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Folsom Blue

Shutthefrontdoor put up a really admirable performance under the superb Barry Geraghty to win the Irish Grand National on Monday. In so doing, he took a huge step towards fulfilling his immense potential, and he will be an exciting staying chaser for next season. One of the other horses to take out of the race, however, and one who may still be a little under the radar, is Folsom Blue. The Gigginstown House horse put up a big performance to finish fifth in a race in which conditions and circumstances conspired against him.

Mentioned here before after he won the Grand National Trial at Punchestown in February, ground conditions really should have been against Folsom Blue on Monday. His Punchestown win was achieved on heavy ground, all his best performances over hurdles and fences have been on ground that has been officially described as soft or heavy, and trainer Conor O’Dwyer voices his concerns about the good to yielding ground beforehand. Sure enough, he raced like a horse who would have been better suited by easier conditions. His jumping was more cautious than ideal. He went in tight and popped on several occasions, instead of having a cut, thereby often losing ground and places at his obstacles. Ben Dalton had to ride him away from his fences on several occasions in order to try to minimise the ground that he lost at his fences.

That is never ideal, but it is more of a disadvantage in a race like the Irish Grand National than in other less competitive races. With 26 runners, lost ground meant that the fight to regain his position among horses was more difficult than it might have been. Even so, he was just behind the leaders when Mullaghanoe River fell in front of him at the fifth last fence and caused him to lose ground and position. He was playing catch-up after that. No better than 13th or 14th as they started to turn for home, he wasn’t helped by having to come widest of all, but he stayed on strongly all the way up the home straight to finish fifth, getting to within seven lengths of the winner Shutthefrontdoor at the line and coming away from the sixth-placed horse Heaney.

It is unusual for a horse to shape as though he would improve for a greater test of stamina than that which the Irish Grand National presents, but that was the case with Folsom Blue on Monday. Softer ground may have made it an adequate test for him, but it was not sufficient on the good to yielding ground. But he remains of interest for the big staying handicap chases next season. He is only seven and he has raced just eight times over fences, so he still has plenty of potential to progress again. He will probably be raised by the handicapper for Monday’s run, but he was racing off a mark of 135, which is 5lb lower than his hurdles mark. Even a hike of 3lb or 4lb would still give him plenty of leeway within which to operate.

Some of the soft ground staying handicap chases next season should be on his radar, and it would be surprising if Conor O’Dwyer did not target him at one or two of them. The Troytown Chase at Navan and the Welsh National at Chepstow are the two most obvious targets for now. He proved on Monday that he could operate on goodish ground, he just needs a test of stamina to be seen at his best. With that in mind, he could be an Aintree Grand National horse in a couple of years.

21st April 2014