ANY Second Now enjoyed his first foray over fences on Saturday since finishing third in the 2021 Grand National and, after a thrilling last gasp victory over Escaria Ten at Fairyhouse in the Grade 3 Bobbyjo Chase, looks primed for a return to Aintree.
Coko Beach and Burrows Saint cut out a fair gallop for a four-runner race as the difference in overall race time between the Grade 3 field and Regina Dracones illustrates.
The 16-second difference means Thomas Gibney’s handicapper would have still been on the approach to the last fence as Any Second Now and Escaria Ten passed the post.
A comparison of the final circuit times in isolation reduces the advantage held by Ted Walsh’s gelding, although I would still estimate the gap between the two races to be almost 35 lengths.
In normal circumstances the slowly run race should produce a faster finishing sectional. However, with Mark Walsh asking his mount for maximum effort the pair closed from the third last fence in 76.5secs, just 0.4secs slower than Regina Dracones (110) who was also driven out.
Any Second Now (160) was not blemish free in the jumping department in the Aintree showpiece last year although the fall of Double Shuffle in front of him at the 12th fence almost certainly cost him more ground than he was beaten.
The exertions of making up the ground he lost and not a lack of stamina told on the 10-year-old in the closing stages. A repeat of this performance will see him improve his finishing position.
Escaria Ten (160) was taking a major step forward from his return in the Thyestes Chase and, like his conqueror on Saturday, is a strong stayer who possesses a turn of foot at the end of his races.
This is an attribute he also showed last season when finishing third to Galvin in the National Hunt Chase, another contest which was notable for its strong closing sectional.
Icare Allen (137) took advantage of a drop in grade with a strong performance in the Grade 3 for juveniles which opened the Fairyhouse card. The time-figure posted by the son of Cokoriko was the equal of his performance in the Spring Juvenile at the Dublin Racing Festival, paying a compliment to those who finished ahead of him in the Grade 1.
There was more fluency to his jumping on Saturday, in fact if anything he was giving the hurdles too much respect at times which was certainly not the case at Leopardstown. Any further improvement in the hurdling department will see the Willie Mullins-trained gelding continue to progress as he won this contest comfortably.
I would have my reservations about the placed horses if contesting a race of similar grade as the closing sectionals portray a deterioration in the pace late on, which is supported by Prairie Dancer (125) staying on for second having been outpaced in the middle section of the race.
Conversely, Carrig Sam (132) posted a smart closing sectional to land the two-and-half-mile handicap and the race is worth closer inspection with a view to finding future winners.
There was a simplicity about the six-year-old’s victory which makes him appealing as he steps up in grade, even accepting he may not have everything his own way as he did on Saturday.
Arthur Moore’s well-supported gelding jumped fluently throughout and always held an advantage over his pursuers, without looking likely to quicken away from them. However, the closing sectional being 3.5secs faster than Grade 3 winner Icare Allen puts a different perspective on the visual impression.
It was a familiar finishing position for TenTen (130) who filled the same place in last year’s renewal and along with Homme Dun Soir (129) made the most of racing handily in a race where it suited to be prominent.
Enniskerry (122+) ran well against the pace bias on his first start for 212 days. The eight-year-old displayed his wellbeing through the middle section of the race as he was looking to go faster than Sean O’Keefe would allow which, unfortunately for the partnership, resulted in them finding a wall of horses in front of them on the home turn.
Undeterred by the disadvantage, Barry Connell’s gelding was going on strongly before a mistake at the final hurdle hindered his progress, otherwise I would have judged his finishing effort to be on a par with the winner.
Scoir Mear (126+) also finished his race off well, showing he still retains his enthusiasm for racing at the age of 12 and he looks to be coming to hand at the right time to defend his Leinster National crown at Naas in a fortnight.
Festival D’Ex (125) and Decimation (124+) have been lightly raced this season and showed enough to suggest a handicap of this nature is within their compass. Decimation boasts graded form in his profile at this venue and would be of particular interest if returning for a similar race at Easter.