Dan Overall Christmas Eye-Catchers: Six horses to note from the festive racing

Generic Fence Grandstand Shot Wetherby

And just like that, our Christmas presents have been opened, the decorations are about to come down and as we continue to digest the mountain of food we all consumed over the festive period, we must do likewise with the abundance of racing we enjoyed in recent days.

It was great to see previous eyecatchers, Mighty Potter and Eric Bloodaxe, claim Grade 1 and Grade 2 honours respectively while Champion Green ran another promising race to finish second; the latter is now the clear 10/1 favourite for the Fred Winter. Thyme White also delivered an impressive handicap success and looks set to contest some of the top two-mile handicaps later in the season.

Before we take a deep dive into the festive eyecatchers, I would just like to thank you all for the support on this column and I wish you all a very happy new year.

Sunday 26th December – 12:58 Limerick – Cratloe Hill (3rd)

We begin with a maiden hurdle at Limerick in which Cratloe Hill made a very encouraging racecourse debut. 

By Flemensfirth out of a half-sister to the smart duo, Spirit Leader and That’s My Man, he was effectively ignored in the betting despite his appealing pedigree, eventually going off at 40/1. Held up in rear (which is sparsely a winning tactic in Irish maiden hurdles), he was understandably green but once the field began the sweeping turn for home, he could be spotted making very smooth progress from off the pace while the majority around him were struggling. He emerged as the clear third on the run to the second last, which he bunny-hopped and stumbled on landing. Despite that, he did pick up again for all that he looked awkward. He wasn’t given a hard time by his inexperienced jockey after the last but was still only two lengths down at the line.

He clearly possesses a good amount of ability and should be up to winning a maiden although given connections, he may well be of more interest in handicaps down the line.

Monday 27th December – 14:15 Wetherby – Katpoli (4th)

Katpoli faced a tough task on his first start for 430-days against race-fit and classy rivals. 

Most of his success over fences has come with the adoption of positive tactics but he was held up on this occasion, which is understandable given that some of his rivals also like to force to pace and they had the advantage of being race fit.

He was still going well enough before making a bad mistake at the fourth last. Charlie Hammond looked after him thereafter and Katpoli looks sure to benefit for the outing and the considerate handling. Running off 133 here, his last win came from a mark of 134 so he looks sure to be a few pounds below his last winning mark once he is reassessed for this effort. 

Only a six-year-old with just eight starts over fences to his name, he isn’t fully exposed just yet and he won on his second start last season so he’s one to look out for next time.

Tuesday 28th December – 13:10 Leopardstown – Winter Fog (2nd)

An eyecatcher in a Pertemps qualifier!? What a novel concept! 

Unsurprisingly, you could justifiably take most of the first six out of this race but Winter Fog really caught my eye. 

There was a significant late gamble for this horse on his first start for Emmet Mullins and it appeared as though he would justify that support having struck the front on the turn for home following a sweeping move on the outside.

However, he was there to be shot at and Panda Boy duly swept by after the last. It looks quite clear to me that Winter Fog hit the front too soon and while his backers may have been disappointed, they may well get their payback next time out.

He is available at 16/1 for the Pertemps Final and there is a lot to like about his profile; that was just his fifth start over hurdles, his connections love to target big English handicaps and four of the last six winners of the Final used this Leopardstown race to qualify.

Emmet Mullins did enter him in the Greatwood earlier in the season, potentially as a sighter to see what mark the English handicapper would give him. A mark of 134, six pounds higher than his Irish mark, was the result. Having finished second here, that will undoubtedly go up which may well be a blessing in disguise as it would have been very touch and go as to whether he would have got in off 134.

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Tuesday 28th December – 14:55 Leopardstown – Floueur (3rd)

We can’t discuss this race without mentioning the breath-taking chase debut of Galopin Des Champs, who took a field of decent horses apart with a wonderful front-running display. He is a very exciting prospect and I hope we will get to see him clash with Bravemansgame at Cheltenham.

Two horses attempted to go with Galopin Des Champs: Crosshill and Floueur. The latter had an aborted chase campaign last season after some fragilities in his jumping appeared and he was reportedly sent to Enda Bolger to help address those issues. On his first start this season, his jumping wasn’t foot perfect but it was certainly an improvement on what he had shown previously.

On this occasion, there was simply no remorse from the winner and every slight error was amplified by the relentless nature of Galopin Des Champs. Davy Russell reported to the stewards that Floueur “made a couple of errors during the race” which came as the winner really began to stretch them out. Davy gave him a considerate ride and let him get back into a rhythm at the expense of initially losing his position. After looking as though he would finish back in fifth, he rallied well to clinch third.

Floueur is no stranger to staring at the back of Galopin Des Champs, albeit from a distance, as he also finished third to that rival in last season’s Martin Pipe from a mark of 143. He shaped like a thorough stayer that day and with that in mind, I think he’s the type to make appeal in a staying handicap chase. Given Gordon Elliott’s exemplary record in the race, the Kim Muir could be a long-term target.

Wednesday 29th December – 12:35 Leopardstown – Minella Crooner (2nd) and Falcon Eight (5th)

A relatively small field by Irish maiden hurdle standards but it certainly wasn’t short of quality, with Kilcruit looking to bounce back against the highly-touted Journey With Me.

It was the latter that emerged as a smart winner while the former disappointed again, but there were plenty of promising performances in behind.

Minella Crooner was relatively unfancied despite being unbeaten after winning a point-to-point and two bumpers. Prominent in the early stages, he was consistently outjumped by his rivals and it seemed as though he was always close to flat-out. He dropped off the leading duo as they turned for home and I expected him to finish a distance behind them; and yet, he rallied very gamely to snatch second, only beaten by three-and-a-half lengths in the end. He certainly looks one to keep onside especially once upped in trip. You’d like to see him slicken up in the jumping department but he has time on his side and he could emerge as an Albert Bartlett contender. 

The other one I thought was worth noting was the smart flat performer, Falcon Eight. The 2021 Chester Cup winner was making his hurdling debut and while his jumping wasn’t great, I think there are reasons to forgive him; he was weak in the betting and the ground certainly would have been softer than ideal, as Dermot Weld has often noted that he is better on a faster surface. With that in mind, he is one to monitor in the coming months. It would not surprise me if were to disappoint a couple more times while the ground is deep before emerging as a contender for some competitive handicaps in the spring.

Cheltenham Festival Tips
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