Time for Nicky Henderson to start looking for an opening for his Brave Eagle…
OK. Champions Day on the flat is done. It’s in the form book and we can close the door on the flat season now.
You can take a small break to watch/punt on the Breeders Cup but that’s it. No more!
No distractions from here on in as from this weekend on-wards we are rolling in the National Hunt stuff! Rolling right down deep in the good stuff!
Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting on Friday and Saturday and then Aintree’s Old Roan Chase meeting on Sunday! What a time to be alive!!
Get switched on now as this sh!t is about to get real!!
We are likely to see more and more of the big guns hitting the track in the coming weeks and that’s nothing if not a fantastically exciting thought.
Making sure my head is fully in top gear and prime shape for the 2017/18 season has also meant I’ve had my head stuck deep in my own personal stash of horse notes for a considerable amount of time (not sure exactly how long but my beard needs a decent trim…according to Mrs NTF anyway!!), meaning those notes are sharpened to within an edge of their pretty little lives!
It’s vital to me making this game pay that my notes are up to scratch and although it means plenty of late nights and hours stuck in front of my computer screen it’s well worth it. The ducks need to be in line before the season is in full swing and as it stands I’m more than happy with the line my ducks are making!! A couple of them look a bit lame but I’ll have them straightened out by the weekend, mark my words!
An up side of this exhaustive approach is that I uncover a raft of, what I consider to be, well-handicapped horses.
I’ve already supplied you guys with five of those types and as ROMAIN DE SENAM has decided to bag himself two early season handicaps from his first two runs (justifying his place on the first list but also making him slightly less attractively handicap than he was!) I thought it only fair that I pull in a few more horses to the ‘Well-Handicapped’ list.
*if you missed the first installment you can read that here by the way
I’ll start today’s list with a couple of lightly raced novice hurdlers from last season who both look on very winnable marks…
BRAVE EAGLE (N Henderson) 5yo
Current Handicap Mark – OR 133
If there is such a thing as a Henderson dark horse then this fella is it.
We’ve seen him on the track twice, he’s won both times, both wins giving the impression that he was a horse hiding plenty up his sleeve, suggesting his opening handicap mark of OR 133 looks extremely exploitable by the master that is Nicky Henderson. Given the fact that crack conditional James Bowen is now attached to the Henderson yard then a partnership between Brave Eagle and the young jockey, with Bowen claiming 7lbs off the horses back, would be extremely exciting and would allow the second season hurdler the opportunity to glide round the track under a feather-weight.
He’s not been 100% fluent at his obstacles on his two starts but he’s only a 5yo and in any case the maiden/novice ranks are the place to make your mistakes, learning how to jump properly when the waters are calmer without the pressure of the big-boys on your tail. I’m sure Henderson will have been working on making his jumping all that more slicker in the off season anyway.
Pedigree wise he’s very interesting, being by Yeats out of a Sinndar mare, and that’s nothing if not an intriguing concoction to go to war with over timber.
He’s got an engine, he’s on a very workable mark and there are very few miles on the clock at present; what’s not to like about this fella!
BRAVE EAGLE Ideal Conditions – Very flexible at the minute but a fast run 2m could well suit although he should have stamina to stay longer trips
OXWICH BAY (E Williams) 5yo
Current Handicap Mark – OR 115
This Westerner gelding actually ran second to Brave Eagle on his final start last term, at Ludlow in January. He was favoured to win that day but just didn’t have the same boot in him jumping the last, eventually going down by 1.25L at the line. It was upwards of 9L back to the remainder, however, and it’s worth noting that the 3rd that day has since won twice.
Like the Henderson horse he’s only had the two hurdle starts, with his hurdling debut coming in December at Ffos Las, where he finished a close 3rd behind the Twiston-Davies trained Robinshill.
Prior to that he had contested two Bumper races, starting off in the valuable sales bumper run at Newbury’s March meeting before having the summer off and coming back to record a comfortable victory in a bumper at Sedgefield. That Sedgefield race had the now Donald McCain trained Dear Sire back in second, a horse who is now rated OR 138 over hurdles, firmly highlighting the OR 115 mark that OXWICH BAY finds himself on as seriously exploitable.
What level Oxwich Bay is ultimately up to is something I’m very open on but I am pretty damn sure it’s some way above OR 115. Let’s hope Williams doesn’t waste any time in novice/maiden company this term and just fires him straight into handicap company. If played smartly he could easily fire in a sequence of victories.
OXWICH BAY Ideal Conditions – Flexible at the minute but Handicap Hurdles up to 2m5f should be within reach for him
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Now for a trio of chasers...
MYSTICAL KNIGHT (R Curtis) 8yo
Current Handicap Mark – OR 134
Given how impressive this one was on chase debut at Hereford last season the only real conclusion one can come to is that his current mark of OR 134 is a very winnable one indeed.
Sure he didn't kick on at all from that Hereford victory but that possibly says more about the Curtis yard last term rather than the horse himself as the trainer only saddled 2 winners (from 49 runners) in the February, March & April period of last season.
The upshot of the poor form of the Curtis yard is, of course, that there are a plethora of well-handicapped typed dotted about her yard, including this fella.
He did, in fairness, show a bit more sparkle on his final start at the Punchestown Festival in April, where he was closing in on the leaders in the end portion of the contest before making an untimely mistake at the second last fence. He did plug on after that though and the 6th place finish was plenty better than it looked.
3m handicap chases should be his bag this term, most likely when there is plenty cut under foot.
MYSTICAL KNIGHT Ideal Conditions – 3m+ handicap Chases | Cut underfoot
KERROW (A King) 7yo
Current Handicap Mark – OR 135
There was enough in this 7yo's four chase starts last season to suggest he's very much a marathon chaser in the waiting.
He was still a shade unfurnished last season but he did manage to pull in a Handicap Chase win at Taunton, a close 2nd in Novice company at Newcastle and a solid enough 6th at the Cheltenham Festival (where he was significantly disadvantaged by the weights that day). Those three runs were off the back of his debut 6th (only beaten 3.75L) at Chepstow, all of which gave him a solid introductory season to build on this term.
His owner Trevor Hemmings loves to target the big staying chases and I would suspect this is the route they take with this fella this term. Given the horse seems to need/want decent ground I imagine it will be spring staying chases that are his main targets, rather than races like The Welsh National, which is highly unlikely to come up anything other than Soft/Heavy!?
He starts this season still very much unexposed and I don't see his handicap mark of OR 135 posing any significant obstacle too him.
KERROW Ideal Conditions - 3m+ Handicap Chases | Decent ground
SPEREDEK (N Hawke) 6yo
Current Handicap Mark – OR 135
Two pulled-up efforts on his first two starts over fences was hardly the ideal start for this Kapgarde offspring but a distance switch suggested by his sometime rider Danny Cook after the second of those runs worked wonders for the 6yo and he ended the season with three wins on the spin.
Connections had initially started him over 3m & 2m4f, which was fair enough given that he had won over 2m7f as a hurdler, but it was the switch back to 2m2f & below that ignited his chasing desire and he rattled off 3 career best efforts one after the other on his last three starts.
He's gone up 20lbs off the back of those runs but I still feel his current mark of OR 135 has a bit of wiggle room left in it and given the correct conditions he will prove hard to peg back off the front end.
His front-running nature does mean he probably prefers smaller fields (less likely to be taken on for the lead) and he's also very much a Right-Handed track specialist (all 5 of his wins coming on RH tracks, he is 0/4, 0p on LH tracks). I do think he has stamina in him and that may come more with age although I'm not sure 3m+ will ever really be a viable option for him.
Looking at him under the following... RH tracks | fields of 10 or less | 2m7f & below...gives a form line of 111141 (5/6 - All 5 career wins) and those would be the kind of conditions I would be looking to back him under again this term.
SPEREDEK Ideal Conditions - Handicap Chases | 2m3f & below for now | RH tracks | Fields of 10 or less preferable
I’m extremely hopeful that these five can pick up handicap pots at some stage during the 2017/18 campaign and prove to be some way better than their current marks in the process.
p.s. Doors for the full NTF Members service are now open and I'll be covering races from Cheltenham and Aintree this weekend as part of the race analysis section of the service...
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