1. Altior (N Henderson)
You have to follow arguably the best horse in training and that’s Altior. It’s a brave shout by trainer Nicky Henderson and connections to step him up in trip to 3m this season, with the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing day a possible target.
If he was mine, I’d be sticking to 2m because he’s the best around. Why take the chance of him getting beaten over a different trip?
However, for racing purists and punters alike, he will add incredible spice to the 3m division.
If both he and Cyrname run at Ascot in November over 2m 5f – it will be some buckle.
The result there will probably determine where Altior goes next. Win and its likely to be the King George, lose and it may be the Desert Orchid Chase on the same card.
2. Chacun Pour Soi (W. Mullins)
Willie Mullins’ chaser was brilliant at Punchestown when winning the Grade One Novice Chase. He has a huge stride, jumps brilliantly and has all the talent in the world. He’s very little experience, but has done all we’ve asked him to do so far.
3. Klassical Dream (W. Mullins)
He’s the up-and-coming hurdler in the division and while Buvuer D’Air looked rock solid when beating Samcro last season in the Fighting Fifth, the former dual champion looked vulnerable the more the season went on.
Klassical Dream is a great jumper and just kept learning and maturing last season. He could reappear in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, the first Grade One hurdle race of the Irish season, on Saturday, November 17.
4. Al Boum Photo (W. Mullins)
I’m going to put in both the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup winners in Al Boum Photo and Kemboy as they’ll likely avoid each other, all the way through to next year’s Festival.
Al Boum Photo was lightly-raced last term, winning at Tramore in January over 2m 5f, before going on to claim the Blue Riband to give Paul Townend – and Willie Mullins – their first ever wins in jumps racing most prestigious prize.
He then finished second to stablemate Kemboy in the Punchestown Gold Cup, in the race that signalled my retirement.
He looks set to take top rank in the staying chase division again this season.
5. Kemboy (W. Mullins)
There’s a slight danger that Kemboy’s win at Punchestown may be overlooked after Al Boum Photo’s heroics at Cheltenham, but that was a very strongly run race as Definitly Red made it a very honest test.
He’d already proven himself at Clonmel, won the Savills Chase at Leopardstown where David Mullins took the initiative on him and then hosed up at Aintree before his Puchestown victory.
The only black mark against his name was when he unseated his rider after the first fence in the Gold Cup. All being well, he and Al Boum Photo should get to go toe-to-toe in the Gold Cup next March.
6. Allaho (W. Mullins)
He beat Minella Indo at Clonmel but then had to play second fiddle to Henry De Bromhead’s runner at Cheltenham (third in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle) and Punchestown (second at Punchestown).
He got an over-reach (cut) at Punchestown early on and hung away from the injury and never really let himself down. He looks great, is a brilliant jumper and he’ll be exciting. With a summer’s grass behind him he could improve that 6lbs to 8lbs that’s needed to match Minella Indo.
7. Paisley Park (E Lavelle)
One of the most popular horses in training who went through the season unbeaten, culminating in his emotional World Hurdle win at Cheltenham for owner Andrew Gemmell.
He’s sure to contest all the big, staying, graded hurdles again this season. It will take something exceptional to lower his colours, if he stays in the sort of form he was last term.
8. Benie Des Deux (W. Mullins)
She could have the Mares Hurdle at the Festival as her aim again, (where she fell at the final hurdle when leading), but I think she’ll be hard to beat wherever she goes.
She’s very good.
She was a brilliant winner of the French Champion Hurdle after winning at Punchestown and proved she stays 3m really well.
9. Malone Road (G. Elliott)
I was very taken with Gordon Elliott’s Malone Road last year, even more so than his stablemate Envoi Allen, who won the Champion Bumper.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Malone Road in the Ballymore Hurdle over 2m 5f with Envoi Allen stepping up to 3m in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle, but there’s a lot of racing to be done on the road to the Festival next March and it will all play out during the season.
10. Gypsy Island (P Fahey)
Unbeaten for Peter Fahey last season when wining three mares’ bumpers at Naas, Fairyhouse and Punchestown. She’ll be some addition to the novice hurdle ranks this year.