Around The Grounds – Four To Watch on Sunday

Names To Note at Fakenham and Thurles on Sunday

The build up to Christmas will see the racing gradually calm down, but there are still some class horses featuring on Sunday. Our editor has picked out four in particular that are worth putting in your notebook.

Battle Of Marathon (1:20 Fakenham)

A stable stalwart for John Ryan on the flat, Battle Of Marathon will make a very belated hurdles debut at the age of nine when he lines up at Fakenham on Sunday.

Rated as high as 110 on the level at the age of four, he was reinvented as an all-weather specialist by Ryan in the latter part of his career, winning five races on that type of surface compared to only three on turf.

With his rating now falling and his legs ageing, one more throw of the dice is given to a hurdling career. He will turn 10 in a fortnight, but there are no other horses in this field who have the back class that Battle Of Marathon has.

Stratum (12:10 Thurles)

A globetrotter into his fifth season for Willie Mullins, Stratum has won a Cesarewitch, as well as the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot on the flat.

He has also won three races over hurdles and at the age of eight, made his chase debut at this track last month. That day, over 2m 6f, he finished a respectable third, generally jumping soundly and suggesting that he could add another string to his multipurpose bow.

Up once again in trip and having been such a stout stayer on the level, it would be no surprise if he made into a staying chaser. This is not a very deep field and in National Hunt terms, he is still relatively young, so could easily make into a Graded horse over jumps just yet.

Willie Mullins and Paul Townend will team up with the exciting Braganza in the Listed novice hurdle at Thurles.

Willie Mullins and Paul Townend will team up with the exciting Braganza in the Listed novice hurdle at Thurles.

Braganza (1:40 Thurles)

There was a break of nearly four years between Braganza’s only run on the flat for Ed Dunlop and her maiden hurdle start for Willie Mullins.

That makes her extremely easy success all the more impressive as she came clear by six lengths. The level of field she beat was not the strongest and the runner-up was beaten a lot further by stablemate Brandy Love recently, but there was still a lot to like about Braganza’s effort.

The Mares Novices’ event at the Cheltenham Festival is a likely late season target for her and this could look a mere stepping stone at Listed level come then. If she can maintain an unbeaten start here, that race will certainly be in her sights.

Lunar Display (1:40 Thurles)

A second season novice for Joseph O’Brien, Lunar Display has stepped forward to win twice since May.

She has been kept busy over hurdles, racing eight times since the start of the season in the spring. She finished third at this level in open company in October and also defeated the well-regarded Queens Brook at Wexford that same month.

More recently, she has been second to two of last season’s better bumper performers, Hollow Games and Chemical Energy, the former coming in Grade 3 company. 

That ensures that she is penalised, but that level of performance implies she is still improving and while she may be more exposed than Braganza, she has proven form to a higher level than most of her opponents.