The Giant Bolster Looks Great Value in Charlie Hall Chase

@SeanRaymond shares his thoughts ahead of Saturday’s Charlie Hall Chase before concluding that The Giant Bolster is where the value lies…

The eyes of the Jumps Racing world in the UK will fall on Wetherby as they play host to their biggest fixture of the season this weekend. The National Hunt winter is really starting to ramp up a gear right now, and that will certainly continue in West Yorkshire on Saturday afternoon with the Charlie Hall Chase the feature race of the day. The 3m1f contest has grown and grown in stature over the past few years and that is the case once again with a very strong field of quality chasers assembling for this one.

Silviniaco Conti is without doubt one of the best staying chasers in training at the moment and the Paul Nicholls trained horse will be going for a second Charlie Hall win on Saturday on seasonal debut. The nine-year-old won the Charlie Hall two years ago before he produced a career best last Christmas to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton in great style for connections. That performance was top class by any standard as he pulled clear of the excellent Cue Card and that form ensures he is the one to beat here.

He went to the Gold Cup last season off of the back of that King George success but after travelling really well, he curled up slightly after the final fence to fall away into fourth place which was a slight disappointment. The defence of his King George title and another tilt at the Gold Cup remain the key targets this season which is a word of caution for punters backing him to win here but he is the experienced chaser with the best form in the field which explains his price of 5/4 with Bet Victor to claim the win.

If Silviniaco Conti can win this weekend, he will become the sixth dual winner of the race but if he slips below his normal standard, there are one or two horses in this field more than capable of causing the favourite a problem or two. Chief among those is Taquin Du Seuil who is a second season chaser for Jonjo O’Neill and a very classy one at that. He was the excellent winner of the JLT Novices Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last March and he has the advantage of already having a run under his belt this season which could give him a fitness edge.

The seven-year-old was a distant third at Newton Abbot a few weeks back which was so far below his best that Taquin Du Seuil does have something to prove here. He clearly needed the run that day which is without question and he will need to bounce back quickly to his best form if he is to challenge the favourite at Wetherby.

Menorah (7/1) and Medermit (10/1) are both experienced chasers who have shown on their day that they are more than capable of mixing it with the very best horses. Menorah in particular could be an interesting each-way bet at Wetherby for the bang in-form Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson team and although the feeling with both if these horses is that both have seen better days. Medermit returned last season after a long injury lay-off but in truth he only looked solid rather than spectacular in three appearances which is likely to leave him short in the Charlie Hall if the market leaders perform anywhere near their best on Saturday.

The Giant Bolster has been placed in the top four of the Gold Cup for the past three years which is top class form and he will be making his seasonal debut in the Charlie Hall on the his first step back to the Festival. The David Bridgwater trained chaser always seems to save his best form for Cheltenham which does count against him here but if he can produce anything like his top form, it is easy to make a case for the nine-year-old running on into a place at a nice price of 10/1.

Rightly so this race revolves around Silviniaco Conti and whether or not he is at his best for a first start of the season. The King George remains the key early season race for him but it would be a surprise if Paul Nicholls didn’t have him in fairly decent shape for this one. Taquin Du Seuil is of interest but his poor run last time means he is best watched on this occasion which means that it is The Giant Bolster who makes most appeal here from an each-way betting appeal at a price of 10/1 w. Silviniaco Conti sets the standard and should win but he there is not much value in following him at Wetherby for punters with The Giant Bolster carrying our each-way money as a result.

Early Season Clues As Curtain Comes Up on another Season at Cheltenham

Steve Chambers (@SteveChambers86) headed to Prestbury Park as the curtain went up on another season at the home of National Hunt racing. Here’s his wrap-up of the two day meeting…

Johns Spirit produced another scintillating display at Cheltenham on Saturday as the Jonjo O’Neill-trained seven-year-old fought off a spirited Persian Snow to bag the Marie Curie Cancer Care Handicap Chase for the second year on the spin and the Jackdaws Castle Raider and took his Prestbury Park tally to three wins from seven starts and he is set to return to Prestbury Park for next month’s Open meeting.

The consistent performer was victorious in the same race 12 months ago before going on to edge out Colour Squadron in the Paddy Power Gold Cup and O’Neill’s raider was cut to 10/1 with the sponsor’s for the Paddy Power Gold Cup and who’s to say that he can manage that feat once more?  He travelled and jumped with aplomb for Richie McLernon and showed sheer tenacity to out battle Persian Snow and he was one of the stars of a marvellous Showcase meeting.

In Friday’s fixture at the Gloucestershire track, there were more valuable Paddy Power Gold Cup clues as Jamie Snowden’s Present View ran a superb trial for the 2m 4 ½f showpiece next month as he was just touched off in a novices’ hurdle.  A fine winner of the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase last year, the six-year-old was just outsprinted by Paul Nicholls’s Vicente in the Friday curtain-raiser, but the bookmakers were impressed by Present View’s display and he is a best-priced 10/1 for victory on November 15.

The National Hunt season may only be beginning to click into first gear and the more likely Grade One contenders may still be in early work at home before they embark on a gruelling campaign, but the Showcase meeting provided a hatful of valuable pointers for the imminent season and there were some early movers in some Cheltenham Festival ante-post markets.

Evan Williams’s Court Minstrel was certainly the eye-catcher of the two days in the two-mile division as the former Scottish Champion Hurdle winner eased clear of Chris Pea Green and Thomas Crapper in the squareintheair.com Novices’ Chase on Friday afternoon.  The seven-year-old has always had his quirks, but Paul Moloney produced a masterful waiting ride and produced his 6/4 shot late on and jumping to the front at the last fence propelled clear and he is now a best-priced 25/1 shot for the Arkle Challenge Trophy next March.

Gordon Elliott’s travelling Irish contingent have been in sparkling form in recent days and he bagged himself another notable success on UK soil as last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll beat the classy Calipto in a thrilling finish to the Masterson Holdings Hurdle on Saturday.  Coming down the hill it looked like the latter had got first run, but Bryan Cooper, fresh back from injury, stalked Sam Twiston-Davies into the straight and gradually worked his way past up the hill to bag the prize and cemented his place as a 25/1 shot with William Hill for the 2015 Champion Hurdle.

John Ferguson finally bagged his first winner at Cheltenham as Commissioned strode to victory in a mediocre novices’ hurdle, but he looks destined for bigger and better things and some bookmakers have priced him up as a 33/1 shot for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle next season, whilst Rebecca Curtis’s The Romford Pele got the better of Lamb Or Cod in an intriguing novices’ chase and that duo could both been seen in handicap events come the festival.

Cheltenham’s first meeting may not have been oozing top quality performers that will be contesting favouritism for the major races come the spring, but adding In The Rough’s victory in Saturday’s opening race, there’s a whole host of informative races to take away from their two-day Showcase meeting and one thing’s for sure is that many will be back to GL50 in a month to compete in some of the big races at the Open meeting.

Chelt Showcase

Chelt Showcase 2

And Another Five! This Time Courtesy of @SteveChambers86

To complete the hat-trick of five to follow articles, here’s what Steve Chambers has to say. Steve is a great guy and writer, he works alongside Sean on cheltenham-festival.co.uk as well as various other racing and sports betting websites and if there’s any value to be found, you can rest assured it’ll be Chambo that’s found it, one thing he’s not is a favourite backer! He’s also on Twitter @SteveChambers86.

National Hunt fans will be licking their lips over the imminent jumps season as the elite performers continue to re-emerge from their summer slumber and I look at a quintet of horses that could emerge as superstar performers come the business end of the season and may all be bound for Grade One races at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Calipto – Trained by Paul Nicholls

One of the unluckiest horses at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, Calipto was travelling eye-catchingly well in the JCB Triumph Hurdle before Daryl Jacob’s stirrup broke in the latter stages of the event, and the jockey was forced to hold tight without being able to mount a serious challenge at the business end.

However, he did still finish a creditable fourth behind Tiger Roll in the Friday curtain-raiser and whilst he was unable to bounce back to winning ways when third to Guitar Pete in the 4-Y-0 Novice Hurdle at Aintree a month later, he still shaped with real potential and he could well be bound for a successful season, if luck is on his side.

The manner in which he landed a Newbury contest in February in soft ground was one of the finest novice displays all season, as he cantered five lengths clear of his rivals in a decent time, and he could well be bound for bigger things and with Nicholls indicating in his stable tour that he is bound for fences next year then he’s one for the notebook.

Sure Reef – Trained by Willie Mullins

Willie Mullins has an embarrassment of riches heading into the new National Hunt campaign and with the likes of Vautour, Faugheen and Champagne Fever set to gain a plethora of column inches there’s potential for a couple of star performers to slip under the radar and the Graham Wylie-owned Sure Reef may shape up into a top notch performer.

A decent performer on the Flat for Mick Halford, he then fell on his debut for Mullins, but then eased to success next time out, before landing a Grade Two prize at Leopardstown in interesting fashion on his final start last season, where he came with a rattling late run to land the notable success.

That win was over 2m 4f and the manner in which he stayed on highlighted his abundance of stamina, so he is destined to be stepped up to three miles and if Mullins opts to keep him over timber then the 20/1 about him for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle is more than generous, as he is open to vast improvement.

The Tullow Tank – Trained by Dessie Hughes

The Tullow Tank has been switched to Dessie Hughes’ stable for the upcoming season and the former Philip Fenton-trained raider can propel to the top in the novice chase division and the 16/1 with Paddy Power for the star six-year-old to win the RSA Chase is a cracking ante-post price for people to enjoy.

He was last seen finishing second to the mighty Vautour in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle, and with that Willie Mullins-trained star showing his class with a romp in the Supreme last season suggests that The Tullow Tank could well become a star for the Hughes stable this year and can take over the mantle as the primary hope for the Cheltenham Festival.

Next Sensation – Trained by Michael Scudamore

Next Sensation was valiant in defeat in the Grand Annual Chase at Cheltenham last season, but the manner in which he held on for fourth place, having stormed off in front, suggests that he is capable of a lot more over fences and Michael Scudamore’s star can continue to progress this campaign and is another to make into our ‘Five To Follow’ list.

He was stepped up to Grade One company next time out and that Cheltenham race had taken a lot out of him and he could only finish fifth to Balder Succes in the Maghull Novices’ Chase, but if Tom Scudamore, who is likely to ride the gelding for his brother, can get the seven-year-old to relax a bit more in his races then he has to be considered an exciting second season chaser and the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Ryanair Chase are certainly allowed to be uttered as potential targets.

Pont Alexandre – Trained by Willie Mullins

Pont Alexandre was one of the talking horses heading into the 2013 Cheltenham Festival and was sent off a red-hot favourite for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, however, he was forced to settle for third place behind the classy duo of The New One and Rule The World in what is a deep renewal of the 2m 5f contest.

Willie Mullins’ raider failed to see a racecourse last season, but is expected to return to action this year and with only three career runs under Rules he’s entitled to improve immeasurably if the injury hasn’t taken anything out of him.

A 35-length Grade Two win on his second start just showed how much ability he possesses and if he is sent over fences this term then he could well be one of the star novice chasers of the Co. Carlow stable and currently a 16/1 shot for the RSA Chase in March 2015 that could prove sensational value as we approach the spring extravaganza at Prestbury Park.

 

Five More To Follow, This Time From @SeanRaymond

As I look to improve the blog this season, I’m more than happy to have the opinions and thoughts from those who know a thing or two about jumps racing and that’s why I’ve asked a good friend of mine and head honcho at cheltenham-festival.co.uk, Sean Raymond, to provide his five to follow for the new season. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter @SeanRaymond if you think he knows what he’s talking about (and he does!)

The days are beginning to close in and that can only be great news for fans of jump racing across the UK with the National Hunt winter season now upon us. It is time for the stars of the sport to re-appear but perhaps more importantly we can look forward to some new names making their mark on the sport over the coming few months. With that in mind, I thought I would hop onto the bandwagon and pick my five to follow this term.

Allez Colombieres – Trainer: Willie Mullins Owner: Rich Ricci

I could have picked any number of dark horses to follow from the Willie Mullins yard this winter with the Irish handler looking likely to be all powerful once again over the coming few months. I have plumped for the exciting Allez Colombieres who is the latest French import for top owner Rich Ricci who seems to be building a remarkable team. The four-year-old won three of his four stars in France and has already caught the eye of the bookmakers who currently rate him as short as 10/1for the Supreme Novices Hurdle in March despite the fact we have never seen the horse run outside of France! Ricci gave the horse a nice name check during a recent interview which might have been telling and that alone is enough to make Allez Colombieres a novice hurdler to follow this season with owner and trainer hoping they have another Vautour on their hands.

Hargam – Trainer: Nicky Henderson Owner: JP McManus

Unsurprisingly, Nicky Henderson appears in my five to follow and like Willie Mullins, the Seven Barrows handler looks to have number of nice new horses in his care this season. One that is certainly full of talent is the exciting Hargam who has arrived from France over the summer with some excellent form behind him and with plenty of potential to come. Previously with Alain de Royer-Dupre on the flat, Hargam finished second behind Group 1 placed Teletext on his first start back in April which highlights his undoubted class. The Juvenile hurdle division is always a tough one to pick but it would be a surprise if Hargam didn’t arrive at Cheltenham for the Triumph Hurdle given his flat form and class and he is already as short as 16/ for that Festival contest.

Ma Du Fou – Trainer: Warren Greatrex

Warren Greatrex has had one or two nice horses in his care over the past few years but in Ma Du Fou he has a potentially top class animal on his hands this season. He won his only start to date at Wetherby at the back end of last season with the minimum of fuss and connections clearly have high hopes for this four-year-old when it comes to novice hurdling this winter. Ma Du Fou looked a great galloper that day in Bumper Company as he pulled clear of a decent looking field and with a jumping campaign now on the agenda, Ma Du Fou looks to have massive scope for improvement.

Tara Point – Trainer: Paul Nicholls

According to reports, Paul Nicholls has a number of nice younger horses in his care at Ditcheat but the one I have chosen to follow from Ditcheat is the exciting grey mare, Tara Point. The five-year-old daughter of Kayf Tara won her only start to date at Taunton in the spring in emphatic fashion and hurdling is likely to suit her down to the ground this season. The mares programme has gotten stronger and stronger in recent years and with the David Nicholson race at the Cheltenham Festival now a Grade One affair, we can easily expect Tara Point to rack up a number of wins against her own sex through the season before potentially going down that path in the spring.

Zulu Oscar – Trainer: Harry Fry

Harry Fry is building an excellent young team of horses down at his yard in Dorset and one that could stand out from the crowd this season is the exciting Zulu Oscar. The five-year-old won both of his Bumper races last season in good fashion, including last time out on the all-weather at Kempton back in February. He is a tough horse to keep fit and well by all accounts but he clearly has plenty of ability and looks one for the notebook. He is set to embark on a two mile novice hurdling campaign and although it remains to be seen whether or not he is top top class, it would be a surprise if Zulu Oscar wasn’t in the winner’s circle once or twice, at least, this campaign.

Five To Follow Over The Jumps This Season…

With the tapes set to go up and signal the start of another season at Cheltenham on Friday afternoon, it’s that time of year that I can begin to think about making more regular submissions to the blog and whilst I say it all the time, I am determined to post more regular thoughts about all things pertaining to jumps racing between now and next spring.

What better way to start than with a quick ‘five to follow’ for the coming months? Listed below are five horses that I am keen to see run for the first time this season and have high expectations for ahead of the forthcoming campaign.

Shaneshill (Willie Mullins)

The Willie Mullins trained Shaneshill had a near faultless bumper campaign last season with his only blemish under rules coming in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in March where the five-year-old finished second, one and half lengths behind Silver Concorde. However, the tables were turned just a few weeks later in the Irish equivalent at the Punchestown Festival, where he finished two lengths to the good of Silver Concorde in the hands of Jamie Codd. Held up just off the pace until three furlongs out, the young amateur jockey eased Shaneshill to the front and soon had his pursuers stretched out as the son of King’s Theatre relished every yard of the trip to prove he’s got plenty of stamina in his locker.

The form was franked when Silver Concorde made a winning start to life of hurdles earlier in October and if the Graham Wylie owned runner can make a similar transition to obstacles, there’s plenty to be optimistic about.

Cue Card, Captain Chris, The New One, Menorah and Riverside Theatre are half-brother to Shaneshill via King’s Theatre and that quintet of siblings provides every confidence that Willie Mullins may well have another top class contender within the ranks of an already bulging Bagenalstown based artillery.

It will be interesting to see the distance over which Shaneshill is campaigned, he could well return over two miles but given his evident stamina, it would be no surprise to see the 2m 5f trip of the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle be his favoured option at Cheltenham in March.

Tell Us More (Willie Mullins) 

Tell Us More is another Willie Mullins in-mate who could be targeted at the Neptune and his progression could well determine the route of the aforementioned Shaneshill. I have little doubt though that the pair are held in high regard by the Country Carlow handler and could well be this season’s Faugheen and Vautour.

His form bumper form may not be as solid as Shaneshill but Tell US More was hugely impressive in his only start under rules last term, that coming in a bumper at Gowran Park, where he romped to a hugely impressive 18 length victory. Bought by Gigginstown Stud last December for £290,000 following a Point-to-Point win over three miles, it’s not difficult to understand why this son of former Aidan O’Brien runner on the flat, Scorpion, has a huge reputation and if he lives up to the billing, he should be a really exciting prospect this term.

He’s certainly one to watch first time out this season, for which he will no doubt be a short price but in the Cheltenham ante-post picture, he is already a 20/1 shot and, if like me, you’re happy to take a punt on reputation, those odds could prove to be huge come March.

Lac Fontana (Paul Nicholls)

Lac Fontana has had a quietly impressive career to date since arriving at Ditcheat from France in 2012. The five-year-old has had nine runs under the guidance of Paul Nicholls, four of which resulted in wins, including the Grade One, Mersey Novices Hurdle, at Aintree in April. The other three all came at Cheltenham, one of which was the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle but the two and half mile trip at the Grand National meeting certainly looked to suit more than the two miles he been run over in the previous races. His final start of last season came in the Irish Champion Novice Hurdle and his fourth can probably be ignored after a hard 12 months since landing on British shores.

Whether Lac Fontana remains over hurdles or is tried over fences remains to be seen but either way, he’s a smart horse with plenty of experience under his belt for his age and he should improve again after being put away over the summer with this season firmly in mind. Punters have to trust that Nicholls will plot the right route for this youngster, whether that is amongst the novice chasing ranks or as a staying hurdler. His love of Cheltenham cannot be ignored and whenever he shows up at Prestbury Park, he should be respected.

Beat That (Nicky Henderson)

The way that the Nicky Henderson trained Beat That finished last season was hugely impressive, winning back-to-back Grade One novice hurdles at Aintree and Punchestown in April and he’s a hugely exciting prospect ahead of the new jumps season. Like Lac Fontana, the option of a novice chasing campaign is a possibility but he would equally be a force to be reckoned with if staying over hurdles.

One thing that is for certain, this six-year-old loves a stamina test as the pair of Grade One wins both came over three miles and it definitely looked as though the penny dropped for this six-year-old when stepped up in trip and the manner of his win in Ireland last time out also suggests he’s got plenty of fight in him. A definite rising star at the Seven Barrows stable, he’s one to follow over the coming months.

Smad Place (Alan King)

This seven-year-old from the Alan King yard has a hugely impressive résumé for his age without yet having landed a top class prize…Successive thirds in the World Hurdle in 2012 and 2013 is form that shouldn’t be overlooked and confirms that Smad Place is a horse with plenty of ability and merits plenty of respect and that win on the big stage could be just around the corner.

He was switched to fences 12 months ago and despite an error in his first start over bigger obstacles, which saw him unseat Robert Thornton, he soon bounced back to win novice chases at Exeter and Newbury. His final run of the season came in the RSA Chase Cheltenham, where once again he had to settle for being the bridesmaid at Prestbury Park when going down by a neck to O’Faolains Boy, but was far from disgraced.

There was certainly plenty to like about his first season over fences and having been rested since Cheltenham, there should be further improvement to come from Smad Place this time around. His ability to hold his own in top class company should not be underestimated when he comes up against the older horses in the stayers chasing division and I fully expect him to run a big race at a nice price in a race like the Betfair Chase, Hennessy Gold Cup or King George and I’m going to nail my colours to the mast right now and say that Smad Place is a dark horse for the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The Countdown Is Ahead Of The New Jumps Season

A brief foray into the ante-post betting for some of the premier National Hunt races acts only to whet the appetite for what should be a sensational campaign this winter, and whilst it’s 100 days until children get all bleary eyed and engulfed by a mountain of presents on Christmas Day, the jumping aficionados will not have to wait that long for their gifts, as some of the elite chasers and hurdlers re-emerge from their summer sabbatical and the NH voyage sets sail again in just a few weeks’ time (four to be exact, if like me, Cheltenham’s Showcase is the first ‘proper’ fixture of the jumps season).

With the season within touching distance, here’s a quick piece to get the ball rolling again on the blog, the aim is to find time for at least three to four submissions per week during the Autumn months, building up towards March come the turn of the new year. Intentions are good at this stage so let’s see how I get on…

Nicky Henderson has expressed his anticipation of some of his returning stars and Sprinter Sacre, who missed a major chunk of last year’s campaign after pulling up at Kempton Park, is well on the road to recovery and will embark on a journey that will see him try to recapture the Queen Mother Champion Chase from the awesome Sire De Grugy in what will be one of the most eagerly-anticipated duels of the season.

Henderson’s embarrassment of riches looks frighteningly strong once again and the Seven Barrows master will not only look for the aforementioned Sprinter Sacre to fly the flag, but he is set to welcome back Simonsig, who was on the sidelines all last season, and these equine heavyweights are sure to be a prominent feature of the Henderson team and will fill an array of column inches during the season.

Paul Nicholls recaptured the champion trainer crown from the aforementioned Henderson last season and the Ditcheat handler is sure to have another strong battalion fighting his corner this year with Silviniaco Conti a potential flagship for the Somerset operation this year, and he will look to bag back-to-back King George VI Chase crowns on Boxing Day in one of the festive treats in December.

Messrs Henderson and Nicholls may fight it out for domination in the UK, but in Ireland there will be a solitary dominant figure that rolls out a conveyor belt of Graded winners and Willie Mullins’ string for the 2014/2015 season is simply mind-blowing with the Co. Carlow handler oozing quality in all areas of the National Hunt division.

Hurricane Fly may not be the flag-bearer for the team any more, but an array of emerging stars will quickly fight it out to be crowned top of the Mullins tree and the manner in which Vautour and Faugheen landed the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, respectively, last season, suggest they could be on the road to greatness.

Whether Mullins opts to keep the exciting duo over timber or elects to send them over a fence, both will get the blood pumping during the cold winter months and they are sure to gain an army of followers as the season hits boiling part at the Spring festivals, with Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown just a mouth-watering triumvirate of jamborees to look forward.

The Cheltenham Festival may be six months away, but a focus in yards up and down the country will be on those four days at Prestbury Park, whilst trying to grab some notable prizes en route to GL50 in March, and as we approach the October the National Hunt action is just about to ignite into what is set to be a tumultuous journey for all involved in the Sport of Kings.

New Superstars Emerge As Curtain Comes Down On National Hunt Season

The National Hunt season has finally come to an end and once again we have enjoyed a thrilling campaign on both sides of the Irish Sea. The feature races were once again dominated by the big name trainers but rarely have we finished a season so excited to get the next one underway after a number of young horses ‘jumped’ on to the scene.

Established superstars like Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig were non-existent this winter due to injury, while the likes of Hurricane Fly, Bobs Worth and Big Buck’s to name just three, were disappointing at the Cheltenham Festival with a new, younger crop stepping up to challenge the old guard and provide plenty of reasons to wish away the next six months…

A void was left in the two mile chasing division after Sprinter Sacre was ruled out for the campaign after being pulled up on his seasonal debut at Kempton in December. The door was left wide open for another star to emerge and barging straight through was Sire De Grugy!

The Gary Moore trained eight-year-old swept all before him to win the Tingle Creek Chase, the Desert Orchid Chase and the Clarence House Chase before going on to Cheltenham to claim victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He proved himself as a Champion in his own right and added the Celebration Chase at Sandown last weekend before being named the horse of the season to ice a wonderful campaign. Sire De Grugy appeared to get better with every run this winter and with his colourful owners adding some great personality to the season, the prospect of him meeting a fully fit again Sprinter Sacre next season is something to look forward to.

There was also a new star emerge in the stayers hurdle division with the unexposed More Of That going unbeaten through the campaign for Jonjo O’Neill. That culminated in a famous victory in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham where six-year-old saw off hot favourite Annie Power up the Cheltenham hill.

More Of That is likely to have plenty of improvement in him ahead of next season given that he has only had half a dozen starts and remains just six-years-old. However, it does remain to be seen whether he will be aimed a World Hurdle repeat in 2015 or whether the chasing route will be pursued. The same can be said of Annie Power who does still appear to have the world at her feet despite her defeat in that race with two mile and three mile hurdling or even a title at chasing under consideration for the Willie Mullins star.

Willie Mullins has long sung the praises of Annie Power and that has also been the case for two other young horses currently residing in his County Carlow yard. Faugheen and Vautour wowed punters at the Cheltenham Festival back in March as they won the Supreme Novices and Neptune Novices Hurdles’ respectively and both could really still be anything.  Faugheen remains unbeaten and looked even better down at two miles when winning on his last start at the Punchestown Festival while Vautour was equally impressive in winning the Supreme at Prestbury Park.

Both horses are owned by Rich Ricci and decisions need to be made about their futures with one likely to go chasing and one likely to be aimed at the Champion Hurdle in a bid to take over from their legendary stable-mate, Hurricane Fly. Wherever these two horses turn up, they are both set for big futures given their form this past winter with both clearly possessing an abundance of talent, massive engines and the ability to win over various trips and I’ve a feeling it will be Vatour that takes his chance over bigger obstacles and Faugheen will be the Mullins flag-bearer as he bids to emulate The Fly.

Over fences, there was a surprise winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup back in March when Lord Windermere got up on the line in a blanket finish and it will be fascinating to follow his progress next season but it may be worth taking this season’s Gold Cup form with a pinch of salt. Nicky Henderson meanwhile will be hoping that Bobs Worth can bounce back to his best, while a new crop of Gold Cup contenders’ looks set to emerge come the autumn with Cheltenham winners Dynaste and Champagne Fever expected to be stepped up in trip for their respective connections.

It is also worth acknowledging two legends of the sport who retired this past season with Big Buck’s and Quevega bowing out after glittering careers. Big Buck’s was unable to win a fifth World Hurdle despite returning from injury but was retired as the greatest staying hurdler of all time, while Quevega recorded a sixth success in the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham before being sent off for a breeding career after suffering defeat at the Punchestown Festival. They will of course be missed but with stars like Faugheen, Vautour and More Of That coming through, a new golden age of National Hunt racing could just be round the corner.

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