Horses To Follow » Leading Contender

Leading Contender

Leading Contender ran a nice race in the two-and-a-half-mile beginners’ chase at Kempton on Saturday on his chasing debut. Free in the early stages, which was wholly understandable given that it was his first start in 421 days, he jumped more than adequately excepting a mistake at the first fence, and it looked like he would be able to take the measure of his stable-companion and all-the-way leader Pancake when he challenged that rival at the top of the home straight. But his early exertions obviously told, and he just couldn’t find the requisite energy to get past. Even so, he was only beaten three lengths in the end, and the pair were clear of two useful rivals in The Cool Guy and Andytown.

Although this was just a Class 4 event, it was a quality line up for the grade. Pancake should arguably have beaten Wichita Lineman over three miles at Chepstow in December, The Cool Guy was a useful novice hurdler who finished second to Denman in the 2006 Challow Hurdle, while Andytown is a 133-rated hurdler.

Leading Contender, for his own part, was a really progressive handicap hurdler in the early part of last season. He finished fourth to Mendo in a decent two-and-a-half-mile hurdle at Cheltenham’s November meeting on desperate ground, and then ran out a game winner of a Pertemps Qualifier at Cheltenham’s December meeting from 6lb out of the handicap. That was the last time we saw him before last Saturday as tendon trouble intervened, but trainer Philip Hobbs could hardly have asked for a more pleasing return to the racecourse.

The Supreme Leader gelding will undoubtedly come on for Saturday’s run as, at a minimum, it will have knocked the freshness out of him, and he should settle much better next time as a consequence. Also, given that he stayed three miles well over hurdles, he should improve for stepping up to that trip again over fences. His jumping should improve also for this experience and, as long as he doesn’t bounce on his second run back after a break, he should be worth following. He was rated 145 over hurdles, and it is interesting that Hobbs has entered him in the RSA Chase. He probably has to win a beginners’ chase now to book his place at the Festival, but we know that he does handle Cheltenham well, and the 209/1 that is available about him for that contest on Betfair looks decidedly ludicrous. Even the 66/1 that William Hill are offering looks big.

© The Irish Field, 14th February, 2009