1.50 Doncaster – ZUIDER ZEE (nap)
This looks an interesting maiden hurdle, for all it is nowhere near as competitive as the numbers suggest – one or two of these at least useful performers on the Flat, including a pair that filled second spot on their debut in this discipline, but the majority have either shown little or look in need of more time/handicaps.
The selection is trained by John Ferguson and, like many from this stable, was a very useful performer on the level at one time, landing the November Handicap at this very venue back in 2011 when trained by John Gosden (second victory here). He didn’t disgrace himself at a higher level last term, chasing home Electrolyser in a 1m 6f Listed contest at Nottingham and following that with frame finishes in good company, including the American St Leger at Arlington when coming home in third behind Jakkalberry. His final outing of the year saw him run Lieutenant Miller to a short head in a 2m 2f event at Pontefract last October, failing to run up to the level of form he had shown previously in the year albeit even that in itself was still short of his best. However, he moves into this sphere as a smart prospect for a stable that has rejuvenated recruits from the level that had started to lose their way; reportedly schooled well in preparation for this and holds entries in the three major novice hurdles at Cheltenham, so it would be a little disappointing if he couldn’t make a winning start to his new career en route to bigger and better things.
The Paul Nicholls-trained Aaim To Prosper is another who proved himself a very useful performer on the Flat, landing the Cesarewitch Handicap twice when trained by Brian Meehan, defying top weight to snare the valuable autumn prize last October. However, he had looked short of pattern company in between landing that prize twice, running with credit on a couple of occasions at Listed level but finding Group-race company simply too much (actually finished behind the selection on one occasion), so it was no surprise to see him switched to this sphere after Newmarket. He made his debut for this stable in a 2m novices’ hurdle at Newbury at the end of November, sent off a 15/8 chance; disputed/lead until after the second last, ridden and sticking on at the one pace thereafter as he came home 3¼ lengths adrift of Meganisi in second (pair well clear). It was a creditable effort in defeat from this gelding, shaping as though further would suit, unsurprisingly so for one that stayed so well on the Flat; form of that race looks nothing more than fair (third finished a good second to a well-handicapped rival last time in a handicap), but he is in excellent hands and should have scope for further improvement now upped in distance.
The Donald McCain-trained Life And Soul is another who plied his trade on the Flat until recently, proving himself a useful handicapper at up 1m 6f for Amanda Perrett, winning three times and achieving a peak rating of 93, though he lost his way in the second half of last season having landed a 12f handicap at Goodwood in May. He was snapped up for 60,000gns by current connections last autumn and made his debut for them in a 2m novices’ hurdle at Catterick a month ago; proved keen and led before the fourth flight, joined and headed two out and sticking on at the same pace thereafter as he came home an 8-length second to Only Orsenfoolsies. His refusal to settle early on a rain-softened surface wouldn’t have helped his chances on his debut over obstacles, but he will appreciate the drying ground on this occasion and should also have derived plenty from the experience; wasn’t quite as good as the aforementioned duo on the Flat, and it is a little surprising to see him upped in distance straight away, and he may just find one or two of these too good for him this time.
The Nicky Henderson-trained Minella Forfitness is a son of Westerner who followed up his win in the point-to-sphere with a smooth success in a bumper at Kempton last backend for new connections, travelling sweetly into the lead and forging clear from over a furlong out to see off High Ville by 12 lengths. He found the step up to Grade 2 level at Aintree too much too soon, though far from disgraced himself with a seventh-place finish behind The New One, but proved to be disappointing on his hurdling bow at Ascot (2m 3f) last November, going off the 6/4 market leader and again travelling strongly for the most part, but proved disappointing once asked for an effort and could only manage third behind Many Clouds (beaten 13 lengths). He hasn’t been seen since and makes his return on decent ground, and it could well be that connections were waiting for the wet spell to subside (bumper win came on good ground); top stable have been a little in and out of late, but this gelding clearly has ability on the way he travelled to a point in his three races under rules to date, and no surprise to see him bounce back and play a part at the finish.
The Alan King-trained Custer Of The West was a clear-cut winner of a bumper at Towcester on debut back in April 2010, and was one of many from the yard at the time to prove disappointing in a couple of subsequent efforts the following season, but showed a bit more almost a year to the day of his debut win when runner-up in a novices’ hurdle at Wincanton (broke a blood vessel). His only outing since saw him shape with some promise behind excellent prospect Red Devil Boys in a course and distance event at the end of last year, making progress from the rear of the field to sit at the rear of the main group and remained in contention until fading after the third from home, clearly lacking for fitness as he eventually finished 12th of the 17 that completed. Every chance he will need this run, too, but he is definitely one to keep a close eye on with regards handicaps further down the line, for which he will likely gain a mark after this run.
The Anthony Honeyball-trained Alpancho is a son of Alflora who shaped with promise when chasing home the Paul Nicholls-trained Sky Watch in a bumper at Sandown a year ago, but he proved disappointing next time when only fifth behind Twelve Roses in a similar contest at Chepstow, waited with and never able to get seriously competitive. He looked set to play a big part at the finish when coming with a good-looking challenge in a 2m 7f novices’ hurdle at Worcester last October, but he threw away any serious chance of victory when going left at the final two flights, persistently hanging on the run-in as he came home 7 lengths adrift of Nataani to finish second. He was a no-show in a heavy-ground 2m 5f novices’ hurdle at Uttoxeter next time and hasn’t been seen since, stepped back further in distance on his return here; another that will likely come to life in handicaps further down the line.
The Great Gabrial in the 5.55 at Wolverhampton is worthy of a mention. The Ian Williams-trained son of Oasis Dream is the third foal of a Yorkshire Oaks winner/St Leger runner-up who was a full sister to 10f 3yo winner/Chester Vase runner-up Arabian Gulf and 12f 3yo winner/Queen’s Vase third Total Command and a half sister to 7f-1m winner (including twice on the AW) Dream Win (by Oasis Dream) out of 1000 Guineas winner Wince, herself a half sister to smart dual purpose performer Ulundi. He failed to make it to the track for Khalid Abdulla (when known as Quick To Learn) and was picked up by current connections for 23,000gns at the Horses In Training sales last autumn, but he makes clear appeal on pedigree and debuts in what looks a winnable race, so it wouldn’t be a massive surprise to see him come good at the first time of asking.