IVAR (Donald McCain)
A 5-year-old son of Diamond Green, he arrives in the UK with a pair of placed efforts at Pau on his CV in his brief career. He made his debut in a 4-year-old hurdle over 3500 metres (2-miles and an extended furlong) last December, where he certainly outran his 90/1 SP in the International markets, finishing a length second to Hupeca de Thaix. The final circuit time was the slowest of the regular races on the card and it developed into a sprint from the 2nd last, so having got to the front and jumped the last with a lead, his connections may have been slightly disappointed to finish 2nd. I should add that the ground was deep that day, with Sleet falling at times and a reading of 4,7 on the penetrometer, it was a tough introduction, but he seemed to handle it well. The form of that race is open to question, the winner is now rated 56k (112) and hasn’t won since and the 4th placed Krokmou, who is now with Philip Hobbs, didn’t do too much for the form when he was the last to finish on his UK debut at Warwick last week. However, the 3rd placed Woot City has developed into a solid Flat performer this year, with a rating equivalent to 76 on the level. This was a solid debut and I have him running to a mark in the region of 106 at this stage.
Fast forward 3 weeks and we come to his 2nd start in another 4-year-old hurdle over the same course and distance on Christmas Eve. The ground was officially Very Soft (4,1), but it was still testing and having made the running, he jumped the 2nd last in front before being picked off by the ready winner Scatar in the closing stages. He held on for 2nd, beating a pair horses who are now rated around 110, whilst the 5th placed Flanker, has won twice in 2022 to boost the form. The winner carried a penalty to win on his next start and has reached a rating of 58.5k (117). Given that the final circuit time was a very respectable 2:25.20, 5s below the course average for the season, I think that it is fair to say that he improved on his 2nd start and probably ran to a level between 110-112.
There isn’t too much to go on in his pedigree, though both his dam and grand-dam were winners over obstacles. He was bought by the Owners Group and will be trained by Donald McCain, who has an excellent record at Bangor, so there is a positive to be found there for his debut on Wednesday. It is interesting to see that he features highly on both the Timeform and Racing Post Ratings ahead of this debut and whilst this is a relatively big field for a novice hurdle, it isn’t the deepest contest and he may not need to have found too much more improvement to feature. The yard had a well backed French winner at Sedgefield last week and with these connections it will always be important to watch the market, but a look through the form led me to believe he should be around 5/1 in this field. I’m not overly worried about the absence, as he has clearly been bought for a longer term campaign and the yard is more than capable of getting a horse fit. My concern, which will probably prevent me from backing him, is that he has had the run of the race twice and jumped the 2nd last in front on both occasions, without getting his head in front at the line. After just 2 starts, it isn’t a huge issue and I think he should at least be competitive in this kind of race, but I wouldn’t want to take a short price about him until I can be convinced he is a winner. It will be interesting to see what tactics Brian Hughes will employ, with a couple of possible pace angles in this field, he could take a lead if he wishes to. He will get a handicap mark after this run and that may give us a better guide as to his prospects for this season.
RAMO (Venetia Williams)
A son of Kapgarde out of a Balko mare, he has a proper French National hunt pedigree. His dam was a 7-race maiden, but she did place in a Grade 3 hurdle at Auteuil in 2014 and has already produced a winning half-brother by Montmartre, Djelo, who has also joined the Williams yard this year. There are several winners in the family, the dam reached a rating of 64k (128) and her 4 winning siblings reached ratings between 115-125.
He made his only start for the Boisbrunet yard when he finished 2nd in a 4-year-old hurdle at Strasbourg last November. The winner, Mixologist, hasn’t won since but he has been very highly tried and so he is perhaps better judged on the form of those in behind who made the frame on their next starts. There were only 2 Hurdles races on the card and although this was the quicker of the 2 furlong-to-furlong, it is hard to get a great handle on the form. If pushed, I would say that he ran to a mark around 108, but it would be an educated guess at best. If you look up the video replay, you will see that it was very foggy on the day and the underfoot conditions were reported as Very Soft (3,9), so the softening ground at Bangor shouldn’t be an issue. Having raced behind the pace, he was briefly outpaced as they turned in but kept on for his riders urgings to close all the way to the line. If I was being harsh, I would say that a more prominent ride may well have seen him make a winning start, but Edgar Labaisse is a very talented jockey with a good strike and he gave the horse a ride to give him an education on his debut which should stand him in good stead.
I don’t like the phrase “he will be doing his best work at the finish” because it is really an excuse for “he needs further”, but he probably will be on Wednesday. The yard have had relatively few runners in recent weeks as they wait for the soft ground, but 8 of their last 12 runners have finished in the first 3 and so I think we can be sure they are running to form and he should be fit enough to do himself justice. I like this horse and I think in time he is going to prove to be a decent recruit for the yard. Would I back him to make a winning debut for the yard? Well every horse has their price and when I looked at this race, I made him around 7/1 to do so, but I think he will need it to be truly run and it wouldn’t surprise me if he ran a solid race before going closer on a more testing track next time.
There are some nice prospects in this race, the Twiston-Davies pair warrant respect, as does the Dan Skelton trained Riskintheground, whilst Tom Symonds trained Kellahen was a Listed winner on the Flat who won 7 times for his previous connections and was thought good enough to run in the German derby in 2020. They all have merits and my knowledge of Novice hurdles is not strong enough to be overly confident about either French horse. As Ivar runs in the colours of the Owners Group, I will be watching the market as they do tend to back their own horses and that could be significant. In 18 months time, I think Ramo will be the higher rated of the 2, as he looks to have more scope to improve over further and probably over fences, but for now I think Ivar probably has more tactical speed and will probably finish in front of him on Wednesday unless the pace is very strong. I don’t like sitting on the fence (just read my Zarak The Brave piece that looks somewhat foolish after today if you want to see an opinion), but I might have to sit this race out. I think both horses will finish in the first 5, but I would worry about the tactics for both and so can’t recommend either as a bet unless the prices reach double figures.