Donn McClean with five Irish horses to follow this National Hunt season

Rachael Blackmore celebrates on A Plus Tard
Rachael Blackmore celebrates on A Plus Tard

With the National Hunt season getting into full flow, Donn McClean has five Irish-trained horses who might be worth following.

A Plus Tard (Trainer: Henry de Bromhead)

A Plus Tard could be a little bit of a forgotten horse, at least for now, given that he was well beaten the last time we saw him, when he could finish only third behind Delta Work and Discorama in the Grade 1 Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown in April.

On his previous run, however, he had spread-eagled his rivals in the Close Brothers Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. He and Rachael Blackmore moved easily into the lead as they raced around the home turn, and they came clear over the final fence and up the run-in to win by 16 lengths.

The Close Brothers Chase is a handicap, of course, a novices’ handicap, and A Plus Tard was racing off a mark of 144, but you rarely see a Cheltenham Festival handicap won by a horse who has as much in hand as the Cheveley Park horse appeared to have that day.

Trainer Henry de Bromhead has suggested that the Kapgarde gelding may be better going left-handed than going right-handed, and his chase form backs up that hypothesis. He has been beaten in all three of his chases at right-handed tracks, while at Naas last December, in his first and only other chase at a left-handed track besides the Close Brother Chase, he was impressive in beating subsequent Arkle Trophy winner Duc Des Genievres by over three lengths.

A Plus Tard has a rating of 160 already, but he is only five years old and he has raced just five times over fences, so he has potential to progress again this term as a second-season chaser.

A Plus Tard is a cut above his Cheltenham rivals
A Plus Tard is a cut above his Cheltenham rivals

Soviet Pimpernel (Peter Fahey)

Soviet Pimpernel didn’t win in two attempts in bumpers last season, but he ran well in defeat in both races, and the form of both worked out well subsequently. On his debut this season, the Elusive Pimpernel gelding was impressive in winning a bumper at Listowel, and he followed up by easily landing his maiden hurdle at Gowran Park.

He went to Cheltenham last weekend and, on ground that might have been softer than ideal for him, he ran a big race to finish second to the prolific Quel Destin, beaten just three parts of a length, with Torpillo a half a length back in third. He was receiving weight from those two rivals, but they are both talented and experienced four-year-olds, and both are rated in the high 140s. It was a fine performance by Soviet Pimpernel to split that pair on just his second run over hurdles.

A full-brother to Elusive Belle, Peter Fahey’s horse should be able to progress again now. He proved on Saturday that he can operate on heavy ground, but it may be that he will still be better on better ground, and it will be interesting to monitor his progress.

Sams Profile (Mouse Morris)

Winner of his only point-to-point, and third in his only bumper, Sams Profile progressed nicely last season as a novice hurdler.

Mouse Morris’ horse got off the mark in a maiden hurdle at Cork last November on his hurdling bow, staying on well to beat the talented Eclair De Beaufeu, with the pair of them finishing clear of their rivals. He kept on well to finish second to Derrinross on his next run on a Grade 3 novices’ hurdle back at Cork, run over three miles on heavy ground, but he proved that he had pace too when he chased Battleoverdoyen home in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas Hurdle in January.

He did well to get as close to that talented rival as he did that day, given that he didn’t have an awful lot of luck in-running. He made a significant mistake at the fourth last flight, just as the pace was increasing, and he was crowded out of it a bit at the top of the home straight, sp there was a lot to like about the manner in which he stayed on all the way to the line after that.

The Black Sam Bellamy gelding didn’t run badly in the Ballymore Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March to finish fifth behind City Island, and he did even better in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in April, when he was only just beaten by Mersey Hurdle winner Reserve Tank, with Dawn Run Mares’ Novice Hurdle winner Eglantine Du Seuil back in third and a below-par City Island further back.

He is built for steeplechasing, and he will be an exciting staying chaser when he does start to tackle the larger obstacles, but he is only five and his trainer said earlier this month that he may remain over hurdles for another season. If he does, he could make up into a high-class staying hurdler.

Delta Work (Gordon Elliott)

When Delta Work danced in in the Grade 1 Champion Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival in April, he ruined quotes of 25/1 that were on offer about him for the 2020 Cheltenham Gold Cup after he finished third in the 2019 RSA Chase.

That Punchestown performance ensured that he would not be under the radar going into this season, and his Gold Cup odds have been halved in the interim, but he remains an exciting young staying chaser who could go higher still.

The Gigginstown House horse will have to progress this season if he is going to take his place among the top staying chasers, but he has the potential to do so. He won the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase and the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Chase last season, and he ran well in that RSA Chase, when he finished a close-up third behind Topofthegame and Santini in a race that didn’t pan out ideally for him. And he was seriously impressive at Punchestown. He travelled and jumped and won like a very good horse.

He is only six and he has raced just five times over fences, so he has the potential to improve as he goes through this season. Longish term, is legitimate to think of him as a Gold Cup prospect, and he does have Cheltenham Festival winning form. He stayed on strongly to land the Pertemps Final as a five-year-old in 2018.

It looks like his campaign is set to start on Saturday in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal where, with Clan Des Obeaux and Road To Respect and Snow Falcon and their ilk lying in wait, his credentials will be seriously tested. It will be very interesting to see how his season develops.

Delta Work cruises to an easy win
Delta Work cruises to an easy win

Saldier (Willie Mullins)

Saldier is not that far under the radar either, not since Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh both gave him positive mentions in early-season dispatches, but he is another who could improve significantly as the season develops.

The Soldier Hollow gelding progressed through the spring of 2018 as a juvenile hurdler, finishing fifth in the Triumph Hurdle and third in the Grade 2 juvenile hurdle at the Fairyhouse Irish Grand National meeting, before going to the Punchestown Festival and winning the Grade 1 Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle, when he had the Triumph Hurdle 1-2 Farclas and Mr Adjudicator behind him.

He was running a big race too in the Fishery Lane Hurdle at Naas on his debut last season, he was giving the subsequently sadly ill-fated Espoir D’Allen a real race when he came down at the final flight. He might have beaten the 2019 Champion Hurdler that day, you can argue that he was travelling better but, even if he had run him close, it would obviously have been a really good run.

Saldier hasn’t raced since then, but he has been the subject of positive bulletins this season so far and, still just a five-year-old who has run just five times over hurdles, he could progress sufficiently to allow him take his place among the top two-mile hurdlers this season.

Saldier on his way to victory at Punchestown
Saldier on his way to victory at Punchestown

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