Donn's Articles » Five to follow

Five to follow

With the National Hunt season just getting into top gear, here are five horses who might be worth following for the next few months.

Balko Des Flos (Trainer: Henry de Bromhead)

It may pay to retain faith in Balko Des Flos after he was beaten on his debut this season in the Champion Chase at Down Royal.

Winner of the Galway Plate in 2017 as a six-year-old, the Gigginstown House horse belied odds of 66/1 when he finished second to Road To Respect in the Grade 1 Christmas Chase at Leopardstown last December.  He proved that day that he could stay at least three miles.

Dropped back down in trip next time at the Cheltenham Festival in March, Henry de Bromhead’s horse was seriously impressive in winning the Ryanair Chase.  He travelled really well for Davy Russell that day, he took over from Un De Sceaux at the third last fence, and he came clear over the last two fences.

Un De Sceaux is 10 years old now, but Willie Mullins’ horse proved that he was as good as ever went he came back to Fairyhouse in April and won a Grade 2 chase, then went to Punchestown three weeks later and won the Grade 1 Champion Chase.  The form of the Ryanair Chase is solid, and the winning time was fast.

Balko Des Flos is only seven, and he could be an under-rated horse now on the back of a disappointing return.  He just didn’t run his race that day.  Also, the fact that he is proven at the Cheltenham Festival is worth keeping in mind for next March.


Bellshill (Willie Mullins)

A top class novice hurdler three seasons ago, Bellshill progressed nicely as a novice chaser two seasons ago, rounding off the term with a good run to finish third in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham.

Off the track for almost a year after that, Willie Mullins’ horse returned at Fairyhouse last February, when he ran out an impressive winner of the Bobbyjo Chase.  

He might have won the Irish Grand National too under 11st 5lb on his next run had he not run down the final fence to his left when in front.  His jumping had been very good up until that point, and he still travelled well in front between the final two fences.  He proved that he was none the worse for his exertions there, however, when he went to the Punchestown Festival three weeks later and won the Punchestown Gold Cup, beating Djakadam and Road To Respect into second and third places respectively.

He is still only eight, and he has raced just seven times over fences, so there could still be more to come from him.  His record going right-handed reads 111111151, so the King George VI Chase at right-handed Kempton would be an interesting mid-season target for him, should connections choose to go down that road.


Thomas Patrick (Tom Lacey)

Thomas Patrick started off last season over hurdles, but he improved significantly when he tackled fences after the turn of the calendar year.

A winner on his chasing bow at Chepstow in early February, Tom Lacey’s horse got a little bogged down on soft ground over the extreme trip of three miles and six and a half furlongs in the Devon National at Exeter three weeks later, but he bounced back the following month at Newbury.  He stayed on strongly that day at the end of three miles and two furlongs on soft ground, beating the Devon National winner Dawson City by eight lengths, albeit on 6lb better terms.

Raised 8lb for that win, he went to Aintree’s Grand National meeting in April and made just about all the running, staying on strongly again to land a good three-mile-one-furlong handicap chase on soft ground.  He shaped really nicely on his debut this season too at Sandown last Sunday, jumping well and leading until the final 150 yards, when he just gave best to Elegant Escape.

That run should have brought him forward nicely, with a tilt at the Ladbrokes Trophy (the old Hennessy Gold Cup) at Newbury in mind.  Because he didn’t win the Sandown race, he will get to run at Newbury without a penalty.  He is well suited by soft ground and a flat, galloping track and, still just a six-year-old who has raced just five times over fences, he has bags of scope for progression as a staying steeplechaser.


Delta Work (Gordon Elliott)

Delta Work was a nicely progressive staying novice hurdler last season.  Second in the Grade 2 three-mile novices’ hurdle at Limerick’s Christmas Festival in December, he was placed in good handicap hurdles at Leopardstown and Punchestown in the spring before going to Cheltenham in March and landing the Pertemps Final.

It was a brave performance by a five-year-old novice to land one of the most competitive staying handicap hurdles on the calendar.

He proved his class too at the Punchestown Festival the following month, when he went down by just a neck to the classy Next Destination in the Grade 1 three-mile novices’ hurdle. 

Gordon Elliott’s horse only just got home on his debut this season in a beginners’ chase at Down Royal two weeks ago, but his jumping was good and he battled on well to beat two useful sorts over two miles and three furlongs, a distance that should have been shorter than ideal for him.  It was a fine start to his chasing career, and he should progress with experience and as he moves back up in distance.  The Drinmore Chase looks like a good short-term target for him and, a Cheltenham Festival winner, the RSA Chase is a legitimate long-term target. 


Diego Du Charmil (Paul Nicholls)

Diego Du Charmil could finish only fifth of five in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on his debut this season, but there was mitigation.  He suffered an over-reach during the race, and he lost a shoe, which explains why he faded so quickly after travelling so well.

He shaped like a talented young chaser last spring.  He was travelling like a likely winner in a decent novices’ handicap chase at Ascot in March when he came down at the third last fence, but he bounced out of that to win the Grade 1 Maghull Chase at Aintree, when he had Petit Mouchoir behind him in second place.

He was well beaten by Altior in the Celebration Chase at Sandown on his final run last season, and that, combined with his last-of-five run on his debut this term, may mean that he is a little under-rated now.  He is only six, he has lots of scope for progression and, winner of the Fred Winter Hurdle in 2016, he will be of interest at the Cheltenham Festival again this season. 

© The Sunday Times 18th November 2018