Following on from British 10 to Follow, this second piece concentrates on the vast array of talent that Ireland has to offer and with the country having so much, I found it very difficult to keep it down to ten especially as I was trying to include some outside the box. Here are my Irish 10 to Follow: Back In Focus – Willie Mullins I believe this is Ireland’s best chance of winning the Grand National since Silver Birch’s victory in 2007. He has all the attributes of an ideal National candidate. He jumps well, stays forever and has a touch of class about him which is all important in this race these days. Away from Aintree, he can also show his presence up to the highest level, especially if the ground came up really testing on Festival Friday for the Gold Cup. It will be interesting to see where he goes for the first half of the season especially with some of the bigger handicap chases like the Hennessy or the Welsh National in which the testing ground that Chepstow usually gets will suit him perfectly. Baily Green – Mouse Morris A very consistent performer who ran the race of his life when second behind Simonsig in the Arkle at 33/1, although to the fair to the winner, he scoped dirty. He did disappoint in his final two starts at the end of last season but there were excuses. At Aintree, he ripped a shoe off and at Punchestown on dreadful ground it was the end of a long season for him. His return at Down Royal was promising behind Sizing Europe and it showed he got the trip of 2m4f with the Ryanair looking the favoured option at Cheltenham. Briar Hill – Willie Mullins It’s extremely rare to see a Ruby Walsh/Willie Mullins combination go off at 25/1 at the Cheltenham Festival. However, those who were on were rewarded when he bolted up beating Regal Encore by seven lengths. They wisely decided not to take their chance at Punchestown on desperate ground and saved him for this season where he will take a leading role in novice hurdles. The exciting part is we don’t know what his Festival target will be, although as a point to point winner you would expect either the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett to be the target for the season. Champagne Fever – Willie Mullins Potentially, he is the most exciting novice chaser to come out of Ireland this season. For a horse that is a staying chaser of the future, his win in the Supreme Novice Hurdle shows his class. It was interesting that before the beginning of last season that Willie Mullins considered going down the Florida Pearl route avoiding novice hurdling with an encouraging schooling session around Punchestown was well documented. His hurdles form was a mixed bag but you can forgive his worst run when he came back a sick horse behind Rule The World at Naas. The only other horse to beat him over hurdles being Jezki, who looks a live contender for a Champion Hurdle. He will have entries in all the big novice events at the Festival. I would prefer to see him take his chances in the Jewson rather than the Arkle or RSA Chase especially as the latter can bottom good horses plus the stable won the Jewson with a Gold Cup prospect with Sir Des Champs. Edeymi – Tony Martin Two seasons ago, he ran an excellent race to be second in the Fred Winter behind Une Artiste before slightly losing his way. He ran a promising race behind Tennis Cap in a two mile handicap hurdle at Leopardstown, before being brought down in the Martin Pipe race at Cheltenham when travelling nicely. He fell in a beginners chase in May before winning a big flat handicap at the Galway Festival before finishing second behind Domination at Cork over hurdles. If there is a trainer who can get horses prepared for a big handicap anywhere, it is Tony Martin and this horse fits the bill whether it be over hurdles or fences (once he gets a handicap mark). First Lieutenant – Mouse Morris One of the toughest and most consistent horses in both UK and Ireland over the past year. His form ties in with the very best staying chasers and one of my personal highlights of last season was his amazing leap at the final ditch in the Hennessy. His second to Tidal Bay in the Lexus in probably the finish of the season was also strong. After that, there was plenty of discussion about his Cheltenham target. Although the owner has Sir Des Champs as well, a lot of people felt the Gold Cup was the right race for him. This judgement would appear to have been correct as he got outpaced and made mistakes in the Ryanair at a critical point when second to Cue Card. It was brilliant to see him finally get his Grade One prize at Aintree where he showed guts and courage to beat Menorah and Silviniaco Conti before he ended his season with Sir Des Champs and Long Run in the Guinness Gold Cup. His comeback run this season was as good as you could have hoped for as he would not have been 100% fit at Punchestown and wasn’t on his first start last season, so he still has potential to improve to be a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. Flaxen Flare – Gordon Elliott Although he is only four, some of the big two mile handicap hurdles in England could be his for the taking. He absolutely bolted up in the Fred Winter off a mark of 127 beating Caid Du Berlais by four and a half lengths. He then ran respectably at Aintree behind L’Unique when fourth, before a good second on ground that was probably too soft for him in the Galway Hurdle behind Missunited. Races like the Racing Post Hurdle and the Ladbroke early on in the season would suit him down to the ground, as long as the ground isn’t too testing. Home Farm – Arthur Moore A horse that looks very exciting for handicap chases this season. He first caught my eye when he won a beginners chase over 2m5f at Fairyhouse where he beat the likes of White Star Line and Marasonnien before being well fancied in the Irish National. He ran really well that day for a horse so young and inexperienced over fences behind Liberty Counsel. He reminds me of Moore’s staying chaser Organisedconfusion who won the Irish National aged 6 and further down the line, he could easily become a National horse. But this season could see him take a strong hand in big 3m handicap chases such as the Troytown or the Paddy Power Chase over Christmas. Our Conor – Dessie Hughes Apart from Sprinter Sacre, this horse gave the performance of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival. The Triumph Hurdle is a tricky race in the best of years but for a horse to take apart two very consistent yardsticks in Far West and Rolling Star in the manner he did was amazing to watch. His slick hurdling with his instant turn of foot was a joy to behold in all of his races last season, not just the Triumph. The only concerns for this season are whether he left that one performance behind last season and that five year olds tend to have a dismal record in the Champion Hurdle. But he wouldn’t need to improve much to be the best two miler over hurdles. He looked in good heart on his return to action when he was fourth on the flat at Naas. Rogue Angel – Mouse Morris Whilst Gigginstown have plenty of top class horses to go to war with in big novice chases, this one has slipped under that radar. I was pointed in this horse’s direction by a good friend of mine who said to keep an eye on him after his last fence fall at Punchestown last week. He won a four year old point to point by a distance although his main rival did fall at the last leaving him clear. He was disqualified and placed second on his only bumper start at Fairyhouse before beginning his novice hurdle career in which he only won once but he is a prime example of one who was bred to be a chaser with everything done over hurdles just building up until he jumps a a fence. Most of his running had been over soft/heavy ground but I felt he handled the better ground nicely at Punchestown and jumped fantastic before unluckily falling at the last behind Bonisland. Whilst he may not feature at Cheltenham this season, he has the potential to win several novice chases in Ireland. What do you make of Adam’s Irish 10 to Follow? Let us know in the Comments below or tweet @JPFestival. Thanks. JP Read British 10 to Follow
Racing is a game of opinions and Paul Ferguson’s Jumpers to Follow – buy here – is full of them. It’s fast approaching Ten To Follow time, and as such we are at the part of the season when Horses To Follow books begin to fly off the shelves. With Timeform, Racing Football Outlook, Racing Post, Mark Howard and Marten Julien publications already out, there are plenty to choose from, but they will find it very hard to compete with the quality book that Paul has produced. With the assistance of a long list of trainers; Alan King, David Pipe, Paul Nicholls and Jonjo O’Neill to name a few, his long list of horses soon gets whittled down to his ’40 Leading Prospects.’ Thorough as ever when putting forward his case as to why these horses deserve to be on that list, he trawls through their form with a fine toothcomb and their breeding with an even finer one. Planning the campaign, even the career, of each horse as if it were his own, with ideal starting assignments and possible end of season targets. Here are some examples: African Gold “Equally effective over 2m4f as 3m, the Scilly Isles appears as a feasible pre-Cheltenham target, given that the stable won that contest in 1993 with Young Hustler and with Jack Doyle in 1998…” O’Faolains Boy “His profile reminds me of that of stable-mate Teaforthree, who finished eighth behind Bobs Worth in the 2011 Albert Bartlett and returned to the Festival the following year to take the 4m National Hunt Chase.” Away from the Leading Prospects, he goes far and wide to get the latest on horses which he things are worthy of note describing it as “A whistle stop tour around the yards of the country” Even this early in the season, horses that didn’t make the big 40 are showing he has a keen eye for talent with Hannibal The Great (Charlie Longsdon) and Oscarteea (Anthony Honeyball) notable winners. Paul used his strong analytical and interviewing skills when it comes to input from professionals with Nick Schofield and Jane Mangan providing first hand insight on their horses to follow this season. And for me, no racing book would be complete, without a section devoted to the Green and Gold operation, ‘Searching for Green and Gold’. Like the placement of this section in his book, I normally find them in rear. For the price of a few quid you may end up throwing at a Wolverhampton AuctIon Maiden, I think it’s certainly worth investing in Paul Ferguson’s Jumpers to Follow. You may not agree with every comment. For me, Wilde Blue Yonder a shocking omission in the Leading 40 :-), but it’ll get you thinking, and that’s far better than hearing every horse ‘has strengthened up over the summer and should win a nice race….blah blah’.
With Cheltenham’s Showcase Meeting upon us, I have decided to do a couple of Ten to Follow lists which I hope cover most areas in Jump Racing. Included are a few horses that could potentially be underrated going into the season, plus some obvious key contenders for the top races at the Cheltenham Festival. This first piece focuses on ten British contenders that are worth keeping an eye on with the ten Irish contenders published next week. Irish 10 to follow now published. JP
At Fishers Cross – Rebecca Curtis
If there is a horse that could take on Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle then this horse comes out top of the list. He went the whole of last season unbeaten progressing to be the top staying novice hurdler in the UK with his two Grade One successes at Cheltenham and Aintree. The latter being his most impressive on quicker ground that connections feared he wouldn’t handle. Whether he returns at Wetherby on Charlie Hall day or at Newbury on Hennessy day, he is one to be very excited about. However, having seen Big Buck’s in the flesh recently, he will have to improve even further from his novice season but I’m confident he will.
Close Touch – Nicky Henderson
Whilst Nicky Henderson has plenty of novice chasers to go to battle with this season, this is one that wouldn’t be on the top of most people’s lists with the likes of Oscar Whiskey and Chatterbox coming out of the same stable. Owned by the Queen, he has strong form with another horse that I rate highly in African Gold, when second to him at Doncaster. The decision to miss the big festivals will be of benefit to this son of Generous. He ended his season on a high with a dominant display in the Grade Three novice handicap hurdle on Imperial Cup day where he beat Many Clouds by twelve lengths. He is the type of horse that I see sticking to 2m4f this season, where I can see the Grade Two novice at the Newbury Hennessy meeting being an early target before a possible trip to the Jewson, although Henderson would want to keep him apart from Oscar Whiskey.
Diamond King – Donald McCain
This son of King’s Theatre remains unbeaten after two facile successes in bumpers at Wetherby and Bangor with a combined distance of 35 lengths. Although the horses he beat look average at best, he couldn’t have done it any easier on both starts. He looks to be one of the leading novice hurdle contenders at around 2m4f and will take a lot of beating in novice hurdles up north. He could be the type for the Neptune come March time.
Grand Vision – Colin Tizzard
A horse that missed the whole of last season through injury, he had a successful novice hurdle campaign the season before with his final two runs being the most significant. The first one being in a Pertemps qualifier which he won in great fashion from Sa Suffit, but what made that win all the more impressive was the fact that four others came out of the race and won at the Festival. He was sent off at 25/1 in the Albert Bartlett where he ran the race of his life to finish third behind Brindisi Breeze and Boston Bob. If the horse has recovered 100% from his injury, then a novice chase campaign would probably be the plan. He could turn into a lively RSA Chase outsider or end up in the National Hunt Chase.
Keltus – Paul Nicholls
Although he has had only one run under British rules, he won comfortably in a juvenile hurdle at Chepstow and should have plenty of improvement still in him. Whether he can become a Triumph horse remains to be seen, but he was fluent and accurate enough on his debut, plus he handled the inclines of Chepstow well enough to suggest Cheltenham won’t be a problem for him. He could go back to Chepstow over Christmas for the Grade One juvenile.
Module – Tom George
A second season chaser that definitely looks open to plenty of improvement. His novice chase campaign got off to a bad start when he took an uncharacteristic fall at Exeter when travelling strongly, but he set the record straight with a win at Newbury beating Colour Squadron before going on to a facile success at Leicester. Pitched in against the likes of Dynaste and Captain Conan in the Jewson, he ran a fantastic race to be fourth having been outpaced. This horse looks the type for an early season big handicap like the Paddy Power Gold Cup and longer term he could potentially develop into a Ryanair horse.
Potters Cross – Rebecca Curtis
Whilst racking my brains to try and find a couple to put in this that are potentially under the radar or will improve for the future, this horse stuck out like a sore thumb. I was at Chepstow when he made his hurdles debut and was taken immediately by his size and scope in the paddock. A point to point winner, throughout the race last Saturday, he jumped most of the hurdles as if they were fences. He looked the likely winner at one stage before two costly errors late on scuppered his chances and already looked to want at least three miles over hurdles. He will be one who will stay further in time over fences as well and should pick up some long distance novice hurdle prizes this season.
Real Milan – Donald McCain
I always like to take a long term view and look out for potential Grand National horses and being trained by none other than Donald McCain, this horse could fit the bill. Having won two novice chases on desperate ground at Carlisle and Ayr, he stepped up in grade for the Reynoldstown at Ascot where he sadly made an awful mistake and was lucky to stay on his feet. He then went on to Cheltenham where he ran much better than the end result suggested in the RSA Chase, as he was right there turning into the straight before he stopped very quickly. This was due to a problem with his wind which has been rectified over the summer. Although I mentioned Aintree’s greatest steeplechase, I feel he’s on an attractive mark on 132 for some big staying handicaps earlier on in the season so he will be one to watch out for.
Tiger Cliff – Alan King
It’s always nice to see a classy Flat horse go over hurdles and this one could potentially be very smart over obstacles. Swapping from the yard of Lady Cecil to Alan King, the Henry Ponsonby owned gelding has had a highly successful year which includes a win in one of Europe’s biggest handicap, the Ebor. He looks to have scope to be able to jump a hurdle with the Supreme Novice Hurdle probably being the big target this season, although I wouldn’t be surprised if something like the Totesport Trophy at Newbury crossed the minds of connections.
Unioniste – Paul Nicholls
The final horse on my ten to follow list is one that will divide opinions. Trained by Paul Nicholls, this five year old grey achieved the rarity of winning one of Cheltenham’s biggest handicap chases at the age of four in convincing style beating Walkon. Although he got the weight advantage and was carrying 9-9, he couldn’t have won more impressively. He then stepped up to three miles at Newbury where he only just beat Hadrian’s Approach before being disappointing behind Lord Windermere in the RSA Chase. However, he was only beaten nine lengths and was over the top having not had a break when coming over from France. Having had a summer to develop and strengthen up, Nicholls could have plenty of fun with him this season with plenty of options whether in staying handicap chases or in Graded company.
What do you make of Adam’s British 10 to Follow? Let us know in the Comments below or tweet @JPFestival. Thanks. JP
Irish 10 to follow now published. JP