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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- How will his jumping hold up in top company if/when pressed?
- His style of running means he has tough races each time. Longevity?
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.