This 2018/19 National Hunt Season
We all know the concept of the one-hit wonder and we know the difficulty of the second album, so often a dud after such a promising first effort.So here we are this week discussing second-season chasers, those minors who emerge to senior level and often become the equivalent of the precocious youngster who may have liked a pint too many.It is not my intention to point you the way of that character; rather, in this week’s blog we are hoping to give you ten horses who were novices last season over fences and who are now having their second campaign over the large obstacles.Who knows? One of these just might end up winning one of the big races at Cheltenham, be it a Gold Cup or a Champion Chase – or even a Ryanair. Let’s hope they all, at least, win races.1. Al Boum PhotoI’ve seen many amazing things in racing and if you did not see Al Boum Photo’s run at Punchestown at the Festival last April, his comments in running will give you a good indication of what transpired.“Rear of mid-division, slightly hampered at 9th, mistake 10th, progress to 3rd 3 out, disputed lead and left in front 2 out, clear when rider steered horse right approaching last and ran out through wing.”Paul Townend, riding on that occasion, had a split-second lapse, thinking that the final fence was being bypassed. It looked for all the world as though Al Boum Photo would have won. This is a seriously good horse, owned by Maria Donnelly, whose husband Joe was a really colourful bookmaker in his day. Along with his wife Marie, Donnelly is said to be one of the biggest art collectors in the country, with Picasso, Matisse, De Kooning, Eileen Gray and Georg Baselitz among their portfolio. He has a work of art in Al Boum Photo, who could yet provide Willie Mullins with that elusive Gold Cup winner.2. Any Second NowIt was encouraging to see Mister Whitaker, winner of the Centenary Novices Handicap Chase in March, win on his reappearance and then finish placed when favourite for the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham. The Centenary Novices Handicap Chase is a relatively new race to the Cheltenham Festival but it has found its niche in the calendar.The favourite in March was JP McManus' Any Second Now, trained by Ted Walsh, a horse who won a maiden hurdle at 66-1 on his debut. He reached a high level over hurdles and, while six chase attempts have yielded no victory but three seconds, he has a big pot in him this season - perhaps back at Cheltenham in the form of the Grand Annual, a race McManus does well in.3. Bon PapaBon Papa appeals to me as the type to rock up in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham in March. JP McManus' charge was placed in two big handicaps at big Irish festivals last April – at Fairyhouse and Punchestown – and he was a bit unfortunate not to win one of them. He remains an exciting horse, a gorgeous big son of Network with loads of ability.4. Footpad“It wasn’t the ideal start for Footpad at Naas – to say the least,” said Ruby Walsh after the horse’s return at Naas. “He slipped at the third fence and his hind legs landed well short of where they should have. He landed on the fence and probably got his injury there.”Footpad was utterly sensational as a novice last season, his jumping fences at speed despite his relative inexperience having all the jumps aficionados purring. He scored by 14 lengths in the Arkle at Cheltenham and won all of his five races last term. Though he suffered a setback at Naas, Willie Mullins will not rush him back into action. He can step up in trip and remains exceptionally exciting.5. Jury Duty“Have horse, will travel,” they say. And so it was that when the American Grand National Hurdle race took place in Far Hills in October, the first two home were Irish-trained, Gordon Elliott beating Emmet Mullins!Jury Duty, the winner, has been remarkably consistent, running nine times as a novice chaser and in the first three after seven of those. It is hard to know quite how well he stays, but a big handicap can come his way in due course.6. MonaleeMonalee is a funny one. He was one of the most natural novices I’ve seen at a fence last season, yet he managed two falls, one of them a pretty grizzly one at Leopardstown.For all of that, he still finished second at Cheltenham to Presenting Percy, and he probably needed the run and a longer trip than what he faced at Down Royal on his reappearance. I fully expect him to become a major contender for the Ryanair come March. In Henry De Bromhead, he has a brilliant trainer of chasers. 7. Monbeg NotoriousMonbeg Notorious would be the stud that gets all the ladies. He has long been preceded by a "rep" because of those handsome looks. If the comments in running for Al Boum Photo were pretty wild last April, so were his: "mid-division, reminder 3rd, 4th at next, mistake 9th, dropped to 11th and ridden 4 out, moderate 9th when badly hampered and went badly right 2 out, left moderate 6th approaching last, 5th at last, kept on without threatening winner to go 2nd close home.”This animal has a big pot in him for Gordon Elliott and Eddie O’Leary of Gigginstown House Stud says that he may start off in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury on December 1.8. Petit MouchoirSome of us were very good at a particular subject at school, or a particular game afterwards, but there was always that bugger who was even better. Petit Mouchoir had Footpad to deal with last season in that regard.We all love a grey and this one, a top hurdler two seasons ago, can do much better this season. He could not quite live with Footpad but it was a bit of a messy campaign for him and he had a little setback afterwards. He can win plenty of more races and trainer Henry De Bromhead wants to step him up in trip.9. Presenting PercyThere is nobody quite like this lad’s trainer, Pat Kelly. He does not like giving interviews, even if he just happens to have the Gold Cup favourite and another really talented horse in Mall Dini.Presenting Percy, owned by Philip Reynolds, son of former Taoiseach Albert, could just provide County Galway with its first Gold Cup winner! I would not object, being a proud Galwegian; nor would Mr Kelly, who trains in the south of the county.Reynolds told HRI: "He's in great form. I’m here signing in the rain, hoping for once that it continues as all roads will lead to the John Durkan."Last year’s RSA Chase winner was sublime on that occasion and all roads lead back to Cheltenham. He is a massive player for the biggest one of all. But then so is...10. Shattered LoveEven those of you with little knowledge of racing – yet! – will have heard of Dawn Run. The most successful racemare in the history of National Hunt racing, She won the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 1984 and the Gold Cup over fences at the festival in 1986; she remains the only racehorse ever to complete the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double. She is also one of only four who have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup – and the most recent.Could Shattered Love emerge as her successor? Last year’s winner of the JLT at Cheltenham made a terrific return when second to Snow Falcon at Down Royal, with Monalee in third. She will quite possibly end up going the Gold Cup route and jumps brilliantly, while her Cheltenham form is a major bonus. For a mare, she is quite simply a monster.
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