Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: February 4th to February 11th

Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: February 4th to February 11th

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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.

Blackbow - Leopardstown, 6th February 2022

Blackbow only finished fifth in the Leopardstown Handicap Chase at Leopardstown last Sunday, but he ran much better than that suggests. Prominent from early, he jumped to the front over the fifth fence when Spyglass Hill made a mistake, and he led from there until the home straight. He travelled and jumped really well in front, he stretched the field out down the back straight, and he was three lengths clear when they faced up to the third last fence. He still travelled well in front over the second last, and he was still on the bridle as they rounded the home turn. His stamina started to ebb from that point though, he was passed by Winter Escape on the near side and by Birchdale on the far side, and he weakened up the run-in back into fifth place.

It was still a noteworthy performance by Willie Mullins' horse. It was his first attempt at a distance in excess of two and a half miles, and the distance was just beyond him. He hasn't won over a distance in excess of two miles and a furlong, and he will be of big interest when he drops back down in trip now. The form of his run in the Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Chase at Fairyhouse last month, when he gave best only to Dunvegan, was enhanced when Dunvegan finished second to Chacun Pour Soi in the Dublin Chase on Saturday, when he had Captain Guinness and Greaneteen behind him.

Blackbow is nine now, but he has raced just seven times over fences, and he is in the form of his life these days. He has a rating of 156 now, which is high for handicaps, even the high-class two-mile handicaps, like the Grand Annual or the Red Rum Chase, but he would be of interest in races like the Grade 3 Newlands Chase at Naas later this month and the Grade 2 Webster Cup at Navan next month, back over two miles. He hasn't won a graded chase yet, so he would not have to carry a penalty in those races.

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Liberty Dance - Leopardstown, 6th February 2022

Liberty Dance could have won the Grade 2 mares' bumper at Leopardstown last Sunday had she enjoyed a little more luck than she had through the closing stages of the race. Settled nicely by Lisa O'Neill in mid-division early on, she was still well back in the field and along the inside as they raced to the end of the back straight. She made some ground around the inside as they raced around the home turn, and she travelled well into the home straight, just behind the leaders. She got a little tapped for toe as they quickened in front of her from the outside, but she found lots for pressure. She just had to switch off the rail as they raced inside the final furlong, as the favourite Pink In The Park moved across towards the inside in front of her, and that might have made the difference between winning and losing. She didn't lose much momentum, but she was only beaten a nose and a short head, closing all the way to the line.

Gordon Elliott's mare was racing for just the second time here. Winner of her bumper on her racecourse debut at Fairyhouse in December, she was the outside of two Gordon Elliott-trained, Tim O'Driscoll-owned mares in the race, behind second favourite Harmonya Maker, but she didn't go unbacked, available at morning odds of 20/1 and 25/1 and sent off at an SP of 14/1. A half-sister to six winners, she should be able to go on from this now, just her second run, and she will be of interest if she takes her chance in one or two of the graded mares' bumpers at the spring festivals.

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Minx Tiara - Leopardstown, 6th February 2022

Minx Tiara ran another fine race in the Paddy Mullins Mares' Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday. She was taken on for the early lead by fellow front-runner Brides Hill. There was no relenting, and Brides Hill actually jumped on at the fourth flight, but Minx Tiara moved up on the new leader's outside and the pair of them maintained the strong pace, with their rivals stretched out behind them. Minx Tiara moved to the front again though on the run to the second last flight, after which Brides Hill cried enough. She came under a ride from Sean Flanagan as they straightened up for home, but she found more in front, she went away from her closest pursuer Banntown Girl on the run to the final flight. She couldn't repel Party Central though, who loomed up easily on her outside and jumped to the front over the last. Once she was headed, it appeared that Minx Tiara decided that she had done enough, and she was passed by Say Goodbye and Banntown Girl on the run-in.

It was still a fine performance by David O'Brien's mare, to finish fourth in such a competitive mares' handicap hurdle, given that she was up with the fast pace from flagfall. That's her racing style, that's how it appears that she likes to be ridden. This is the shortest trip over which she has raced since she ran in the second of her two bumpers at Wexford in April 2019, and it may be that she can do well over this type of trip, given her forward-going racing style. She has had plenty of racing, but she is only seven and there could still be more to come. Also, her chase rating is significantly lower than her hurdles rating, so she would be of interest in a handicap chase now too, if connections chose to go down that route.

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Impulsive One - Musselburgh, 6th February 2022

Impulsive One was impressive in winning the Scottish Triumph Hurdle at Musselburgh on Sunday. They went fast early on, as Inca Prince and Sonning took each other on in front. Impulsive One didn't ignore the pace, he sat just behind it in third under James Bowen, the front three clear. Inca Prince and Sonning both came under a ride at the top of the home straight, as the rest of the field closed up behind the first three, with the fillies Innatendue and Calvados both looking dangerous. But James Bowen never looked worried, he actually had a quick look behind him on the run to the final flight, but when he asked his horse to pick up, the response from Impulsive One was impressive. He came away from his rivals readily and won impressively.

It was significant that the other two horses who raced in the leading group of three with him, including the joint favourite Inca Prince, faded to finish fifth and sixth of the six runners and, while Impulsive One wasn't up in the teeth of the pace, he wasn't far off it. An 81-rated horse on the flat for William Haggas, he won his first two races over hurdles for Nicky Henderson last autumn, and he was only just beaten in a Grade 2 contest at Doncaster in December. He was only a neck behind Porticello, who won the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow next time. He was Nicky Henderson's only runner at Musselburgh over the course of the two-day meeting, which is interesting, it may have been that he went there for the better ground or the flatter track or both. He may be below the very best juvenile hurdlers this season, but he will still be of interest if he goes for the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton, another flat track, and Aintree could be his target instead of Cheltenham.

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Full Time Score - Fairyhouse, 9th February 2022

Full Time Score stayed on well to win the three-mile rated chase at Fairyhouse last Wednesday. Settled nicely out the back and towards the outside early on by Rachael Blackmore, he made nice ground as they raced across the top of the track, and he travelled well into the home straight, just behind the leaders. Just about a half a length behind the leader Discordantly as they jumped the second last, he made good ground on the near, jumped the last fence in a share of the lead with Discorama, and stayed on well up the run-in to get home by a length from Discorama, with Smoking Gun staying on well late on to take third place, the first three clear. It was a nice return to form by Henry de Bromhead's horse. Off the track for almost two years after he ran in his only bumper, he won his maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse on his return in February last year, and he was impressive in winning his beginners' chase, admittedly against just two rivals, at Gowran Park last March. He was disappointing in the Grade 3 Hugh McMahon Memorial Novice Chase at Limerick next time, he finished well behind Chatham Street Lad and Defi Bleu, but, given a nice break after that, the performance that he put up on his debut this season in the Tim Duggan Chase back at Limerick in December was encouraging. He only finished sixth in the end behind his stable companion Spyglass Hill, but he made nice progress on the outside around the home turn, before lack of a recent run probably told on the heavy ground. He showed the benefit of that run on Wednesday, he put up a career-best performance.

Chris Jones' horse was 3lb wrong at the weights too, he had a rating of 132 going into the race but, because of the conditions of the rated chase, he had to race off an effective mark of 135. The handicapper raised him by 6lb for the win, to a mark of 138, but that is only 3lb higher than the effective mark off which he raced, and that is more than fair. Trainer Henry de Bromhead suggested afterwards that he could be a horse for the Irish National, and that makes lots of sense. A rating of 138 should get him into an Irish National on a lovely racing weight, and we know that he goes well at Fairyhouse. He is two for two there now, he won his maiden hurdle there in February last year. He still has to prove that he can stay three miles and five furlongs, but he saw out this three-mile trip well, and it is well worth a shot. All his form is on soft or heavy ground, so better ground would be an unknown.