Dan Overall Eye-catchers: A Coral Cup hope and a potential Champion Bumper raider feature

Nicky Henderson could have a leading Coral Cup contender
Nicky Henderson could have a leading Coral Cup contender

In this column two weeks ago, I noted that this time of the year often isn’t the most thrilling for racing fans.

But Shishkin and Energumene lit up the weekend with their scintillating clash, providing what may well be the race of the season. Credit to connections for ensuring the match-up happened and I am thoroughly looking forward to the rematch  at Cheltenham.

It was a good week for this column too, with Minella Crooner, Fantastikas, Ash Tree Meadow and Triple Trade all getting their head in front. Minella Crooner is now towards the front of the market for the Albert Bartlett while Fantastikas and Ash Tree Meadow look to be live players in the Ultima and the Martin Pipe respectively; it is worth noting that Fantastikas may well head to the Scottish National instead, but if he did line up in the Ultima then he would definitely have my support.

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Thursday 20th January – 14:00 Ludlow – Hometown Hero (2nd)

Hometown Hero made a very encouraging debut under rules at the start of last season, finishing a narrow fourth behind the likes of Castle Robin (3rd, now rated 130) and Es Perfecto (1st, now rated 134) despite an abundance of greenness. 

He must have met with a setback following that effort as he didn’t appear on a racecourse again until December 2021; 442 days after his hurdling debut. It was a modest enough effort, but he took a big leap forward on hist most recent start, finishing strongly from off the pace to grab second. While it wasn’t the deepest race, the third had shown a fair level of form while the winner had won a point-to-point and a bumper, so I’m sure connections of Hometown Hero would have been pleased.

While all three of his starts thus far have come over intermediate trips, it certainly looks as though a step up to three-miles will suit based on how strongly he finished last time out while his breeding offers encouragement on that front; his dam is an unraced half-sister to a couple of three-mile winners while his sire, Darsi, typically produces staying types.

Handicaps will now be on the agenda and while he looks a chaser in the making, he can make his impact over the smaller obstacles before the end of this season.

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Saturday 22nd January – 13:45 Ascot – Fils D’oudairies (2nd)

Fils D’oudairies has endured a rather strange career thus far; a winning hurdler in France, he went to Joseph O’Brien last season who decided to send him straight over fences. While he did demonstrate a good level of ability, his jumping often let him down and he fell on three of his six starts. 

He was then pulled up in an Irish point-to-point back in October 2021 while in the care of Enda Bolger before moving to Nicky Henderson.

Despite his patchy profile, there was plenty of support around for Henderson’s new recruit who eventually went off at 5/1 in what was a competitive handicap on paper. 

Keen throughout, he tanked his way to the front and for a long way it looked as if he might defy his early exertions. He was eventually headed on the run to the last by the race-fit and inform Unexpected Party but I was impressed by the way Fils D’oudairies stuck to the task. You would have forgiven him if he faded given how we went through the race and the fact that it was his first start for over three months; and yet, he rallied to close the deficit on the run to the line.

He looked much happier back over hurdles and considering that was his first run over hurdles outside of France, this has to go down as a very promising effort. The Coral Cup would seem a logical target given Nicky Henderson’s admirable record in the race and the fact that he tends to run a few in it; he is currently 16/1, which doesn’t leap off the page at this very early stage but he would certainly have a good chance if lining up.

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Saturday 22nd January – 15:10 Haydock – The Brimming Water (3rd)

Having beaten Unexpected Party on his last start, who franked that form in the aforementioned 13:45 Ascot, The Brimming Water was well supported to back up his previous win.

And for a long way, it looked like he would do just that; having moved into the race stylishly, he traded at a low of 1.7 in running as they approached the second last. A blunder certainly didn’t help his chances but having travelled so well, he didn’t find much under pressure and he eventually faded into third. 

This was his first start over three-miles and it may simply be that he didn’t stay. 

But based on the form of his win at Wetherby and the style in which he moved through this race, he looks fairly treated off his current mark and he can resume winning was back over an intermediate trip in testing conditions.

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Saturday 22nd January – 16:00 Navan – Joyeux Machin (1st)

Week after week I continue to highlight horses in this column that won last time out despite constantly saying that I prefer not to! 

Exceptions are made for standout performances and Joyeux Machin certainly produced a performance worthy of note here. 

Ridden with confidence by Barry O’Neill, he could be seen travelling well in behind the leaders who were one-by-one starting to come under pressure. However, as the field entered the final two furlongs, Joyeux Machin found his path blocked in all directions. After attempting to switch left and right multiple times for a clear run, Barry O’Neill had to sit and suffer until finally a gap emerged as they approached the final half-furlong. Once in the clear, he quickly put the race to bed in the manner of a very smart horse. Paul Nolan commented after the race that he will get an entry in the Champion Bumper, for which he is a 33/1 shot, and he certainly looks worthy of lining up.

Supporters of Facile Vega, who now disputes favouritism for the Champion Bumper would also have been pleased given that he comfortably beat Joyeux Machin when they met at Leopardstown.

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