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.