Horses To Follow » Doctor Harper

Doctor Harper

Doctor Harper put up a nice performance to land the three-mile handicap hurdle that concluded proceedings on the opening day of Aintree’s Grand National meeting on Thursday. The race was not run at that fast a pace, as evidenced by the fact that the overall time was poor, the slowest comparative time of the day by some way. As a consequence, atypically for a hurdle race at Aintree’s Grand National meeting, the race was not run to suit the hold-up horses. By contrast, with four of the first six horses home racing handily, the race was probably run to suit those who raced to the fore.

Doctor Harper was not held up at the back of the field, but he was probably further back than ideal in a race that was probably run to suit those who raced handily, so he did well to win as well as he did. Wider than ideal also, he had to be squeezed along a little as the pace increased towards the end of the back straight, but he travelled well into the home straight in about eighth position, moved up nicely over the third last, and moved into third place on the run to the second last. Pulled to the far side on the run to the last, he joined long-time leader Utopie Des Bordes just before the last, pricked his ears, got the last wrong and landed on all fours, but he still had enough in reserve to pick up from there and move into a two-length lead before keeping on well all the way up the run-in, always holding the late lunge from Kaylif Aramis.

David Pipe’s horse is only six years old, and this was just his sixth run over hurdles, so he still has lots of scope for progression. He was well beaten in Briar Hill’s Cheltenham Bumper last season, and he was well beaten by Ballyalton back at Cheltenham last December but, those two runs aside, he has now won six of his other seven races, two bumpers and four hurdle races. His only defeat away from Cheltenham was when he finished third in a novices’ handicap hurdle at Sandown in early March off top weight on ground that should have been too soft for him.

This was his first attempt at three miles. Not only did he see it out well, for all that the early pace wasn’t too fast, but he probably improved for the extra distance. It is not ideal that he does not appear to be at his best at Cheltenham, and that is well worth bearing in mind if he run there again, which he probably will, but he is an exciting prospect. The handicapper has raised him 7lb to a mark of 145, but that is not overly harsh, he has the potential to progress beyond that mark now, he is unexposed over three miles. A son of Presenting, he should be at home on the good spring ground now, and he will be of interest wherever he goes next. Longer term, he could be a high-class staying hurdler next season, or an interesting staying novice chaser, depending on which route connections decide to take.

3rd April 2014