As I write this, it is now August 2016 and the National Hunt proper is just over 2 months away before we start off with the Silver Trophy meeting at Chepstow where the mouthwatering thought of Thistlecrack starting his campaign over fences for the first time is making me more and more excited by the day. We will then have the Charlie Hall chase at Wetherby at the end stage of October where Cue Card is likely to defend his crown.
Last season, I produced only one page of horses to follow and didn’t get round to producing more, however this season I will be producing 3 sections of ‘horses to follow’ in terms of handicappers to follow, hurdlers to follow (both novice and established) and chasers to follow (novice and established) too. Last year we produced just hurdlers to follow and we had decent success with putting up horses such as Yorkhill (Won the Neptune novice hurdle), Champers on Ice, Wait for Me and finally we were told about the hype horse Min before the hype had started and put him up as a possible interest bet at 25/1 for the Supreme. Min went off favourite on the day before finishing 2nd to the impressive Altior.
As I’ve said, this section will be dedicated to handicappers to follow in both spheres, hurdles and fences – exposed and unexposed – old and young – speed and stayers! and we should be able to put up a good few winners over the season and hopefully we’ll be able to bring you in profit too if you choose to follow. We also asked our Twitter followers who they would put up as handicappers to follow this season on our Twitter page @AntepostRacing, so we will be including them too (Thank you to whoever did reply to us):
Handicap Chasers to follow:
Onenightinvienna – The Oscar bred gelding made headlines last season when he tackled the Grand National as a novice chaser, having only had 4 starts over fences (plus one in a point to point in Ireland) and unfortunately unseated at Bechers 2nd time around with Tom O’Brien on board. He went off 33/1 that day and it was a very fitting story as his owners late husband owned a Grand National winning horse in West Tip back in 1986, while running very well on 3 other occasions. It was a tough ask for the horse to be able to win a Grand National after only 4 starts over fences as a novice where he ran off a official rating of 149. He dropped 3lb for that race and will now go into the new season with a mark of 146 and is likely to be aimed at one of the big staying races this season, whether it be the Grand National again or possibly something like the Welsh National although he wouldn’t want extreme ground that the Chepstow event usually serves up. He could start off in the Murphy Group Handicap Chase at the November meeting at Cheltenham, which was won by his stablemate Sausalito Sunrise last season and would give him an ideal platform to build off on a mark of 146 at a track which will suit this tough horse who appreciates stiff tracks and long staying distance races.
Southfield Royale – One of the best races at Cheltenham that I think will turn out well in the form book is the National Hunt chase at the Cheltenham which was won by Minella Rocco. I think we can take a positive view of many in that race and the form has already been boosted with Native River winning a graded novice chase at Aintree and Vicente winning the Scottish Grand National off a mark of 146. One horse who I think can win a big pot this season is the Neil Mullholland trained Southfield Royale, who finished 4th in the ‘4 miler’, looking like he just failed to get home over the marathon trip although he made a mistake on the run in. He was strongly supported that day with Nina Carberry on and it was a fine run all the same on his 5th run over fences. His previous form was solid before his run at Cheltenham, winning twice over fences and showing his mental toughness with a decent 2nd in the Feltham Novice Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, on a course which wouldn’t of suited the Presenting bred gelding who prefers stiffer tracks and is clearly better going left handed, as suggested by his form and connections. He runs off a mark of 147 this season, which is well within his capability of performing off and I’m certain that he will be able to compete in good staying handicap chases this season with a possible tilt at the Hennessy Gold Cup in mind for him.
Definitly Red – Definitly Red is Brian Ellison’s stable star and the 7 year old had another solid campaign where he went over fences for the first time culminating in a win at the Scottish Grand National festival at Ayr in a valuable listed handicap over 2m4f. He put up a some solid efforts over fences in his novice season winning his first novice chase before running a very good sort in Black Hercules close at Warwick over 3 miles and finishing 2nd in terrible conditions to the eventual RSA winner Blaklion in the Grade 2 Towton novices at Wetherby in February. His Cheltenham target ended up being the National Hunt chase, where the ground was probably a little lively for him that day and Definitly Red ended up on the floor that day, falling 3 out while running a decent race without really threatening. He runs off a mark of 142 over fences now going into the new season and he looks capable of running a big race in a handicap. It remains to be seen what his best trip is, as he has the capability to stay 3 miles as well as being capable of winning over middle distances. His rating of 142 may suggest that they could exploit that in the old Paddy Power handicap chase (Now the BetVictor chase) over 2m5 before pushing on to staying handicaps through the season. Soft ground seems a requirement with this gelding though and he is unlikely to be seen until the ground softens up, assuming we have a fairly dry October or November. (Credit @Samlee1991)
Out Sam – Hardly a groundbreaking addition to the handicappers to follow but Out Sam can be forgiven for failing to show when sent off favourite for the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on the first day. He was thrown into the deep end that day by his trainer Warren Greatex after only having 3 starts over fences in small fields winning 2 and finishing 3rd before heading into a big field handicap as 13/2 favourite. It was obvious to most shrewd punters that he was going to struggle in a handicap like this against seasoned handicappers who can jump and travel at festival pace, and it shown early on as he was struggling with the pace and his lack of chasing experience after the first mile. It was a credit to the horse that he was able to plug on and finish 7th after making late headway past beaten horses. He then competed in the Mildmay Novice Chase at the Aintree festival when jumping poorly throughout before being tailed off. Out Sam is currently rated 139 and I expect him to blitz that handicap mark this season coming, however it may take him 2 or 3 races to finally get his act together over fences before he lands a decent pot. Make no mistake, he is well handicapped to have a big season and is not one to give up on.
Thomas Brown – Thomas Brown can count himself unfortunate last season as he suffered with inconsistency in his first season over fences. A very handy novice hurdler, he looked potentially a nice recruit to fences when he won his first outing at Ascot, albeit in a 4 runner field, as he jumped his rivals into submission. He finished a fair 2nd on his next outing in a grade 2 novice chase at Ascot before winning at Doncaster. A great deal was expected of the Sir Harry Lewis bred gelding as he started favourite in the Betbright Grade 3 handicap chase at Kempton, going off 4/1 before unseating at the 11th. He was then supported very well in the CHAPS novice handicap chase being backed down to 8/1 before finishing 7th and finishing a never nearer 4th at the Aintree festival in 3 mile handicap chase. He is very similar in regards to the horse above, Out Sam, in that he was thrown into the deep end in big field handicaps, without having the experience to cope against his older and mentally tough rivals. He will run off a mark of 139 this season and you can be confident that he will make a mockery of that mark at some point this season.
Port Melon – A horse who has never really got his act together since being highly rated in his younger days, he has suffered various problems throughout his career. He started his career over fences last season with a first time out win in a novice handicap chase at Kempton, before suffering a mixed bag afterwards, finishing a distant 3rd in a grade 2 novice chase won by Native River, failing dismally in 2 further outings with a 2nd place in a decent handicap again at Kempton finishing 2nd to Loose Chips off a big weight. Currently rated 139, he’s not going to be at the top of Paul Nicholls horses to watch but he’s more then capable off that mark to scoop a decent pot. Port Melon has always had a great deal of potential but never fulfilled it, but looks capable of being a handicapper to watch over fences.
The Grey Taylor – Another Brian Ellison trained gelding, The Grey Taylor was a decent novice hurdler before embarking on a chasing career last season. Although he only won one novice chase in a 7 runner race at Carlisle, he wasn’t able to build on that in the 3 handicaps that he took part in. He went relatively short prices in all 3 handicaps starting near favourite in all of them but failed to fire off a mark of 136 in all of them. He will go into this season off a mark of 134, and I think that is well within his capability to work off. His trainer has stated before that he is ‘A horse with a lot of speed and he is able to work with sprinters at home’, high praise from Ellison who trains on the flat and the jumps. 2 miles on decent ground will be right up his street, with a flat track possibly suiting him more. One to stick in the notebook as we may see him out early this season and he should be able to win a handicap before the ground gets dire.
Full Shift – Full Shift is a Nicky Henderson trained horse who is likely to be overbet this season due to connections but I’m certain that he is definitely a horse to follow this season off a mark of 134. The Ballingarry gelding has never really fulfilled his potential after having his fair share of problems. He started favourite in a Martin Pipe conditionals handicap hurdle back at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival and then failed to fire on his comeback run in the 2015 festival in the same race. He started off the 15/16 season over fences being demolished by the late Arzal on soft ground, before winning his next outing at the King George meeting at Kempton. He looked to be well weighted to run a big race in his 3rd start over fences at Musselburgh in the Scottish Champion Chase but again, failed to fire. His trainer put that down to the ground that day as he’s a horse that needs good ground. I was expecting a big run from him at the Cheltenham Festival in the CHAPS novice handicap however he was balloted out and had to take on more experienced handicappers in the Bryne Plate, being very well supported on the day before finishing a decent 4th. That was a hell of a run off a mark of 135 in a very rough race and although he never really performed in his next 2 runs at Ayr and Punchestown, he still looks like a horse who is capable of winning a good pot over a middle distance this season. Better ground is key to this horse, so expect him to be out early in the season before the rain comes.
Salubrious – Salubrious became a little bit of a cliff horse for me towards the latter end of the season where he came back in off a year off through injury to win a graduation chase which featured a couple of good horses in Masters Hill, Blakemount and Deputy Dan. That chase was on heavy ground and I was confident he would be able to step up into a decent handicap on better ground off a mark in the 140’s. He never really was able to get his act together in the rest of his races and gradually slipped to a mark of 140 before being well beaten in the Bryne plate. He’s now rated 137 and that will give him a decent chance to be able to get his confidence and act back together in a handicap this season. Not a horse who is a dour stayer, so may be more comfortable in a middle distance race or a flat 3 miles, I can see his trainer Paul Nicholls finding a suitable race for him in the early part of the season to exploit his mark on better ground. He has shown he is capable of being a horse who could run to a mark between 140-150 on his hurdles form being a Martin Pipe conditions jockey handicap hurdle winner off 141, before posting solid form in graded hurdles before his injury. His trainer still feels he is capable of doing well over fences and isn’t one to put on the ignore list just yet.
As De Mee – Another Paul Nicholls trained gelding, As De Mee started his chasing career last season and performed well enough in top class novice chases to suggest a mark of 139, which he is currently rated, may be a fair rating to have a good crack at a decent handicap this season. Hardly an original selection given he is a Paul Nicholls horse, he is probably likely to take in all the middle distance handicaps over 2 and a half miles over fences. A decent jumper over fences and had enough experience, he should come into his own in proper handicap company and given time, should be up to winning a decent pot this season coming. One thing I would question about him is his attitude as he can be a bit of a monkey but his head gear was switched to blinkers on his last outing and that race may of been a race too far having had a long season. Blinkers may be the making of him, or some sort of different headgear to entice him to run his race given he has the ability to improve further this year. He may get 3 miles in time and is known for preferring some cut in the ground. He is currently still a novice, so he may take in a novice chase for confidence before tackling handicap company again, and he ran fairly well for a novice in the Topham at the Grand National festival, bearing that in mind, he may be targeted for Aintree again at some point.
Sub Lieutenant – A horse who I thought would have a sneaky chance of running well in the National Hunt Chase last season but he was taken out by the owners after having that target set by the trainer, before running in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse in March. A decent novice hurdler where he won a grade 2, he went into his novice chasing campaign as a horse who is a typical ‘Gigginstown improver’ in that he will definitely improve for fences. He put up some fair efforts in decent company throughout the season before winning a Grade 3 at Naas over 2m4, beating Tell Us More and Grand National winner Rule the World that day. He is bred to appreciate a trip, and will take in the usual staying handicaps this year where I think he is capable of winning a decent race over fences. Gigginstown have moved their horses from Sandra Hughes, so I expect Sub Lieutenant to be in different stables come the start of the season and they are likely to have a decent handicap staying chaser on their hands.
Noble Endeavor – Another horse who failed to live up to expectations over fences last year, he was slightly unlucky in that regard however. He had 6 runs over fences, winning one and placing in a further 3. He was then sent over to the Cheltenham festival to undertake the National Hunt chase on the first day of the meeting, running a decent race before falling 2 out. Unlikely to of won that day, he may of been in contention for a place at the best but it was still a good effort up to the point regardless. He then contested the Punchestown champion novice over 3m before pulling up. A slightly unlucky season for the Flemensfirth gelding, he is another one who is likely to come into his own in handicap chases over a trip this season. Better ground and a fast pace suits him, and a mark of the low 140’s which he has been allotted in Ireland is workable on his hurdles form with his 2nd behind Killultagh Vic at the festival in 2015 reading well. Once he gets his act together over fences, and has regained that confidence back after a sour end to the season, he is likely to be a horse who can only improve over fences.
Three Musketeers – Three Musketeers is a horse who may not compete in handicap company, with Skelton possibly setting his aims higher but off a mark of 152, he could take in a handicap like the old Paddy Power handicap chase in November. A horse who looks a solid, rather then spectacular chaser, he finished a decent staying on fourth in the JLT novices chase won by Black Hercules in March. A horse who was always destined to be a chaser after winning the Leamington novices hurdle at Warwick in his novice hurdler days. Highly rated by Skelton and his team, he looks capable of running well in handicaps off his current mark, although he may not be a horse who wins off that mark, it could be a case of Skelton bringing his mark down in big field handicaps where he gains vital experience before exploiting a mark within the 140’s. He seems to handle most ground, although wouldn’t it too testing, and in time will probably stay 3 miles.
Aloomomo – All the rage for the CHAPS novice handicap at the festival, he went off 3/1 after being backed in from 10/1 in the week before the festival. Greatrex was very bullish about this gelding before his outing in the CHAPS and I think that caught on to punters who backed him like defeat was out of the question. He started last season with 3 wins over fences in a row, finishing with a emphatic win at Newbury in a decent handicap, demolishing the field by 6L, and then wasn’t seen for 3 months until February where he had a run over hurdles to brush away those cobwebs in a novice hurdle. He finished 3rd that day at Ascot behind 2 fair sorts before his trip to Prestbury Park in March. He disappointed that day at Cheltenham in the CHAPS, however he travelled well and it looked like when he took up the running towards the latter part of the race, he would be able to sustain it and win, however he was outpaced that day on better ground and finished 6th. He certainly looks like one to keep in the notebook, and I think it’s clear that he favours cut in the ground and Greatrex may look to exploit his mark over hurdles with a mark of 130 too.
Twelve Roses – You’re probably getting bored of reading this now, with a great deal of 2nd season chasers now in this blog but I think a lot of these have marks worth exploiting for connections. Twelve Roses is no different. Not seen since his 5th place behind Faugheen in the Neptune 2014 (That form has worked out very well), he started over fences in 2015 having 6 starts over fences with 2 wins to his name. His 5th place in the CHAPS novice handicap chase reads well and a mark of 138 looks appealing for connections to work with. Good ground is his favoured ground and another horse who may be travelling to Cheltenham in November for the big handicap chase over 2m5.
Killer Crow – Well fancied to run well in the CHAPS by his trainer Gordon Elliott, Killer Crow has already been seen trying to mix it in the Galway Plate this summer where he went off 11/1 before finishing down the field. He was balloted out of the CHAPS due to his handicap mark and was next seen 3 times before the season end in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, Topham chase at Aintree and a handicap at Punchestown. He never really featured in any of them and while he hasn’t looked like he has been running into any sort of form recently, he is worth keeping on side for his shrewd connections. His 2nd to Empire of Dirt at Leopardstown in January reads well, with Empire of Dirt winning the Bryne plate at the Cheltenham festival on his next outing and Killer Crow looks worth sticking by if he gets his optimum conditions – i.e better ground and a middle distance fast paced handicap.
Heathfield – One for the shrewdies here, with the Tony Martin trained Heathfield. With his connections containing not only Martin but owner JP McManus, you can never be sure when the handbrake is allowed off for this horse. However, he seems a very well backed horse in each appearance and has never seemed to get it together over fences last season. Winning a marathon trip at the Punchestown festival in 2015, he had seemed well fancied in every run over fences last season but never got his act together despite going off 9/1 for the Scottish Grand National at Ayr. I wouldn’t give up on him just yet and although he probably has fallen off a lot of cliffs for punters throughout the season, he is likely to bag at least one decent pot soon enough over a staying trip.
Corrin Wood – The once rated 156 gelding seemed to be full of potential before undertaking the RSA chase at Cheltenham in 2014. Ever since that race, you wouldn’t think that this was a horse once rated 156, despite that obviously being over-inflated. Now rated 130, he will become something of a cliff horse as I still feel he’s got a big handicap in him. He was off for a long while after suffering a hock fracture after the Grand National before running in 6 handicaps from January to May, never featuring in any of them. Assuming there are no problems this summer, he could be ready to exploit that mark if he comes back to himself, although a possible yard move may sort this fella out with Donald McCain suffering a real low run of form for a number of years now. Soft ground and a flat track may suit him better, but is definitely one for the notebook with a possible confidence boost in a weak handicap the answer for him.
Pass The Hat – I thought Pass The Hat a decent squeak at the Topham but was never really threatened, while he was fancied to run a decent race in his next 2 outings afterwards in staying handicaps. He never really threatened in them either despite going off prices which suggested he had a fair chance in both. He has made a couple of trips over to England and contested handicap chases posting 2 good attempts at Doncaster in the Skybet chase and Ascot in the Grade 3 United Gold Cup. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the trip across the Irish sea to contest in a good handicap although he is slowly dwindling to a mark where he could take a decent pot in Ireland too. Definitely one for the notebook in middle distance/staying handicaps, where he seems to handle both decent and soft ground.
Captain Von Trappe – A once well regarded point to point horse who was brought for 115,000euro, he started over fences last year winning once and running fairly consistently up to his mark throughout. He was rated 138 at one point due to a fine 2nd to Shantou Flyer in a grade 2 at the beginning of the season. Slowly creeping down the weights, he was last seen finishing 5th in a handicap at the Punchestown festival off a mark of 132. It was a credible run and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gordon Elliott make use of him in the early season in a low quality handicap. Noted to be a better horse going right handed, he may even be sold on by his current owners, however he has shown enough of ability to suggest he could pick up a prize this season over in Ireland off a mark of 131.
Mosspark – Mosspark has always been highly rated througout his career and had a indifferent start over fences. Winner of the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon as a novice hurdler, he was set for a big career over fences but failed to fulfill that potential as he wasn’t able to win a race over fences in the 14/15 season. Rated 129 going into the 15/16 season, he was unable to win first time out in a race won by a horse already put up in here called Aloomomo at Newbury. He wasn’t seen until March, possibly due to a setback or the fact that his trainer Emma Lavelle had problems at the yard all season. When he was seen, it was in a handicap at Sandown where he was driven clear to win in a fair handicap. Last seen at Uttoxeter in April after being 8lb for the win, he failed to fire and was well beaten that day. Dropped 2lb since, he has the ability to make his mark in handicaps over 3 miles plus this season coming. Prefers a little cut in the ground, and hopefully his trainer is able to have a season without any hitches in her yard, then Mosspark will be able to win a good handicap off 136.
No Planning – I am a massive fan of the Sue Smith and Danny Cook partnership and I have had No Planning on my radar for a while for a big pot in a staying handicap. Although No Planning is hardly the most unexposed runner, I’ve got real belief that he can pick up a big pot this season. One race he could have a good say in is the Becher chase in December at Aintree. He went off 8/1 last year in that race won by Highland Lodge, being well supported and fancied by connections, however it wasn’t meant to be as he unseated at the 10th that day. A possible tilt at that race may in the minds of the connections already and he may take in a handicap before that race to make sure he can get in the handicap this year. Cut in the ground and a trip of 3 miles plus suits this gelding down to the ground and don’t be surprised to see him win a decent pot over a marathon trip this season as come the turn of the year he’ll be 10 years old and marathon trips suit the profile of a horse like No Planning who improve for age with staying trips.
Special Catch – A late recruit to fences, he was 8 years old before he embarked on his chasing career. A horse who always performed admirably over hurdles, this was a horse ran More of That and Blue Fashion close in a handicap at Haydock, while being a model of consistency in handicaps over timber. After over a year and half off the track, he was seen in November 2015 over fences and put his head infront twice last season. He was last seen finishing a length and half behind another horse who I think will go onto improve in Always On The Run who went from strength to strength like many Paul Rooney owned horses who left Donald McCain to other pastures new, and Always On The Run is one to watch in handicaps this season too. Going back to Special Catch, this horse is likely to compete off his current mark of 133, and given last season was his return season after a year and half off the track, another summer and the experience from last season will of given him a great platform to build on for the upcoming season and don’t be surprised to see him tackle decent handicaps especially in the north of the country.
Tell Us More – Rated 143, this Willie Mullins trained gelding has underwhelmed connections and fans of the National Hunt racing scene since his novice hurdle days. A potential high class horse even since his point to point days, he was given a glistening review after winning a novice hurdle by his own trainer at Gowran Park in 2014. Brought for 290,000euro, he was expected to do big things especially over fences but it hasn’t quite worked out for the Scorpion bred gelding since being beaten by McKinley at Naas, starting odds on in a grade 2. He finished a well beaten 6th in the Supreme in 2015, although probably suited better to the Neptune really, he never really looked the real deal at all that season and maybe needed another summer to grow into himself. He had a couple of setbacks for the season 2015/2016 and wasn’t seen until late December before being beaten by Zabana at the Leopardstown festival at Christmas in a novice chase after being expected to perform much better with the switch to fences. Although winning a below average beginners chase on his next appearance, he looked likely to win the 3 runner Flying Bolt novice chase at Navan, before falling with the race at his mercy. Last seen in March, he wasn’t given a tough time in a race won by Sub Lieutenant at Naas and hasn’t been seen since. Despite not living up to expectations, could it be possible that Willie Mullins and Gigginstown will exploit his Irish mark of 143 and send him into handicap company this season. Highly rated, and a possible Gold Cup horse was touted in his younger days by well thought of pundits, it has been suggested that horses bred by Scorpion like Tell Us More seem to have a habit of lacking the fight for top class racing, although that could be a total myth. However, it remains to be seen what sort of level Tell Us More will reach, it definitely will be that a mark of 143 will be within his reach to win a handicap off of.
Katenko – Never recovered from winning 2 good handicap chases on the bounce after being put up 21ibs for that, Katenko has suffered from various setbacks and been very hard to place off a mark in the lofty 150’s. His trainer Venetia Williams has had to throw in him into grade 2’s and even a shot at the Gold Cup due to the rise in his mark, starting at 66/1 and being well beaten. After having a year off due to injuries from the 14/15 season to 15/16, he was last seen at Ascot over Christmas pulling up. He was then sent to Cheltenham in the valuable 3 mile handicap before falling in the Grand National. Creeping down the weights for over a couple of years, he’s now rated 139 and expect him to find an opportunity on soft ground this winter to run a big race for the Williams team. Definitely one to keep an eye on for when all conditions suit, Katenko is quite lightly raced for a 10 year old and despite suffering problems, Williams will be the type of trainer who will get some luck from the Laveron gelding.
Pendra – A horse I have always rated really highly, his main aim was the Grand National last season where he was tailed off. He started off the season with a win in the Sodexo Gold Cup, a grade 3 handicap chase at Ascot before having every chance in the Silver Cup at Ascot in December, ploughing through the final fence when in contention, before going lame (Trainer stated on Twitter this was the case). It was a big ask for the horse to go 4 months without a run and tackle the Grand National on ground not to his liking (Prefers better ground). I think he’s still got a big pot over a staying trip in him and has been well handled by his astute trainer Charlie Longsdon. I think he’s capable of running up to a mark in the 150’s (Rated 145 currently) and will be a handicapper to follow again this season considering he’s only 8 years old.
Upswing – Another JP McManus owned gelding, his 2nd to to Sausalito Sunrise at the November meeting at Cheltenham has always been a run that has been stuck in my mind ever since. A big run was expected of him in the Welsh Grand National but you can choose to ignore that run as not many in the field got going that day with the atrocious ground conditions and heavy rain that destroyed 90% of the field that day. He was next seen in the Kim Muir, finishing 9th after starting at 8/1 that day. He never really got the run of the race like many that day and it is definitely worth keeping him in the tracker for a good handicap this season coming. He can improve several pounds this season over fences and given he only has had 5 runs over fences throughout his career, and last season was actually his novice season, a lot more will be expected of him by the Jonjo and JP partnership. Currently rated 137, expect him to be targeted at the same high profile handicap where he ran 2nd at the November meeting at Cheltenham.
Cogry – Very much in the same mould as Upswing as things never really were caught right by Cogry, he finished 3rd in the Midlands Grand National last season on his final outing of the season. Somewhat a cliff horse for me, he definitely has the scope to improve off a current mark of 134 where his form that ties in with Upswing in the same handicap chase in November reading fair. Bred out of Kings Theatre, his wins have come on soft ground but his breeding would suggest he would enjoy better ground, so it may be a case of things falling right for him. Definitely has a decent handicap in him this season and is one for the tracker with the right conditions.
Vyta Du Roc – A mark of 143 will look tasty for Nicky Henderson to play with, with this Lion Noir gelding. A high class novice hurdler in the 14/15 season, he looks likely to be a big player in the big handicaps this season. Winner of the Reynoldstown chase at Ascot in February beating the eventual 4 miler winner Minella Rocco, he was well beaten on good ground in the RSA at Cheltenham. It may be that his run at Cheltenham and his solid 5th in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in April were decent efforts given that he only started his season in December due to a setback, and that with more experience and a summer under his belt, then you can expect big things from the 7 year old this season. He definitely has the scope to run well off a mark of 143, and is another second season chaser for the notebook.
Sambremont – Full brother to Djakadam, Sambremont started his career over fences last season winning 2 before running in 2 handicaps at Cheltenham and Punchestown. It wasn’t to be in either of them, finishing 8th and 9th respectively, however he could be a horse to follow in handicaps this season. Currently rated 137 in Ireland, he could run big races over a staying trip in all the good quality handicaps. A good jumper, he probably enjoys a little cut in the ground and despite not possessing the same ability as his outstanding full brother, he can at least give his connections a lot of fun this winter.
Velvet Maker – Velvet Maker went off 8/1 for the Grand Annual before pulling like a train and making mistake after mistake trying to make the running. However, I wouldnt dismiss him too soon as he’s been very highly rated since his bumper days. A horse probably remembered as one of the horses who tried to take on Douvan in the graded novice chases in Ireland, he is currently rated 143. Trying to win the Grand Annual as a novice is as hard as it gets really, so I would ignore that run and concentrate on the coming season where more experience jumping at quick pace in big fields will improve him further. A horse who is definitely on the up, he has the makings of a handicapper which will give his connections a great deal of fun in Ireland or even another crack at the Grand Annual.
Free Expression: An obvious one given connections – trained by Gordon Elliott and owned by JP McManus – Free Expression hasn’t been seen since Christmas where he failed to win none of his 3 novice chases. Once a highly rated novice hurdler, his future was always destined to lie over fences. Despite not winning a novice chase, he has the scope and size to improve over fences. Question marks where he has been since Christmas, he was entered in handicaps at the Cheltenham festival and also entered in the Galway plate but didn’t turn up to any of those entries. Hopefully he is 100% fit for the new season and although he may need more experience over fences, he could take in a novice chase before trying to work his allocated Irish mark of 142 over fences for connections.
Handicap Hurdlers to follow:
Modus – Modus looked a very interesting recruit to Paul Nicholls after finishing 2nd and 3rd in the Champion Bumpers at Cheltenham festival and Punchestown festival respectively. He started off well winning his first 2 novice hurdles beating a couple of fair individuals in the process before finishing 3rd in a novice hurdle in atrocious conditions carrying a winners penalty at Taunton. Nicholls then decided to run the Motivator bred gelding in the Betfair Hurdle where he finished a poor 13th on heavy ground. Barry Geraghty deserted him that day, which was hardly a confident sign and he decided to desert him again at the Cheltenham festival in the County hurdle where Nick Schofield was on board again. He finished bottom of the pile that day and I’m unsure what happened to him. He hasn’t been seen since but I’m confident Modus has the scope to improve off a mark of 139, and a nice break and summer on his back will mean we see an improved horse in the new season where I think he’s likely to run in all the good 2 mile handicaps. Better ground and a fast pace will suit this fella, although he may be a shorter price then you’d ideally like in most races due to his connections.
Hannah’s Princess – Warren Greatrex’s mare was a decent novice hurdler and although she only won once over hurdles last season, her rating of 132 is a mark worth working on especially as her trainer rates her in high regard. She was last seen finishing a decent 3rd off top weight at Warwick, and I hope to see her next season as she’s been unlucky throughout her career with Greatrex. Good ground over middle distance 2m4 should suit her down to the ground and I think Warren will be able to find a good opportunity to exploit her handicap mark, certainly against her fellow mares, where she will probably have a good opportunity to win a decent mares race in listed company.
At Fishers Cross – Once all the rage for the World Hurdle, after his Albert Bartlett win at the festival in 2013, not a lot has gone right for At Fishers Cross since. Once rated 162, he hasn’t won since 2013 either, although he has placed in a World Hurdle at Cheltenham and Punchestown and has been falling down the handicap ratings ever since. Another dismal run in the World Hurdle in 2016, where he pulled up, he slipped to a mark of 148 where he competed in his first handicap since 2012. Aintree was the venue for his that handicap where he finished a fast finishing 5th after holding a decent chance on the run in. He then went to Punchestown where he was unplaced running off top weight on better ground. Currently rated 144, I think his run at Aintree showed that if he has got over his problems that he seems to suffer from in the pre season, then he could offer a great deal in handicap company on soft ground. I think he could end up being one to catch when a big price and the handbrake is let off by the Green and Gold operation.
Apache Jack – A horse who looked destined to be a decent chaser, things never clicked right for him with injuries and he wasn’t seen for over a year after pulling up in the RSA. Highly rated by connections, he wasn’t seen last year before attempting to win 2 handicaps, one at Aintree and one at Punchestown over hurdles. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him exploit a mark in the 130’s over hurdles this season, if he is 100%. This is a horse who was 3rd in the Albert Bartlett and offers some decent form in Ireland. He could be a decent horse to play around with for connections this season over hurdles, or fences, if he doesn’t suffer with any setbacks.
Mystical Knight – JP McManus and Rebecca Curtis seem to of got a decent hurdler on their hands, assuming that they keep this Kayf Tara gelding over hurdles. Rated 130, he could make a mockery of this rating if seen in a handicap hurdle this season coming. Pulled up in his last outing of the season in the staying novice hurdle at Aintree, I’m unsure whether he will continue over hurdles or go over fences as he was a previous point to point winner in Ireland. It could be that they go over handicap hurdles for the early part of the season to exploit his current mark and gain more experience, despite the fact that he is already 7 years old.
Kasakh Noir – 6th place in the Fred Winter last season despite being hampered at the last with the final flight carnage, was a decent placing for the Redback gelding. He was viewed as Dan Skelton’s best juvenile last year and he looks capable of improving with a summer on his back. Rated 136, I expect him to pick up a nice prize over hurdles and he has the right man training him too. A strong traveller, a big field and strong pace would suit this fella as he can have a tendency to pull his way through a race.
Coo Star Sivola – Another horse who ran in the Fred Winter at the festival, 3rd place was a very good platform to build on for Nick Williams horse going into next season. Solid efforts with a 1/2l 2nd to Wolf of Windlesham in a grade 2 juvenile hurdle at Cheltenham, where the form has worked out well and a solid 3rd in horrendous conditions in the juvenile Future Champions hurdle at Chepstow. Last seen at the Fred Winter, he is currently rated 134 and you can guarantee he is likely to leave this mark behind this winter.
Charbel – I have toyed around with the idea of placing Charbel in these lists as I will put him as a hurdler to follow regardless. I think Charbel is an outstanding horse and his current mark of 147 may be a mark that Kim Bailey may work with in the big 2 mile handicaps this season. He ran an absolute cracker in the Supreme, setting a fierce gallop and finishing a very decent 5th. A top class bumper horse and although suffered an indifferent start to his hurdling career, being beaten at odds on at Doncaster, before having no shame finishing 2nd to Yanworth at Ascot, his win at Musselburgh in the Scottish Supreme novice hurdles trial showed his true ability. I’d like to think he has a shot of winning a graded race this season coming and the listed race at Kempton in October which has been won by The New One in the past seasons could be an ideal starting point for him. However, with a mark of 147, he could easily compete and run big races in the big 2 mile handicaps throughout the season (Greatwood, Ladbroke, Betfair Hurdle, County Hurdle). Definitely a horse high up on my shortlist this season.
Stephanie Frances – After running The New One close in the listed hurdle at Kempto, in early season, Dan Skelton expected big things of his mare over fences . However, it wasn’t meant to be with the mare being unlucky fallers in both her novice chases. Not seen until the Cheltenham festival where she finished 8th in the OLBG mares hurdle, she was put away for the season. I think given that she is a mare, she is unlucky to run over fences again and I can see her targets this season being decent handicaps. A mark of 138 is definitely workable given she could have a fair few pounds in hand on the handicapper and if she is given a chance to have a season without interruption then she could have a say in a decent handicap. She has enough speed to win over the minimum trip but given her breeding, a step up in trip could work this season too.
Vigil – A top class bumper performer at one point, Vigil was seen last in the Neptune finishing a solid 6th in a decent renewal of the Neptune hurdle at the Festival. Only 3 starts over hurdles so far in his career, I’d expect him to make a mockery of his rating of 139 in Ireland this season. A good source confirmed to me that Vigil was suffering from sore legs throughout the season last year which could explain his poor showing at Leopardstown and his inconsistency too. Expect to see him well placed by his master trainer Dermot Weld as he handles soft ground, so you’d have no problems with backing him on soft ground in the Irish handicaps.
Sceau Royal – Probably one of the biggest disappointments for me at the latter stage of the season. Personally I thought he had a good chance of making the frame in the juvenile hurdles either at Cheltenham or Aintree, but it wasn’t meant to be where he disappointed in both starts. No doubt a talented animal, he could handle himself in handicap hurdles. A very good jumper, King said he had never trained a jumper of a hurdle like him and a tough cookie too. Daryl Jacob highly rates this 4 year old and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take in the 4 year old limited handicap at Cheltenham in the early season before progressing into handicaps. Rated 139, he looks capable of mixing it this season and Alan King has a few decent juveniles progressing into open company who could run well enough this season.
Baden – Unsure over whether he will be chasing or hurdling this season, this Martaline gelding is capable of winning a handicap off 135. His trainer is known to be a very safe trainer with horses who are 5 years old who could go chasing, instead choosing to stay hurdling with them before bemoaning the ‘novice chase programme’. While he is right as the novice chase programme is terrible, sometimes a horse in his care ends up not fulfilling his early potential. Baden is definitely a horse with early potential and has the capacity to make a mockery of his rating of 135. A good traveller, he caught my eye in Yanworth’s win at the January meeting at Cheltenham, where he travelled well but got caught in the mud that day. While he does handle ground with some ease, he wouldn’t want extreme winter ground. That does go saying for plenty of the stables horses though with Henderson insistent that many of horses don’t handle winter ground (Maybe he should try being a flat trainer instead?). All joking aside, Baden looks definitely capable of winning a handicap hurdle before embarking on whatever future plans he has.
Chef D’oeuvre – Another horse who was from Yanworth’s win in a hurdle race in January 2016. He is another horse who can exploit a mark of 134 before going novice chasing where his future lies. Winner of 2 novice hurdles, one which included beating the well regarded Krugermac, trained by Gary Moore, he disappointed on his step up to open handicap company being well supported that day from 9/2 into 3/1 before running no sort of race. Highly rated in his point to point scene, he handles most types of ground and Greatrex may find a suitable handicap hurdle for further experience/pot hunting before starting his chasing career as he’s a big framed horse who will suit fences in time.
Exposed horses slipping down the handicap:
It may be worth following these horses who have been sliding down the handicap and are exposed, however they may seem to find their feet once the handicapper relents. Horses such as:
Dynaste – Highest rating: 169 – Now rated: 153
The Giant Bolster – Highest rating: 164 – Now rated: 137
Splash Of Ginge – Highest rating: 153 – Now rated: 137
Johns Spirit – Highest rating: 160 – Now rated: 136
The Druids Nephew – Highest rating: 156 – Now rated: 148 (Slipping to winnable mark)
Shotgun Paddy – Highest rating: 151 – Now rated: 140
Return Spring – Highest rating: 143 – Now rated: 122
Ned Stark – Highest rating: 143 – Now rated: 133
Black Thunder – Highest rating: 155 – Now rated: 130 (Moved stable to Greatrex)
Dell’ Arca -Highest rating: 145 – Now rated: 135
What A Warrior – Highest rating: 142 – Now rated: 131
I hope you find following these horses worthwhile, although there are many to follow. I have done a mixture, so unexposed, 2nd season chasers, exposed horses slipping down the handicap and I’ve included a few old timers who are well known but you may not see how far they have slipped down the handicap. Please follow and RT our blog and I will be posting more horses to follow for the National Hunt. I will also be updating this as I need to find out horses plans from their trainers before the start of the season.
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