Dark horses to follow 2013/14

Always tough doing dark horses to follow as some will think you’re bonkers and others will say he’s/she’s too obvious. Either way I’m willing to take some stick. While there was an obvious aim for the novice and chasers to follow, Cheltenham lists like these, I feel, are hard to have specifics.

I suppose showing a level stakes profits for the year is a nice aim to have. This, or maybe singling out runners that are decent ante-post prices for Cheltenham races now, and getting them to line up in March at a significantly shorter price.

As ever I’ll hopefully give a well-balanced list mixing horses of all disciplines (novices, handicappers etc.).

Cinders And Ashes

Probably one of the most disappointing horse of the 2012/13 season and I can understand why some people may think I’m bonkers sticking with this horse. I put him up as an established horse to follow last season, but the year was a complete disaster.

It seems everything that could go wrong did as he repeatedly ran on ground far too soft for him. In fact, two of his efforts last season came on ground described as ‘heavy’. Quite simply, that isn’t his game as you can imagine from his classy flat pedigree.

While on course conditions constantly prevailed against him subsequent events show another significant reason why he couldn’t show his best. After his failed Champion Hurdle run connections sent him to Newmarket vets for a thorough check over.

The results proved shocking and utterly surprising as he was diagnosed with a fractured pelvis. Donald McCain and his team couldn’t believe the news as he never took a lame step all year.

Secretly connections must have been delighted to have found a serious problem as his efforts were too bad to be true. After his disaster campaign last year it’s very easy forget he was an impressive winner of the 2012 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

While not the best of renewals it looked like him and Darlan were the two that could potentially graduate into Champion Hurdle class. The latter did (or was on his way there) before being fatally injured while the former had any amount of things conspire against him.

It will be interesting to see if Donald McCain can get the old Cinders And Ashes back. While the Champion Hurdle couldn’t entirely be ruled out he may have a nice handicap in him as he bids to kick start his career.

Hopefully his trainer/owners keeps him away from awful ground this season!

Clean Sheet

A horse that interests me for a number of reasons, but it was his pedigree that attracted me most. I’m a fan of this fella’s year older brother, Nelson’s Bridge who also runs for Nicky Henderson in the J.P McManus silks.

While his elder sibling hasn’t gone on from a positive start he’s had excuses in two tough races. He certainly showed enough in a pair of starts to suggest his mare might now be producing good stock in her breeding career.

Should Clean Sheet inherit any of his brother’s natural ability there is no saying how far he could progress. The early signs are indeed positive as this son of Oscar remains unbeaten, albeit after one start.

His sole win came in the Irish point to point field at Dromahane where he ran out a five length winner from a horse that has since run well on the track itself. He won in the style of a good horse in the hands of a top Irish amateur and has since been shipped to Seven Barrows.

After one run he is of course a hard horse to weigh up, but he’s with the right yard to fulfil his potential and he’s one I’m looking forward to seeing.

Martello Tower

This twice raced son of Milan is in the care of a Mullins, not W P, but Ms Margret and is one novice hurdler I’m looking forward to seeing this season. By a sire who is making a serious impact in the National Hunt game he’s from the family of smart staying duo Deep Bramble and Seven Towers.

His pedigree certainly marks him down as potentially very useful and given he remains unbeaten in two runs he may go a long way to fulfilling it. One run has come on the racetrack and the other in the Irish point to point field.

He won his point to point in taking fashion before making his sole public appearance a month later in a Punchestown Bumper. Sent off the 7/4 favourite in the hands of Patrick Mullins he again made a good impression running out a two length winner.

He gave away significant amounts of weight to his rivals too, but it didn’t stop him from scoring. The second in that bumper, a horse of Jessica Harrington’s has since gone on to frank the form and this is a horse he gave a full stone in weight to.

He may make up into a nice horse over two-and-a-half miles plus this season and it’s interesting to see how this €12,000 purchase goes. That figure could look quite a snip if things pan out.

Megalypos

May not be that dark a horse coming from the Nicky Henderson stable, but I’m sure there is a nice handicap or two in him off his current rating of 135. A former French based runner for top trainer Gus Macaire he was picked up by connections who have had success with French imports.

The son of a little known stallion Limnos this four-year-old has some size and scope about him to jump fences, but given his potentially lenient hurdles handicap mark he may stay over the smaller obstacles. He has time on his side after all.

Megalypos has only had two runs for Henderson, one coming at Chepstow with the other at the Cheltenham Festival in the Fred Winter. He disappointed in the latter race, looking amiss after running a soundly first time up, in a Grade One.

He finished third in the Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle, but should have finished at least second after being badly hampered at the last flight. This has probably helped his handicap mark and it’s also worth noting he has been dropped a further two pounds for his dismal Cheltenham effort.

That run was too bad to be true and as I said above he didn’t look right. It’s interesting connections have since given him plenty time off and have since tampered with his breathing. Should this work he may be a 150 horse running off a lenient looking mark.

While not knowing the French form his last run seems to be working out quite well, the winner of his last run subsequently going on to score in two Grade Threes and a Grade One, while looking unlucky in another. With the right team to improve he’s one of Nicky Henderson’s I’ll be following.

Minella Foru

Another novice hurdler I’m looking forward to seeing more of this season is Minella Foru. In the care of Eddie Harty and owned by J.P McManus he is a twice raced individual and remains unbeaten in both starts.

His first run came in an Irish point to point where he defeated a horse by the name of The Doorman, a well-related Mouse Morris trained animal. The pair pulled ten lengths clear of the third and Minella Foru was given a Racing Post rating of 90.

I always find horses that receive ratings of 85+ worth a second look in this discipline. While now looking at his point to point form, which looks sound, it was actually his racetrack debut that alerted me to him.

Connections wasted no time in sending him straight over hurdles. On the 21st of September he was sent to Listowel for a maiden hurdle and while the winning distance will suggest he scrambled home he did anything but.

Having jumped accurately and safely throughout, travelling a touch keen in between flights he was ridden like a good horse by the underrated Mark Walsh. Cruising past horses when asked by his rider he loomed up in the straight to fend off a Willie Mullins hotpot nicely.

It was notable he drifted on course from an opening price of 5/1 to 8/1. I don’t think connections expected to see what they did, his trainer’s post-race comments saying “He was fit enough to win if he was good enough. I´ve had no runners of any consequence for a while though and no yardstick by which to measure him by”.

To me, this suggests there may be significant improvement to come and if that’s the case this son of King’s Theatre, from the family of Stayers´ Hurdle winner Rose Ravine may prove more than useful over the coming season. Maybe one for the Coral Cup long term.

Provo

A son of Presenting that is in training with Paul Nicholls he may raise a few eyebrows in the novice chase division this coming season. Long term the RSA or even the four mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham could enter the fray should this nicely bred six-year-old progress.

By a classy and stamina laden National Hunt sire his dam’s side of his pedigree can be considered above average. Pairtree, herself a bumper winner on the track was bought for £36,000 at a DBS Sale in 2007.

She’s either a half/full sister to six individual winners who between them have won 21 races. Our Ben and Scavenger were the best of her siblings rated 156 and 126, respectively in their pomp.

With his trainer being a huge positive, his pedigree too we just need one more major piece to the puzzle, his track performances. Gladly these are of a decent standard too.

Three race course appearances have yielded form figures of 512. Fifth in a hot bumper on debut at Ascot we didn’t see him for a year when he returned to slam his rivals in convincing fashion in a Wincanton novice event.

He then went on to Exeter, but was beaten carrying a penalty by a nice Jonjo O’Neill horse on soft ground. Given his sire he may appreciate better terrain as he goes on. Said to be a ‘chaser in the making’ he may make his mark over fences this season. A horse who has obviously been hard to train, maybe because of his size, hopefully he gets a clean run this year.

Sausalito Sunrise

I was at Ascot the day this five-year-old ran third to a nice horse of Donald McCain’s, Up And Go in a decent event. I went down to have a look at the field in the pre-parade ring to where I saw Up and Go first.

“Big, strong lad” I remembering thinking about the McCain horse until I saw Sausalito Sunrise. “Bloody hell” I think followed as he made the McCain horse look like a pony. He had an interesting enough profile coming into that race and after he ran a sound third I said I must keep an eye on this one.

So true to my word, I am. All I could think was chasing was going to make this son of Gold Well especially considering he had won his sole start in an Irish point to point. There he received a decent point rating of 90 from the Racing Post.

While chasing will be his ultimate niche I can’t believe his rating over hurdles, 117. I’m sure he’s better than that and it’s this very reason why his trainer, Philip Hobbs may keep him over hurdles for a couple runs, maybe the entire season.

He still maintains novice status for the year, but he’ll surely be sent down the handicapping route with the aim of rattling off a couple of quick fire wins. Looking at this pedigree two-and-a-half miles should be perfect.

Owned by the Whateley’s I’m sure they’ll be disappointed should this strapping type not get his head in front at least a couple times this season.

Ubak

Gary Moore is showing steadily he has the ability to nurture potential talent over jumps as shown with horses like Sire De Grugy and others especially in top two mile handicap hurdles.

The West Sussex based trainer may have another potentially useful sort on his hands in Ubak, who nearly made it on to my Novice Chasers to follow list. I’m not quite sure if he fits into the dark horses profile, but I haven’t seen much talk about him.

The reason he may not fall in line is because he won at the Aintree Festival in April before going to Punchestown to finish second in a Grade One, behind the classy looking Un Atout. His Aintree victory came in a Grade Two event and also, in some style.

This was after a disappointing effort in the Neptune Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. To be fair, he was a 100-1 shot and certainly ran better than those odds suggest. It may also prove to be a decent running of the race. The early signs are positive anyway.

The early signs are also positive for his future considering he’s said to be a three mile chaser in the making. His form over hurdles was superb and he got better as the season went on, maybe a sign that he was still adjusting to life in England.

He’s an ex-French jumper you see. The son of Kapgarde had four runs in his native land and there too, he showed signs of progression the more he raced. He finished his career on the continent by running second to a smart French runner named Gemix.

With his form looking solid in hind sight he may be able to do better this coming season. It’s also worth noting he’s a half-brother to the classy Rebel Fitz and is by a’ proper’ jumps sire. Maybe the Jewson is on the cards come March, all being well?

Whispering Gallery

This son of Daylami could be a potential flag bearer for the yard of John Ferguson this coming season. Like the majority of Ferguson’s inmates, he’s a Darley castoff, of sorts. I say of sorts as this former Godolphin runner paid his keep for his for trainer.

He won four races for the Boys in Blue after transferring from the stable of Mark Johnston who managed to win three with him. He even scored in a Grade Three contest at Meydan where he had a classy stayer in Opinion Poll behind.

That would be his last race in 22 months before shipping to Ferguson’s jumps operation. He obviously suffered an injury that needed time but given he’s now running on the national hunt circuit I think it’s pretty safe to assume he made a full recovery.

Two runs for Ferguson have yielded two wins, in quite convincing fashion truth be told. Victories at Leicester and Wincanton were done in good style, but also marked him down as a novice jumper. While that is of course a concern there is a pretty big engine to carry him a long way in the game.

Hopefully he’s sharpened up his jumping over the summer because if he masters that art I’m pretty sure he’ll be better than his current rating of 144. While a bold shout, he could end up in the World Hurdle come March should everything go to plan.

Before that however, there is certainly a handicap or two to be won by this well-bred bay.

Novice Chasers to Follow 2013/14

Similar to the blog’s novice hurdlers ten to follow (http://bit.ly/1g5rBcG) we’ll go in with the aim of highlighting potential horses capable of running in one of three novice chase events at the Cheltenham Festival. The Arkle, the newly promoted Grade One Jewson Novices’ Chase and the RSA Chase are the three races.

Once again, hopefully I can provide a well-balanced list of horses. Some, like the above list will pick themselves, but it would be nice to highlight a number under the radar prospects. Here’s hoping anyway.

African Gold

In recent years, six-year-olds (Florida Pearl the last in 1998 – the second in 24 years) simply don’t win the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. This is fact and for that very reason I’m hoping connections of African Gold go down the Jewson Novices’ Chase route.

The Jewson is now a Grade One and while nowhere near as prestigious as the RSA or the Arkle the right races for horses should always be chosen regardless of prestige preference.

Should the Jewson be African Gold’s intended target the 20/1 available at the time of writing could look very big come March. This son of King’s Theatre has been a favourite of mine since the turn of the year when I finally started to appreciate him.

In looking at ante-post markets for the 2013 Cheltenham Festival he was a horse that came to my attention for a possible bet in the Albert Bartlett (http://bit.ly/1aFIreg). I did intend put him up as you can see in the above link and he done us proud by running second to a classy looking winner.

He still ran a sound race and it’s worth marking his effort up given the heavy rain that fell Gold Cup day wouldn’t have suited. Like plenty of his sire’s progeny he appreciates good ground and while winning a number of races on soft winter going it was simply a case of his class getting him through.

What really struck me about African Gold over hurdles was how quick and fluent he was over his obstacles. I don’t think I’ve seen many novices hurdle better than him, maybe an old favourite of mine Intersky Falcon, but I was very taken by it.

For him to have top technique at such a young age given his size and scope it just sets off alarm bells of being a natural jumper. It may also be a sign of cognitive ability something horses very much need when going chasing. Well, in general really.

The ability to go short, pop and stretch long at the rider’s request is paramount in the chasing game and African Gold strikes me as a horse that may well take it all in his stride.

If this is indeed the case with further physical improvement nearly guaranteed he is an exciting recruit to the chasing game. While he didn’t bag a major race last season, or any Graded heat his Cheltenham effort tells me class isn’t an issue.

I could even see him winning over two miles given his front running style. It’s unlikely we’ll see him over that trip however, his pedigree is full of staying prowess. By a strong stamina influence in King’s Theatre he’s out of a Presenting mare from the family of smart jumpers Ottowa & Calling Brave.

Hopefully he’s summered well for his new owner, Dai Walters who is sure to have paid a pretty big sum to secure African Gold to run in his colours.

The final positive I’ll leave you with is the selection’s attitude. He’s very genuine, a real trier and God loves them supposedly, so hopefully he watches over this smart type.

Bright New Dawn

This was the last place on the list and it just went to Bright New Dawn ahead of another stayer I’m excited about this season, O’Faolains Boy. This was real nip and tuck about who’d get it, but I thought I’d try and keep the balance of five Irish and five Great Britain based horses.

Gigginstown owned and Dessie Hughes trained this son of Presenting has some top form in the book from last season. Even just looking at the horses he ran against before delving into the form book proper and you can see he kept high company.

Venture Capital, Felix Yonger, Ned Buntline, Jezki, Champagne Fever and Mala Beach (Defy Logic form really) are just some of the names he’s been taking on. And, in the main, he’s acquitted himself quite well.

He didn’t manage to score in his two bumper runs, but has bagged a pair of hurdle victories including a Grade Two at Thurles. The latter win was a tad fortunate as he was left in front at the last, but he still held every chance of getting on top and is just worth noting.

Before this however, he had run in two Grade Ones events and placed in both behind Jezki and Champagne Fever. In the Paddy Power Future Champion Novice Hurdle he had eight lengths to find on the much speedier Jezki at the line.

It was a sound effort though as he gave the winner three pounds and also chased a very strong pace which the winner didn’t. In the Deloitte Novice Hurdle he was beaten under two lengths by subsequent Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Champagne Fever, pulling well clear of the third.

Again, that was another sound effort before he went on to win at Thurles. He disappointed on his final start of the year at Fairyhouse, but I’m pretty sure it was his true running and can most likely be forgiven.

All his runs throughout last year came over trips ranging from two miles to two-and-a-half, but looking at his pedigree, he’s done superbly well to compete with the best of the best over the distances he faced.

By a strong staying influence in Presenting his dam is an unraced sister to bumper winner Bob Le Gaoth and a half-sister to 2m6f hurdle winner Ar Aghaidh Leat, out of unraced half-sister to Stayers´ Hurdle winner Shuil Ar Aghaidh and useful staying jumper Rawhide.

This coupled with him looking made for chasing means he may well be in for a big year. Could go to the top in the Irish staying novice division.

Champagne Fever

The very first horse that went on to my list and the one I rate as my most exciting novice chaser to follow. Many will obviously know who Champagne Fever is and while he’s so blatantly obvious to include I make no apologies for it.

This classy, tough and durable grey is already a duel Cheltenham Festival winner. In 2012 he battled valiantly up the hill to secure his first win at Prestbury Park in the Champion Bumper. Last season he once again showed just how much he wants to win when taking the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in similar fashion.

Cheltenham is clearly a track that suits him well and whichever race he lines up in come March, should he make the track, he is nearly sure to go off favourite for. The fact the three time Grade One winner has managed to score so many times at the highest level already is a testament to his class.

The reason for this? Simple, chasing looks like it will bring out the best in him. He has the size, scope and athlete ability which indicates jumping fences will bring improve him. A scary thought considering what we’ve already seen!

The son of Stowaway nearly skipped a hurdling campaign altogether last season to go straight over the larger obstacles. He had already been schooled extensively in this department, which may be why he was prone to the odd sloppy jump over hurdles, but given age wasn’t an enemy connections stayed down the hurdles route.

A blessing now considering he bagged two Grade Ones last campaign and built up more race experience in competitive fields – something that will stand to him over fences.

Already an impressive point to point winner I can’t see this new discipline holding any fears for him. He’s already showed at home he’s a natural. The main question this season is what will his main end of season target be? The Arkle, Jewson or the RSA?

My own opinion is the Jewson will be his perfect race given his pedigree and physical attributes (Whether connections take the least prestigious option remains to be seen). His blood line is all stamina and the fact he’s been winning top races over two miles is quite astonishing. With his high cruising speed, accompanied with his class however, he could easily be an Arkle horse. And I wouldn’t totally rule out the RSA.

I’d imagine the ground will dictate what he does come March, but in the meantime he should make hay on winter soft ground from two to two-and-a-half miles. His style of racing suits the quiet sitting Ruby Walsh perfectly and this is one duo who will be a force this coming season.

Close Touch

It would be madness not to include a Nicky Henderson novice chaser to follow for the year given his class as a trainer and his Cheltenham Festival record. The Seven Barrows trainer has a ridiculous amount of ammunition again this season, but one department he may struggle in is with the Novice Chasers.

Many will point to Grandouet and Oscar Whisky as exciting recruits and while this is correct both don’t strike me a proper chasing prospects. It’s all an afterthought I feel. With this in mind the one horse that can maybe reach the top of the Henderson novice chase tree is Close Touch.

Breed and owned by her Royal Majesty The Queen Close Touch is a nice horse to bring through for a novice chase campaign. The nicely bred son of Generous has the size about him to improve for larger obstacles and if doing so after a sound novice hurdle campaign he can make his presence felt here.

His sire is not exactly a house hold name among jumping stallions, but I’m hoping this doesn’t hold him back. It certainly hasn’t so far as he’s only been beaten in one of his five starts. Unbeaten in one bumper run his one and only defeat over hurdles came at the hands of the classy looking African Gold.

African Gold went to Cheltenham to frank the form when running second to At Fishers Cross in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Before his last effort over timber this would be Close Touch’s best run and a major step-up on the weakish novice events he had been winning.

At Sandown last year he really marked himself down as a horse to follow when romping away with the competitive final of a novices’ series. He ran out a 12 length winner, but was value for far more. He clearly loved the soft ground so winter terrain is not going to pose a problem for him.

The aspect I really loved about his win was how lazy he appeared to run. He looked asleep throughout under Barry Geraghty, but whenever the jockey gave him a squeeze to pick up he did so immediately.

After the win connections said this “His future is as a chaser. That´s what he´s designed for and only this time next year will we know what he´s made of.” With this in mind he could be line for a decent year. He’s certainly surrounded by the right people to do so.

Coneygree

Despite being by a sire I’m not overly keen on I’m willing to include Coneygree in this season’s novice chasers list. With his form starting to look increasingly decent I’m surprised there hasn’t been more talk about him.

He’s trained by an unfashionable trainer in Mark Bradstock, who compared to most in the game is pretty small time. Maybe this is why I haven’t heard his named banded about, but given his form I’m delighted with such.

With this being the case he’s a perfect fit here and meets the objective of this piece perfectly i.e. a horse flying under the radar, but with Cheltenham aspirations. Although not trained by a house hold name Coneygree’s trainer has landed big races, albeit handicaps, on the biggest stage.

Carruthers, a multiple graded scorer and Hennessy Gold Cup hero along with King Harold, a Cheltenham Festival winner are two that come to my immediate thoughts.

The former mentioned, Carruthers is actually a half-brother to Coneygree which is an encouraging sign on the breeding front. It certainly won’t do his inclusion here any harm.

Like Carruthers, Coneygree had shown solid form over hurdles before embarking on a chase career. This is obviously a positive especially since Mark Bradstock constantly beat the same drum last year in saying “He´s a chaser in the making and whatever he does over hurdles will be a bonus. He has the stamp for it”.

Should this be the case, the official rating of 150 he reached over hurdles may be bettered and, if doing so and improving by ten pounds or so (putting him on 160) that would’ve put him bang there in six of the last ten runnings of the RSA Chase.

His form last season gives him every right to contest an RSA should he take to the larger obstacles. He bagged two Grade Twos, both at Cheltenham – a huge positive – in 2012 before returning for another (Grade Two), again at Cheltenham in January.

Here he would finish 12 lengths behind At Fishers Cross and The New One, winners of the Albert Bartlett and Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, respectively at the Cheltenham Festival. Not bad form, hey?

While at the time it looked like a below par effort subsequent events show it to be a sound run especially considering it was over a trip shy of his best.  He looked all staying power last season and should have no problem with three miles this campaign, even in testing ground.

Winter, soft ground suits him well as he has a bit of an exaggerated knee action which sees him hit the ground hard. It’s also worth noting however, that he scored on good to soft terrain in his bumpers days.

It will be a tough year for him, but I’m pretty sure he’ll hold his own in decent company now he’s older and stronger. He may even develop into a National Hunt chase candidate.

Defy Logic

I’m probably going to get stick from a few for selecting this one. After initially not being as impressed as most by his chasing debut this week I’m coming round to this son of Flemensfirth. Maybe I was being too harsh on Paul Nolan’s charge.

The reason I wasn’t blown away by his 2013/14 debut is simple, his overall profile doesn’t fill me with confidence in terms of progressing throughout the season. He’s worn a hood, a type of pacifier for the majority of his career in a bid to curb his free going ways.

He’s a horse who last season was too keen for his own good meaning he never really allowed himself to reach his full potential over hurdles. He would constantly pull for his head and battle with his jockey, using plenty of energy in the process.

Now, this can also be deemed a positive going forward because if he learns to relax and race in a proper rhythm he has a serious engine to facilitate him. For a national hunt horse he has blistering early pace accompanied by an ability to maintain a strong gallop for an extended period.

Throughout his earlier career he would literally gallop horses into the ground and win. That’s easy done in lower grades but when stepped up in class like last season his exuberant ways found him out.

On his first start of this calendar year he succumbed to Annie Power who easily picked him up late on to record a decent win. Now, given what she went on to do later in the year this may not be bad form in the long term.

A similar story played out next time out, but this time against a rival who he was easily better than and this is the worry going forward. To be fair though, in this race the first two home pulled along way clear of a decent horse in third.

That would be his last start for the year before returning this week. He ran out an easy winner at odds of 2/5 so he was fully entitled to do so. He didn’t look as keen as he did last season which is a massive plus.

He finally may be learning to settle and race within himself instead of against himself. His jumping too was sound despite guessing at the third. It improved as the race went on and he looked quite quick away from his obstacles.

He’s a horse of great potential and I hope he fulfils it, but some of the doubts I have include:

  1. How will his jumping hold up in top company if/when pressed?
  2. His style of running means he has tough races each time. Longevity?
  3. Little room for error in jumping department given hid forceful style

A lot will depend on how his trainer handles him so it will be interesting to see if Paul Nolan can get the best of this well-bred six-year-old. Maybe best of flat tracks.

Felix Yonger

While Champagne Fever will be the novice chaser that excites most from the Willie Mullins yard this coming season one I’m really looking forward to seeing back on the track is Felix Yonger.

Graham Wylie owned and Willie Mullins trained, these are two big positives before delving into his profile properly. A now seven-year-old by a sound National Hunt sire in Oscar, the distaff side of his pedigree is nothing to write home about.

While his bloodline is nothing speculator, we shouldn’t fret as he’s already shown more than useful form on the track. Formerly trained by Howard Johnson (also had one start for Tom Mullins in 2010), a now warned off trainer Felix Yonger had two bumper runs under the disgraced Johnson.

He won one before being deemed good enough to be considered for the Cheltenham Champion. He ran down the field there and this would be his last start in Great Britain before being sent to Willie Mullins.

Six runs he’s now had for the Irish Champion trainer, five over hurdles and one over fences. His hurdles form figures yielded results of 21125. One of those was a Naas Grade Two where he beat a very useful filly in Dresstothenines.

From here he was again considered Cheltenham material, this time by his new trainer and he didn’t let his connections down by running a stormer to finish second to the very impressive Simonsig in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle.

While Simonsig has obviously boosted the form it’s worth remembering he was 11 lengths clear of Monksland, a subsequent Grade Two winner in open company. There were a number of other useful horses behind including the ill-fated Sous Les Cieux and 2013 Jewson Novices’ Chase winner, Beneffcient.

He then flopped on unsuitable soft ground four weeks later at Punchestown before missing a whole year through injury. He would return 13 months on at Punchestown in a beginners chase.

He returned with a win, a stylish victory was seen over the larger obstacles as he jumped like an old hand the whole way round. It was a solid start to his chasing career and the form has since been franked.

This year will tell us plenty about him, but chasing was always going to be his game given his size. I’m pretty sure he’s at least a 150 rated horse on what we’ve seen with the potential to improve. He can do so coming from these quarters and trips from two miles to two-and-a-half should be perfect.

The one drawback is he’s a much better horse on good ground which he’s unlikely to get in Ireland over the winter. He could be one Willie Mullins brings to Great Britain this season as there are a number of nice options for him.

Marlbrook

Will be one of the horses with less hype surrounding him on this list given he’s only had the two career starts – one in the point to point field, the other in a maiden hurdle.

I actually flagged Marlbrook  up on my twitter timeline back in the spring after one of my friends, who is a bookmaker, said he was one of the most impressive point to point winners he’d ever seen.

He wasn’t in the ownership of J.P McManus this day, but was subsequently bought by Ireland’s leading owner. Six weeks later he would make his debut under rules at Gowran Park and the son of Beneficial would run out a hugely impressive winner of a maiden hurdle, in the process shedding his novice hurdle tag for the following season. Sadly.

In the hands of Mark Walsh, a jockey I’m a huge fan of, he went on to score in effortless style by 17 lengths. Post-race comments from the trainer read “All he could do was win like that and it´s great to get that out of the way before next week. He´s an exciting horse and chasing is his game.”

While fences are sure to suit him given his size it must be a little bit worrying that he goes straight over the larger obstacles with so little experience. Still only five, time is on his side and I think it’s a mistake to send him straight into this discipline.

While the ultimate aim of horses on this list is to compete at Cheltenham in March this son of Beneficial from the family of Grand National winner Corbiere will do well to be entering that fray with so little experience.

Now in the care of Colm Murphy, who can nurture potential, as we saw with Brave Inca and Big Zeb hopefully the Wexford based trainer can educate him along the way.

There is the possibility of his class pulling him through though. His sole point to point win, which came in very taking fashion, is working out. The second horse there, a Gigginstown owned charge has since scored in a point and a bumper, with the runner-up in said bumper subsequently winning a Grade Three Novice Hurdle.

He’s an interesting horse to add to your ATR tracker’s for the year. Best case scenario he ends up in the Jewson Novices’ Chase in March and if I could get a silly price about him for that I’d back him to trade out.

Really interested to see how he fairs.

Shutthefrontdoor

There are two Jonjo O’Neill staying chasers I’m interested in with the RSA in mind this season and I’ve just given the nod to Shutthefrontdoor over Cloudy Cooper. The main reason being the former’s ability to handle most types of ground and his Cheltenham Festival experience.

By one of my favourite sires in Accordion Shutthefrontdoor was a sound fourth in the Pertemps Final at the Festival in March. He ran a stormer under a pretty big weight, as a novice, over the taxing three miles trip in an ultra-competitive handicap.

The first home in that race, Holywell, his stable mate in actual fact has since gone on to frank that form in Grade One company taking a huge step-up. With Shutthefrontdoor giving him four pounds and the race now working out, to a degree, it’s a positive going forward.

His runs pre-Cheltenham were nothing spectacular, but you just get the feeling connections were playing their cards close to their chest, not wanting to reveal his true ability. The J.P McManus owned gelding helped connections in this respect too, mind.

To me he looks like a horse that doesn’t do an awful lot when he hits the front. When winning at Carlisle before he came to Cheltenham this year he won by half a length in a Pertemps qualifier. The winning distance was slight, but he looked to have plenty left in the tank.

Post-race comments from Tony McCoy made for interesting listening too. The Champion Jockey said “Shutthefrontdoor just kept on, but he won´t have the experience for the final and he won´t be quick enough either.”

These thoughts from McCoy I thought were interesting considering Shutthefrontdoor did indeed turn up at Cheltenham and, on quicker ground too. A word of advice, just take J.P McManus owned horse comments with a pinch of salt and don’t fret too much about negative body language/comments if you like a horse of his.

Connections haven’t wasted any time this season in getting out their horse. A trip to Aintree was undertaken just last week and it was a winning one too. Again he won by a small margin in a race that has thrown up decent horses in the past.

The form doesn’t look Graded winning material, but Shutthefrontdoor did jump well and still managed to score over a trip too sharp for him. So far so good for him and I’m interested to see how he fairs this year when stepping up in distance.

I get the feeling he may be pretty useful and the RSA is a race that will suit him well.

Whisper

A horse I felt performed a lot better than his bare form represents last season. Four of his five runs came on ground described as heavy as he’s just not that type of horse. A horse blessed with plenty natural pace he’s what I’d describe as a real Nicky Henderson buy.

Henderson’s horse usually prefer decent racing ground as he tends to buy/receive real racy types. Whisper is one of these and considering eighty percent of his efforts last year came on ground far too soft I thought he done well.

This may mean he’s one of his top handlers inmates that’s not got full credit and so, coming in a bit of an unknown this year. Hopefully this is the case as to my eye the two mile division is wide open in England with no stand out performers in the novice chase division. Not like Champagne Fever in Ireland.

Last season, after just one run over hurdles, which he won in impressive fashion, he was pitched into Grade Two company on his third ever career start. He was beaten 20 lengths in the end, which on paper looks a bit of a trimming.

Now, this was the case in the end, but at the bottom of the Cheltenham Hill he was bang there with At Fishers Cross, The New One and fellow list entrant, Coneygree. This form could hardly have worked out any better with, for me, two potential super stars filling the first two places home.

Also, first and second home pushed each other right to the limit so we know the losing distance is a solid yardstick. Furthermore, with Whisper going out of camera shot early in the straight there is every chance Barry Geraghty was easy on his mount and let him coast home a touch.

Three more runs would see the season out with him winning two minor events, one on heavy ground the other on good to soft. His other loss came in the EBF Final at Sandown, a decent race behind stable Close Touch and again, while beaten a good 12 lengths the distance tells a similar story to the previously mentioned Cheltenham race.

Now he goes chasing, a year older, a year stronger and he could be set for a decent season. The ground is obviously a worry again, but he’s one I’d love to see in a nice race on good terrain. He’s certainly in the right company to improve so let’s see how he goes. A touch of a dark horse I feel, considering the likes of Grandouet and Oscar Whisky share board. Maybe best of flat tracks.

Novice Hurdlers to Follow 2013/14

When picking a list of novice hurdlers to follow for the season the ultimate, for
me, is to get them to Cheltenham in March running in one of three races; the
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle or
the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

Highlighting potential in October/November and seeing it hopefully come to fruition in March is what it’s all about. The Cheltenham Festival is the ultimate. In selecting ten novice hurdlers to follow I’ll hopefully give a well-balanced selection of horses with the ideal case of having three in each of the aforementioned races. Crossover will obviously
occur between races, but hopefully we can highlight some nice horses to look out for.

Here’s last year’s list too (http://drracing.net/horse-racing/ten-to-follow-novice-hurdlers/)

Briar Hill

I find it simply impossible to leave out this horse given the amount of positives about him. Willie Mullins trained, Graham Wylie owned and highly likely to be Ruby Walsh ridden.

He is a £100,000 purchase son of Shantou from the family of Boston Bob, a family Mullins knows well, and is unbeaten in all completed career starts. Four runs he’s had altogether with his sole blip coming on debut, in a point to point, where he pulled up.

Since then he’s gone unbeaten, winning in the pointing field before switching codes and running in bumpers. Both bumper starts have produced sound wins – especially the latter, obviously, which came in the Cheltenham Champion.

This five-year-old was most impressive at the Festival running out a seven length winner – the third biggest margin in over 20 years. Only Dunguib and Cue Card have bettered that result in terms of distance in a quarter century.

Sent off a 25/1 shot, basically unconsidered and the last pick of the Willie Mullins three strong bumper team. A crazy price in hindsight especially given his breeding, price tag and connections.

So why did he go off such a big price? There are a number of reasons, but the main one and the point I like best, is because he’s not a flashy work horse. He’s said to be very idle at home and seemingly saves his best for the track – a trait I love in A horse.

His bumper is already starting to work out and given how impressive he was AT Cheltenham he rates a strong novice candidate in the two-and-a-half mile plus division this season.

Already said to be schooling well at home I look forward to seeing him.

Marlbrook

One horse that may creep under the radar a bit this year given his trainer, Enda Bolger. With all due respect to Mr Bolger I’m surprised his now owner of J.P McManus has left him in his care given the potential he has shown.

Now, I realise that statement sounds unfair, I think it is and I do apologises, but Cheltenham novice hurdle winners in March are not something that you associate Bolger with and I think this horse has the potential to get there, should connections wish to go that direction.

I am of course being unfair on Bolger as the horse is unbeaten in his care, two from two. I actually flagged him up on my twitter timeline back in the spring after one of my friends, who is a bookmaker, said he was one of the most impressive point to point winners he’d ever seen.

He wasn’t in the ownership of J.P McManus this day, but was subsequently bought by Ireland’s leading owner. Six weeks later he would make his debut under rules at Gowran Park and the son of Beneficial would run out a hugely impressive winner.

In the hands of Mark Walsh, a jockey I’m a huge fan of, he went on to score in effortless style by 17 lengths. Post-race comments from the trainer read “All he could do was win like that and it´s great to get that out of the way before next week. He´s an exciting horse and chasing is his game.”

While we may not see the best of him till he goes over fences I’m sure he can pay his way over hurdles. Still only five, time is on his side and I think it will be a mistake to send him straight over fences.

A two mile maiden or novice event is where he’ll probably start off given his class, but being by Beneficial from the family of Grand National winner Corbiere two-and-half miles will easily be within range.

Bolger certainly knows how to train staying horses and I’d love if this bay gelding would be given the Albert Bartlett as his end of season aim.

Soft ground is obviously not a problem for him on last season’s evidence, but his breeding suggests better terrain should allow him to show his best.

A nice horse who I’m hoping sneaks under the radar given his trainer.

Moyle Park

Another from the Willie Mullins school and the last one I’ve added to this list. I feel a bit embarrassed putting four of his inmates up, but the strength and depth the Irish handler has in this department is frightening. Let’s just say another one or two could easily have been included!

Anyway, this son of Flemensfirth, one of my favourite National Hunt sires, falls under that trusty racing phrase “could be anything”. In the care of a master trainer and owned by one of Mullins’ most wealthy patrons, Rich Ricci the pair may be on the road to further success with this duel bumper winner.

Formerly in the care of up and coming Irish trainer, Harry Kelly he went to the sales after his debut win in a Leopardstown flat race. Then sold at Cheltenham’s Brigthwells sales a couple months later he made a cool £250,000. Said to be an athletic type by his now trainer and with his first run working out nicely it’s easy to see why his owner stumped up the huge sum to secure his services.

Bought at the end of January we had to wait three months to see him reappear in his famous new silks for Mullins. The five-year-old wasn’t set an easy task, asked to compete in the Goffs Land Rover Bumper – traditionally a classy and competitive race.

Past winners include Hardy Eustace and Newmill, former Champion Hurdler (duel) and Champion Chase winners, respectively. Moyle Park would join such names in running out a gritty, determined winner in the hands of Patrick Mullins.

What was so impressive about the win however, was the amount of weight he gave away to such highly regarded horses after being a touch keen throughout. He obviously stays very well, has a touch of class and backs all this up with a sound attitude.

It looks like connections will start him out over two miles and take it from there, but looking at his pedigree two-and-a-half miles will be no problem whatsoever and come March time may be ideal for him.

I’m hopeful further progress will come this season as he supposedly took a bit of time to bed in to his new surroundings. His said athleticism, class, connections, form and attitude mark him down as yet another hugely exciting prospect for Mullins.

Red Sherlock

There’ll be a number of different horses with stories attached to them this coming season and none more so for jump’s racing fans than Red Sherlock. Owned by David Johnson, a man synonymous with jumps racing since I can remember, Mr Johnson sadly lost his battle with illness this year gone.

Not only did he own this potentially top class novice hurdler, but the dam of Red Sherlock was said to be one of David Johnson’s favourite ever horses. Lady Cricket is the horse in question and she herself was a classy operator winning multiple graded events in a hugely successful jumps career.

By a classy German sire in Shirocco, who has proved a little disappointing in his flat covering career, the Johnson’s foresight in choosing a stallion who is turning heads in the National Hunt scene may well pay off.

With the chestnut gelding looking the part on paper and his form too now starting to stack up he may well be in for an exciting year.

Last season kicked off in great style running out a hugely impressive bumper winner at Towcester on heavy ground before turning his attentions to Ascot. The four-year-old got the job done at the Berkshire venue, but only just.

On paper it looked a disappointing effort despite winning. All due to his prohibitive price of course, 4/6f, but subsequent events have shown that to be a solid effort. The first five home have given the form a solid look especially the runner-up and third horse.

With his on track performances now looking sound, him carrying a penalty to success and doing it all at the age of four, it’s a fair feat and I think he can go on from that this season with his trump card potentially being his gritty attitude.

Regal Diamond

Given his strong staying pedigree one would imagine Regal Diamond, if up to scratch of course would have his eyes set on an Albert Bartlett run at the Cheltenham Festival. By a strong staying influence in Vinnie Roe his dam was an unraced grand-daughter of Irish National third Credit Card who was the dam of high-class staying chaser Run For Free and smart staying jumper Bankers Benefit.

Given his nice mix of staying power and class the fact that this five-year-old managed to win two bumpers, one with a penalty so early in his career argues well for the future. Usually with these types of horse time is needed and also a step-up in distance, but the fact he was able to show speed to win over two miles so early, given his breeding, is something I like.

His sales record can also be deemed a positive. As a yearling at Tattersalls he made €8,000 before passing through the sales ring again, five years later at Newbury’s DBS sale. This timw however, he would make £70,000. He obviously impressed quite a few and although I haven’t seen him myself I’d assume he’s quite well made.

In terms of his performances on track, the most important variable, he’s done well. Four runs have now come in bumpers, registering two wins. His debut effort came in quite a hot Doncaster flat race where he finished fourth having done plenty of the donkey work where the first three home were held-up.

From here he would go on to score in bumpers at Ayr and Aintree, the latter with a penalty. After Aintree his trainer Peter Bowen said this “He´s definitely a very good horse, we´re very excited about him and I think he´s the best we´ve ever had. He´s going to be a three-mile chaser”.

That’s a fair statement from Bowen and although not a household name among the training ranks, like most, if given a good horse he can get plenty out of them. Bowen has trained three Grade One winners himself; Stately Home, Souffleur and Snoopy Loopy.

On top of those three top level winners, good horses like Always Waining and Take The Stand have proved to be more than useful (especially the latter). If Bowen is proved to be right in his high praise there is every chance Regal Diamond will be a nice staying novice to follow.

Behind this hype however there is substance. His bumper performances are holding their own in terms of form and I thought he made a pleasing comeback run at Cheltenham in another decent looking race, under a double penalty.

I look forward to seeing him stepping up in trip.

The Doorman

Minella Foru went into my notebook after winning at Listowel in September and I nudged him further up my list after these post-race comments were made by Eddie Harty: “I´ve had one brilliant horse, Captain Cee Bee, and all others must be judged by him from my yard. Whether this horse turns out to be that good, time will tell”.

A big statement from Eddie Harty who reading between the lines really likes this horse and while Minella Foru is one to keep an eye on, after inspecting his form closer, accompanied with Richard Pugh’s ATR point to point column (http://www.attheraces.com/jumps/article.aspx?hlid=538591&lid=horses+to+follow) I felt I’d give The Doorman the nod on this list.

There were a number of reasons for this. One, the trainer, Mouse Morris. Morris is a trainer I’m a huge fan of. He has his own ways of preparing horses where Cheltenham is concerned, but time after time they show up in March and run their race.

Two, the pedigree. While Minella Foru’s pedigree is sound the real positives stretch further down the bloodline. The Doorman’s however, is much more immediate being closely related to a decent staying chaser in The Minack who done quite well for Paul Nicholls in recent years.

While there is very little form to go on, something I agree is a little bit of a worry, Minella Foru has gone on to win under rules with the above post-race comments making eye-catching reading. He also beat a Willie Mullins hotpot in the process which is rarely a negative.

A bit of a talking horse, yes, but his life story thus far sets off alarm bells especially where connections are concerned and sometimes it just pays to follow the best.

Turnandgo

Given how well this Gigginstown owned equine’s bumper form is working out I rate him as one of the most exciting recruits to the novice hurdling division this season. Gigginstown owned, Willie Mullins trained – it doesn’t get much better than that for an Irish based horse.

While he hasn’t got the classiest of pedigrees I’m hoping he’ll be a potential flag bearer for his stallion Morozov who we’re seeing more and more of in Britain and Ireland. While probably still unfashionable as a stallion it’s encouraging his stock are improving in this part of the world.

His dam couldn’t be described as classy either, but all these facts didn’t stop former connections stumping up £75,000 at Cheltenham’s Brigthwells in May of 2012. Just four days later he was again entered in another sale, this time at the Goff’s DBS, but he was withdrawn.

No doubt his current connections, the new high flyers in Irish racing paid a hefty price to secure his services privately – hence the withdrawal.

The five-year-old went to Clonmel for his first two runs, tasting a shock defeat on debut before given an extended break of four months. While this was disappointing his immediate break suggests he wasn’t right.

From here though he hasn’t looked back as he returned to the former Tipperary track to record a facile success in testing ground. The Punchestown Festival was his next port of call and here we saw just how good he was.

Like his previous run he travelled with supreme ease before quickening in style to record another easy win. He put nine lengths back to the second, a further 16 to the third and gave both runners plenty weight.

The runner-up is a horse of Nicky Henderson’s, J.P McManus owned and brought a fair level of form in to the race which has subsequently been franked. Given Turnandgo gave him a beating, giving him ten pounds it now looks a superb effort.

Said to be a chaser in the making hopefully he can improve further and fill out his frame. If he can it wouldn’t surprise me to see Mullins with another potential superstar on his hands. An exciting horse.

Union Dues

Given the apparent strength and depth of Willie Mullins’ novice hurdlers this diminutive son of German sire Malinas looks to be coming into the season slightly under the radar. A £41,000 purchase from the 2012 Goff’s DBS sale he has already paid more than half that off in his four career starts. Three of those runs have come in bumpers with the last effort in this sphere seeing a start in the season’s main national hunt flat race at the Cheltenham Festival.

He went to Prestbury Park unbeaten in two races including a Grade Two at Navan on heavy ground. That was a decent contest with the form now looking above average. The second horse, Champagne James is liked by connections and he himself was impressive on debut in a race that is holding up well. Furthermore, the fourth horse home, Gilt Shadow was beaten six lengths and has subsequently gone on to finish second in the Grade One Punchestown Bumper behind The Liquidator (fourth in Cheltenham Bumper).

All that form is starting to stack up on the bumper front, but Union Dues too managed to score in a maiden flat race at the Galway Festival. A fair feat for most National Hunt horses to have on their C.V. Here, he again ran out an easy winner despite getting a bad bump early on, being carried very wide into the straight and giving weight away to all his rivals. That race too looks solid in terms of form with plenty winners coming from it and should connections wish to pursue with another flat race he’d obtain a rating somewhere in the mid to late eighties. A mark that could be described as classy.

The run I’m warranting his inclusion on however could be deemed his worst, strangely enough. He was a well beaten eighth in the Cheltenham Bumper behind stable mate Briar Hill. While his performance may be seen as disappointing it’s worth noting he was sent off a strongly fancied 9/1 shot and the number one pick of the yard’s bumper jockey.

In a race where six of the first eight home were all held up his run can be marked up. He was too keen early also, not allowing him to get up the hill after chasing a fair gallop in the ground. He still managed to lead the entire field a merry dance before hitting the hill proper and faltering.

It reminded me so much of Cinders And Ashes effort in the same race, the year before he went on to score in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. It’s also interesting to note the last three Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winners all ran in the Cheltenham Bumper the year’s previous.

While he lacks the size of most he looks every inch a hurdler and coming from these quarters you can expect him to be slick over his obstacles. His turn of foot could serve him well in small field events and soft Irish winter ground is obviously no problem although given his lack of scope better terrain would probably help. One a bit under rated from the Mullins dynasty.

Urubu D’Irlande

Interesting that Paul Nicholls officially went into joint ownership of this French bred five-year-old six days before he ran in his bumper at Taunton. This was the son of Sleeping Car’s sole start in public having already secured a win in the point to point field.

A €20,000 buy at the Arqana 2011 sale by Highflyer Bloodstock he races in the colours of C R Whittaker & P F Nicholls. While his sire can hardly be a huge positive in terms of a National Hunt stallion there are nice bits and pieces of blood in the dam’s make up.

Him dam was a winner over 15 furlongs in her race career and is also related to a number of useful sorts, most notably Willie Mullins’ classy hurdler Pique Sous.

While the blood line is highly encouraging his heredity may have one potential draw back that I feel is worth noting.  Since Urubu D’Irlande’s impressive bumper win he hasn’t been seen on track since, suffering a bout of colic.

Pique Sous, a close relative, while talented has also gone down with this serious ailment and I just hope it doesn’t stop the bay gelding from fulfilling his talent.

Encouragingly however, Nicholls did say he was ready to run at the backend of last season, but the ground went against his inmate. It seems he has since made a healthy recovery and his trainer is said to be excited about the coming season.

And so he should be given how well his only race track start is now looking. At Taunton he ran out an impressive three length winner, showing a nice change of gear in the process to beat off a horse by the name of Oscar Rock.

Oscar Rock subsequently went on to score in his next two bumpers, which are also working out well, with his final effort coming in a Listed event at Newbury.

The second, third and fourth have also given the form boosts over the last year and given how impressive Urubu D’Irlande was in showing a nice change of gear I rate him an exciting novice hurdle recruit.

West Wizard

Already a bit of a talking horse given connections, but I find it impossible to leave him out given how impressive he was on debut, with the form now starting to work out nicely. Trained by Nicky Henderson, owned by Dai Walters and likely to be ridden by Barry Geraghty the connections sheet nearly registers full marks.

Substance should always come to the fore in this game though, and while we only have one run to base that on the early signs are positives.

The strapping son of King’s Theatre went to Kempton Park on the 16th of March this year and was sent off a 4-5f in a 14 runner field bumper. Nicely placed just off the heels of the leaders throughout, travelling with a touch of zest he got closer turning for home.

Making quite stylish progress Barry Geraghty was quite kind in asking him to lengthen. He did so though and ran out an easy six length winner, while to my eye still looking a little bit awkward through possible greenness.

The second and third have since gone on to score from that race. The runner-up, a mare of Alan King’s, went on to run a sound race in the Aintree mare’s bumper before breaking her duck. The third horse home, The Sky Farmer has subsequently won twice since and is rated as “an exciting prospect”.

While West Wizard’s form looks above average on paper his pedigree could also be classed in the same bracket. From a nice German family who have had success on the flat and over jumps his strong National Hunt sire may be the making of him.

He has the size, scope and looks to make a nice race horse too and should do nothing but improve. He’s another from the Highflyer Bloodstock academy who are a good judge of horse flesh and this €55,000 French buy may be able to repay some of that price tag this coming season.