There was plenty of food for thought on the National Hunt front over the weekend and there were even some Cheltenham Festival clues thrown in for good measure.
Here are the three main horses that went in my notebook after the weekends racing –
ACKERTAC (Nigel Twiston Davies) – Saturday – 1.00 Ascot – 2nd in the 2m3f Limited Handicap Novices’ Chase
This run by far and away represented the 7yo’s best chase performance to date and if he had jumped the last a shade cleaner he could well have shaken the winner up even further. Ascot is a track where the Twiston-Davies runners struggle to make the winners enclosure (recent record of 3 winners from 89 runners – 3% S/R and 0 winners from 19 runners in January) so this eye-catching performance could be upgraded still. The Anshan gelding’s previous 4 chase starts were nothing much to write home about but I have a feeling they can be credited to the fact he faced small fields (9 or less runners) on those runs. He looks much happier in the stronger pace of a larger field (both hurdle wins and bumper victory came in large fields) and it could well be that we see him kept in handicaps from now on. Both his hurdle wins came at Uttoxeter and it could be that connections will look for a race there for him. The Henderson horse that beat him on Saturday (Triolo D’Alene) looks a decent tool and could well be heading to Cheltenham, the pair finished well clear of the remainder and ACKERTAC is of serious interest for future engagements.
SMAD PLACE (Alan King) – Saturday – 2.35 Ascot– 1st in the 2m3f Grade 2 Limited Handicap Hurdle
This was an impressive return from the Alan King trained 5yo who was having his first start since last season’s Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. The most eye-catching aspect of the run to me was the way the grey gelding powered away up the home-straight once he had engaged top gear. He quickly put the race to bed after jumping the last and in doing so added his name to the growing list of horses that have bolstered the juvenile form of last season. The Smadoun gelding has plenty of solid form in the book with his only mildly disappointing running coming in the Triumph last season, although his 10th in that race (beaten 11 lengths) is hardly form to be sniffed at. The World Hurdle is reportedly on the agenda for him now and although that may well be a step too far for him at present he is a horse I think will benefit from stepping up in trip. His pedigree holds plenty of stamina influences and he strikes me a horse to make an impact over staying trips.
AL FEROF (Paul Nicholls) – Saturday – 3.10 Ascot – 3rd in the Grade 1 2m1f Victor Chandler Chase
For a novice only having his 3rd run over fences this was an ultra-impressive performance. The experience he will have gained from this outing far outweighs anything he could have picked up from dossing round in small field novice events and I would expect this race to sharpen him considerably. Ruby always seemed to be niggling at the grey but the 7yo never once looked like throwing in the towel and the fact he was still right in there jumping 2 out says plenty about the talent this French bred possesses. You can say what you want about Somersby but the fact is he has close form with Master Minded and also ran 4th in the King George, finishing 1/2 a length behind Captain Chris, which suggests he isn’t quite the ‘dog’ some people make him out to be. If we then consider that Al Ferof was only 5 lengths in arrears on Saturday we can conclude this was an excellent run from the novice. Al Ferof already has solid Cheltenham form to his name (2-F-1-1 – was travelling like the winner when falling) and also seems to be a horse that can improve come springtime (record in Feb-March reads 1-2-1-1) and future festival success must be considered (not only for this season). To my mind he significantly enhanced his reputation on Saturday.
What horses went in your notebook after this weekends action?
Drop me a comment below and let me know who you will be keeping an eye on for future engagements.