Horses To Follow » County Zen

County Zen

County Zen put up a gritty display on his first run for 510 days to land a two-mile handicap hurdle at Newbury on Friday. Settled in second place by Richard Johnson behind the free-going breakaway leader Lord Singer, he travelled well down the back straight, but was inched along a little by Richard Johnson at the top of the home straight. The leader came stands side as Johnson decided to stay far side, pursued by Sambulando and Mohayer, and it looked as if the stands side had it as Lord Singer was still over a length up rising to the second last. However, the far side asserted between the last two flights, and County Zen and Sambulando were well clear at the last with the race between them. Of the pair, it looked as if Sambulando was travelling by far the better, but the Philip Hobbs-trained gelding responded gamely to Johnson’s urgings, and kept on really well, showing a wholly likeable willing attitude, to deny Sambulando by a half a length, with the pair of them pulling well clear of their field.

County Zen was a really useful handicap hurdler for owner Andrew Cohen two seasons ago, when he beat Blue Bajan in a good novices’ hurdle at Ascot, and won another good contest at Sandown before he finished third behind Wingman in the 2008 Totesport Trophy off a mark of 130 as a novice, less than two lengths behind Punjabi, who finished third in the Champion Hurdle as a five-year-old a month later, and who won it of course the following year. County Zen was really disappointing in both of his subsequent runs that season, however, including when sent off as favourite for the Coral Cup, and he again disappointed on his seasonal debut the following November. He didn’t run again between then and last Friday, he has obviously had his problems, but it looks like he has put them behind him now and the handicapper gave him a chance, allowing him race off a mark of 123 on Friday, 7lb below his Totesport Trophy mark and 11lb lower than the mark he was awarded after his run in that contest.

He will obviously go up again for this performance, but he is still just seven, and he had the potential to out-perform his rating of 134 in 2008. He should also be better stepped back up to two and a half miles now – if he races again over two miles he will need a fast pace – he could begin to make up for lost time now.

26th March, 2010

© The Irish Field, 3rd April 2010