ATR's Martin Kelly selects 12 horses with the potential to reach the top in the coming jumps season.
Horses to Follow
One of the most exciting aspects of the start of every National Hunt season is the promise of untapped potential.
Every year, there is always a host of young horses to assess, all of whom could be waiting in the wings to take over from the current champions.
Of course, many will fail to make the grade, but a select few will emerge as the stars of the future. Here, we’ve asked Martin Kelly to shortlist a dozen horses that are destined to be at the top in 2016/17 and beyond.
Antony can certainly work his way towards having a place at the top table after reportedly thriving during the summer.
A fair hurdler, the six-year-old – by Min’s sire Walk In The Park – improved on his form over timber when sent chasing last term and I’m expecting him to step up again this time around.
He couldn’t have done it any better than by winning by nine-lengths on his chase debut at the Tingle Creek meeting, after which he was only seen three times more and got back on track with a solid third at Sandown on the final day of the season.
Indications are that he has done incredibly well in the offseason and some of the season’s leading handicaps such as the BetVictor Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Open meeting would very much appeal to one with his profile, especially if getting his favoured sound surface.
Apple’s Jade may already be a star following on from her 41-length drubbing of her rivals at Aintree in the spring but he has the potential to shine even brighter this campaign.
She was having only her second start for former trainer Willie Mullins when finishing second to Ivanovich Gorbatov in the Triumph Hurdle, and had that rival toiling – albeit on a softer surface – when leaving jaws on the floor at Liverpool.
The four-year-old again confirmed that form line when winning at odds-on at the Punchestown Festival, after which Mullins described her as ‘the best juvenile I have trained’.
Her progress last season was nothing less than extraordinary and she will be a tough nut to crack wherever she appears this time around.
With the powers of the wonderful Sire De Grugy on the wain, Gary Moore has the perfect replacement in the shape of last year’s ultra-exciting novice chaser Ar Mad.
We were robbed of the prospect of him locking horns with Douvan in the Arkle after he returned with an injury following his final pre-Festival outing in a three-runner event at Plumpton in mid-February.
But the reports are he is over that setback and his current odds of 25/1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase could look huge come next March.
The six-year-old was beaten on his chase debut but never looked back from there, winning his next four starts including the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase and the Wayward Lad at Kempton over Christmas.
It was Sandown where he excelled and brought about comparisons with the brilliant Tingle Creek as he twice blitzed across the Railway Fences to success. The Tingle Creek may well be his starting point this year and, bar Douvan, he should be hard to stop this winter.
Willie Mullins’s strength in the bumper division needs no introduction and many of his top-flight bumper horses have stepped forward over hurdles and that too should be the case with Bacardys.
After landing a Leopardstown bumper over the Christmas period, the five-year-old was rested until the main event at the Cheltenham Festival where he was the pick of Ruby Walsh, and stayed on late in the day for third.
He reversed form with the front pair when they all clashed at Aintree and Bacardys followed up that win by taking third at the Punchestown Festival. The task of running at all three major meetings is not an easy one and he shouldn’t be judged too harshly on that reverse.
He has the bumper form to make him a top-notcher over hurdles and he should get a trip too given his racing style and his early point-to-point form.
Bristol De Mai displayed abundant talent right from the outset for Nigel Twiston-Davies and landed a Grade One event on his debut for the trainer on just his fourth career start.
That was in the Future Champions Novices’ Hurdle on Welsh National Day two years ago and the grey five-year-old has done little wrong since.
As can be typical of a Twiston-Davies inmate he was given a busy time during his first season over fences with eight starts, highlighted by a Grade One strike in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase and a staying-on second in the JLT Novices' Chase at the Festival.
His jumping at Cheltenham was spectacular at times but the odd error was thrown in there too suggesting that he’s not yet the finished article.
He remains open to further improvement with three miles likely to suit this winter.
It has yet to be decided at the time of writing whether Buveur D’Air will remain over hurdles or embark on a novice chase campaign, but either way the Nicky Henderson-trained five-year-old is one of the more exciting prospects for this season.
Last winter culminated in a Grade One win at Aintree with the fascinating Limini in behind, and he won three of his four starts over hurdles in total. He got the ball rolling with a maiden hurdle win at the Hennessy meeting and his only defeat came when third to stablemate Altior in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
It’s to his credit he ran so well in that race on just his third start over hurdles, and especially that he came from so far back to finish on the heels of Altior and Min.
Soft ground does seem a perquisite for the French-bred – who is related to the likes of Punchestowns – and I am hoping that Henderson does unleash him over fences given he jumped a hurdle so well.
Altior will be the talking horse from the Henderson camp when it comes to novices this season, but don’t be surprised to see Buveur D’Air emerge from the shadows and prove his equal over the larger obstacles.
Coney Island made giant strides towards the end of last season to round off with a second-place finish in Grade One company at Punchestown and the five-year-old has scope to improve on that this winter.
Eddie Harty’s five-year-old won two of six hurdles starts with the most significant coming off a huge weight in handicap company at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival.
He travelled, jumped and quickened like a class horse that day and proved the run to be no fluke when getting within a half-length of Bellshill at Punchestown.
Coney Island has sufficient room to improve again during what will only be his second season and a big future is on the horizon.
I remember reporting from Doncaster in the January of 2014 when Diamond King landed odds of 2/5 in a novices’ hurdle for Donald McCain, and the obvious faith his then trainer had in him.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, with the eight-year-old having switched to Gordon Elliott’s yard and landed the Coral Cup the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.
He then did best of those held up when fourth in the Champion Stayers Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, over a trip which may have stretched him, and he now embarks on a novice chase campaign.
Elliott has already mapped out a plan which includes the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse on December 4th before avoiding the worst of the winter ground and aiming him at the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Fesival in March.
That such a plan has already been hatched speaks volumes and Diamond King could be set to dominate the intermediate novice chase scene.
This 160-rated hurdler will be a sight to behold on his novice chase campaign this year and I fancy him to develop into one of the leading players in the staying division.
The son of High Chaparral has a solid National Hunt pedigree on his dam’s side and recorded a win in his only start in a point-to-point in April of 2014.
His novice hurdle campaign the following winter was none too shabby boasting a win in the Sidney Banks at Huntington, after which connections resisted the temptation of the major Festivals and instead sent him to Ayr for a back-end event with the following season in mind.
However, he was off the track until February when he overcame a 309-day layoff at Ascot to defy a handicap mark of 149 and pulverise a strong field by upwards of 16 lengths.
An outing behind Thistlecrack in the Liverpool Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree two months later was to prove disappointing, but he now gets the chance to do what he was bought for and jump a fence.
Chasing was always the long-term aim with Different Gravey and I reckon he can prove just that this winter.
Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins will no doubt have their usual armoury of mares to go to war with, but one who could dominate that division is Fairyhouse and Punchestown winner Jer’s Girl.
Having landed the odds on her hurdling debut, she put in a stupendous effort at Aintree last December to coast home by an eased-down 10 lengths in a Listed event for juveniles.
Her head defeat at the hands of Apple’s Jade over the Christmas period looks gilt-edged after what that mare did at Aintree, and the four-year-old rounded off her campaign with a Grade One double in the JP McManus silks, winning once against her own sex and then against the boys.
Trainer Gavin Cromwell said she was still improving towards the end of last season and I hope that has continued through the summer as she could gain a huge following with her tough, front-running style.
Three miles should be in her compass and Jer’s Girl could be the new kid on the block in the mares’ division.
The Fairyhouse bumper winner was continually referred to as raw and green during his four-race campaign last season and I hope we will get to see the finished article this time around.
The five-year-old made a debut full of promise when third at 50/1 in a Navan bumper last December, after which he came out and turned that promise into potential with a comfortable effort in victory.
Gordon Elliott was minded to ease him off after that run and save him for this year, but he had two more outings and won both of them over hurdles. He stepped up from Listed company at Naas to land a Grade Two novice at Fairyhouse’s Easter Festival.
Babyish and green, he overcame a mistake at the last to still win under Barry Geraghty and a bright future over fences awaits.