Horses To Follow » Air Force One


Barry Geraghty conjured a fine finishing run from Roll Along to see him home from Air Force One in the United House Gold Cup at Ascot on Saturday, but the runner-up was the horse to take out of the race for me.

Air Force One’s jumping impressed tremendously. He travelled really well just behind the leader Charlie’s Future before taking it up at Swinley Bottom. Noel Fehily allowed him stride on from that point, and he looked set to land the spoils right up until the run to the second last, when first signs of tiredness from him coincided with signs of strength from Roll Along. He was collared at the last fence, and Roll Along went on to win by four lengths, but Air Force One lost nothing in defeat.

Roll Along was a really talented staying novice chaser last season. He won just once, but he finished strongly to take second place behind Albertas Run in the Sun Alliance Chase at Cheltenham, when he had horses of the calibre of Battlecry and Silverburn and Air Force One himself behind him. He was also fast enough over hurdles to finish third behind Wichita Lineman and Sir Jimmy Shand in a Challow Hurdle.

Although only fifth in the Sun Alliance, Air Force One was probably the better novice chaser. Charlie Mann’s gelding ran well to finish second to Albertas Run in the Reynoldstown, and he rounded off the season by landing the Grade 1 Ellier Developments Chase at the Punchestown Festival, putting in the most impressive round of jumping of his career to beat Pomme Tiepy by 13 lengths.

It was significant that Air Force One was fairly weak in the market on Saturday, and that Mann intimated beforehand that he would improve for the run. By contrast, Roll Along was backed in from morning prices of 9/1 to an SP of 5/1. There is probably significant progress forthcoming from Air Force One and he is one to really look forward to this season.

He is only six years old and has run just eight times over fences. This could be his season. He will have to improve by upwards of two stone if he is to be a contender for top honours, but that is not beyond the bounds of possibility. These staying chasers can improve immeasurably from six to seven in their sophomore years. In the context of the Gold Cup, it is a little bit of a worry that his jumping lacked confidence in the Sun Alliance last March but it may have been that he was just inexperienced and not that he didn’t handle Cheltenham’s undulations, and odds of 40/1 about him for the Gold Cup are more than fair.

In the shorter term, he looks like a very likely type for the Hennessy. He has form on good ground, but he does show a fair bit of knee action, and an extreme test of stamina is what he needs. The fast pace and extended three and a quarter miles of the Hennessy will be right up his street, it is likely that Charlie Mann has had the race in mind for him since last season, he has the ideal profile for the race (six years old, second season chaser, relatively lightly-raced) and he could be one or two steps ahead of the handicapper.

© The Irish Field, 3rd November, 2008