This 2018/19 National Hunt Season
As we write, Nicky Henderson has paid tribute on the death of Monet’s Garden. Nothing beats steeplechasing and there is little more exhilarating than seeing a baby, a novice chaser, jump fences like he never knew anything else; leaping with relish, gaining ground on rivals unable to live with him. The Arkle at Cheltenham is one of everyone’s favourite races, and one wonders will a mares’ novice chase be added to the programme? Perhaps this year we may even see a mare with a huge chance in the Gold Cup in the shape of Shattered Love.We have put together a mixed list of ten to follow this year, some you may not have heard of, but all threatening to take high rank in their respective divisions. Perhaps one of them will one day become a legend.1. BallywardIf Willie Mullins has a horse for son Patrick to ride in the National Hunt Chase, Ballyward may just be it. He was a winner of a two-and-a-half-mile bumper so is clearly a dour stayer, winning a maiden hurdle over a similar trip, and fourth in the Albert Bartlett and its Punchestown equivalent. Andrea and Graham Wylie purchased im after he finished second in a point and he seems to stay all day, with chasing to be his game. This is a race that Mullins senior and junior take particular pleasure in winning.
2. Champayne Lady Champayne Lady is a left-field selection here but there are very few obvious novice chasers of the fairer sex from Ireland this season, with Laurina set to go hurdling. Alan Fleming's daughter of Robin Des Champs was a smooth winner of a decent maiden hurdle and, despite being 80-1, she excelled herself behind Laurina at Cheltenham. She is very much bred for chasing, being out of an unraced half-sister to a Kerry National winner and by Robin Des Champs.
3. Cracking SmartA gorgeous, strapping son of Great Pretender, he looked to have threatened to become disappointing when a lazy second to Next Destination in a Grade 2 at Navan last season, but cheekpieces were added at Naas, in that track’s only Grade 1 race. Then he got to within one length of Next Destination, travelling much better.He was trading as favourite for the Albert Bartlett but suffered a setback. Now he is ready to do what he is built to do – jump a fence – and is a horse held in high regard. He could be a Gold Cup contender come this time next season.
4. DiscoramaPaul Nolan's jovial manner means he is one of the most popular trainers around and, having looked after such high-class animals as Cloone River and Accordion Etoile in the past, the public would love him to have a good horse. Discorama was a shock winner of a maiden hurdle before finishing second to Blow By Blow in the Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham festival. He began his chasing career in a seriously hot race at Naas but won easily under Bryan Cooper. Perhaps he could be a key horse for both Cooper and Nolan this season.
5. Dolciano DiciPatrick Mullins is an excellent judge and the amateur rider is quite sweet on this horse, who runs in the familiar colours of the Slaneyville Syndicate, which owns Total Recall. Like that horse, this five-year-old switched from Sandra Hughes to Willie Mullins, though he did not run for Sandra, having won in France as a three-year-old. Dolciano Dici ran a most pleasing race in a Grade 3 over hurdles on his only start last season and can progress markedy from his Navan chase debut, which was promising. Expect him to make his way at graded level.
6. GlenloeGlenloe seeemed unlucky not to win the Pertempts at the Cheltenham Festival last year under Barry Geraghty and he again ran a blinderat Punchestown. Even though he won just once in that sphere, he has a lot of ability, and one could see him developing into a handicap chaser that will be on the lops of many punters come Cheltenham. JP McManus' charge, trained by Gordon Elliott, is a half-brotherto smart staying chaser Alfie Sherrin.
7. Mall DiniWe put this horse in almost entirely because he is so anomalous, now in his third year novice chasing! Having gone so close in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham last season, we believe there is a big pot in this horse, who is an exceptional jumper, and really feel that nice ground is key for him. His owner, Philip Reynolds, is a son of the late Albert, former Taoiseach.8. Mengli KhanTed Walsh, perhaps our most famous racing commentator, was famously dismissive of Mengli Khan after he ran out at the second-last hurdle at Leopardstown last Christmas, but the horse looked pretty straightforward after that.Indeed, despite the rain surely not suiting, he very nearly won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and he has the physique to be a really good chaser, despite being essentially Flat-bred (by Lope De Vega). Nice ground suits this Gordon Elliott-trained runner.9. MinellafordollarsMinellafordollars is six rising seven and ready for chasing. He routed his rivals in a Lingstown point nearly two years ago and was similarly impressive the following March in a Navan bumper, winning his bumper on his second start in December and then left off. "Definitely not a bumper horse," said Gordon Elliott, who since told an At The Races stable tour that he is a "big winter horse". He looks a stayer with pace.10. Not Many Left Not Many Left, an Oscar bred, was a consistent sort as a novice hurdler, winning a maiden hurdle at Navan by ten lengths in January and later second at the Punchestown Festival. This one won a point-to-point at Largy for Colin Bowe, who of course trained Samcro, and this horse was sold for €150,000 in 2017. He could be Jessica Harrington’s best novice chaser this season.Deciding between just 10 horses to follow for the 2018/19 season proved to be too difficult of a task, so here is an extra three selections for your money’s worth! 11. Next DestinationNext Destination represents Malcolm Denmark, who has a large media interest in Ireland, and we bet he will be hitting the headlines come the Dublin Racing Festival and Cheltenham with this six-year-old. He was three from three over hurdles before finishing third to Samcro in the Ballymore Novice Hurdle, showing an excellent attitude to win at Punchestown. He looks a massive player in the staying novice chase division and comes from the family of the excellent Liss A Paoraigh.12. Paloma Blue“He is a lovely, lovely horse. Chris Jones bought him at the Derby Sale and he was the standout horse in that. There will hopefully be lots of improvement to come as it is a long time since I won a bumper with a newcomer,” said Henry de Bromhead about Paloma Blue.This is not a trainer of bumper horses and it is eye-catching that one of the very few bumper steeds with which he won on debut was Identity Thief.
The Stowaway gelding was third to Samcro at the Dublin Racing Festival and probably upstaged that form when beaten three lengths in the Supreme Novice Hurdle. He is a bit free over hurdles but expect chasing to take that out of his armory. He is a major candidate for Arkle glory this season. Note that his dam was a Grade 3 winner.13. Tower BridgeHigh Chaparral can sire all sorts of winners, including – notably – Altior, and Tower Bridge is an exciting haser. He was Joseph O'Brien's first Grade 1 winner when scoring at the Dublin Racing Festival in February and went on to finish an excellent third to Santini in the Albert Bartlett. He was reportedly schooling pleasingly before a disappointing chase debut at Punchestown but he can leave that form a long way behind as the season progresses.
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