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.
Nassalam was really well backed for the Byrne Group Chase at Ascot last Saturday, and he only finished fifth in the end, but it may pay to retain the faith, when he can get back on softer ground and when he can go left-handed again. Sent off as favourite in the end, he was left in front when Monsieur Le Coq departed at the second fence, but he continually gave away ground by jumping to his left. Passed by Before Midnight and Frero Banbou on the run into Swinley Bottom, he came under a ride on the run up the side of the track, where his jumping wasn't good, and he had dropped to fifth by the time they got to the home turn. He just kept on over the final two fences and he finished fifth, over 20 lengths behind the impressive winner Thyme White.
Nassalam had jumped to his left before, including when he won at this meeting last year, so you can easily forgive him this. Gary Moore's horse did well to win the novices' handicap chase at this meeting last year, but the ground was softer last year, and he wasn't as markedly out to his left as he was this time. All his best runs have been on soft ground, so he will be of interest now when he gets back on soft ground and ideally moves to a left-handed track. He holds an entry in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham this Saturday and, if the ground comes up on the soft side, he will be of interest if he takes his chance in that.
Elvis Mail was a cosy winner of the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Ayr last Saturday. They didn’t go a great pace in the race, as evidenced by a slow overall time, but Elvis Mail always travelled well, handy from early up on the outside, and his jumping was very good. He jumped into the lead at the final fence in the back straight, but rider Bruce Lynn just sat in front until they got over the second last fence. At that stage, he was in front and travelling well as Marown moved up threateningly on the near side. Elvis Mail wasn't great at the final fence as they sprint developed, he nodded a little on landing and lost momentum, but he picked up well on the run-in when his rider asked him to, going on to win by almost two lengths, but probably with more in hand than that.
To put the weakness of the early pace into context, the other race run on the day over the same course and distance was run in a time that was 2.55secs faster, but Elvis Mail was 3.92secs faster through the final half a mile than the winner of the other handicap chase was, and that represented a finishing speed percentage of 115.48%. Nick Alexander's horse travelled best of all through his race, and he picked up smartly from the second last fence. It was his first run since last April too, so you would have forgiven him if he had lacked sharpness. He didn't but there is still every chance that he will come on for this. The handicapper raised him by 5lb to a mark of 142, but that is still 5lb lower than his peak rating as a novice chaser two seasons ago. He spent much of last season jumping hurdles, he has raced just eight times over fences, so he still has scope for progression as a steeplechaser. He goes well on soft ground too as well as on this good to soft ground, and he has the pace for two miles, especially on soft ground.
Tommy Cullen did well to finish off his race as well as he did, to finish a close-up third behind Hall Lane, in the two-and-a-half-mile novices' hurdle at Wetherby last Saturday, given how keen he was for most of the race. Prominent from early behind breakaway leader Hurricane Bay, and racing along the inside, he was keen through the early stages of the race, and he was still keen as they raced to the end of the back straight. Third into the home straight, he moved up to join Hurricane Bay and Joe Dadancer in the front rank at the third last flight, and he just about landed in front over the second last. He was passed by Hall Lane on his inside on the run to the last, but he rallied again on the far side on the run-in. Ultimately, he tired close home, but he was still only beaten a total of less than three lengths.
This was a big run by Charlie Longsdon's horse on his hurdling debut. Zero for three in point-to-points and well beaten in a bumper at Worcester in early October on his debut under Rules when he was sent off as favourite, he was sent off at a big price here, and he probably traded at an even bigger price in-running, given how keenly he raced. He should be able to step forward from this now when he learns to settle better. He is bred to get further too, so he will be of interest stepped up in trip when he learns to settle.
Thedevilscoachman got off the mark over fences in the two-mile-six-and-a-half-furlong beginners' chase at Galway on Sunday, and Noel Meade's horse did lots right, he probably had a fair bit more in hand than the bare winning margin. Kept wide by Mark Walsh and given plenty of light at his fences, his jumping was a little careful early on, but he warmed to his task as the race developed and, moved up on the outside on the run into the dip, he was very good at each of the last two fences. Those two jumps took him into the front rank as they raced around the home turn. He travelled really well into the home straight, and his rider just had to keep him up to his work in order to get him home by almost two lengths from Churchstonewarrior.
This was a good beginners' chase. Churchstonewarrior was a progressive staying novice hurdler last season, reaching a rating of 135, while Sams Profile is a 152-rated hurdler, and Dunboyne and Folcano are both rated in the high 120s. This is a race that has often been a pointer to the future, boasting, as it does, a roll of honour that includes Don Cossack, Presenting Percy, Jessies Dream, Battleoverdoyen, China Rock and Last Instalment. Thedevilscoachman ran twice over fences last season without winning, returning to hurdles to win the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan in February. His two runs over fences last season were both over the minimum trip, but it looks like JP McManus' horse will be well suited to staying trips over fences. He should be able to step up in grade now, the Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown and the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse are two obvious options, but it could be worth following him now on soft ground through the winter wherever he goes.
Inthepocket was impressive in winning the opening maiden hurdle at Wexford last Sunday on his racecourse debut. Nicely strong in the market beforehand, Henry de Bromhead's horse was quickly into a nice racing rhythm for Rachael Blackmore in third or fourth place behind a decent pace that Feddans set. He made good progress up on the outside as they raced to the end of the back straight, and he was one of four horses who shared the lead as they straightened up for home. He moved forward nicely too when his rider asked him to, he went on with Transmission over the second last flight, and he picked up well on the run to the last, readily coming clear of his only real remaining rival and winning by six lengths in the end.
Winner of his only point-to-point for Paul Cashman, he was an expensive purchase shortly thereafter, but he is on his way now to justifying his price tag. A half-brother to To Be Sure, a three-time winner so far for Evan Williams over three miles, there is every chance that he can step up in trip now, but he showed plenty of pace here, he travelled well over the minimum trip and he handled the heavy ground. He will obviously have to step up in grade, but he is a horse who could make his mark at a higher level now.