Saturday signals the return for National Hunt racing in the UK with Chepstow’s excellent two day meeting. The quality has improved each season since the inception in 2015, and last year saw plenty of Graded performers emerge so it is hoped more of the same happens this time around.
At this stage of the season, all hopes and dreams of reaching the very top are still intact, but the amount that make the leap to the top level is a fairly low number, so that represents a potential angle to pick out horses that may struggle to reach such lofty ambitions. Just like last year, I felt it was right to revisit a piece that was challenging but, in the end, rewarding to write.
Compared to the Flat, National Hunt fans, from experience, tend to be of a more forgiving nature when it comes to horses with excuses, so it potentially opens up the angle of opposing when those types are well backed for big contests.
It would be wrong not to refer to last year’s piece having promised analysis on several occasions, regardless of how it went. Fortunately, for my sake, the piece went better than expected as the table below shows with the totals worked out from the 2nd October until the 28th April.
|Horse||Profit & Loss (£1 level stake)|
|Ballyandy (2 runs)||-£2|
|Cause Toujours (2 runs)||-£2|
|Clan Des Obeaux (4 runs)||Broke even|
|Charli Parcs (5 runs)||-£5|
|Melon (5 runs)||-£3.60|
|Petit Mouchoir (5 runs)||-£3.38|
|Ramses De Teillee (8 runs)||38p|
|Thistlecrack (2 runs)||-£2|
|Vintage Clouds (5 runs)||-£1|
|Western Ryder (7 runs)||-£1.88|
|Overall Profit/Loss Total||-£20.48|
*Ramses De Teillee’s total would be -62p (not -63p as stated on RP) if his first run prior to the 2nd October was counted.
Out of 45 runs between the 10 of them, eight of those resulted in success, giving a 17.8% strike-rate, and only one horse eventually ended up in profit at the end of the season. Six of the 10 recorded at least one victory, only Ramses De Teillee and Western Ryder making it two wins in their respective campaigns.
Ballyandy – See below.
Cause Toujours – Looked weak in the finish on both his hurdle starts at Uttoxeter and Huntingdon, beaten at odds on both times, for Dan Skelton before joining Ian Williams and making it two in a row at the beginning of the new season. He was last seen disappointing in a good handicap at Market Rasen, and it remains to be seen whether he has more to come for his excellent handler.
Clan Des Obeaux – Ran some solid races in defeat around his Haydock success, including when second in a match to Whisper at Kempton, finishing in the same spot in a renewal of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup which is best forgotten about at Cheltenham, and his third to Might Bite at Aintree. I’m still not yet to be convinced about his mettle in a fight, and will still be opposing him.
Charli Parcs – The worry was whether he was a morning glory on the gallops and, despite running well on a couple of occasions, he failed to deliver what his homework has threatened.
Melon – Ended up surprising with a performance in the Champion Hurdle that had me getting twitchy going to the last until Buveur D’air pulled out more. The suspicion is that the dual champion wasn’t at 100%, and will prove to be a good deal better than he showed at Cheltenham. It remains to be seen whether the heavy fall at Punchestown has left a mark, and what plans Mullins has for him. The likelihood is he will have another season over timber, his pedigree not screaming positives for him if he goes chasing.
Petit Mouchoir – The wheels fell off after a solid chase debut at Punchestown with a setback meaning he missed a fair chunk of the season. Everything after his Irish Arkle effort seemed to be a regression, he can be forgiven Cheltenham due to the braindead ride he received, with Aintree & Punchestown two poor efforts. He looks very difficult to place.
Ramses De Teillee – The only horse to make a profit and leave egg on my face when he bolted up in a novice handicap chase at Chepstow. However, his efforts in better company when unable to dominate inferior opposition underlined his frailties.
Thistlecrack – It was a shame his season finished early after an effort in the King George which suggested there was still life compared to his return over hurdles at Newbury. While it is unlikely he will return to his former glories, it would be no surprise to see him win a couple of decent prizes.
Vintage Clouds – Had a consistent season after winning what was essentially a bumper at Aintree in October, but I still feel he will struggle to get his head in front. Regardless of what distance he runs over, a flat spot is guaranteed before running on into the frame which makes him an each-way player’s delight.
Western Ryder – It wouldn’t be surprising to see him go on after a decent novice hurdle campaign, but his trainer’s comment about him feeling he was never at his best after a hard bumper campaign was certainly noteworthy.
A few things that must be noted before reading on.
1.This must be reiterated, the piece is in no way trying to insult any horse or connections involved.
2.I have broken a few rules from last year. Nine stables make up the list of 10, having included two from a particular stable (albeit with a reason behind it), and an individual who made the first piece returns, something I didn’t want to particularly do (see explanation below)
3.Plenty of horses were considered before making a final list of 10 so at the end of a couple of entries, I will be listing other potentials to oppose from the stable (with a reason or two) but they will not go towards the final profit/loss figure. Willie Mullins is conspicuous by his absence, but I found it extremely difficult to nail my colours to oppose one of his. Despite not being Melon’s biggest fan, it would be unfair to include him for a second year in a row. Likewise Yorkhill, who, despite showing a glimmer of promise at Auteuil in early summer, looks a shadow of his former self which would make him an easy target.
Notable examples from stables not featured included Mount Mews, now with Donald McCain, who looks well-handicapped on paper, but just doesn’t convince he is the heartiest of characters, Espoir D’Allen, one for Gavin Cromwell, who looked impressive in juveniles until flopping at the Dublin Racing Festival, and now has something to prove in open company, and Lalor, who has the huge story behind him formerly trained by the late Richard Woollacott. Two notable successes at Aintree’s Grand National meeting underline his ability, but he needs to showcase that form elsewhere.
I hope you enjoy once again and many thanks for reading.
- Ballyandy – 7 – Nigel Twiston-Davies
Something I wanted to try and do was leave out any horse that featured in last year’s piece, but there is unfinished business with Ballyandy having had excuses for his two runs subsequent to his Perth success. He finished lame, when fourth behind Yanworth, on New Year’s Day in the Dipper where his jumping let him down. Similar occurred on Trials Day when failing to travel with any kind of zest over the same course and distance, pulling up before the fourth last, in a race won by subsequent Festival winner Mister Whitaker.
The BetVictor Gold Cup is likely to be the first big target of the season but, despite those excuses, the handicapper dropping him to 140 over fences, and the yard having a fine record at the meeting, his form doesn’t suggest he would be particularly well treated. His beating of Fagan at Perth doesn’t amount to much and his trainer, best known for being exceptionally bullish about his horses, was quoted earlier on in the campaign last season saying:
There is the potential he goes back over hurdles, if connections feel chasing isn’t the best route to go down, but his mark of 147 would make him difficult to place.
- Chris’s Dream – 6 – Henry de Bromhead
The staying novice hurdlers looked a fairly decent bunch on the whole last season and going through to find one to oppose was a difficult task. However, rightly or wrongly, Chris’s Dream feels the right candidate from the division to oppose. Formerly with Eugene O’Sullivan, his bumper performances weren’t much to scream about, beaten a total of 137 and a half lengths in three of them, but he improved drastically for going over timber.
After winning a maiden hurdle at the second time of asking at Limerick in December, he was sold at the Cheltenham sale later that month for £175,000 to Tom Malone and switched yards to Henry de Bromhead. He repaid connections with a Grade 3 victory at Clonmel leading up to the Festival by a scarcely believable 64 lengths on stable debut, but he was hugely flattered against mediocre opposition for the level of race and looked the only one capable of handling the ground. Sent off joint second favourite for the Albert Bartlett with Chef Des Obeaux behind Santini, he appeared to be found out against much stronger rivals, ending up ninth behind Kilbricken Storm having weakened gradually once the pace quickened after the second last.
A beginners chase should be a formality, his trainer having an unbelievable knack with chasers, but his form so far wouldn’t be strong enough to convince that he can reach the top level. There is also the potential he will need testing ground to be seen to best effect.
- Didtheyleaveuoutto – 5 – Nick Gifford
It was fantastic to see the Gifford name back with a decent proposition last term in the shape of Didtheyleaveuoutto, who burst onto the scene with a top draw performance in a Lingfield bumper on the all-weather before following up in a strong Listed event at Ascot with the likes of Bullionaire and Gallahers Cross in behind. Fancied to go close in the Champion Bumper, soft ground looked to impede him as he finished down the field in 10th having travelled well for a fair way.
He will be expected to make up into one of England’s leading novice hurdle contenders, but a couple of things warrant concern. Whether he has the scope to progress as he wasn’t the biggest of individuals and almost looked the complete article on his first couple of starts. A sounder surface looks paramount to him, and despite the fact he shares the same page with the recently departed and much loved Denman, his dam being his half-sister, several members of the family, most notably Silverburn and Kayf Grace, have threatened to be top class yet failed to deliver on initial promise.
- King’s Socks – 6 – David Pipe
The only yard of choice from last season where the selection made a profit in Ramses De Teillee, but this is a selection that could go either way. A performer who showed a high level of form in France, including when second to Arkle winner Footpad at Auteuil in a Grade 1, he missed the 2016/17 season due to a setback before making a satisfactory opening to his UK career in a Graduation Chase, when third to Modus at Kempton, with the sole idea of readying him for the Festival.
Having taken his chance in the Byrne Group Plate, he travelled like the best horse for 80% of the contest, but hung left once coming off the bridle in the home straight to end up fifth to The Storyteller. That effort ensured he was sent off a well-backed favourite in the Red Rum at Aintree when dropped to 2m, but ran a lifeless race and was pulled up before the third last.
The Pipe team will be hoping for a lot more success this season, (operated at 9% – 33-361 in 2017-18) with the strike-rate of the yard gradually declining in recent years. However, while he is another highly likely to be touted for one of those early season Cheltenham handicaps, the impression left from his effort at the Festival was one of a weak finisher. It could well be that a drop to 2m will see him to best effect, connections feeling that way inclined at Aintree, but the jury remains out for all he appears to be on a very fair mark on his French form.
Another for the same connections that was considered was Warthog, who is yet to win for the yard and has looked on more than one occasion to have plenty of issues once coming off the bridle in his races.
- Movewiththetimes – 7 – Paul Nicholls
Following in a similar vein to King’s Socks, another handicapper who is guaranteed to have supporters wherever he goes, but has, on more than one occasion, proven to be an awkward customer. The first example came in the Betfair Hurdle behind Ballyandy where, if you were being exceptionally kind, it could have been placed down to immaturity, with it being the fifth start of his career and the first time where he had properly had to knuckle down in a finish.
The jury was out until seeing him on his first three starts in novice chases, all at Cheltenham, where the ugly head-carriage in the closing stages came to fruition yet again, particularly when beaten by Finian’s Oscar as he folded quickly once asked to fight his rival. Sent off single figures for the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Plate, his one usual asset, jumping, failed him as he was sloppy throughout before a race ending mistake at the final ditch where he was immediately pulled up.
A plethora of options will be open, still being a novice over fences, but he is not one to trust, despite the fact he will more than likely head the markets if turning up for the big 2m4f handicap chases throughout the season. The fact he runs in the green and gold of J P McManus will also ensure his popularity with most keen to spot the annual ‘plot job for a big fixture.
Others from Ditcheat potentially worth keeping an eye on include Danny Kirwan and Mont Des Avaloirs. The former arrived in England with a huge reputation and, despite being able to forgive his Aintree effort, needs to prove himself to be resilient, being by a stallion who is more than renowned for throwing up horses with severe quirks. The latter will really need to improve his jumping now going chasing with his hurdling being poor at times.
- Slate House – 6 – Colin Tizzard
Everyone loves a good old cliché and Slate House is a prime example of one who didn’t achieve what was potentially expected over hurdles, but the switch to fences is “guaranteed” to make a huge difference to the level of form he can show.
Two early season victories at Cheltenham, including the Grade 2 Supreme Trial when beating the subsequent winner of the main event Summerville Boy, set him up for a potential leading role for all the big spring targets but he failed to progress from those efforts. He disappointed at Ascot behind Claimantakinforgan before another below-par effort behind Santini on Trials Day when stepped up to an extended 2m4f, admittedly when the yard hit their mid-season lull. An improved effort came at the Festival where he fell at the last in the Supreme itself having travelled well for most of the way, but was ultimately beat when coming down. Aintree was an excellent meeting for the Tizzards, but he didn’t build on his Cheltenham run when pulling too hard at Aintree in the Top Novices’ Hurdle behind Lalor.
It was recently mentioned by Colin Tizzard that he returned with a knee injury after that, but he has to prove himself a more consistent performer over fences and could prove one of the lesser lights in the stable with the likes of Lostintranslation and Vision Des Flos also going chasing.
- Style De Garde – 4 – Nicky Henderson
Overall the juvenile crop of last season look a very mediocre bunch on both sides of the Irish Sea bar We Have A Dream, who stamped his position as the best juvenile of the season at Aintree. Several of the key contenders from the division were considered for the piece, Apple’s Shakira nearly taking this spot, but their stablemate, Style De Garde, earnt his position due to an inconsistent first season at Seven Barrows.
A winner of a juvenile hurdle at Strasbourg last October, the son of Kapgarde made a satisfactory beginning to his UK career when defying a penalty at Newbury beating the ill-fated Doctor Bartolo by eight lengths. This was followed by an odds on defeat in the Chatteris Fen at Huntingdon as himself and Gumball went for home a fair way out which enabled Esprit De Somoza to pick up the pieces late on. A return to form in the Fred Winter, when second to Veneer Of Charm, was followed by an inexplicable effort in the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, a race his trainer has a fine record in, as he stopped quickly before being pulled up.
It is interesting to note that the handicapper took a dim view of the latter effort, dropping to a mark just 1lb higher than his Fred Winter performance, especially with the form not looking particularly strong. Although he has an array of options for the upcoming season, on the evidence of his Aintree run, he potentially has a big hole in him which could stop progression.
Apple’s Shakira very nearly made the list with plenty of holes to be picked in her form, while, of the older brigade, Brain Power has become incredibly frustrating to follow. A scintillating chase debut at Kempton was followed by a couple of mishaps, a second in the Arkle when competently ridden by Nico de Boinville, and a fall on his last start at Aintree. A complete MOT has taken place, but the impression left is that he is another Captain Conan, a horse who produces dazzling homework which is never replicated on the track.
8 & 9. Summerville Boy – 6 & Black Op – 7 – Tom George
Breaking the rules slightly; but for a fair reason. These two will be the most surprising selections, not many would want to oppose a Supreme Novice Hurdle winner and a Ballymore runner-up/Mersey winner, but, despite what the pair achieved last season, one thing holds me back from seeing them achieve the highest of accolades. What cannot be disputed about the pair is their ability, both possessing a huge amount, and attitude, as the pair are thoroughly genuine and likeable individuals in that respect. However, to quote another cliché “Jumping’s the name of the game” which both have struggled with to some degree.
Summerville Boy’s whole campaign was littered with jumping errors, most notably the last in the Tolworth at Sandown and in the Supreme where he made at least three mistakes all through his own doing. The one made at the second last can be forgiven with Getabird hampering him so, all things considered, he did remarkably well to get back up to beat Kalashnikov. That said, he will find life a lot tougher in open company and such mistakes could feasibly get the better of him at the highest level against Buveur D’air, whose hurdling is pinpoint accurate.
Black Op’s jumping can be questioned on pretty much all his starts, particularly in the latter stages in a contest. His first effort overall is excusable as he was in clear need of the outing, when fourth behind Lostintranslation, at Newbury before making amends in an easy enough race at Doncaster, but that wasn’t without a scare or two along the way. He should have got the better of Santini, for all I am a huge fan of him, on Cheltenham Trials Day where he bungled the last losing vital momentum, the pair miles clear of the remainder. Similar happened in the Ballymore, he wouldn’t have beaten Samcro, and the same late on when gaining his Grade 1 success at Aintree, all three hurdles up the straight seeing him make an error.
The larger obstacles will be expected to brush up his jumping, but the yard have had chasers over the years that, more often than not, have had issues at some stage of their career. God’s Own, as admirable as he is, has always had a tendency to clout a couple and Double Shuffle made countless errors in the King George when second to Might Bite last season.
Away from the aforementioned pair, Singlefarmpayment will undoubtedly have his supporters, but his latest outing at Cheltenham underlined how difficult he is to win with, throwing away certain victory on the run in. His jumping also hasn’t been particularly fluent at times.
- Tintangle – 5 – Gordon Elliott
It was a tough choice to pick between a couple of horses from Cullentra House, absent from last year’s piece, but, with the lack of a mare in the list, this daughter of Yeats shaded the vote. Highly tried against her own sex in bumpers, she made her debut at the Dublin Racing Festival where she showed some promise to finish fourth to Champion Bumper heroine Relegate.
That was followed up by victory in an ordinary contest at Down Royal, where she had a high head carriage, and in a Listed contest at Fairyhouse which contained signs of temperament as she flashed her tail on several occasions under pressure. Her final start saw her struggling before the turn for home when third to the impressive Colreevy in a Grade 3 at Punchestown.
She is guaranteed to pick up a couple of races over timber at short odds, but the signs of quirkiness shown to date are enough to convince me to take her on against better quality mares. The fact she is a half-sister to Tombstone, one who isn’t the most resolute when it comes to a fight, is another cause for concern
Others from the yard close to making their presence included Death Duty, but he is out for the season, Felix Desjy, a horse riddled with ability, but he needs to settle down quickly, and Mengli Khan, one who I’m not particularly keen on going chasing.