3 MAY 2008, Page 54

Twelve to follow

Robin Oakley

Experiments don’t always come off. Like the train company trying out new safety glass for drivers’ cabins. It adapted technology from an aviation manufacturer which had developed new cockpit protection against bird strikes. But when the bird projectiles were launched the mocked-up train windows shattered and the dummy driver was decapitated. In dismay, it messaged the results to the aviation specialists. Only to receive in reply the terse message: ‘Try defrosting the chickens first.’ So no experiments, then, in selecting this year’s Twelve to Follow for the Flat. It is the usual mix of racecourse observation, the gleam in a few trainers’ eyes, and a long flight with the invaluable Timeform’s Racehorses of 2007 (available from Portway Press, 25 Timeform House, Northgate, Halifax, W. Yorkshire HX1 1XF Tel: 01422 330540; www.timeform.com) in my lap.

First, though, the accounts for the jumping season which ended last Saturday at Sandown with Paul Nicholls passing the 150-winners and £4-million prize-money marks, Ruby Walsh notching over 200 winners in England and Ireland and Philip Hobbs’s little Monkerhostin taking the last big race of the season, the Bet365 Gold Cup. Some of us had thought that the 11-year-old had lost a little of his zip. Instead, in his 49th race in Britain, he scored the biggest of his ten victories, at 25–1.

So far has the jumping game come that trainer’s wife Sarah Hobbs, a real gleam in her eye as she cheerfully slapped jockey Richard Johnson’s shoulder on the winner’s rostrum, described their season as an ‘awful one’ until the final day. Really? The yard has sent out 109 winners, amassing first-prize money of £1.4 million. But they had missed out in the prestige contests and everybody wants those big-race winners.

Me, too. Our Twelve to Follow included Osana, second to Katchit in the Champion Hurdle, and a long-range Grand National recommendation Slim Pickings (at that time 25–1), who finished fourth to give a decent each-way return. In all, the selections ran 34 times, scoring eight victories and six seconds. Our profit to a £10 level stake was £30, a better return than any sub-prime lending shark in the City would have given you.

Paul Nicholls’s Oslot provided three victories, Leslingtaylor beat the hotshot Tidal Bay to win at 5–1, though he later proved unsuited to Cheltenham, and other winners included Mobaasher, Muirhead, Osana and Nodform’s Paula. Those last two should both be effective over fences next year.

On the Flat the phenomenon so far has been the outstanding form of John Gosden’s horses. So, just to be perverse, I will go first of all for one of his which got beaten. Raven’s Pass went down a short head to Henry Cecil’s Twice Over in the Craven, but looked breathtakingly good in the Solario last year and his trainer had left plenty to work on.

Marcus Tregoning’s Il Warrd was impressive first time out at Kempton and his canny trainer reckoned him the best in the yard as a two-year-old despite a disappointment behind Rio de la Plata last year.

Anything John Oxx enters for the Oaks is worth checking out and the Peintre Celebre filly Katiyra looked good when winning over 7f as a two-year-old on soft ground at Leopardstown.

We always need a decent sprinter or two in the list and Thurloe Thoroughbreds could have a cracker in Corrybrough. Henry Candy, who trains him, handled the sire Kyllachy, who did our Twelve a good turn when selected a few years ago, and Timeform sees this strong chestnut as one to follow. I missed his Sandown seasonal debut but by all accounts he was impressive.

Another nippy performer is the Irish filly That’s Hot, who finished a close-up fourth in the Stewards Cup last year at very rewarding odds. Trainer Ger Lyons is showing a good strike rate on his forays across the Irish Channel and she should do well in six-furlong races.

Every list ought to include something from Coolmore and Godolphin. For Aidan O’Brien’s candidate I go for Psalm. Timeform does not mince words about Seamus Heffernan’s more than tender riding of Psalm when she finished second to stable companion Kitty Matcham in a Naas maiden, suggesting the horse was not given a full opportunity to win. The Halifax gurus reckon the Sadler’s Wells filly is open to considerable improvement.

From Godolphin’s I like the five-yearold Schiaparelli, a consistently successful German stayer for Peter Schiergen who was purchased by Sheikh Mohammed after winning Italy’s Gran Premio del Jockey Club, just like Electrocutionist in 2006. His Milan victory in October was his third Group One in a row and he should be a force in the big mile-and-a-half races.

From last year’s list I retain Major Cadeaux. Beautifully and ballsily held up and unleashed at the right moment by Richard Hughes at Sandown on Saturday, the chestnut proved that he can get a mile in top company. The Hannons love this big fellow and I am sure he has a top prize in him. At a slightly lesser level, Michael Bell’s Honky Tonk Sally looks capable, too, of winning races over 7f to a mile.

Barry Hills’s Prime Defender found it tough as a three-year-old but his trainer is hoping for a good season from a horse who could prove a successor to the stable’s Red Clubs, now gone to stud.

Another trainer with robust opinions and an astonishing record of consistency is Middleham’s Mark Johnston. I complete our list of hopefuls with two of his who might well form part of the customary Johnston raid on Glorious Goodwood. Timeform notes how Upper Class won a maiden at Ripon in smooth style last June despite looking green, and Endless Luck, another three-year-old, quickened away nicely at Musselburgh when opening his account last November. Being by Giant’s Causeway he will hopefully prove a typical Johnston battler, too.