Horses To Follow » Arzal


Arzal put up a really impressive performance to win the two-mile novices’ handicap chase at Newbury on Saturday.

Gavin Sheehan wanted to lead on him and, once he got into a share of the lead with Johnny Og until the end of the back straight, he settled into a nice even rhythm. His jumping was good and accurate, and, having got the better of Johnny Og at the cross fence, he galloped on strongly up the home straight. Aso’s momentum was checked by a bad mistake at the fourth last, and he did well to get past Balgarry for second place given he made such a bad mistake, but he was never going to get close to the winner. Arzal had the race in the bag at the third last fence, he popped the last two fences nicely and he was eased down on the run-in, 12 lengths clear of his closest pursuer, to record a facile victory.

This was a serious performance from Harry Whittington’s horse. Racing off a mark of 136, he was giving weight to all of his rivals except Aso, from whom he was receiving 1lb, and he ran them ragged. Also, he clocked a really good time, just 0.66secs/furlong slower than standard on soft ground, over seven seconds faster than the time that Grey Gold clocked in winning a competitive handicap chase later in the day over the same course and distance, despite the fact that he was eased down with about 150 yards to run. He could have gone even faster.

A progressive handicap hurdler last season – he was sixth in the Betfair Hurdle after being hampered in the back straight – he raced twice over fences as a four-year-old in France, but he only made his debut over fences in Britain at Ludlow in October, when he won easily despite jumping left. This was obviously another step forward on that, and he probably appreciated being back on a left-handed track.

The handicapper raised him 13lb for this to a mark of 149, but that is deserved. He won with all of that in hand, and he was value for more. He does enjoy being out in front, and that may not always be possible in a better race or in a bigger field, but his rider did say before this race that if Balgarry wanted to go on, he would have been happy to take a lead, that he is settling better these days, and that is encouraging for the future. He may be at his best on a flat left-handed track, but he should continue to progress, and he will be of interest wherever he goes next.

28th November 2015