Hello to all National Hunt fans! It’s Jonathan Pack here. With the 2014/15 season on the horizon the excitement and tension is getting closer. I, like so many, cannot wait for the winter campaign to begin. A very special thank you to JP for giving me this opportunity plus a thank you mention to Frances Jowett for proof reading.
Above all else this season I wish for all the top class horses to keep injury free throughout the season. Here is a list that I feel will provide us all with a few winners after the clocks go back and the nights draw in. So good luck, happy punting and enjoy what promises to be a fascinating enthralling season!
SAPHIR DU RHEU – PAUL NICHOLLS
This French bred looks to be one to take in high regard at Ditcheat this season in the novice chase ranks. Having been an eye catcher in a handicap hurdle at Newbury, fast finishing into 4th, connections then reaped the rewards of massive improvement when stepping up in trip. He recorded a Lanzarote win, a Welsh Champion hurdle win whilst going up 35lb in the handicap. One could excuse his final outing in the Game Spirit at Fontwell as this was one run too many in heavy ground. But it was his Ffos Las form and game win defeating Whisper who went on to become a Cheltenham and Aintree winner which highlighted this horse’s true potential. With the likes of Denman, Big Bucks, Kauto Star, Master Minded now in happy retirement hopes will be on this son of Al Namix to fill those mighty shoes. Sam Twiston Davies is perfect rider to attack his fences in races like the Reynoldstown and RSA which will be his big targets.
SMAD PLACE – ALAN KING
Last season was a positive one overall for this trainer despite the virus outbreak which forced King to close down Barburty Castle Stables. In fact following all of King’s chasers blind resulted in a level stakes profit of +£9.21 during the 2013/14 season. One of the promising second season chasers that could go well is the unexposed Smad Place, having been just run out of it in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham. He should have been unbeaten going into the 3 mile novice highlight, however the unlucky unseating of his rider on chase debut at Huntingdon marred this record. Rated a pound lower than his hurdle rating over fences, it would be no surprise to see Smad Place competing in races like the Hennessy Gold Cup which suits a second season chaser. At Newbury where he’s 2 from 2, he’s likely to face his Cheltenham conqueror O’ Faolains Boy. Back on a flat track there is every reason to think he will reverse the form. He certainly possess the quality, having been placed in two World Hurdles and showing signs of being better over fences with improvement in jumping on each occasion. In addition, being only 7 and unexposed makes this horse one to be on the right side of.
CHAMPAGNE FEVER – WILLIE MULLINS
Certainly an obvious one here, but one who jumped so well at his beloved Cheltenham on only his third start over the bigger obstacles. Also being a festival bumper winner indicates he will be suited by a step up in trip. Connections thought about the Jewson but sportingly went the brave and nostalgic route by taking in the Arkle where he possibly just got caught for speed (having jumped round impeccably) by the enigmatic Western Warhorse. Champagne Fever looked in need of a trip when duelling with Balder Succes and coming 6th to Gods Own in the 2 mile Punchestown grade 1 novice equivalent. Recent Irish trained Gold Cup winners War of Attrition and Kicking King were placed in Arkles and Champagne Fever is my ante-post fancy for this season’s Gold Cup for which he trades at around 14/1. It’s one trophy missing off the Mullins’ mantelpiece and with Sir Des Champs being on a recovery mission, he could develop into a leading contender after perhaps taking in the King George or the Lexus Chase.
HIGHLAND RETREAT – HARRY FRY
During the last campaign the BHA announced an expansion to the mare’s programme. One who certainly proved her status as a high class mare on these shores was Highland Retreat. If kept in training, I think she can take in some more opportunities especially under soft or heavy conditions. Initially kept to right handed tracks at around 3 miles, she dropped back in trip for the recently upgraded Grade 1 Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham, where she ran a creditable 8th, beaten 7 1/4 Lengths by the mighty Quevega. Back in calmer waters at 2m 6-3miles in her own sex she should be able to continue her progress.
BENNY’S Mist – VENETIA WILIAMS
Theres no hiding from the fact that Venetia Williams trains her horses to run well in deep winter. One horse that I think will continue to blossom when the ground is described as heavy or soft is Benny’s Mist. This horse mostly favours a right handed track. The application of headgear in last season’s Topham sparked further improvement where she found only the useful improving mare of Nicky Henderson Ma Filleule too good on the day. With 5 wins from 16 starts in chases, expect Benny’s Mist to take a handicap or two when encountering his favoured heavy ground.
EDUARD – NICKY RICHARDS
Gone are the glory days of Monet’s Garden who was real people’s horse for the Richards’ yard. However in 2014/15, the stable star at Greystoke is likely to be the unexposed chaser Eduard. We really don’t know how good he is over fences and it will be fascinating to see. He demolished the 152 rated Valdez at the Scottish National meeting at AYR last season, a race Monet’s Garden won in his novice days. Eduard’s near perfect record over fences was unluckily marred after he sprawled badly at Carlisle on his chase debut, which costing him his chance at the 3rd last to the smart Pendra. Improvement in jumping from a light campaign was seen from the now rated 155 Eduard. Expect this horse, that acts on all types of going ranging from good to heavy, to take high regard. Connections could consider a tilt at the Paddy Power at Cheltenham Racecourse’s Open meeting as an early season target.
WHISPER – NICKY HENDERSON
I can’t help but relive one of the strongest pieces of form of the season which happened to be the Welsh Champion Hurdle which is now a handicap. While the improving Sahpur Du Rue is already in this list, I expect his old foe Whisper to also take high rank in staying novice chases. The score between the two is 2-0 to Sahpir Du Rue but Whisper has shown marked improvement since stepping up in trip and taking a famous Cheltenham and Aintree double last spring. However, it was the way he got the job done in the Coral Hurdle that marked him out as a horse of real genuine class as he gamely fought them off. It seems the penny finally has dropped with Whisper.
BRAVE VIC – GARY MOORE
After his win in the EBF Finale on Sandown’s Imperial Cup Day, Gary Moore mentioned the fact that his charge had been to a proper racecourse this time. This is true, as previously he’d solely been kept to tight tracks at the likes of Fontwell, Plumpton and Southwell. A true gallop at the Esher track brought the best out this promising son of Old Vic. The form of this horse was highlighted following this Sandown win as the race included next time out winners Dr Harper (Aintree) and Brother Brian (Cheltenham). Bred for chasing and whether it’s this season or next , Moore has a promising sort on his hands particularly on soft going at 2m 4f and he should stay at least 3 miles in time. It’s worth noting that recent winners of the Sandown race include the likes of Albertas Run, so big things are expected of Brave Vic who was put away after his Sandown exertions.
SGT RECKLESS – MICK CHANNON
The Pauline Radford owned gelding has not been quite good enough over the minimum trip at graded level during the big three Spring festivals, regularly filling the minor places behind the likes of Vatour, Joses hill and Faugheen. However, this should not halt the progress of the promising Sgt Reckless especially when stepped up in trip. Sgt Reckless showed the making of a future winner during an eye catching run 4th to Vatour in a good renewal of the Supreme Novices. Sgt Reckless acts on going ranging from good to good to soft and likes to be held up and granted a strong gallop. It would be no surprise to see him take a good handicap or two this season from his current mark of 144.