It might have come as a surprise to some observers to see connections of the well beaten third Holywell so pleased with the first outing of the season of their charge, but there was no doubt that the Jonjo O’Neill trained stayer was in need of the outing in the listed Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase at Carlisle in early-November and will come on a significant amount ahead of his next intended run in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock Park on November 22, writes Elliot Slater.
O’Neill, who has a powerful stable these days housing many useful horses, has a strong hand in many of the top races, not just with Holywell, but also with the likes of potential Crabbie’s Grand National candidate Burton Port, (currently offered art odds of 61 to back on Betfair) who was expected to run a very big race at Aintree last April but came to grief early on at the second fence. He went on to very nearly win the big staying chase formerly known as the Whitbread Gold Cup later that month, and is reportedly to be targeted at a return trip to Aintree in the spring.
Holywell looks a horse to keep very much on the right side and could be a potential star chaser in 2015
Holywell though could well find himself dining at the very top table in the National Hunt sphere if his fine progress last term is anything to judge by. Current odds suggest that few people were particularly disappointed in his 16-length third behind Many Clouds at Carlisle, a race in which O‘Neill’s star shaped well until visibly tiring after the third last as lack of a previous outing took its toll.
Tony McCoy didn’t knock his mount around when it was clear his winning chance had gone, and the kid-glove treatment could well pay dividends if indeed he does head next to the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock, a contest that is often an early dress rehearsal for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and has also served as a stepping stone to Aintree for a number of smart stayers such as Long Run.
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Long Run, winner of the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup and 2012 King George VI Chase, may well make his seasonal reappearance at Haydock with the Grand National appearing to be his main target this season having failed to stay with younger horses with less miles on the clock as he continued last season to come down the ratings from his high of 182 three terms earlier.
Holywell, on the other hand, is a horse very much on the up and up. Last term, his first over fences, he overcame a modest start to his chasing career when he struggled to get his head in front in his first three outings, to gradually get the hang of things enough to take his chance at the Cheltenham Festival. The gelded son of Gold Well ran in the Grade 3 Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase and put up a great performance to beat 23 rivals, eventually seeing it out best up the finishing hill to beat Nicky Henderson’s very talented mare Ma Filleule by three quarters-of-a-length.
The runner-up immediately went on to frank the form by famously winning the Topham Trophy over the Grand National fences at Aintree a few weeks later, while Holywell himself also headed to the Merseyside track where he was set the task of competing in Grade 1 company over fences for the very first time. The race was the three-mile-one-furlong Mildmay Novices’ chase, and it heralded the arrival of the Gay Smith-owned gelding as a potential star of the future.
Up against the likes of RSA Chase winner O’Faolains Boy, the very useful Wonderful Charm, and Irish challenger Don Cossack, a Grade 1 winner at Fairyhouse earlier in the term, Holywell put up a tremendous performance. He raced prominently throughout and took over the leader before halfway. O’Faolains Boy and Wonderful Charm were already struggling as don Cossack emerged as the only real danger going to the second from home, but O’Neill’s charge found plenty going to the last and eventually forged away to win in great style by 10 lengths.
That victory confirmed what connections had suspected, that Holywell had improved in leaps and bounds through the spring and is now very much a contender for top honours at Cheltenham in March. His run at Carlisle should have put him right for the Betfair Chase, a contest in which he could be faced by the likes of last year’s King George VI Chase hero Silviniaco Conti, the Charlie Hall Chase winner Menorah, the smart Colin Tizzard-trained Cue Card (winner of the 2013 Betfair Chase), and David Pipe’s very classy Dynaste.
As the jumps season hits full stride there will be more and more clues every week to the best prospects for both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National, but at this stage Holywell looks a horse to keep very much on the right side and could be a potential star chaser in 2015.