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APRIL 2017 HORSES TO FOLLOW
DITES RIEN     (Neil Mulholland)

5 year old bay mare     (Kalanisi – Our Soiree)     04573

One of the subtle changes in racing over recent years has been that the handicapping team has become just that little bit more cynical about rating lightly raced hurdlers. Horses can have their two or three hurdle spins and go quickly into handicaps, but they can rarely do so and expect to have a rating much below 100. What this means is that the type of horse is not winning so many low grade handicap hurdles, but they are peppering the places aplenty, and Dites Rien is just that sort of horse. And she is in a stable that is top notch at getting these scenarios transmuting into wins eventually. Dites Rien began life by losing a bumper at Hereford by 47 lengths, which would have convinced her trainer/owner that a quick sale was not going to be economical. She showed a bit of pace to be fifteen lengths fourth of seven on hurdles debut, but got tailed off in her next two. Crucially, Dites Rien was fifth of fifteen and seventh of thirteen – showing herself superior to a decent proportion of the oppo – and the second and third horses in the latest were both rated 125 at the time. The handicap debut saw her five lengths third of ten, and Dites Rien is very likely to build upon that. But keep the info quiet!

Handicap hurdles between 2m 3f and 2m 5f, rated up to 110
Dites Rien (right) finds being photographed terribly old hat, but her colleague (Goodnitesweetheart) is a bit more appreciative of the attention

GRAPE TREE FLAME     (Peter Bowen)


9 year old chesnut mare     (Grape Tree Road – Althrey Flame)     3546P/515321P14/1PP55-407P

The challenge with Grape Tree Flame is to first predict what is going on at the stable. It used to be so easy with Peter Bowen. A quiet spell in the early months of the year was always followed by a manic burst through the second quarter. Late summer would see a smattering of winners at a lower rate, often leading into one last splurge for early autumn. This does not seem to work anymore, possibly due to attention being paid to steering the next Bowen generation through the point-to-point season. Out of tradition, a Peter Bowen horse is again included in the April list. This one has an element of gamble, as Grape Tree Flame has gone a bit off of the boil, and when a mare of her age does that and is owned someone who breeds most of his own runners (which she is, in case you were expecting another random distraction. However, by having a couple of goes already in 2017, it is realistic to hope that she will at least give it a shot over the summer. And then we hope that she does so on undulating tracks, where her form is 12111550. On level courses, 3546P553P4PP47P is much less impressive. The two bad failures this year have been on level tracks and include an inevitably doomed drop to two and a half miles.

Handicap hurdles on an undulating track over 2m 6f or more

MIDNIGHT REQUEST     (Nigel Hawke)

8 year old bay gelding     (Midnight Legend – Friendly Request)     06062275/363311P/47-3P5131

The risk with selecting Midnight Request (above and beyond the normal one of just being horribly wrong) is that with two recent victories, he could be in for a clobbering from the handicapper. Actually there is a second risk, because the principle for which he is included depends entirely on the frequency of racing, and that is the sort of thing that can be undone with a simple variation of the usual training routine. Human beings being what they are – fundamentally daft – connections could at any time decided that four wins from his last eleven is totally unacceptable and something needs to be done. March 31st is suddenly “World Change Midnight Request Day,” although we would never know it until starting to be wished Happy Change Midnight Request Day by gullible idiots on social media. So where do we stand on the relevant stuff? Midnight Request’s record when he has had a race in the last fortnight reads 231111. This is the sort of fussiness that has been known to completely defy handicap ratings, but hopefully the assessors will be sympathetic when he fails to sparkle.

Hurdles or chases with up to fourteen days since the last run.

THEATRE FLAME     (David Bridgwater)

7 year old bay gelding     (King’s Theatre – Bob’s Flame)     46/621461-226071F34F

Very much like naked fires in theatres, the form figures of this horse do include an element of illusion, coming via apparent placed results involving defeat in very small fields. The sudden introduction of a clichéd villain, in this case a couple of falls, increases the sense that Theatre Flame is trying too hard to act just like his name. Some people may think it is a cop out, but we should blame the parents. Yet amongst the jumble of outcomes, a small trend emerges, and it is definitely one that he can build upon. It is not distance, as despite wins at two miles, his longest distance contested is two and a half miles and he coped well in losing. It is not going, as he has functioned on pretty much everything tried. The trick is easy tracks, where his form is 42161, with the fourth being a three lengths loss in a bumper and the significant failure a class 2 handicap hurdle. Now it is time to start looking harder for races at that type or course, or trust his apparent flexibility regarding going and distance.

Handicap hurdles or handicap chases on an easy track

VERKO     (Micky Hammond)

8 year old brown gelding     (Lavirco – Lady Vernizy)     70/40805255/20351114213-0475553

Let us get down to basics for this one. Verko has raced over hurdles on a dozen occasions and only once has he ever vaguely looked like he might win one. This is not a compliment to Verko but a scathing criticism of the runners at Hexham on 26th May 2015 over 2m 7.5f with good ground. And it makes it mystifying that the winner delivered three more times after that. So, we are already concentrating on chases, where the score is a little bit more healthy, with four victories from sixteen tries. In the lost languages of some Australian aboriginal tribes, Verko means “a much coveted hill top.” This is an incredibly strong clue, as once level tracks are taken off of the agenda, that is narrowed down to four wins from twelve, which is enough to turn a small profit. Because of the successes coinciding with a spell of hot form, handicapping as much as anything else prevented further success so far. There are some deceptions in Verko’s form, such as almost always running from a low weight and not attempting much variety of race distance, but the field size does allow the profitability to increase. When no more than six run, the overall score is 511213, with the first of those harkening back to the days when connections had deluded themselves that Verko was a two miler. They were soon cured.

Chases on an undulating track with up to six runners

XHALE     (Caroline Bailey)

5 year old bay gelding     (Halling – Xanadu Bliss)     F09539

In 2015, Xhale was a French flat horse who once offered a modicum of promise. After a break of over a year during which he changed hands for what must have a fairly unfrightening sum, he appeared in Britain as a hurdler. That did not go well as Xhale was a bit keen early and then fell when he ran out of puff. But it again showed a glimpse of ability. Two more novice hurdles were of the no show type, quite feasibly the “no show, I need a handicap mark” sub-genre. The first two handicaps went much better, losing both by fewer than ten lengths, and not being too manic early on. Having flopped last time, the guess is that Xhale will appreciate keeping clear of the most testing ground. His yard would not be shy of any early switch to fences, and do acquire most of their horses for that job, rather than namby-pambying around as hurdlers forever.

Handicap hurdles or handicap chases up to class 5, not on soft or heavy
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