My favourite month of the year has finally arrived. Magnificent March is here, and with it the greatest four days of sporting action is just a Knockara Beau away. With tickets purchased and accommodation booked I’m left with the small matter of finding a few winners. But in truth, finding a winner merely adds a cherry to the top of the most delicious cake. The Festival at Cheltenham is more than just a sporting occasion; it is a truly memorable event. For many the experience is life changing. The excitement builds as soon as you arrive in Cheltenham. Every bar is crammed with people clutching a Racing Post. A pint and a ‘full English’ appears to be a common starting point for many, before minds are joined in finding the big priced ‘sure thing’ that Pricewise failed to spot. All too soon it’s time to head towards the course. A short stop at the bookies to invest in a life- changing ‘Yankee’, before that wonderful walk. There’s a gentle climb from Cheltenham town centre towards the racecourse. The anticipation rises as you pass through Pittville Park. The masses gather as the climb continues, until finally there it is, ‘Shangri la’. The entrance sets the perfect tone, with both grandstand and indoor arena (The Centaur ) suitably imposing. The vast racecourse with the beautiful Cleeve Hill in the distance is truly a sight to behold. That first view of the course on the first day of The Festival is exhilarating. This wonderful sporting venue has something to suit every taste. The stunning Centaur, delivers racing history, food and drink, betting facilities and a large screen showing every race. It’s a haven for any who wish to escape the elements. I hardly dare say it, but the shopping village is a must experience for many. A wonderful tented labyrinth for those looking for the perfect gift. Maybe a need for quality country clothing, perhaps jewellery or even a piece of beautiful equestrian artwork, the variety of exhibitors is incredible. And after a little retail therapy, what could be better than a trip to my personal favourite of The Festival. The Guinness Village may sound a little daunting, but for me epitomizes this great event. People from all walks of life gather, rubbing shoulders, laughing, drinking; living the Festival experience. A pint of the ‘black stuff’ and live Irish music enhance this great adventure. The Irish public play a crucial role in making The Festival a thing of beauty. At what other sporting event would it seem only natural to take a stroll from the Champagne Bar across to a Guinness Village. Then of course there’s the racing. It is, after-all, the reason that over 200,000 people flock to this small corner of Gloucestershire every March. A gathering of the greatest jump racing horses, trainers and jockeys. Over the four days, stars of the sport will attempt to defend their crowns. Hurricane Fly, Bobs Worth and the mighty Big Buck’s will all face their sternest tests. Willie Mullins and his powerful team will hope to arrive from Ireland and dominate the sport’s greatest stage. Britain’s finest will attempt to repel the inevitable onslaught. It could be epic. Each passing Festival creates new lifelong memories. Thrilling finishes, extraordinary riding feats, and incredible battling victories, will all be etched in the hearts of true Festival lovers. This event is unique. People do not simply attend the Cheltenham Festival, they live it! To maximise your enjoyment of National Hunt racing – join our Community!
Seven-year-olds have been dominant in the RSA Chase. Winners of this race rarely arrive with an unblemished chase record. Indeed, last year’s winner Lord Windermere, had lost four of his five chase starts before winning the RSA. This often means that unfancied horses have caused an upset, with winners returning at 16’s, 14’s and 25/1 over the past ten years. This year’s market is headed by the Willie Mullins trained Ballycasey. He recently won the Dr PJ Moriarty Novices’ Chase at Leopardstown; a race that has been contested by four previous RSA winners in the last ten years. He won the race well, though Carlingford Lough’s fall at the last was disappointing from a form-line point of view. He does lack experience having only run twice over fences, though his jumping has been impeccable so far. Morning Assembly is next best in the betting for the Irish. Off the track since his second in the Topaz Chase at Christmas, his trainer was keen to keep him away from the worst of the winter ground. The lack of a prep-run is a slight worry, but he has shaped as though the trip and stiff finish at Cheltenham will be ideal. Carlingford Lough is also near the head of the market. A second season chaser, he has progressed from handicaps to become a leading fancy for the RSA. He defeated Morning Assembly over Christmas in a slowly run affair, which may have suited him. He was still in with a shout in the Moriarty when coming down at the last. You would just feel that he lacks the quality to win the RSA and in a strongly run race, over three miles, he may struggle to land a blow. Smad Place was last seen beating Sam Winner at Newbury in heavy ground. It was an impressive win from a horse that would prefer a sounder surface. Twice placed in the World Hurdle, he clearly runs well at Cheltenham. RSA winners tend to go straight from novice hurdling to novice chasing, so his profile is not ideal. His bare form over fences is not good enough, but Smad Place looks a classy type, and could be the best of the Brits. Corrin Wood was last seen winning at Warwick. He’s won all three of his chase starts, and is an enthusiastic jumper. Again, the bare form looks short of what is needed here, and he has a tendency to jump right, which is far from ideal. He’s likely to be ridden prominently, but I’m not sure he has the quality to be there at the business end. Many Clouds and O’Faolains Boy were last seen fighting it out at Ascot. Both are set to make nice chasers, but I’d be surprised if either were good enough to win this. Don Cossack cannot possibly reverse form with Ballycasey, whilst Annacotty is surely a decent handicapper rather than an RSA winner. Le Bec is probably the one at a price that has the class to make a place, though he’s still only six. He ran a blinder in the Albert Bartlett last year before fading in the final stages. A large framed horse, he was always going to need time and was certain to make a better chaser than hurdler. He’s got valuable experience at Cheltenham over fences having won in November before finishing second in December behind Sam Winner, giving plenty of weight away. He’ll need decent ground to be seen at his best. In summary: Ballycasey is the most likely winner. Smad Place Class act and therefore NB Le Bec looks the each-way value. For daily previews and tips throughout the Cheltenham Festival, sign-up for JPFestival.com Community Membership – find out more. JP
Festival Trials Day has become one of the most eagerly anticipated meetings in the Jump Racing calendar. A huge crowd poured into Prestbury Park with the return of the mighty Big Buck’s the main attraction. The Cleeve Hurdle had been targeted by Team Ditcheat for the all-conquering staying hurdler. Off the track for more than a year and facing a small yet powerful field, this was certain to be a difficult starting point. With Sam Twiston-Davies taking the ride for the first time and obvious question marks over Big Buck’s fitness, his record breaking run would be under serious threat. And so it proved in a thrilling finish. Facing several younger progressive types the major shock was to see him beaten by another 11-year-old in Knockara Beau. George Charlton’s stable star had failed to get his nose in front in 15 previous visits to the home of jump racing. He had run some terrific races in defeat. Previously seconds and fourths in the Cleeve, along with a third place in the Argento Chase, had shown the horses liking for Trials Day. Good enough to place fourth and fifth in a RSA and a Neptune at the Festival, the horse is undoubtedly a class act. But Saturday’s victory, so long overdue, is certain to go down as his finest performance. To conquer Cheltenham a horse has to love the famous hill. Even in numerous defeats, Knockara provided eye-catching finishes, storming up the final climb to the finish. Indeed had the line been a further furlong up the lung bursting slope then he would surely have broken his Cheltenham duck many years ago. In truth his sensational win at the weekend had looked unlikely running downhill to the second last. With all five of his rivals ahead of him, he appeared to be struggling to stay in touch. But as so often, at this most famous of tracks, the hill would have the final say. Three in a line at the last, with Big Buck’s fitness tested to the full, first Knockara Beau and then a rejuvenated At Fishers Cross, headed the favourite. At the line only a short head and three-quarters of a length separated the warriors. Jan Faltejsek punched the air in the knowledge that he, and his mighty challenger from the north, had finally achieved the dream. There is little doubt that a stunned Cheltenham crowd had hoped for another victory for the great Big Buck’s. Earlier in the midst of a mighty storm, crowds had applauded the arrival of the champion in the parade ring. But many later through social media voiced their annoyance at the style of defeat. Rather than a time of anger and frustration I am only able to see the result as a time of celebration. If ever a horse, trainer and jockey deserved their moment of glory then surely it was Knockara, George Charlton and Jan. The reason Jump Racing fans invest so much emotion in this wonderous sport is epitomized in Knockara Beau. Alastair Down called him “a magnificent-looking beast of an 11-year-old” in his own touching column in Sunday’s Racing Post. We fall in love with these warriors and rightly rejoice in their success. Big Buck’s will be back in March, and fighting fit for Saturday’s exertions, he has every chance of taking the World Hurdle crown once again. But surely no-one could deny this moment for Knockara, who in defeating Jump Racing royalty became King for a day.
There can be little doubt that further Festival clues will be revealed on Saturday, as Cheltenham hold the meeting known as Trials Day. Trainers often target this weekend as it enables a favourable six week break for their equine stars before the ‘big one’ in March.
The meeting rarely fails to deliver. On Trials Day in 2007 the race now known as The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, was won by Wichita Lineman. He defeated Tidal Bay, with Massini’s Maguire back in third. The winner made a successful return to Prestbury Park in the 3m novice hurdle (now the Albert Bartlett) at that year’s Festival, whilst Massini’s Maguire beat Tidal Bay into second in the 2m5f novice hurdle (now the Neptune).
The same Trials Day renewal in 2011 saw Bobs Worth defeat Rock On Ruby. The former went on to win the Albert Bartlett whilst the latter was pipped at the post in the Neptune. And who could forget last season’s race when At Fishers Cross outfought The New One in a thrilling finish. Both went on to glory at The Festival, in the Albert Bartlett and Neptune respectively.
The quality of this trial race over the years is undeniable. Future Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Arkle winners have come from the race. It’s interesting to note that the winner was often stepped up in trip when the Festival arrived whilst defeated horses often continued along the 2m5f route.
This year’s renewal may lack a truly eye-catching entrant, yet still looks likely to be contested by top stables including Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson and David Pipe. Indeed, the undefeated Red Sherlock is arguably one of the Pipe team’s potential stars.
Another horse of great interest is Nick Williams Aubusson. He won over course and distance on New Years’ Day and had a very strong field behind him. The likely soft or even heavy ground on Saturday is sure to suit, and I would anticipate a big run from this talented youngster.
Whatever the outcome, several names are certain to enter the notebook with a view to the Festival in March. If history is anything to go by, this ‘Neptune’ trial will again guide us to future Cheltenham stars.
Jump racing fans must have been especially good this year, because Santa certainly delivered a whole host of goodies. Christmas week is always a thrilling time for National Hunt lovers with terrific meetings at Kempton and Leopardstown, ably supported by Chepstow amongst others. The King George VI Chase is the main event of the week. It has been won by some of the greatest steeplechasers of all time; Arkle, Desert Orchid and Kauto Star are just a few equine heroes to capture the Christmas feature. This year’s race produced another thrilling finish. The Betfair Chase winner Cue Card was fancied to repeat his Haydock success, but in testing ground failed to last home. He forced the issue from the off and looked the winner at the second last fence. But Tizzard’s jumping star began to paddle and he was swamped by Silviniaco Conti. Paul Nicholls’ horse had been the only challenger capable of living with Cue Card. He is a strong stayer and the Cheltenham hill in March is certain to suit. Cue Card is more likely to defend his Ryanair crown, although a crack at the Gold Cup would not be out of the question on a sounder surface. The Christmas Hurdle is always a quality supporting race to the King George. This year’s renewal became a thrilling duel between My Tent Or Yours and The New One. The Kempton track may have suited Nicky Henderson’s horse, but there is no doubting that he had to show battling qualities few thought he had. An error at the last didn’t help The New One and it’s possible that he could turn the form around come March. For me, the only certainty is that they remain very closely matched. I sit on the fence at this stage. Classy seasonal treats continued to arrive, when at Leopardstown Bobs Worth won a terrific Lexus Chase. Another high class field had been assembled and it was Nicky Henderson’s Gold Cup winner that showed his true form, staying on strongly to beat First Lieutenant. Sir Des Champs was back in fourth, but don’t be surprised to see him much closer at Cheltenham, especially if the ground comes up good to soft or better. I remain convinced that Willie Mullins chaser can win the Gold Cup if he gets suitable ground conditions. Last year’s Lexus Chase winner was Tidal Bay. This Christmas he travelled to Wales for the Welsh National at Chepstow. Incredibly, the 12-year-old almost carried top-weight to victory. Heavy ground ensured that the marathon event was its usual test of endurance. The suitably named Mountainous gave an immense performance when running the race of his life to hold off another Paul Nicholl’s runner in Hawkes Point. But of course the story of Christmas, is of people being drawn to a shining star. And this Christmas none shone brighter than the Champion hurdler Hurricane Fly. This is likely to be his toughest season as new challengers arrive from both sides of the Irish Sea. At Leopardstown both Our Conor and Jezki, found the ‘Champ’ in irresistible form. So Christmas had delivered it’s usual packages of pleasure. And with all the crackers pulled, we look forward to 2014, full of excitement and heightened anticipation. Let’s hope Sprinter Sacre has a thrilling part to play. That would be a Christmas gift worth waiting for. Thank you Santa.
As the jump season gallops towards Christmas, chances are that we have already witnessed Cheltenham Festival 2014 winning novice hurdlers strutting their stuff on the track. On the 18 November last year, Champagne Fever opened his account in a maiden hurdle at Cork. Exactly a year earlier Cinders and Ashes started his hurdling career with a defeat at Ascot, some four months before a Festival win in the Supreme Novices’ hurdle. Indeed over the past ten seasons around 70% of the Festival Supreme, Neptune and Albert Bartlett winners, had started their campaigns before the first window of an advent calendar had been touched. Racing action over the months ahead will shape the markets for the big three races. Trainers and owners will have difficult decisions to make when choosing suitable trips for their Festival hopefuls. How on earth will Willie Mullins keep all his stable stars apart? As Festival clues gather with each passing week, it’s probably as good a time as any to take a look at the likely contenders for top novice hurdle honours come The Cheltenham Festival in March. Where better to start than with the Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins? His stable is packed with equine stars, and the novice hurdlers look particularly strong. Briar Hill opened his account at Wexford in November. He jumped accurately and won with plenty in hand as expected. He heads all three Festival markets though at this stage it is impossible to say which race he will contest come March. His pedigree suggests a step up in trip is possible. I can see him running in the Neptune. Faugheen looked less fluent over his obstacles when winning at Punchestown in November, though improved markedly last week. He is a horse full of potential, but just how good he is remains a mystery. He looks to have ‘gears’, but has to brush up on his jumping. Almost favourite for both the Neptune and Albert Bartlett, the jury is out on his Festival target. Moyle Park won at Navan, again in November. Another easy Mullins winner, his pedigree shouts out ‘chaser’! Physically less impressive than others in the stable, I’m still to be persuaded that he has what it takes to win at Cheltenham in March. The markets suggest that he is a Supreme or Neptune horse. Time will tell. My final Mullin’s horse to catch the eye is Arctic Fire. He was an eye-catching third in the Royal Bond when meeting traffic problems in the home straight. This was the strongest novice hurdle of the season so far. Held up too far back, he finished like a train and looks a real Supreme prospect. Noel Meade rarely fails to find a potential star, and his hopes this winter appear to rest with Apache Stronghold. A big powerful son of Milan, he looks every bit a chaser for the future. He was very impressive last time at Navan. His jumping was patchy that day, but he won without breaking sweat. He looked capable of stepping up in trip. It’s possible he may need a fence to be seen at his best, but he is undoubtedly talented. Arguably the best Irish novice hurdle form so far this winter rests with The Tullow Tank. Winner of The Royal Bond Novices’ Hurdle at Fairyhouse, he looks a class act. He had a strong field behind him that day, including the unlucky Arctic Fire, when he showed real battling qualities. He may be suited by a step up in trip, and I would fancy the Neptune to be a likely Cheltenham target. The Irish have a powerful looking squad, but the usual suspects this side of the Irish Sea will be ready for the challenge come March. Nicky Henderson has two in particular that could mix it with the best novice hurdlers. Volnay De Thaix comes under the ‘could be anything’ category. He has won twice so far this winter but has yet to be truly tested. The opposition in both runs was poor, but his trainer clearly likes him and believes that he has plenty of speed and class. He looks a type for the Supreme. West Wizard is a high profile stablemate of Volnay De Thaix. Beaten in his first start this season, his jockey Barry Geraghty, seemed no less bullish after the race, clearly expecting the horse to improve tons for the run. It seems pretty clear that the stable fancy this one to take high order. A son of King’s Theatre, he is towards the top of the Supreme market. Irving looks to be Paul Nicholls’ main hope for top novice hurdle honours this season. A French import, he has been impressive, winning at Taunton and then at Ascot. He looks speedy and has been neat over his hurdles. Whether Cheltenham will suit is questionable, as he may become a sharp, flat track type. The Supreme looks to be a target, and any Nicholls novice has to be respected. David Pipe and his team are better known for their handicap exploits, but this winter they appear to have two novice hurdlers capable of taking high rank. Kings Palace is yet another son of King’s Theatre, and has won twice so far this winter. He was devastating at Cheltenham in October, when thrashing a decent sort in Creepy. He had everything in trouble a long way out that day. He looks a relentless galloper and is currently third favourite for The Albert Bartlett. The Liquidator was no-less impressive at Cheltenham in November, when running away with a Supreme trial. Thought to be Pipe’s best novice hurdler, he was fourth in the Champion Bumper back in March before wining at the Punchestown Festival. His target looks to be the Supreme in March. I’m not sure he’ll be quick enough to win that race and would rather see him in the Neptune. Finally to a trainer who has had a terrific start to the season. Philip Hobbs appears to have his strongest stable for some years. He certainly has two novice hurdlers set to challenge the very best this season. Royal Regatta has won at Aintree and Leicester looking impressive on both occasions. He is a beautiful looking son of King’s Theatre and is highly thought of by the stable. A little keen on both starts, the Neptune looks the most likely target, though he is not short of speed. I’m a big fan and would not be surprised to see him in the Supreme come March. To my eye, he has the right mix of speed and stamina which could enable him to emulate Menorah, who won the race for the stable back in 2010. However, Mr Hobbs has another who looks just as talented in Garde La Victoire. His form is stronger than his stablemate having beaten Regal Encore at Aintree, before thrashing another McManus hotshot at Warwick last time. Still only a four-year-old this French bred has looked awesome. Like his classy stablemate, he could turn up at either the Supreme or the Neptune. It’s possible that they will be kept apart. I fancy they will go close in which-ever they contest. So there you have it. Others are likely to step out from the pack, but I believe those listed above have been the most eye-catching so far this winter. They represent powerful stables, always likely to produce the main contenders at the ‘sharp end’ of the season. It’s just possible that ‘The Master of Minehead’ could hold two aces out of a formidable looking novice pack.
Inaugurated in 1999, the JNWine.com Champion Chase has become a season’s first port-of-call for many top-class staying chasers in Ireland, and in more recent times a race targeted by the powerful Paul Nicholls stable. The Grade 1 Chase is run at Down Royal, a venue steeped in history, where racing has taken place since the late 1600’s. The course is situated west of Lisburn, a short drive from Belfast in Northern Ireland. A right-handed undulating track, the race is run over a distance of 3 miles. In its relative short history, the race has been won by some of the greats. Beef or Salmon, Looks Like Trouble and Florida Pearl, have all been victorious. In 2007 Paul Nicholls sent Taranis over the Irish Sea to victory. It was the start of a campaign that has seen his horses dominate the race. The following year it was his greatest ever chaser Kauto Star that travelled over. He had lost the Cheltenham Gold Cup to Denman in March 2008, but went on to regain the crown just four months after his Down Royal success. Kauto Star travelled to Down Royal again in 2010, when he defeated the wonderful Irish chaser Sizing Europe. Last year the Nicholls team were represented by the enigmatic Kauto Stone. He kept up the family tradition by winning the race, defeating another wonderful Irish chaser in First Lieutenant. Paul Nicholls record in the JNwine.com Chase has become a formidable one; with wins in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012. My Will was second in the race in 2009 and The Nightingale third in 2011. This season’s renewal is set to be another terrific contest. The race has attracted a mix of established stars along with horses who have undoubted star potential. Sizing Europe is set to tackle the race for the third time. He finished second to Kauto Star in 2010 and filled the same spot behind Quito De La Roque the following year. The distance has looked slightly beyond him in his two previous attempts, most noticeably when caught nearing the line in 2011. He is a class horse, but at the age of 11 it is hard to see him finally winning this race. Quito De La Roque returns in an attempt to repeat his 2011 success. He clearly loves the race, having finished a close third last year. Soft ground will help his chances though I fancy he will once again find one or two opponents a little too good. First Lieutenant has an entry and if he runs is sure to go close. He couldn’t quite get to Kauto Stone in last year’s race and it seems likely that the two will be closely matched again. Lord Windermere arrives on the back of a win at the Cheltenham Festival in the RSA Novices’ Chase. Still a lightly raced horse he has the potential to have improved greatly after his summer break. Never out of the first three in his novice chase season, this will give the watching public a clue as to the strength of last year’s novice chasers. A dazzling display back in April at Punchestown ensures that Mount Benbulben arrives for this race as a well fancied runner. Seemingly far better going right-handed and well suited by soft ground, Gordon Elliott’s young chaser has always been highly thought of. He simply destroyed the assembled field of top novice chasers that day at Punchestown, and a repetition of that form should see him go very close . And so, back to the man who has dominated the race in recent times. Paul Nicholls relies on last year’s winner to continue his love affair with Down Royal. Kauto Stone clearly goes well fresh and is a seriously talented horse. He has won first time out at this meeting in both 2011 and 2012. He clearly loves the track and is sure to run another big race. All things point to a wonderfully exciting renewal. It would take a brave man to bet against another successful Ditcheat raid across the Irish Sea!
In one of the most picturesque parts of North Nottinghamshire on the edge of the beautiful Clumber Park lies Pinewood Stables; the home of trainer Shaun Harris.
Surrounded by fields and woods in the most wonderful countryside, it is hard to imagine a better setting for training racehorses.
A career in racing always seemed inevitable for Shaun. His mother and father met in Newmarket and were both involved in the industy. Shaun started working with thoroughbreds from the age of 13. He became an apprentice jockey before a spell as an assistant trainer in the mid 90’s. He finally took out his licence as a trainer in 2009, when purchasing Pinewood Stables.
He currently has around 20 horses in training, both on the Flat and over Jumps. This is very much a family affair with wife Debbie, daughter Megan and eldest son Ciaran all involved. Indeed Megan is due to ride competitively for the first time in October.
I had the pleasure of joining Shaun at Uttoxeter races where I was able to sample first hand the generosity of a man who dedicates so much time to owners on a raceday. Shaun ensured that he spent every spare minute in the company of owners and their families; some visiting the racecourse for the first time and thoroughly enjoying a great day out, with the thrill of cheering on their very own racehorse.
Shaun kindly invited me to visit his stables so that I could get an insight into the life of a racehorse trainer. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. As a lover of National Hunt racing, what could be better than witnessing these beautiful creatures going through their paces.
On the day of the visit my alarm sounded at 4.50am. It appears that these crazy trainers work long and very unsociable hours. I travelled from my home in Nottingham arriving at Shaun’s just before 6am. It was still dark! Two young lads were heading for the lower stables and pointed me in the direction of the upper stables where Shaun was busy feeding the horses. He had already been at work for over an hour!
I spoke to Alex Hopkinson and James Roberts; two young work riders lucky enough to be learning their trade in such a wonderful location. Their enthusiasm was infectious. Alex spoke of his ambition to become a jumps jockey some time in the future. Along with Shaun and his daughter Megan they headed off to the gallops.
Whilst horses took turns between work and a stretch in the paddock, I was able to speak at length to Shaun’s wife Debbie. A qualified riding instructor, she ran her families equestrian centre for many years. Debbie gave me an insight into just how much attention to detail is needed when training thoroughbreds. From the basics such as the variety of feeds used for different horses, right through to the incredible advances in the treatment of injuries.
Debbie left me in no doubt as to how much these horses are loved. ‘Kevin’ known on the racecourse as Musical Strike, is a particular favourite of stable-hand Vicky. She spoke of his mischievous character and numerous efforts to escape from the paddock area. Of course they are all trained meticulously to win races, but the horses welfare is uppermost in the minds of Shaun and his team.
With such great care and attention, it was a surprise then to learn how easy it is to be part of the racing experience, even on a relatively small budget. Racehorse ownership is becoming an inclusive opportunity for the masses rather than an exclusive right of the elite. Not every owner can have a winner at Cheltenham or Royal Ascot, but they could easily find themselves in the winners enclosure at Uttoxeter or Wolverhampton.
The morning passed in the blink of an eye. Before I knew it, the time had come to thank Shaun and Debbie for such a wonderful experience. I was truly blown away by their generosity. I had learn’t so much and wished that I was 30 years younger and able to set out on such a terrific career path like young riders Alex and James.
I could at least console myself with the thought that owning a racehorse or being involved in a syndicate was a realistic proposition, and a way of being part of this wonderful sport.
Anyone dreaming of owning a racehorse can make it a reality by visiting Shaun Harris’ website.
Following on from my Novice Chasers Preview here is a run down of my novice hurdlers to follow in 2013-2014. Minella Foru’s victory at Listowel last Saturday came as a wonderful reminder that the new winter Jumps Season is virtually upon us. A point to point winner back in March, this was his first run under rules for trainer Edward Harty. The horse travelled well through the race, jumping beautifully, before changing gear after the last to beat a well thought of Willie Mullins horse. Harty struggled to hold back his excitement, whilst stating it would be “one step at a time” for his promising hurdler. Minella Foru is a son of King’s Theatre and looks to have plenty of ability. He is the first on my list of novice hurdlers to follow over the winter. He looked to have plenty of speed, and was very slick over his hurdles. It’s possible that he could step up in trip during the season. As with this winter’s novice chasers – read my Novice Chasers to follow – the Irish appear to have a strong hand with the novice hurdlers. Willie Mullins will hope to have another successful season, and he certainly has plenty of firepower in this division. Briar Hill won the Champion bumper at Cheltenham in March. A son of Shantou out of a Bob Back mare, he powered up the famous hill to victory, and is sure to make a terrific hurdler. His breeding, and indeed his victory in March suggests that he could become a better horse when aimed at the Neptune over 2m 5f. The same was thought of Champagne Fever of course, but this winter Mullins has plenty of options for The Supreme. Faugheen is very highly thought of by the Irish Champion trainer. He was devastating in May at Punchestown when winning by 20 lengths in a two mile flat race. A son of Germany, a sire that could be popular this winter, he is out of an Accordion mare. His pedigree suggests he may need decent ground to be seen at his best. He looked special back in May and could well be one for The Supreme come next March. Mullins has another promising looking son of Germany, with the Gigginstown owned Made In Germany. He won flat races at Navan and the Curragh back in February and May. He was especially good in May when travelling strongly before pulling away from good horses including Robert Tyner’s ‘point’ winner Concordin. Turnandgo is the last of the Mullins novice hurdlers on my list. Another carrying the Gigginstown colours, he is a son of Morozov and looks more of a staying type. He ploughed through the mud at Punchestown in April thrashing Nicky Henderson’s Captain Cutter by nine lengths. He should excel in Ireland’s deep winter ground. He could become an Albert Bartlett type. Very Wood is trained in Ireland by Noel Meade. Another ex-pointer, he also carries the famous Gigginstown colours. He was also impressive at Punchestown in heavy ground, winning a flat race over two miles in April. He’s a son of Martaline out of a Cadoudal mare. He is another that looks a strong staying type. The final Irish horse on my list is Moonshine Lad. A son of Milan, he won a point to point in March in very impressive fashion. The runner-up that day is now with Donald McCain. Gordon Elliott now trains this five-year-old and he looks set to have a great winter. As good as the Irish novice hurdlers look, there is plenty of talent in stables this side of the Irish Sea. Nicky Henderson is set to have another terrific season, and he has a number of potential top-class novice hurdlers. West Wizard burst on the scene in March when winning a flat race at Kempton in stunning style. He is another son of the prolific sire King’s Theatre. He looks an imposing, athletic horse and his win was very impressive. A Supreme horse or maybe aimed at The Neptune, he looked something special. Another from the Henderson stable is the JP McManus owned Clean Sheet. Another point to point winner, he looks to be a horse with gears. A son of Oscar out of a Phardante mare he has great potential. Paul Nicholls has again looked to France as he battles to claim back his trainers title. The best of his new novice hurdlers could be Vicente. A son of Dom Alco, one of Nicholls favourite Sires, he is only a four-year-old and has solid French form. He was purchased by Anthony Bromley, who thinks a lot of him. Anthony Honeyball paid only 20,000gns for Regal Encore back in 2011. It’s proved to be an inspired purchase from the West Country trainer. The horse was second in Cheltenham’s Champion Bumper and looks set to have a great season over hurdles. A beautifully bred son of King’s Theatre out of a Bob Back mare, he is slightly small, but clearly very talented. His long term target will probably be the Supreme Novices Hurdle. The final two in my list are trained by major forces in the National Hunt game. Diamond King won flat races at Bangor and Wetherby for Donald McCain, and looks a potential quality staying hurdler. Another son of King’s Theatre, he is a relentless galloper. Finally, a horse that impressed me as much as any when winning a two mile flat race at Haydock in March. Royal Regatta is trained by Philip Hobbs and has the look of another Hobbs star, Menorah. A stocky, powerful type he is yet another son of King’s Theatre. He will need decent ground to be seen at his best. He could be special. So there you have it. A selection of horses that have the potential to thrill us during those cold winter months. Now sit back and enjoy the show!
The weather is finally turning. It was certainly much colder and wetter this morning, with a definite autumnal feel. There was even a robin skipping around on the lawn last night, watching over me as I completed my gardening chores. There can be little doubt that winter jumps racing is only a Sprinter Sacre leap away.
With October on the horizon there is no time to waste, as we start to focus on the contenders for the thrilling winter which lies ahead. National Hunt fans have an incredible appetite for any information that may help them in their quest to find a winner. Books, magazines and high class websites, such as this one, (Thank you! – JP) will help to point our great sport’s followers in the right direction.
In this article I will be looking at the novice chase division which looks set to be of a very high standard this winter.
Quality chasers are often bred for the game. It’s no surprise to see the likes of Beneficial, Presenting, Bob Back or King’s Theatre as the top of the jump racing sires league. They consistently produce the best chasers around.
Over the past few years new names have started to appear as sires to follow. Robin Des Champs, Network and Dom Alco in particular, are French stallions that have made a big impression. They have produced the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Sir Des Champs and Silviniaco Conti.
So who will be the new young chasing stars, tackling the bigger obstacles, on the road to Cheltenham and an Arkle or a RSA crown?
I’ve decided to name ten horses that are likely to have what it takes to make it over fences, a mixture of the right breeding, size and scope, along with a suitable attitude for the challenge.
African Gold seems a pretty obvious contender. Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, he became a terrific staying hurdler last season, finishing second in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham. A big powerful son of King’s Theatre, he is out of a Presenting mare. He has all the attributes to make a top-class staying chaser. The RSA Chase is the likely long-term target.
Champagne Fever is another of the more obvious contenders. Trained by Willie Mullins, he has already won twice at ‘The Cheltenham Festival. A powerful horse with plenty of size and scope to tackle the larger obstacles, he is set to become a top novice chaser. The only real question is whether he will be an Arkle horse or be sent over further and aimed at the RSA Chase.
Un De Sceaux is something of an unknown, and just how good he is will have a bearing on Champagne Fever’s targets. He was devastating at Punchestown in April when beating a few decent types in a novice hurdle over two miles. He has the look of a quality chaser, but as yet I am unaware of his targets this winter. He is still young and there is a chance he may be kept over hurdles for another campaign.
Many Clouds has the look of a terrific staying chaser. Owned by Trevor Hemmings, he is a big, strong, rugged type, who puts his head down and battles all the way to the line. Out of a Bob Back mare, he looks to favour soft ground and may not have the ‘gears’ to be a champion. I feel he could be the type for Cheltenham’s four miler come next March.
The Irish look to have a strong hand in this division, and another fancied to do well over fences is Un Atout. By Robin Des Champs, he was a very good novice hurdler, but always looked a top chaser in the making. His long-term target looks certain to be the Jewson or the RSA. He has a touch of class.
Morning Assembly burst into the spotlight with a stunning win at the Punchestown Festival. The step up to three miles brought about massive improvement, and he stayed on strongly to beat a high-class field. He’s out of a Montelimar mare which leads me to believe that he will ‘stay’ all day. If he hasn’t the class to win a RSA Chase he will almost certainly appreciate the marathon four miler at Cheltenham.
Sizing Gold is a horse I’m excited about. A beautiful looking son of Flemensfirth, he could be something special over the larger obstacles. He looks the type that will suit better ground, and I fancy him to make a real impact over fences for the Henry De Bromhead stable.
Bright New Dawn is another that should be better suited by a sounder surface. A lovely mover, he ran terrific races behind Champagne Fever and Jezki over hurdles. He is by Presenting out of a Bob Back mare. He was born to jump fences.
Ballycasey is another Willie Mullins horse that looks destined to do well over fences. He’s perfectly bred as a staying chaser and did wonderfully well over hurdles when still lightly raced. He is another RSA type who should stay marathon trips.
The final horse on my list is slightly less obvious. Le Bec looked very much a work in progress last season. A big baby, he ran some cracking races for a horse that looks certain to be much stronger this winter. His run in the Albert Bartlett must have thrilled connections. Emma Lavelle could have a quality chaser on her hands.
So there you have it. A small yet beautifully formed list of possible chasing stars of the 2013/14 Jumps Season. Winter is almost upon us. Another fabulous season lies ahead.
Corduroys at the ready, the starter’s on his rostrum.