Ian Ogg picks out five horses that caught his eye over the weekend and provides the latest update from the NH Notebook.
Petit Mouchoir (r) could be set for an exciting season over fences
Having pulled up in the Grand National and on his reappearance at Chepstow, Philip Hobbs opted to fit his nine-year-old with blinkers and put him back over hurdles at Aintree (click on 'Aintree' to watch the video replay) on Saturday and was rewarded with an encouraging display. He raced rather freely in the headgear and that told in the closing stages as he was headed running to the last but he still finished third with the field well strung out behind. He's now qualified for the Pertemps final at Cheltenham and that race has been used as a springboard to the National in the past and he could easily ply his trade over timber until then if that race is again the target. It was only Kruzhlinin's seventh start over the smaller obstacles and from a mark that was 8lbs lower than his chase rating so there's no doubt that he has the scope to enjoy more success in this sphere and the handicapper was even kind enough to lower his mark by 2lbs. However if connections opt to go back over fences, he has proved his well being ahead of his next assignment.
This relatively lightly raced eight-year-old won twice in his first season over fences and should be capable of adding to his tally judged by his promising second at Aintree on Saturday. He struggled in two handicaps after Christmas last season but proved that he has scope to make his mark in this sphere when chasing home the talented Thomas Brown. The race rather fell apart behind them and the winner hasn't always gone on from his reappearance in the past but he is a useful performer on his day and On Tour was only a length adrift at the line. Trainer Evan Williams, looks to have just turned the corner with his runners having sent out a winner on Sunday (his first since September) and he has always held On Tour in reasonably high regard. The Croco Rouge gelding could have done without the inevitable 3lb rise but should still have the scope to win races from his revised mark with the best still to come.
Understandably, most eyes were on dual Grade One winner and Triumph Hurdle second Apple's Jade in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal on Friday but it was the Gigginstown House Stud second string that took the eye. Petit Mouchoir was a 40/1 chance when running Buveur d'Air close in a Grade One at Aintree but proved that run was no fluke when again going close at the same level at Punchestown. He looked to be travelling like the winner on his seasonal reappearance and debut for Henry de Bromhead in this Grade Two but made a complete Horlicks of the final two flights and, as a result, could only finish third. He has already schooled over fences – reportedly jumping well – and is likely to make his debut later this month and he could be a really exciting prospect if allowed to bowl along in front.
This Wincanton bumper winner shaped with eminent promise on his hurdling debut at Aintree despite appearing to blow up running to the last. He did appear to get something of a second wind after that obstacle, rallying a little to throw down another challenge but there seems little doubt to my mind that the run will bring him on a good deal. There is always the possibility that connections are already working backwards from the EBF Final at Sandown in March where his handicap mark will be relevant but there are certainly races to be won with him before then and he looks a pretty useful prospect.
There is always a question mark as to how last season's juveniles will fare but Zubayr made a pretty encouraging start to his 'five-year-old season' despite falling at the last in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton. It appeared to me as though Sceau Royal had his measure at that stage but there is no disgrace in that as suggested by the handicapper's decision to raise his mark by 1lb. He flopped in the Triumph Hurdle but bounce back from that to run well at Auteuil in May and Paul Nicholls has already suggested that further trips to the continent are on the agenda but he has also handed Zubayr an entry for Haydock in a couple of weeks' time so British racegoers should still see a fair bit of the Authorized gelding this season and he looks capable of enjoying further success.
Just the one runner from the Notebook horses since the last update and Azzerti (9/4) didn't exactly cover himself in glory. However, he did face a stiff task against the odds-on favourite Khezerabad at Sandown and there are reasons for believing that he may yet be able to prove himself better than the bare form of this race.
At Fontwell, he had been given an exaggerated hold-up ride in a 10-strong field and those tactics helped him to settle better than had previously been the case. In a four-runner affair at the Esher track, Wayne Hutchinson was always going to struggle to get the same cover and the four-year-old reverted to racing too keenly and this impacted on his finishing effort.
Connections always have the option of trying him in a hood but the return to racing in a larger field should also help and although this Voix du Nord gelding is obviously not straightforwards, he does have ability and it's too soon to be writing him off.
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