One of the attractions of being a Jumps racing fan is the fact that you can follow a horse for season after season, watching them grow and develop as they mature. Now to be fair, we do also get this type of horse on the Flat, but the fact that many of the Flat stars are sent to the breeding sheds when they have past their peak means that it doesn’t quite have the same appeal. We all have our favourites, horses who catch our hearts and who we are more willing to forgive than others. Sometimes these horses can be referred to as “cliff horses”, but that focuses too much on the punting side of the sport and there is so much more to it than that. This is about a horse that we feel an emotional attachment to, a horse that we look forwards to watching and a horse that we can all share the highs and lows of jumps racing with.
So, when going through the declarations for Fridays season opener at Cheltenham, I was pleased to come across one of my favourites; Garo de Juilley. Owned by Geoff Thompson, he has been a fantastic servant to his connections, winning big races on both sides of the English Channel in his career. He has come a long way since he made his debut as a 2-year-old at Strasbourg in late 2014 and this Friday will be his 51st racecourse start. He has been a star for the Leech team and although he may not quite be at the same level he was when winning the Grade 3 Silver Trophy at Chepstow in 2018, he has generally held his form well and this is much more than just a passing fancy of an old warrior.
Having a tracker is a dangerous thing. For a start it can make for lazy punting as “tracked horses” are often followed blind without taking the proper time to study the form and the opposition. That being said, Garo de Juilley is in mine. He made his return from a 188-day absence when he finished 5th in a Class 1 Conditions hurdle at Nantes in mid-September. On the bare figures it will say that he was beaten by 19-lengths, but he made the running in a race that produced a very good time figure and I felt that the market would probably miss that fact. The ground was on the better side of good on the day, which does need to be taken into account, but the final circuit time of 2:15.72 was the 2nd fastest time of any hurdles race run at Nantes in the last 12 months (a sample size of 31 races). Given that he did most of the work in front and the fact this was his first run since March, I thought that gave the form an interesting look and it is something that the markets are likely to miss when the form book says he was beaten by 19-lengths.
This is definitely his time of year. He has 8 victories on his CV and 6 of those have come in the autumn. Although he hasn’t managed to get his head in front since winning a Listed race at Pau in February 2021, after which he ran a perfectly respectable race in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival, he has been running well. His 3rd placed finish in a Quinte handicap hurdle at Auteuil last September reads very well and he has always mixed French and British racing without any real issues. A mark of 122 would leave him 12lbs below his last winning mark in the UK, which came in that Silver Trophy race at Chepstow and the additional 7lbs that Roisin Leech can claim will do him no harm.
I should at this point that I don’t get the time to study all of the racing in the UK these days, so there will be much better judges than myself who can give you an idea of his opposition this Friday at Cheltenham. There aren’t too many runners who are able to mix their form in France and the UK and so for that reason, Garo De Juilley fits into a small, but select band. Versatile on most ground, he should handle the early season conditions and although there is always a risk that he could prove vulnerable to younger legs, he showed more than enough at Nantes to suggest he retains most of his ability and all of his enthusiasm for the game.
The Leech team have had a lot of success in France, demonstrating what can be achieved with a sound knowledge of the racing program and placing their horses extremely well. Sophie and Christian were good enough to give me an update on him before he heads to Cheltenham “He was very poor earlier on in the year but certainly showed more spark at Nantes. He probably needed it and we didn’t really want to make it. He’s one of the best we’ve ever had and has been great for his owner winning £100k having cost just £8k. Roisin rides him all the time at home and the 7Ib means he’ll carry a feather weight. We’d be very hopeful he’ll be extremely competitive, the slight doubt would be the finish is probably stiffer than he ideally he wants. He probably ran to around 140 when finishing 3rd in the Quinté at Auteuil last September, a repeat of that would see him very hard to beat”
Win or lose, he has been a star for his connections and although Fridays race looks competitive, this old warrior is weighted to go close and can be relied on to give his all.