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National Hunt Chase Is Just What The Doc Ordered
Steal A March showed ability while jumping quite poorly in three starts over hurdles last season and built on that with a good run on his first start of this season. He drifted from racing handily to midfield through the first half, and was shuffled back at the top of the hill. He was hampered which caused him to drop towards the back and was briefly pushed along, but came back on the bridle 3 out and was going well on the run to 2 out. He came under strong pressure turning the final bend and gradually stayed on to the line without challenging the winner, finishing 2¾ lengths in third.
This was an encouraging return, having lost his position at a crucial stage, and a step up to 3m would be no issue. He’s open to improvement after only five runs.
Fanion d’Estruval made an impressive British debut at Newbury last season before his jumping let him down in the Wayward Lad at Kempton. Back in handicap company at Cheltenham off 150, he performed well despite his jumping again letting him down. He raced enthusiastically and was travelling well in fourth at the top of the course, continuing to travel well into contention going down the hill but getting in close 3 out. He recovered and moved up to challenge approaching the final bend was pushed along to try and match Magic Saint turning in. He reached for 2 out and was down on his nose at the last but kept battling on to finish 2¼ lengths behind in second. This was a good run first time out against a very good two mile chaser in Magic Saint. The slight issue is that he’s quite small and gets low at the fences, so there’s little margin for error with his jumping. If he meets a fence perfectly he’s fine, but anything else can create a problem, and now off 154 he’s going to be in a class of race that puts pressure on this. Therefore, it may be an idea to try hurdling to see if his class can be transferred, and if his jumping of hurdles can be more of an asset.
Born Survivor was well beaten on his first start of this season at Wetherby but improved at Cheltenham, running better than the margin beaten suggests. Held up from the off, he was still towards the back of the main group after the last in the back straight. A bold jump at the top of the course gained him two positions and he was travelling smoothly in fifth on the run to 3 out. However, he reached for that fence and got it all wrong, nearly landing on the fence and almost shooting Harry Skelton out of the saddle. He lost plenty of ground and momentum, and was given time to regather himself by Skelton, who only resorted to hands and heels in nursing him into fourth, beaten 13½ lengths. This looked set to be a return to form by Born Survivor until the chance-ending mistake, and while on a minor decline since the start of last season, I think he needs quick ground (not had since winning at Ayr off 142 last year). He’s down to 145 and when getting the chance on quick ground - likely late in the season - holds a good chance of taking advantage.
Last season’s Welsh National winner returned to the track after 322 days off in making his cross country debut. He jumped well but was cautious on the drop side of both banks and got in close at the last water jump. In last at that point before making ground on the final circuit and jumped into fourth when taking the replica canal turn at a sharp angle. Pushed along 3 out and getting in a bit tight before coming under stronger pressure after 2 out, he was switched to the inside and stayed on well, beaten seven lengths into third.
This was a good first run over the Cross Country Course, showing inexperience at the banks. The ground was quicker than ideal, but if soft at the Festival like last season, he has a good chance of being competitive in the cross country race there.
Hazzaar was a bumper winner on debut for Tom Lacey and ran respectably in a Listed bumper before moving to Venetia Williams last season. He showed some promise but nothing like the same ability he displayed in bumpers. Now back with Lacey, he made his handicap debut, racing keenly under restraint at the back before getting in close at the hurdle at the top of the hill. He continued to travel well down the hill but landed awkwardly after 2 out and was pushed along, unable to go with the leading few and making another mistake at the last before running on late, beaten 1¾ lengths in fifth.
The steady pace was against Hazzaar, so he ran well considering. His keenness could make it difficult to go up in trip, so staying over 2m and finding a strongly run race to settle and close from off the pace, would suit for now. He’s up 2lb to 119, and if building on this, should be off the mark over hurdles in the near future.
Mrs Milner stepped up to 3m for the first time in this Listed Handicap Hurdle and ran very well in defeat. Held up, she was briefly squeezed along after 3 out to take a gap behind the leaders, travelling strongly 2 out. Pushed along turning the final bend in third, she came under pressure and got in a bit tight to the last, but battled on the run-in despite not getting past On The Blind Side, beaten a neck.
Mrs Milner’s chance wasn’t helped by being held up in a race that favoured those ridden handily and connections might consider a tilt at the Pertemps - using the Leopardstown qualifier - or continue in handicap hurdles over 2m4f+.
There was controversy over the finish of the Listed Mares’ Bumper. Out of that controversy back in fourth was Allavina, who ran well on her third start after a 244-day break. Held up, she made headway down the hill and looked to be going strongly going through the wings of 2 out. Angled to the inside of the track early in the straight, she was still going well approaching the wings of the final hurdle, but once shaken up and put under pressure, she didn’t find much and faded into fourth.
The ease with which Allavina moved for a long way was taking, and it may have been a lack of fitness and stiff climb that found her out in the conditions. She looks a promising mare to go hurdling with this season.
All of the attention in this novices’ chase - both before and after - was centred around The Big Breakaway, who was impressive on chasing debut. Doc Penfro was another to make his chasing debut and performed creditably in second. He raced quite enthusiastically under restraint in the slowly run race and generally jumped well. He was still going well on the inside going down the hill for the last time when getting in a bit close to 3 out, losing some momentum. Nudged along after, he moved into the straight sharing second, and while outpaced by The Big Breakaway on the run-in, kept plugging on to finish ten lengths behind in second. This was a promising start over fences for Doc Penfro, who only had four starts over hurdles - the last in a Pertemps qualifier at Warwick when second. He looks likely to relish staying trips and while he’s most run in testing conditions, he ran well on his only start on good ground and looks a suitable type for the National Hunt Chase.
Grandeur d’Ame was an impressive winner in heavy ground at Newton Abbot on debut and was sent off second favourite to win the last race. However, his chance was compromised early when racing keenly, before settling better and racing towards the back in a steadily run race. He was still travelling well going through the wings of 2 out, but didn’t show a turn of foot under pressure, staying on gamely on the climb to finish second, beaten 1½ lengths. Considering how keen and poorly positioned he was, this remains another promising run from Grandeur d’Ame, who clearly has ability and looks likely to be suited by strongly run races.