Keeping a list of eyecatchers is an important part of a punter’s armoury, but subscribing to others’ ideas of what constitutes an eyecatcher can often be less rewarding. Primarily this is because what appears to be promising to the relatively educated eye tends not to pass many judges by; odds compilers have eyes too, so obviously unlucky horses tend to be overbet the next time. Much better if you see something you like which gets missed by the majority, and ideally those who write comments for the form book.
I’ll attempt to compile a sort of reverse eyecatchers from the Festive Season – a few horses whose performances gained no plaudits and in some cases were downright disappointing, who nevertheless are capable of much better, and could go off at inflated odds next time due to the proverbial stuffing they took in their respective races. As always, a bit of common sense is required in backing such horses next time, but I can’t hold your hand – you just have to read between the lines.
Kobrouk (Nicky Henderson) – Ascot, December 21st
A five-time winner over obstacles in France for Guillaume Macaire, Kobrouk has run badly in two of three starts for Nicky Henderson, and is clearly one to be wary of, or at least that is the consensus after he pulled up at Ascot, but there are several mitigating factors.
Firstly, and most importantly, Kobrouk ran a decent race on his return over hurdles at Huntingdon, so we know that his old ability is intact. He was giving 22lb to the talented winner at Huntingdon, and produced an effort at least as good as anything he achieved over hurdles in France. Secondly, the ground was really unraceable at Ascot, but it was the last day’s racing before Christmas, so what are you going to do? Kobrouk hated it, and the fact that he returned lame gives a perfect excuse for his poor run.
He’s obviously had his issues, and finishing lame is a concern going forward, but if he turns out in the next month or two, we can assume that it wasn’t too serious, and he should be up to winning races from his mark. Given he’s gone off at 16/1, 20/1 and 10/1 in three runs for Henderson, we should get decent odds about him, especially after another ‘P’ on his record.
Vegas Blue (Nicky Henderson) – Kempton, Boxing Day
I saw this mare win a Listed bumper at Huntingdon earlier in December, and she looked one to keep on side over hurdles given her connections, but she could finish only fifth here, and her trainer reported that she found the ground too soft and needed a sounder surface. The going was certainly deeper at Kempton than is usually the case, and considerably softer than for her previous starts, and while I’m normally wary of trainers’ excuses, this one seems thoroughly justified.
After travelling well, Vegas Blue looked uncomfortable when asked for her effort, and hung when she ought to have been picking up. She came off the bridle briefly at Huntingdon, but found plenty for minimal pressure, and went about things in a most willing manner; based on that, I don’t think she’s the type to flatter as so many strong travellers do, and she still appeals as the sort of unexposed mare who should be picking up black type over hurdles when the weather turns in the spring.
Hold The Note (Mick Channon) – Kempton, Boxing Day
Hold The Note pulled up in the novices’ handicap chase on King George day, but his presence in that race was noteworthy, with trainer Mick Channon and owners Tim & Camilla Radford having won the race with subsequent Grade 2 winner Glen Forsa the year before, while two previous runners were both second, including Cheltenham Festival winner Mister Whitaker. It appeared (to me at least) that this was part of a well-worn plan, but the race didn’t go to plan and after being badly hampered by the fall of Roll Again, Tom Scudamore immediately called it a day.
In truth, there was enough about this run for it to have caught a few eyes, but the form book comment “still handy when very badly hampered 10th, not recover” underplays how well he was going at the time, and given he was sent off at 7/1 there having been much shorter in the morning, I’m more than happy to stick with him assuming he’s placed to advantage.
Update: HOLD THE NOTE is due to run in the Grade 2 novice chase at Warwick on Saturday, and illustrates the conundrum of following eyecatchers blind. Last time out he was travelling well when brought to a standstill by a faller, and I would definitely back him again in the same situation. But that race was a handicap where he was rated 133. This race is up against five horses rated 139-142 but at level weights, so it’s a bit like the handicapper sticking him up 9lb for his last run. Is he still well handicapped? I reckon so. Does that matter? Not in this race. On the other hand, his SP ought to compensate for the stiff task, but backers must be aware that he could be the proverbial handicap snip with a stone in hand of his mark and yet still get beaten in this race. Caveat Emptor.
Master Tommytucker (Paul Nicholls) – Kempton, Boxing Day
How would you characterise a horse with a chasing record of F1F? A dodgy jumper would be a popular answer, but despite the fact that he’s taken a couple of heavy falls in his short career over fences, this Kayf Tara gelding has shown himself to a brilliant ‘lepper’, but one who has yet to learn how to adjust himself when getting one wrong. He was tremendously fast from one side of a fence to the other when winning over a shorter trip on his return at Kempton, and was showing the same quicksilver tendencies until misjudging the fourth-last fence when still travelling well in the lead.
Now, horses who have the kind of unfortunate experience that Master Tommytucker has had can go two ways, and many will lose confidence, but Paul Nicholls misses few tricks when it comes to schooling, and I can still see this talented if fragile gelding fulfilling his promise, and I’m hopeful that a little remedial work will fix the flaws in his jumping while allowing him to retain the basic technique which could make him very good indeed.
Rocco (Nigel Twiston-Davies) – Wetherby Boxing Day
Rocco was a fairly useful novice hurdler last season, and has the physique to be a much better chaser, as he showed when winning on his second start over fences at Stratford in October, but he’s been badly let down by his jumping twice in his new role, and that will put many off. Anyone watching him make a series of errors in the Rowland Meyrick would hesitate to back him again, but there is a common denominator in the two races where he’s failed to complete, and that is being ridden by Jamie Bargary. I’m not going to knock the jockey here, but some horses simply don’t go for certain riders and in three rides aboard Rocco, Bargary has been tailed off, fallen and pulled up.
I noticed a similar pattern with the yard’s Cogry, who has a Cheltenham record of 1261312 when ridden by Sam, but the same horse was ridden 10 times over hurdles and fences by Ryan Hatch, and failed to finish in seven of those starts, winning none.
Both Rocco’s wins have come when ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies, and his record over fences on the horse reads 132. He will bounce back from this no-show, and I’d not be surprised to see him run well over the Grand National fences in the Topham Trophy in April, but he can hopefully win before that.
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