Horses To Follow » Hold Fast

Hold Fast

Hold Fast travelled really well through the two-mile handicap chase at Sandown on Saturday, he jumped well and he ultimately ran out an impressive winner of what was a decent handicap chase. Ruby Walsh jumped him off just behind the leaders, he took closer order half way down the back straight. He handled the seven fences in the back straight well, he was quick over the Railway Fences, if a little ungainly, and that allowed him to move up to the pushed along King Edmund on the run out of the back. He took off in front at the Pond Fence, and he had a two-length lead over the second last fence, which he again jumped well and at which his two nearest pursuers, Tanks For That and Rileyev, both made errors, allowing him extend his lead. He ran down the last fence to his right a little, but had a commanding lead over it and he didn’t stop on the run to the line, actually extending his advantage all the way to the line to record a seven-length victory over All For Free, who just got up for second place ahead of Tanks For That.

Hold Fast was really well backed just before the off, a weight of money forcing him into 7/2 favouritism from 6/1 in the minutes before the start, he had obviously been impressing in his work at home prior to Saturday. He has been given a 10lb hike by the handicapper for this, but that could have been even more such was the authority of this victory, and this looks really solid form, it was a good-standard, competitive race. Also, this was only Hold Fast’s second run for Paul Nicholls, just his fifth run over fences, and he can progress again from this. He had run over two and a half miles last season in the Grade 2 Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree, and he had looked a little short of pace for this trip on his debut for Nicholls at Newbury on his previous run, so it was really encouraging to see how well he travelled over the minimum trip again here, and how he was able to pull clear between the final two fences.

This is the same race that Master Minded won for Nicholls as a five-year-old in 2008 before he went on to win the Champion Chase two months later, and while it will be a big ask for Hold Fast to emulate that (Master Minded won this off an 8lb higher mark), it is not beyond the bounds of possibility for Hold Fast in – Sizing Europe aside (Big Zeb is 11 now and Moscow Flyer is the only horse aged older than 10 to win the Champion Chase since Skymas in 1977) – what looks like a weak year for two-mile chasers. Best odds of 33/1 are interesting. Nicholls also won this race with St Pirran in 2004 before he went on to win the Grand Annual that same year off a 7lb higher mark, so Hold Fast certainly has options now. The likelihood is that he will be one of the higher-weighted horses if he were to go down the Grand Annual route, and higher weights do not have a good recent record in that race – in the 23 runnings between 1976 and 1998, 12 winners carried more than 11st, but in the 12 renewals since 1998 Oiseau De Nuit was the only winner due to carry more than 11st, and even then his rider’s claim took his weight down below that mark. Seeing as Nicholls’s main hope for the Champion Chase, Tataniano, has picked up a tendon injury and looks set to miss the rest of the season, it could well be that they aim Hold Fast at that race now, and he would be a fascinating contender.

7th January 2012