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Some thoughts on the last few weeks.  

For National Hunt followers in Ireland the season proper begins with the Gowran Park meeting at the beginning of October which features the Grade 2 PWC Chase. It probably owes it's prominence to Sizing Europe who won it four times in a reow (2011-2014). Ballycasey won it from a poor field last year but was soundly beaten this year by A Toi Phil who accouted for another Gigginstown runner Balko Des Flos with Shaneshill a long way behind in fourth. Balko Des Flos was travelling well when clouting the third last and immediately came under pressure.  It was a decent performance from the winner who had to give the runner up 5lb despite being rated 7lb inferior by the handicapper. The handicapper has dropped Ballycasey just 1lb to 157 while Shaneshill and Balko Des Flos remain on 158. However A Toi Phil got a hike of 8lb to 159. It remains to be seen if Gordon Elliott can find more improvement to make him competitive in Grade 1 Chases.

A few days later Death Duty made his seasonal and Chasing debut at Tipperary for the Gigginstown/ Russell team. Going off the 1/5fav he made a couple of minor jumping errors and loked to have the race at his mercy when he eased down with Russell content to pop the last where Ruby Walsh conjured a run out of Cap D'Aubois. Death Duty mad a mistake but recovered with a remarkable turn of foot to win snugly in the end. It was a slow run race but the winner should definitely improve. He is entered at Punchestown this Thursday and will be entered for the Drinmore at Fairyhouse.

Four Days later at Fairyhouse another Gigginstown horse, Tombstone, made his Chasing debut. It looked a match between him and Bamako Moriviere and so it turned out. The latter had the benefit of four previous starts over fences albeit he had fallen in two, the first on his debut at Kilbeggan and then on his fourth start with the race at his mercy at Listowel. In between these falls he'd been placed twice. On beautiful ground he set out to make his fitness tell and despite having a bit of a look at the first two he led all the way jumping well and as Willie Mullins pointed out jumping fences bigger than he'd met around the country tracks he'd raced on previously. Tombstone was settled in around fifth by Davy Russell. He seems to jump low but quick at his fences and not having had a run since the end of April he should improve for that. He did carry his head a bit to the left between the last two fences and maybe stuck it in the air again on the run to the line. Both were rated 148 over hurdles and the handicapper has decided not to give the winner a rating over fences yet despite that being his fifth start over fences ( normally you would expect a rating after three runs). The winner is probably not up to Grade 1 class but might go in again before some others get going. Tombstone is a talented horse but according to Elliott is a hard horse to train and has had his share of problems. I'd like to see him knuckle down in a dogfight before passing any judgement.

Another Gigginstown/Elliott runner on the card was the mare Shattered Love who went of the 1/6fav in the Mares Beginners Chase and won as she liked. She looks to have the size and scope to do well over fences and if kept to her own sex could mop up a few Graded races

Elliott also gave the exciting Fayonagh her Hurdles debut . This was her first run since winning at Punchestown back in April but she sill went off at 2/13fav and was eased clear after the last to win comfortably having led from after the second hurdle. It looks like she'll appear next at Down Royal in a Grade 3 Mares Novice Hurdle . She looks pretty exciting.

In England the season proper kicks in with The Chepstow meeting mid-October. Finian's Oscar got his Chase career off to a good start although he was helped by the slip up on the flat of his only serious opponent Alcala. His jumping wasn't great early doors butt Brian Cooper allowed him to find his feet  and he ran out a very easy winner. He could re-appear quickly at Cheltenham at the end of the month. 

I think we saw a very exciting horse in the Juvenile Hurdle. French import Gumball had won on his seasonal debut at Stratford by 31l having made all but faced a stronger field here with the Paul Nicholls filly Mayala, who had plenty of experience in France having won two from three over hurdles, attracting plenty of support. Gumball again made all and while his jumping left a lot to be desired at times he stayed on strongly from the last. There should be further improvement from him and he is now in to 16/1 for the Triumph Hurdle.

Poetic Rhythm won the Grade 2 Novices Hurdle but the horse to take out of the race for me was Vision Des Flos who finished third. This was his first start over hurdles and only his second racecourse start having won the Land Rover Bumper at Punchestown in April after which he was bough for €270,000. He pulled hard early on here and mad a couple of mistakes but was still there between the last two but couldn't get in a blow at the first two who finished about 4l ahead of him. Still only a 4yo he was up against older and more experienced horse and I think Vision Des Flos can only improve a take a big hand in some of the top novice hurdles this winter.

Until the next time, Keep Kicking.

Whiteflagisraised is pleased that Joe Mc Nally is happy for us to republish his excellent articles covering the world of Steeplechasing. Joe has worked in the racing and betting industry most of his life, latterly as marketing manager for Aintree Racecourse then commercial director on the board of Tote Bookmakers. He has been writing part-time for thirty years - freelance articles and fiction, seven published racing novels co-written with his friend, ex-top steeplechase jock, Richard Pitman.
Joe's knowledge, experience and enthusiasm provides so much to lovers of National Hunt racing.

Joe's own Blog can be viewed @