Horses To Follow » Sunnyhillboy


It was to Sunnyhillboy’s immense credit that he was able to win the three-mile handicap hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday, given that they went a sedate pace early and it turned into more a test of speed than stamina. That shouldn’t really have suited JP McManus’ horse, a 10-rising-11-year-old who stayed four miles and three and a half furlongs well in the 2012 Grand National.

The early pace was slow, so much so that the winning time was the slowest on the day by some way, it was comparatively 0.78secs/furlong slower than the two-mile-one-furlong handicap hurdle run earlier on the card. The sedate early pace enabled the three-mile hurdlers get from the back of the second last flight to the winning line in a time that was almost four seconds faster than the time that the two-mile hurdlers clocked, this despite the fact that they were racing over a distance that was almost 50% longer. That gives an indication of how sedate the early pace was in the longer race.

Sunnyhillboy should have been inconvenienced by this, but he wasn’t. Held up out the back by AP McCoy, he made nice progress down the hill to join the leaders at the second last flight. From there, it didn’t look like he was travelling as well as Southfield Theatre or Thomas Crapper, and it looked for a few strides after the last as though Return Spring was going to get up and beat the four horses who jumped the last together in front. However, Sunnyhillboy picked up impressively from the back of the final flight, and kept on gallantly all the way to the line to get home by three parts of a length.

Beaten a whisker by Neptune Collonges in the Grand National in 2012, the Aintree race has to be his primary target again this season. He will be 11 in April, but the last two National winners were both 11, and the last four were 10 or older. It is not a race for progressive youngsters.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained gelding unseated his rider at the last fence in last season’s race when he was a beaten horse, but he obviously didn’t run his race. Also, he was racing off a mark of 152. He has been dropped back down to a mark of 142 now, the mark off which he finished second in 2012, and that gives him a chance. This was his best run ever over hurdles, he is obviously in fine form and, all going well between now and April, you can be sure that Jonjo will be training him to peak on National day, and protecting his chase rating along the way. Best odds of 33/1 about him for the National are big enough.

13th December 2014