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FEBRUARY 2019 HORSES TO FOLLOW
ASH PARK     (Stuart Coltherd)

11 year old bay gelding     (Milan – Distant Gale)     5551F5/121122U23U34124/523-3

The racing life of Ash Park can be divided into three distinct phases. Actually that is true of many horses, as well as other aspects of life. Jump race disciplines (bumper, hurdle, chase), power trios (guitar, bass, drums), tortoiseshell cats (black, brown, white), stooges (Larry, Curly, Moe), volcano types (shield, stratovolcano, cinder cone) and the Union Jack (St George’s cross, St Andrew’s cross, St Patrick’s cross). Where Ash Park comes into play, apart from being interested in the volcanic bit, is that he greatly emphasises the distinction between the phases and he also avoided any bumpers which is very helpful in sustaining the analogy. Phase 1 – Irish point-to-points. To be brutally frank, he was absolutely hopeless at it. His first nine goes involved two falls, six pulled ups and well beaten fifth. He then ran OK in two of an amazing four completions in a row, but ended the phase on a falling note. Phase 2 – Hurdles. Ash Park proved to be surprisingly good here, running eleven times in six months and winning four. He notably adapted well to bigger fields, posting results of 51F12112 when ten or more ran. The fifth was a mere eleven lengths behind Waiting Patiently. Phase 3 – Chases. This has been less riotously fun, with only one win from fourteen but as is almost inevitable in this job, he has only once found the big field that brings out the best in Ash Park, and he ended up a close second that day. The recent return from fifteen months off went well, so fingers crossed that the larger fields can be found.

Hurdles or chases with ten or more runners

HALCYON DAYS     (Rebecca Menzies)

10 year old bay gelding     (Generous – Indian Empress)     7U979/2349/233121131311/24PP2-61622

Sixteen of Halcyon Days visits to the races have seen him carry eleven stone or more and he won six of them. Four more ended in defeat by shorter than two and a half lengths. By way of contrast the other fifteen ended up with just the one success and a couple of losses of just over three lengths. Even if removing the non-handicaps (one bumper, three hurdles, one chase) it does not look very encouraging, although oddly the one win in this bad bit was the lowest weight ever carried by him. The next job with Halcyon Days is to see whether there is a further bias in the high weight ranges and the answer is yes. Form of 11161 occurs on easy tracks, compared to 313124P2622 away from them. However, with those two wins being at 9/2 and 4/1 the loss in this group is negligible and the four times runner-up were by an average of one and a quarter lengths, so just one tiny piece of luck or one slightly different tactical decision could easily have flipped it into the black from the red. Therefore the recommendation is to stick with Halcyon Days on the more general “high weights are wonderful” principle and save the fuss over detail for elsewhere. What can be shown the door are his runs beyond 2m 1f. They account for no close losses and two losses with high weights, plus six defeats with lower burdens.

Handicap hurdles or handicap chases up to 2m 1f, carrying 11 stone or more

MANVERS HOUSE     (Robert Walford)

6 year old bay gelding     (Schiaparelli – Freydis)     2-044

This horse was the last of the sextet to make the February selections, locked in a classic clash of opposites. He a sane and apparently straight forward gelding being picked ahead of a mare whose brain seems not to work very effectively. Consoled by the idea of a short month until looking to bring the seventh horse in, Manvers House makes the cut. His first race was last March when he popped up in a bumper at Kempton just after the Festival. Nobody seemed terribly fascinated by his presence but at odds of 25/1 he finished a close second. Those behind have done a bit since without graduating into an elite bunch. Winner Mister Fisher has a Grade 2 hurdle success in the bag. Manvers House debuted over hurdles eight months later in another reasonable race at two and a half miles and was tailed off, last to finish. Something had to be done. Obviously in many walks of life this is true, but in this particular case the action was to try him down at two miles. Consequence? Six lengths fourth of sixteen at Newbury behind hat trick completing Champagne Platinum. Most recently he was back at two and a half miles around Kempton in good company and looked a bit lacking in stamina again. Manvers House just needs to be kept to shorter races and magically the successes will come. He has only run on soft or good to soft, so there is that chance (which we are ignoring) that endurance will come along with good going.

Hurdle races up to 2m 2f
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On a day with an awkward sun Manvers House entertains himself by creating the longest, narrowest shadow that he possibly can. He is the winner of that game.

OPTIMISTIC BIAS     (James Evans)

10 year old bay gelding     (Sayarshan – Dashers Folly)     214/1730/45154331/1106-07

The golden era of optimism – when was it? Historians will dust down their venerable tomes, or go scurrying off to Wikipedia, in order to dredge up all sorts of answers supported by retrospective philosophical interpretation, but they are wasting their time. It was spring to summer 2017 when Optimistic Bias got three wins on the bounce. The reason for raising it above other times when he has been running well is that two of the successes came when he was not on the sort of course that is going to be proposed here as ideal. It is a case, which we come across from time to time, when certain conditions lift a horse from occasional excellence into a realm of prolific and profitable. The two incorrect victories were at Uttoxeter but for Optimistic Bias we all need to be very biased towards left-handed sharp tracks. When first spotting the trend, the inclination was to put level ones into the filter as well, which produced results of 1131. The third place was by only four lengths but the profit took a bit of a knock as one of the wins was actually a dead heat at Aintree with Sykes, who had surreptitiously gained an advantage by whacking Optimistic Bias over the head with a plank. Possibly. However, further investigations showed that on undulating courses of this type he had only raced twice, winning at Sedgefield in a 3m 3f hurdle and later finishing sixth in a class 2 handicap chase. He has no wins shorter than three miles since a maiden hurdle almost four years ago.

Hurdles or chases on a left-handed, sharp track, over 3m or more

PEMBERLEY     (Emma Lavelle)

6 year old bay gelding     (Darsi – Eyebright)     57-504

Pemberley caught the eye on his most recent run, when having kept completely out of the way of the horses taking it seriously, he noodled home nicely to end up fourth of twelve at Plumpton on going that was good to soft, but gradually deteriorating due to the rain. He was over twenty lengths behind the 120 rated third (who carried six pounds more) but might not get full credit for that widemargin as Pemberley had rather given the game away in November when he was beaten only six lengths on his hurdles debut. The current ratings of those in front of him are 123, to be confirmed, 101 and to be confirmed again (although after a win in novice company at Huntingdon, it will not be trivial). The two chasing Pemberley are on 117 and 85. So for his mark, you pays your money you take your choice, but having had a quiet run a Huntingdon between the two races concentrated on it is to be expected that he will improve on what has been seen so far. Not much has been said about his two bumper runs last season because once the words “halfway finished the field down” are put in the right order, all points of interest have been explored. As far as name evidence goes, the racing world is not littered with winners named after fictional locations found in the works of Jane Austen but maybe there is a gap in the market for them.

Handicap hurdles or chases rated up to 115

WITCHES GLEN     (Pat Phelan)

7 year old bay mare     (Helissio – Native Cheer)     64

Firstly, Witches Glen is not as lightly raced for a seven year old as it looks above as she had seven runs in Irish points. As she did not participate terribly successfully in what is supposed to be the nursery of champions, we assume that championships will not be on the agenda. In failing to win she was not, however, devoid of competitiveness, so it is understandable that someone would feel that Witches Glen has something to offer under Rules. She first tried in mid-December when the pre-race verdict was “looks the part but not fit enough.” She still managed to end up sixth of thirteen, but the lack of match readiness was shown in a loss of just over fifty lengths to Mr Pumblechook. A month later she hopped on her broomstick and ended up back at Plumpton (what dark arts are being practised just over the ridge at the south end of the course?) and she still looked the part, but in more sport ready style. The loss was still over forty lengths but it was behind the potentially very decent Baddesley Knight, improving classic Tizzard type Fly To Mars and winning flat miler Mach One. Therefore the limited progress regarding losing margin in race two is down to superior opponents in front and no particular need to end up any nearer. Watch for her stepping up in distance and potentially into chases as well. She was recently declared for a two miler to get the crucial third run before being handicapped, but it was frozen off. It is hard to imagine that this was a scent of a winning opportunity.

Handicap hurdles or handicap chases over 2m 6f or more
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