National Hunt Preview 2019-20
The jumps season is once again in full swing, impeccably advertised by this weekends action from Cheltenham’s Open meeting and the Morgiana Hurdle meeting at Punchestown. The weekend sees the return of old favorites Faugheen and Douvan as well as Champion Hurdle favorite and last season’s Supreme Novice Hurdle winner, Klassical Dream. Jumping forward we can already see exciting races like the Ascot 1965 Chase (Altior v Cyrname), King George VI Chase which could feature the aforementioned duo, Douvan, Min, Frodon, Lostintranslation, Santini, Vindication and that’s before we get to the reigning champ Clan des Obeaux, and previous winners Might Bite and Thistlecrack. It’s hard to see past Paisley Park in the Stayers Hurdle division, while an accumulation of adventurous connections could part the seas of the Champion Chase for worthy candidate, Chacun Pour Soi. The in limbo Gold Cup favorite, Kemboy, could find his status as market leader usurped by a whole host of candidates, who will be getting runs under their belts while his ban remains in place and Michael O’Leary’s continuous dedication to dismissing Tiger Roll’s place in history could do likewise in the Grand National. And then there are last season’s novices upgrading. Klassical Dream already mentioned, goes for the Champion Hurdle while the likes of City Island, Minella Indo, Thomas Darby and Allaho all go jumping fences along with Samcro and the old legend of Faugheen at only 11 years of age – rising twelve in six weeks time. But of course, there is always room for new names on the block and in the likes of Envoi Allen and Blue Sari, we have two of last season’s top bumper performers, acquainting themselves with hurdles.
In this article, I look forward to the season with a small selection of horses to watch out for and dissect some of last season’s top horses and races and possibly put up some likely players in the bigger events.
Trained by Willie Mullins, Allaho is a son of No Risk at All, who excelled at 8-10 furlongs. That spend concurs to his progeny through the likes of Gumball at 2 miles and Epatante. Though the granddam’s line comes from Ahonoora, extending the stamina and with Mill Reef’s influence also in the page, it’s no surprise that Allaho stays further. He was 9 lengths behind Minella Indo at Cheltenham but closed that gap at Punchestown, subsequently, to 2 lengths. However, it was his impressive Clonmel win over his old adversary that was most impressive, getting the weight he beat the Henry de Bromhead runner by. That put him to the top of last season’s best staying novices. He’s the size of a chaser but looked a bit light last season and so the summer’s grass will do him the world of good. He’s unlikely to be seen this side of Christmas, which hampers him going into the big Spring meetings, however, the same horse has a long striding action and looks to appreciate the likely better underfoot conditions. Having handicapped all of last season’s top races, I can vouch for the staying hurdle division as being far and away the best division and on three separate occasions in the Spring time, Allaho was testament to this. If the Cheltenham festival brings some decent jumping ground with it next March, don’t discount Allaho’s chances of going close once more, in something like the JLT or indeed, the RSA Chase.
The Gordon Elliott trained Muhtathir gelding looks set for big things in the Novices hurdling division. I’m always wary of the top bumper horses going over obstacles but this five year old looks an absolute natural and has the engine to boot. His pedigree suggests he wants further and his size tells that he wants a fence, so he could well be a three mile chaser down the line. I expect him to line up in the Ballymore Properties Novices Hurdle in March as the Supreme may be too quick for him and being a bumper winner, you’d imagine he will only see his trip extend also. I wouldn’t normally put up novice hurdlers as horses to follow, particularly on the back of one run but this looks to be one well worth taking a risk with. If I have any negative, it’s that Muhtathir’s can be a bit highly strung and though that doesn’t look an issue with him for the moment, any decrease in racing spirit could bring out his temperamental side, though that really is looking for a flaw.
For the past two season’s, I have adamantly claimed that Frodon was regularly and consistently recording a figure of 169. Eventually, the BHA acknowledged that rating in his performances and in the process he bravely won the Ryanair Chase. This began from when he won a competitive handicap at Cheltenham to the mockery of 17 lengths (20+ to a subsequent Cheltenham festival winner). It matured through an Old Roan Chase victory, BetVictor Gold Cup second, to a brilliant hattrick of Caspain Caviar Gold Cup win, Cotswold Chase win and culminating in an heroic Ryanair win. He is at his best over 2 miles 5 furlongs on Cheltenham’s new course, but he proved his stamina in the Cotswold Chase also. I’d love to see Frodon back for the Ryanair Chase next March but connections are deserved of a crack at the big race now that the Ryanair is in the bag and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him campaigned accordingly. He will be considered too high for those aforementioned handicaps this season and so the likes of Betfair Chases and King Georges becoming more likely targets and should he vindicate his place in that kind of company, then the ever bold Paul Nicholls could be swayed Gold Cup-wards. Frodon is my sentimental-ish pick on this list considering it would be hard to put Tiger Roll in as his connections admit it unlikely he will try to win a third Grand National.
According to my handicapping technique – which hasn’t let me down in three successive seasons – Honeysuckle was last season’s best novice. It has to be hard to argue with that when she has a string of 1’s next to her form and though she didn’t make Cheltenham last season, it is hard to say she wouldn’t have won the Mare’s Novices Hurdle based on subsequent form lines. Her bloodless victory on seasonal reappearance against the likes of useful yardsticks Easy Game and Mister Blue Sky (rated 144 and 28 lengths in arrears) further advertises her quality – albeit in receipt of the ridiculous mares allowance. I had her down as a lively Champion Hurdle outsider with speed prominent on her sire line through Nijinsky and Alleged’s influence but watching the mare in action suggests the further she goes, the more she excels. With the seven free lengths from the allowance, she could be a fierce challenger to Paisley Park. In fact, through my calculations, she would only need to find a pound/length improvement to challenge last season’s brilliant stayers hurdle winner – which could be a good/bad jump somewhere along the way. If she contests the Mares Hurdle, she’ll win it and that is coming from a big Benie des Dieux fan. That is the high regard I hold this mare in, going as far as to say she is the best mare I have seen. Though she has a long, long way to go before she succeeds to the levels of Annie Power and Quevega and all handicapping shows is scores not trophies.
Jett could be seen as a wildcard in this list and admittedly judged on only two races and only one of those he actually contested. He runs tomorrow in the Clonmel Oil Chase and that might clear the mist a bit but when I recorded that Alpha des Obeaux had run identically on his last two runs, I began to doubt my high score of Jett a bit less. Basically, Mouse Morris’ runner has recorded the exact same time per distance in his last two runs and therefore resulted in a figure of 159. To put that into a bit more context, he has done the exact same thing twice. The same is said for Road to Respect, who won the latter of Alpha des Obeaux’s two recent contests. He achieved a figure of 173 – by my technique – in each of the last two JN Wine Champion Chases. So by that logic, the JN Wine Chase vindicated my handicapping twice and that brought me back to the Irish Daily Star Chase at Punchestown in October. Alpha des Obeaux only lost by a short head that day, which naturally means that Road to Respect would have been 14 lengths ahead. It’s further encouragement that the Turf Club concur with the figure of 159 for Alpha des Obeaux on the Punchestown performance. Of course, the horse who came out on the better side of the photo that day was Jett, making him a 159 horse also but for the fact that he carried 8 pounds more than Alpha des Obeaux and therefore putting him up to a 167 horse – the current official rating of Douvan. The step up in trip and easing ground have clearly helped Jett’s progression. Being by Flemensfirth, he will only continue to improve in winter staying conditions and could surprise quite a lot this National Hunt season.
A lot about Minella Indo was said in the Allaho section, most significantly on how highly I hold last season’s staying novice hurdle division. He’s by the top sire Beat Hollow who brings plenty of stride into his progeny and that looks a trait that brings about extravagant jumping techniques. Kauto Star and Vautour had the longest strides I have ever witnessed and I still consider them to be the best jumpers of a fence that I have ever seen. He reversed Clonmel form with Allaho and though he soundly beat him at Cheltenham, I don’t see a whole lot between two quality horses. As Brendan Powell Senior recently said ‘Henry de Bromhead could train them to jump bail’. The Waterford man is a genius at teaching a horse to jump and in Minella Indo he may not have a whole lot of input as I expect him to be a natural. The staying division has to be the route to take for him and the better the ground, the better the horse as regards him. He reminds me of Monalee, for the same stable, in many ways but I think this is a better horse and that would put him right to the top of the sphere.
Stuart Edmunds charge has only won once in 18 months, beating De Rasher Counter in a Novices’ Chase and that was in receipt of six pounds for the same lengths beating. But there’s a lot more to read into his form in some defeats to quality rivals. He was second in the Reynoldstown to Mister Malarky, who later was best of the rest in a sensational renewal of the RSA Chase (behind Topofthegame, Santini and Delta Work), albeit that Now McGinty was further down the same field. He was badly outpaced that day and considering he continued to keep good company when a head behind Santini recently when receiving weight, suggests that like many Stowaway’s, he wants further and the news that he heads straight to the Welsh National is music to my ears. With Tiger Roll unlikely to line up at Aintree in April, Now McGinty could be a huge player in the Grand National too.
Champion Hurdle Division
Klassical Dream deservedly heads a weak market. Take him out of it and it will be all about Buveur D’air again who is still only 8 years of age and naturally continues to appeal. Not least on his fine Punchestown Champion Hurdle win but watch how he crosses the line ahead of Espoir D’Allen in the Champion Hurdle last March having fallen at the fourth flight. If Supreme Racing get their house in order, then Aramon can run again and there is nothing between him and Klassical Dream on Deloitte form in February. He lost by a length giving a pound. Obviously Cheltenham was a different story but Aramon stripped very light to me and also looked to be inconvenienced by the soft ground. A stronger horse is expected after a summer’s grass and better conditions in March bring him into the picture. A picture that Willie Mullins could once again dominate. Sharjah is an insult of a price, considering Buveur D’air brought him down last year and he had carried all before him last season up to that point in the two mile hurdle division, winning the Galway Hurdle, Morgiana Hurdle and Ryanair Hurdle. The talking horse is Saldier, also from the Mullins team. He had one run last season, disputing the lead with Espoir D’Allen when falling at the last and giving away two pounds. My concern would be his habit to jump right that day, something he won’t get away with at Cheltenham, and further negative is that all his wins have come right handed.
Likely Winner – Klassical Dream
Dark Horse – Aramon or Sharjah
Champion Chase Candidates
Depending on how the King George goes, Altior and/or Min could end up in other contests at Cheltenham. Duc des Genievres is obviously of interest in such a circumstance, considering the great record Arkle winners have in the Champion Chase, but despite an easy win, the form and time aren’t great. Chacun Pour Soi is naturally well fancied after his fine Punchestown win and the potentiality for decimation to the field could pave the way for him to win this. Of course, Douvan could still contest this and back to anywhere near his best would see him hard beaten. Rich Ricci will most likely have his colors carried by a leading contender on the day, be it Min, Douvan or Chacun Pour Soi.
Likely Winner – Chacun Por Soi
Dark Horse – Duc des Genievres
Paisley Park’s Dangers
Paisley Park was so good last year that its almost impossible to see the same horse beaten this season. However, Honeysuckle is a huge threat if she lines up here. She may not be as good as Paisley Park but the ridiculous outdated concession of seven pounds for mares at this level puts her right on the heels of the champ. If the Cap Fits gave two good mares the same allowance and a beating at Aintree and remains of interest in this also, but the subsequent form of one of those mares, Apple’s Jade, questions the rigidness of the form. Bacardys has always been a high class horse but has never liked jumping. If he gets his act together, he is a danger but the only realistic outcome bar a second win for the Emma Lavelle representative, is the de Bromhead mare collecting the prize.
Likely Winner – Paisley Park
Dark Horse – Honeysuckle
Cheltenham Gold Cup
Hopefully the issues preventing Kemboy from running will get resolved sooner rather than lather and I think he will be very hard to beat in this. However, there are no shortage of challengers including none other than last years winner Al Boum Photo. I think Kemboy would have beaten him had he not fallen at the first, based on subsequent form. The RSA Chase form is solid and Delta Work is forgiven for his recent bad run as he looked to race with a bit of condition. Jett is one that I think could be a big outsider with a say in this based on reasons above, and I also think Altior, Min and Douvan are of massive interest but more so throughout the winter with their adaptability to the discipline needing more careful observation.
Likely Winner – Kemboy
Dark Horse – Jett
Min the Merciless
The performance of Min in the Melling Chase was not only the best performance I recorded last season but the highest score I have found for any horse, excluding performances prior to the assembly of my formulaic technique. On recording efficiency of individual race time on specific ground and track conditions of the event and with consideration of the distance from pillar to post, allow me to compare the template figures of which I recorded akin to BHA and Turf Club identical figures give me the resulting handicap figure and Min ran to 183 that day. The problem from that resulting figure is that Altior has thrice made a mockery of Min and yet recorded inferior figures in doing so. It could be a freak score of course, but I’ve always held Min in the highest regard and also believed he hasn’t always fulfilled the potential he has show. Therefore, an argument could be made to benefit both horses and in particular, the 2019 King George VI Chase. Min is excelling in the step up in trip, and Altior is winning every race in poor times because he needs to be stepped up to be seen at his best. It makes Kempton on Boxing Day ever more mouth watering and that is before adding Cyrname, Douvan, Clan des Obeaux Et Al into the equation.