Horses To Follow » Its’afreebee


Its’afreebee ran a cracker to finish third behind Yorkhill and Yanworth in the Neptune Hurdle on Wednesday.

Sent to the front rank from flagfall by Ian Popham, he was fast enough to lead habitual trail-blazer Yala Enki to the second flight, and he sat in second place behind the fast pace that Thomas Hobson set around the home turn. Still second as they started off down the back straight, he made a mistake at the middle flight in the back straight, and he had to muscle his way back onto the racetrack with O O Seven at the top of the track. He didn’t lose ground in that incident, but it can’t have helped. Back on an even keel, he moved up to join Thomas Hobson in front as they started down the hill, and he led over the third last flight. It looked like he was a sitting duck at that point, but he jumped the second last well and led at the home turn. He drifted off the rail at that point and allowed Yorkhill a dream run up his inside.

Of course, he wouldn’t have beaten Willie Mullins’ horse anyway, and there was a lot to like about the manner in which he kept on up the home straight after he was passed on either side by Yorkhill and Yanworth. They are two highly talented performers, they could both prove to be very good indeed, and it was to Its’afreebee’s immense credit that he was able to finish third behind them in a good Neptune Hurdle, despite not having the run of the race.

This was a race in which it was an advantage to be held up. Five of the first six horses home were held up. Its’afreebee was the only one who raced handily. Indeed, the four other horses who occupied the first five places in the race with Its’afreebee from early were Thomas Hobson, who was ultimately pulled up, O O Seven, who finished eighth, A Toi Phil, who finished seventh, and Ghost River, who finished ninth of the nine finishers. So one was pulled up, and the other three filled the last three places. Also, the race was run in a good time, two seconds faster than the time that Diamond King clocked over the same course and distance in the Coral Cup later in the day. Its’afreebee was well beaten by the two big horses, but they could be very good, and he finished well four lengths clear of the fourth horse.

There is a chance that this run will go under the radar. All the focus is on the first two home, which is as it should be, and Dan Skelton’s horse was a 33/1 shot going into the race, having been rejected by Harry Skelton in favour of Welsh Shadow. However, it is arguable that he should not have been a 33/1 shot for the race. He was unbeaten over hurdles going into the race, and he had won a Grade 2 contest at Haydock on his previous run. He beat Le Prezien into second place that day, and Le Prezien came out and won the Grade 2 Premier Hurdle at Kelso on his next run. We knew that he could operate on soft and heavy ground before Wednesday, and now we know that he can be at least as effective on goodish ground. That opens up more options for him. He is tough, he is a front-runner who is difficult to pass, who has pace for two miles but who stays two and a half miles well.

16th March 2016