We’ve got Grade 2 jumps action today, with the Grade 2 PWC Champion Chase at Gowran Park. This early-season contest is always exciting, with the last four renewals going the way of the incredible Sizing Europe, who is now enjoying retirement.
This year’s renewal has attracted a field of seven, however it looks like a two horse race to me. Clarcam was favourite in the market, which is little surprise given the level of form he showed last season, notching up two Grade 1 victories. The first of those was at Leopardstown when Vautour disappointed and therefore can’t be taken too seriously. However, the second was at Aintree, where he comfortably saw off his rivals in good style, when racing over the distance of today’s race for the first time.
Still only a five-year-old, Clarcam appeals as the type that can progress further this season. The big question today is whether he’s going to be fully tuned up. Weak in the market this morning, that suggests to me that he’ll come on for the run, and he could be vulnerable today.
The horse that can take advantage of this is SHANAHAN’s TURN. I put him up as a horse to follow from Galway, and today looks like a prime opportunity for him to build on that effort and claim a second Grade 2 prize over fences. Racing prominently in the Galway Plate, he put his rivals to the sword when kicking clear and surely similar tactics will be adopted here. Dropping back two furlongs from the distance of the Galway Plate, the excellent Johnny Burke will no doubt ensure he fully utilises the stamina of Shanahan’s Turn. If Clarcam isn’t fully wound up I think he’ll struggle at the business end, and Shanahan’s Turn can make this a remarkable fifth win in-a-row for connections following the exploits of Sizing Europe.
We’re edging closer to the start of the jumps season. A good card at Market Rasen today only nudges the level of excitement up a further notch, with the Listed Handicap Chase looking like an excellent renewal.
I’m immediately drawn to OSCAR ROCK here. The gelding has taken a long time to start to fulfil the promise he showed when displaying smart form in bumpers, no doubt proving an expensive horse to follow. However, he really got his act together over fences last season, building on his second-placed debut effort to comfortably land two handicaps at Newcastle and Kelso respectively.
Stepped up to Grade 2 company at Ayr, Oscar Rock was sent off 11/8 favourite in the five-runner Future Champion Novices’ Chase. Traveling powerfully through the race, he was just making his challenge when falling at the third-last, being hampered by eventual winner Top Gamble on landing rather than making an error at the fence. It was too early to say whether Oscar Rock would have won, but he was traveling just as well as Top Gamble and appeared to have plenty left in the locker.
Whether Oscar Rock would have won at Ayr or not is open to debate, however I think it’s fair to say he would have gone close at the very least. Given Top Gamble came in to the race rated 152, and also carried 3LB less, I’m confident that a mark of 147 is very workable for Oscar Rock. His overall profile is that of a horse that is improving for time and experience, and I’d be surprised if he isn’t able to progress again this season and end up much better than 147.
Grey Hession is an obvious danger, arriving here on a steep upward curve. The Jonjo O’Neill-trained gelding has won his last three races, improving 29LB in the process. Whilst he only won by a neck last time out, he pulled miles clear with Alderbrook Lad, another improving horse, so an 8LB rise may not be enough to stop him making it four wins in-a-row.
Valco De Touzaine has to be respected given he’s trained by the master Paul Nicholls and it’s a big Saturday race, but he doesn’t look so progressive to me. He’s only won once from his last 12 starts, and a career-high mark of 145 means I’m happy to pass him over. In his latest effort at Newcastle he had Gold Futures and Claret Cloak behind him, and neither of those two make much appeal here.
I’m sweet on Oscar Rock who looks to have plenty more scope and that touch of class about him. He can his season under way by getting back on the winning trail.
It’s that magical time of the year again. We’re shortly entering September and the jumps season will soon be kicking off. This is always one of my favourite posts, as I get to look back on all the horses I’m most excited about, whilst attempting to narrow down this list to a suitable number. After going to 25 last year, I’ve decided to drop back to 20 this time around.
Firstly, a brief look back at last year’s horses to follow. It may have started with a bang, thanks to the unbeaten machine Faugheen doing the business all season, however it soon starts to look pretty depressing, with a high number of horses barely running (if at all), although Next Sensation was a tidy 16/1 handicap winner at Cheltenham. Still, there’s no point looking back now, and the beauty is surely things can only go better this time around. So here we go.
The brilliant Galway Festival comes to an end today and there’s been some great action from the past week. Taking a look back through the racing, I’ve picked out three horses that were particularly impressive and will be worth keeping in your notebook for when the jumps season really kicks off.