Horses To Follow » *Azzuri

Azzuri

Azzuri ran well to finish fourth in the Connacht Hotel Qualified Riders’ Handicap. Always prominent, a clear second behind early leader Torcello from early, Richard O’Brien’s horse moved to the front with 1m to run. He kicked clear on the run to the home turn, he went 3l clear around the home turn and, even after he was passed by Limini and Uradel, he kept on well up the hill to retain fourth place.

He is an interesting horse on the flat but, although his trainer does not have many jumpers, the Azamour gelding is probably even more interesting over fences. On his previous run, he was seriously impressive in winning a 2m 1f handicap chase at Killarney. Sent to the front from flagfall by Danny Mullins that day, he was briefly headed by Our Dougal at the second fence, but he was back in front on landing over the third. He didn’t have it all to himself up front, he was continually harried by Our Dougal as the pair of them opened up a significant lead over their field, which left you wondering if the front pair were going too quickly. But Richard O’Brien’s horse travelled well in front and, while the field closed up on the leaders on the run around the home turn, they both picked up again from the third last fence. Azzuri stayed on strongly from the second last fence and stretched away to a 10-length victory, with Our Dougal keeping on well to retain second place.

It was a good race and the right horses came to the fore. Our Dougal had finished a close-up second to his stable companion Monbeg Chit Chat in a decent handicap chase at Punchestown on his previous run, the pair of them clear, when he might have won had he not been hampered by a loose horse at the last. Also, third-placed Bel Ami De Sivola won a good handicap chase at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival in April, and followed up by finishing third in a valuable novices’ handicap chase at the Punchestown Festival.

A dual winner on the flat for Ger Lyons as a three-year-old, Azzuri won twice over hurdles and three times over fences for Dan Skelton, posting a particularly impressive performance on his final run for Skelton at Ayr’s Scottish Grand National meeting in April. He only joined Richard O’Brien a couple of months ago, running three times on the flat for his new trainer before Killarney and finishing second on each occasion. His performance at Killarney was probably a step up on anything that he had done over fences before though, and there is every chance that he can progress again over fences. He does like to be ridden aggressively, he made all in all five wins over hurdles and fences in Britain. His trainer mentioned the Galway Plate as a possible target, but that would have represented a significant step up in trip and Galway is a stiff track. He didn’t run badly on his only attempt at two and a half miles, but you suspect that a stiff two miles could prove to be his optimum. He does hold an entry in a 2m 2f handicap chase at Galway on Sunday, and that might be a more suitable target. The other slight worry about him in the context of Galway is that Galway is a right-handed track and he did tend to jump to his left at Killarney, a tendency that he had portrayed a little on the only occasion on which he had raced right-handed over fences in the past, at Leicester last February. That said, he is an exciting prospect, he is only six, and he has plenty of potential for further progression as a steeplechaser.

Galway, 30th July 2018