Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: January 2nd to January 8th

By Donn McClean
 |  6 mins
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Donn McClean's Horses To Follow: January 2nd to January 8th

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.

McFabulous - Cheltenham, 1st January 2022

McFabulous did well on his comeback run to finish second to Stormy Ireland in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. Nicely settled early on in the main group behind clear leader Stormy Ireland, he travelled well down the back straight, restrained after jumping up almost level with the leader going over the first flight in the back straight. He got shuffled back in the field a little as they raced to the top of the hill, but rider Harry Cobden still looked comfortable, and McFabulous travelled well down the hill, he was travelling at least as well as Stormy Ireland and Brewin'upastorm as they raced to the second last flight. The front two got away from him as they straightened up for home and raced to the final flight, and he probably would have finished only third had Brewin'upastorm not come down at the final flight, but he kept on well up the run-in after making a mistake at the last to get to within two and a half lengths of the winner, coming away from third-placed Guard Your Dreams.

It was a nice run from Paul Nicholls' horse on his first run since last year's Aintree Hurdle, and he should progress from it. There was talk about sending him over fences after the Relkeel Hurdle, but there should be more to come from him over hurdles if he remains over the smaller obstacles. He goes well right-handed and on flat tracks, and he is two for two at Kempton - he won the Relkeel Hurdle last year when it was run at Kempton - so he will be of particular interest if and when he goes back to Kempton. This intermediate trip if a good trip for him, but he did finish third in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last season on his only attempt at three miles and it may be worth giving him another go over the longer trip.


Funambule Sivola - Cheltenham, 1st January 2022

Funambule Sivola again shaped like a horse who would be better dropped back down in trip when he finished ninth in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. Held up early on, he was wide around the home turn, and he was keen through the early part of the race. He travelled well down the back straight, and he made ground among horses, moving up to join the leading group as they raced to the top of the hill. He travelled well down the hill too, and he made good ground around the home turn to move into a share of fourth place jumping the second last fence, but he weakened from there as his stamina ebbed, and he faded up the hill to finish ninth.

Venetia Williams' horse is a talented individual, and he could improve again now for a drop back down in trip. Winner of three of his six chases over the minimum trip last season, he got to within three lengths of Shishkin in the Maghull Chase at Aintree in April, pulling 20 lengths clear of his other rivals. He ran really well on his seasonal debut too, in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, to finish second to First Flow, when he raced prominently and looked the most likely winner when he moved to the front over the fourth last fence. He was still on the bridle rounding the home turn but, again, it appeared as if he ran out of stamina. If he does drop back down to two miles next time, he can be ridden forward, and those tactics seem to suit him well. He holds an entry in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot later this month, and he could be a lively outsider in that - although it could be a hot heat, with Shishkin and Energumene both holding entries - at a track at which he is one for one. It was only a three-horse race that he won but, importantly, he jumped the Ascot fences superbly, he made all and he won easily.

Flame Bearer - Naas, 2nd January 2022

Flame Bearer might have won the two-mile maiden hurdle at Naas on Sunday had the ball hopped a little more kindly for him. He travelled well in mid-division from early, up on the outside, and he made good ground to move in behind the leaders on the run to the end of the back straight. Third as they raced across the top of the track, he made a significant mistake at the fourth last flight. He lost his hind legs on the landing side and lost ground and momentum. He did well to get back into it after that, and he travelled best of all to the second last flight, just behind the leaders. But the leader Bronn jumped to his right over that flight, and Jack Doyle went for the gap that consequently developed briefly on the inside. That gap was quickly closed though by Paul Townend on the leader. Flame Bearer then got in tight to the final flight too, and he ran out of racing room as Killer Mode challenged on the outside. In the end, he just kept on to finish third, with the front three clear.

You can mark Flame Bearer up at least a little on the bare form of the run. Even before the messy finish to the race, he did well to get back into it and to travel as well as he did to the second last flight after making that mistake at the fourth last. A dual bumper winner, it was just a second run over hurdles for Pat Doyle's horse, and he should progress from this. He will be of interest in another maiden hurdle now, and he handles this soft ground well.


Fighting Fit - Naas, 2nd January 2022

Fighting Fit ran out an impressive winner of the two-mile handicap chase at Naas on Sunday. Strong in the pre-race market, Philip Dempsey's horse jumped well through his race for Luke Dempsey, and he moved up nicely on the near side on the run to the second last fence. All eight remaining runners were almost in a line across the track on the run to that obstacle, but it quickly became apparent that Fighting Fit was travelling best of all. He joined Gevrey in front on landing over the second last, moved easily on to the final fence, jumped that just in front and he quickened away impressively up the run-in to run out an impressive winner.

The handicapper raised JP McManus' horse by 8lb for this win to a mark of 119, but that mark is just 3lb higher than his hurdles mark, and he has the potential to go higher still. He appeared to win with at least a little in hand here, and he is only seven and has raced just five times over fences. There is stamina in his pedigree, and he has been tried over two and a half miles before, but he showed plenty of pace here, to quicken off a sedate pace, and this two-mile trip looks like a good trip for him, at least for now. And he could do even better in a more strongly-run race over the minimum trip.

Dinoblue - Clonmel, 6th January 2022

Dinoblue could hardly have been more impressive than she was in winning the opening mares' maiden hurdle at Clonmel on Thursday. Strong in the market beforehand, Mark Walsh had her prominent from early, and her jumping was really good for a debutante. She took up the running as they raced down the back straight final time and, while she was challenged by her stable companion La Prima Donna on the run across the top of the track and into the home straight, she picked up about two lengths in front at the second last flight, and she came away from her rival from there, pinged the last and went to the line willingly, 15 lengths clear of her rivals.

You had to be impressed with this performance from Willie Mullins' mare. As well as the visual impression that she created, her time was faster by seven seconds and 12 seconds respectively than the other two hurdle races run over the same course and distance on the day. A half-sister to Blue Sari, who split Envoi Allen and Thyme Again in the 2019 Champion Bumper, there is no knowing how high she can go now, and she deserves her lofty position in the market for the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

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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