Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: December 18th to 25th

Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: December 18th to 25th

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Before we dive in, some basic rules for a horses to follow list is to keep them in a tracker and on your radar for the next three runs, bearing in mind ideal conditions across variables like venue, ground, opposition and price are satisfactory to you as a punter. This column should help you build up a list that proves profitable under those circumstances, provides timely reminders to reduce repeated form study and assist with your enjoyment of a season be it National Hunt or Flat racing in the UK and Ireland and sometimes beyond.

If you want to see previous editions check out Donn McClean's library of past horses to follow here.

Imphal - Ascot, 18th December 2021

Imphal did remarkably well to finish second to Ardhill in the three-mile handicap hurdle that opened proceedings at Ascot on Saturday. For starters, he was really badly hampered at the first flight. He was last on the run to the obstacle, and he jumped a little to his left. He had to avoid one faller Itsnotwhatyouthink, and then he had his momentum further checked by the other faller Pass Me By. He did really well to stand up, and Jamie Moore did really well to remain on board. If his rider had pulled him up there and then, you wouldn't have been at all surprised.

The incident left him miles behind, a detached last of the 14 remaining runners, but his rider allowed him time to find his racing rhythm again, and creep his way back into the race. He got back in among them as they raced up the home straight first time, made progress down the side of the track, and continued that progress, travelling well, on the run to the home turn. He was around the inside, which probably wasn't the fastest part of the track, and he came under a ride as they raced to the home turn. You expected that he would drop away at that point, given how much running he had done in order to just get back in among the pack, but he responded to his rider's urgings and, while he was never a real challenger to easy winner Ardhill, he stayed on game on the far side to take second place behind him, and that was after making a mistake at the final flight. Imphal is seven now, but he has been in really good form this autumn, winning three handicap hurdles on the spin before finishing a staying-on third in a two-mile-seven-furlong handicap hurdle at Lingfield at the end of November. This was another step forward from that, and a 2lb hike was not harsh. He wouldn't want the ground to be too soft, but he stays well and, rated 76 on the flat, he has the potential to go beyond his mark of 113 over hurdles.

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Frontal Assault - Ascot, 18th December 2021

Frontal Assault didn't run badly in the two-and-a-half-mile rated chase at Navan on Saturday, but the worry beforehand was that the trip on good to yielding ground would be a sharper test than ideal for him, and that is probably how it played out. Gordon Elliott's horse travelled well for Davy Russell through the early stages of the race and, moved to the outside, he travelled well just behind the leaders down the back straight. Third on the run to the final ditch, the fourth last fence, he was a little slow there and he came under a ride on the run to the home turn. Dropping to fifth on the run to the third last, he couldn't match Ciel De Neige and Busselton for pace, but he stayed on well from the second last fence to take fourth place, 12 lengths behind the winner.

Frontal Assault was a good staying novice hurdler last season, he got off the mark over three miles at Thurles last December, and he won a Grade 3 contest on heavy ground at Navan last February, when he stayed on well to get home by three parts of a length from Angels Dawn. He shaped really well on his chasing debut at Punchestown in November when, he got to within a length of Busselton over two and a half miles, and that was after making a significant mistake at the second last fence. He should be seen to better effect, though, when he steps up in trip. He could be a horse for a good staying handicap chase on soft ground during the winter.

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Zhiguli - Ascot, 18th December 2021

Zhiguli ran well again to finish fourth in the two-mile-three-furlong handicap chase at Ascot on Saturday. Settled well along the inside and towards the rear of the nine-runner field, he was a little novicey over some of his fences, but he warmed up as the race progressed. He moved into fourth place as they raced to the home turn and, while he couldn't match the pace that Palmers Hill and Diego Du Charmil showed, he stayed on well to finish a clear fourth, just failing by a length to catch Knight In Dubai for third.

It was interesting that Gary Moore dropped the Flemensfirth gelding back down to this intermediate trip, given that his previous two chases were over three miles at Lingfield. He won well on his chasing debut on soft ground, but he was a little keen next time on better ground, and could only finish fourth behind Fantastikas. He settled well on Saturday, behind that faster pace that the drop in distance and the step up in class generated and, if he can learn to settle better over longer trips, he could take a significant step forward. This was just his third chase, so there is every chance that he will learn to settle better as he gains experience. He goes well on soft ground too, so he will remain of interest as we move more deeply into the winter.

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Suprise Package - Navan, 18th December 2021

Suprise Package ran better in the Tara Handicap Hurdle at Navan on Saturday than his finishing position in seventh place suggests. He travelled well through his race for Kevin Sexton, on the inside and just behind the leaders. He made progress down the back straight and moved up on the outside of leader Aldo The Apache as they left the back straight, and he moved into the lead after they landed over the third last. Kevin Sexton had a little look behind him at that point, which suggests that the rider felt like his horse was travelling as well as it looked like he was travelling. Suprise Package was still on the bridle on the run to the second last flight, which is probably around about the point at which he traded at 1.33 in-running. He wasn't great at the second last, but he battled back well when Folcano challenged him to lead at the last, at which he got in tight. He just tired from there, he faded up the run-in as the hold-up horses closed, losing five places inside the final 100 yards. It is remarkable that Suprise Package didn't finish in the first six in the end, given how well he travelled and that he traded at 1/3 to win the race at the second last flight. Perhaps he simply tired up the stiff hill, having raced prominently. It was a race in which the hold-up horses eventually came to the fore, with five of the first six home racing in mid-division or worse from early. It is also likely that this stiff two and a half miles just stretches Suprise Package's stamina beyond its limit. An easy two and a half miles or a stiff two miles or two and a quarter miles probably suits him better.

Peter Fahey's horse is a talented hurdler though, he was very good in winning the valuable Connolly's Red Mills EBF Auction Hurdle Series Final at Punchestown last April, and his current mark of 128 is more than workable. He is only five, and he has the potential to go beyond that mark now. He goes really well at Punchestown, so he will be of particular interest when he goes back there, but, more immediately, he holds an entry in the two-mile handicap hurdle at Leopardstown on Monday, and he will be of interest if he takes his chance in that.

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Linelee King - Ayr, 21st December 2021

Linelee King was unlucky not to win the two-and-a-half-mile novices' handicap chase at Ayr on Tuesday. Olly Murphy's horse travelled well through his race, second of the four runners, behind the pace that Heartbreak King set. He moved up on the outside of the leader as they raced to the end of the back straight, and it looked like he was travelling best of all by some way as they turned into the home straight. He just got in tight to the fourth last fence, the first in the home straight, and he stumbled badly on landing. It was a chance-ending mistake, he was passed by his other two rivals over the third last, and he was last of the four runners jumping the second last, chance gone. So he did remarkably well to rally from there, he got going again from the second last fence and, still fourth jumping the last, he stayed on strongly up the run-in to move into third place, closing on the winner Dubai Days all the way to the line, and going down by less than two lengths in the end

The fences are there to be jumped, of course, but Linelee King's jumping was good in the main and, if he hadn't sprawled on landing over the fourth last fence, it is probable that he would have run out a good winner. Winner of his only point-to-point for Colin Bowe, after which he was sold for £160,000, he won his bumper and he won his maiden hurdle, but he shaped as if he would be at his best over fences when he won a novices' handicap chase at Aintree in November on his chasing bow, staying on well to get up and beat Kiltealy Briggs by a half a length, with Beakstown five lengths back in third. That is good form, and it was over two and a half miles, a distance that is probably sharper than ideal. Tuesday's race was over two and a half miles as well, but one of his best runs over hurdles was over three miles and, with plenty of stamina in his pedigree, it is probable that he will progress again for the step up to that trip over fences.