There is definitely a bit of a chill in the air these days.
I’ve switched from shorts and t-shirt for the morning dog walk to a comfy fleece and a pair of waterproof trousers.
And I LOVE IT!
For me that is on of the rock hard signs that the jumping game is getting warmed up and ready to fire.
In all corners of the country the hurdles are being straightened, the fences are being trimmed and National Hunt fans up and down the land are dusting off their tweed jackets in preparation for another fantastic season of jumping action.
This my friends is a great time to be alive.
Just think of what is to come…
The Paddy Power Gold Cup, The Betfair Chase, The King George, The Welsh National, Cheltenham Trials day, The Betfair Hurdle, The Cheltenham Festival, The Aintree Grand National meeting, The Scottish National, Punchestown…
And that’s only scratching the god damn surface!!
Personally I’m chomping at the bit.
I cannot wait to take dead aim and crank NTF back up to full speed. It’s what keeps me going. I simply can’t wait to get stuck into the proper stuff. IT’S BEEN TOO LONG!!
OK. Take a breath. Lets not shoot our bolts before even Twister Season has properly kicked in (NTD hasn’t quite unleashed the shackles yet, has he?).
To ease us all back in to the jumping game I’ve once again enlisted the help of a racing aficionado whose opinion I greatly respect; the man behind the excellent racing publication Jumpers to Follow, Paul Ferguson.
This is the third year in a row that Paul has kick-started the NTF blog with his seasonal overview and if I’m honest it’s one of my highlights of the year. The moment his guest post drops in my inbox (usually followed by the latest edition of his book dropping through my letter-box) is as clear a sign as any that I need to start wakening up NTF and getting the National Hunt part of my brain in full focus mode.
So here it is. Sit back and immerse yourself in National Hunt racing 2015-16…
What does the 2015/16 National Hunt season have in store for us?
We are now only a matter of weeks away from the new National Hunt season and, to coincide with the publication of the 9th edition of Jumpers To Follow, Ben (NTF) has once again asked me to set the mood for the change of code.
With Chepstow set to stage a new two-day fixture to signify the start of the new campaign, we can expect many of the big yards to hit the ground running in early October. Both the Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle and the Persian War Novices’ Hurdle have been brought forward to feature at this fixture (10-11 October) and I would expect strong representation in both from Messrs Nicholls and Hobbs. Nicholls, in particular, tends to target this opening fixture and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see impressive Newton Abbot winner Monsieur Gibraltar line up in the four-year-old handicap hurdle, or Aux Ptits Soins represent the stable in the novices’ chase. If asked to nominate one horse to follow from the champion trainer’s yard, it would have to be this exciting grey, who, of course, won the Coral Cup on his British debut, despite doing plenty wrong. He clearly possesses a huge amount of natural ability and could well be a class act in the novice chase division this term – the Rising Stars at Wincanton (7 November) would be another race to spring to mind, in the early part of the season.
Of his more established stars, Saphir Du Rheu is expected to return to action in a Grade 1 hurdle at Auteuil before being readied for a crack at the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. He endured an aborted novice chase campaign last term, when reverting to hurdles with tremendous success (won the Cleeve and runner-up in the World Hurdle) before making a victorious return to fences, in Grade 1 company at Aintree. Nicholls will be hoping he can develop into a serious Gold Cup contender as the season unfolds.
Nicholls might well be crowned champion again next April, but we will, of course, be crowing a new champion jockey, with AP McCoy hanging up his riding boots at the end of last season. Even though we have had the summer to digest the news, it is still difficult to anticipate a new season without ‘AP’ in the saddle – I was still at school when he won his first few championships, so have known no different. Richard Johnson, who has enjoyed a fine start to the season during the summer months, would be a fitting successor to his nemesis.
Successor to ‘AP’ in terms of carrying the green and gold hoops of JP McManus is Barry Geraghty, who has already enjoyed great success in the famous silks, and Nicky Henderson’s former stable jockey will no doubt be looking forward to being reunited with former Champion Hurdle winner Jezki, who looks to be a major player in the staying hurdle division this season. Another Geraghty is likely to be looking forward to is the unbeaten Minella Rocco, who could well be another exciting novice chase prospect for the months ahead. Jonjo O’Neill’s former winning Irish pointer was two from two under rules last term and he looks like he will flourish in 3m chases. One slightly lesser known name who could make his mark for McManus this term is Punchestown Festival scorer Timing’Severything who was bought privately during the summer and is now in training with John Kiely. He is one to note in novice hurdle company in Ireland.
Surprisingly, to me anyway, Henderson has opted not to replace Geraghty and instead intends of dividing riding duties between Nico De Boinville, Andrew Tinkler, David Bass and Jeremiah McGrath. While all are very able, I still expected Henderson to secure a big name and, had it been up to me, I’d have gone knocking on the door of Noel Fehily or Aidan Coleman.
The latter has tied up his own retainer over the summer, joining alliances with the ever-strengthening John Ferguson, a deal that should work tremendously well for both parties. Coleman remains a potential champion jockey for me and, with Ferguson appearing intent on making his mark at a higher level as a trainer, this looks like a partnership that could grow together. Indeed, the pair enjoyed a fine start, with smart ex-Flat performer Penglai Pavilion and three-times bumper winner Waterlord springing to mind as smart novice hurdle prospects and, though they have been winning during the summer, it is worth remembering that Parlour Games was out early last year and that didn’t prevent him from developing into a high-class novice. The other horse I am really looking forward to in the black silks of Bloomfields this term is El Namoose who is set to return from injury, following his disappointing run at Musselburgh in Febraury; he had looked hugely exciting prior to that blip.
Back to Henderson and, with the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Bobs Worth and Simonsig no longer dominant in their respective divisions, he looks in need of some new blood. He does appear to hold a strong hand in the novice chase division this term, though the stats boys (Ben included, no doubt) will be quick to point out that his record in recent seasons with chasers has been poor to say the least. I’m sure that is only temporary, however, and the likes of L’Ami Serge and Volnay De Thaix can be expected to make their marks in graded company in their first season over the larger obstacles. In terms of hurdlers, Peace And Co of course led home a Seven Barrows 1-2-3 in the Triumph and he could easily develop into the leading British-trained 2-miler this term. With the race set to be run at Doncaster this year (where he made such a devastating British debut back in December), the Fighting Fifth would seem the obvious starting point for the son of Falco, after which the Christmas Hurdle could be right up his street. Given the turn of foot he showed to fend off Top Notch in the Triumph, the Old Course at Cheltenham should also be to his liking come Champion Hurdle day. The aforementioned Top Notch, who represents the same owners (they also have L’Ami Serge, which is why I believe he will be sent chasing), will certainly be of interest on soft ground during the winter and the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in mid-December could be on his agenda.
If asked to nominate one trainer to shine this winter, then it would be Dan Skelton, who looks to have a very strong bunch of young horses to go to war with. Value At Risk heads his novice chase squad and, while I’m already thinking of him as a possible for the 2016 Hennessy, I thoroughly expect him to make up into a high-class staying novice this winter. On the novice hurdle front, Skelton introduced a trio of exciting bumper winners during March, of which Welsh Shadow really impressed me when scoring on debut at Wetherby. He looks set to go on to bigger and better things once sent hurdling over 2m4f this term, while those three winners have been joined by several recruits from the sales, notably big money purchase Born Survivor who won impressively for Jamie and Willie Codd, before fetching £220,000 at Brightwells. Add to the mix impressive Newcastle winner (for Tim Fitzgerald) Captain Chaos and Chap, who won the inaugural running of the point-to-point bumper at Aintree for Gabe Mahon, and Skelton really ought to enjoy a fruitful campaign with his novice hurdlers.
As well as hoping to do well numerically, Paul Nicholls’ former assistant will no doubt be hoping to saddle for his first Cheltenham Festival winner come next March, while one trainer who returned to the hallowed winners’ enclosure last term was Kim Bailey, 20 years on from completing the Champion Hurdle/Gold Cup double, courtesy of Alderbrook and Master Oats. On the back of the handicap success of Darna, owners Mr & Mrs Martin splashed out €280,000 to secure dual bumper winner Charbel from Thomas Mullins in Ireland. Impressive in winning his first two starts, the four-year-old went on to run a blinder in the Grade 1 at Punchestown and he rates an extremely exciting recruit to the Bailey stable. In fact, Bailey has been busy in terms of new recruits during the closed season and I expect him to enjoy a decent campaign – another to join the yard having run well at Punchestown is Policy Breach, who should be good enough to win a bumper before his new connections send him over hurdles.
Another trainer successful at last season’s Cheltenham Festival was Rebecca Curtis, which means she has now trained an individual winner at each of the past four festivals, a fantastic achievement for a trainer still in the early years of her career. One of those previous winners O’Faolains Boy is back in training and, all being well, will be aimed at the 2016 Gold Cup. Other familiar names that are expected to return from injury in the coming months include Red Sherlock (David Pipe) and Ballyalton (Ian Williams), who were both last sighted behind Faugheen in the 2014 Neptune. The former was unbeaten prior to that race and, given he had beaten the third on trials day, it is safe to say he didn’t run to form, while the latter ran a blinder to finish runner-up. Ian Williams reported him to be in rude health during the summer and is intending on sending him straight over fences in October. Despite his age, he has relatively low mileage on the clock and has always had the look of a chaser. Finally, on the subject of horses returning from injury, Present View is back in Jamie Snowden’s yard and is once again being trained for the Paddy Power Gold Cup. Third in the race on the back of an interrupted preparation last year, he hasn’t been seen since January but remains a horse with another valuable prize in his locker. The Topham at Aintree was also being mooted as a possible target before injury intervened last year and that race could well be considered again this time around.
I could continue talking about each and every yard in the country, but I can’t give too much away, as the horses I am most looking forward to (in addition to those I have mentioned briefly above) can be found in this year’s edition of Jumpers To Follow, available now – www.cc-publishing.co.uk. It can also be purchased at the online bookstores of both Weatherbys and the Racing Post.
I must briefly, however, touch on Ireland, well in particular the yard of all-conquering trainer Willie Mullins, who will once again be dominant on both sides of the Irish Sea. Stable stars such as Faugheen, Un De Sceaux and Vautour speak for themselves but, the worrying fact for other trainers, is that the apparent conveyor-belt of new talent continues to run smoothly and the stable will once again be strongly represented in both novice divisions.
Punchestown Festival bumper winners Nambour and Yorkhill are a couple I am particularly looking forward to in novice hurdles and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if either (or both) ended up forming part of the squad (or should that be ‘army’) that travels over to Cheltenham next March. Of those going chasing, the obvious one to be excited about is Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Douvan, who already heads the market for the Arkle, whilst the likes of Milsean and Killultagh Vic should develop into graded performers over 3m and possibly beyond – both look out-and-out stayers and either could easily develop into a contender for the 4m National Hunt Chase; certainly Patrick Mullins will be hoping that is the case.
Again, you can read much more in terms of my thoughts and plans for the Mullins-trained horses in this year’s Jumpers To Follow, in which I have dedicated a section for this stable alone. Hopefully this NTF feature has managed to whet the appetite for the months ahead – good luck for a profitable campaign.
2 September 2015
You can also follow Paul on Twitter @paulfergusonJTF
Seriously if that hasn’t got your motor fired up for the jumping game then you may just be dead inside!
I’ll also be adding plenty of my own thoughts between now and the start of the season via various articles, analysis and free NTF guides, including…
NTF Jockeywatch – The new breed
Five well-handicapped horses you NEED on your side
The NTF alternative 20 to follow
October 90+ day trainers guide
Last time out winners [FREE Guide]
And much, much more…
But in the meantime…
What do you guys think?
What are you most looking forward to in the 2015/16 National Hunt season?
Can CONEYGREE back up that Gold Cup victory?
Will anything get close to FAUGHEEN this year?
Is Willie Mullins going to dominate the Festival AGAIN?
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 have for any and all racing fans.