APACHE STRONGHOLD (IRE) (N. Meade) –
An interesting prospect for novice chases this season is Apache Stronghold. He was a useful bumper horse, easily winning his debut, before finishing a good third in the Grade One Punchestown bumper behind The Liquidator. Last season he ran four times over hurdles and showed good form, winning his first start and then following up in Grade Two company at Navan. He finished the season finishing second to the very talented Vautour at Punchestown, but he was not disgraced and the way he jumps hurdles, I fully expect him to be better over fences. Like many of Noel Meade’s horses he tends to show his best form leading up to Christmas, so he is one to catch early and his best trip is likely to be two and a half miles. The Drinmore Novices Chase at Fairyhouse looks an obvious target for him and it will be interesting to see how high up the chasing ranks he can go.
BLACK HERCULES (W. Mullins) –
The winner of his sole start in Irish points, Black Hercules made a name for himself in bumpers last season. He started with an easy win at Punchestown and then followed up by staying on well to win on soft ground at Gowran Park. He then tackled the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and attempted to make all, but just did not have the pace to pull it off, but still finished a credible fourth. He ran below form on his final start, but much better can be expected this season, especially over two and a half miles, as I feel a step up in trip will really suit him and I can see him developing into a leading Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle candidate.
BLUE FASHION (IRE) (N. J. Henderson)
One to look out for from the powerful team at Seven Barrows is Blue Fashion. The winner of two of his first four starts when trained in France, he returned to France for his first start for his new trainer and ran a very promising race in a Grade One contest won by Diakali. He travelled and jumped well for most of the race and really caught my eye as a future chaser. Nicky Henderson stated that he had not done much work with him prior to that run and that he is excited about his prospects. Due to a setback he has only run once since, but it was a top class run, as he gave More Of That six pounds at Haydock and gave him a really good battle, going down by just two lengths on soft ground. He looked the likely winner for much of the race, but was just beaten by a very progressive horse. It is worth noting that he starts this season with a rating of 152, whereas More Of That is now rated 169, so he could be one to look out for in handicap company, but he has the build of a chaser and it is most likely that will be his future this season and can see him doing very well and developing into one of the top novices of the season.
CARRAIG MOR (A. King) –
A fascinating prospect for novice chases this season is Carraig Mor. He made a huge impression on his rules debut at Uttoxeter, pulling clear to easily win a novice hurdle by 25 lengths on soft ground. He failed to progress though and was beaten at odds of 1/8 on his next start at Ascot. He is an impressive looking horse and last season certainly looked like he had not filled his frame yet, so having had a summer to mature; he should come back a much stronger horse and he looks every inch a chaser. He has experience in points to his name also, jumping well to win his sole start in Ireland as a four year old and I can see him doing well over fences and is certainly one to catch first time out.
CLONDAW COURT (IRE) (W. Mullins)
the winner of his sole start in Irish points by 15 lengths, Clondaw Court looks a novice chaser to look out for this season. He made a big impression on his sole start in bumpers, scoring by 27 lengths on heavy ground. A setback resulted in him missing Cheltenham, but he returned to the track after a year off, to win at Leopardstown in workmanlike fashion. It was very different on his next run though, as he won easily on soft ground. He is clearly fragile, but I believe he is very talented and is now unbeaten in four runs. Having already won in points, he could do well over fences and with an injury free season, he could be competing in the top novice chases in Ireland this winter and finally make it to Cheltenham.
CONEYGREE (M. Bradstock) –
Included in my list last year, only to miss the season due to injury, Coneygree is on the list again as he looks a very exciting novice chase prospect, especially on testing ground. He really impressed when making all to win his debut over hurdles and then stepped up in class to again make all, this time to win a Grade Two contest at Cheltenham. I was there that day and it looked as if he was really suited to the testing conditions, so he would always be worth looking out for when the ground is very soft. The other significant thing about him on that day was that he stood out from the other runners, in that he had the look of a chaser and was much bigger than the opposition. He returned to Cheltenham for his next start and stepped up in trip to three miles, but the result was the same as he again made all to win easily on heavy ground. He ran below form on his final start but it was a top class race with two subsequent Cheltenham festival winners beating him in At Fishers Cross and The New One and now that his attention has been turned towards chasing, he could prove top class on testing ground.
DJAKADAM (FR) (W. Mullins)
He was included last year and made a big impression, winning his first two starts well, before falling when still going well in the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. He looked a natural when winning on his chase debut and then stepped up to Grade Two company to beat the useful Bright New Dawn at Leopardstown, with Road To Riches much further behind. That run was on soft ground and he looks well suited to testing conditions, but despite quicker ground than ideal, he looked good at the Cheltenham Festival and was a shade unlucky to come down. He benefited from a healthy weight for age allowance last season, but he is young and a big horse, so he could still be improving and I can see him proving competitive at the highest level this season. He certainly looks one to follow in the top races at two and a half miles and he has the potential to get three miles later this season.
DON POLI (IRE) (W. Mullins)
A very progressive hurdler last season, Don Poli looks an exciting recruit to chasing and could go far. He went into the Cheltenham Festival on the back of two wins, including a success on heavy ground over three miles and stayed on well to win the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys race. He finished the season by going very close in the Grade One three mile novice hurdle at Punchestown, running the talented Beat That very close. He looks a chaser through and through though and I expect him to do even better over fences. Considering he was rated 153 over hurdles, if he does progress as I expect, he should develop into a serious contender for the RSA Chase.
EASTER DAY (FR) (P. F. Nicholls) –
After winning three of his five starts over hurdles and finishing second to Taquin du Seuil at Grade One level, Easter Day was sent chasing last season and although he could only finish fourth on his debut, he won both subsequent starts. In fact his debut run was fair form as the three horses that finished ahead of him, have all gone on to win big races over fences, including Balder Success, who won at Aintree and Double Ross who won at Cheltenham. His next start was at Newbury and he won well on good to soft ground and then he went to Ascot and stayed on well to give weight and a beating to O’Faolains Boy, which is clearly good form. Unfortunately he missed the rest of the season, but as a result starts this season with a handicap mark of just 144. He also appears really suited to testing ground, so looks primed to be a big player in top handicap chases on proper winter ground. His best form so far has been over two and a half miles, but I believe he will stay three miles, so there could be plenty of opportunities for him over the coming months.
IRVING (P. F. Nicholls)
A useful performer from the flat, Irving quickly developed into a leading novice hurdler last season at two miles. After impressing many on his debut at Taunton, he landed an Introductory hurdle in fine style at Ascot, before returning to Ascot to win the Grade Two Kennel Gate Hurdle on soft ground in the style of a horse going places. It was his next run that really impressed though, as he was taking on decent company in the Grade Two Dovecot Hurdle at Kempton and despite making an error two out, he won with ease. He was then promoted to favourite for the Supreme Novices Hurdle, but he could never get into the race and it was later reported that he was found to be coughing, so I am prepared to forgive him that run, especially as prior to that he had looked most progressive. He starts this season with a handicap mark of 148, which looks fair and it is easy to see him lining up for some of those valuable two mile handicap hurdles, but given all four wins over hurdles were on right-handed tracks and two were at Ascot, the Ladbroke could be an obvious target.
JOSSES HILL (IRE) (N. Henderson)
A potential top class two mile novice chaser for this season is Josses Hill. He made his racecourse debut against Faugheen, finishing a well beaten second, but then moved to Nicky Henderson’s yard and won his British bumper debut at Ascot. A few weeks later he was sent hurdling and justified short odds to win at Newbury. He then stepped up to tackle the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle on soft ground and ran really well to finish a close second to his stable mate Royal Boy. His next mission was the Supreme Novices Hurdle and he stayed on well to finish second to the impressive winner, Vautour, which was a top class run and proved that he handles Cheltenham. His final start was at Aintree and he easily beat Sgt Reckless to win the Grade Two novice hurdle. He appears to be progressing all the time and has the size to make a chaser. He is already quoted towards the head of the Arkle market and I can see why. He is an exciting horse and he could do very well over fences and he certainly could be a big player in the 2015 Arkle.
JUST A PAR (IRE) (P. F. Nicholls) –
Paul Nicholls went very close to winning the Hennessy Gold Cup in 2013 with Rocky Creek and he could have another big player for the race this year in Just A Par. A useful novice hurdler in 2012/13, where his form included finishing second to At Fishers Cross at Aintree, he was always thought of as much more a chaser. He made his debut at Chepstow and jumped really well to finish second to Shotgun Paddy who went on to win the Classic Chase at Warwick. He then took on the decent Third Intention at Newbury and pulled clear to win very easily. On the back of that he started odds on for the Feltham Chase, but never really looked like winning and it could be that the track did not suit. He ran well for a long way in the RSA Chase, but faded close home and then ran poorly at Aintree. It could be that his breathing was an issue at the end of the season, so I would not be surprised to hear that he has it operated on. As a result of a poor end of season, he has a handicap mark of just 143 and if he comes back to form, that looks lenient. I can see him being primed to run a big race in the Hennessy first time out or even the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton, as his owner has such a good strike-rate there. He won his point to point on heavy ground, but better ground suits him more, so if the ground is in his favour, he could land a major handicap like the Hennessy this season.
KILLULTAGH VIC (W. Mullins)
One horse that really caught my eye last season in bumpers was Killultagh Vic. After finishing a good second on his debut, he stayed on well to win on heavy ground at Naas. He then returned to the same track to put in an explosive performance, pulling 16 lengths clear of the useful Golantilla, having made all the running on heavy ground. He ran a fair race to finish sixth in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, but he looks really suited to testing ground and I can see him doing very well over hurdles in Ireland this winter. I love his front running tactics and there is every chance that he could prove a tough nut to crack in the top Irish novice hurdles, before returning to Cheltenham for one of the staying novice hurdles.
KINGS PALACE (IRE) (D. Pipe)
Last season Kings Palace stamped himself as a hurdler to follow. He was a fair bumper horse, finishing second to Captain Cutter at Ascot and making all to win easily at Plumpton, but he looked even better last season. After falling on his debut, he made all to win at Fontwell on good ground, but then went to Cheltenham’s October meeting and again made all to win decisively over an extended three miles. He was very impressive that day in beating Creepy and Monbeg Dude, but was even better when returning to Cheltenham in December to win the Grade Two Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, again on good ground over three miles. On the back of those runs he was strongly fancied for the Albert Bartlett at the festival, but it just did not happen for him and he eventually fell. He is a very exciting horse that jumps quick and accurately and if he has not been affected by that fall, I can see him challenging the big boys, either over hurdles or as a novice chaser. He does appear to have a preference for good ground though, so his options could be limited during the winter, but when he gets his conditions, he could be very good.
MANY CLOUDS (IRE) (O. Sherwood) –
A decent hurdler in 2012/13, Many Clouds showed in his first season over fences, that he is already a better chaser. On his chase debut at Carlisle, he stayed on strongly to beat Knock A Hand and back in third that day was Holywell. He then ran another good race, this time at Haydock, splitting Black Thunder and Shotgun Paddy, who went on to win the Classic Chase at Warwick. He was then an emphatic winner at Wetherby, beating Indian Castle by 16 lengths, who went on to win a competitive handicap at Cheltenham on his next start. Going in to the RSA Trial Chase at Ascot, it was reported that he was not spot on for the race, but he still ran a big race on heavy ground to concede four pounds to O’ Faolains Boy and to be beaten less than three lengths. The form was well and truly franked when the winner went on to land the RSA Chase on his next start, a race in which Many Clouds was brought down in , when still going well. He was then beaten by Holywell, but it was his sixth run in five months, so that run can be excused. All in all Many Clouds looks a promising second season chaser, especially on testing ground and a mark of just 144 looks very generous. I can certainly see him landing a big handicap this season and given cut in the ground, he could be a Hennessy Gold Cup horse.
MILSEAN (IRE) (W. Mullins) –
A fascinating prospects for novice hurdles this season is Milsean. He made his debut in January in a soft ground bumper at Navan and pulled clear of the pack to win by eight lengths. He then stepped up in trip to two and a half miles and ran well to finish second to No More Heros, again on testing ground. On his final start, he was incredibly impressive, making all to score by twenty five lengths on heavy ground at Limerick over just shy of two and a half miles. He clearly handles testing ground well and is effective making the running and assuming he takes to hurdles, I can see him doing well during the winter and landing a sequence of victories.
MORNING ASSEMBLY (IRE) (P. Fahy) –
Even though an Irish trained horse won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, I am not convinced that the cream of the Irish staying chasers from last season are that good, so I feel there is room for one of the novices to step up and really give them something to think about next season and the one I like most is Morning Assembly. A Grade One winner over hurdles, he has shown a similar level of form over fences, winning twice and never finishing out of the first three in five starts, including three Grade One contests. On only his second start over fences he beat the talented Don Cossack at Punchestown (a course he has won 4 from 6 at) and then was just denied in the Fort Leney at Leopardstown, going down by just over a length by Carlingford Lough. After staying on well to finish third in the RSA Chase he finished third at the Punchestown festival, but may have been over the top by then. I can certainly see him taking on the top three mile chasers this season and he looks an interesting contender for the Lexus and Irish Hennessy.
MOSSPARK (IRE) (E. Lavelle) –
Mosspark won the Sidney Banks Novices’ Hurdle and he impressed me. He stayed on well to beat a decent field that day and in doing so, landed a hat-trick over hurdles. Prior to that he had won well at Leicester and Exeter on soft ground and he clearly handles testing ground well. He looks one to follow over fences this season and on his sole start in Irish points, he finished a good second to Annacotty who went on to win the Grade One Feltham Chase last season. He was found out at Cheltenham, but the ground may have been too quick and although he could only finish third on his recent chase debut at Chepstow, it was a good race and he ran well for a long way, but just may have been found out by the three miles trip. With that run under his belt, he should be winning over fences soon, especially when dropped to two and a half miles on soft ground.
PONT ALEXANDRE (GER) (W. Mullins)
An easy winner of his sole start in France, Pont Alexandre then joined Willie Mullins and made a huge impression when on his debut for his new yard, he made all to win the Grade One Navan Novices Hurdle in emphatic style on heavy ground. He then defied a penalty to easily win at Leopardstown, with Sizing Gold 11 lengths back in second. Both runs were over two and a half miles and on the back of those impressive victories he started a hot favourite for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, but on the day he could only finish third. It was still a good run though as the winner was The New One. Unfortunately he met with a setback and missed last season, but assuming he retains most of his ability, he could still be a big player this season. He is clearly very talented and having had just four runs, I expect there to be plenty of improvement in him and should he now go chasing, he has the potential to go to the top of the novice ranks.
PTIT ZIG (FR) (P. F. Nicholls)
One of last season’s big improvers was Ptit Zig. He started the last campaign by finishing second to Diakali in France in a valuable Grade One hurdle. His next start was under top weight in the Ladbroke Hurdle and he ran a cracker to finish second on soft ground, especially when you consider he was only a four year old. He then tried to give weight to Melodic Rendezvous on heavy ground at Haydock, which was always going to be a very difficult task, but he ran well to finish second. He finished the season by running at the big two festivals, firstly finishing sixth in the Champion Hurdle and then fourth to The New One at Aintree. Both were fair runs, but he is not of the class of the top hurdlers and I am sure he will be going chasing this season and he could be very good. He will certainly be one of the highest rated hurdlers going over fences and he has a good jumping technique and is trained by the right man to get them jumping fences. He could have a big season ahead of him and it would not surprise me if he was to win the Henry VIII Novices Chase at Sandown in December on his way to the Arkle.
RATHVINDEN (IRE) (W. Mullins)
The winner of both starts in bumpers, Rathvinden made a name for himself over hurdles last season. On soft ground at Cork, he made the opposition look ordinary and on the back of that he was made favourite for his British debut at Warwick, where he took on the talented Deputy Dan. The race was starting to hot up and he was still going well when falling three out, but he made up for that when pulling a long way clear with the classy Red Sherlock on his next start, at Cheltenham. The ground was very soft that day, but the way they pulled clear, made me think, both are horses to follow. That race was over two and a half miles and it was the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle over a furlong further that he tackled at the Cheltenham festival and he ran a good race. The winner, Faugheen, was in a different class that day, but Rathvinden stayed on well for third on good ground. I expect him to go chasing this season and he could be very good. He ran once in Irish points and had made good progress to catch the leader at the last, only to fall when looking likely to win, but having gained confidence over hurdles, he could do well over fences.
REAL STEEL (IRE) (M. Morris)
If I had to nominate just one horse to look out for over fences this season, it would be Real Steel. Just by looking at him and seeing the technique he used to jump hurdles tells me that he is going to be much better over fences. After easily winning his hurdling debut, he stayed on well to win a Grade Three contest at Naas, beating Vicky de L’Oasis and then finished second in a Grade Two race to the useful Valseur Lido, but he was conceding six pounds, so that was a good run. His best form last season was over two miles on testing ground, but I can see him being even better over two and a half miles. I fully expect him to do very well over fences this season and prove capable of competing against the top Grade One novice chasers in Ireland, especially on testing ground.
RULE THE WORLD (IRE) (M. Morris) –
A top class novice hurdler in 2012/13, where he won three times and finished second to The New One in the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle. He suffered an injury at the end of his novice campaign that resulted in a delayed return to action, but he did not let his supporters down, when winning at Naas in October. He tackled the Hatton’s Grace on his next start, but could not cope with Jezki, eventually finishing fourth. He showed better form next time out though, when stepped up to three miles and chasing home Zaidpour at Leopardstown. He then was dropped in trip and made all to win easily on his next start, before finishing in mid-division in the World Hurdle. He is a lovely big horse who jumps hurdles in the style of a chaser and I expect him to do well over fences. I am sure connections will take that route this season and having also won his sole start in Irish points, the signs are good. He could prove best dictating the pace over two and a half miles as I feel it would take a good one to get past him.
SAUSALITO SUNRISE (IRE) (P. J. Hobbs) –
A horse that I have liked ever since I saw him in the parade ring at Huntingdon ahead of his debut under rules, Sausalito Sunrise retains his place on this list. Last season he improved by a massive 28lbs, winning four times over hurdles, including an impressive win at Haydock on soft ground over three miles. He ended the season on a high with two wins in a row, including an emphatic defeat of the useful Oscar Rock on good ground. Three miles looks his trip and he is improving fast and now that he is set to go chasing, I can see him continuing his rise up the ranks. He won his sole start in points by eight lengths and jumped really well to win his chase debut at Chepstow, so I fully expect him to do well at the game and can see him developing into an interesting RSA Chase candidate.
SHANAHAN’S TURN (IRE) (Henry de Bromhead)
One horse that I expect big improvement from for tackling fences is Shanahan’s Turn. After finishing second on his rules debut in a bumper at Gowran Park, he was sent straight over hurdles, winning well at the second time of asking. He was then asked to tackle a huge step up in class when he took on Faugheen at Cheltenham, where he finished eighth. He stepped up in trip to three miles for his final start and ran a fair race to finish fifth behind Beat That in the Grade One War Of Attrition Novices’ Hurdle at Punchestown. He is a lovely big horse and his jumping technique is made for chasing. He should progress much further over fences than he did over hurdles and he is a horse that must be followed as I can see him proving to be a superb jumper, although he may just lack the class to beat the very best. It is also worth noting that he won his sole start in Irish points by a distance.
SHANESHILL (IRE) (W. Mullins) –
One of the leading prospects for novice hurdles this season is Shaneshill. He made his debut in a Naas bumper and made all to win well, before putting in an excellent performance to beat The Herds Garden by 11 lengths at Fairyhouse. On the back of those runs he was made favourite for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and ran well to finish second. In third that day was Joshua Lane, who had also finished just behind him at Naas, so the form of his debut win took a serious boost. His final start of the season was at the Punchestown festival and he gained revenge on his Cheltenham conquerer, Silver Concorde to win well. His best form so far has been on good or good to soft ground, but soft ground should also be ok for him and it is easy to see him being a major player in the top two mile novice hurdle races in Ireland this winter and there is every chance that he will prove effective at two and a half miles also. Given that he has already run well at the Cheltenham Festival, I expect him to run a big race there again in 2015.
SMAD PLACE (FR) (A. King)
A top class hurdler that has taken well to fences, Smad Place could develop into a leading player for top staying chases this season. As a hurdler he finished placed in two World Hurdles and although he unseated his rider at the last when well clear on his chase debut, he made no mistake next time, jumping well to win easily at Exeter, defeating Ardkilly Witness by seven lengths. After a winter break he came out on top in a cracking novice chase at Newbury, beating both Mendip Express and Sam Winner and then finished the season by running another big race at the Cheltenham Festival. The RSA Chase looked a good race going into it and the fact that he pulled six lengths clear of third placed Morning Assembly, shows that he has really taken to the game and it was only the promising O’Faolains Boy that could get the better of him and then it was only by a neck. He has been given a handicap mark of 155, which is a pound below his hurdles mark and he looks capable of winning a big race like the Hennessy Gold Cup off that mark. I fully expect him to progress again this season and he looks a lively contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
THE TULLOW TANK (IRE) (D. Hughes) –
Owner Barry Connell unfortunately lost Our Conor last season, but hopefully he has a new star in The Tullow Tank. The winner of his sole start in bumpers, easily beating Real Steel, he took time to get the hang of things over hurdles, winning at the third time of asking, when staying on strongly to beat Turnandgo. He did not look back after that, winning the Grade One Royal Bond Novices’ Hurdle on his next start, with future festival winner Very Wood back in fifth and then he followed up by landing the Grade One Future Champions Novices’ Hurdle at Leopardstown. He just failed to land a Grade One hat-trick when finding Vautour too good back at Leopardstown, but that was no disgrace, considering how easily he went on to win at Cheltenham. Due to the publicity surrounding Phillip Fenton leading up to Cheltenham, Mr Connell decided not to run The Tullow Tank, but he will be back this season and I expect him to continue his rise up the ranks of National Hunt racing. He could progress further over hurdles, but given that he is from a pointing background, I expect him to go chasing and he should do well at the game.
UN ATOUT (FR) (W. Mullins) –
A very exciting prospect for novice chases this season is Un Atout. Forced to miss last season due to injury, he will hopefully be back soon and should be followed. A very impressive winner on his debut in a Naas bumper, he followed up by making all on heavy ground to win his debut over hurdles. He was even more impressive on his next start, again winning at Naas, this time beating Rory O’Moore by 19 lengths. On the back of those wins, he started just 6/1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and ran a fair race to finish fourth, but the three horses ahead of him were Champagne Fever, My Tent Or Yours and Jezki, so to be beaten less than three lengths was a top effort. His final run of the season was at Punchestown and he was made to work hard to beat Ubak, but that horse had won a Grade Two Hurdle the time before, so it was fair form. The thing about him though, is that it is clear that he will be much better over fences, as he has the size for the game and the way he jumps hurdles gives me a lot of confidence that fences will be the making of him. On heavy ground, he could prove up to winning at Grade One level over fences and could be about to make up for lost time.
VICTOR HEWGO (K. Reveley)
One of the best handicapped chasers in the country is Victor Hewgo. A three time winner over hurdles, he has looked even better over fences. He was beaten by just a neck on his chase debut at level weights, but the winner was Western Warhorse (now rated 159), who went on to beat Champagne Fever in the Arkle. He then won easily at Doncaster, before returning to that track to go down in a close finish to Holywell (level weights) who went on to win at both Cheltenham and Aintree and is now rated 163, so a rating of just 139 for Victor Hewgo looks very lenient. On his next start he easily beat the promising Cowards Close, who franked the form by winning well next time out and although he was beaten at Aintree, I am prepared to forgive a good horse a bad run. As a result he remains well handicapped and could land a big handicap this season. The Skybet Chase at Doncaster in January looks an obvious target given that he has run so well there already.