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The New National Hunt season has picked up a gear and ace pundit Paul Jacobs marks 10 horses who we expect to hear plenty about in the trails over the winter months ahead of Cheltenham 2023 and the Spring Festivals.
1: BRANDY LOVE – Mares Hurdle/Novice Chaser – Willie Mullins
Arguably the most well known entry in my list of 10, but I firmly believe that this mare has been hugely underrated. Her success in the Grade One EBF Mares Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival when she slammed Ryanair Novice Hurdle winner, Love Envoi, by eight lengths eased down was a truly outstanding performance! That was only the third hurdles run of her career and I am hoping that Mullins will keep her over timber and aim her at the Mares Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival as she will almost certainly be even better suited by the step up to two and a half miles.
The alternative is that she will go novice chasing, but the daughter of Jet Away has unfinished business over timber having missed last year’s Festival and it is interesting that she has been well backed for the event next March in recent weeks. To my eyes she is still on the upgrade and I feel she would have little to fear from an ageing Epatante and prove too classy for last year’s heroine Marie’s Rock.
2: FIRESTEP – Novice hurdler – Nicky Henderson
After visiting Seven Barrows last year, I picked out one individual on the gallops that looked a real athlete; the way he floated over the ground, his physical make-up and enthusiasm were hugel eye catching. When I asked Nicky about this particular inmate, he told me: “We have high hopes for him, he could be near the top of our novice hurdle tree.”
The year before I saw him, the son of Mahler had eased home in two bumpers at Southwell and Chepstow before a ligament injury saw him miss the 2021/22 campaign. However, he has reportedly fully recovered from that minor injury and pleased the master trainer at home and could take high rank this season; an exciting novice if he stays sound.
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3: INDIGO BREEZE – Handicap Hurdler/Chaser – Gordon Elliott
This is my joker in the pack from the Gordon Elliott yard as the six-year-old could literally go in one of three directions for the Co Meath handler.
An impressive winner of his only point over two miles at Alnwick, he then hacked up in his first bumper and when sent novice hurdling was sent off the 7/4 second favourite to Gaillard Du Mesnil but he jumped liked an absolute donkey, eventually finishing 8th of 20 beaten 57 lengths! Given a year off, the selection bounced back to win a maiden hurdle, again not perfect at his obstacles, before a one paced second to Autumn Evening at Fairyhouse.
Both of those last two runs suggested he needed more of a test of stamina and having gained a handicap mark he was then entered in the Coral Hurdle off 137. In awful conditions on the Wednesday, connections were obviously worried about him getting the trip as he was ridden with huge patience right out the back of the 23 runner field, eventually finishing a never nearer eighth of the 23 runners, beaten some 25 lengths.
That run suggested he wanted a deeper test of stamina, but connections then decided to send him novice chasing (bred for it), but he took a heavy fall at the second last when looking to attack Authorised Art and in two subsequent runs, at Galway and Gowran, it looked as though his confidence had been badly knocked as he fenced shabbily to say the least. Elliott could well persevere with him over fences, but I fancy a return to hurdles could be on the cards.
Whatever his decision, I think he wants a trip and he could be nicely handicapped on both spheres. At the time of writing Gordon is set to give him another chance over fences, but he will need to jump an awful lot better to have a future in that sphere.
4: JET POWERED – Novice hurdler – Nicky Henderson
I make no apology for including yet another Seven Barrows novice hurdler in the 10 as Henderson, year in and year out, is so extraordinarily strong in this division. Unlike his stable mate above, this son of Jet Away is less well known having run just the once in his career in a point to point at Borris House in Ireland. A friend of mine attended the meeting and told me that this powerful sort went through the race in smooth fashion, jumping efficiently before making stealthy headway from the fourth last to lead before two out and winning merely nudged out.
The fourth has won since and word has it that he is doing everything right at home and Henderson regards him as potentially smart this season. He has more stamina at his behest than Firestep and could start off at two and a half miles.
5: LUCCIA – Mares novice hurdler – Nicky Henderson
Apart from horse number eight in this list, this mare is the only ante-post bet I have invested in for the Cheltenham Festival such is the high esteem she is held in by Mr Henderson who knows the time of day when it comes mares.
A winner of an ordinary Warwick bumper in January, this daughter of The Gurkha was then set a tough task on only her second start when lining up in the Listed Mares Open Bumper at Sandown Park in March. In a field with plenty of strength in depth, she was sent off a clear 7/2 second favourite behind hotpot Mullenbeg (finished a well beaten fourth), she absolutely hosed up under Nico.
Always travelling powerfully, the chestnut filly was racing at the sharp end throughout and once asked for her effort she fairly flew up the stiff final climb to bound home by a massive 17 lengths. She has reportedly schooled nicely with the end aim being the Mares’ Novice Hurdle in March.
6: MARINE NATIONALE – Novice hurdler – Barry Connell
Following his runaway winner in the 2013 Triumph Hurdle we never got the chance to see Our Conor run on good ground again, third and second in a Ryanair Hurdle and Irish Champion Hurdle respectively, both behind Hurricane Fly on deep winter ground. But those famous yellow and blue silks could rise to the fore again this season with this hugely promising son of Jeremy.
An easy winner of both his bumpers in May and August (form well cemented) he has that hugely valuable asset of a turn of foot at the back end of his races. That strength obviously helped when he made his hurdling debut at Punchestown on October 12th when he made lengths over the last three hurdles before quickening clear on the run in under the minimum of pressure.
Both his action and his physical make-up (quite lightly framed) means that he may possibly not be at his best on really deep winter ground, but that means that a break mid season could play in his favour before returning for the big spring festivals.
7: MIGHT I – Staying hurdler – Harry Fry
I would rather have a good balance in my ‘10’ as far as different categories are concerned, but this lightly raced six-year-old was put into my notebook at the back end of 2021 and beginning of 2022 following two cracking runs behind the mighty Constitution Hill and the classy Jonbon, of course subsequently first and second in the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
On both occasions the son of Fame and Glory, as suggested by his blood lines, looked short of finishing pace, a view further cemented when he stepped up to two and a half miles for the first time in his career when running on well to finish just over two lengths off Three Stripe Life in the Grade One Mersey Novices Hurdle at Aintree.
I am firmly of the opinion that when he gets a real test of stamina, he could be something special over three miles and like Pied Piper the Stayers Hurdle could then be on his Festival agenda, although he needs to take several big steps forward to be considered for that championship event. Something like an end to end gallop in the Greatwood Hurdle (2m) has been suggested as a starting point in order to take advantage of a very fair handicap mark of 142, but surely he won’t dwell at the minimum trip for too long.
8: PIED PIPER – Staying hurdler – Gordon Elliott
There was no one more delighted than me when Flooring Porter and Danny Mullins completed back to back wins in the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham. For many years Danny has been one of the most underrated jockeys around; a great judge of pace, strong in a finish and a bloody nice bloke to boot. But if the duo are to join Inglis Drever and Big Buck’s as a three time winner of the race he may need to pull out all the stops against this much younger rival.
A winner of two of his four starts over timber in his first season and placed in the Triumph and Grade One 4yo Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree, he signalled his well being with a hugely eye catching run on the level. Coming from an uncompromising position he eventually finished a never nearer sixth of 19 in the two and a half mile Ascot Stakes, beaten a shade over three lengths, and I was surprised he wasn’t entered in either of the two Cesarewitch’s at Newmarket and the Curragh. A step up to three miles over timber looks certain to bring out the best in him and he is an exciting staying hurdler in the making in his second season.
The problem is Mr Elliot and myself totally disagree about this as he is set to run his charge in the big 4yo hurdle at Cheltenham (October 22nd) after which I hope he will recognise his charge needs further. Yes he travels, but to my eyes he simply doesn’t quicken.
9: SERIOUS CHARGES – Novice chaser – Anthony Honeyball
This is a young horse with a classy engine. He landed his first three races over timber, despite looking green on all three, the latter off a mark of 120. On that occasion he was held up, having made all on his first two starts.
Upped markedly in class and raised 13lbs for that third win when sent off the 9/2 joint favourite for the Grade Three staying handicap hurdle at Aintree, he looked to be making a race winning move around the home bend from off the pace before backing out at the second last. It could have been that it was simply one race too many in his inaugural season against much more experienced runners and/or that it came too quickly following his Uttoxeter romp so the Liverpool run is worth forgiving.
I love the way this youngster goes about his business and allied to his quick and efficient jumping he is one to keep on side. Now set to have his attentions turned to fences, he has the size and talent to make up into a possible graded performer in that sphere and coming from his yard could well go under the radar.
10: TIGHTENOURBELTS – Novice hurdler – Emma Lavelle
There are more and more £200,000 plus purchases being bought from the Irish point to point field and being stabled in the UK but to my eyes it is hard to understand how these owners expect to make a return on them at those prices. But then again this is a rich man’s game and the joy of winning is probably of more paramount importance.
At way short of that price line, this son of Mahler ran in just the one point finishing seven lengths off a subsequent expensive purchase that went on to win on his bumper debut. That afternoon he was never nearer than at the finish and wasn’t given an overly hard time by his experienced amateur rider. Reportedly working with aplomb at home, expect this strong traveller to make his mark in his novice hurdles over a distance of ground.
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