Horses To Follow » Colour Squadron

Colour Squadron

The winner and runner-up from the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday are both horses to keep on side for now.

The form of the race looks solid. Johns Spirit probably won with more in hand that the three-parts-of-a-length winning margin. He is a horse who doesn’t like to be in front for too long, he idles, as he had done when he won the handicap chase over the same course and distance in October. He made his ground easily from the rear, his jumping frailties appear to be behind him now, and he travelled like the best horse in the race from some way out. It was only when he met the rising ground on the run-in that he began to look around him in front, thinking that he had done enough.

As Colour Squadron closed on him on the run to the line, there was a point, very close to the line, at which he wasn’t closing any more. Johns Spirit had arrested the reduction of his lead. Richie McLernon gave Johns Spirit a super ride, a patiently-patiently come from behind ride, which is what the horse needs, but he said afterwards that his horse was emptying on the run-in. Perhaps that was for the handicapper’s ears, because it appeared that he was idling more than emptying. Trainer Jonjo O’Neill was probably much closer to the mark when he said afterwards that, when his horse hit the front over the second last, his first thought was that it was far enough out for him. Held up for even longer, he could be even better.

That said, if forced to choose one of them from the race, Colour Squadron is the one for now. For starters, Johns Spirit has been noted here before, so we would be going over old ground. Also, the ground is probably going to get soft now, which is not ideal for Johns Spirit, whereas Colour Squadron will appreciate even more ease in the ground, so he could be the one for the December Gold Cup if he returns for that. Johns Spirit is probably one for the spring now, when the ground gets better again, possibly for the Byrne Group Plate back at the Festival in March.

Colour Squadron did an awful lot right in the race. He travelled well, he jumped well, and he arrived on the far side at the second last fence with a real chance of winning the race. He was hampered a little by the fall of Easter Meteor in front of him there, he did have to take evasive action, but he had made a significant mistake all on his own at the fence before he landed and had to avoid the faller. He did finish well, but hopefully he will not be followed next time as an unlucky loser. He has much more to recommend him as a horse to follow than the fact that he was a fast-finishing unlucky-looking loser here.

The worry about Colour Squadron going into the Paddy Power concerned whether or not he would be man enough to deal with the hustle and bustle of a big handicap chase. Now that he has proven that he has, he is very interesting. He was a classy novice hurdler, he was unlucky to be beaten by Captain Conan in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle and he probably would have beaten subsequent Supreme Novices’ Hurdle fourth Montbazon at Newbury on his next run had he not fallen at the second last. It took him a while to get his jumping in order last season as a novice chaser but, still a maiden over fences, he was still well enough regarded to be sent off as favourite for the two-and-a-half-mile novices’ handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival, when he travelled well for a long way but was just found wanting from the second last.

Saturday’s run was much more like it. He gave the impression on Saturday that he has grown up a lot during the summer, and his jumping was much more assured than it had been at any stage last season. He raced off a handicap rating of 139, 4lb lower than his hurdles rating, which obviously gave him a real chance. The handicapper has raised him 7lb for Saturday’s run, but a mark of 146 is probably still well within his compass, it is just 3lb higher than the mark that he was awarded over hurdles as a novice. He is only seven, he has raced just five times over fences, and he still has massive scope for progression. Two and a half miles looks to be his optimum trip for now, although he could get three miles in time, and he goes well on soft ground.

16th November 2013