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.


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.


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.


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.

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