To get us in the spirit, here are five horses to follow this season over Christmas and beyond.
Not a particularly left field selection I know but Thistlecrack looks like he could be one of the most special horses for some time. He has a seemingly bottomless engine as he proved when winning the World Hurdle on the bridle last season and he has taken to fences well despite a couple of high profile errors on his second start which were blown hugely out of proportion by the racing media. Sure he landed on a couple of fences but I can see huge positives in those errors. The fact that he took off so early was a testament to his confidence in the task. The problem was that the pace they were going wasn’t nearly quick enough to support those kinds of leaps. If you asked British long jumper Greg Rutherford to jump over 8 metres with a slow jog as his run up it simply isn’t going to happen. It’s all about speed and momentum and the fact that Thistlecrack was taking off in those positions bodes well for the future because in a top class race with plenty of pace on he is going to clear them with plenty in hand and we will then be calling his jumping outstanding. As a wise man (no Christmas pun intended) once said, the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little ‘extra’. We are going to see that from Thistlecrack in a proper race such as the Gold Cup – buy Cheltenham tickets – and hopefully before. Although many pundits are mocking his current odds of 7/2 for the Gold Cup, I think we will be scratching our heads come March if we don’t take a bit of it.
I’ve had Campeador on my mind since he fell at the last in the Fred Winter last season when I was fortunately clutching a Diego Du Charmil ticket. I think he is one of the best handicapped horses in training. I was hoping that connections were going to lay him out for one of the big handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival – buy Cheltenham tickets – this season and that he may run down the field at Fairyhouse last Sunday. However, he cruised through the race to take it up before once again tipping up at the last. Whilst his jumping is a concern he has plenty of time to get it right this season and his work will be stepping up now. He is entered to run at Ascot in a handicap hurdle in about ten days time. If he turns up there so soon after unshipping at home then he is going to have the ears punted off him and hack up provided his jumping holds up. There may be a race over in Ireland for him over the Christmas period too so it will be interesting to see where he goes.
Minella Rocco is a high class stayer whose win in the four miler at the Cheltenham Festival last season has been comprehensively franked with Hennessy winner Native River, Scottish National winner Vicente and Becher Chase winner Vieux Lion Rouge all behind him that day. He is entered in the Coral Welsh National over Christmas and you would have to think that would be a distinct possibility as connections took that route successfully with Synchronised on his second season over fences. He may have to carry top weight if he went there which would be a slight concern especially if the ground was testing as I’m sure they wouldn’t want to leave their season behind at Chepstow. However, he has all the right attributes for the race and if he runs we have to be with him. Quotes of 40/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup seems very fair to me too when you consider that Native River whom he beat at the Festival last year is half the price.
I’ve been monitoring Noble Endeavour quite closely since he was touched off in the Martin Pipe by Killultagh Vic a couple of seasons ago. He is a very talented horse that I believe has plenty more improvement in him this season. He was slowly getting into the race in the four miler at the Cheltenham Festival last season when falling two out in what now looks to be a very good race. He has had two runs this season, his most recent being a decent fifth in a valuable handicap chase at Navan. He travelled stylishly through the race before not finding as much as expected in the closing stages. If we look back at his last two wins though they have both come on his third run of the season and on genuinely soft ground. Perhaps he is just a horse that needs a couple of runs to get fully fit and soft ground to slow some of the other horses down. With a third run of the season likely over the Christmas period he is one to keep firmly on side.
Cause of Causes
I tipped up Cause of Causes for the Kim Muir last season from an early stage, citing it as a clear plot. I expect to see a very similar pattern of runs this season before the handbrake is released at either Cheltenham or Aintree, probably the latter. He has already had two thoroughly underwhelming runs this season, including when pulled up at Navan last time. Call me sceptical but one more disappointing run this side of the New Year will surely see some relent from the handicapper with a revised mark likely to be in the high 140’s. He could easily win another Kim Muir from there if connections wanted to or they may roll the dice and go for the Grand National at Aintree – buy Aintree tickets. Wherever he turns up at the business end of the season we need to be with him and given his likely form figures going into the race, there should be reasonable prices around once more.