French Recruits - Zarak the Brave
It’s still August and it’s very early. Give it a month and there will be 100 or more “horses to follow” lists for the Jumps to read. I’m going first with these, in part because I’ve spent a lot of time on flights in recent weeks and it has given me something to do, but also because I don’t want these names to be lost in the sea of information that will appear before the new Jumps season kicks in to full flow in October. Most of the usual names will be banded about, I’m sure there will even be the odd “shrewd” with Constitution Hill and Facile Vega as “Dark horses” to watch out for, but the key feature will be horses to get behind. Well handicapped, unexposed, top class, better chasers than hurdlers, etc,etc. So today I thought I would try something different, as this French recruit is a horse that I intend to lay and take on at every opportunity.
Yes, I am well aware that this could backfire and if he goes on to win a Grade 1 then this probably won’t read very well, but I can’t help but back some of my own opinions and I feel like I have the measure of this lad. Trained by Willie Mullins, as so many in this series are, he is likely to be well found in the markets when he makes his debut for the Closutton team and that means that he will be a much shorter price than he probably ought to be. The Mullins team have forgotten more about Racing than I will ever learn and I am not trying to suggest that I have an edge over them in anyway, their recruitment in France in recent seasons has been second to none, but they aren’t all superstars so there can be an angle to take them on from time to time.
ZARAK THE BRAVE (Willie Mullins)
He’s a good horse. Despite what I wrote above, he is a good horse and I don’t want this piece to be viewed as a negative swipe at him. A son of Zarak (as his name suggests), he is a recruit from the Flat who won 1 of his 5 starts for the Wattel team when he ran in the Bryant silks. He achieved a rating of 40 during his time in France (equivalent to 88) and had shown a fair amount of ability before being sold. Both his dam and half-sister won races over obstacles and so it was perhaps not surprising to see him sold for a hurdling career once it became clear that he was unlikely to reach the highest levels on the Flat. His Sire, Zarak, is on the upgrade as a stallion, though he has had only a couple of runners over obstacles so far, his progeny are generally professional and honest, which should mean that he will have some successes over jumps once he has more runners in that sphere.
His new connections were suitably impressed, as they went to €200,000 at the Grand Steeple Sale in May. Bought by Anthony Bromley, he told Jour de Galop “I bought it for loyal customers and he will go to Willie Mullins. David Powell showed me the horse when he was 2 years old in Deauville and I always had an eye on him. At the time of the online sale, which was cancelled, he had not yet shown what he was capable of and so today we paid a little more than before. He has done well in condition races and once gelded, he will make a very good hurdler. He could even run on the flat. Willie Mullins knows how to deal with this kind of horse!”
Comparisons are going to made with Vauban, given the profile that he has, but they are 2 very different horses. Juvenile hurdling is about temperament, which Zarak the Brave has in abundance, but that is where the comparison should stop. Vauban won an evenly run Triumph hurdle on good ground, where 4 or 5 were in line at the final flight and his turn of foot and raw ability saw him win the sprint for home. Zarak the Brave does not possess that same turn of foot. He is strong and genuine, but he has been beaten on 4 of his 5 starts and in the last 2, in conditions races at Chantilly and Angers, both run over 12-furlongs, he has been outpaced before staying on. The winners of those races have not set the world alight since, but they seemed to expose a flaw in Zarak the Brave, his limited speed. He broke his maiden tag at Le Croise-Laroche, in a race run to suit where he was able to dominate from the front. No one has asked for my opinion and they probably won’t, but as a 3-year-old, I would prefer to see him running on the flat. Aim him at some staying trips and bide my time before going over obstacles. In a Juvenile hurdle over the minimum trip, especially on decent ground, I think he will travel nicely but will always prove vulnerable to a horse with a genuine turn of foot.
He is one of the most talked about purchases made this summer, with a big price tag and he is probably the horse that I have been asked about more than any other. In time this article may prove very foolish, he may find any amount of improvement for the switch to Willie Mullins, but Racing is a game of opinions and this is mine. In 2 or 3 years time, he could be a Pertemps horse, or a Cesarewitch winner, but if he goes over hurdles this season over 2-miles, I’ll be queueing up to take him on.