Dan Overall Eye-catchers: Cheltenham Festival pointers and a Welsh National player

Could we have seen a possible Welsh National candidate last week?
Could we have seen a possible Welsh National candidate last week?

We turn our attentions to the last week of National Hunt racing, and our regular columnist Dan Overall is back with his eye-catchers over the last seven days. So, get your notebooks out and make a note of some horses who could be on the road to big things over the coming season, and could be seen at the Cheltenham Festival in March...

Tuesday 2nd November – 12:55 Exeter – Ask Me Early (1st)

In what was a generally disappointing 2020/21 campaign for the Harry Fry team, Ask Me Early was one of their shining lights, winning three of his five starts with all of those victories coming over fences.

As such, it was not surprising to read plenty of glowing reports about the horse in stable tours and “horses to follow” publications, with the Welsh Grand National being touted as his primary early season target.

Still a novice over hurdles, Harry Fry sensibly opted to exploit that status here in a race that was just meant to “get his season started”. Despite it being a fair contest on paper and with the knowledge that Ask Me Early was not going to be 100% geared up for this particular race, it was a tad surprising to see him go off as the solid 6/4 favourite. However, he rewarded favourite-backers with a determined display which saw him rally well after the last en-route to a narrow success.

His trainer described the victory as “a nice bonus” while he also noted that his next race would be the Welsh Grand National Trial on the 4th December. That contest comes after the weights for the Welsh Grand National are already out, so a victory in the trial would mean the winner would be “well-in” come the day of the Chepstow showpiece; Secret Reprieve followed that path last season while Le Beau Bai (2011) also won both races.

There is a lot to like about Ask Me Early’s profile; lightly-raced, proven on heavy ground and two from two at Chepstow over fences. He is sure to be a warm-order favourite for the trial and odds of 10/1 for the Welsh Grand National itself will be long gone should he run well when next seen.

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Welsh Grand National Odds

Wednesday 3rd November – 2:30 Chepstow – Red Rookie (2nd)

The most impressive performance on this midweek card unquestionably came from Brave Kingdom who bolted up on his debut for Paul Nicholls and could well make up into a graded novice hurdler this season.

But with an eye towards a next time out betting proposition, Red Rookie was the one that jumped out at me. In what was a competitive novices’ handicap, Red Rookie was ridden patiently and jumped fluently which saw him progress steadily through the field. Witness Protection, who would eventually win, jumped well to make all and as we know, it can be extremely tough to peg back front runners at Chepstow on relatively quick ground. He was also race fit so Red Rookie did well to reduce the deficit to a neck at the finish, with the front two finishing seven lengths clear of the remainder; it’s also worth noting that the third and fourth were handy throughout, highlighting the advantage of being prominent on this occasion. 

Given the ground he made up and the fluency of his jumping, this was a very encouraging debut over fences and it augurs well for his prospects moving forward. With form figures of 111 on heavy ground, it should not be long before Red Rookie claims a win over the larger obstacles as we head into the depths of winter.

Friday 5th November – 12:50 Warwick – Interne De Sivola (3rd)

With Allmankind and Adagio winning the past two renewals of this race, it promised to be an informative contest; and while the winner, In This World, certainly looks a smart prospect, I was quite taken by the debut of Interne De Sivola.

Prominent throughout, he travelled through the race nicely and his jumping, bar an error down the back, was accurate. That error did knock him back a few places at a time when the race was just starting to develop, yet he kept on nicely under a very lenient ride to finish third – well clear of the remainder. 

Nick Williams likes to bring his horses on slowly and so debutant winners from the yard are few and far between. In fact, the useful Galahad Quest was well beaten in this race back in 2019 before improving markedly. In terms of juvenile contests, Nick Williams has a lowly 5% strike-rate with debutants in that sphere but this jumps to 17% when looking at his juveniles running for the second time (A/E 1.19).

Furthermore, Interne De Sivola is closely related to multiple winners, including a Grade 3 hurdle winner, which bodes well for his long-term potential. 

He is a type that the yard usually excels with and while I don’t think he’ll be over-raced this season, he looks capable of winning a juvenile hurdle although he I suspect we won’t see the best of him for a couple of years.

Friday 5th November – 3:40 Hexham – Here We Have It (6th)

Perhaps not one that leaped out to many last week, but I remain confident that Here We Have It is a decent horse and he is surely better than he showed here.

On the form of his run behind Tommy’s Oscar last season, Here We Have it had a favourite’s chance but he was completely friendless in the market, drifting to an easy to back 7/1 having opened at the head of the market.

The form of the yard and the booking of a 10lbs claimer were warning signs but the market drift was the final confirmation that today was not going to be his day. 

And it was no surprise to see him anchored at the rear of the field in the early stages. Despite making some headway late on under minimal pressure, the leading group were long gone and Here We Have It could not close the insurmountable gap.

This looked an archetypal case of a horse needing the run and I would much rather judge the horse on his two eye-catching efforts last season as opposed to this lethargic display.

Having discussed Here We Have It with Laura Morgan a few months ago, they have a lot of faith in this horse and believe he could make up into a 140-rated performer especially once sent chasing over three miles. 

It will be interesting to see where they go next with him but he would be of major interest once sent over the larger obstacles given his vast point-to-point experience and his trainer’s proficiency with chasers. Perhaps they might stick to hurdles for one more run until they obtain a handicap mark; either way, he’s a horse to have in your trackers and he may pop up at a decent price in the near future.

Saturday 6th November - 2:30 Naas – Eric Bloodaxe (1st)

A race that has been won by some smart types in recent times (Disko, Next Destination, Elixir D’ainay and last year’s Albert Bartlett winner, Vanillier), this year’s renewal saw the well-regarded Eric Bloodaxe add his name to that illustrious roll of honour on his debut over obstacles. 

He shaped like a dour stayer over this intermediate trip, finishing the race strongly to beat Supreme Jet by eight lengths despite jumping the second last with a narrow deficit. He certainly isn’t deprived of speed and perhaps his next assignment will be the Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas after the turn of the year. He did shape as though a step up in trip so perhaps it is no surprise to that he’s significantly shorter for the Albert Bartlett (16/1) than he is for the Ballymore (33/1).

We mustn’t forget that this horse claimed the scalp of Ferny Hollow in a bumper back in November 2019 and he ran a great race at Punchestown in April behind last season’s best bumper performers on his return from injury.

He clearly has plenty of talent and with Joseph O’Brien’s string of jump horses ticking along very nicely thus far, Eric Bloodaxe is certainly a name to note as he progresses into graded company.

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Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Odds

Sunday 7th November – 12:40 Navan – My Mate Mozzie (1st)

My Mate Mozzie backed up his impressive debut over hurdles with a comprehensive victory in the Grade 3 For Auction Novice Hurdle at Navan.

Prominent throughout, he wasn’t given an easy time up front as both San Salvador and Serenity Grove kept him company for a good portion of the race. My Mate Mozzie’s slick jumping kept edging him in front of those rivals, who eventually cracked and finished well adrift which makes the winners effort all the more impressive. More patiently ridden rivals did emerge to throw down a challenge, but My Mate Mozzie kept finding extra and looked to be getting the better of them when Boothen Boy fell at the last and badly hampered Chemical Energy.

Post-race, Mark Walsh was very complimentary about his mount, noting that he “sprinted away from them” when he gave him a squeeze and he still had plenty left in the tank. 

Perhaps the only concern with a view to the future was that he did edge out to his right at quite a few hurdles, which would suggest that he will be seen to best effect on a right-handed track.

That bodes well for his prospects in the Royal Bond, which the past five winners of this Grade 3 have competed in, but it would be a concern for those looking to back him for Cheltenham. Now 14/1 for the Supreme, he unquestionably stands out amongst the two-mile novice hurdlers we have seen thus far; but we must remember that it is still early days and most of the leading prospects have yet to rear their heads this season.

Cheltenham Festival Odds
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