Andy Gibson's Eyecatchers: New Year's Day performances offer interesting form pointers

Horse racing analyst Andy Gibson takes a look back at Cheltenham's New Year's Day card to offer his insights into the future prospects of a few of the runners to have caught his expert eye.

There is usually more upside to noting an interesting performance when you believe the majority are more likely to have missed it. 

Andy's Eyecatchers Service considers horses that may go under the radar for many, some obvious ones, and a few interesting performances from horses I may be keen to oppose on another day.

Spotting winning and losing efforts that may be underestimated or overestimated in the future can be key.

Andy's Eyecatchers Service will be available to trial on Tipstrr from January 14 until the end of the month. Click here to learn more

Two non-stayers in the New Year's Day Handicap Chase?

After moving into a challenging position in between the final two fences, Il Ridoto dropped away very quickly in the style of a horse that did not see out the trip, which came as no surprise, as he had looked a non-stayer over a similar trip in November.

He also failed to last home over two miles in the 2022 Grand Annual, so it is possible that he is simply not the hardiest of finishers, irrespective of the distance.

To some extent, this possibility is supported by the nature of his sole victory for Paul Nicholls at Newbury in late November 2021, when the leaders went too fast and thus offered him the easiest of targets.

It appears more likely that he failed to last home in the Grand Annual due to the appalling conditions on that day.

Either way, he looks destined to line up in the 2023 renewal of that contest, and will be one to consider assuming the conditions will be less severe than they were in 2022.

Shakem Up'Arry finished one place behind the Ditcheat horse in Cheltenham's New Year's Day Handicap Chase, and along with Il Ridoto, I suspect that he simply failed to see out this intermediate trip.

He won very well over a slightly shorter distance last time out at Exeter, and I would guess we will see him compete over shy of two and a half miles the next time we see him.

I would certainly want to see Shakem Up'Arry contesting a chase over a shorter trip at this level if competing on a soft surface on a course with as tough a finish as the one provided at Cheltenham.

Small horse, big fences?

In December I mentioned I thought there could be more to come from Frero Banbou, and hoped to see him compete next at Lingfield in late January, so I was a little surprised to see him take his place in the line-up at Sandown last week.

Although he continues to perform well, his record of having won only once in his latest 11 starts must be considered. He is not the biggest of horses and often manages to make big fences look bigger still, and that was certainly the case at Sandown, as he was slow and deliberate and spent too much time in the air at a few of his fences.

This trait often leads to him getting left behind before staying on when it is all over, and given his size, the choice of tracks might have played a part in his poor win-to-run ratio. 

He has competed at Sandown, Ascot, Aintree, Cheltenham and Lingfield in his latest few outings, and it may be no coincidence that his one success came at the track most would see as providing the easiest fences of that group.

We have just two weeks until the Lingfield race he won a year ago, so it will be interesting to see if he lines up again to defend his crown in 2023.

A fascinating winner of the Dipper

The Real Whacker at Cheltenham

In the Dipper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham on New Year's Day, The Real Whacker put up a significantly better-looking display compared with his chasing debut success over half-a-mile further in November.

He looked a real natural over his fences, which is not something that could be said wholeheartedly about any of his four rivals. I am not sure about the quality of this actual form, but given the name of his connections, it is possible that the market response to this winning effort will be more negative than any of my thoughts on his all-the-way victory.

His trainer mentioned the Gold Cup as a possibility for him and he is currently entered as a 50/1 shot for that race, but presumably common sense will prevail, and we will see him kept to novice company next time out.

Even if the actual form might not be of the highest quality, his time comparisons with Stolen Silver add plenty to the nature of his success.

When comparing the pair from their first fences, after trailing the 150-rated handicapper by more than two seconds with a circuit to go, this novice finished more than five seconds clear of that experienced handicapper at the winning post.

The novice winner enjoyed an untroubled lead, whereas Stolen Silver faced a lot of competition at the front end and thus endured a much tougher trip.

If The Real Whacker appears likely to enjoy a similarly untroubled lead the next time we see him, he could surprise again at a price, particularly if competing against highly-touted rivals with better-known connections.

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