SADDLE up for another fantastic jumps season.
It looks like we’ll be cheering our heroes on from the armchair for a while but let’s hope we can be back on track around the time some of these beauties are peaking in March and April.
I’ve tried to avoid the big stars but I can’t see anything stopping Al Boum Photo winning a third Cheltenham Gold Cup even this far from the big race.
Here’s my top ten to churn out a profit this season…
BUTTE MONTANA (Fergal O’Brien)
AGE: 5 FORM: 28-6
TRAINER Fergal O’Brien was confident enough to pitch this stayer in the making into a hot Cheltenham bumper for her debut this time last year.
She ran a belter in the bottomless ground to finish a close second over an inadequate two miles. The winner that day, Time Flies By, looks a nice prospect too who tackled a couple of graded hurdles later in the season.
Butte Montana has not matched that first run on her two runs since but they both came at flat tracks in Ascot and Aintree which may not be ideal. She has a lot more to offer as a hurdler this season especially when tackling a trip in winter ground.
CASTLE RUSHEN (Nicky Richards)
AGE: 5 FORM: 12-
OWNER Trevor Hemmings decided to offload much of his string this year but he kept hold of this promising five-year-old.
He did really well to win an Ayr bumper on debut in January as he was extremely green and hard for champion jockey Brian Hughes to keep in a straight line. He scored by more than three lengths in the hand with the testing ground bringing out his stamina over two miles.
He was a solid second under a penalty when last seen in March. The dawdling pace didn’t help a horse who looks like three miles will suit in time. He will make a nice hurdler this season when able to bring his stamina into play.
CHANTRY HOUSE (Nicky Henderson)
AGE: 6 FORM: U11/113-
STABLEMATE Shishkin rightly got the plaudits for winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but Chantry House ran a cracker too in third. He travelled really well before being outpaced in the closing stages.
He has winning form in Irish point-to-points so could well take a big step forward when he starts jumping fences this season. He looks the type for 2m4f over the bigger obstacles but could easily end up staying three miles as the campaign goes on.
He may not be as exciting as Shishkin but he should win his fair share and could go to the very top.
CILL ANNA (Paul Nicholls)
AGE: 5 FORM: 1/573111-
AFTER a couple of modest bumper efforts, this nice mare came into her own when jumping hurdles and improved as the season went on.
After a solid debut third she stepped to win nicely at Warwick and Wincanton before moving into Listed class to score at Doncaster in February. Moving up to an extended three miles in testing ground brought out the best in her and she was finding more after a gruelling contest.
She’s had just four spins over timber and could do with brushing up her jumping a little but she has a real engine and can grind out more success over long trips.
EASYSLAND (David Cottin)
AGE: 6 FORM: F137/651FFO11/11111-
HERE’S an early crack at finding next year’s Grand National winner — or he could even end up in the Gold Cup if connections take that route.
Saying all that, owner JP McManus loves to win the Cross-Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and that’s exactly what he did with this French-trained chaser in March. The legendary Irish owner bought him after a bloodless win over the unique course at the November meeting.
Much of the fee was quickly repaid at the Festival as he put in the best ever display in the race to destroy Tiger Roll by 17 lengths. The still six-year-old looks tailor-made for the Grand National but JP is likely to keep him as a Cross-Country horse and there’s nothing to touch him at that level.
But, just in case, I’ve had a little nibble of the 25s on offer with several firms for Aintree glory in April.
EMITOM (Warren Greatrex)
AGE: 6 FORM: 1/11112/614-23
YOU may raise an eyebrow at the inclusion of a horse who trailed home last on his most recent run at Ffos Las earlier this month. But I’m keeping the faith in this six-year-old who was a Grade 2 winner over hurdles in February.
He followed up with corking fourth in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival when a late blunder kept him off the podium. His chase debut was really encouraging at Uttoxeter when he jumped superbly when going down by a neck.
He jumped well in Wales too before being allowed to come home in his own time. He’s a lot better than that, with the option of going back over hurdles another plus.
ESPOIR DE ROMAY (Kim Bailey)
AGE: 6 FORM: 3/1310-
KIM Bailey has made a welcome return to form in the past couple of seasons and conjured a couple of wins from this six-year-old last term. They were both over hurdles but chasing should be his game.
He lagged in at Wincanton before a solid midfield effort in the Martin Pipe at the Festival when not getting the clearest of runs up the inside. He has the size and scope to make a nice chaser and Bailey knows exactly what he’s doing with this type of horse.
Expect to see him do best around 2m4f with plenty of give in the ground.
HOOK UP (Willie Mullins)
AGE: 4 FORM: 30-
THIS former Flat winner was bought in France by Rich Ricci and showed immediate promise when finishing an excellent third in a Fairyhouse Grade 3 on debut for Willie Mullins.
That was enough to see her pitched into the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival where she travelled nicely for a long way before failing to get home.
It’s worth remembering that was just her second run over hurdles so she has a lot to learn. Mullins is certain to get plenty of improvement from her and expect her to be a lot closer at next year’s Festival.
THE BIG BREAKAWAY (Colin Tizzard)
AGE: 5 FORM: 1/114-
ON just his third hurdles run, this nice prospect was the first of the British-trained horses home when fourth in the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival.
That was a fine end to the season after two convincing novice successes. He had a setback before the big race which didn’t help either. Chasing should be his game sooner rather than later and he looks the type to improve again when tackling a fence.
Trips around 2m4f should be ideal and he should jump well enough given he was a winning pointer in his early days.
THE BIG GETAWAY (Willie Mullins)
AGE: 6 FORM: 1/2/21413-
THIS six-year-old finished a place ahead of The Big Breakaway in the Ballymore and is another poised to go chasing this season.
He has the physique to make a really nice chaser and it would be no surprise to see him turn the tables on Cheltenham winner Envoi Allen in that sphere. He has gone best in soft ground so far and will have no trouble seeing out 2m4f and possibly further.
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