Horses To Follow » Mikael D’Haguenet

Mikael D’Haguenet

Mikael D’Haguenet really impressed in beating Rick and Luska Lad, both talented animals, in the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle over two miles and three furlongs at Naas on Saturday. He did everything very easily yet he still recorded a good time, and he looks to be nearing the form he was in this time three years ago as a novice hurdler.

Things could have been very different had the Willie Mullins-trained gelding not crumpled on landing when upsides Jessies Dream at the final fence in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase on his chasing bow at Fairyhouse in December 2010. But for that mis-hap we could be talking about a genuine Gold Cup contender now, but as it is, his fall could well have affected his confidence over fences as he actually never managed to win over fences last season, although he was kept exclusively to Grade 1 company, and he was probably at least a little unlucky in the Dr P.J. Moriarty Chase where he was still traveling well until hampered by the fall of his stable mate Quel Esprit at the second last. He appeared to have fallen out of love with the game by the end of last season, as even when he was returned to the smaller obstacles for the World Series Hurdle at Punchestown, he could manage no better than eighth of 10 to Quevega.

It is a very different scenario now. Mullins made the decision to keep him over hurdles this season, and he has progressed with every run since a mildly disappointing defeat to Voler La Vedette on his seasonal debut at Navan in November. He has won his last three now, and seems to have regained his old zest in the progress. He was impressive in beating the returning Western Leader at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve, and he was able to win as he liked on Saturday.

It is unlikely that he still retains the pace to be a Champion Hurdle contender, but, even though he is unproven at three miles, he could well have the stamina for the World Hurdle, especially if it was a slowly-run race, as it was last year. He was brilliant in winning the Neptune Hurdle in 2009 and he ran in the RSA Chase last March, so he knows what the Cheltenham Festival is all about and, perhaps crucially, he has top class Festival form already over hurdles. He has the pace and the class for the World Hurdle, and, the monster that is Big Buck’s notwithstanding, he deserves his place in the line-up. Interestingly, while Big Buck’s appears to be as good as, if not better than, ever this season, the stats are against him as a nine-year-old in the World Hurdle, with Inglis Drever the only horse aged older than eight to have won the race since Crimson Embers who won it as an 11-year-old in 1986.

22nd January 2012