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 (

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.


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 ( 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.


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.

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