Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: January 29 To February 5

By Donn McClean
 |  7 mins
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Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: January 29 To February 5


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.

Gatsby Grey - Leopardstown, 4th February 2023

Gatsby Grey did well to get as close as he got in the three-mile handicap hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday, coming from the rear in a race in which the prominent racers dominated. He was settled at the back of the field early on by Philip Enright, stone last of the 17 runners as they jumped the final flight on the first circuit. Still travelling well but behind a wall of horses as they raced to the second last flight, he was slightly hampered in the bunching that happened on the home turn, he lost ground and momentum. Only ninth or 10th jumping the final flight, he had to switch again on the run-in, but he stayed on admirably to take fifth place. The winner Percival Legallois won well, but Gatsby Grey was only beaten two lengths for third and three parts of a length for fourth.

It was a fine performance by Oliver McKiernan's horse, to finish fifth in a race in which the first four places were filled by horses who raced prominently. It was his first attempt at three miles, and he stayed it well, so connections can be a little more aggressive with him next time over this type of trip if they wish, confident in the knowledge that he can see it out. He competed at a high level as a novice last season, he finished second behind Mighty Potter in the Grade 1 two-mile novices' hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, and he is nicely progressive now. He is only seven, and a 4lb hike to a mark of 139 was not harsh. He will be of interest in another good three-mile handicap hurdle now, and he goes well on this goodish ground.

Grange Walk - Leopardstown, 4th February 2023

Grange Walk was running a big race in the two-mile-one-furlong handicap chase at Leopardstown last Saturday when he came down at the second last fence. Settled at the back of the field early on by Liam Quinlan, 12th of the 12 runners, he travelled well on the outside down the back straight, and he made nice ground towards the leaders as they raced to the end of the back straight. He jumped the third last fence well, which took him to within two lengths of the leaders as they faced up to the second last fence. He just got in tight to that obstacle and came down.

Of course, it is impossible to know how Grange Walk would have fared had he not come down, and the hugely progressive and admirable Final Orders ran out a good winner in the end, but he might have been the winner's main challenger, he might have got closer to him than he did at Christmas, when he finished 12 and a half lengths behind him in fourth place. He was travelling better than most of his rivals at the time of his departure.

John Ryan's horse is not obviously unexposed, he has run 17 times now over fences and 11 times over hurdles, but he is obviously in good form now, and he has come down to a mark of 137, 3lb lower than the mark on which he started off this season. He is a better chaser than hurdler and, while he will be of interest if he takes up his entry in a handicap hurdle at Gowran Park on Saturday off his hurdles mark of 110, he will be of greater interest when he races over fences next time. Good and yielding ground suit him well, and he has run well at Punchestown and Fairyhouse in the past, as well as at Leopardstown.


Gala Marceau - Leopardstown, 4th February 2023

Most of the focus after the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown last Saturday was on Lossiemouth, which was understandable, she was definitely impeded. That said, it is possible that Gala Marceau did not receive due recognition for winning the race as a result.

Willie Mullins' mare was keen through the early stages of the race, as she had been when she had finished second to Lossiemouth on her Irish debut at Leopardstown over Christmas. She was still keen as they raced to the end of the back straight, but she still travelled well for Danny Mullins across the top of the track just behind the leaders. She moved up on the outside of her stable companion Cinsa at the second last flight, moved into the lead - still keen - on the run to the home turn, and picked up well when her rider asked her to. She came away from another stable companion Tekao on the run to the final flight, and she had enough in reserve to hold off the challenge of yet another stable companion Lossiemouth on the run-in.

You can easily argue that the incident in the back straight, in which Lossiemouth was hampered and shuffled back in the field, cost her more than the two and a half lengths by which she was beaten - she had to go wide too around the home turn as a consequence - but she wasn't closing on Gala Marceau on the run to the line. The winner had seven and a half lengths to find with her stable companion on their running at Christmas, but that was her first run in Ireland, whereas Lossiemouth had had a run. Also, Gala Marceau was keen again here. There is every chance that she will settle better in a Triumph Hurdle, firstly because the pace will probably be stronger, and secondly because she should be learning to settle better as she gains in experience. She is a big player in the Triumph Hurdle picture, and the last two Spring Hurdle winners won the Triumph Hurdle.

Liberty Dance - Leopardstown, 5th February 2023

Liberty Dance did well to finish fourth in the Paddy Mullins Mares' Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown last Sunday. Settled just worse than mid-division early on, Gordon Elliott's mare travelled well through her race for Davy Russell, and she made nice ground as they left the back straight and raced around the by-passed second last flight. She had a wall of horses in front of her at that point however, they hadn't gone a great gallop and several rivals were still travelling well as they raced to the home turn. She made good ground though around the home turn, and she travelled best of all into the home straight. She moved up nicely on the outside and, while the leaders quickened away from her a little, she kept on well on the run-in to finish fourth, just four lengths behind the winner Ballybawn Belter.

This was a race in which the pace held up well. The first four finished nicely clear of their rivals, and Liberty Dance came from much further back than the other three mares who, with her, filled the first four places. She is a talented mare, she won two of her three bumpers last season, and she finished a close-up third in the other, the Grade 2 mares' bumper at this meeting last year. And she is progressive, she had won her previous two races on the run into this race. Gordon Elliott had won two of the previous three renewals of this race, with Black Tears, who finished second in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham the following month, and who won the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham the following year, and Party Central, who was beaten in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham next time, but who rounded off the season by winning a listed mares' novices' hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, earning a rating of 142, 21lb higher than the mark off which she won the Paddy Mullins Mares' Hurdle. Liberty Dance has lots of potential for progression now. She holds an entry in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and she would be of interest if she took her chance in that, but she would be of more interest in another handicap now off a mark of 131, just 2lb higher than the mark off which she raced on Sunday.

Gentleman De Mee - Leopardstown, 5th February 2023

Gentleman De Mee bounced back to form with the performance that he put up in winning the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown last Saturday. Bounced out of the gate by Danny Mullins, he was a little awkward over the first fence, over which he landed in second place behind Dunvegan, but he was quickly up on the inside of Pat Fahy's horse. He got in a little tight to the second fence, but his jumping after that was good. Willie Mullins' horse moved into the lead in front of Dunvegan after the fifth fence, and he never saw a rival thereafter. He jumped the second last fence well, at which Blue Lord was a little awkward, and he set sail around the home turn. Blue Lord chased him into the home straight, but he couldn't bridge the gap, and Gentleman De Mee went on to win by seven lengths in the end.

It was a big performance by JP McManus' horse. His first three runs this season, admittedly all at a high level, were disappointing, but they were all before the turn of the calendar. He came good in the spring last season, and it may be that he is on a similar trajectory this term. He won his beginners' chase at Thurles last February by 34 lengths before winning a Grade 3 contest at Navan by 16. Then he went to Aintree and beat the Arkle winner Edwardstone in the Grade 1 Maghull Chase. There is a chance that Edwardstone under-performed a little at Aintree, and there is a chance that Blue Lord under-performed at Leopardstown on Sunday, but Gentleman De Mee could hardly have been much more impressive than he was. And it wasn't the case that he got an easy lead.

His best runs have been at Aintree and Leopardstown, both relatively flat, left-handed tracks, so there is a chance that he may not be at his best at Cheltenham. He was beaten when sent off as favourite for the Martin Pipe Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2021. But he has also looked good at Thurles and Navan, both very different tracks in terms of configuration, and it may be that the time of year and the type of ground is more important to him than the configuration of the track. His record over fences from February to April now reads 1-1-1-1.

Donn McClean, for many, is the face of horse racing in Ireland. He is the chief horse racing writer for The Irish Sunday Times and appears regularly on RTE's horse racing coverage as well as Racing TV. An accomplished author, Donn recently added Champion, written with the late Pat Smullen, to his list of horse racing books. You'll find Donn's musings across the world of Horse Racing here at

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