Nicholls and McCoy Just Champion

Paul Nicholls had all but conceded the Champion National Hunt Trainer title to Nicky Henderson until he saw his Neptune Collonges making in-roads into the leader’s three fences from home in the Aintree Grand National. Earlier in that day he had seen his great rival claim the first three races on the card and more or less knew that the game was over. However, Neptune Collonges got up in a thrilling finish with Sunnyhillboy and the huge Grand National pot was all of a sudden heading in the direction of Ditcheat and giving Nicholls a seventh Champion Trainer award.

The Grand National was one of the major highlights of the National Hunt season, which of course came to an end on Saturday with the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park. Nicholls of course rubbed a little salt into Henderson’s wounds by saddling the enigmatic top weight Tidal Bay to win that race too, giving Nicholls a grand total of just under £3.3m for the season. Henderson finished just over £400,000 behind with Donald McCain in third place.

By winning the ‘National’ Nicholls was claiming the race for the first time, which added to his Rock On Ruby winning the Champion Hurdle also a first in the race for Nicholls. His other seasonal highlights must include Kauto Star’s magnificent fifth win in the King George VI Chase avenging his defeat by Long Run in the 2010 renewal and then of course there was Big Buck’s record breaking fourth straight win of the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Whether or not he can win an eighth title next season is very much open to debate with some observers suggesting that if he does he will need to with the Grand National again. The reasons are simple as it is Henderson who appears to be holding nearly all the chasing aces for next season with horses from his Seven Barrows stable heading many of the antepost markets for the key and lucrative Grade 1 chases. Horses such as Sprinter Sacre, could become one of the greatest chasers of all time, then there is Long Run who should be back to his best, Simonsig is another class act while Bobs Worth, Riverside Theatre and Finians Rainbow were all major winners at Cheltenham.

It will be a fascinating battle between the two top trainers for certain.

Needless to say but it was Tony McCoy with 199 winners who won the Top Jockey award for a 17th consecutive time. The incredible man won with a strike rate of 27% and he finished 46 winners in front of Richard Johnson, who himself was finishing second for a 15th straight year. Jason Maguire stable jockey to Donald McCain finished in third place with 144 winners and a very impressive strike rate of 23%.

For McCoy the year will always be remembered for Synchronised, the horse who he rode with great brilliance to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, but who lost his life in the Grand National just a few weeks later. His death clearly underlined the ‘lows’ of National Hunt Racing, but we all know that the ‘highs’ hugely outweigh the lows and McCoy will be up to his usual standard throughout next season and for every season that he remains inclined to race for.

It is testimony to his work ethic that he has already started his summer jumps campaign with two winners at Ludlow on Sunday for trainer, Rebecca Curtis.

10 Chasers To Follow In 2013

With the traditional National Hunt season now at end, I’ve decided to take a look at those Chasers or Chasers to be (i.e. expected to step up from hurdling to the Novice Chasing division) that hugely impressed in 2011/2012 and who are tipped to impress again next season.

Kauto Star (Paul Nicholls):- We cannot leave out the legendary Kauto Star even though there is no certainty that he will come out for another season. Nonetheless, ignoring his Cheltenham Gold Cup run, the 12 year old was still good enough to claim a record breaking fifth King George Vl Chase and he also took the coveted Grade 1 Betfair Chase

Simonsig (Nicky Henderson):- Hugely impressive winner of both the Grade 1 Neptune Investment Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and the Grade 2 Mersey Novice Hurdle at Aintree. He will likely be aimed over the fences next season with the Festival’s Arkle Trophy being his most obvious target.

Boston Bob (Willie Mullins):- This 7 year old ran below at Cheltenham when only second behind Brindisi Breeze in the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle over 3 miles. This came after two scintillating victories wins in Graded company over 2½ miles over in Ireland and he too will now be taking on the bigger obstacles next term. In all likelihood he will be aimed at the RSA Chase

Brindisi Breeze (Lucinda Russell):- Unbeaten over hurdles which include a two length victory over Boston Bob in the 3 mile Albert Bartlett at the Festival. He is expected to be aimed over fences next season and should resume his rivalry with Boston Bob as he too will be aimed at the RSA Novice Chase.

Finians Rainbow (Nicky Henderson):- Winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase after a terrific battle with Sizing Europe up the hill at Cheltenham. His target next season will be for a repeat success but he will have stablemate Sprinter Sacre and Sizing Europe to overcome if he is to be successful.

Sprinter Sacre (Nicky Henderson):- Probably the most impressive of all chasers, novice or otherwise last season after incredible large margin wins in the Arkle at Cheltenham and the Maghull at Aintree. This six year old would now seem to have th chasing world at his feet and is already the short priced favourite to win the Champion Chase.

Sizing Europe (Henry de Bromhead):- Despite being beaten by Finian’s Rainbow at Cheltenham, he bounced back in great style to win the Irish equivalent at Punchestown last week. He clearly is still full of enthusiasm and although he will be 12 by next year’s Festival he will be a force to be reckoned with.

Sir Des Champs (Willie Mullins):- Unbeaten in seven runs under Mullins, Sir Des Champs concluded a magnificent season with impressive wins in the Grade 2 Jewson’s Novice Chase over 2m4f at Cheltenham and the Grade 1 Champion Novice Chase over 3m1f at Punchestown. These performances have earned him antepost favouritism for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Bobs Worth (Nicky Henderson):- Winner of the RSA Chase over 3m1f at the ‘Festival’ this 7 year old will be aimed at the King George and Gold Cup next season. He could be seen first however in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November, where he is likely to take on stablemate Long Run.

Long Run (Nicky Henderson):- Despite a disappointing season, this horse who was the talking horse at the outset of last season after winning both the King George and the Gold Cup. Second and third in both races this season provoked plenty of negatives about his desire, but Henderson is adamant that the best is still to come form and why not, after he is only a seven year old!

Hurricane Fly’s Return To Winning Ways At Punchestown Should Not Go Unnoticed

Not since Comedy Of Errors in 1975 has a horse come back to regain the Champion Hurdle but Hurricane Fly is already the favourite to win the 2013 Champion Hurdle and claim the throne he won in 2011 and then lost to Rock On Ruby this year.

Hurricane Fly’s defeat was his first after notching up seven straight Grade 1 wins, although only one of those came this season after he had early season difficulties which delayed his re-appearance. It was potentially the lack of another run that stifled his effort this year, but that said he looked imperious when he did make his return to the track at Leopardstown at the end of January where he retained his Irish Champion Hurdler crown in great style.

It has to be said he looked unbeatable that day which is just one of the reasons why he went off in this year’s Champion Hurdle as the 4/6 odds on favourite. Trainer, Willie Mullins nor jockey Ruby Walsh offered any excuses, believing that he simply had a flat day.

Hurricane Fly bounced back from that Cheltenham disappointment at the Punchestown Festival last week where he landed the Rabobank Champion Hurdle for a third successive year by 2 1/2 lengths to Zaidpour.

Rock On Ruby of course gave trainer, Paul Nicholls a first ever Champion Hurdle win but he failed to build on that effort at the Grand National meeting where he could only manage third by tried over 2m 4f in the Aintree Hurdle and what his plans are for 2013 remain to be seen.

Simonsig, the stylish winner of the Grade 1 Neptune Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival has been given a quote of 10/1 to win the Champion Hurdle in 2013 following yet another exciting performance in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle but he looks destined to go chasing at some stage in the future and that could be as early as next season which means he may not be the number one challenger to Hurricane Fly.

The Donald McCain trained winner of the Supreme Novices, Cinders And Ashes is another to consider, he looked a hugely progressive sort when winning t the Festival and looks destined for a big future but the record of “Supreme” winners who have gone on to win the Champion Hurdle is atrocious and caution should be exercised as such.

The Nicky Henderson pair of Grandouet and Spirit Son, both of which missed the Festival this year through injury are also worthy of consideration but as it stands, Hurricane Fly looks the long term value in this race and providing he can defy the history books to become the first horse in over 36 years to regain a Champion Hurdle after losing it, the current quote of 6/1 after his Punchestown success looks like cracking value given his performance in Ireland last week would suggest his effort to win the race this year was nothing more than a blip.

West End Rocker Can Land Bet365 Gold Cup

It has been a case of “Cometh the rain, cometh the money” for the two proven mud lovers in this weekend’s Bet365 Gold Cup over an extended 3m5f atSandownPark. The first of those, Le Beau Bai, winner of the Welsh National earlier this season has been heavily supported in the market this week and has been cut from 12/1 into 6/1 across the board with bookmakers, whilst Becher Chase winner, West End Rocker, is reported to be unaffected by his Grand National fall and is next in the market at a best price 9/1 with Ladbrokes.

It is the Bet365 Gold Cup, known for years previously as the Whitbread Gold Cup, is the race that effectively draws the curtain on the National Hunt season. Over the years it has produced some fantastic winners, the great Arkle took the honours in 1965, his great rival, Mill House took the race in 1967 and the incredible Desert Orchid won a pulsating battle in 1988. All three carried top weight to victory.

Top weight this year is Tidal Bay, former winner of the Grade 1 Arkle Challenge Trophy over 2 miles at Cheltenham but who these days is campaigned over longer trips but he has found little success since moving to the stable of Paul Nicholls at the end of last season. He is quoted at 10/1 to win the race but would have to end a losing run over fences stretching back to November 2008 if he is to do so.

Nicholls also runs his consistent stayer, Aldertune, who has finished in second place in his last two runs, both at Sandown and has ran up a string of similar performances over the last couple of seasons but the 8 year old has only one chase win to his names and rates a 16/1 chance.

Galaxy Rock pulled up in the Scottish Grand National last week at Ayr but has been supported this week to bounce back to form for trainer, Jonjo O’Neill. He seemed to have a very hard race atAyrwhere he was pulled up before the final fence having raced prominently. Whether he has recovered sufficiently from that is a question that he alone can answer by performance but it raises questions and certainly gives reason for having plenty of doubt about backing him at 10/1.

Le Beau Bai will carry 10-12 and is one that can stay and jump forever and should be suited by the conditions and the course and looks nailed on to at least get into the frame for his trainer Richard Lee.

West End Rocker meanwhile, who looked so impressive when winning the Becher Chase at Aintree back in December, is a lightly raced horse who only got to the second fence in the Grand National. Provided that experience is behind him, he too should feature at the business end of this race and it would surprise to see him win.

Following his second place in the Midland Grand National over 4m2f at Uttoxeter last month, Major Malarkey from the stable of Nigel Twiston-Davies could easily go one better in this. He can handle any ground and if in the mood could make his presence felt off just 10-5, quite a lenient mark based on his last run.

This is a very tough race to call but preference is given to West End Rocker to return to winning ways for trainer Alan King and provide a fitting end to what has been an excellent season for the Wiltshire yard.

Neptune Collonges Grand National Success Marred By More Aintree Tragedy

In the wake of a second successive Aintree Grand National in which two fatalities were suffered, it is quite understandable that the public outcry would be at its loudest. The tragic deaths of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Synchronised and According To Pete could now spark profound changes to the race that could even result in the removal of its most notorious fence, Bechers Brook ahead of the 2013 Grand National.

Aintree Racecourse spent £250,000 on safety improvements after receiving thousands of complaints following the deaths of Ornais and Dooney’s Gate last year. It is clear however, that the improvements have failed, particularly those made to “Bechers” as it was at this fence that Synchronised (on the first circuit) and According To Pete (on the second circuit), both fell as had Dooney’s Gate 12 months before them. In fairness to the fence, Synchronised actually got to his feet after depositing jockey, Tony McCoy and ran on until falling rider-less at the 11th where he then broke his leg.

The deaths sadly marred the outcome of the race, where grey, Neptune Collonges and jockey, Daryl Jacob, not only defied the 33/1 odds against him, he defied the trends and stats of the race proving in the process that there is no substitute for sheer class to get up by a nose to finish ahead of Sunnyhillboy. At his peak in 2009, the 11 year old was rated at 174, making him easily the best horse in the race. He had won two Grade One races inIrelandand would have won more in theUKhad it not been for the presence of his two superior stablemates, Kauto Star and Denman. In winning, he became the first grey horse since Nicholas Silver in 1961 to win the race and the first since Red Rum in 1977 to carry 11-06 or more to victory. Neptune Collonges win also meant a first ever “National” success for champion trainer, Paul Nicholls.

Whatever the outcome it was certainly not to be a day for the JP McManus the Jonjo O’Neill team, who not only lost their prized Gold Cup winner Synchronised but also had to suffer the agony of watching O’Neill’s second entry, Sunnyhillboy lose the race in the run-in. Ridden with great gusto by Richard McLernon, the nine year old was overhauled in a thrilling battle with Neptune Collonges before being beaten on the line by the shortest possible margin. It was the closest ever finish to a Grand National and one that will live very long in the memory.

As usual, thebookmakers had a superb day after sending off Seabass and Shakalakaboomboom as 8/1 joint favourites. Despite brother Ruby Walsh turning down the ride on him, a huge gamble on Katy Walsh and Seabass was witnessed beforehand with the general buzz indicating that she was about to become the first ever female to ride the winner of the race. In the event, having ridden the horse superbly throughout, where he remained prominent, he just did not have enough stamina to take on the first two on the run in. Nonetheless, his third place earned Katy the accolade of finishing the race in a higher position than any other female before her. Shakalakaboomboom, who also rode with great prominence faded at the last finishing in 9th place.

Fourth place went to the Evan Williams trained Cappa Bleu giving the trainer a fourth consecutive place finish in the race, while fifth home was 100/1 rank outsider In Compliance who was just over two lengths clear of last year’s winner, Ballabriggs. Only fifteen of the forty runners finished the race.

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