National Hunt Horses to Follow 2020/21
The 2020/21 National Hunt season turns up a notch this weekend with Cheltenham’s Open meeting taking place. The Paddy Power Gold Cup, Greatwood Hurdle and a series of high class novice events pack into the best meeting at Prestbury Park aside from the Festival. Punchestown’s Morgiana Hurdle meeting takes place on the same weekend and in the coming weeks the top class jumping action does not relent with the Betfair Chase, Ladbrokes Trophy, Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Tingle Creek and John Durkan Chase leading us back to Cheltenham for the International Meeting. And then there’s the mid season highlight at Christmas—King George VI Chase—as well as non stop quality action at Leopardstown. As the weeks role by, the inevitable question that meets every winner will relate back to the National Hunt Festival in March. Can Al Boum Photo emulate Arkle and Best Mate and win a third Gold Cup? WIll Altior return to win back his Champion Chase crown; and likewise, Paisley Park in the Stayers Hurdle. And can anything give seven pounds and a beating to Epatante in the Champion Hurdle? Tiger Roll will be eleven when he tries to win a third Grand National in April and with a healthier preparation this season, he may well do a Red Rum and win three Grand Nationals in four years. Throughout this review, I refer to my own handicap calculations and at the end of this article, I explain in full how that system works and how it is based on a negative of the BHA and Turf Club’s systems—almost in an attempt to fault them at their own game and find where horses are underrated, a valuable tool particularly with novices and handicappers but effective throughout the board. Here are a selection of horse that I predict big things for this season, whether it be in handicaps, novice events or at the very top table of open Grade 1 races—particularly at Cheltenham.
Allaho (My rating – 167)
Last season’s RSA Chase third looked all over the winner at the back of the last fence but when the winner, Champ, flew home between Allaho and Minella Indo, the Willie Mullins trained gelding not only got collared by the Nicky Henderson trained winner but was also passed by Minella Indo. There is no doubt that the horse stays the trip but his high cruising speed and great stride show that he is well suited to shorter trips. He beat subsequent Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase winner, Milan Native, by 21 lengths over two and a half miles at Fairyhouse in January—and though the runner up was looking for a trip, the ease of the winners display against a horse comfortably rated in the 150’s is a sign of his ability at the middle distance. Allaho’s powerful long stride is his strength and is sure to be seen to deadly effect on the front end. It will be hard to see many horses keeping up with him over the two and a half mile trip and the Ryanair Chase would look his likely spring target. Allaho is certain to see out his races when dropped back in trip and I predict he will race in the high 160’s this season. The John Durkan Chase, Kinloch Brae Chase and Aintree’s Melling Chase would be ideal targets in a campaign at two and a half miles.
Beacon Edge – 166
Noel Meade’s string have been in fine health in the early season and Beacon Edge’s defeat of Dawn Run Mares Novice Hurdle favorite, Minella Melody is one of the eye catching performances. He gave the mare four pounds on top of a four and three parts length beating at Galway in October. His novice campaign was well plotted by Meade, with Cheltenham not on the agenda as he carefully brought the Doyen gelding along. He looks to be a fuller horse this season and though he is not short for speed, his appreciation for a greater trip has been noted. The Presenting mare is out of a Pharadante mare herself and that influence should translate to Beacon Edge who is also well bred on his sire’s side, through the unraced mare Moon Cactus—out of a Mill Reef mare. I’m sure Meade will give him a more demanding campaign as a second season novice. The Hatton’s Grace Hurdle surely beckons and I am confident he will make his presence felt but I am intrigued to see what he can deliver over three miles at Christmas also. He’s pacy enough for two miles also and as such a versatile horse, he will is well worth following this season and I am of the belief that he will be running in the mid to high 160’s.
Botox Has – 162 Gary Moore had a very strong hand in the juvenile hurdle ranks last season and while Goshen stripped best on the track, Botox Has was right toward the top of the list in the division. He didn’t make the Cheltenham Festival but he had shown his liking for the track when beating Langer Dan by five lengths. Consider that rivals finishing position in the Fred Winter at the festival—5 length sixth to Aramax—then off the ratings, Botox Has would have gone very close to winning the event off of 138. His only reversal as it stands, last season, was against Allmankind at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting in November—beaten two and a half lengths—but he reversed that form already this season at the Showcase meeting, by four pounds when beating him seven and a half lengths in receipt of four pounds. It all points to the Dream Well gelding being a low 160 horse and in a wide open Champion Hurdle—which it looks from the outset—Botox Has would have to be well deserving of his chance in the field. In the meantime, races like the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and in particular, International Hurdle back at Cheltenham, should play to his strengths and test his ability at a higher level. I think he is a two miler and Moore could have a strong hand in the Champion in March.
Chacun Pour Soi – 171
Altior is rising eleven now and won’t be getting any quicker. Regardless, Chacun Pour Soi is without doubt his biggest threat in the two mile chase division. He would have surely won the Queen Mother Champion Chase had a last minute injury not ruled him out and will be looking to take care of unfinished business next March. On his Beginners chase victory, he beat Portmore Lough by 31 lengths—a horse who would win the next twice before finishing third in one of Ireland’s biggest handicap chases, the Troytown Chase at Navan. Chacun Pour Soi went from that Beginners win to beat Defi du Seuil and Duc des Genievres in a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival—the Marsh Novices Chase and Arkle Trophy winners, respectively, at the previous month’s Cheltenham Festival. He was not at his best when finishing second to A Plus Tard on his seasonal bow last Christmas and that is further advertised by his beating of Min in the Dublin Chase next time out, his most recent run. Min was well held that day but came out to win the Ryanair Chase on his next start (A Plus Tard was two lengths back in third). Politologue took advantage of a decimated Queen Mother field last March but his performance rating for that win is 164 (169 OR) and Willie Mullins’ gelding is a quick 171 by the same calculations. Fast horses don’t get slow too easily, so it would be foolish to rule out Altior and Politologue through age but Chacun Pour Soi should be peaking at his prime as a nine year old to the older rivals and the quicksilver jumper should make him more feared by his opponents connections than his will fear them. He is the most likely winner of the two mile chasing crown and the races in Ireland will pick themselves in the campaign of which I hardly think he will get beaten.
Cyrname – 180
The best horse in training has proven that he stays three miles and can race left handed when easily winning the Charlie Hall Chase. He had become a bit of an Ascot specialist in racking up the highest figures around but he has banished that tag with victory at Wetherby. In his Ascot victories, he beat a 140 rated horse by 21 lengths while giving him ten pounds (a worthy 171 performance); won the Grade 1 Ascot Chase by 17 lengths to Waiting Patiently, who was rated 170 (arguably a 180ish performance); and became the only chaser to beat Altior in 16 runs when winning the Amlin 1965 Chase at an average speed equal to Altior’s best Champion Chase winning speed. That tells me that if he can run to the same average race speed as Altior, over two miles and five furlongs than he would go close if not beating him over two miles at a 100% race speed efficiency. If Cyrname’s trainer Paul Nicholls was to arguably campaign him as he did the sensational Kauto Star in 2006/07, I believe that he would have similar results. Cyrname has the speed for a two mile Tingle Creek Chase and he has the accompanying stamina for the King George VI Chase (a wrong he needs to right from last season though the race against Altior clearly left a mark on him). The question therefore needs to be asked, can Cyrname win the Cheltenham Gold Cup? It’s true that the extra quarter of a mile is an unknown but on all known evidence of Cyrname, I would sooner be on his side on Gold Cup day—after all, he was only hacking at the finish of the Charlie Hall with proven stayer, Vindication behind in second. While I would never compare a horse to the brilliant Kauto Star, I do see similarities between Cyrname and the great record breaker. With a strong pace and the ability to canter for three miles at such a speed. I do believe at this stage of the season that a fully fit and healthy Cyrname is the most likely winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Elixir D’ainay – 165
Had Elixir D’ainay not switched to the outside of the right jumping Asterion Forlonge in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, he wouldn’t have been brought down as he cantered for home looking to be going best of all. He was tried over further last season but his strong racing style suited him better at the minimum trip. He is a big chasing type and with a summer of grass in him he should fill out into a fuller framed horse suited to the chasing division. I imagine the Arkle Chase route is the path he will go down and the JP McManus owned six year old should flourish in the division. Being by Muhtathir, he is likely to be a difficult horse to ride and that is further reason to keep him at the shorter trip so as to allow him racing freely. Muhtathir’s have there own ideas and can be very quirky. Elixir D’ainay has the scope to be a chaser and should have no issues with jumping fences and can be at the high end of the novice ranks this season.
Envoi Allen – 169
Envoi Allen is likely to be on everyone’s horses to follow list and is clearly not an original selection. His jumping debut couldn’t have been any more impressive. His style of jumping reminds me of Douvan and Master Minded. He keeps his back straight and raises his knees to meet a fence and looks to be barely coming up. Usually, I like to see a novice make a mistake to see how he reacts but in Envoi Allen, there was nothing to fault and he is clearly a smart horse who is destined for the very top. He will inevitably be tried over three miles but for the time being his immediate future looks set to be at the middle distance and all roads lead back to the Cheltenham Festival and the Marsh Novices Chase. It took him a while to get on top of his rivals in last seasons Ballymore Novices Hurdle but in the end he won very easy and the whole performance—on soft ground—looked to be one of a horse wanting a trip. The other side of the argument is that on the testing conditions, Envoi Allen wasn’t able to utilize his turn of foot but either case is plausible. He is unbeaten in his career to date—ten wins form ten rules starts plus he succeed in his only point to point start. Next up will surely be the Drinmore Chase and if he jumps as well as he did at Down Royal, he won’t be beaten in that contest.
Flic ou Voyou – 163
Kapgarde has been a good sire of Paul Nicholls runners—most notably dual King George winner, Clan des Obeaux—and in second season novice hurdler, Flic ou Voyou, he may have got his hands on another of the French stallion’s quality progeny. Cadoudal sired one of Nicholls’ best horses in Big Buck’s and it’s easy to see why he wanted to tap into that stallion line again with Kapgarde being out of a Cadoudal mare. Flic ou Voyou was down the field in Envoi Allen’s Champion Bumper at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, and he was winless in his novice hurdle campaign last season and so retaining his status in that division. Despite not winning, he ran some creditable races behind the likes as high class novice hurdlers Edwardstone and Fiddlerontheroof. The penny has seemed to have finally dropped, however, and so far this season he has already racked up a hat trick of hurdle victories in the space of 29 days by a total of 32 lengths. The latest of which was an impressive performance at Wincanton when he won in such a time that would see him at home in the 160 handicap bracket—163 by my calculations. It’s far too early to understand how strong the novice hurdle division will be this season but to put his recent performances into context, he would be in a territory superior to last season’s Supreme Novices Hurdler, Shiskin—though I don’t doubt that that horse has plenty more to come. If Flic ou Voyou’s upward trajectory is plateaued or doesn’t come to fruition, it is reasonable to believe that he could end up in a valuable handicap where I am certain he will be very well treated.
Frodon – 173
is one of my favorite horses in training and he showed that he retained his love for Cheltenham when recently winning a 3 miles and a furlong handicap around his beloved Prestbury Park off of a top weight mark of 164. I fancied him that day because despite not being his best last season, this horse is clearly well above that mark. I have always claimed him to be a 169 performer but he has twice raced above even that lofty mark in my opinion. His Ryanair Chase victory in 2019 being one of those performances but with bigger sights set this year, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he could add to his imperious Cheltenham record with victory in the blue ribband, Cheltenham Gold Cup. He will have better opponents to meet that day if he shows up and he will have to be at his very best to beat the likes of the twice winner Al Boum Photo. The King George could be on the cards in the meantime and as a proven speedy three miler with course winning form, he would be well entitled to take his chance with high confidence.
Gallant John Joe – 160
Presenting gelding, Gallant John Joe remains a novice after a winless debut season over fences. However, he was campaigned at a distance well short of what he has been bred for. The mare, Shuil a Hocht, bred four national hunt horses—all geldings—and only Gallant John Joe returned his highest rating below three miles. His half brother, Space Cadet got a career high figure of 136 over three miles and four and a half furlongs. Farrants Way’s only success from four runs came at three miles and one and a half furlongs, while Jot’em Down peaked at three miles. Meanwhile, Gallant John Joe’s 149–Shuil a Hocht’s highest rated progeny—came at two miles and a furlong. The Oliver McKiernan trained seven year old was two and a quarter lengths behind Melon in a Beginners chase and eight and a half lengths ahead of subsequent Grand Annual Chase winner, Chosen Mate. In fact, he almost won the race. Melon made a significant mistake at the last, seemingly handing the race to Gallant John Joe but he showed great resolve to get back up to win. Melon went on to only just be touched off in the Marsh Chase by Samcro. Gallant John Joe would then finish third in the Irish Arkle, eight lengths behind Notebook who was sent off favorite for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham. He didn’t jump with his usual zest for some reason in the Naas Directors Plate Novices Chase when beaten by Royal Rendezvous and he has to be excused that run on all previous form. There’s no doubt that this horse has plenty of gears but his pedigree suggests that he will excel over a trip. The furthest that he has thus far races was over two miles and six furlongs in the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Novice Hurdle at the 2019 Dublin Racing Festival and that was his best performance over hurdles. He also won his maiden hurdle over the trip at Punchestown.
Galvin – 160
Galvin has been superbly trained by Gordon Elliott, carefully plotting low key races to bring up a sensational record which saw him win three of his five hurdle races and four of his eight chases. He has only been out of the money three times in fifteen career starts. He was second in the Northern Trust Novices Handicap Chase at last years festival off of a mark of 142 which at the time seemed fair. Since then, however, Galvin’s performances have taken a new level. He won by 22 lengths against a 121 rated mare in Killarney and in giving the beaten mare a pound, that would translate as 144. He returned to Killarney to beat Waitnsee by a length and a half conceding seven pounds and then gave the same rival ten pounds and a three and a half length beating in a Grade 2 event at Tipperary. That set him up for a return to Cheltenham and a step up in trip. The time of the good ground win was worthy of Galvin’s career best performance. I made it 160 and considering the run of the third Clondaw Caitlin who is rated 135, to be of sound efficiency, then it is further credit to Galvin’s high level of performance as he gave the Ruth Jefferson mare fifteen pounds and a seventeen length beating. Considering that Galvin is still only six, the best has yet to come and he seems to have excelled for the step up in trip. There’s little doubt that Elliott will continue to campaign him brilliantly and has slowly been bringing him to a high level of which he is not only arriving at but is not far from establishing himself as one of the top novices around. The Northern Trust race no longer exists but the RSA Chase would come under respectable consideration and if he shows up in something like the Kim Muir, he would inevitably be ridiculously well handicapped. The National Hunt Chase is also there and he wouldn’t be the first horse to run to high levels over two and a half miles that would state the marathon contest.
Honeysuckle – 170
Honeysuckle was my top horse to follow last year. I was surprised connections weren’t tempted to run her in the Champion Hurdle and I have no doubt that she would have left Epatante behind her. The Mares Hurdle seemed a tougher race with Benie des Dieux in attendance but misfortune in running for Benie helped Honeysuckle in winning. A career over fences has been put on hold and for now all roads seem to lead back to the Mares Hurdle. Honeysuckle and Benie des Dieux are very similar mares in quality and in my opinion they are the two best race mares that I have ever seen in terms of ability. Therefore, I would think that trainer Henry de Bromhead and owner Kenneth Alexander may have a different view on what race to go to in March and perhaps the Champion Hurdle will be her target of which I think she will take all of the beating with the sex concession. The Hatton’s Grace looks like her ideal starting point for the season and she will surely go back to Leopardstown for the Irish Champion Hurdle of which she won last term.
January Jets – 163
Envoi Allen’s debut chase success was such a superb display that the runner up January Jets came out of it with great credit, finishing six lengths behind and seventeen lengths ahead of the third. He was ahead of Albert Bartlett sixth, Sempo, in a maiden hurdle and five lengths second to Conflated. His pedigree suggests he would appreciate better ground being by Presenting and out of a Sadler’s Hall mare. A point to point winner at Ballysteen by ten lengths, January Jets looks like he will improve for a trip also. He made a mistake at the first at Down Royal but reacted well to jump with a good round. Considering Envoi Allen is rated so highly and potential a high 160’s horse at least, then January Jets would be rated in the low 160’s, I predict he can at least run to 163 over fences. He is another one that may show up in a handicap with a very attractive mark come the spring if he runs in to a few better horses in Novice Chases.
Jason the Militant – 159
Henry de Bromhead’s Sans Frontieres gelding has run some big races in defeat as well as winning a high class Novice Hurdle at Naas, beating Beacon Lodge, Andy Dufresne and Mt Leinster. He was third to Envoi Allen in a bumper, second to Willie Mullins highly regarded Unexcepted, and third to Aspire Tower and Abacadabras in the WKD Hurdle on his reappearance over hurdles giving weight away. He was spared the rough and tumble of Cheltenham which may play to his strengths as he fills out. The only time that Jason the Militant has been out of the money was in the Deloitte Novices Hurdle when a well beaten fifth. He still has more improvement in him and would therefore have to be considered a Champion Hurdle candidate. He is entered in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle of which he would have to be fancied.
Lord Royal – 168
I hold this horse in very high regard following his sensational win over Farmix by thirty three lengths in a two and a half mile maiden hurdle. Farmix would follow up by winning a maiden by twenty lengths back at Clonmel. Lord Royal is by Lord du Sud who sired the 151 rated Actival and Stolen Silver. The mare, Tinoroyale, is by Karinga Bay and has foaled four runners on the track of which Lord Royale is the most talented. Lord Royal was beaten next time out over three miles on heavy ground by one and three parts of a length. There is little to doubt that he stayed the trip and trainer Willie Mullins has already labeled him his RSA Chase horse for the season. While the mare may have foaled down speedier horses, the influence on the sire line helps to influence his stamina. Even if Farmix is rated 124 for his maiden hurdle win, then Lord Royal would be in the high 150’s but in truth, his strong time in the conditions suggests that he is worth even more than that. If he takes to fences, I believe that he can be the best horse over the staying novice division this season. He is a fascinating horse for the season ahead.
Quel Destin – 164
Consistently, my handicap method has found Quel Destin on 164. He’s about to go jumping fences and if his versatility extends to the bigger obstacles, then a figure like that could well make him a major Arkle contender. The Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day was one of the best hurdle races of last season with Summerville Boy beating Roksana, William Henry and Quel Destin. The winner continues to run to the high 160’s with the mare who came second, recently winning the West Yorkshire Hurdle by eight lengths off of 151 and William Henry, thrice, running to a 164 time—in the National Spirit Hurdle, the Relkeel and in winning a Coral Cup. Quel Destin won the Contenders Hurdle when beating Call Me Lord and again was behind William Henry in the National Spirit by a length and a half. His form is solid and being by Muhtathir, he is likely a highly strung individual who should excel at the minimum trip. He has won half of his hurdle races and abs been runner up twice, an admirable return.
Real Steel – 165
It looked as if Real Steel was going best of all in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the swing for home but he failed to see it out in trip, nevertheless it was a brilliant run. He had bolted in in the Horse and Jockey Hotel Chase in January, beating a pair of 160+ horses in Footpad and Voix du Reve by 14 and 22 1/2 lengths respectively. His close fourth to Min in the John Durkan also reads extremely well. Despite his fine Gold Cup performance, Real Steel has never won going left handed. That considered, I think he is a very realistic King George contender. It will no doubt be a high quality King George this year with Cyrname, Clan des Obeaux and Frodon in attendance but Real Steel would be well suited to conditions and would have to be a realistic candidate to win it. He looks at his best going right handed and at two and a half to three miles on better ground to complement his lengthening stride. He is already proven a high class chaser and could be set for a crack at the Ascot Chase in February also. He is now in the hands of Paul Nicholls who has tipped him as his horse to follow for the season.
Saint Sonnet – 150
Paul Nicholls has only had Saint Sonnet for two runs—a ready victory over Crixus’s Escape who subsequently rated 144; and a seventh placed finish at the Cheltenham Festival in the Marsh Novices Chase behind Samcro. That run at Cheltenham reads better than the mere seventh placed finish of twelve runners because he was beaten twelve lengths by a horse who was running to 163 which makes Saint Sonnet at least 150. That gives him serious options in handicap company, to start off with, as he is officially rated 147 and there has to be loads to come from him so early in his career. He seemed to be overwhelmed in the Marsh and it all happened a bit quickly for him, so it was a decent run to finish where he did behind some seriously talented rivals. He is very much French bred—by Saint des Saints, a son of Cadoudal and out of a Pharly mare. The mare is by Irish Wells who is similarly bred to Hurricane Fly, in being by a son of Sadler’s Wells and out of a Kenmare mare. The Marsonnien grand-dam on the mares side is Vie de Reine. That makes Saint Sonnet’s unraced dam a half sister to Terrefort and Vino Griego. Both horses excelled at three miles with Terrefort achieving a career high figure of 159 following victory in AIntree’s Grade 1 Mildmay Novices Chase. Being a Saint des Saints gelding, Saint Sonnet is furthermore bred for a trip with the stallion’s best sons all strong stayers at the highest level—Djakadam (twice Gold Cup runner up, Thyestes Chase winner), Quito de la Roque (two time Grade 1 winner at three miles), Quel Esprit (Irish Gold Cup winner), Aux Ptits Soins (Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals handicap winner at 2 miles 5furlongs and 3 miles 1 furlong), Lyreen Legend (beaten under two lengths in an RSA Chase), Burrows Saint (Irish Grand National Winner). He doesn’t hold a Ladbrokes Trophy entry but is in the Paddy Power Gold Cup and 2 miles and 5 furlongs on Cheltenham’s New Course needs plenty of getting and is mostly won by three mile chasers. He is surely well handicapped off of 147 and in time I expect him to improve even further in the staying chase division.
Saldier – 166
The injury prone Saldier is now fit and ready to defend his Morgiana Hurdle crown. He hasn’t been seen since beating Petit Mouchoir in the contest last year. He was on the bridle and ahead of Espoir D’Allen when falling at the last in the Fishery Lane Hurdle in 2018. Considering the devastation that that rival caused his Champion Hurdle rivals later that season, it would have to at least be considered that Saldier is a serious Champion Hurdle candidate. That fall at Naas kept him out for a year until winning the Morgiana and another injury sustained in that race kept him out until now. So in two years he has had two runs—one when looking like beating a brilliant Champion Hurdler and another when winning a Grade 1 with last season’s Champion Hurdle runner up nine lengths in arrears. If Willie Mullins can keep Saldier sound this term, he would have to have a massive chance in the feature event on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival. He will only be a six year old then and the hurdling world could be his oyster.
Salsaretta – 160
With the well overdue introduction of a Mares Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, following the Willie Mullins mare Salsaretta could prove fruitful. The seven year old will undoubtedly be kept to fences—unlike previous Mullins mares Benie des Dieux and Vroum Vroum Mag—and the Irish programme for mares has strength in depth. She was seventh in the 2019 Albert Bartlett Novie Hurdle and not far behind the 2020 Stayers Hurdle champion, Lisnagar Oscar. The mare stays well but jumping has been her forte and she is unbeaten over the bigger obstacles, though she has been well placed. She is currently rated 148 officially, meaning that the only mares rated higher than her are a Grand National runner up (Magic of Light), an Arkle winner (Put the Kettle on), a Munster and Kerry Nationals winner (Cabaret Queen) and a Marsh Novices Chase winner (Shattered Love), with the latter pair only a pound and two pounds ahead, respectively. Of course, it is likely that these mares will show up on the day in March but it’s unlikely that they will contest mares only races in the interim, with the ridiculously advantageous seven pound mares allowance a dangling carrot to take on geldings in graded open races. Personally, I think Salsaretta has been more impressive in speed efficient performances than those mares and is only behind them on ratings because of the lowly contests she has mostly been winning. Put the Kettle On is the best of these rivals and the Arkle winner can potentially run to borderline 160, if going down the Champion Chase route of which an Arkle winner is entitled and expected to do. The parting of the waves may allow Salsaretta to continue to rack up the winning sequence over fences and her stylish jumping will surely play to her strengths in the Mares Chase in March.
Sir Psycho – 153
Sir Psycho was beaten at Chepstow, recently, off of 146, but I blame the trip of two and a half miles rather than the figure because the Paul Nicholls gelding is more than likely a 153 rated runner at two miles based on his four year old hurdling career. Aspire Tower recently won the WKD Hurdle and achieved a figure of 157 on the clock. Sir Psycho was two lengths behind him when that rival was second in the Triumph Hurdle which rates him 155. That might be generous as Aspire Tower ran closer to 155 that day but nevertheless, Sir Psycho should be rated in the low 150’s. I’m far from convinced that he is a Champion Hurdle horse, yet, but he is a well handicapped horse and off of that figure he should make his presence felt in races such as the Greatwood Hurdle, Ladbroke Hurdle and Betfair Hurdle as the season progress, and perhaps the County Hurdle at the Festival is the longer term target. The 140 rated, The Pink’n, was in receipt of three pounds from Sir Psycho when twelve lengths behind him at Haydock in February which would bring Sir Psycho back to the 155 of the back handicap of the Triumph Hurdle. That would make him eight to ten pounds well handicapped as he is now rated 145 with a Greatwood entry on the horizon.
Sire du Berlais – 161
When Sire de Berlais won his second Pertemps Final at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, he ran to a quicker time of a pound to Lisnagar Oscar when winning the Stayers Hurdle later on the same card. He recently won the Lismullen Hurdle over a trip of two and a half miles, far below his optimum. He was rated 158 but is most likely a 161 and anything above 160 would have a serious chance in an open staying hurdle division—not withstanding a return to his best from the supreme Paisley Park. If Sire du Berlais goes back to the Pertemps off of his current rating, he will surely take all the beating again but it does appear that connections have bigger ambitions with him this year. Apart from potentially giving away seven pounds to high class mares, Sire du Berlais looks the type to dominate the Irish staying division this year.
Tiger Roll – 165
While an historic attempt to win a third Grand National will no doubtably be Tiger Roll’s main target this season, there remains plenty of business to attend to in the Cross Country Chase division. I have met agitation to the levels of Denman beating Kauto Star since Easysland beat the Tiger by seventeen lengths at the festival. The popular opinion is that the son of Authorized is having his age catch up with him and that the French horse is where it’s at now in the division. The realistic angle is that Tiger Roll had missed most of the season through injury and was never going to be anywhere near his best at Cheltenham as the horse takes plenty of racing and had only one start prior to the festival. Easysland is clearly a good horse but prior to that win, his career best performance was a course and distance handicap win by seven lengths off of a rating of 139. The performance at the festival is further inconclusive when comparing the race times—Tiger Roll performed 169 pounds below his previous years win in the contest (Easysland winning time was 9:9,60 to Tiger’s 2019 winning time of 8:27,28 on identical ground). On official ratings, that would mean Tiger Roll is the lowest horse with a rating in training by some way and set to apparently run nine stone and twelve pounds out of the handicap in the worst handicap in the calendar. It may come too soon to show his best hand at the Open Meeting at Cheltenham but off of level weights with a clear run to the festival, Tiger Roll will reverse form on Easysland and then we may dream of what Aintree may bring.
The goal of handicapping is to determine the ability evident of a horse and allocate a rating in pounds as a result, so that in handicap races, horses would have an equal chance based on weight per ability. Ability is assessed in how efficient a time is over a certain trip. My approach to handicapping was set up between 2014 – 2016 and put to practice at the Cheltenham Festival 2017, with remarkable success. This formulae I had built not only found winners Labaik, Tiger Roll, Cause of Causes, Yorkhill, Un de Sceaux, Nichols Canyon, Let’s Dance and Defi du Seuil, but the difference in handicapping result between Labaik and Melon was identical to the decimal of the winning distance of 2 1/4 lengths and was further franked in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle the following month by Labaik. It also allowed me to compare my figures with the BHA handicapper and find where I felt he had undervalued horses and sensationally it gave me handicap winners Supasundae, Presenting Percy and Arctic Fire.
The system of handicapping is determined by the overall race time compared to finishing time and the difference in average race speed time against speed finishing time in a percentage known as speed race efficiency. In my time perfecting the system, I relied on when my time figure was identical the the BHA and Turf Club’s assessment at 100% efficiency. This was recorded over several races from flat track/good ground at two miles, all the way through to three miles plus on heavy ground. So, for example – a 100% efficient 32 miles per hour in a two mile hurdle race on good ground is considered to be a figure of 164 when rounded to 11 stone and 10 pounds, and a heavy ground three mile race at 100% 27 miles per hour is 169.
The 2020 National Spirit Hurdle seemed an unlikely race to bring my technique into the spotlight but the result designed a roadmap from last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle up to the Fontwell event and bringing in last year’s Coral Cup, International Hurdle, this year’s Relkeel Hurdle, The New One Hurdle, Cleeve Hurdle and Contenders Hurdle.
What has been intriguing to me with regards that form is the performance of William Henry in basic pound per length handicapping. When winning the Rendlesham, I handicapped Emitom at a mark of 152 for beating the 143 rated, Donna’s Diamond by 8 lengths. Suppose that Emitom ran to his rating in the preceding Relkeel Hurdle. That would make the winner, Summerville Boy a 169 horse and I have him handicapped to 168 for his run in the Cleeve Hurdle behind Paisley Park. If this is to be reasonably considered as solid form, then William Henry would be 168 horse for getting beaten three and a half lengths with four pounds more on his back. It would make Roksana a 164 mare also. I have her rated 163 from Aintree last year when narrowly getting beaten by If the Cap Fits and with Apple’s Jade (officially rated 163) virtually upsides, a neck in third. So far it makes sense through those form lines, but William Henry needs to vindicate his high mark. Employing my handicapping technique to last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, gives winner Klassical Dream a figure of 166 and runner up Thomas Darby, 161 (see example 1 below). Thomas Darby met William Henry in the National Spirit Hurdle recently and the distance was four lengths in the favor or winner WIlliam Henry making him 165. Last season, my Coral Cup selection was Wicklow Brave as the same strategy found him as a horse nine pounds well in – even off of top weight of 153 – based on his best form. Ballyandy was third and he recently beat Champion Hurdle fancy, Pentland Hills, running to a rating score of 156 – his best is 157, so it is more than reasonable handicapping. That would make Ballyandy nine pounds well in also and all that separated them on the day was a half a length. Again, it makes sense so what about William Henry? Well, if Wicklow Brave is nine pounds well in, then he runs eighteen pounds better which puts his performance at 171 and in giving William Henry two pounds, the winner gets a mark of 169. National Spirit runner up, Quel Destin, would have to be a 164 horse in order for the form with Thomas Darby to work. In his Contenders Hurdle win, he beat Call Me Lord by three lengths with the same number of pounds in recession. Call Me Lord would therefore let the form down, through his neck win over Ballyandy in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham but third place Eldorado Allen, who is rated 152, is a total of nine lengths behind and in receipt of three pounds which makes Quel Destin 164.
In only beating Ballyandy a neck, he wouldn’t shape as a Champion Hurdle candidate but considering that that rival beat the more fancied Pentland Hills next time, it is arguable that Call Me Lord at least represents better value than his stablemate at 20/1. I also believe that Call Me Lord performed to a higher level of form when beaten in the Contenders Hurdle. Sometimes horses show more honesty to their ability in defeat rather than when winning, see Altior for reference. If, If the Cap Fits beats 163 rated Apple’s Jade by a length giving her seven pounds, then he should be rated 171, which means that when he gives Call Me Lord six pounds and a half length beating in the Coral Hurdle, then Call Me Lord should be rated 164. Consider that Call Me Lord is six pounds heavier and six lengths ahead of the 152 rated Eldorado Allen in the Contenders Hurdle and that equally puts him at a rating of 164. This all reads well for Quel Destin, whose likely high weight should be greatly ignored as he doesn’t have enough weight. The National Spirit Hurdle brought one further fascinating conclusion to these theories. I rated Chesterfield, consistently on 140 – based on his County Hurdle and Scottish Champion Hurdle runs in 2018, when last seen over hurdles – which is three pounds from what he ran off of in the race. That meant he ran to a maximum of 137 and he was 20 lengths and four pounds inferior to Thomas Darby – 137 + 20 + 4 = 161 Thomas Darby.
Example: Supreme Novices Hurdle
Winning time – 3 minutes 59,56 seconds (239,56 seconds)
Race distance – 2 miles 87 yards (16,3954 furlongs)
239,56/16,3954 = 14,61 seconds per furlong . 8 furlongs in a mile =116,9
3600 (seconds in an hour) / 116,9 =30,79 miles per hour
30 miles per hour on soft ground at Cheltenham is a rating of 164.
100/30 (. 30,79) = 102,63 %
102,63% of 164 = 168,31 at 11 stone 7 pounds (161 pounds)
168,31/164. (Pounds in 11 stone 10 pounds) . 161 = 165,23 pounds
Klassical Dream – 166