaurant January Special Handicap, Friday 10th January
Anythingyouwantobe showed some promise in low-level sprints during the summer and returned after a 110-day break with another promising effort at Dundalk over five furlongs. Without a hood for the first time since she finished third at Sligo in June, she settled towards the back of the field after a minor bump at the start.
She started to be pushed along two furlongs out and was switched towards the outside as Danz Gift came across her and once switched outside again late on, stayed on strongly to finish a length behind the winner in fourth.
A return to six furlongs would suit and there looks to be more improvement to come from this four-year-old at a low level.
4th - Floodlit Friday Nights At Dundalk Stadium Handicap (Div I), Friday 10th January
Wide draws have plagued Sarah Lynam’s winter at Dundalk and So Familiar was yet another to suffer that fate, being drawn second widest on her first run for Lynam. So Familiar raced a bit keenly in midfield and was trapped three wide on the bend.
Pushed along two furlongs out, she made headway to challenge the leaders a furlong out before not quite seeing out the trip and finishing fourth. This was a promising first start for Lynam and when getting a better draw and possibly over a slightly shorter trip, So Familiar can add to her sole win.
4th - Holy Cross Flat Race, Friday 10th January
Eye Van showed promise on his debut at Monksgrange last March when travelling well for a long way before getting very tired from 2 out and he built on that with a good first start under rules in a bumper at Thurles.
He was positioned just behind the leaders on the inside rail for much of the race until moving off the rail and moving clear in a group of four turning into the straight. Having come under pressure shortly after turning into the straight, he stayed in contention despite being hampered as Frontal Assault shifted out about 300 yards from the line before not being able to stay with the leading trio inside the last furlong.
This was a promising first run under rules from Eye Van in a good bumper and he can have a good career under rules with his low-profile connections meaning that he may be overlooked in the market when facing horses from big yards.
1st - wetherbyracing.co.uk Maiden Hurdle, Saturday 11th January
A winner of a race will very occasionally feature in this column and Coconut Splash is the first to do so, having won with far more in hand than the margin suggests at Wetherby on his third start over hurdles.
Always travelling well just behind the leaders, he eased closer turning the final bend and moved into a narrow lead, still under a tight hold, going to 3 out. Still going easily between 3 and 2 out while his nearest rivals came under pressure, he got in a bit close at 2 out which allowed Bean In Trouble and Giovanni Change back upsides.
Coconut Splash soon regained the advantage and didn’t relinquish it, ending up extending his advantage to 2½ lengths at the line. He’s shown a good level of ability in all three runs over hurdles and I think a step back up in trip, having run well on rules debut over 2m4f when narrowly beaten by Imperial Alcazar, will see him at his best.
A rating of 131 looks a workable opening mark and there’s the option to go straight down that route or run him in an EBF qualifier with the final of that race in March in mind.