With the Elite Horses already looked at I turn my attention to the “Main Horses” to select for this year’s competition. The first thing to notice is that up until Christmas there is only one bonus race run on the Irish side of the sea (John Durkan Memorial Chase), so it may pay to side with English horses for the time being.
Unowhatimeanharry – With none of the elite horses at this point looking as if they will tackle staying hurdles (Thistlecrack may take in the Long Distance Hurdle as a prep en route to the King George), it leaves a huge gap to score some decent points. Unowhatimeanharry looked very good last year, albeit in what was perhaps a weak division. He took the Long Distance, Long Walk and Cleeve Hurdles before slightly disappointing in the Stayer’s Hurdle at the festival itself. At Punchestown, he bounced back though and his win at Aintree last weekend over an inadequate trip, giving 8lb to a useful rival in Top Notch proves he retains his ability for the season ahead. Harry Fry is giving him a similar campaign to last year and he is a solid selection with assured targets.
Likely targets: 1st December – Long Distance Hurdle, 23rd December – Long Walk Hurdle, 27th January – Cleeve Hurdle, 15th March – Stayer’s Hurdle
Fox Norton (Pictured – Yellow & Black) – News broke earlier in the week that Altior will miss the Tingle Creek, which means the two-mile chasing division has opened up wider and there are points to be salvaged. Fox Norton holds an entry in this weekend’s Shloer Chase at Cheltenham, for which he is favourite, and is then likely to head to Sandown for the Grade 1 in early December, which is a bonus race. Depending on whether the Nicky Henderson stable star is back or not the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton, Clarence House Chase at Ascot and Champion Chase at the Festival, where he was beaten a head last year by Special Tiara, are all within his compass. Special Tiara, who is also in the Shloer Chase, is a similar type but is now eleven and is much more ground dependent which isn’t ideal this time of year. Another positive with Fox Norton is that he also has the potential to step up in trip and races over intermediate trips are also possibilities should they need to be.
Likely targets: 19th November – Shloer Chase, 9th December – Tingle Creek Chase, 27th December – Desert Orchid Chase, 20th January – Clarence House Chase, 14th March – Champion Chase
Faugheen – A risky selection given his injury issues but he was an “Elite Horse” last year and was near invincible over hurdles on his day. Rated 176 at the peak of his powers he is still only a nine-year-old with just thirteen runs under rules to his name, so is worth a chance. He holds an entry for the Grade 1 Morgiana at the weekend, a race in which he suffered his only defeat to date, so connections will be looking to put matters right. Even if he does only retain some of his ability he could still clear up the two-mile hurdle division in Ireland. If he doesn’t, then connections may look at stepping him up in distance as he was a three-mile point-to-point winner as a four-year-old and also won a Neptune over two miles five as a novice hurdler.
Likely targets: 19th November – Morgiana Hurdle, 29th December – Ryanair Hurdle, 3rd February – Irish Champion Hurdle, 13th March – Champion Hurdle
Samcro – In terms of novice hurdler’s this season, the one that has impressed me the most so far is Samcro. It can be argued that he has only won what looks a weak maiden hurdle so far, but he jumped very well and pulled away from a horse (also owned by Gigginstown) who has won since and had previously run Brelade close in a national hunt flat race. Samcro has shown as a three-time bumper winner that he has plenty of gears and a great attitude, and being a point-to-point winner he is going to continue to improve with more jumping experience. He was expected to be out in the For Auction Novices Hurdle at Navan last week but wasn’t declared and the plan now seems to be the Grade 1 Royal Bond at Fairyhouse on the 3rd December. With the stables other potential star hurdler Fayonagh sadly breaking a leg, Elliott may be keen to keep the son of Germany at the minimum distance for the time being and races such as the Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Christmas and the Deloitte Novices Hurdle early February could easily be on the cards with a tilt at either the Supreme or the Neptune Novices at the Cheltenham Festival. This looks like a real horse with a very big future in my eyes.
Likely targets: 3rd December – Royal Bond Novices Hurdle, 27th December – Future Champions Novices Hurdle, 4th February – Deloitte Novices Hurdle, 13th March – Supreme Novices Hurdle
Kylemore Lough – Maybe not a long-term option but he starts his campaign off for a new stable in the BetVictor Gold Cup which is the first bonus race of the competition. Making his debut for Harry Fry he is also seen out with a first time tongue tie which is an interesting addition and could bring out further improvement. As a novice he won a Grade 1 chase in Ireland from Outlander and showed he retained ability when only just failing in the Grade 2 1965 Chase at Ascot on his debut last season. That proves he can go well fresh and off a mark that is just 2lb lower than when fifth in last years Caspian Caviar Gold Cup he has a chance of going very close. After this he will likely be targeted at similar races, which could include coming back for a crack at the Caspian Caviar (Also a bonus race) on the “new” course next month. If not, then races like the Peterborough Chase and the Ascot Chase could be on the cards.
Likely targets: 18th November – BetVictor Gold Cup, 10th December – Peterborough Chase, 1st January – BetBright Handicap Chase, 17th February – Ascot Chase, 15th March – Ryanair Chase
Elgin – A useful novice hurdler last year who finished second behind Neon Wolf and River Wilde in a pair of Grade 2’s before only managing to finish sixth in the Supreme Novices at the Cheltenham Festival. Looking as if he needed the run when fading back into fourth at Chepstow on his seasonal debut, he then won a very useful contest at Ascot with a big weight last time out. The son of Duke Of Marmalade is likely to improve for racing and heads to the weekends other bonus race, the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle. He only went up 5lb for his latest victory so gets in here off a mark of just 145 and will be completely race fit which can be just as important. On top of that he has actually beat current race favourite Jenkins in a novice hurdle and finished in front of Mohaayed, another fancied runner, twice giving him 5lb and 7lb each occasion, both lack a run this season. With this being his third run of the season he too might not be a long-term proposition but will likely take in other top two-mile handicaps such as the Wessex Trust Youth Handicap Hurdle, The Betfair Hurdle and the County Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Likely targets: 23rd December – Wessex Trust Youth Handicap Hurdle, 10th February – Betfair Handicap Hurdle, 16th March – County Handicap Hurdle
Bristol De Mai – Although he seems to have been around for quite a while, he is still only a six-year-old which is remarkable considering how much he has achieved already. With further progress to come as he matures and strengthens he is likely to continue to be a force to be reckoned with in staying chases, even more so on flat tracks when the ground is on the soft side. He started this season with a win in the Charlie Hall Chase and although it can be argued that the race fell apart, with Coneygree pulling up and Cue Card falling, he still battled on gamely to win well. His next target is the Betfair Chase where on the books he has a huge task to turn the form around with Sizing John, but he is race fit and conditions will likely be perfect for him. Depending on how difficult or tough a race he has, he could come back out for the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree two weeks later or be left to tackle the King George VI Chase at Kempton over Christmas. In regards to his long-term value he can be substituted out once a better handle is made on the novice chasers/hurdlers, especially as the ground dries and quickens through the spring.
Likely targets: 25th November – Betfair Chase, 26th December – King George VI Chase, 27th January – BetBright Trial Case, 16th March – Cheltenham Gold Cup
Top Notch – It was perhaps a slightly disappointing return when beaten by Unowhatimeanharry receiving 10lb over his optimum trip, but Nicky Henderson was quoted after as saying he may have needed the run. He is likely to return in either the 1965 Chase at Ascot next week or the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, with the former being the most obvious. Back over fences I am sure he will be a force to be reckoned with. A Grade 1 winner in the Scilly Isles at Sandown he has also placed in the same grade twice. His form at last years Festival behind Yorkhill where he beat Disko and Politologue is looking extremely strong with both of them winning impressively this year in open company and as six-year-old he still has potential for further improvement to come. Where he ends up after Ascot is questionable as there aren’t too many options over intermediate trips. Being a small sort he wouldn’t be the type to carry big weights around in handicaps so he could head back over hurdles taking in something like the Relkeel on New Years Day. After that though, the Ascot Chase in February looks tailor-made for him and he can then go on to tackle the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham in March.
Likely targets: 25th November – 1965 Chase, 1st January – Relkeel Hurdle, 17th February – Ascot Chase, 15th March – Ryanair Chase
Thomas Campbell – A short-term prospect in that he runs today and will appreciate the extra furlong over a course he run well on a few times. He has gone up 10lb for his course win on his seasonal debut but that is slightly offset by the fact that the promising James Bowen claims a valuable 7lb. A lightly raced individual, he was well fancied for a Grade 2 novice hurdle in which he disappointed, but then followed up with two good runs in competitive handicaps at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals over slightly inadequate trips. This race looks below his level and he will be difficult to beat.
Let’s Dance – Runs in a Listed Mares Hurdle today and although she is having to give weight away she should be more than up to the challenge as long as their isn’t an unknown potential superstar lurking around. She won the race last year without the 10lb penalty and this on paper doesn’t look to be half as strong as some of the mares races she has been taking in. Her biggest danger is likely to be an inconsistent sort in Barra who she has beaten twice. On winning here she will likely follow a route towards the Mares Hurdle at the Festival in March. The Mares programme has really improved over the past few years with plenty of options available. The choice of leaving her in or substituting her out can be made on a week to week basis.
So there we go…. the starting line-up is complete with Buveur D’Air, Sizing John, Unowhatimeanharry, Faugheen, Fox Norton, Samcro, Elgin, Kylemore Lough, Top Notch, Thomas Campbell, Let’s Dance and Bristol De Mai.
Next up is to looking at targeting bonus races and making the best “Stable Star” choice on a weekly basis…..