You always want to throw in a few more in a 10 to follow and it’s usually better to go for the younger horses who can improve through the ranks as the season progresses.
Everybody wants a horse that can take them to the Cheltenham Festival next March but there’s plenty of obstacles to overcome – and races to be won – before that dream is realised.
We know the familiar faces like last year’s King George VI winner and Gold Cup runner up Might Bite is going to be hard to beat at Kempton on Boxing Day again. Meanwhile, his stablemate Buveur D’air will look to equal the mighty See You Then by winning three Champion Hurdles in a row. And we’ve still to hear whether Samcro will stand in his way – or whether his Gigginstown House Stud connections decide to go chasing with their stable star.
It’s all there for the taking, but hopefully a few on this list can take top rank in their respective divisions.
1. Morning Vicar (Nicky Henderson)
Won ‘going away’ on his debut at Newbury on soft under Nico de Boinville last January. His run a month later at the same track may have come a bit soon and he finished a well-beaten seventh to Acey Milan. Didn’t reappear after that until April when finishing second to Philip Hobbs’ Umndeni, who finished fourth on debut over hurdles to Pym at Chepstow last weekend.
Has been schooling well at home and Nico really likes him.
2. My Way (Paul Nicholls)
Joined Team Ditcheat from French trainer Francois Nicolle last month. Has yet to win a race – but hasn’t been out of the top three either. Mixed it between hurdles and fences – despite still being a four-year-old – with all his runs coming on soft ground or worse. Nicholls thinks a fair bit of him and he could make into a smart novice hurdler this season.
3. Carefully Selected (Willie Mullins)
Dual bumper winner in Ireland who was only narrowly beaten in the Cheltenham Festival bumper and that race is always a source of winners. He then ran third to the stable’s Tornado Flyer and Blackbow in the Grade 1 bumper at Punchestown. They always thought this lad would be better over obstacles and could be a very exciting novice hurdler this year.
4. Blackbow (Willie Mullins)
Another dual bumper winner and one from the Mullins’ Cheltenham Festival bumper team who finished fifth to stablemate Relegate. He goes hurdling this term and should start back next month or early December over 2m or up to 2m 4f.
It could be an embarrassment of riches for Willie Mullins in the novice hurdle division this season with all this bumper talent. Hopefully, It’s just a case of working out which ones go where.
5. Topofthegame (Paul Nicholls)
He really caught my eye on a visit to Paul Nicholls’ stable at his open day. Finished his hurdle campaign last season when a neck second to Bleu Berry in the Coral Cup at the Festival. He’s a huge horse who fell on his chasing debut, but reverted to hurdles and won a tidy pot at Sandown before his Cheltenham second. Will go chasing this season and could develop into a future Grand National contender according to the trainer.
6. Next Destination (Willie Mullins)
He impressed over hurdles last year and finished third behind Samcro and Black Op in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham before winning the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. Will be a big addition to the the chasing ranks but his trainer has also hinted he could be a ‘top-class hurdler’ in the staying division.
7. Shattered Love (Gordon Elliott)
Gordon Elliot was very keen on mentioning his Cheltenham winner Shattered Love when asked for horses to follow and this mare gets the nod. Some of her form – including her JLT Novices win – is top drawer.
8. Kalashnikov (Amy Murphy)
Won the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury before finishing a gallant second in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham. He should take high rank among the novice chasers this year as he is just the perfect size and shape of a chaser.
9. Acey Milan (Anthony Honeyball)
The highest placed UK-trained horse in the Festival bumper last year and has to take high rank among the horses to follow. Anthony Honeyball is a very capable young trainer who will map out a route back to the Festival for him in 2019.
10. Presenting Percy (Patrick Kelly)
He looked a future Gold Cup star when I saw him win at Gowran Park in a 3m rated hurdle last January. He will be aimed at the Gold Cup after an impressive win in last season’s RSA Chase where he saw off Monalee by seven lengths. His trainer mightn’t have many in the stable but he punches well above his weight with what he has got.