Jumps Season - At The Races

Novice Hurdlers

    Graham Dench reflects on the highlights of another memorable National Hunt season.
  • Features

Samcro’s initial failure to progress from the novice ranks will still be painfully raw for many fans, and so only 12 months later our enthusiasm for Klassical Dream perhaps ought to be tempered somewhat.

But how can you not be excited by a horse who jumped and travelled as well as he did in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, before quickening away from the Olly Murphy pair Thomas Darby and Itchy Feet, and then repeated the trick in the equivalent race  at Punchestown, where his defeat of Felix Desjy and Mister Blue Sky was every bit as comprehensive.

Willie Mullins’s previous Supreme winners all went straight over fences, but Klassical Dream looks every inch a future champion over hurdles and it looks significant that he was being aimed there even before Espoir D’Allen’s demise.

He looks head and shoulders above the rest of last season’s two-mile novices and is a worthy favourite for the Champion Hurdle.

Martin Brassil’s City Island looked an exciting prospect when beating the much vaunted Champ in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, and it may be worth overlooking his subsequent sixth behind Colin Tizzard’s Aintree Grade 1 winner Reserve Tank, who was winning for the fourth time in succession after an unpromising start when gamely holding Sams Profile in the Punchestown Grade 1 over a similar distance.

Tizzard, it’s worth remembering, had another classy novice in Elixir de Nutz, who beat the subsequent Supreme runner-up in the Tolworth Hurdle but missed the spring festivals.

Over the longer trip it was Henry De Bromhead’s Minella Indo, ridden by Rachael Blackmore, who prevailed in both the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle and the Irish Daily Mirror Novices’ Hurdle at Punchestown. 

At three miles the only ones who came close on form were Champ, who won at Aintree the afternoon poor Barry Geraghty broke his leg, and Commander Of Fleet, who was second at Cheltenham but pulled up lame at Punchestown.

Another highly-rated novice, the Paul Nicholls-trained Getaway Trump, did not race at either Cheltenham or Aintree, but he looked good at Ayr and his subsequent novice handicap defeat of Harambe at Sandown on the last day of the season was among the performances of the season within that sphere.

The obvious starting point among last season’s juveniles is Pentland Hills, a capable but relatively modest handicapper on the Flat who barely two weeks after his debut hurdles success at Plumpton delighted the thousands who own a hair or two as members of the Owners Group 031 by beating Coeur Sublime and Gardens Of Babylon in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Pentland Hills was 20-1 that day, but he confirmed it was no fluke and shaped again like a live Champion Hurdle candidate at Aintree three weeks later, when getting the better of a great battle with Fakir D’Oudairies in the Doom Bar Anniversary Hurdle. 

Interestingly the runner-up is trained by Joseph O’Brien, who also had favourite Band Of Outlaws in fourth. O’Brien also had the Triumph third Gardens Of Babylon, as well as Sir Erec, who suffered a fatal injury when favourite there. 

O’Brien is already a major force in the jumping world, and he is only heading one way. 

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