Tag Archives: Keith Dalgliesh

Adam Webb’s 2015/16 National Hunt Horses To Follow

As soon as one preview is completed, another word document begins for the following season. It starts off with a small list which grows throughout the campaign, culminating with a vast array of different horses. This list contains 30 horses and mainly concentrates on novices and handicappers with only one horse I’d consider to be challenging for top ranks in the championship divisions. With the 2015 Flat preview so far working out to £20.74 profit to a £1 stake, I hope this jumps preview can work out a profit as the season progresses. Whilst there’s an inevitability with a few that they will start at short odds in novice events, other selections may negate that.

To counter the issue of shorter priced horses, I made a conscious decision to include no Willie Mullins horses in this list. Some of them are just too blatantly obvious to have down as a horse to follow, especially the established stars like Faugheen, Un De Sceaux and Annie Power. For instance, Douvan is already as short as 9/4 for the Arkle without having jumped a fence in public but should reach an exceptionally high standard over fences. Other novice chasers to keep a close eye on include the imposing grey Alvisio Ville who looked immature last season and Albert Bartlett fourth Arbre De Vie.

The amount of novice hurdlers that could feature from the yard is stupendous. The likes of bumper winners Bellshill, Yorkhill, Petit Mouchoir, Nambour and Castello Sforza mixed with the new expensive purchases over the summer in Townshend, Min, American Tom and Inspired Poet. The list is a bottomless pit of talent which also makes it impossible to pinpoint targets throughout the season due to the quantity and quality based in Closutton.

Faugheen looks the one to beat in next year's Champion Hurdle.
Faugheen looks the one to beat in next year’s Champion Hurdle.

With a lack of seasoned Graded horses in the piece, I thought I would do a quick overview of each division, highlighting the leading contenders we may see throughout the season. The Champion Hurdle looks a one horse race with the unbeaten Faugheen looking for back to back successes. The main threats to his crown are Triumph Hurdle winner Peace And Co, last year’s runner up Arctic Fire and the potential flies in the ointment, Nichols Canyon and Windsor Park who both have options to come back in trip or go up to 3m and tackle the World Hurdle. However, come March, I fully expect Faugheen to prove himself the best hurdler at 2m again.

Cole Harden might be slightly underestimated going back to the World Hurdle.
Cole Harden might be slightly underestimated going back to the World Hurdle.

The staying hurdle division looks more wide open than last season with no real stand out performer. Cole Harden stays over hurdles in an attempt to retain his crown in March but will face stiff competition from the likes of Whisper who remains hurdling after a difficult season last year, Zarkandar who will head for the race a fresh horse after jarring himself in the summer at Auteuil and Albert Bartlett winner Martello Tower who connections have decided should stay over hurdles, a wise decision considering the lack of top class 3m hurdlers in Ireland.

All eyes will be on the electric Un De Sceaux in the 2m division.
All eyes will be on the electric Un De Sceaux in the 2m division.

The 2m chasing division lacks strength and depth with Dodging Bullets leading the home charge and looking to defend his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown. The obvious main danger is the impressive Arkle winner and ante-post favourite for the race Un De Sceaux, unbeaten over fences when completing with his bold front running style a joy to watch. Other novices from last season who may play a hand in the division include Aintree winner Sizing Granite whilst a horse that has the potential to be a surprise package is Traffic Fluide who looked a horse firmly on the upgrade when slamming a decent enough field at Sandown and wasn’t disgraced at Aintree behind Sizing Granite.

Could this pair be England's leading Gold Cup contenders?
Could this pair be England’s leading Gold Cup contenders?

The one division that has everyone chomping at the bit is the staying chasers, headed by Gold Cup winner Coneygree who may yet still have more to come having only had four chase starts which is a frightening thought. He will face a stiff task in defending his Cheltenham crown, as he could potentially face the most impressive novice chase winner seen in recent years (beside Coneygree himself) in Vautour who slammed his opposition in the JLT by a staggering 15 lengths. Add to that list RSA Chase winner Don Poli, the highest rated chaser in training Don Cossack, the pair that chased Coneygree up the hill in Djakadam and Road To Riches, two times Grade 1 novice winner Valseur Lido and the dark horse of the bunch who features further down the page in Saphir Du Rheu.

The last thing to do is thank those who I have pestered with this project, most notably Luke Elder (against his own will) and Will Kedjayni for taking their time to read and suggest improvements. If there is anything you wish to discuss, drop me a message in the comments underneath or contact me on Twitter at @AdamWebb121 and I will be more than happy to respond.

 

ARPEGE D’ALENE – 5 – Paul Nicholls

We begin this season’s list with the first of several entries for champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who proved himself last season to be head and shoulders above his opposition in the UK. Nicholls has regrouped over the last couple of seasons with the retirements of key stable stars and has established a strong team of young horses to go to war with for this upcoming season, particularly in the novice chase department with the likes of Aux Ptits Soins, Emerging Talent, Le Mercurey and Sirabad.

Arpege D'alene on his way to victory last November at Ascot.
Arpege D’alene on his way to victory last November at Ascot.

This son of Dom Alco looks to be near the top of the pecking order and has made a considerable impression on his three starts to date in England. Having finished third in a stakes race in December 2013 for Marcel Rolland, he was bought by Potensis Limited and made his hurdling debut at Ascot in November over 2m3f. Sent off an unfancied 12/1, in a field that looked on paper to have a fair bit of potential, he trounced his rivals with a real staying performance by 9 lengths. The most pleasing aspect of the performance being the professional manner in which he disposed of Its A Steal after the final flight, shaping as though he would be suited by much further in the future.

Connections then pitched him in at the deep end in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury just after Christmas where he didn’t disgrace himself, only beaten less than 10 lengths by Parlour Games, in what looks a decent renewal of the race going forward with two long term chasing prospects around him at the finish in One Track Mind and Native River. His final start at Ascot in February over the same distance as his November win saw him off the bridle some way from home but he showed a determined attitude to beat odds on favourite Tea For Two in a driving finish.

His season could start in the race Southfield Theatre won at Chepstow last season in the middle of October with other potential early targets including the Rising Stars Novice Chase at Wincanton, the Berkshire Novice Chase over 2m4f or possibly the Worcester Novice Chase over 3m early in the campaign at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting. Long term, the RSA Chase would likely be his Cheltenham target given how he looks more of a stayer than a speedier type.

 

BALBIR DU MATHAN – 6 – Gordon Elliott

Bought for €300,000 by Barry Connell, his chasing debut at Fairyhouse was where he first caught my attention, jumping neatly in an above average beginners chase over 2m5f before capsizing when still in front at the second last. The form of the race worked out particularly well with the winner Adriana Des Mottes going onto place at the highest level and finish fourth in the RSA Chase behind Don Poli. The race also contained the first two home from this year’s Irish National in Thunders And Roses (third) and Rule The World (second) with National Hunt Chase third The Job Is Right back in fifth.

Balbir Du Mathan during his early days in France.
Balbir Du Mathan during his early days in France.

Over the Christmas period, he went to Leopardstown for a beginners chase over 2m3f where he proved no match for the ill-fated Le Vent D’Antan, beaten 8 lengths by that rival before disappointing back at Fairyhouse when upped to 3m, finishing fifth behind Thunders And Roses with no excuses seeming to emerge.

The son of Saint Des Saints has yet to get a handicap mark over fences and retains his novice status for next season. He could start off in an easy beginners chase to gain some confidence before making into a decent handicap chaser. His best trip would likely be around 2m4f and whilst he has done all his running on testing ground, better ground should hold no concerns for connections.

 

BARTERS HILL – 5 – Ben Pauling

The son of Kalanisi made the list after his second bumper win at Warwick with expectations that he would make into a decent novice hurdler who would pick up several races over the course of the season, in a similar fashion to how Blaklion made the list twelve months ago. Whereas Blaklion exceeded my expectations of him over timber, Barters Hill did likewise in his following two runs in bumpers and now rates as one of England’s leading staying novice hurdle prospects.

At Warwick he beat Joe Farrell of John Ferguson’s in decisive fashion but before that success, he had been sent off 25/1 on debut in a Huntingdon bumper where he looked beaten a furlong out but rallied back tenaciously to see off Simply Rouge. The performance at Warwick saw him make every single yard of the running, a trait that would continue for the rest of the season.

Barters Hill is fast becoming one of my favourite horses in training.
Barters Hill is fast becoming one of my favourite horses in training.

Thinking he could potentially be a left field selection for the list at the time, it was a huge surprise to see him improve as much as he did in bumpers. He relished the step up in grade in the Listed Bumper on Betfair Hurdle day at Newbury, fighting off all challengers including the strong travelling Buveur D’air who loomed up menacingly on the bridle.

Instead of going for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, connections selected the Aintree Bumper where the main concern was whether a speed track would suit. Whilst he looked vulnerable halfway up the home straight, he dug deep to repel Bellshill to maintain his unbeaten record by just over a length. The runner up then went on to complement the form with success in the Grade 1 Bumper at Punchestown whilst the third Potter’s Corner has come out in the last week to make an impressive start to his hurdling career at Chepstow.

A resolute galloper, Barters Hill looks tailor made for a step up in distance and would fit in either the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett come March. He has already been penciled in to make his hurdling debut back at Huntingdon over 2m3f on the 1st November before tackling higher quality races. Potential targets early season include the Winter Novice Hurdle at Sandown’s Tingle Creek meeting where the stiff finish would play to his strengths. Other targets could include the Challow Hurdle at Newbury or the Neptune Trial on Cheltenham Trials Day which should help determine where he ends up come March.

 

BE DARING – 4 – Paul Nicholls

Paul Nicholls excels with the progeny of Dom Alco with examples including Neptune Collonges, Al Ferof and Unioniste. The trio are all owned by John Hales who has another grey here in the shape of Be Daring.

Paul Nicholls will have plenty to look forward to from Be Daring.
Paul Nicholls will have plenty to look forward to from Be Daring.

His debut outing at Wincanton in a newcomers bumper was an eye-catching effort on ground plenty quick enough, finishing strongly to take second behind Star Trouper. The pace throughout was sedate and he did well to make up ground from several lengths back considering how he would appreciate a stiffer stamina test. Looking through his pedigree, his great-grand dam Alconea’s half sister Fortanea is a notable producer in the family, with Grade 1 winner and 2015 Grand National runner up Saint Are. She also produced two half sisters to Saint Are. The first being Naiade Mag who is the dam of the highly talented mare Vroum Vroum Mag and Pazadena, the dam of useful juvenile hurdler Bivouac.

With the promise shown on debut, he is sure to improve up in distance. He could potentially start off in another bumper just to gain some valuable experience before going novice hurdling. He could possibly follow a similar route to stablemate Arpege D’alene before going chasing in twelve months time.

 

BINGE DRINKER – 6 – Rebecca Curtis

Teaforthree was the horse that gained Rebecca Curtis prominence amongst the top trainers when taking the 2012 National Hunt Chase and she looks to have another ideal candidate for the gruelling stamina test in this son of Spadoun.

Having shown enough promise in bumpers, he started his hurdling career with a trio of victories at Worcester, Ffos Las and Chepstow before stepping up in grade in the Bristol Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham’s International meeting where he had to be cajoled along to keep in touch before fading away tamely after the second last to finish fifth behind the impressive Blaklion. Whilst outclassed, it was his fourth run in a short space of time so he could be forgiven for performing slightly below par.

Trainer Rebecca Curtis has an excellent record with staying chasers.
Trainer Rebecca Curtis has an excellent record with staying chasers.

His next start in the River Don at Doncaster showed more promise as he stayed with the leaders longer and travelled through the race better before getting left behind to plug on into fourth, beaten 12 lengths by Caracci Apache. Dropped into handicap company for the first time on his next start, he duly bolted up off a mark of 133 at Bangor beating the difficult Western Jo by 7 lengths. He was then tried at the highest level at the Punchestown Festival where he was disappointing, finishing last behind Killultagh Vic.

For the future, he very much shapes like a staying handicap chaser with this season probably aimed around the National Hunt Chase as mentioned in the introduction. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him appear at Chepstow a couple of times throughout the season with their October meeting hosting a 3m novice chase which Teaforthree contested back in 2011. Elsewhere in the calendar, the Listed novice chase at Warwick on Classic Chase day won by Sego Success could prove to be an ideal stepping stone during the season.

 

CAROLE’S DESTRIER – 7 – Neil Mulholland

The Grand National is a race that I particularly like to find a long term fancy for at the start of the season and this year, two horses make this list that could potentially make up into ideal candidates for the world’s greatest steeplechase next April. The Druids Nephew will be high up on several people’s list after his display in this year’s renewal when travelling powerfully before over-jumping and falling five from home but his stable mate Carole’s Destrier has a fair amount of appeal as an Aintree type.

For a novice chaser, the son of Kayf Tara had a busy campaign with his debut coming at Ffos Las where he carried top weight in a novice handicap. He looked the winner most of the way up the home straight before being denied by the late rally of Doing Fine in the final strides. Mulholland’s charge built upon that chase debut at Exeter where he made all the running and jumped soundly in the main, whilst fighting off the attention of the loose If In Doubt, winning comfortably from Carraig Mor by 6 lengths. The runner up went on to boost the form at Newbury, beating Southfield Theatre by just under 2 lengths in the Grade 2 Worcester Novices Chase.

With his Exeter form looking solid, he was sent off a warm favourite in the Welsh National Trial at Chepstow but disappointed, a mistake at the eleventh fence proving costly and was pulled up shortly after turning for home. He was given some time after that run before next appearing on Trials Day in the novice handicap chase. A change in tactics benefited him over the shorter distance and he looked a key player on the turn for home before staying on one paced up the hill to finish fourth, shaping like a return to 3m would suit perfectly.

Carole's Destrier has the right attributes for a Grand National type.
Carole’s Destrier has the right attributes for a Grand National type.

The handicapper surprisingly dropped him 1lb for that Cheltenham effort and he was sent off a strong favourite on his next start in the Wetherbys Hamilton Listed Handicap Chase at Ascot where he looked vulnerable at one point as Clondaw Warrior was travelling much better after the third last. However, his endless reserves of stamina kicked in and he ended up a fairly easy winner by 8 lengths.

Whilst having several options at Cheltenham, he missed the Festival and was aimed towards Aintree via a relatively facile option in a novice chase at Wetherby where all he needed to do was jump round safely to beat Wolf Shield with the regressive Creepy finishing last of three. Connections decided he was worth a go at the highest level in the Mildmay Novices Chase but he was outclassed by the impressive Saphir Du Rheu whilst potentially feeling the effects of a long season.

He begins this upcoming season rated 149, the handicapper having dropped him 3lb after Aintree, and he appears to have the makings of a top quality staying handicap chaser. Potential targets may include the Murphy Group Handicap Chase at the Paddy Power meeting, the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Welsh National. Hopefully, all routes lead towards the Grand National itself where his sound jumping and endless reserves of stamina will be a huge asset.

 

CHATEZ – 4 – Alan King

It seems surprising that Chatez gets a second chance in this list but the circumstances explained below means my view of the horse has somewhat changed and is able to be forgiven for some poor efforts last winter.

Chatez looks a well handicapped horse off 125.
Chatez looks a well handicapped horse off 125.

The son of Dandy Man had a mixed spell over hurdles with two fluent victories at Bangor and Warwick to begin with, establishing himself as an above average juvenile but trainer Alan King was keen to stress that the Triumph Hurdle wasn’t necessarily an option. Over Christmas, he went to Kempton in a handicap hurdle with an introductory mark of 128 and with the juvenile allowance taking almost a stone off his back, he looked well treated. He travelled kindly until the field turned for home, where he stopped in a matter of strides like something was ailing him, subsequently finishing a well beaten eighth behind Cloonacool.

Similar also happened in the Chatteris Fen Hurdle at Huntingdon where he came off the bridle after the fourth last briefly. That was just before he made a costly error at the following flight which saw the writing on the wall for his chances as he was pulled up soon afterwards. It was found subsequently that his breathing was causing him to cut out quickly in his races and having had treatment to correct the issue, he returned to the flat in the Spring Mile at Doncaster where he duly bolted up.

Off a mark of 125, he looks a well handicapped horse now his breathing issues seem to be behind him. His current mark may not be high enough for a race like the Greatwood so a good early season target could be the Listed handicap hurdle at Ascot at the end of October. After that, hopefully all other big 2m handicap hurdles would come under consideration.

 

CHOCCA WOCCA – 5 – Nicky Henderson

Chomba Womba was a fine racemare for both Margaret Mullins and Nicky Henderson throughout her career, winning 10 of her 23 starts and over £250,000 in prize money. Her first offspring came to prominence last year for Henderson and for owners Mr & Mrs Kelvin Hughes with Chocca Wocca.

Chocca Wocca after winning the bumper. Photo courtesy of Michael Andrews.
Chocca Wocca after winning the bumper. Photo courtesy of Michael Andrews.

She made her debut just before Christmas in a bumper at Ludlow over 1m6f. On paddock appearance, she looked a relatively small filly compared to her rivals. However, it was an impressive debut with her showing a very taking turn of foot to see off her main challengers on ground that was pretty holding by the end of the card. The daughter of Kayf Tara was only seen once more after that in the Mares Bumper at Aintree where she travelled strongly through the race and was one of the last off the bridle. However, she just found Hollies Pearl too good for her on the day but it was a highly commendable effort on only her second start.

She looks to be one of the leading prospects in the UK for mares novice hurdles and you would imagine that all roads would lead to the new race at the Cheltenham Festival. Two possible early season engagements could be on Hennessy day at Newbury with the mares novice hurdle won in previous years by As I Am and Carrigmoorna Rock and a Listed novice event at Taunton just after Christmas, the race won last year by Tara Point. She would also get further than 2m if required to do so.

 

DEFINITE OUTCOME – 6 – Rebecca Curtis

A winner of his sole point-to-point at Dromahane in December last year after making all the running, the son of Definite Article looked vulnerable as the chasing pack closed in on him turning for home but he pulled out more for pressure to take a decisive win by 5 lengths. He was then sold for £35,000 as a wildcard entry at Cheltenham’s Brightwells Sale the following week and ended up with Rebecca Curtis.

His only start for his new connections came in a bumper on Midlands Grand National day at Uttoxeter where he faced some stiff opposition with What A Moment who had beaten the useful mare Briery Queen at Towcester and Fortunate George who had won nicely on debut at Wincanton. He was taken wide throughout by AP McCoy in search of better ground and whilst his main rivals failed to run their races, it was hard not to be impressed by the manner of his success as he galloped all the way to the line despite showing signs of greenness to win by 9 lengths.

Both of his starts have come on testing ground and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him pick up novice hurdles at tracks like Chepstow and Ffos Las in the upcoming months with his ability to handle conditions although it wouldn’t be a concern if he ran on decent ground.

(Definite Outcome is entered twice at the weekend at Chepstow, including the Grade 2 Persian War Novices Hurdle)

 

DIAMOND KING – 7 – Gordon Elliott

A late addition to the list after finding out recently that the son of King’s Theatre had moved over the summer from Donald McCain’s to Gordon Elliott. When compiling my first ever horses to follow piece two years ago, Diamond King was one of the top names on the list for his novice hurdle campaign after two effortless wins at Wetherby and Bangor.

Diamond King remains interesting having switched yards.
Diamond King remains interesting having switched yards.

Big things were expected of him but he was only seen in lower grade events, winning at Wetherby on hurdling debut before suffering defeat at Bangor after making a shuddering error at the final flight which enabled Masquerade to pick up the pieces and Goohar to grab second. His final run at Doncaster was a comfortable success, making every yard of the running and jumping economically. A setback meant that he missed the Cheltenham Festival but was entered up for Aintree before failing to take up his entry.

Instead of going chasing, he stayed over hurdles and returned on Festival Trials Day in the closing handicap hurdle. On paddock appearance, he shaped as if he would need the run which was confirmed in the closing stages after travelling strongly until the turn of home. He was also slightly inconvenienced by the bunching field trying to go round the omitted final flight but it was a fair enough return, beaten 16 lengths into seventh by Lightentertainment.

His only other appearance came at Ascot when stepped up in distance on really testing ground and he failed to land a blow, pulled up before the second last behind Unique De Cotte. It was reported that he bled on this occasion which is a slight concern but the switch of yards can only do him the world of good and it will be interesting to see what route Elliott decides to embark upon. He is still leniently treated on his hurdles mark of 130; whilst having the size and scope to go and jump fences.

 

DISKO – 4 – Noel Meade

As always, Gigginstown had a decent amount of potential from a variety of horses in bumpers last season with the likes of Tycoon Prince, Nambour and Petit Mouchoir but the one that caught my imagination most for the upcoming season was the imposing grey Disko. The son of Martaline created a big impression, bursting onto the scene in devastating style on debut in a Punchestown bumper where he travelled all over his field and the well bred Jett, putting the race to bed in a matter of strides to beat Chain Gang by 15 lengths.

Disko storming away on debut at Punchestown.
Disko storming away on debut at Punchestown.

Whilst that performance was breathtaking, it was a big surprise to see him go off favourite for the Punchestown Champion Bumper where his lack of experience showed as he was keen in rear under Nina Carberry who did an excellent job of settling him. Leaving the back straight, the pair moved up menacingly but he was left behind by Bellshill who kicked for home on the turn for home. Under pressure, he showed greenness but stuck his head down to battle past Modus to finish second.

Even with the ammunition of Gigginstown, he looks to be one of their best prospects for novice hurdles. Races like the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse, the Future Champions at Leopardstown over Christmas and potentially the Deloitte back at Leopardstown in February should feature prominently before Cheltenham where he could turn up in either the Supreme or the Neptune.

 

GENEROUS RANSOM – 7 – Nick Gifford

The days of Straw Bear winning Grade 1’s may seem a distant memory for the team of Nick Gifford but recently their stable stars have shone at the biggest National Hunt festivals with Fairy Rath giving connections the thrill of a lifetime, chasing home Rajdhani Express in the Topham Trophy and Gifford may have the ideal candidate for the race with a favourite of the blog last season in Generous Ransom, himself placed at the Cheltenham Festival behind Irish Cavalier.

The son of Generous was for the most part a model of consistency last season after an unfortunate introduction to chasing in a novice handicap at Ascot, slipping up at Swinley Bottom on the heels of the leaders. His next outing was used as a confidence booster at Leicester, where he was fifth behind Three Kingdoms in a decent beginners chase which contained the likes of Thomas Crapper and Deep Trouble in behind.

He returned to novice handicap company at Sandown’s Tingle Creek meeting where he was ponderous at a couple of early fences but warmed to the task and travelled well on the heels of the leaders before taking up the running between the final two fences. In a fantastic Sandown finish, four came to the last with claims but a good jump helped his cause and although he idled up the run in, he looked better than the bare result in beating Howlongisafoot by just over a length. His next start on Boxing Day was in a more competitive novice handicap where he looked in trouble having made an error mid-race and looked well beaten before the second last before stamina reserves kicked in and he finished an eye-catching third behind Stellar Notion.

Generous Ransom winning on Trials Day at Cheltenham.
Generous Ransom winning on Trials Day at Cheltenham.

With the horse still looking idle through races, a set of cheek-pieces were added on Cheltenham Trials Day in the novice handicap chase which were a huge positive as he travelled almost too well throughout the race, scooting clear after the second last. A last fence blunder didn’t stop his momentum in the slightest either and even with the runner up Astigos closing on him at the line, he looked as though there was plenty left in the tank. That performance was a career best effort which meant he went into the Festival as a strong fancy for the novice handicap where he ran respectably behind Irish Cavalier in third, that rival reversing the form from Trials Day in a race worth keeping a close eye on form wise for the upcoming season. His season ended with a disappointing effort at Sandown in the race named after Gifford’s father Josh, travelling with little zest behind runaway winner Cocktails At Dawn.

His mark of 140 still looks a competitive one for all the big handicap chases and at some stage, a step up to 3m could even bring about some improvement. He will likely start off in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November but a race that could be on the radar long term is the Topham Trophy at Aintree, with his dam’s half brother Latimer’s Place finishing third back in 2007.

 

HEATHFIELD – 8 – Tony Martin

On the final day of the National Hunt season in Ireland, Tony Martin and JP McManus both combined together in the two feature staying handicap chases with strong chances. The second of the pair was Gallant Oscar who duly confirmed how well handicapped he was, annihilating his field in the Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase by 9 lengths. Although he was more impressive of the pair visually, McManus’s first winner on the card Heathfield still looks to be a fair way ahead of the handicapper.

Having started life in point to points for Edna Bolger, the son of Definite Article moved to Martin’s yard in May 2012 and began his career under rules attempting to get a handicap over fences. It took four attempts before he was allotted a mark of 95 but it took him another two starts before he got off the mark last November rated 102 at Uttoxeter, looking to fight a losing battle but an excellent jump at the last sealed the race. He then ran over hurdles at Bangor where he didn’t travel with much fluency but did well to finish second behind Saint John Henry.

Heathfield has at least another stone in hand over the handicapper.
Heathfield has at least another stone in hand over the handicapper.

A return chasing beckoned at Leopardstown at the end of January off a 1lb higher mark than Uttoxeter where he was narrowly beaten by Bishop’s Road, that rival’s jockey Bryan Cooper actually managing to hit Heathfield across the face on the run in. Up 7lb for that effort, the run suggested a step up in distance would really suit him. After missing a potential engagement in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter due to being balloted out, he ran the following day over 3m in a novice handicap at Navan where he duly bolted up after travelling like the best horse throughout.

The handicapper reacted by giving him a 10lb rise and the performance at Navan persuaded JP McManus to purchase the horse before the Punchestown Festival, where he went for the 3m6f handicap chase on the final day on testing ground thanks to heavy overnight rain. Given a lovely patient ride by Paul Townend, he crept into contention almost unnoticed on the inside and once he loomed on menacingly going to the second last, there was only going to be one winner. A fine leap at the final fence sealed the prize and he was ridden out with hands and heels to win with a fair amount in hand beating Audacious Plan by just over 4 lengths.

His new mark in Ireland is 133 and with his connections, you can guarantee that he will be laid out for a big handicap prize. I still think he could be at least a stone well ahead of the handicapper so with that in mind, he could win a couple more big pots over the upcoming months. A race like the Paddy Power Chase over Christmas would suit even with 3m potentially being on the sharp side for him. Longer term, he will likely contest the Irish National but, if he came over for the big one at Aintree he would be a fascinating contender and there shouldn’t be any issue with him handling a sounder surface.

 

HEDLEY LAMARR – 5 – Jonjo O’Neill

The colours of the Hitchins haven’t tasted the success of yesteryear recently in both codes with past examples including Toby Tobias, Princeful, Tagula and Halmahera but they have two fairly exciting horses with Jonjo O’Neill in Mad Jack Mytton (see below) and this son of Gold Well who has only been seen twice on the racecourse.

Out of Donna’s Tarquin who also foaled Grade 1 placed Donna’s Palm, his racecourse debut was filled with promise, finishing second behind Great Try at Bangor after jumping well and travelling smartly under Richie McLernon before his inexperienced showed in the closing stages. His only other start came at Warwick in a weaker race where he was lucky to survive a dreadful mistake at the third last and made heavy weather of beating Aston Cantlow by less than a length. It was pleasing however to see him jump the last two flights well under pressure after such a mistake.

Given a handicap mark of 128 and with him maintaining his novice status until the end of October, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him out of the blocks early to gain some vital experience before going into handicap company. A potential early season target could be the intermediate handicap hurdle at the Paddy Power meeting where the step up in distance will suit well.

 

IBIS DU RHEU – 4 – Paul Nicholls

In December 2013, Paul Nicholls unleashed Saphir Du Rheu properly onto the UK scene where he turned a competitive Pertemps Qualifier into a procession at Sandown; showing real improvement for a step up in trip. Two years on, he could very easily do the same with Saphir Du Rheu’s half brother Ibis Du Rheu having shown signs of immaturity last season for the champion trainer.

Ibis Du Rheu has matured over the summer according to trainer Paul Nicholls.
Ibis Du Rheu has matured over the summer according to trainer Paul Nicholls.

The son of Blue Bresil had just two runs in France, trained by Guilliame Macaire. The first of those a 1/2 length second behind Triumph Hurdle runner up Top Notch, given what is best described as an educational ride at Bordeaux. The promise from that first effort was duly confirmed on his next start at Enghien, demonstrating a decisive turn of foot to win by 7 lengths.

His first run in the UK came at Cheltenham on Trials Day in the Finesse Hurdle where he looked in the paddock that he still had some growing up to do both physically and mentally. In the race itself, he ended up setting a really slow pace in front due to nothing else wanting to make the running. As a result, he was far too keen and threatened that he would run out approaching a couple of hurdles but this was more down to greenness rather than being ungenuine. He was soon beaten once push came to shove and finished last beaten some distance by Peace And Co. His only other run came at Taunton on handicap debut, where he settled better due to chasing the pace but was still too keen to see his race out, eventually finishing a one-paced fourth beaten 11 lengths by Fox Norton.

He was dropped 2lb by the handicapper to 131 and stepping up in trip over hurdles will highlight how well handicapped John Hales’ charge is. The start of the season may begin slowly just to build him up before potentially following a similar route to his stable-mate with the Pertemps Qualifier at Sandown and the Lanzarote at Kempton two likely destinations. He could even be contesting Graded hurdles by the end of the season.

 

KRACKATOA KING – 7 – Noel Williams

Noel Williams isn’t exactly the biggest household name in the sport of horse racing but he has had a bright start to his training career, most notably with Briery Queen who looked a smart mare in bumpers last season. Whilst she remains one to keep a close eye on, the former assistant to Alan King has a son of Kayf Tara that would undoubtedly win the award for the biggest horse in this list.

Having failed to cut much ice in his three bumper appearances at Wincanton and Towcester on two occasions, he hugely benefited from going over obstacles and running over further than the minimum distance of 2m on debut at Plumpton beaten less than a length by Murrayana, despite some lacklustre jumping throughout. He returned for a similar race over course and distance the following month where apart from a mistake three out, his jumping was a lot better and he stayed on resolutely to finish second behind the ill-fated King Edmund.

In the New Year, his next outing came at Lingfield on testing ground over 2m7f where his jumping lacked fluency and looked very one-paced when second for the third time in a row behind the comfortable winner Broadwalk Empire. Going further up in distance next time at Warwick on handicap debut with a mark of 116, jumping again was the issue and he plugged on into third, 17 lengths adrift of Heronshaw. Connections decided for his final run of the season to put cheek-pieces on at Newbury and they worked the oracle, enabling him to concentrate more on the job in hand. Whilst his jumping had been suspect during the season, two fine leaps at the last two hurdles helped his cause and he galloped on resolutely to deny Manballandall by 3 lengths in an attritional finish.

Unfairly, he was hammered by the handicapper who put him up 13lb but that shouldn’t be a concern to his connections as chasing should be the number one plan this season. With him looking to relish a stamina test, he will be one for those real slogs around tracks like Chepstow and Uttoxeter, the Midlands National looking an ideal long term target. His full brother King Kayf is also one to look out for in novice hurdles after performing a lot better in bumpers, including a victory at Ffos Las on good ground in the spring.

 

MAD JACK MYTTON – 5 – Jonjo O’Neill

A half brother to John’s Spirit and a full brother of The Game Changer, Jonjo O’Neill’s inmate took a fair amount of time to come to hand last season due to a variety of reasons including the yard’s virus and potentially being on the weak side. Two runs in bumpers showed a glimmer of promise before going hurdling at the start of last season with two lower key efforts at Bangor and Southwell, typical of the yard’s approach.

Mad Jack Mytton is well related to Graded Chase winners.
Mad Jack Mytton is well related to Graded Chase winners.

The first of those he became outpaced at the third last before plugging on to a distant 24 lengths third behind Zaidiyn before a second to the useful Some Buckle at Southwell, beaten 14 lengths, at a time when the yard wasn’t completely firing. A mark of 116 looked fair enough on handicap debut at Ludlow where he raced keenly for the majority of the race so did well to finish 1 3/4 lengths second behind Ascendant.

The son of Arcadio finally got his head in front in a maiden hurdle at Huntingdon in March, benefiting from Fair Loch setting a strong gallop from the front to win comfortably by 5 lengths. He ended his season with another win, defying a penalty at Kempton to beat main market rival Nicolas Chauvin, despite running down the last two flights of hurdles.

Now rated 132 over hurdles, that mark can be transferred to novice handicap chases and with his relation to John’s Spirit, it wouldn’t be a huge shock if his season revolved around the novice handicap chase at the Festival whilst potentially taking in various races throughout the season including one on Boxing Day at Kempton and on Cheltenham Trials Day in January.

 

MAJOR IVAN – 6 – Malcolm Jefferson

Named after the late Major Ivan Straker who played a key role in saving the Grand National in the mid 1980’s and part owned by his wife, this handsome son of Fruits Of Love had some fairly decent bumper form when chasing home two Nicky Richards horses in Sir Vinski at Kelso and only going down a short head at Perth to Looking Well.

He made his debut over hurdles last September at Ayr over the minimum 2m which looked to be on the sharp side for him, but ran with enough promise when 20 lengths fifth behind Hurricane Hollow. The performance that caught my attention for this piece was his following start at Sedgefield over 2m3f, where he travelled all over a 120 rated horse in Black Jack Rover and beat him easily by 15 lengths, jumping the last and scampering away like a fresh horse.

The following month, he returned to Sedgefield on softer ground with a penalty but was beaten 6 lengths by Sharp Rise. Whilst on first reflection it looked a disappointing effort considering the impression he made the previous month, the winner went on to improve a fair amount over both hurdles and fences with him ending up rated 130.

Recently, he made his reappearance at Perth over a trip just shy of 3m still in novice company. He travelled all over the field and made smooth headway onto the heels of the leader Tradewinds but a lack of a recent run told in the closing stages as he got tired going to the final flight, dropping back to third. Something the horse has is a fair amount of scope to go jump fences and if he goes chasing over the winter months, he will be definitely picking up either novice or novice handicap chases at Northern tracks like Catterick and Newcastle between 2m4f-3m.

 

MATORICO – 4 – Jonjo O’Neill

A fairly expensive French purchase, the son of Mastercraftsman had some decent form to his name in big 3 year old handicaps with two seconds at Longchamp over 1m2f before being sold for €115,000 at the 2014 Arqana Mixed Sale to Jonjo O’Neill.

His new connections had fairly high thoughts of him with his hurdling debut coming at Huntingdon in the Chatteris Fen Hurdle. Settled in rear by Tony McCoy, he moved smoothly into contention when the race began to hot up and loomed up menacingly on the quarters of Arabian Revolution. However, when push came to shove, he failed to make any inroads on the leader under tender handling to finish second beaten just over 3 lengths. The run caught the attention of the stewards which makes for interesting reading.

Despite his inexperience over hurdles, he took his chance in the Triumph Hurdle and travelled kindly through the race in mid-division for Paul Carberry. Having moved onto the heels of the leaders turning for home, he weakened on the long run to the last ending up 25 lengths behind Peace And Co in tenth. His season ended at Punchestown in the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle where he ran a similar race to Cheltenham, this time finishing eighth to Petite Parisienne, 41 lengths away.

Although the horse has had three runs which would qualify him for a mark, the handicapper is yet to give him one. It is likely that he will start off the campaign in a novice hurdling before being of serious interest when getting a handicap mark, preferably around the mid 130’s which would allow scope for improvement and appeals as the type to excel in 2m handicaps.

 

MAXIMISER – 7 – Simon West

Formerly trained in Ireland by his breeder Brian Hamilton, this strapping grey made his debut in a hotly contested bumper at Punchestown where he looked relatively weak but ran well to finish eighth to the one and only Faugheen. His only other start for Hamilton came in a Point to Point at Tattersalls Farm which he won.

Maximiser looks a hugely exciting prospect for Simon West.
Maximiser looks a hugely exciting prospect for Simon West.

Having changed hands between his Point win and his UK debut for Simon West, the son of Helissio was sent off 10/1 on hurdling debut at Carlisle over 2m4f with odds on favourite Master Dee bringing some interesting form to the table having finished third to Un Ace at Doncaster in February 2014. Racing prominently throughout, he wound the race up from a fair way out and routed the opposition by 36 lengths without Joe Colliver having to get too serious on him.

Sadly, we only saw the horse once more in the season at Haydock’s Betfair Chase meeting. Under a penalty (negated somewhat by Joe Colliver’s 5lb claim) he relished the fixed brush hurdles, jumping beautifully to see off the keen Vago Collonges with relative ease by 11 lengths. The Challow Hurdle was next on the agenda but a tiny pelvic fracture meant that he missed the rest of the season.

With Vago Collonges going on to boost the form several times in Graded company, it makes me wonder how far Maximiser would have gone over hurdles. However, the upcoming months are of huge excitement for his connections with a novice chase campaign likely. A potential early season target could be the Junior Novice Chase back at Haydock in November over 2m6f where he will likely get soft ground which he reveled in on both occasions over hurdles. A scary thought as well is that he will improve for 3m when asked to go that far.

 

MEET THE LEGEND – 4 – Keith Dalgleish

When nearing the end of writing this piece, I didn’t expect to be adding any extra horses but this is one deserved exception, albeit unexpected. When checking Paul Nicholls’ website, it appeared that Vago Collonges wasn’t in training for the season. So with me being insistent on having 30 horses for the piece, this son of Midnight Legend scraped in after creating a big impression on debut a couple of weeks ago.

Meet The Legend after his impressive Kelso win. Photo courtesy of Mark Rowntree.
Meet The Legend after his impressive Kelso win. Photo courtesy of Mark Rowntree.

A £65,000 purchase from the Doncaster Sales, he made his racecourse debut at Kelso where he was well supported beforehand and duly obliged in impressive style. Having raced keenly early on, he pulled his way to the lead and showed a taking turn of foot to dispatch of his rivals by 7 lengths. It was also noteworthy that he took a fair while for Craig Nichol to pull up after the race, indicating there was plenty left in the tank.

With the owners having sold Nexius and Warriors Tale, this looks an exciting prospect for connections. Whilst he handled quick ground at Kelso, he will appreciate more cut in the ground and as a half-brother to Kayfleur plus related to former Cheltenham Festival winner Young Spartacus, he certainly has inherited some of their ability. If he remains in bumpers, a penalty won’t inconvenience him on his next start and could be the type to turn up in one of the Listed bumpers at Ascot or Newbury.

 

MORITO DU BERLAIS – 6 – Paul Nicholls

Chica Du Berlais has been an excellent broodmare with the majority of her progeny proving themselves at Listed level and beyond with Grade 1 winner Bonito Du Berlais, twice Grade 2 winner Nikita Du Berlais and two Listed winners in Bonita Du Berlais and Carlita Du Berlais. Whilst this son of Turgeon hasn’t scaled those heights yet, he looks more than capable of improving on his handicap hurdle form in novice chases.

Morito Du Berlais should do better over fences than hurdles.
Morito Du Berlais should do better over fences than hurdles.

His first novice hurdle campaign failed to lift off properly with all three runs proving disappointing. However, a wind operation last summer worked a treat which allowed him to deliver on the promise he showed in his bumpers at Sandown and Exeter. He returned to the latter for his first start last season over 2m7f in an amateur riders novice hurdle. Sent off 14/1, he was dropped out in rear by Will Biddick and crept smoothly into the race travelling ominously well before being delivered soon after the second last to win comfortably by 3 lengths from The Nephew. For the type of contest, the form reads well with The Tourard Man in third going on to place in the Pertemps Final and Howlongisafoot who showed decent form in novice handicap chases.

The handicapper reacted surprisingly in a lenient manner by giving him a mark of 120 and confirmed how well treated he looked at Cheltenham’s Paddy Power meeting in the intermediate handicap hurdle over 2m5f won by the likes of Punchestowns and Grand Crus in recent years, beating two decent horses in Knight Of Noir and Cup Final. Only upped 5lb, he turned out quickly the following week at Haydock where a mistake three out left him with ground to make up and a scruffy jump at the last saw him land flat-footed before staying on stoutly to take third behind On Tour.

He continued his progression with a second place at Newbury, only beaten a short margin by Polamco after a prolonged battle after the final flight before stepping up in distance to 2m7f at Exeter in a Pertemps Qualifier where they went a crawl for the first half of the race which suited the speedier types in Regal Encore and Alavian, staying on into a one paced sixth beaten just under 7 lengths. His final start came over 3m at Ascot where he ground it out against a non stayer in Greybougg who looked the likely winner until his petrol ran out shortly after the final flight.

Now rated 139 over hurdles, his future looks to lie over the larger obstacles and looks the type we haven’t yet got to the bottom of yet. His mark is probably too high to send him for novice handicaps but he should pay his way in staying novice chases. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him appear again at Exeter, with a 3m novice chase on Haldon Gold Cup day looking an ideal starting point at a track Nicholls likes to send novice chasers too for an education.

(Morito Du Berlais is entered on Thursday for a novice chase at Exeter, a 3m2f handicap hurdle at Newton Abbot on Friday and a 3m novice chase at Chepstow on Sunday.)

 

SANDYGATE – 5 – Philip Hobbs

One of the lower rated horses to make the list, he made his racecourse debut in the same race that Chocca Wocca won at Ludlow, shaping with enough promise beaten 9 lengths back in third, running on at the one pace. Fancied to go well at Bangor on his next start, he was slightly disappointing when showing signs of greenness in the final furlong when fourth behind Nutcracker Prince.

He returned to Ludlow over the minimum 2m for his first experience over hurdles where he caught the eye having pulled fairly hard off a sedate early pace. When the tempo quickened he was outpaced and like his bumper efforts, was staying on one paced in the closing stages back in fourth behind Slowfoot. His jumping wasn’t entirely convincing over the last two flights but he improved on that effort at Fontwell when upped to 2m4f. Having travelled well into the race, he loomed up looking the likely winner turning for home but a clumsy leap at the last cost him any winning chance when third behind Towering.

A mark of 118 seems fair on his Fontwell run and he can only improve for a further step up in distance in handicap hurdles over the next few months. He could potentially head to Aintree on Old Roan Chase day for a 0-125 conditional jockeys handicap hurdle over 3m with Ciaran Gethings on board, a race won last year by Parish Business and a track where owner Trevor Hemmings enjoys having runners.

 

SAPHIR DU RHEU – 6 – Paul Nicholls

Part of the excitement of the National Hunt game is trying to find the next potential star of the future. It’s incredible how at the start of 2015, fans were discussing how weak the staying chase division looked. Fast forward nine months and the division has been brought back to life with one of the best renewals of the Gold Cup in recent times. Trainer Paul Nicholls has conceded defeat with Silviniaco Conti ever winning the race but has potentially found the successor of Kauto Star and Denman in the shape of Saphir Du Rheu.

Saphir Du Rheu showed his toughness when battling on Trials Day.
Saphir Du Rheu showed his toughness when battling on Trials Day.

One of the highest rated hurdlers his trainer has sent novice chasing with a mark of 165, his season began at Newbury where he was sent off favourite in the Berkshire Novices Chase despite trainer Paul Nicholls indicating beforehand that he would need the run. He jumped well just behind Coneygree until getting in too close to the seventh; unseating Sam Twiston-Davies who was given no chance to recover. A week later he made a quick reappearance at Exeter in the Harry Dutfield Memorial Novices Chase over 2m3f, where he was pitched in against the 2014 Albert Bartlett runner up Deputy Dan. It was easy pickings as he made amends for Newbury, a spring heeled round of jumping under a confident Nick Scholfield saw him consummate ease by 11 lengths from Horizontal Speed.

On the back of that win, he was sent off a warm favourite for the Feltham at Kempton but another error similar to Newbury at the seventh fence gave Twiston-Davies no option but to jump off as he skidded on landing. Initial comments following Kempton were to get plenty of schooling into him over fences but the decision changed, as he went to the Cleeve Hurdle at the end of January. Unlike Kempton, Saphir Du Rheu was fairly weak in the market on the day with Un Temps Pour Tout going off favourite but he got his season back on track with a real game performance to see off Reve De Sivola, albeit receiving 4lb.

The World Hurdle was the obvious target rather than go back chasing for the Festival and he ended up being sent off 5/1 favourite but on ground probably the quickest he has encountered, he was flat out the whole way chasing Cole Harden who was given a superb ride by Gavin Sheehan who set the perfect fractions from the front. He still ran with plenty of credit to finish second beaten just over 3 lengths, pulling clear from the remaining pack which was headed by stable mate Zarkandar and At Fishers Cross.

Saphir Du Rheu was seriously impressive at Aintree. Can he make the step into Gold Cup class?
Saphir Du Rheu was seriously impressive at Aintree. Can he make the step into Gold Cup class?

Reverting back to the larger obstacles at Aintree’s Grand National meeting in the Mildmay Novice Chase, the horse and Sam Twiston-Davies both silenced their doubters with an electric performance, jumping beautifully to win eased down by 15 lengths from Carraig Mor and stable mate Irish Saint. There was one slight semblance of an error at the third last but, unlike Newbury and Kempton, he was completely unfazed and galloped on in a dismissive manner which was hugely pleasing to see.

The Gold Cup is the ultimate aim but he still needs chasing experience at the top level before he can go there. The son of Al Namix is likely to start at Sandown in the Future Stars on the 8th November, a race that has moved forward a month where he will likely need his first outing before a tilt at the Hennessy Gold Cup. To emerge as a creditable Gold Cup contender, he needs to be going very close against the likes of Coneygree and Many Clouds. If all goes to plan, other potential races in the season include the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown and potentially a visit to Cheltenham on Trials Day to gain vital experience around Cheltenham before the acid test next March. The only ante-post bet I currently have for the season so far is Saphir Du Rheu at 16/1 and he will hopefully confirm his trainer’s belief in the horse that he is their next Gold Cup winner.

 

SIZING JOHN – 5 – Henry De Bromhead

In recent years, one of my all time favourite horses was Sizing Europe whose record spoke for itself. Winner of 22 of his 45 races which included 8 Grade 1, 2 Cheltenham Festival successes and over £1,300,000 in prize money, he was finally retired back in April at the grand age of 13 leaving a massive hole to be filled in the yard of Henry De Bromhead. Whilst De Bromhead has a number of promising horses that could be considered to be the next stable star, Sizing John looks to have the most potential to reach a similar heights to what Sizing Europe did over fences.

Sizing John on his way to Grade 1 glory at Leopardstown.
Sizing John on his way to Grade 1 glory at Leopardstown.

The son of Midnight Legend showed some promise in bumpers, his fourth at Punchestown behind runaway winner Forgotten Rules being his best effort but left his bumper form in his wake once sent over hurdles. His debut came at Naas in early November where having tracked the leader travelling powerfully, he showed his authority in the closing stages to see off Phil’s Magic by 2 lengths. Later on in the month, he went to Gowran Park for a 4 year old novice hurdle where he met Douvan who beat him comfortably on the bridle by 11 lengths. The performance left connections disappointed but as the season progressed, it turned out he may potentially have bumped into a future superstar of the National Hunt game.

As a result of his Gowran performance, he was sent off outsider of the field in the Future Champions Novices’ Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas. In an incident packed race which saw odds on favourite Nichols Canyon unseat Ruby Walsh at the third flight and McKinley pull up several strides after that hurdle, Johnny Burke kept Sizing John out of trouble by making every yard of the running to earn his first Grade 1 success as a rider. There was a slight moment for concern when he nearly ran out due to the loose Nichols Canyon charging past, but his jumping on the whole was impeccable and quickened nicely off the final bend to see off Sub Lieutenant by just under 7 lengths.

Sizing John and Johnny Burke can continue their successful partnership in novice chases.
Sizing John and Johnny Burke can continue their successful partnership in novice chases.

Given an intentional break after that win, the plan was to head to Cheltenham for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle where he belied his odds of 25/1 to run an excellent race in finishing a 7 lengths third behind Douvan having travelled up strongly to lead at the second last flight. Having led into the straight, he was a sitting duck with the favourite looming up menacingly on his tail and ended up fighting a losing battle for second place with the Mullins second string Shaneshill. To end the season, he reopposed Douvan at Punchestown but the result was the same as Cheltenham, the margin this time being a half length further than at Prestbury Park.

Of all the novice chasers in this list, this is the one to most look forward to on chasing debut with De Bromhead having an unbelievable ability to get horses to jump as well as they do. You would expect him to make his chase debut in the next couple of weeks with the first big target likely to be the Craddockstown Novices’ Chase at Punchestown in November, a race De Bromhead likes to target with both Sizing Europe and Days Hotel being successful in 2009 and 2011 respectively. The Racing Post Novices’ Chase would also be likely to appear on his radar before a potential crack at the Arkle in March all being well. Apart from Douvan, he rates as the most exciting 2m novice chaser in Ireland.

 

STELLAR NOTION – 7 – Tom George

When looking for well handicapped horses to make the piece, this son of Presenting stood out like a sore thumb with his official rating of 137. Bought for £140,000 by Roger Brookhouse in May 2013 at Brightwells, he started off by winning a bumper in December 2013 at Bangor and a novice hurdle the following month at Newcastle before a promising last start of the season when second behind Un Ace at Doncaster.

Stellar Notion will be hard to beat in handicap chases on flat tracks.
Stellar Notion will be hard to beat in handicap chases on flat tracks.

Given a BHA rating of 120, connections decided to exploit that mark in novice handicap chases, starting off at Leicester over 2m at the end of November where he made every yard of the running jumped efficiently to win by 13 lengths with his main rival Crookstown falling at the final fence when looking held in second. He then followed up in a competitive novice handicap chase at Kempton on Boxing Day when stepped up to 2m4f, using similar tactics to jump and gallop his rivals into the ground. The only scare came at the last when horse and jockey had a slight disagreement, but there was plenty left in the locker to fend off Knock House by just over a length.

On the back of that success, he was sent off favourite on Trials Day for the novice handicap chase where he attempted again to make all the running by setting a strong gallop from the front but his assured jumped from both Leicester and Kempton lacked slightly, an error at the eleventh was compounded by a shocking mistake at the third last. He weakened away shortly after to finish seventh behind Generous Ransom who reversed Kempton form.

Softer ground was blamed for that performance and he was well fancied back on decent ground for the novice handicap at the Festival but a bad mistake at the fourth last seemed to knock the stuffing out of him as he dropped away tamely coming down the hill, eventually completing beaten 31 lengths by Irish Cavalier. Interesting to note was that he was tongue tied for the first time which may signify that he may have needed a wind operation.

With his current rating, it would be a huge shock if he wasn’t better than 137 but he may be worth keeping away from Cheltenham as his two disappointing efforts have come there over fences. A potential early target on a flatter track could well be the Old Roan at Aintree in October or, if he isn’t ready, the valuable 2m4f handicap chase at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting could prove ideal as long as the ground is half decent. You would also hope that he would prove to be better than a handicapper with the promise shown so far.

 

TARA POINT – 6 – Paul Nicholls

When looking at the list of big race winners during throughout the career of Paul Nicholls, a particular absence from them is Graded success with a mare. However, he may just have the right horse to change that and again, like last season, she seems to have slipped under the radar.

The daughter of Kayf Tara created a strong impression in the Point to Point field, winning by 36 lengths at Mollington in March 2013 for owner/trainer Chloe Roddick in a 4-7yo Open Maiden over 2m4f under Nico De Boinville before being sold to Nicholls. Her debut for the yard came over a year later in April 2014 in a mares bumper at Taunton on good ground where she bolted up under Harry Derham, quickening clear of her field in a number of strides to win eased down by 8 lengths from Catherines Well.

Tara Point winning a Listed contest at Taunton.
Tara Point winning a Listed contest at Taunton.

She was put away after that one run for the new National Hunt season, making her debut in November at Exeter over 2m3f where she made all the running and jumped nimbly under a confident Sam Twiston-Davies. Up the home straight, Twiston-Davies gave her half an inch of rein and she sauntered clear without coming off the bridle to win by 15 lengths on testing ground.

Off the back of that performance, connections decided to let her have a crack at the geldings in a decent renewal of the Grade 2 Winter Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown over 2m4f where she was allowed to get into a lovely rhythm out in front, albeit racing a tad keen. Her jumping again was a huge asset for the most part and at one stage, she had all her rivals off the bridle but a slight mistake at the last and her earlier excursions told in the end with Vyta Du Roc and Shantou Bob outstaying her up the hill. To her credit, she battled back up the hill to just be beaten over a length.

We only saw her once more after Christmas back against her own sex in Listed company at Taunton, with the racing bordering on farcical due to five of the nine hurdles being omitted because of the low sun. Like Exeter she stamped her authority, but this time she was given more of a race by better quality mares, winning by 4 lengths from Dusky Legend.

A small injury kept her out of action for the rest of the season but she returns this season to hopefully be part of the strong Nicholls novice chase team. Although she will likely be kept within her own sex on debut where she rates as one of England’s leading lights, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see her mixing it with the geldings at some point during the season.

 

VALUE AT RISK – 6 – Dan Skelton

A trainer expected to have a big season by many is Dan Skelton who looks to have an array of smart prospects for the future. Of his novice chasers, his three stand outs all merited a place in this list. Blue Heron will make his mark over 2m and could make up into a lively outsider for the Arkle whilst Three Musketeers looks the type to make up into one of the yard’s long term flagship horses along with Value At Risk.

Value At Risk looks a leading candidate for the RSA Chase.
Value At Risk looks a leading candidate for the RSA Chase.

Having proven himself to be a very useful bumper horse for Philip Fenton, he moved to Skelton’s yard at the beginning of last season after the controversy surrounding his former trainer. From the start, Skelton was keen to state that he needs plenty of time, highlighted when missing the fixed brush race won by Maximiser at Haydock with the trainer stating that he needed a couple more weeks before a run. Instead, he went to Newbury just before Christmas over 2m3f and demolished a capable field without coming out of second gear by 22 lengths. The fact Harry Skelton wasn’t moving a muscle and he was still going further clear of his rivals was extremely pleasing on the eye. To add some context, the second Foryourinformation had ran the previous time at Newbury in a decent novice hurdle and was beaten just over 7 lengths by Out Sam, Thomas Brown and Tea For Two who all looked decent prospects in their own right. Value At Risk beat him 22 lengths on the bridle, showcasing how deeply impressive he was for a hurdling debut.

The son of Kayf Tara’s next assignment came on Trials Day in the Neptune Trial to see whether 2m5f or 3m would be the right way to go in March. In a race that wasn’t run to suit due to a stop/start pace, he raced keenly early on and looked in trouble on the turn for home. However, he showed great tenacity after the final flight to battle back, only beaten less than a length by Ordo Ab Chao. This confirmed him to be more of a staying type and we only saw him after that in the Albert Bartlett where he settled a lot better than he had done in his previous starts and travelled down the hill as good as any until he began to weaken when the three ahead of him kicked for home, ending up fifth beaten 12 lengths by Martello Tower.

The plan has always been to go novice chasing this season, with him already pencilled in to make his chase debut on the 27th October at Bangor before going on to the Hennessy meeting at Newbury. Long term, he does look a real stayer with his dam Miss Orchestra being a Midlands National winner and the ideal target would be the RSA Chase at the Festival. Of the horses that make the list, he rates as one of the more exciting prospects.

 

VINTAGE CLOUDS – 5 – Sue Smith

With Great Try another that appears not to be in training this season on Paul Nicholls website, another Trevor Hemmings horse that was in my tracker last season was this grey son of Cloudings who looks to have a fairly decent future over obstacles.

His debut came last December at Catterick where he showed signs of inexperience but stayed on nicely to finish third beaten 4 lengths by After Toniight. On his next start, he was sent off favourite at Sedgefield on Boxing Day where he gave Bedale Lane too much rope in front when beaten 7 lengths in second.

That experience wasn’t lost on him as a change in tactics at Wetherby on his next start did the trick. Sent off in front by Danny Cook, he made every yard of the running and showed an excellent attitude by galloping all the way to the line to win by 14 lengths from Bollin Ace. The same tactics were used when trying to defy a penalty at Newcastle, in what looked a decent bumper on paper, but he was swallowed up by the well backed Brain Power, eventually finishing fifth beaten less than 7 lengths.

A half brother to useful staying chaser Vintage Star, he will improve once stepping up in distance over hurdles and will probably start over 2m4f before getting further in time. Considering his high knee action, soft ground will likely be a necessity for him so we will likely see him at a track like Haydock over the upcoming few months with the races over the fixed brush hurdles a likely target.

 

YANWORTH – 5 – Alan King

The final horse to make the never-ending list was arguably not given the greatest of rides at last year’s Festival in the Champion Bumper but this son of Norse Dancer looks more than capable of being one of England’s leading novice hurdlers. Originally owned by his trainer Alan King, he made a winning debut in May 2014 at Wincanton when lowering the colours of the well regarded Urubu D’Irlande, both of them pulling nearly 30 lengths clear of the third Admiral Miller.

Kept to bumpers last season, his return at Newbury was one of the easiest wins you will witness. Although the margin was 2 lengths, the runner up Rabunda was hugely flattered by the winner who hardly broke sweat in a race that was effectively an exercise canter. He then headed to Ascot for the Listed bumper just before Christmas and whilst the slow pace early on inconvenienced most, he travelled nicely into contention but found Supasundae too strong for him in the closing stages, the pair pulling 11 lengths clear of the third Rio Treasure.

Yanworth (White cap) looks an exciting recruit to hurdling for JP McManus.
Yanworth (White cap) looks an exciting recruit to hurdling for JP McManus.

His final outing came in the Champion Bumper where, as mentioned above, it wasn’t exactly Tony McCoy’s finest hour as he allowed the race to develop too much in front of him and was momentarily shuffled back crossing the path before the turn for home, costing him valuable ground on the leaders. Once in the clear, he stayed on eyecatchingly up the hill, beaten just under 4 lengths by Moon Racer. The body language from McCoy on pulling up suggested he could have finished closer than his finishing position of fourth.

It appears that trainer Alan King already wants to start him over 2m4f over hurdles and the way he finished at Cheltenham suggests he should have no issue starting off over further. He could even clash with Barters Hill who features earlier in the list a couple of times and, long term, the Neptune would probably be the ideal aim for this season. Hopefully he can provide his lad Steve Ayres with some big success to cheer about after sadly losing his pride and joy Balder Succes at Aintree in the spring. The future’s bright. The future’s Orange. The list finally comes to an end. Halleujah.