Horses To Follow » Goonyella


Cootamundra put up a huge performance to win the Ladbrokes Troytown Chase at Navan on Sunday, and the three horses who filled the places, Mad Brian, Colbert Station and Rockyaboya, could all be worth keeping on side in other staying handicap chases as the season progresses. However, it may be that the fifth horse home, Goonyella, is the one to take out of the race.

Settled just behind the leaders in the early stages of the race by Andrew Lynch, Goonyella’s jumping through the early part of the race was efficient and accurate, exactly what you want in a staying chaser. He made a slight mistake at the second last fence in the back straight, however, and he appeared to get a little out-paced as they picked up at the end of the back straight, when his rider had to squeeze him along just to ensure that he would hold his position. There were plenty of horses travelling better than him as they turned for home, and he was only seventh jumping the second last fence. Even though he was only about two lengths behind the leader, you still would have forgiven him if he had faded out of it from there, given that he had raced handily throughout, but he stuck to his task well on the far side, keeping on well to finish fifth, just seven lengths behind the winner.

There are two main reasons why this was an admirable performance from Jim Dreaper’s horse. Firstly, he would have been better-suited by an even stiffer test of stamina. The Troytown Chase is often run in fairly attritional conditions, but Sunday’s race was run on ground that was officially described as good to yielding, which, even though the times on the day suggest that it was a little slower than that, was far faster than ideal for a horse whose five career wins – three point-to-points, a maiden hunter chase and a handicap chase – have all been gained on heavy ground. Secondly, he raced just behind the pace in a race in which it was probably an advantage to have been held up. Of the other five horses who, with Goonyella, filled the first six places, Colbert Station raced around mid-division, and the other four were all held up. The pace was solid enough to favour the hold-up horses.

Prolific in point-to-points, Jim Dreaper’s horse did really well in three hunter chases last spring. He won the first of them by a distance, he finished a close-up third behind Equus Maximus and last season’s moral Cheltenham Foxhunter winner Oscar Delta in the second of them, when he may have done even better had his stamina been utilised even more than it was, and he was beaten just six lengths by Salsify and Tammys Hill in the Raymond Smith Hunter Chase at Leopardstown on Hennessy day, the front three clear. That is really strong hunter chase form. His saddle slipped in the Irish National, so you can easily forgive him that run, and he battled on well to get the better of the useful Vesper Bell in a three-mile-six-furlong handicap chase run on heavy ground at Punchestown on his final run last season.

Goonyella is only six, he has raced just seven times over fences under Rules, and he has lots of scope for progression as a staying chaser. He started off this season well, going down by just a length to the teak-tough Count Salazar over two miles and six furlongs at Galway, when he looked the likely winner half-way up the run-in before lack of a recent run probably told. He proved that day that he didn’t have to lead in order to be effective.

The Welsh National is surely the race for him now. He would relish the extended trip of that race, and the premium that the soft ground that usually prevails at Chepstow on Welsh National day places on stamina. Dreaper knows what it takes to win this race as well, having done so with Notre Pere in 2008, and a handicap rating of 136 is more than fair. He is unchanged after the Troytown and, as long as the British handicapper does not go bananas, it should see him get into the Welsh National on a lovely racing weight, probably among the high 10sts, as long as current top-weight-by-miles Tidal Bay didn’t take his chance. Best odds of 16/1 are interesting, and it would be surprising if Dreaper hadn’t had this race on Goonyella’s radar for a little while now.

24th November 2013