Tony Keenan with the 2018-19 edition of his long-running list
Tony Keenan with his horses to watch for
The 2017/18 list of jumps to follow proved an ok, not great, not terrible group; six of the ten horses won a race with an overall return of nine wins from 34 starts, a strikerate of 26% and to level-stakes at Betfair SP they returned a loss of 8.28 points up to the end of Punchestown. Apple’s Jade was an early star with a pair of Grade 1 wins pre-Christmas but didn’t seem the same mare in the spring though Rathvinden did at least get us on the board at Cheltenham in the National Hunt Chase.
Next Destination was about the pick and would be the one to take into the coming season away from Cheltenham where he has underperformed twice with Acapella Bourgeois by far the most disappointing, especially in light of what Total Recall achieved off a similar profile. This season’s ten is an entirely new group however and comes a month earlier than the one from last season; none of these have run this season which brings risk but also excitement. As ever, the aim will be to turn a profit to Betfair SP or at very least find a few big race winners. Al Boum (6yo, Willie Mullins) The early signs suggest last season’s novice chasers are a strong crop, two from the group in Snow Falcon and Saturnas dominating the Kerry National finish recently, the latter in particular hardly appearing well-treated at the time. Al Boum Photo was better than both in 2017/18 and while perhaps lacking the Gold Cup upside of Presenting Percy looks capable of winning an open Grade 1.
Part of it is his age as he is still only six but more than that there is the hope that his jumping will finally come together; to date it has been erratic to put it kindly and last season he fell on two of his six starts while making errors in the other four. The engine is immense and in the Punchestown race where Paul Townend ran him out in April he was in the process of putting in his most complete jumping performance yet, albeit not a perfect one.
There is every chance Al Boum Photo falls during the coming months but against that it could all click into place at least once to win at the top level and with his ability to get from A to B always a worry, he could well do so at a price. Balko Des Flos (7yo, H De Bromhead) Balko Des Flos was the lowest profile top-rated Irish chaser in many a season but his official rating of 169 was on a par with Sizing John and a pound ahead of Bellshill and Un De Sceaux. There are likely a few reasons for this; it was a down year for Irish chasers in the best open races, his win in the Ryanair came against only five rivals, he disappointed subsequently at Aintree and didn’t make Punchestown while there may even be some Gigginstown fatigue mixed in there.
Still, his Ryanair win was visually impressive and excellent on the clock while it came on ground that was thought to be too slow for him; there could be more to come on better ground. Furthermore, Balko Des Flos is only seven and he has scope going three miles; he didn’t seem to stay that trip as a younger horse but his most recent effort over it when second to Road To Respect in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase suggested otherwise.
Simple logic would dictate that he goes back to the Ryanair again in 2019 but Michael O’Leary values the Gold Cup above all other races and there could be some juice in the general 25/1 available about him for that race. He clearly handles the track well and it would be no surprise to see him chart a similar path as last season, running at Christmas before a break as he seems to go well fresh. Draconien (5yo, Willie Mullins) It is sensible to wonder how some of the horses that ran at all the spring festivals will have taken a busy backend to their 2017/18 campaigns; not only were those races run on unusually soft ground but there was an extra meeting thrown in with the Dublin Racing Festival. The likes of Getabird, Duc De Genievres and Scarpeta all had plenty of racing around that time and not all of them held their form.
That wasn’t the case with Draconien who was effectively having his first run since early-January at Fairyhouse having unseated a week earlier at Navan and it was an eye-catching effort off a break as found himself too far out of his ground before needing to be switched, shaping like the outing would bring him on.
It did just that at Punchestown where he comprehensively reversed form with Getabird in a good overall time, travelling like a real two-miler off
a strong gallop, and strongly suggesting he was the Mullins novice hurdler to take from the season. Where he goes next is unclear –it probably hasn’t been decided yet – but he looks potentially top-class whether this season is over fences or hurdles.
Dunvegan (5yo, Pat Fahy)
Dunvegan raced against some of the better bumper horses around in the early part of last season, second to three-time winner Rapid Escape on debut before filling the same spot behind one-time Champion Bumper favourite Hollowgraphic. He was better than the result on both occasions, meeting some trouble first time before racing too keenly on this second run. The form of those runs is strong not only based on the winners but also on the fact that now 135-rated hurdler Not Many Left filled the frame in both contests.
He followed that up with a comfortable win at Fairyhouse and while he disappointed upped in class at the Dublin Racing Festival he was soon back on track with a second to subsequent Grade 2 winner Pallasator on hurdling debut. That form would have made him very difficult to beat in a maiden hurdle but connections made the sensible choice to revert to bumpers and preserve his novice status for 2018/19.
His experience edge could prove significant in the early part of the season against horses having their first run over hurdles but in any case he possesses a good level of ability, one of only five horses last season not trained by Mullins or Elliott to win more than one bumper, an achievement he reached with a win at the Punchestown Festival where the talented Getareason was among those in behind.
Flawless Escape (5yo, Gordon Elliott)
Flawless Escape was unusual for an Elliott horse last season in that he didn’t race after Cheltenham; he had been a bit disappointing as favourite when finishing twelfth in the Martin Pipe but it was hardly a terrible run and he looked a horse that could compete in a big handicap hurdle and help in the trainer’s title bid.
But Elliott instead decided to rough him off with a view to sending him over fences, saying in a recent stable tour that he had enough done as a five-year-old and I always look on it as a good thing when prospective chasers are sent that way sooner rather than later, the extra season over hurdles often proving detrimental long-term. His form over hurdles is good, notably a third to Total Recall at Leopardstown during the Dublin Racing Festival when he had subsequent big handicap winners Delta Work and A Great View in behind. It looks a positive that his trainer was as protective of him as he is only a 133rated hurdler at this stage and connections seem to believe he can rate much higher than that over fences.
Minella Indo (5yo, Henry De Bromhead)
Henry De Bromhead is not a trainer of bumper horses; in the last three
full Irish jumps seasons, he has had just three winners from 83 bumper runners. That didn’t prevent the likes of Monalee, Supasundae, Ordinary World and Attribution, all of whom failed to win in bumpers, going on to much better things over obstacles however.
Minella Indo too failed to win a bumper but in fairness he only had one go and it was an excellent effort; that came on the final race of the season at Punchestown in a contest for unraced horses. He shaped well in coming third, too free but travelling best of all, and was only run out of it in the final furlong.
Just one horse from the first seven have run since with most of them longer term projects but the early sign is good with that horse being City Island who won a competitive maiden hurdle at Galway next time.
Moyhenna (6yo, Denis Hogan)
Denis Hogan was one of the big overachievers of the past jumps season, finishing eighth in the trainers’ table, with Youcantcallherthat his most prolific horse with five wins in novice chases. Four of those came against mares and there is now an extensive programme for such horses and Hogan looks to have another ideal sort for them in Moyhenna.
There was an element of marking time with her over hurdles, her trainer viewing her as a chaser and bred as such being out of Moskova who was rated 138 at her peak over fences, but she reached a reasonable level over the smaller obstacles. She managed to get graded placed at Limerick in March and followed that up with fourth in a competitive novice handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse.
That was her first run over three miles, a trip she is bred for, and while it may appear that she didn’t get home, she made her move very early and may have paid the price. In any case, cutting back in distance won’t be an issue and it could be ideal that most of those mares novice chases are around intermediate trips.
Pat’s Pick (4yo, Noel Meade)
Pat’s Pick certainly wasn’t expected to win on debut in the valuable sales bumper at Fairyhouse with Noel Meade remarking afterwards that ‘I didn’t think he’d win [as] we never really dipped him that much.’ He didn’t look like coming home in front for much of the race either having raced keenly throughout and been wider than most but despite both those things not being ideal he found plenty in the finish to win by half a length.
That form has worked out with the second filling the same position at Grade 3 level afterwards and the third winning next time but more than anything the trainer comments left the impression that Pat’s Pick should improve plenty for the run. A season novice hurdling is planned and it would be no surprise to see him start off at Down Royal given he is owned by the Sloans who are both locals and sponsors at the track.
Tornado Flyer (5yo, W Mullins)
Willie Mullins went full ‘Beast Mode’ on the most recent Champion Bumper, saddling five of the first seven, including the one-two-three. The most interesting of his with a view to this season could be Tornado Flyer as he conceded experience to all of the field at Cheltenham on what was just the second race of his career (hadn’t run in points) but belied that to finish third beaten less than four lengths.
Better was to come at Punchestown Champion Bumper where despite being a drifter in the betting he reversed Cheltenham form with Relegate and Carefully Selected and again beat the well-backed Blackbow. That one travelled best while it was quite hard work for Tornado Flyer but he showed a really willing attitude, hardly the greatest surprise as he is from the family of Hurricane Fly.
That’s a mainly flat pedigree on the dam side but he looks like one that will be better over a trip of at least 20 furlongs already though it would be no surprise if his trainer started him off over shorter early in the season and gradually move up in trip. Given the high level of bumper form he achieved in just three runs, the Ballymore is hardly a fanciful aim.
Us And Them (5yo, Joseph O’Brien)
Attitude is one of those hard to measure qualities in a racehorse but it comes into play over jumps every season; some horses relish the battle while others curl up under pressure. The early signs are that Us And Them will fall into the former group, his toughness particularly evident when he beat Trainwreck at Punchestown last December, getting only 1lb from that now 138-rated rival on the day despite him being a year younger. He backed that good effort up with a second at Limerick over Christmas where he conceded weight to the winner and while disappointing in the Supreme that effort came off a long break and he didn’t run afterwards. His trainer reports him in full work with a run in a novice chase intended in the next month or so and he appeals as just the sort to take to that code, his front-running style often translating well to fences at least over the shorter trips he is likely to race at.