This 2018/19 National Hunt Season
When I was a kid, one of the highlights of the summer was when the carnival came to my local town, Ballygar.For a week, we were all kids again. They had the big wheel and the waltzers; they had the swinging boat. But my favourite was the bumper cars. We used to take out all our frustration on the world.Bumpers meant something a bit different to me then. Nowadays, they are the anomaly of a race without jumps on a jumps card. Amateur riders wait patiently for their chance to shine in what is invariably the last race of the day, possibly teaming up with a future star.Perhaps last year’s crop of bumper horses were not quite top-notch, but it would be folly not to expect some great things from the. Here are top ten bumper horses to follow this season… 1. Balliniska BandThe wily Charles Byrnes had some really good bumper winners last season, among them Balliniska Band. His dad, Vinnie Roe, of course won the Melbourne Cup for Dermot Weld. This four-year-old won both his bumper starts, notably latterly slamming Barrington Court, and exciting things await him over jumps.2. Barrington CourtJessica Harrington has certainly done quite alright with the stallion Mastercraftsman – let’s just saw Alpha Centauri wasn’t too bad – and she knows a good filly when she sees one. And in Barrington Court, she may not have another Alpha Centauri, but she could have the next Quevega or Annie Power.Two things make little sense when it comes to last season and Barrington Court. One was that she was beaten in all three of her runs; secondly, she was sent off at least 6-1 in the betting. But the way she demolished her rivals in a Listed race on her return at Navan suggests she could just be quite special.3. BlackbowIf you see Blackbow, there is a fair chance he will remind you of a certain Florida Pearl, a name that is still so evocative. He never won a Gold Cup – trainer Willie Mullins still has not – but he was a top chaser in his day. Blackbow can be a top chaser too in the same colours, the famous red and white of the late Archie O'Leary. O’Leary was an international rugby player, an international sailor and was internationally known as the co-owner, with his wife Violet, of a string of race horses including the famed Florida Pearl. Blackbow, a winner of two bumpers last season and second in a Grade 1 at Punchestown, will do the family of O’Leary proud.4. Getaway Katie MaiJohn Queally trained Al Eile to win the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle in 2007 and this horse will probably be the one by which Queally is remembered most. But Getaway Katie Mai, who finished second to Relegate in a bumper last season, might not be a million miles behind Al Eile in terms of ability. She looks a certainty to win a maiden hurdle and can surely progress to be a candidate for the mares' novice hurdle in March.5. Lady IschiaLady Ischia is trained by a true up and comer, Gavin Cromwell. Cromwell was a farrier, part-time trainer, but roles are changing in that regard. He has become one of the best trainers in the country and one of his best is Lady Ischia. Lady Ischia was second on her first bumper start, trouncing her rivals at Naas in the second one, then finishing second to the ill-fated Rapid Escape at Navan in December. Great things can be expected of her.6. Pike CountyTrained by one of the most likeable women in racing, Denis Foster, Pike County could win a lovely race this season. He is bred to be pretty fast but he showed enough stamina to win a bumper at Ballinrobe in July, then finishing second in a maiden hurdle. He is one to keep an eye on in the famous JP McManus silks.7. RelegateRelegation is rarely talked about in a positive way in the sports pages as teams try to avoid the dreaded drop. However, Relegate is a different story. And her victory in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham had more than a story about it.It was Katie Walsh’s final big-race win before she retired as a rider, the horse coming from last to first. But, incredibly, she beat Carefully Selected, a horse that Walsh had bought and sold earlier in its life!Though she was beaten on her hurdling debut, Willie Mullins can plan big things for her.8. RhinestoneIt was hard not to break into tune when Rhinestone Cowboy was running. Owned by John Magnier, he was a special horse, and JP McManus’ Rhinestone may be pretty special too. He is a son of the late, great Montjeu, and a rare jumps horse for that stallion sensation. Very smart in bumpers last term, he won by a deceptively easy short head on his hurdling debut, and young Joseph O’Brien will be very excited when it comes to plans for this one.9. Sancta SimonaSancta Simona was only beaten once – by Rhinestone on her debut. JP McManus owns the latter and he was clearly still impressed by Sancta Simona, as he bought her subsequently. She has met with defeat just once since and she oozed class in winning at Down Royal on her second hurdles start in Down Royal, backing up a win at Galway. She is a lady with attitude, loving her racing, and who would bet against her winning the mares' novice hurdle for Willie Mullins, given his incredible record in the Festival's newbie. 10. Tornado FlyerTornado Flyer helped give Willie Mullins a 1-2-3 in the Cheltenham Bumper last year, ridden by Paul Townend. He then beat another stablemate, Blackbow, at Punchestown. He kicked off this campaign in a pretty hot maiden hurdle at Punchestown but nevertheless made light work of his rivals. Willie Mullins has trained some star novice hurdlers and this well-named one can win some more Grade Ones over time.
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