Horses To Follow » Darkness


The three-and-a-quarter-mile veterans’ chase at Newbury on Saturday may have fallen apart a little, with Go For One unseating his rider at the water and Irish Raptor running out after the cross fence, but you can only ever beat what is left there in front of you, and it was difficult to fault Darkness’s performance in coming home clear from Church Island, Puntal and I Hear Thunder. Also, despite the fact that he was undoubtedly idling in front, he posted an impressive time, 0.15secs per furlong faster than Racing Post standard time and by far the fastest time of the day.

Darkness has never been a really fluent jumper, but he rarely looks like falling. Indeed, he has never fallen in five races over hurdles and 10 over fences. He just has his own way of negotiating his fences. As such, he may not be everyone’s cup of tea as a Grand National candidate, but he is on my list for sure, now that the National is his intended target. He was a really high class novice chaser three seasons ago, he won the Feltham and he finished third in the Sun Alliance Chase. He was then off with leg trouble for three years, but that may be a blessing in the context of the National this year as, even though he is 10, he has raced just 10 times over fences, and he could even be progressing again now. His first run this season, his first for two and a half years, was a cracker, when he finished third behind Possol and Mon Mome off a mark of 142, giving them 8lb and 12lb respectively, and in front of Osako D’Airy, giving him 9lb.

To put the quality of that race into context, Possol is now rated 11lb higher than he was then, Mon Mome is now rated 13lb higher, even though he looked fairly well exposed at the time, while Osako D’Airy is now rated 6lb higher. However, Darkness is set to race off just a 1lb higher mark in the Grand National.

You have to forgive Charlie Egerton’s horse a below par effort in the Welsh National on his latest start, but you can easily forgive a horse a bad run on testing ground at Chepstow, and it was his second run back after a long break, the notorious ‘bounce’ run. This run proved that he is as good as ever.

Because the Grand National is an early-closer, he can’t be moved off his mark of 143 for the race – he doesn’t even incur a penalty for this win. That could be a really lenient mark given that he was rated 154 when he ran in the Sun Alliance Chase, and he has been afforded such leniency purely because of his lengthy absence. Furthermore, it is the ideal rating for a Grand National contender. Quite remarkably, all of the last 10 winners of the Grand National ran off a rating of between 138 and 144. Darkness has the class to be competitive in a Grand National, as a 10-year-old he is the ideal age and he is trained by the man who sent out Mely Moss to be second to Papillon in 2000. You can back him at 60 on Betfair at the moment for the National, and that is far too big. Even the 40/1 at which you can back him with the bookmakers is extremely generous.

© The Irish Field, 7th March, 2009