Dec 12, 624 days ago

2013 Cheltenham Festival – 10 Horses To Follow

Balder Succes

Still a little bit of an unknown quantity even after his recent third to Zarkandar in the Elite Hurdle. He’s not in the same class as Zarkandar, but if kept to the right races in soft conditions he’ll prove competitive. The key to this horse could well be soft ground. Genuinely soft should be perfect for him and the times we saw him last year with plenty give underfoot he was convincing on a number of occasions. Albeit, his three wins last season, one at Plumpton and two at Ascot, weren’t against quality opposition, but he disposed of them in a striking manner. He was fancied to go well in the Triumph Hurdle, sent off a 15-2 shot and then a 5-2f at Punchestown for another Grade One. Unfortunately he fell at Cheltenham and unseated in Ireland. His jumping could be better, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as he is still a four-year-old. Hopefully he’ll improve with experience (chasing could well be his long term goal where he might thrive). The four-year-old hurdle at Haydock on Betfair Chase day may be where he gets his head in front again. Quite simply, the ground is key to his chances wherever he goes.

Cinders And Ashes

This son of Beat Hollow is from a classy Juddmonte family earthed from the same blood as Brian Boru and Sea Moon. A non-existent flat career has seen him find his niche over hurdles in the care of one of Britain’s top trainers, Donald McCain. A promising bumper career was had in an undeveloped frame. The five-year-old ran fifth in the 2011 Champion Bumper, beaten 16 lengths. He looked the winner three out, but folded tamely up the stiff climb to the line. A fine 2011/12 season started with a massively eye-catching second at Ascot behind Nicky Henderson’s useful Broadbackbob. A bone crunching blunder five out saw all momentum lost (looked like pulling-up at one stage according to Simon Holt), but he showed great grit and plenty of class to finish second. Two facile wins were then seen in unsuitable ground – both coming at Haydock – the latter in a Grade Two Supreme Novice trial. It’s not surprising he was sent off a 10-1 shot in the Supreme considering his run at the track previously, but he made many, including me; eat their words with a comfortable win even after two late jumping mistakes. This horse clearly has an engine, he travels well and for the most part jumps nicely. His ability to handle all types of ground should stand him in good stead, but good terrain is preferable. I expect him to have a good year and it looks as if we’ll see him in the Fighting Fifth first.

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Cotton Mill

A quick scan down through the Neptune Novice Hurdle roll of honour and you will see names like Danoli, Istabraq and Hardy Eustace. Factor in horses to have come up short in the event, Finian’s Rainbow, Rite Of Passage, Rock On Ruby and you see the class of animal that can turn-up. Now, Cotton Mill didn’t manage to finish last season’s race, unseating Denis O’Regan two out in what was a moment of madness, while still appearing to have plenty left in the tank – this being something his jockey is sure about. Simonsig went on to win the race as he liked. Some are not convinced by Nicky Henderson’s grey, but I think he’s an outstanding equine. Ireland’s most successful point to point rider ever numerically, Derek O’Connor, said “he’s the best horse I’ve ridden”. A fair statement considering he’s ridden thousands of horses to victory over the years, yes thousands. Basically what I’m getting at here, without talking about Cotton Mill too much (sorry), is his ‘collateral’ form looks strong and given the history of the Neptune, along with the class he’s already shown he could be a big player over hurdles this season. His classy flat pedigree, unexposed look and top trainer/jockey combination means he’s one to keep an eye on in 2012/13.

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Get Me Out Here

This horse is one of my favourite in training. The eight-year-old son of Accordion has now run at the last three Cheltenham Festivals and finished second no less than three times. An unlucky runner-up to Menorah in the 2010 Supreme Novice Hurdle was followed by a cruel nose defeat in the 2011 County Hurdle while this year, just Son Of Flicka was too strong in the Coral Cup. The last year or so Jonjo O’Neill’s charge has been a model of consistency with his form figures from December of 2011 reading 22211. All of those runs came in ultra-competitive company and if he has progressed again this season, with his Cheltenham form, I think he’ll be Big Buck’s’ biggest rival. Now he may well be and still be stuffed out of sight by the mighty Buck’s, but the 20-1 about him for the Thursday Festival highlight is fair. He has yet to win or run over three miles, but his pedigree suggest it won’t be a problem and it may improve him further. J.P McManus’ gelding has already ran this year and he shocked me when he showed fine speed to readily beat last season’s Champion Hurdle seventh, Brampour at Kempton. His trainer rarely has his horses ready to roll first time up so this likeable, hardy bay may have progressed further over the summer. Beware however, that small fields won’t play to his strengths. A strong gallop is very much a pre-requisite for success for Get Me Out Of Here.

Grandouet

Injury curtailed his Champion Hurdle bid last season and if I’m being honest it’s the best thing that could’ve happened to him. The good news is his injury was not bad as horse setbacks go (swollen joint which later became infected). At least it wasn’t a tendon or suspensory ligament problem! His form in winning the International Hurdle last season, through Overturn, theoretically means he would have been bang there in last season’s Champion Hurdle. His injury stopped his participation and given that five-year-olds have a horrific recent record (Katchit (2008) an exception, but a soft ground Festival) in the race it was a blessing. NickyHenderson’s son of Al Namix (Grandouet is his leading jumps horse) has plenty of class and looks all speed. He’s an efficient hurdler and given his strong travelling ability and turn of foot he should be best served by flat tracks. Stamina sapping courses won’t be ideal, but another summer break curbs any doubts in this department. Given his age I’m sure he’s now bigger and stronger. This could well be a big year for Grandouet. He travels, he stays, he jumps, has a beautiful attitude and is in the care of a master trainer – he’s one horse I’m really looking forward to seeing back.

Monksland

Still only a five-year-old Noel Meade’s Monksland must be of interest for the upcoming national hunt season. The son of Beneficial, from the family of smart staying jumper Kissane, has staying prowess in his pedigree, but is no slow boat. Just beaten the once in his career, after five starts, I’m sure there is more to come this season. That one defeat came at the hands of Simonsig and Meade was massively disappointed immediately after the race. In hindsight it may not have been that bad a run (unlucky too) considering the exploits of Nicky Henderson’s grey and how high in regard he is held at Seven Barrows. This, further supplemented with a possible below par effort from Monksland may see him as an underrated animal this coming season. His performance in beating Lyreen Legend and The Dedigout is last season’s Slaney Novice Hurdle looks a fair effort now, better than fair. His trainer is sure he’ll be better on faster ground (unlikely to get too much of it in Ireland) but it’s a point worth noting. Still lightly raced with a touch of class and an under the radar profile means he’s a horse to keep an eye on this season.

Oscar Whisky

A horse that doesn’t need any introduction being the best two-and-a-half mile hurdler in Britain. I’m still of the belief he would’ve gone very close in last season’s Champion Hurdle – the pace and his running style proving ideal for what unfolded in Rock On Ruby’s win. His third to Hurricane Fly in the 2010 renewal was a superb effort considering the early dawdle they went for a Championship race. He of all horses was most inconvenienced by the surprisingly slow fractions set by Overturn of all horses.

Oscar Whiskey

In Grade Two level and above this horse is a match for any equine in the country over the minimum trip such is his class. Two-and-a-half miles and he’s the top dog. He jumps and stays well with a bit of toe to boot. He showed remarkable constitution to win at Aintree, for the second year running, after he basically bottomed himself out chasing the tail of Big Buck’s at Cheltenham. I’d love to see him back in a Champion Hurdle with a proper end to end gallop. You do need to stay at Cheltenham after all. I’m sure a third Aintree Hurdle is the main target, but in the meantime he can win plenty.

Pearl Swan

Of the juvenile hurdlers last season Pearl Swan may well turn out to be the best long term prospect. I honestly can’t believe he is a significantly bigger price for the Champion Hurdle than the likes of Countrywide Flame and Grumeti. Now, I don’t think any of the three have a prayer of winning a Champion Hurdle, any would do well to hit the frame, but that’s simply too big, in terms of comparison. People forget he ‘beat’ Grumeti at Cheltenham last season, pre-festival, giving him three pounds. After that the season was a right off. He went to the Triumph Hurdle a leading contender, but with plenty of Paul Nicholls’ horses underperforming he didn’t show his best. That said, it didn’t stop him from running one of the most eye-catching races of the entire four days. Never travelling well the son of Gentlewave still had plenty to do two out, but once hitting the hill he started to motor. He wouldn’t have beaten the winner, but second spot was still up for grabs. Throughout last season his trainer echoed sentiments like “I know I can improve him physically”. The year before Nicholls made similar comments about Brampour and after winning a handicap hurdle at Ascot on his first run he later competed in the Champion Hurdle. I think there are races to be won with this French bred and he may have a nice handicap in him before going on to contest better prizes. He won’t be out till the second half of the year, but he remains interesting especially in handicap company or in his own age group.

So Young

Maybe has become a bit of a forgotten horse now given his three low key, but facile wins, last season. Sent off at prohibitive prices of 2-5, 1-8 and 1-3 it looks like you won’t get rich backing him, but he’s one horse from left field that people should have considered for their 10 to follow entries. Given proper Irish winter ground he looks sure to win a host of races this year. The son of German sire Lavirco he goes well on soft or heavy, but he does have one piece of outstanding form on good ground – form which I think a lot of people have forgotten about. He was placed in the 2011 edition of the Neptune Hurdle behind First Lieutenant and non-other than Rock On Ruby, the subsequent 2012 Champion Hurdle winner. This particular day he was backed as if defeat was out of the question eventually going off 2-1 favourite. He, like Oscars Well held every chance jumping the last, but two bad blunders (the latter pecked badly on landing) from each put paid to their winning chances. With plenty of his form looking rock solid he looks like a horse that is worth following especially as he resides in the care of Willie Mullins. On heavy he could have the class to win races over the minimum trip, but given his staying power 20 furlongs should be ideal.

Unaccompanied

One horse, like a number of Dermot Weld’s, I wish the Curragh handler would nominate a discipline for is Unaccompanied. Supremely talented on the flat and over hurdles she’s a really likable mare with a distinct touch of class. She’ll make a fine broodmare one day, but before then there are plenty races to be won. She’ll hope to claim back to back Istabraq Hurdles this season after her Grade One conquest, last year, from Thousand Stars. That’s solid Graded form beating the Mullins grey and also, she had Oscars Well back in third. She’s always shown promise, however, her second in the 2010 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham a testament to that. Here she split Zarkandar and Grandouet and while I can’t be sure she’d turnover or maintain the run, respectively, she’d still warrant major respect wherever she’s targeted at in Ireland. She jumps well, has class and loves soft ground. The majority of Irish races should be run to suit her and with Paul Townend her regular partner that’s another positive to take. She doesn’t have the class of Hurricane Fly, but she’s certainly capable of being Ireland’s second best two mile hurdler.

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