The National Hunt season got underway in earnest at Chepstow earlier this month, and with Cheltenham opening its doors for the first time the weekend, it looks as good a time as any to look ahead to the new campaign.

Last season was dominated by the Irish, and plenty has been written about what can and should be done to address the balance. But, as always, a new season brings with it new hope, and hopefully the runners below can give us plenty of fun this season – and perhaps land a pretty prize or two!

First of all, below is a list of key dates to mark in the diary.

 

Key Dates

12-14 November – Cheltenham – November Meeting

20 November – Haydock – Betfair Chase

4 December – Sandown – Tingle Creek Chase

10-11 December – Cheltenham – International Meeting

26 December – Kempton – King George VI Chase

26-29 December – Leopardstown – Christmas Festival

27 December – Chepstow – Welsh Grand National

1 January – Cheltenham – New Year Meeting

22 January – Ascot – Clarence House Chase

29 January – Cheltenham – Trials Meeting

12 February – Newbury – Super Saturday

19 February – Ascot – Ascot Chase

15-18 March – Cheltenham – Cheltenham Festival

1-2 April – Ayr – Scottish Grand National

7-9 April – Aintree – Grand National Meeting

26-30 April – Punchestown Festival

 

10 Horses To Follow

ASK ME EARLY – Harry Fry

Ask Me Early won a point-to-point on his second start a couple years ago and had just the two starts over hurdles before embarking on a chase campaign. His heavy ground chasing debut produced an impressive five-length victory, which he followed up on Welsh National day at the track off a 6lbs higher mark.

A month later, Ask Me Early never went a yard at Sandown and was pulled up early. This was his first start on a right-handed track and six weeks later, back on a left-handed track, he carried 11-11 to victory at Uttoxeter on Midlands National day. That victory saw the handicapper raise him to a mark of 140, and races like the Ladbrokes Trophy or the Welsh Grand National come firmly into the reckoning for this seven-year-old.

 

BEAR GHYLLS – Nicky Martin

Bear Ghylls burst onto the scene by wining a Warwick bumper by NINETEEN Lengths in the spring of 2020 and went into last year’s Cheltenham Festival unbeaten in three hurdles contests – all on soft or heavy ground.

He acquitted himself well in the Ballymore at the Festival, finishing fourth behind three very promising horses, and is one of the leading novice chase prospects from this side of the Irish sea.

There’s plenty of opportunity for mid-winter deep ground contests that I expect him to take high rank in. There will also be an emotional following when he makes his return as regular pilot, Matt Griffiths, was injured in a fatal car crash and at the time of writing remains in a critical condition.

The prospects of horses such as Bear Ghylls will hopefully be a big positive in Griffith’s rehabilitation, and we wish him well in his recovery.

 

BOOTHILL – Harry Fry

Boothill became an antepost wager of mine for the Supreme Novices Hurdle after he cantered to success at Taunton in December. Sadly, a setback ruled him out for the rest of the campaign, but it gives his trainer Harry Fry an abundance of options.

He could be very well treated off a mark of 137 considering the form of the horses he beat on hurdles debut at Kempton. A two-mile handicap hurdle could ideal for his return to action. As a dual runner-up in point-to-points, a chasing campaign could also be on the agenda, and a step-up in trip.

He was very keen in his races so perhaps a spin over the smaller obstacles to take any freshness away might be the way to go. He could take high rank in the chosen discipline.

 

COPPERLESS – Olly Murphy

Copperless got the compensation he deserved when running away with the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock in May. He travelled supremely well in that contest and sprinted clear off the back of the last to beat Cormier (now rated 80 on the flat after a couple of victories) and G2 Persian War winner Camprond.

The fact he blew them away and earned a 15lbs rise to a mark of 141 on just his sixth start under rules marks him as a very progressive horse. Who knows how far he would have won by at Aintree in April if not falling two out when travelling like the wrath of God.

That race saw Rowland Ward and Camprond fight out the finish and a return in perhaps the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton in G2 company could give connections an idea on where they stand. The Greatwood at Cheltenham would be another viable starting point, and it’s not beyond the realms he develops into a Champion Hurdle candidate this season.

 

GOOD RISK AT ALL – Sam Thomas

One of two horses on this list from the yard of Gold Cup-winning Jockey Sam Tomas, Good Risk At All looks to have a big future.

A close second on debut was bettered at Cheltenham’s November meeting, but it was his return from a three-month break at Newbury in February that really made me take note. He travelled keenly there in Listed company and under a penalty for his previous victory but took it up early in the straight and went clear before hanging a little late on, still showing signs of greenness. He was giving almost a stone in weight to the runner-up who was a dual winner who went on to finish ninth in the Champion Bumper and is already a winner over hurdles.

I expect him to make his hurdles debut this autumn and is one I will have a keen eye on.

 

JAY BEE WHY – Alan King

Jay Bee Why looked an exciting Jumps prospect when bolting up from an odds-on favourite on hurdles debut at Warwick.

He was thrown into G2 company after that, and ran well to finish just three lengths behind in a bunch finish on just his second start over timber. Another easy win under a penalty, again at Warwick, set him up for a tilt at a Grade 1 novice at Aintree, but he couldn’t live with the exciting My Drogo and came home a well-beaten fifth.

He still retains plenty of promise, and being a winning pointer who has reportedly summered really well he could take high rank among the novice chasers this season. He could be one for the likes of the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival.

 

SAM BARTON – Emma Lavelle

The sad passing of Trevor Hemmings will be a huge loss to National Hunt racing, but we hope his famous green, yellow and white silks live on – and they could see some success courtesy of Sam Barton, a typical Trevor Hemmings horse.

He caught the eye when dispatching a promising field at Doncaster in January and followed that up with a fair fourth in the EBF final at Sandown on the eve of Cheltenham under a big weight.

He could take some stopping in early season novice handicap chases from a mark in the low 130’s, and I expect he will be flying higher later in the season as he is upped further in trip.

 

SKYTASTIC – Sam Thomas

Skytastic, like stablemate Good Risk At All, won a couple of bumpers last season – one at Newbury and then one at Doncaster in February.

His first bumper in particular is working out well, with the next five home winning five races between them. He was a little keen in both of those contests, but he clearly possess plenty of talent and pace. He has the scope to jump hurdles and I expect to see him out early before a winter break when the heavy ground kicks in.

I spoke to Sam Thomas ahead of the Cheltenham Festival and, although neither of his two horses I list in this piece made the spring festivals, he was adamant that the patient approach was always the plan and hopefully they will reap the rewards of that this season.

 

STAR GATE – Evan Williams

Star Gate is a winning point-to-pointer whose short hurdles career so far has seen him land a Grade 2 at Sandown and finish runner-up in the G1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury. He was ten lengths behind Bravemansgame there but travelled well for a long way.

Evan Williams decided not to run Star Gate in the new year and it looks like soft and deep ground novice chases will see him to best effect this season. He is still only five and rated 143, so with plenty of improvement to come he is another to seriously consider when embarking on his chasing career.

 

ZINC WHITE – Oliver Greenall

Zinc White is one of the most eagerly-anticipated juvenile hurdlers to come from the Flat this season having cost £310,000 on the eve of Royal Ascot in the summer.

He was withdrawn from his intended target at the Royal meeting on account of the quick ground having previously bolted up in a pair of heavy ground three-year-old handicaps. The ground was so bad at Wetherby in the first of those that the meeting was abandoned straight after, and he defied the rise to win by seven lengths at Sandown, ending up on 87.

He stays well and enjoys deep ground so automatically races like the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on Welsh National day come into the reckoning if he hurdles proficiently – while connections are also considering races back on the level in the long term, suggesting they consider his mark of 87 to be somewhat below his ceiling.

 

Fingers crossed it pays to follow the list above over the next few months!

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