Today I’m delighted to announce we have a guest post from Paul Ferguson of ‘Jumpers To Follow’ fame. Paul is a racing aficionado that I hugely respect so take note of his comments and observations as he, as they say, knows his onions when it comes to the jumping game.
Over to you Paul…
Paul Ferguson’s Horses in focus…
When Ben asked me to write this guest post, he suggested focusing on a horse that has caught my eye this season, but I’ve plumped for two in the end. One of which, Eduard, features as one of 40 Leading Prospects in this year’s Jumpers To Follow and the other, Two Rockers, is a horse who has now impressed me on all three starts this term. And, having seen him up close for the first time at Haydock on Saturday, he certainly has the physique to match his engine.
Horses in focus:
EDUARD (Nicky Richards)
An impressive bumper winner at Kelso last March, where he had stable-mate Duke Of Navan back in second, Eduard has made up in to a very smart novice hurdler this season.
Beaten a head by Ifandbutwhynot on his hurdles debut at Newcastle in October, where a mistake at the last didn’t help his cause, it was a pleasing return to action and he soon went one better, beating King Of The Wolds by 18 lengths back at Newcastle the following month.
The following day Ifandbutwhynot gave Eduard’s form a stronger look, winning a competitive novices’ handicap hurdle at Cheltenham off a mark of 117, giving 4lbs to the useful Tanerko Emery, who won his next two. David O’Meara’s seven-year-old has since given the form another boost, when winning stylishly off 130 at Musselburgh last week and he is now being considered for a crack at the County Hurdle.
King Of The Wolds has also upheld the form, winning on his next start over Christmas, before chasing home a nice prospect of Jonjo O’Neill’s, Get Back In Line, in a competitive heat at Catterick on 1 February.
Eduard’s third start over timber came at Cheltenham in yet another race that is working out extremely well and, despite only finishing third, it was another step forward. The first and second, Melodic Rendezvous and Royal Boy, finished first and third, respectively, in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle next time out and the winner has since won again impressively at Exeter.
Eduard was probably facing an impossible task in trying to give him 6lbs in a slowly run race, but he kept on really well after the last (jumped to the front at the final flight) and was probably just outpaced by two high-class novices. As well as the winner, fifth home Mr Watson has franked the form winning at Plumpton and a handicap back at Cheltenham (off 127), while seventh home Valdez has won again since, so the form is clearly strong.
Since then, Nicky Richards’ five-year-old has won a Carlisle novice hurdle by 29 lengths at odds of 1-8, when we learnt nothing more than he is fit and well. He coasted home as his price suggested he should and that should tee him up nicely for the bigger targets that lie ahead.
Still entered in the Supreme Novices’ and the Neptune Investment at the Cheltenham Festival, Richards indicated after his latest success that he would head to Aintree rather than Cheltenham, before which he will be aimed at the valuable 2m2f Premier Kelso Hurdle on Saturday week. The trainer saddled juvenile Faasel to finish runner-up in that contest in 2005, before he filled the same spot in the Triumph and then went one better in the Grade 1 Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle at Aintree. Steppes Of Gold finished second in the Kelso race for the yard in 2004, too.
Bred to appreciate both better ground a longer trip, it would not be a surprise to see Eduard stepped up in distance for the 2m4f Grade 2 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, a race that Richards won with Turpin Green in 2005 and he also saddled former stable-star Monet’s Garden to chase home Garde Champetre in this race in 2004.
This would also leave the door open for Duke Of Navan to represent the yard in the 2m Top Novices’ Hurdle. The son of Presenting is yet another horse who has been franking the form of Eduard this season, winning three times and finishing a close up fourth in the Grade 2 Sharp Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in November.
Whatever happens this spring, both horses appear to have very bright futures ahead of them, so Nicky Richards clearly has plenty to look forward to.
TWO ROCKERS (ALAN KING)
An £80,000 purchase at Cheltenham last May, Two Rockers had won a maiden point at Largy by 8 lengths and he made a winning rules debut at Towcester on 1 December, where he defied greenness under Wayne Hutchinson.
Settled in midfield and hugging the inside rail for the majority of the contest, he had raced a little keen but was still on the heels of the leaders when getting the third last a little wrong. Switched to the outer, he jumped upsides at the penultimate flight and, despite showed signs of inexperience after the last he was able to fend off Shotgun Paddy, who had previously won at Chepstow on debut for Emma Lavelle.
Back to Towcester just 19 days later, it was more of the same from Two Rockers, who clearly had no problem handling the heavy ground. Robert Thornton was aboard the odds-on favourite on this occasion and, having travelled really well once again, he asserted between the last two to run out an easy 6 length winner, despite an awkward jump at the last.
The form of that contest isn’t particularly strong, but there was once again plenty to like about the way the winner got the job done and that forced connections to up him in class and in distance for Haydock’s Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
Again, the ground was described as heavy and Two Rockers was sent off favourite for the 5-runner affair, despite old advisory Shotgun Paddy being weighted to reverse previous form (he had given Two Rockers 6lb when beaten a length and was now in receipt of 4lbs).
With Thornton at Wincanton, Hutchinson again took over in the saddle and he anchored the son of Milan out the back from the off, where he raced a little keenly in the early stages, as he had done previously.
A mistake down the back straight on the final circuit didn’t cost him any momentum and he improved in to second early up the home straight, travelling really stylishly. Still on the bridle between the last two, he took it up jumping the final flight and readily drew away in fine style to maintain his 100% record.
Quite whether that race was a strong as it has been in the past, only time will tell, but the runner-up had earlier finished a ½ length second to Shutthefrontdoor off 124 at Carlisle and Shotgun Paddy was beaten almost 8 lengths on this occasion.
Either way, it was hard not to be impressed by the winner, who is a big strapping chaser waiting to happen. Before that happens, you would expect connections will want to dip their toe in to the top grade in novice hurdle company, so it is pretty surprising that he does not hold an entry in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham.
Still in the Neptune, given the ease with which he travels, the drop back in trip (both victories at Towcester came over 2m5f) shouldn’t be an issue if the ground remains on the soft side, though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they skipped the Festival and allowed him to take his chance in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, a race the stable won last year with Lovcen and also back in 2002 with Stromness.
He more than deserves to take his chance in a race of that nature and, while he will need to iron out the odd blemish at his hurdles, the six-year-old has created a big impression on me this season and his long-term future is very bright indeed.
Two Rockers is a hugely exciting prospect for staying chases and should certainly go in to the notebook with that in mind. An imposing individual, connections will no doubt already be looking forward to sending him over fences (presumably next season) where he looks to have everything needed to make up in to a high-class novice chaser.
Many thanks to Paul for his excellent insights.
Paul’s excellent ‘Jumpers To Follow’ is published by CC Publishing
You can also follow Paul on Twitter >> @paulfergusonJTF