Horses To Follow » Backstage


The Gordon Elliott-trained Backstage ran out an impressive winner of the feature race at Ffos Las, the three-and-a-quarter-mile handicap chase, on Friday. Settled well out the back in the early stages by Tom Scudamore – he was third last of the 17 runners as they set off down the back straight first time – as Fire And Rain won the early tussle for the lead, his jumping was a little sketchy and a little to his right, in amongst horses over the first four or five fences. He warmed to his task though before they reached the end of the back straight on the first circuit, and had got into a nice rhythm by the time they set out on their final circuit. He made nice ground down the back straight final time, his jumping often gaining ground in the air as others around him floundered, and he arrived there in a lovely position, on the rail just behind the leaders, with minimal effort at the top of the home straight.

At that point, it was obvious that he was travelling better than anything else in the race. He pinged the fourth last, moved easily in behind Mr Robert, who had gone for home at that point, joined the leader on the inside between the third last and second last fences, went on over the second last, jumped the last like a fresh horse and careered away up the run-in to post a really impressive win in a valuable race in which established performers like Hoo La Baloo and Boychuk, and progressive individuals like Fire And Rain set a fair standard. Backstage is a big old-fashioned chasing type.

Winner of a two-mile novices’ chase for Evan Williams at Cheltenham’s October meeting in 2006, he was off for a year shortly after that and, after a fruitless hurdling campaign, he went point-to-pointing last season, winning four of his six races and running more than respectably in the Aintree and Punchestown hunter chases. He had run four times over fences this summer, winning twice and finishing third to Star Of Germany in a valuable handicap chase at Newton Abbott on his most recent start six days previously. That was over two miles five and a half furlongs, a distance that proved to be just on the sharp side for him, but he still stayed on well to take third, just a length and a half behind Hoo La Baloo in second. He raced off a mark of 137 that day, 15lb higher than the mark off which he raced on his previous run at Perth, and there was a danger that the handicapper had caught up with him. However, the extended trip on Friday brought about extra improvement.

The handicapper will again no doubt have his say, but there is no reason why he cannot progress again. The fast pace and the good ground, as well as the trip, on Friday suited him really well and, as long as the handicapper doesn’t go absolutely bananas, he should be worth following wherever he goes next. He could be one for the Cork or Kerry or Munster National, as long as the ground is not too soft, although three miles would be a minimum for him on this evidence. Looking further ahead, he could be a dark one for the Grand National next April.

It is a long way from a handicap chase at Ffos Las to an Aintree Grand National, but he has a lot of the attributes that you look for in a National winner. He jumps well, he has size and scope, stamina is his forte, he goes well on flat tracks, and he is at his best on good ground. As a bonus, he jumped the big fences well when he finished eighth in the Fox Hunters’ last April, and his trainer knows exactly what is required to win the big race, having won it with Silver Birch in 2007. It is difficult to start thinking about the Grand National in September, and Backstage isn’t quoted yet by any bookmaker for the race, which should mean that he should be a 66/1 shot or bigger if you asked for a price. It could be worthwhile at least keeping him in the back of your mind for it.

28th August 2009

© The Irish Field, 5th September 2009