The kids go back to school this week and, on many levels, that’s bloody fantastic!
I’m regularly starting to wear waterproofs on the dogs walks, and I love it!!
Mrs NTF is contemplating putting the heating back on, and I couldn’t be happier!!! Crank that boiler back up to full power I say!!!!
Why do those three mundane parts of every day life get me so excited?
Well clearly those are rock hard signs that the jumping game is just about to flick up through the gears.
The National Hunt yards are throwing away the summer attire, pulling the big boys back in off their holidays and getting ready to gun it full blast at the 2016/17 National Hunt season.
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 and brightly coloured chinos in preparation for another fantastic season of jumping action.
Just think of what is sitting waiting for us around the corner…
The Charlie Hall Chase, 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.
Lemme at em! Lemme at em!
I cannot wait to take dead aim at The National Hunt season 2016/17 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!!
I’m currently working away behind the scenes on a number of free guides for NTF readers (that’s you!) and I’ll be drip feeding them to you throughout the next couple of months. Building you all up to a climax before unleashing you upon the wonderful winter game we call jumps racing!
But lets settle back down a bit. None of us are Denman or Coneygree. We are all getting older. We can’t just set off like an unstoppable tank, batting away challengers and finishing even stronger than we started. We need to pace ourselves. We need to be gently warmed up. We need to loosen the mind, get it back in gear and ready to focus fully for the next seven or so months.
And I’ve just the man to get the National Hunt fires lit.
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 fourth 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. Anything else you’ve got planned today can wait. Sit back and immerse yourself in National Hunt racing 2016-17…
What does the 2016/17 National Hunt season have in store for us?
It’s September and the countdown to the start of the National Hunt season is well underway. In fact, as I started working on the 10th edition of Jumpers To Follow immediately after the Punchestown Festival, I’ve never really switched off from jumps mode.
Will Faugheen be back in the same sort of form that saw him blow away the opposition in the Irish Champion Hurdle back in January? Will Thistlecrack take to fences? What trip will Vautour be campaigned over? All questions that will cross the lips or enter the minds of many a jumps fan in the weeks ahead, while Jumpers To Follow once again attempts to unearth some of the lesser known names, which could themselves become household names in a year or two.
The book has been produced by Weatherbys for the first time this year and they have transformed the look, splashing the publication with colour and photographs, and the feedback so far has been quite overwhelming. The marketing team at Weatherbys have also done a fine job in terms of promoting the book and video clips of myself from the yards of both Ben Pauling and Dan Skelton are (or will be very soon) available to view on my Twitter feed (@paulfergusonJTF).
So, I thought I would talk you through some of the horses that caught my eye on these recent stable visits. First up was the owners’ day of Ben Pauling, where the main attraction was Barters Hill, who is set to embark on a novice chase campaign, with Bangor-On-Dee (Tuesday 25 October) already pencilled in as a possible starting point for the six-year-old. Pauling also mentioned the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham’s Open meeting and the Feltham at Kempton on Boxing Day, as possible targets for his Challow Hurdle winner, who was the last of 50 horses to be paraded on the day. He looked particularly well and has clearly flourished over the summer.
Another that could join Barters Hill in the novice chase division is Cyrius Moriviere who will begin the season in a handicap hurdle, possibly the Greatwood in November. The six-year-old was last seen winning an 18-runner Doncaster novice hurdle by 19 lengths, after which he just missed the cut for the County Hurdle at Cheltenham. He could land a nice prize over hurdles, before fences are considered.
Pauling’s novice hurdle squad is headed by Aintree bumper fifth Willoughby Court, while Le Breuil looks another exciting prospect, having won his bumper at Warwick by 10 lengths during May. The Anzillero four-year-old will reappear in another bumper, after which a decision will be made as to which direction he will head. Should he win again on his return, it could be that he is held back and aimed at one of the championship bumpers, with hurdles put on hold for another year. He is clearly held in high regard and is one I’m particularly looking forward to seeing back in action.
The Bourton-On-The-Water trainer appears to have a very nice bunch of youngsters to go to war with this season and one un-raced horse that he clearly thinks the world of is the good-looking Whin Park, a three-parts brother to the top-class two-mile chaser Azertyuiop. He could start in a bumper, before having his attentions switched to hurdles, while another un-raced horse that caught the eye on the day was Boreham Bill. A four-year-old by Tikkanen, he could also kick off his campaign in a bumper in the early part of the season.
Whilst down in the area, I thought I would try and visit another yard or two. And, in fact, I managed to call in to three stables, those of Kim Bailey, Nigel-Twiston Davies, and Fergal O’Brien, before lunch in The Hollow Bottom (highly recommended).
My visit to Bailey’s Thorndale Farm stables was a timely one, as I got to see second lot go out, the string being led by Grand National runner-up The Last Samuri.
The one that stood out among this bunch was the grey Dueling Banjos, who is expected to head straight over fences on his return. A bumper winner for Martin Keighley, the son of Proclomation won twice from four starts in novice hurdle company for Bailey last term and the six-year-old is expected to come into his own as a staying chaser.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle fifth Charbel is the other hugely exciting novice chase prospect in the stable, with the Iffraaj gelding possessing plenty of size and scope for fences. Another who won twice over timber during his first season in the stable, the five-year-old, who finished fourth in the Grade 1 bumper at Punchestown the season before, might be at his best on a right-handed track.
Of the newcomers, the King’s Theatre four-year-old Minella Warrior was one that I was taken with, physically. Runner-up in a point-to-point in Ireland, he is out of a half-sister to Menorah and cost his new connections £180,000 when going through the sales ring at Doncaster.
From there I headed to Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Grange Hill Farm yard, where I was particularly keen to see Champion Bumper winner Ballyandy, who ought to make up into a high-class novice hurdler, and Imperial Cup winner Flying Angel, who I have high hopes for over fences.
The latter looked a picture and, again, has the physique to make a big impact over the larger obstacles. Given that the son of Arcadio raced no fewer than eight times last season and won on both good and soft, he is clearly very hardy and equally extremely versatile. With that in mind, there should be plenty of opportunities for him in the upcoming season and I wouldn’t be surprised if he followed a similar path to that of Bristol De Mai from last year, who himself looked well, out in the field.
The latter’s owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede look to have a couple of nice French recruits to look forward to, in the shape of El Terremoto and Calett Mad.
The former is a Spirit One four-year-old that remains a maiden over hurdles and fences, so has plenty of options, while Calett Mad is less exposed, and is also still a novice over hurdles.
Another to note in the two-tone green silks is Wholestone, a horse that I thought had a really bright future when winning a bumper at Worcester last September. The son of Craigsteel was beaten on both starts over hurdles (fell when last seen at Newcastle in November), but he looked well, albeit in his box, and could easily bounce back on his return. Given how the stable normally hits the ground running, you might want to keep a close eye out for one or two of these in the very near future.
I then headed up to the top yard, from where Fergal O’Brien sends out his runners. The trainer was over in Ireland, but the main reason for my visit was to see how Pride Of Lecale had summered. Despite winning just once from five starts in bumpers, the former Irish points winner is one I am really looking forward to over hurdles this winter and, in time, over fences.
The Multiplex gelding relished the deep ground when winning by 14 lengths at Chepstow on his third outing, before he shaped well for a long way in both the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and the Grade 2 at Aintree. Back on soft ground and upped by half-a-mile, he should have little trouble in getting back to winning ways over hurdles this winter. He really is a lovely looking horse, with plenty of size and scope for obstacles.
In the same ownership (Paul and Clare Rooney) Barney Dwan is expected to head over fences and the EBF Final winner could start off at Perth, whilst Mystifiable is one to note in handicap chases, despite the fact that he disappointed at Aintree on Grand National day. The grey had earlier looked extremely progressive and is clearly well thought of.
Six days later I was back on the road, heading to Alcester to spend the morning at Dan Skelton’s Lodge Hill Farm. Again accompanied by Ben Roe of Weatherbys, we enjoyed a thoroughly enjoyable morning and recorded plenty more footage, which should be available on the Twitter feed of both Bettrends and myself very soon (currently being edited at the time of writing).
Six of my 40 Leading Prospects (in Jumpers To Follow) hail from the Skelton yard, so I was keen to see how the sextet had summered. I won’t give everything away and name all six, but Betameche was one I was particularly keen on seeing.
The grey had won a bumper for Nicky Richards before joining Skelton, for whom he defied a penalty at Wetherby on April Fool’s Day. The five-year-old moved like a very smart prospect on both occasions and he looks a lovely long-term prospect. Bridget Andrews rode him on his debut for Skelton and she was extremely complimentary about him when I interviewed her at the yard.
I also interviewed Harry Skelton, who joined Nick Scholfield, Jamie Codd and Jane Mangan as a contributor in Jumpers To Follow this year, and Robin Roe is clearly one that he is looking forward to. A winner at the second time of asking in an Irish point-to-point (beat Laser Light, who impressed when winning a bumper for Alan King), the five-year-old son of Robin Des Champs won an 18-runner Warwick bumper on his debut under rules, defying greenness in the closing stages.
Runner-up Royal Supremo went on to win a bumper and a novice hurdle for Kim Bailey, while the form was further advertised by Phobiaphiliac (5th) who won a maiden hurdle by 18 lengths in late-May, and Hoke Colburn (6th) who won a Southwell bumper next time.
The jockey believes both fall into the ‘could be anything’ category, while one un-raced horse he is excited about is Indirocco, who is a half-brother to Irving and has reportedly done everything right at home. I saw him in his box and he is a very big, strong looking three-year-old.
Other un-raced horses to catch my eye when up on the gallops for second lot were Hear No Evil, a Getaway four-year-old that will sport the navy blue silks of Mrs John Magnier, and a Presenting filly that will run in the colours of Highclere Thoroughbred, Whatduhavtoget. A maiden point-to-point winner at Durrow in February, she really filled the eye.
I will be visiting several more yards over the coming weeks, so again, follow me on Twitter (@paulfergusonJTF) if you would like any further updates and Jumpers To Follow can be purchased here https://www.bettrendsshop.co.uk/books/betting/paul-fergusons-jumpers-follow-2016-2017 for £9.95 plus P&P.
4 September 2016
Well 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
Six well-handicapped horses you NEED on your side
The NTF alternative 20 to follow
October 90+ day trainers guide
And much, much more…
But in the meantime…
What do you guys think?
What are you most looking forward to in the 2016/17 National Hunt season?
Will CONEYGREE return as the same horse?
Can anyone stop DOUVAN?
Will THISTLECRACK make a smooth transition to chasing?
Is Willie Mullins going to dominate the Festival AGAIN?
Will Mullins manage to snatch the trainers championship from Nicholls?
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.
I know a lot of you take the summer off, steering clear of the flat game, but resting time is over guys, it’s time to get back in the game!
If you are new to NTF then pop along here and grab some FREE NTF (and BDH) guides >> Join the NTF Community
Finally I would like to give Paul a huge thanks for his time and expertise and I for one hugely recommend his excellent Jumpers To Follow publication, it’s simply a must have for any and all National Hunt fans.