Some may say it’s a bit early to be waxing lyrical about the forthcoming National Hunt season.
I mean the last classic of the flat season hasn’t even been consigned to the form book yet. It’s maybe a bit rude to be straightening up the hurdles and trimming the fences whilst the flat boys are still trying to figure out who the likely favorite for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is.
Well bugger it! I can’t hold off any longer! It’s time to get down and dirty with the jumping game!
I was going to wait until the St. Leger was done and dusted before clicking NTF into first gear but…
1) I’ve been sitting on Paul Ferguson’s SUPERB guest post since Monday!
2) GRANDAD’S HORSE fired in under prime conditions for the Summer Stunners at Uttoxeter yesterday!!
3) PAPRADON, also at Uttoxeter yesterday, led from pillar to post at BFSP of 27.31 and signified that TWISTER SEASON was ready to step up a gear!!!
I mean COME ON! I just had to set NTF back in motion after that. It’s a sign from the National Hunt gods, surely?
There is still a wee bit to go yet before we are truly knee deep in National Hunt action and I will still be powering away over on NTF’s sister site BDH for at least the next month, possibly a bit longer, but I am now starting to take dead aim and looking to crank NTF up to full power, ready to hit the 2014/15 National Hunt season full in the chops! Swing badda,badda, badda, badda, badda swing!!
…and what better way to start the wheels in motion than with an overview of the impending jumps season from a racing aficionado whose opinion I greatly respect; the man behind the excellent racing publication Jumpers to Follow, Paul Ferguson.
What does the 2014/15 National Hunt season have in store for us?
Despite the fact we only got to see him once last season and he has been sidelined since Christmas, the horse on most people’s lips ahead of the 2014-15 National Hunt season is Nicky Henderson’s Sprinter Sacre. Will he come back? Will he again reach those dizzy heights of his 2012 Arkle and 2013 Queen Mother Champion successes? Only time will tell and, at this stage and despite him stating that all seems well, even Henderson won’t know for sure until he steps up the son of Network’s workload, or more likely, saddles him in a race.
If he does come back, we’ve plenty to get excited about, with the prospect of an early season showdown with current Champion Chaser Sire De Grugy in Sandown’s Tingle Creek in early December. Guilty of it myself, Gary Moore’s stable-star was rather harshly considered ‘best of the rest’ by many when taking all before him after Sprinter Sacre met with injury, but he rightfully begins the season as the horse to beat in the 2m division, as last year’s novices appear to have a huge bridge to gap.
Another Seven Barrows inmate that Henderson will be hoping to get back on a racecourse sometime soon is dual Cheltenham Festival winner Simonsig, who split opinions during his novice chase campaign (the season before last). The grey won the 2013 Arkle despite almost everything going wrong and, in my opinion, he remains a high-class prospect – after just three starts over fences, he remains open to considerable improvement and, should his jumping improve, it is not inconceivable to think he could himself end up in a Champion Chase, especially if things fail go to plan with the ‘Black Aeroplane’.
The King George is reportedly the mid-season target for the son of Fair Mix and it will be fascinating to see where he begins the season and over what trip. Given that Kempton is the main aim, I’m sure connections will be looking for something over 2m4f or thereabouts.
Sticking with the Henderson theme, 2013 Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth is the third ‘Big Gun’ that he will be hoping can fire him back to the top of the trainer’s table this winter. He endured an up and down season, actually it was more a down-up-down season, with the sole success from a three-race campaign coming in the Lexus at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Dropped from 180 to a mark of 172, Henderson is seriously considering a tilt at a second Hennessy Gold Cup with the Bob Back gelding, who won the 2012 renewal off 12lbs lower.
His likely participation will be music to the ears of trainers such as Rebecca Curtis, Alan King, Emma Lavelle and Oliver Sherwood, who will be keen to exploit the weight concession between Bobs Worth and their respective second-season chasers O’Faolains Boy, Smad Place, Le Bec and Many Clouds.
I spent a morning on the Lambourn gallops with Sherwood last week and the Hennessy is a race that is most certainly on his mind for Many Clouds, while, on a separate note, it was great to see Puffin Billy back cantering away and clearly enjoying life once again.
The previous day I attended the Open Day of trainer Jamie Snowden, who, of course, enjoyed a first Cheltenham Festival success in March, when Present View landed the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase. The six-year-old is another with a major early season handicap as a target, as he is to be aimed at the Paddy Power Gold Cup in mid November, before which he could have a spin over timber – he remains a novice over hurdles and Snowden is eyeing up a race at Huntingdon next month.
Back to the more established staying chasers and Paul Nicholls has announced that the Charlie Hall is the likely starting point for Silviniaco Conti, before he returns to Kempton to bid to retain his King George crown. In between, he will again head to Haydock for the Betfair Chase, a race in which he finished third behind Cue Card 12 months ago.
Assuming he can be readied in time (another returning from injury) this would be the logical early season target for Colin Tizzard’s stable star. Still only eight, he has more to offer over 3m and has to be on the shortlist for the King George on Boxing Day, even at this early stage.
Others that could head to Haydock and then Kempton include Taquin Du Seuil and Jonjo O’Neill’s seven-year-old was impressive when winning a small field novice chase at the Merseyside track back in January, after which he landed the JLT. Being spoken about as a possible Gold Cup contender, along with stable-mate and dual festival winner Holywell, it could be that the Betfair offers him his best chance of Grade 1 glory this year.
Again, rather like in the 2m division, I feel last year’s novices have plenty to find, though I admit to thinking the same last year after Lord Windermere had won the RSA Chase. The Gold Cup winner had struggled earlier in the season, prior to causing an upset in the festival feature, so he might once again have a light campaign geared towards a third successive Cheltenham success.
Hopefully, Sir Des Champs will return to the track this season and shouldn’t be forgotten among the Irish stayers, while Morning Assembly is a second-season chaser that I’d be happy to give another chance to, despite ending the season with a slightly disappointing third at Punchestown.
Pat Fahy’s seven-year-old had looked a very smart prospect prior to this and he is another who would be of interest if sent over to Berkshire for the Hennessy. However, given how keen he can be in his races, dropping him back to 2m5f and allowing him to use his jumping from the front might well be the way to go this season and there should be plenty of opportunities for him on home soil, should connections not wish to consider one of the big Cheltenham handicaps. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up developing into a Ryanair Chase horse.
Moving onto the hurdlers, it is possible that Champion Hurdle 1-2-3 Jezki, My Tent Or Yours and The New One could all return for another crack at the feature on the opening day of the festival, next March. The winner blossomed for both the application of the hood and the better spring ground, going on to beat Hurricane Fly at Punchestown. His biggest problem this year, on the domestic front at least, will be fending off the battalion of Willie Mullins-trained youngsters.
‘The Fly’ may now be past his best (talk of him stepping up to 3m which I don’t really see working, personally) but he has Cheltenham winners Vautour and Faugheen to unleash, whilst we still don’t know how good Un De Sceaux is. I suspect the answer to that is he is top-class and I would love to see him allowed to bowl along in Grade 1 company, especially once dropped back to 2m as he looked to be tiring in the closing stages over an extended 2m3½ f in France on his final two starts.
A novice chase campaign could await any of the three (or possibly even two from three) and, given how he followed up his Neptune success with a stunning victory at Punchestown, I suspect it might well be Faugheen that heads down the Champion Hurdle route. He looks the real deal to me and can go right to the top, under whichever discipline Mullins opts for.
Back to My Tent Or Yours, who, of course, carries the same green and gold silks of Jezki; Nicky Henderson has stated that he will be schooled over fences under ‘AP’ with a view to him heading down the Arkle route. Given how keen he races, that would be some sight, though if, and admittedly it is a pretty big ‘if’, they finally learn the key to switching him off, he certainly has the natural ability to win a Champion Hurdle.
The New One will be top of many people’s lists after his unlucky third in last season’s renewal and Nigel Twiston-Davies has confirmed that his season will once again begin at Kempton next month. Given the race is run on the stiffer of the two tracks and over an extra furlong, the International Hurdle (or the Bula to most of us) should once again be his for the taking in mid December.
Another that Willie Mullins and owner Rich Ricci must come to a decision over is the top-class mare Annie Power, who has any number of options at this stage. She has the look of a chaser, but the fact that the Mares Hurdle has this year been upgraded to Grade 1, plus the mighty Quevega has now been retired, could result in her heading down that route. Many will object to this, but if you owned a horse that would probably be odds-on to win a Grade 1 at the Cheltenham Festival, you might think differently.
We all await news of these stars from Mullins’ County Carlow base with bated breath and, I for one (as always), will be scanning the entries of each and every beginners’ chase in Ireland from October to see if any of these big guns are handed an entry – this is often the first sign of any sort of confirmation over such decisions.
Annie Power, of course, relinquished her unbeaten record in last season’s World Hurdle, which was won by the much-improved More Of That. Effectively a novice, having had just the one run the previous season, the son of Beneficial won handicaps off 130 and 137, respectively, before taking the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle in style at Cheltenham in December.
Given his low-mileage, there is plenty more to come from him and, should Jonjo O’Neill and JP McManus opt to keep him over timber, he would have the 3m division at his mercy, in my opinion. Again, however, there is talk of a novice chase campaign, with McCoy mentioning this horse as the one that could possibly provide him with another Gold Cup.
I get the impression that this decision will also have an impact on what Nicky Henderson does with Aintree and Punchestown winner Beat That, who, with the likes of Deputy Dan heading straight over fences, could be the pick of the second-season stayers. The six-year-old is himself an exciting chaser in the making, but after just four starts over hurdles, could remain over the smaller obstacles, especially if More Of That switches. Currently 14-1 for the World Hurdle; that could look pretty big come next March if he does indeed remains over hurdles.
The horse he beat at Aintree Cole Harden is also set for another season over hurdles and I also visited the stable of Warren Greatrex on my recent trip to Lambourn. This is likely to be the flag-bearer for the trainer who looks set for his biggest season to date and he could kick off his campaign in the Grade 2 contest at Wetherby on Charlie Hall Chase day. He is unexposed over a trip and could slip under the radar somewhat.
It could be in the novice hurdle division that Greatrex flourishes this season, following a fantastic spring with his bumper horses. The squad of young horses at Uplands is pretty deep indeed and I think the yard should be followed closely in such contests in the first few months of the season.
Given the nature of Jumpers To Follow (which mainly focuses on the less exposed horses as opposed to those covered in this feature) it wouldn’t be fair to those who have kindly bought a copy if I were to start nominating lots of novices here, but I will select one to follow in novice hurdles, whilst Josses Hill would rate fairly high among the horses I’m most excited about over a fence.
Nicky Henderson’s six-year-old rounded off his novice hurdle campaign with a Grade 2 success at Aintree and, if looks are anything to go by, he really ought to flourish as a chaser. Runner-up in a couple of Grade 1s last season, including the Supreme at Cheltenham, I will be disappointed if the son of Winged Love doesn’t go one better at the top level this term and the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown in early December will probably give him the first chance to prove me right.
The prospect of My Tent Or Yours possibly being sent over fences could complicate matters (as Henderson is unlikely to want them to clash) and, of course, the Irish will hold a strong hand in the division this term, but he otherwise appeals as an obvious Arkle contender.
Back to the novice hurdler and, though it is difficult to single out just one, I will nominate the Paul Nicholls-trained Great Try who won a bumper on the all-weather at Southwell during February. The son of Scorpion did it very easily and the form has worked out since, with the runner-up, who has since joined Oliver Sherwood for £80,000, and the seventh home winning subsequently. He could return in another bumper, before he goes hurdling.
Hopefully that has managed to whet the appetite ahead of new National Hunt season, which will start in earnest in just a matter of weeks. If you enjoy what you have read, you can purchase a copy of Jumpers To Follow 2014-15 online at www.cc-publishing.co.uk or at www.weatherbysshop.co.uk
8 September 2014
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WOW! Let me at ’em!
I’m positively chomping at the bit for the serious jumping action to begin after that.
I’ll be adding plenty my own thoughts between now and the start of the season via various articles, analysis and free NTF guides but in the meantime…
What do you guys think?
What are you most looking forward to in the 2014/15 National Hunt season?
Can Sprinter Sacre return to former glories?
Who will dominate the 2 mile hurdle division?
Can Lord Windermere back up that Gold Cup victory?
Which of last season’s novices’ are you most looking forward to this time round?
Who do you fancy from an ante-post perspective?
Let me know your thoughts by dropping a comment below.
The NTF readership is the lifeblood of this blog and I’m always interested to read your views and opinions.
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Finally I would like to give Paul a huge thanks for his time and I for one hugely recommend his excellent Jumpers To Follow publication, it’s simply a must for any racing fan.