Horses To Follow » Barker


I am not so sure that Barker received due credit for landing the Swordlestown Cup at Punchestown last Thursday. A lot of the focus pre-race was, quite understandably, on Arkle winner and favourite Forpadydeplasterer, with the rest on the Ruby Walsh-ridden Deutschland, and a lot of the talk post-race was on the beaten favourite and on how he might have fared had he not made such a bad mistake at the second last. There is no doubt that The Goat Grill’s horse will be better on better ground, and that he is a genuine contender for Master Minded’s Champion Chase crown next season all going well with his proven course form. Indeed, I wouldn’t be backing Master Minded at even money for next year’s Champion Chase just at the minute with the Arkle one-two and Big Zeb now very definitely in the wings.

But back to Barker. This was a top class performance. His jumping was accurate and efficient, as good as it had been at Fairyhouse, but without the mistake at the fifth last. It took him into the lead at the fourth last when David Casey just allowed him stride on, not wanting to disappoint him, and he always looked to have things under control, even before Forpadydeplasterer’s mistake at the second last. He just careered away to post a really impressive win.

It was interesting to hear Willie Mullins say afterwards that he had been contemplating running Barker in the three-mile novices’ race instead of the Swordlestown Cup over two. True, he did get to within a short head of Aran Concerto in the Powers Gold Cup over two and a half miles at Fairyhouse, but for me they were always going a stride too slowly for him that day, and he was just out-stayed by Aran Concerto on the run-in. He did handle good ground at Fairyhouse well, but a fast-run two miles on soft ground is probably his optimum. They were the conditions under which he posted his best run over hurdles, when he won the Pierse Hurdle in January 2008.

Also, the fact that he was allowed stride on from so far out at Punchestown gives Mullins the option of allowing him lead in the future if the early pace in any contest is not strong enough. It would be a shame to waste his efficiency over a fence by restraining him anyway. He is eight years old, he will be nine next March, and he has yet to race at Cheltenham, so he is not as obvious a Champion Chase contender as Forpadydeplasterer. However, he should be a big player in all the big two-mile chases in Ireland next autumn. He could be a Tingle Creek horse if the ground were to come up soft at Sandown in December – his jumping would be a huge asset over the Railway Fences – and you wouldn’t want to be backing anything else at the minute in the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown next Christmas.

© The Irish Field, 9th May 2009