The horse racing focus on the first weekend of May was firmly on flat racing, with the Guineas taking place at Newmarket and the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, but those tuning in for the National Hunt action at Towcester on Sunday will have witnessed a promising debut in the concluding bumper.
The winner, Shaughnessy, took it nicely, but it was second-placed Ask Dillon who went into the notebook, racing wide and travelling strongly under a patient ride before flattening out a bit late on. He still showed enough to win a similar event but his breeding points to him being a jumper, probably at distances beyond two miles.
If you joined the action late on in the bumper Breaking Waves won at Huntingdon on his only start you might be forgiven for thinking that the leaders had gone too fast and that he merely picked up the pieces. Not a bit of it.
Things had warmed up only 4f out, which is the point at which Breaking Waves got badly hampered. He did well to stay on his feet, let alone win, and his effort had the hallmarks of a useful performer. He is bred to be at least that over hurdles (Yeats half-brother to smart OK Corral, from family of Tidal Bay) but would be interesting in another bumper before then.
There can be few better prospects for hurdling in 2018/2019 from the bumper division than Brewin’upastorm, whose absence since a fourth to top prospect Acey Milan at Newbury in February probably reflects a desire not to do too much too soon with the good-looking five-year-old.
Before that, he beat next-time Aintree winner Portrush Ted handsomely at Hereford on his debut, and he might have been a major contender for a championship event himself had connections pressed on. The patience should be rewarded over both hurdles and fences, judged on breeding, with Brewin’upastorm already a point winner himself.
It is ten bob to a penny that there were some useful hurdling prospects in the Mares’ Bumper on the opening day of the Grand National Meeting at Aintree in April, perhaps none more so than Meep Meep, who shaped like the stayer her breeding suggests she should be in finishing a never-nearer fourth to Getaway Katie Mai.
Before that, the daughter of Flemensfirth was a convincing winner at Chepstow, but what she did in bumpers should be the proverbial “bonus” compared to what she goes on to do over timber.
It was a pretty good season for bumper horses in 2017/2018 but most of the very best ones were trained by Willie Mullins. Second home among the Brits in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham – and eighth overall – was the highly likeable Mercy Mercy Me, who looks a tasty prospect for jumps.
The son of Shirocco had posted a smart time when winning on his debut at Sandown and can be forgiven a defeat at Aintree on his final start, in which he stumbled. He has physical scope and hurdles could easily be the making of him.
If you stop the video of the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham 4f from home, no horse is going better than Seddon, who was moving up to the front rank on the bridle. Things went a bit pear-shaped from there, as others found plenty and Seddon little, fading into twelfth come the line.
But the abiding impression was that he was a gelding with a big engine. Going widest of all had not helped him, and neither had racing a bit freely. He had shown speed in abundance when winning at Musselburgh on his only previous start and will presumably start over hurdles around the minimum trip.
A one-paced third in a bumper at Fontwell on an only start is not automatically a harbinger of much better things, but there are reasons to view Shut The Box’s such record more favourably than most.
Firstly, that race was run in a good time; then, the runner-up has won in good style since. Lastly, Shut The Box’s breeding – he is by Doyen and from a decent staying jumps family – suggests 13.7f on a turning track will have been anything but his cup of tea. He can probably win an ordinary bumper, but his future lies over obstacles.
You would not expect a big, gangly, son of Flemensfirth and a 19f hurdle winner to excel around the turns of Fakenham in a two-mile bumper, but Smackwater Jack very nearly won under such circumstances on his only racecourse appearance to date, in April.
As it was, he was off the bridle a long way out before staying on to be beaten on the nod by the fairly useful and more experienced Before Midnight. He should have learnt a heap from the experience in a race which is already working out quite well. He can win a bumper before making the grade over obstacles.
Sussex Ranger put up one of the time performances of last season by a juvenile hurdler when storming to success in a race at Sandown in December. Defeats followed behind We Have A Dream at Chepstow, where too little use was made of his stamina, and in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
But he appeals as the type to come good in a well-run handicap or two when the mud is flying, and there should be plenty of those to aim at. A stayer on the flat, he will get beyond two miles over hurdles.
Three wins in two months last winter/early-spring means The Bay Birch is not exactly an unknown, but there is reason to believe she will thrive again this time round.
Those successes came at Towcester (two) and Exeter, courses with notably stiff finishes, and on soft/heavy ground, but she also ran well on good at Cheltenham and won over hurdles on good at Uttoxeter. She has the profile of a steady improver who should be contesting useful races this season, and her versatility in terms of run style counts in her favour also.
It is debatable whether a former Grade 1 Novice Hurdle winner counts as “dark”, but The Worlds End is perhaps a forgotten horse having failed to place in all five starts since.
Each of those came on unsuitably soft ground and yet The Worlds End showed more than a glimmer of retaining all his smart ability. He could have a shout in top staying hurdle company with better fortune, but the obvious thing to do is to put him over fences, in which sphere he has the scope to do.
Flat-race form does not always transfer to jumps, but, all other things being equal, it is a definite advantage to know that a horse you are backing has raw ability in excess of its achievements in the winter game.
West Drive is a BHA-rated 86 horse on the level but would be starting off on a modest mark over hurdles judged on his one run and one win (at Fontwell) in that sphere to date. He looks the type to work his way up the ranks and make a useful handicapper by season’s end, his proven stamina when with Roger Varian suggesting he will stay at least 20f.
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