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FEBRUARY 2018 HORSES TO FOLLOW
The February list means that we pay a fond farewell to the productive Sea Wall whilst it is also topical to be reminiscing about the time Speredek spent on the list that ended when the February 2017 bunch were added, during which time he got results of 126PP – who would have seen the last year or so coming on the back of that (although the right-handed bias had not yet emerged).

BELLS ‘N’ BANJOS     (Fergal O’Brien)

8 year old bay gelding     (Indian River – Beechill Dancer)     1/427F12/1040/071185-5

Usually if someone comes to you with a threat of Bells ‘N’ Banjos the only sensible approach is to shoot first and ask questions later. However, one group of bandits known as The Maple Hurst Partnership, which is a sort of Hole In The Wall Gang of the Cotswolds, held their itchy trigger fingers enough to end up with a horse rather than a musical cacophony. He has done a solid job for them since. For future reference, lightning does not strike twice. The last couple of races have seen Bells ‘N’ Banjos put up a respectable show in class 2 handicap chases, which are outside of the remit of the site selection list. He is handicapped to qualify for more appropriate races however, and those two events were not ideal in another way, as they had too many runners. We have a nice body of evidence for this horse, and when there are no more than nine runners taking part his record is 147121711, leaving a dismal 2F0400855 in bigger turnouts. May we speculate that the fall could have persuaded Bells ‘N’ Banjos that staying away from crowds works in his favour. Too late, it is already done. There is a trend to think about regarding preference for level tracks, but that seems to be influenced by the fact that he usually runs into too many other horses when he visits them. There is the germ of a joke about running like the clappers and/or having too many strings attached, but this page needs far more obvious bad jokes for February.

Handicap hurdles and handicap chases with up to nine runners

PULL TOGETHER     (Stuart Edmunds)

6 year old bay gelding     (Curtain Time – Whos To Know)     7F42

The first thing that caught the eye about Pull Together was him being well named. It does not make him run any faster or further, but it should get the goodwill of the people behind him in pursuit of future achievement. Let us hope that he does not turn out to be the Hugo Chavez of Newport Pagnell. You may be surprised how many contenders, of all sorts of species, that there are for that title. Pull Together made his racing debut in an Irish point in March 2016, finishing one length back in third. Ahead of him were the excellent Solighoster and the less illustrious and inaccurately name Champion Chase. Unfortunately the following mood was more one of being pulled apart, and it took nineteen months before his next race – a bumper at Wincanton – cropped up. It was a fairly poor show, but there were plenty of excuses for Pull Together and he has been a case study in the new phenomenon of horses being tailed off in bumpers but turning out to be quite competent. His chance to do better on hurdles debut was spoiled by a fall as the worst of the Towcester hill loomed, but he lost back at the same venue by just nine lengths next time. Last time he finished second at Leicester, which would have been third had the narrow leader not come down at the last, but that horse’s obvious legacy was to hamper Pull Together and exaggerate the margin of defeat. Things should come together in handicaps.

Handicap hurdles over 2m 4f or more, rated up to 125

QUOTHQUAN     (Michael Madgwick)

4 year old bay gelding     (Myboycharlie – Lonestar Spirit)     323

The general rule on UK-Jumping is one of not really having a clue on where the juvenile hurdlers fit into the grand scheme of things before they turn four. Once we have seen how a few have done in handicap company against older horses, the clues are there as to whether the assessors are going to give them a chance or crucify them – a weak generation seems to start working on the same sort of ratings as the better years. The early signs are that the 2017/18 bunch have got a reasonable deal, and Quothquan is the sort of horse who can play that to his advantage. He has a rating of 116 which has also gone to older horses who have not been battering the places over hurdles. Although two runs have been at Fontwell, which seems to be collecting modest juvenile hurdles this year (the courses in the south seem to rotate that honour from season to season) he has finished second in a class 2 Sandown race. Admittedly he was beaten 14 lengths, but that was behind Sussex Ranger, who ended up a close second in the Finale Hurdle, a Grade 1 race that frequently works out to be the worst Grade 1 of the season. For the future, Quothquan was a capable flat handicapper, last seen on a rating of 79, and he won twice, including 1m 6f race on heavy at Salisbury. So, as might not be expected, it is possible that short race distances and not the mud that has foiled him up to now.

Handicap hurdles over 2m 2f or more, rated up to 125

SMUGGLER’S STASH     (Rose Dobbin)

8 year old bay gelding     (Stowaway – Sweetasanu)     074637P/2154P3310-P2632

With a contrived analogy it did look as if Smuggler’s Stash lokoed recently as if he had stowed away into a perfect opportunity to break out from the chains that have been keeping him to success only in certain circumstances. He failed in the win, but with him starting 11/2 joint favourite in a twelve horse race, it was a perfectly respectable failure in fiercely competitively company. We can boldly state that had it not been at Catterick but on a course with easy bends instead, he would have won. The reason for this hyperactive speculation (an double upgrade on the idle type) is that his tally so far on easy courses is 2143310P26. The result when well down the field was when out of his depth in the Highlands National at Perth and the pulled up was a disappointing but forgiveable comeback from the summer off. The sixth place was a class 2 handicap chase. At heart Smuggler’s Stash likes to store away opportunities in the lowest level of racing and when in class 4 or 5 company on easy tracks, the score is 2143312, which is a very steady extract from an not obviously consistent career and he may have a bit more hidden up his sleeve ready to deploy. At this level, that can be worked with. These days, now Smuggler’s Stash has grown up, he does not really do stuff that is not three miles or more.

Handicap hurdles or handicap chases, up to class 4, over 3 miles or more.

TANIT RIVER     (Tim Vaughan)

8 year brown gelding     (Indian River – Tanit Lady)     8880118/404134/221516P-6P5

Sometimes horses insist on doing daft things that do not help themselves. Usually we think of unprovoked blunders, stopping in front, pulling furiously hard or running out, but a common version is getting yourself badly handicapped and then winning anyway because confidence and general zippiness are at a peak. This is exactly what Tanit River has done, and we have a horse with winning ratings of 100, 100 again, 108, 119 and 127. It can be considered that he made a rod for his own back with the fourth or them, but the last was ridiculous. As his rating is currently 123, he is either already poised to re-enter the standard of race in which he can win, or will be doing so shortly. Tanit River’s reliable pattern has been broken with a win at Bangor, but he really wants an easy, undulating course to illustrate what he is best capable of. When connections have unleashed him in such circumstances the results read 11411, with the loss being by a mere five lengths. The obvious question is why he does not try these places more often, but they are courses that are prone to poor viewing so owners have to balance the joy of victory against the idea of not seeing much of it happen. Three of his wins have come with just over two months between runs, so do not fret too much if he seems to be delaying appearances a little.

Hurdles or chases on an easy, undulating track

THAMES KNIGHT     (Jim Boyle)

6 year old bay gelding     (Sir Percy – Bermondsey Girl)     990U

So the February entry concludes with a rivery theme. There are other themes working with Thames Knight as well at the moment, and they relate to losing hurdles by wide margins – 80 and 53 lengths at Plumpton and 101 lengths at Newbury. After the latter, he went back to Plumpton and failed to make it beyond the first hurdle. If he had begun life with this, we would have every excuse for running a mile from Thames Knight. However, he has in the past proven a fair degree of ability, winning four of his twenty-five flat races. As recently as August he had a win from a rating of 75 followed by two close seconds. There are two possible conclusions. One is that he relished life in the wilds of Whitsbury and has not yet adapted to the rather less secluded vibe of Epsom. The other is that soft ground novice hurdles are not his thing and progress is on the cards when he meets better going. Now the handicap option also comes into play for Thames Knight, and with his wins ranging from 1m 2f to 1m 4f it is feasible that he does not have to restrict himself to two milers over jumps. So the hint that is being dropped is that massive improvement is needed, but it can come around in multiple fashions, and there is the option of using some headgear to sharpen up his jumping skills.

Class 5 handicap hurdles on good to soft, good or good to firm
Thames Knight showing that he believes mud is for playing in and enjoying, not necessarily racing upon
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