Donn's Articles » Five To Follow

Five To Follow

You know that the flat season is upon you when the grass needs to be cut and the sun shines until eight o’clock. Here are five horses who could light up the season.

Dolniya (Trainer: Alain de Royer-Dupre)

Unraced as a juvenile, Dolniya won three of her four races last summer, including the Group 2 Prix de Malleret, before she lined up in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille at Longchamp in September. Held up out the back in that race in a race that was run at a sedate pace, she did well to close as well as she did and beat dual Arc heroine Treve by a head for third place.

She could only finish fifth in the Arc de Triomphe in October but, again, unusually for an Arc, the early pace was not that strong, which was not ideal for the Azamour filly. Hampered a little at the start, she travelled well through her race and she stayed on well to take fifth place behind Treve.

She has run twice this season already. On her debut in early March, she beat Arc runner-up, the high-class Flintshire, by a short neck in a nine-and-a-half-furlong contest on Polytrack at Chantilly. Then she went to Dubai in late March and put up the best performance of her career to date by landing the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic, stretching over two lengths clear of the same Flintshire.

Out of a half-sister to Dalakhani and Daylami, the Aga Khan’s filly looks like an improved horse this season. She stays well, so a mile and a half rather than a mile and a quarter is probably her optimum distance. She will be a player in all the top middle-distance races in Europe this season, and you can be sure that the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe will be high on her agenda.

Free Eagle (Trainer: Dermot Weld)

Free Eagle burst onto the scene when he won his maiden on his racecourse debut at Leopardstown in August 2013, as much for the passion with which trainer Dermot Weld and rider Pat Smullen spoke about him as for the manner of his victory. Installed as favourite for the 2014 Epsom Derby there and then, he was sent off at long odds-on to beat Australia in a Group 3 race back at Leopardstown the following month, but he came up six lengths short.

Weld was adamant that we hadn’t seen the real Free Eagle that day, and the plan was for him to make his 2014 debut in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown. Alas, a stress fracture of his tibia sustained in April meant that the Moyglare Stud colt was confined to his box for 12 weeks.

We didn’t see him back on the racecourse until September last year, but the wait was worthwhile. Delivered with his run early in the home straight of a 10-furlong Group 3 race at Leopardstown on Irish Champions Day, he showed a really impressive turn of foot to come clear of the useful Elleval. In so doing, he clocked a time that was marginally faster than the time that The Grey Gatsby clocked in winning the Irish Champion Stakes over the same course and distance later on the day.

The High Chaparral colt ran just once after that last season, he finished a close-up third behind Noble Mission in the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October, but that was on unsuitably heavy ground. He is one of the most exciting older horses in training in Europe, and he could have a lucrative time of it ahead of him in all the top 10-furlong and 12-furlong this season.

Highland Reel (Trainer: Aidan O’Brien)

Beaten on his racecourse debut over seven furlongs at Leopardstown last June, Highland Reel made amends two weeks later when, stepped up to a mile, he won his maiden at Gowran Park by 12 lengths.

That performance earned him the right to step up in class, which he duly did in the Group 2 Vintage Stakes at Glorious Goodwood in July, and he ran out an impressive winner. He travelled well through his race and he picked up impressively in the style of a high-class young colt.

By Galileo from a good Australian family that has produced seven-furlong and middle-distance horses, Highland Reel should improve as a three-year-old, and it may be that he will also improve for a step up to middle distances. He may be more a Derby colt than a Guineas colt, but he is a talented colt who could go to the very top.

Malabar (Trainer: Mick Channon)

Winner of the Group 3 Prestige Stakes at Goodwood last August, Malabar could finish only fourth in her final two races last season, the Moyglare Stud Stakes at The Curragh and the Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp, but on both occasions she shaped better than the bare form suggests.

Held up in rear in the Moyglare, she made ground all the way to the line to finish fourth, closest at the finish. In the Prix Marcel Boussac, she was again held up in rear, but she could not find racing room when she needed to deliver her challenge. Again she finished well, closest at the finish.

She may be an under-rated filly this season on the back of those defeats. She could be an interesting outsider for the 1000 Guineas, but there is plenty of stamina in her pedigree, and she may be more an Oaks filly than a Guineas filly.

Tryster (Trainer: Charlie Appleby)

Just an 87-rated three-year-old after three races on turf last summer, Tryster cut loose on the all-weather during the winter.

The Shamardal gelding ran five times between early January and early April, and he won all five times. He showed a fine turn of foot to land the Group 3 Winter Derby at Lingfield in March, and he was even more impressive in landing the Easter Classic on Good Friday back at Lingfield, showing that sparkling gturn of foot again in coming from the rear off a sedate early pace.

It will be really interesting to see him back on turf now. He shapes like a seriously improved horse and, if he can reproduce his all-weather form on turf, he could play a major role in some of the top 10-furlong races during the summer.

© The Sunday Times, 19th April 2015