Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: December 26th to January 1st

Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: December 26th to January 1st

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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.

Mister Coffey - Kempton, 26th December 2021

Mister Coffey did well to finish second in the two-and-a-half-mile novices' handicap chase at Kempton on St Stephen's Day. Awkward at the first fence, he was slightly hampered when he stable companion Bothwell Bridge fell at the second fence, and he jumped to his left at most of his fences after that. Widest of all through the race, he gave away ground around all the bends and at most of his obstacles, so it was to his credit that he was still there with a chance on the run to the final fence. He stayed on well up the run-in too, and only went down by three parts of a length in the end to Jacamar.

A progressive hurdler last season, seventh in the Betfair Hurdle and fourth in a Grade 3 handicap hurdle at Aintree's Grand National meeting, he could only finish third in a novices' handicap chase at Newbury's Ladbrokes Trophy meeting on his chasing bow, but he wasn't beaten far by Not Available, who followed up next time off a 3lb higher mark. Also, that was over two miles, a trip that is almost certainly short of his best, given how well he stayed at the end of two and a half miles last Sunday. An expensive recruit for Lady Bamford and Nicky Henderson after he won his bumper in April 2019 for Harry Whittington, the Authorized gelding has just turned seven, and he has the potential to go well behind his current mark of 137, ideally on a left-handed track, and ideally over at least two and a half miles. He could get three miles in time.

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Dartington - Leopardstown, 26th December 2021

Dartington ran better than the bare form of his run to finish fourth in the four-year-olds' maiden hurdle that opened Leopardstown's Christmas Festival last Sunday. Settled in mid-division and along the inside early on, Gordon Elliott's horse travelled nicely through his race for Davy Russell. Angled towards the outside on the run down the back straight, he he was impeded when State Man fell in front of him at the second last flight, but he started to stay on nicely on the run around the home turn. He kept going all the way to the line, just missing out on third place and finishing just over three lengths behind the winner Watch House Cross.

It was a fine run from the Siyouni gelding on his hurdling debut, and his first run for Gordon Elliott. Winner of a one-mile handicap as a three-year-old for Marcus Tregoning off a mark of 65, he progressed on the flat last summer to reach a mark of 76 before he was picked up by Elliott and Aidan O'Ryan at Tattersalls' horses-in-training sale in October. His dam won over a mile and 10 furlongs too, and reached a peak rating of 102 on the flat, and Dartington should be able to progress now, with this experience under his belt. He should be able to win a maiden hurdle soon before stepping up in grade.

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Panda Boy - Leopardstown, 28th December 2021

Panda Boy ran out an impressive winner of the Pertemps qualifier at Leopardstown on Tuesday, and he is a lightly-raced horse who could continue his upward trajectory. Keen enough early on in fifth or sixth place and up on the outside, he was taken back in the field early on by JJ Slevin, and he settled better for that. Always wide, he travelled well out of the back straight, and he made good ground, widest of all over the second last and around the home turn. He moved up on the outside to challenge the well-backed leader Winter Fog at the top of the home straight, joined him on the run to the last and went away from his rivals on the run to the line to win by four lengths in the end.

This was just Panda Boy's fifth run. Winner of his maiden hurdle on his racecourse debut at Punchestown last March, when he sprang a 33/1 surprise, he wasn't beaten far in the valuable novices' handicap hurdle at the Fairyhouse Easter meeting that Lady Breffni won on just his second run. He was well beaten on his final run last season at Punchestown, and he was disappointing on his debut this season at Naas, but this was much more like it. He is obviously a talented and progressive horse, and he progressed for the step up to three miles on Tuesday, on soft ground. He should get enough of a hike from the handicapper to take him up to a rating which will get him into the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham, and he will be of interest if he does line up in that. Just turned six and with just five runs on his CV, he will be more progressive than most of his potential rivals in the Pertemps Final.

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Gatsby Grey - Limerick, 28th December 2021

Gatsby Grey put up a really nice performance to win the two-mile maiden hurdle that opened proceedings at Limerick on Tuesday. Weak in the pre-race market on this, his fist run for Oliver McKiernan, he was a little keen through the early stages of the race, along the inside in fifth or sixth place, but his enthusiasm for racing was replicated at his obstacles. He attacked his hurdles, he was keen to jump, and he was fluent and accurate in the main. He moved up in behind the two leaders Monkstreet and King's Keeper as they left the back straight, he moved up on the outside of that pair at the top of the home straight, and he jumped into the lead at the second last flight. His early exertions could have taken their toll from there, but they didn't. He moved on for Barry Browne on the run to the final flight, jumped that obstacle well and came away from his rivals on the run to the line.

It was a really nice performance from Gatsby Grey on his hurdling debut and his first run since he made his racecourse debut last March for Declan Queally. He won that race last March, a Navan bumper, staying on well and obviously handles this soft ground well, and he will be of interest wherever he goes next.

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Minella Indo - Kempton, 26th December 2021

Strange to be noting a horse who is as high-profile as Minella Indo, especially after such a disappointing run in the King George, but there was mitigation, and bookmakers' reaction in pushing him out to 10/1 for the Gold Cup may have been an over-reaction. There was always a chance that he would under-perform at Kempton. He is so good at Cheltenham, up and down hills and left handed and galloping, there was always a chance that Kempton's flat, right-handed, sharp track would not play to his strengths. As well as that, he wore cheekpieces for the first time and he raced up with a fast pace from flagfall. The case for dismissing the run is strong.

Of course, it is possible that he will not recover from his Kempton exertions in time for Henry de Bromhead to get him back to concert pitch for the Gold Cup, but it is more likely that there is sufficient time between the two races. He is the Gold Cup winner, he was imperious in winning the race last year. It is not easy to win back-to-back Gold Cups, but Al Boum Photo did it in 2019/20, and there is every chance still that Minella Indo will be able to emulate him. In three runs at the Cheltenham Festival, Henry de Bromhead's horse has won an Albert Bartlett Hurdle, won a Gold Cup, and finished second in an RSA Chase, mugged close home by Champ after he had got the better of a protracted duel with Allaho. He loves it at Cheltenham and, as things stand, he has a better chance of winning this year's Gold Cup than his current odds suggest.