Timeform: Here’s 10 top secret dark horses to follow this jumps season

The winter game is back and Timeform have dusted down their secret files and given us 10 absolute nailed-on certainties to follow. Maybe.

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Balliniska Band (Charles Byrnes)

The first greyhound ever to break the 29-second barrier over 500 metres, English Derby winner Balliniska Band was crowned ‘Greyhound of the Year’ in 1977, emulating his sire Lively Band who won the Irish Derby, the 1000 Guineas and the St Leger.

The equine Balliniska Band is also by an Irish St Leger winner – Vinnie Roe won four consecutive renewals of the race between 2001 and 2004 – though it is not the Classics but a jumping career that lies in store for him this season. He landed a gamble on debut in a bumper at Naas in February and maintained his unbeaten record in a Listed bumper at Limerick in April.

It was no surprise then, that Balliniska Band was sent off a red-hot favourite for his hurdling debut/reappearance at Listowel in September, where he shaped perfectly well after five months off, only beaten by a promising sort trained by Joseph O’Brien in Petit Tartare. Balliniska Band will have learned plenty there, and should take his form up a notch once he’s stepped up in distance.

Conclusion: Unbeaten in bumpers last season from two starts, seeing it out well both times in heavy ground; likely to prove best at around 2½m over hurdles.

Benatar (Gary Moore)

‘We are strong/No one can tell us we’re wrong.’ So sang Pat Benatar in the 1980’s and it would be no surprise if Gary Moore hummed a similar tune as he plotted a brave start to Benatar’s chasing career in 2017/18. Benatar was pitched straight into handicap company for a winning debut over fences at Ascot in November, won at Plumpton just 16 days later, and maintained his unbeaten record in the Noel Novices’ Chase at Ascot a month later, finding plenty to hold off the late challenge of the now sadly departed Finian’s Oscar.

Benatar was kept fresh for his final start in the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, where he did well under the circumstances to finish third to Shattered Love, especially given that he raced very freely and returned lame after suffering a pelvis injury. Connections drew stumps after with an eye on the big Grade 1 chases this season, and while he’s not short of speed, the former point-to-point winner is bred to stay well, which certainly opens up plenty of options, one of which could be the Ascot Chase in February. Blew off the cobwebs when fourth on heavy ground last Friday at Newton Abbot.

Conclusion: Already much better over fences than hurdles and looks the type to take another step forward this season; current quotes of 40/1 for the Ryanair Chase look tempting.

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Carefully Selected (Willie Mullins)

Willie Mullins saddled the one-two-three in each of the Grade 1 bumpers in the UK and Ireland last season, all of whom look good hurdling prospects for the months ahead.

That comment certainly applies to Carefully Selected, a winning pointer who created a really good impression when making a winning Rules debut in a 2½m bumper at Leopardstown over Christmas, before showing more pace when following up over 2m at Naas in February.

Mullins saddled five in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, but Carefully Selected was the pick of them on looks according to Timeform’s on-course reporter. He very nearly proved so in the race, too, enterprisingly ridden from the front (gained a few lengths at the start) and still there entering the final furlong, only to be collared by Relegate close home. Again giving best only late on at Punchestown, beaten three lengths in third, he has a bright future over jumps this season and will likely prove very well suited by 2½m+.

Conclusion: Point to point winner who looked a galloper in bumpers (showing smart form) and has Albert Bartlett written all over him as he goes hurdling this season.

Dell Oro (Gary Moore)

After winning a race previously won by Altior and My Tent Or Yours at Ascot on his reappearance in November, Dell Oro’s progress stalled in two starts on soft going, before being reignited when third to Diese des Bieffes on good ground at Cheltenham in April.

Dell Oro was quickly turned out at Kempton just eight days later and really should have won, going like the best horse at the weights only to give it away when making a mistake at the last and idling, ultimately losing out by half a length to What’s A Story. The winner has since run well from a BHA mark of 136 and Dell Oro, who is a chaser on looks, is one to back on his first start in handicap company over fences – “I can’t wait until we go chasing with him,” said Moore last season – worth bearing in mind the success that his trainer had with Benatar in a similar situation last term.

Conclusion: Won on reappearance for past two seasons and first-time-out likely to be the best time to catch him again; BHA mark of 136 looks workable with more improvement to come when sent chasing.

Didtheyleaveuoutto (Nick Gifford)

Pretty Puttens never made it to the racecourse, but her half-brother Denman, who won the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup, certainly did. Pretty Puttens’ son Didtheyleaveuoutto, on the other hand, is a speedier type judged by his winning Rules debut in an all-weather bumper at Lingfield in November.

He covered the final two furlongs faster than all bar one Flat horse over the same C&D in 2017 – but he also possesses a huge stride, and it would be no surprise to see the family’s stamina manifest itself more when he goes over hurdles this season.

Didtheyleaveuoutto took on nine other previous winners for his second start in a Listed event at Ascot in December and again showed a smart turn of foot off a slow pace, and he was sent straight to the Champion Bumper for his next start nearly three months later, but found the soft going against him.

“The way he gallops at home he’ll definitely want a trip,” said Gifford, and given the horse’s stamina-laden pedigree, his future may lie in races such as the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival rather than the shorter Supreme.

Conclusion: Exciting prospect who should make up into a genuine Grade 1 novice hurdler this season; has good turn of foot but may not see the best of him until stepped up to 2½m or further.

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Et Moi Alors (Gary Moore)

Et Moi Alors is trained by Gary Moore and owned by Ashley Head. So what (or et alors), you might say? Well, it means that the horse is likely to feature in the winners’ enclosure at least once this season, the owner/trainer combination having already teamed up for 19 winners from 103 runners at the time of writing, to a level stakes profit of +£85.45.

Et Moi Alors made his first start under Rules in a novices’ hurdle at Ascot in January where, despite his inexperience, he made a lasting impression, looking set to win before crashing out at the last when two lengths ahead. He was sent off heavily odds-on for his next start at Sandown where he failed to meet expectations, but connections were undeterred by his defeat, stepping him up into Grade 1 company at Aintree following a 55-day break. Whilst Et Moi Alors was a well-beaten sixth behind We Have A Dream that day, he showed that he still remains with potential, particularly if improving his jumping technique. Those three runs have now qualified Et Moi Alors for a mark, and it would be no surprise should he take off in handicaps this season.

Conclusion: Showed plenty of promise in three starts and, assuming his jumping has been worked upon, he looks one to follow in handicaps this term.

Mind’s Eye (Henry de Bromhead)

Off the track for 10 months before his hurdling debut in a 2m maiden hurdle at Punchestown last October, Mind’s Eye made a promising start in finishing second, beaten 15 lengths by Samcro, and didn’t need to improve to go one better in a similar event at Fairyhouse in November.

Upped in trip for his handicap bow at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting, he showed much improved form to defy what looked a stiff opening mark (125), though that was to be as good as it got for Mind’s Eye last season.

He came up short in three subsequent starts, including in Grade 1s at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals. He should prove capable of holding his own at the top level another day, especially when going novice chasing (very much a chaser on looks). His exuberant way of running means that a big-field handicap at around 2m could provide him with his optimum conditions and started his chasing career by finishing second to the smart Voix Du Reve over 2m 2f at Galway last week.

Conclusion: Strong traveller who was found out at the top level over hurdles, but should do better as a novice chaser this season; the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival could be a suitable target, should he not come up to Arkle standard.

Mister Fisher (Nicky Henderson)

The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher is a children’s book which tells the story of a frog who is forced to endure many setbacks during a fishing trip and, upon returning home, decides that he will never attempt such an excursion again. The equine Mister Fisher encountered his own difficulties last season, when finishing down the field in the Grade 2 bumper at Aintree in April, but the hope is that he will not develop such a defeatist attitude to racing, having elevated himself to the upper echelon of Nicky Henderson’s list of bumper horses with a comprehensive debut win at Kempton a month earlier.

Henderson believes that Mister Fisher, who he reports to have grown considerably over the summer, ‘has a bright future over hurdles’, and it would be no surprise to see him deliver on his debut promise this season and take high rank in the novice hurdling division, especially when stepped up in trip (plenty of stamina on dam’s side of the family).

Conclusion: Made a good impression when winning bumper on debut last term and looks sure to improve further when going hurdling for top connections.

No Comment (Philip Hobbs)

No Comment’s progression over hurdles came in low-key novice events in the winter of 2016, before finishing that season with a series of good efforts in defeat at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown Festivals. In contrast, his first season over fences didn’t begin until early-February, when he very much caught the eye over 2½m in the Scilly Isles’ Novices’ Chase at Sandown. Running over a trip that was on the short side, he took to fences well and was not at all knocked about once the principals (including subsequent Mildmay winner Terrefort) had quickened away from him before the last.

No Comment was duly stepped up in distance for the 4m National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on his next start, but found the strong pace and soft ground too much of a test at that stage of his career. Put away after that effort, and still only seven, he remains a novice for the upcoming season and looks much more likely to do himself justice with another summer under his belt.

Conclusion: Highly-tried in just two starts over fences and remains with lots of potential; from the family of Grade 1 winner Aran Concerto.

Thomas Patrick (Tom Lacey)

Champion jockey Richard Johnson holds the dubious distinction of the most losing rides (20) without winning in Grand National history. With Native River seemingly destined for another campaign at the very top level, Johnson’s best chance of Grand National success this season could come in the shape of Thomas Patrick who came a long way in a short space of time last term.

Having started out over hurdles, Thomas Patrick ended the campaign with three wins from four starts over fences, the latest of which came when landing a Grade 3 handicap on National day at Aintree. The most impressive aspect of that performance – and all his starts over fences, in truth – was how well he jumped in the hands of Johnson, and that should stand him in good stead in even deeper staying handicaps this season, including the big race itself at Aintree. Dodged 2m 7f handicap at Chepstow on Saturday because of the good ground… but could be back later in the season.<

Conclusion: Looks tailor-made for the Grand National (thorough stayer who jumps well), with the Welsh equivalent appealing as a suitable target in the first half of the season given his ability to cope well with testing ground.

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