Horses To Follow » Whiteoak


Whiteoak ran a huge race on her seasonal debut when running Ashkazar to a length and a half in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday. It actually looked like she had the winner’s measure when she challenged him between the last two flights, but the gelding proved to be just the stronger on the run-in.

That was hardly surprising. Ashkazar had been very strong in the market beforehand, and Timmy Murphy was at his determined best the whole way, including between the last two flights and on the run-in. Also, this was Whiteoak’s seasonal debut, her first run since she finished second to Elusive Dream in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last April. The leading pair pulled well clear of the third horse and the winning time was impressive, 0.3secs per furlong faster than Racing Post par.

Listening to trainer Donald McCain’s interview before the race, it would be surprising if Whiteoak did not come on appreciably for the run. The mare is most progressive anyway. She is only six years old and has now run just eight times over hurdles. She won the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last season on just her sixth run over hurdles. In so doing, she proved that she handled Cheltenham Festival conditions well, which is a huge asset in any horse who is being primed for Prestbury Park.

Of course, the most obvious Cheltenham target for Whiteoak is the David Nicholson race again. However, it is significant that McCain has given her an entry in the Champion Hurdle, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he will allow her take her chance in it. If he does, she would have a real chance. Certainly, I would back her to beat Ashkazar in the race. He is a member of the fashionable five-year-old brigade, an age group that still has a terrible record in the Champion, she will almost certainly improve by more than he will for Saturday’s experience, and she was getting just 3lb from him on Saturday – in the Champion Hurdle she would be getting a very generous-looking 7lb should she take her chance in it. It makes no sense whatsoever that they are going no better than 16/1 about Ashkazar for the Champion Hurdle while you can back Whiteoak at 50/1. I am still not sure – outside of Binocular, who still has to prove his worth at Cheltenham, but who could be exceptional – that this year’s Champion Hurdle is a very strong renewal and, if you knew that she was a definite runner, 50/1 about Whiteoak would be massive.

© The Irish Field, 21st February, 2009