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JANUARY 2018 HORSES TO FOLLOW
AMERICAN LIFE     (Oliver Greenall)

11 year old bay/brown gelding     (American Post – Poplife)     7/25166733537/9542222PF735/950411123737/8P7071333536/09095F442P2-22

The new year opens with a selection about which there are grave reservations, but readers fears are unfounded of and entry full of third-hand feeble jokes about Donald Trump. Firstly American Life is a veteran of 90 races flat and jumps and a veteran turned eleven years old. This is a not a good combination. Then there is the issue of not having won since the end of 2015, which again fits badly with a horse of his age, who might have decided by now that hard work is a mug’s game. Then, even in the conditions proven to suit, his record of played sixteen, won four could lead only to honourable losses whilst a site selection. And finally, after a spell out of sorts, when American Life hit form on the wrong ground in April, he soon changed stable. The counters to these are: a) the stable move does not involve a change of ownership, b) the record outside the specified conditions over jumps is 1/44 and c) his debut for the new yard resulted in a close second to a horse that won again afterwards and then beat him only a short head very recently, prompting the hope that he is mentally refreshed after the stimulation of moving home – although that feared disinterest of giving it absolutely all that he could did briefly flare up. It is a while since he finished close over a shorter distance than 2m 7f, but a couple of runs at Towcester and Sandown imply that American Life could get away with it at slightly shorter on a stiff finish. He is even well enough handicapped on not terribly ancient form to not necessarily be limited to just one win.

Handicap hurdles on soft or heavy at an undulating track, over 2m 5f or more

APPLETREE LANE     (Tom Gretton)

8 year old bay mare     (Croco Rouge – Emmasflora)     5/5533P/523-43

So far Appletree Lane has not managed to do anything as radical as being the winner of a race, but she has shown enough to think that she can, and he chances are being helped by the stable recently ending a frustrating long losing run that even scuppered more historically prolific inmates. The races that showed hints of Appletree lane blossoming into a successful mare are a one length second at Market Rasen and a nine lengths third at Sedgefield. After that some additional branches of analysis need to be brought in. One is the lack of any other races on sharp tracks. A second is that on easy or galloping courses, she has got her next best races on undulating courses. Those two things would be something worth taking seriously without extra fuss. However, the third angle is that on Boxing Day Appletree Lane was given a shot over fences, at Huntingdon. She did perfectly adequately to be third, well beaten admittedly, on the wrong sort of track. So the chase option is definitely something to get stuck into, with mares only handicaps potentially the most fruitful option. More waffle is an option, but too many puns can make readers (or even the horse) crabby.

Handicap chases on a sharp, undulating track

GLEN ROCCO     (Nick Gifford)

7 year old chesnut gelding     (Shirocco – Adees Dancer)     65

Hailing from a yard that is not known for over racing their runners, Glen Rocco’s team have been out in relative force of late, with an impressive bumper winner at Ascot and several other performances that have caught the eye. Glen Rocco was showing them the way back in mid-November, before it got fashionable. This was at Lingfield, where he took the downhill run before the second last with a bit more verve than some of the enemy, making up a lot of the ground that he had conceded early on. He lacked a sprint to the line from there, but nobody involved seemed to be too bothered by that. The winner, Jabulani, was beaten since but it was a class 2 handicap at Newbury that Old Guard snaffled, so it is hardly a condemnation of the form. None of the others in front of him have fared better whilst being less ambitious, so this gives hope that the handicap mark stays realistic. For Glen Rocco’s follow-up, he went to Leicester, dropping down from 2m 3.5f to 1m 7.5f and was again spotted creeping up the home straight steadily, but a thirteen lengths loss to 135-rated Arthington will be less handicap-friendly. Given that he is not a youthful novice hurdler, and that he did get a bit of Irish pointing experience – pulled up on debut, winning favourite next time – it would not be amazing if the plan for hurdling is just to get a rating ready to use for chases.

Handicap hurdles or handicap chases, over 2m 3f or more, rated up to 120

MARMONT     (Jo Davis)

5 year old chesnut gelding     (Winker Watson – Five Bells)     525-682833

No wins to date is not the strongest recommendation around. Getting stuffed last time out on a track that is about to become a recommended venue is not one either. So what we collectively need to do is ease up on the recommending, and urge Marmont into some doing. The power of millions (well, dozens.. perhaps ten if we are lucky) minds working in unison can achieve powerful things. The least attractive results that he has posted have been at Kempton, Newbury, Huntingdon and Uttoxeter, so we are definitely pursuing the sharp, left-handed track angle for him. It could be argued that that by doing well at Fontwell and Newton Abbot he also like level courses, but if so, it did not salvage much from the aforementioned underwhelming days. Not even attempting an undulating venue so far is a warning sign that his owner/trainer may fear fiasco if he does, but give Marmont an attempt to prove it. On the right sort of place, that is one going left, he has three close placed runs, a well beaten third (against in-form Our Merlin on heavy ground) and a fast ground bumper whooping on racecourse debut. One excusable failure is too soon to dismiss him on extremes of ground, but it is enough to put us on alert should a repeat be offered.

Class 5 handicap hurdles on a left-handed, sharp track
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The bright sunshine proves that this is not quite a contemporary picture of Marmont

RIVER BRAY     (Victor Dartnall)

5 year old chesnut gelding     (Arakan – Cill Fhearga)     4-2852

The River Bray is a small Devonish river that lies between Bratton Down and Umberleigh point-to-point tracks. First part of that courtesy of internet search, the second part should be common knowledge to all soundly thinking people. Alas, people without a poetic soul opted not to make his racecourse debut at either of those places, so the equine River Bray had to make do with Kempton, set deep in the land of the reservoirs, to make a watery connection. The ponds in the middle of the track also count a bit. He ran really well to be fourth in a sixteen horse bumper and after a summer off returned in business-like mood to be second at Newton Abbot. Kempton was a weird race, with the prominent finishers mostly ending up third or fourth after but the midfield bunch finding wins – 135-rated hurdler Arthington (see Glen Rocco) was eighth! There were fewer decent enemies in the second run but it was not a bad bumper. Yet somehow, River Bray has not cut the mustard yet hurdling. The hood was added to his kit bag for the job, but he began with a distant eighth at Uttoxeter at two and a half miles, then had a less worrying but still unexciting fifth over the minimum trip at Southwell. The runner-up was strong flat handicapper who has won since and the seventh has been placed in a mares only novices’ hurdle, so perhaps hindsight will shed a warmer light on the race than first impressions. Perhaps River Bray will be the horse to kick it off, in handicap company, and possibly on a sharp track – there is insufficient evidence to commit to that angle. Yet. *** STOP PRESS: Beaten less than a length by 115-rated Dan McGrue at Taunton – fuel for the sharp track fire? ***

Handicap hurdles rated up to 120

SHANROE SANTOS     (Lucy Wadham)

9 year old bay gelding     (Definite Article – Jane Hall)     567/4110P//5F62117-633U2

Sometimes selections have to be made that are inviting frustration and disaster. This is essential for furthering the evolution of our ability to mentally withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous (horse-shaped) fortune when the least helpful scenario crops up. There are two ways to do this. One is to include a youthful headbanger and assume that connections will sort the horse out. The other is picking horses like Shanroe Santos that have an excellent record in certain circumstances, but can still win away from them. The clues were there for this horse when he started off running in bumpers (no wins, but not short of promise) and then went off to triumph in his only Irish point. This is completely wrong way to do things as thousands of horses have proven, and the experience gained elsewhere allowed for a wide winning margin. There was a flying start hurdling as well, only for injury to interrupt. When Shanroe Santos returned from it, he went chasing, had early problems and then bounced back for a couple of wins. Where we are now is a horse with a post-bumpers record on right-handed courses of 11213U. Both completed defeats were manageably close and the unseat was foolishly early, very likely discombobulated after getting a clout from a rival at the first obstacle. However, a two lengths loss at Cheltenham last time, a Warwick win and perhaps even the Uttoxeter third is Shanroe Santos crying out for appreciation as a horse of varied skills. Good luck to him on that one. There is an intriguing wrinkle that overlaps the conditions, with his record on easy tracks being 1211633U, but it is just that little less dependable than the chosen way forwards.

Races on a right-handed track over 2m 6f or more
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Not being strong on geography and things where the clue is in the name, Shanroe Santos' verdict on second place in the 2018 Sussex National is that race is best moved from Plumpton to Leicester
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