Irish 10 to Follow by Adam Webb

Following on from British 10 to Follow, this second piece concentrates on the vast array of talent that Ireland has to offer and with the country having so much, I found it very difficult to keep it down to ten especially as I was trying to include some outside the box. Here are my Irish 10 to Follow: Back In Focus – Willie Mullins I believe this is Ireland’s best chance of winning the Grand National since Silver Birch’s victory in 2007. He has all the attributes of an ideal National candidate. He jumps well, stays forever and has a touch of class about him which is all important in this race these days. Away from Aintree, he can also show his presence up to the highest level, especially if the ground came up really testing on Festival Friday for the Gold Cup. It will be interesting to see where he goes for the first half of the season especially with some of the bigger handicap chases like the Hennessy or the Welsh National in which the testing ground that Chepstow usually gets will suit him perfectly. Baily Green – Mouse Morris A very consistent performer who ran the race of his life when second behind Simonsig in the Arkle at 33/1, although to the fair to the winner, he scoped dirty. He did disappoint in his final two starts at the end of last season but there were excuses. At Aintree, he ripped a shoe off and at Punchestown on dreadful ground it was the end of a long season for him. His return at Down Royal was promising behind Sizing Europe and it showed he got the trip of 2m4f with the Ryanair looking the favoured option at Cheltenham. Briar Hill – Willie Mullins It’s extremely rare to see a Ruby Walsh/Willie Mullins combination go off at 25/1 at the Cheltenham Festival. However, those who were on were rewarded when he bolted up beating Regal Encore by seven lengths. They wisely decided not to take their chance at Punchestown on desperate ground and saved him for this season where he will take a leading role in novice hurdles. The exciting part is we don’t know what his Festival target will be, although as a point to point winner you would expect either the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett to be the target for the season. Champagne Fever – Willie Mullins Potentially, he is the most exciting novice chaser to come out of Ireland this season. For a horse that is a staying chaser of the future, his win in the Supreme Novice Hurdle shows his class. It was interesting that before the beginning of last season that Willie Mullins considered going down the Florida Pearl route avoiding novice hurdling with an encouraging schooling session around Punchestown was well documented. His hurdles form was a mixed bag but you can forgive his worst run when he came back a sick horse behind Rule The World at Naas. The only other horse to beat him over hurdles being Jezki, who looks a live contender for a Champion Hurdle. He will have entries in all the big novice events at the Festival. I would prefer to see him take his chances in the Jewson rather than the Arkle or RSA Chase especially as the latter can bottom good horses plus the stable won the Jewson with a Gold Cup prospect with Sir Des Champs. Edeymi – Tony Martin Two seasons ago, he ran an excellent race to be second in the Fred Winter behind Une Artiste before slightly losing his way. He ran a promising race behind Tennis Cap in a two mile handicap hurdle at Leopardstown, before being brought down in the Martin Pipe race at Cheltenham when travelling nicely. He fell in a beginners chase in May before winning a big flat handicap at the Galway Festival before finishing second behind Domination at Cork over hurdles. If there is a trainer who can get horses prepared for a big handicap anywhere, it is Tony Martin and this horse fits the bill whether it be over hurdles or fences (once he gets a handicap mark). First Lieutenant – Mouse Morris One of the toughest and most consistent horses in both UK and Ireland over the past year. His form ties in with the very best staying chasers and one of my personal highlights of last season was his amazing leap at the final ditch in the Hennessy. His second to Tidal Bay in the Lexus in probably the finish of the season was also strong. After that, there was plenty of discussion about his Cheltenham target. Although the owner has Sir Des Champs as well, a lot of people felt the Gold Cup was the right race for him. This judgement would appear to have been correct as he got outpaced and made mistakes in the Ryanair at a critical point when second to Cue Card. It was brilliant to see him finally get his Grade One prize at Aintree where he showed guts and courage to beat Menorah and Silviniaco Conti before he ended his season with Sir Des Champs and Long Run in the Guinness Gold Cup. His comeback run this season was as good as you could have hoped for as he would not have been 100% fit at Punchestown and wasn’t on his first start last season, so he still has potential to improve to be a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. Flaxen Flare – Gordon Elliott Although he is only four, some of the big two mile handicap hurdles in England could be his for the taking. He absolutely bolted up in the Fred Winter off a mark of 127 beating Caid Du Berlais by four and a half lengths. He then ran respectably at Aintree behind L’Unique when fourth, before a good second on ground that was probably too soft for him in the Galway Hurdle behind Missunited. Races like the Racing Post Hurdle and the Ladbroke early on in the season would suit him down to the ground, as long as the ground isn’t too testing. Home Farm – Arthur Moore A horse that looks very exciting for handicap chases this season. He first caught my eye when he won a beginners chase over 2m5f at Fairyhouse where he beat the likes of White Star Line and Marasonnien before being well fancied in the Irish National. He ran really well that day for a horse so young and inexperienced over fences behind Liberty Counsel. He reminds me of Moore’s staying chaser Organisedconfusion who won the Irish National aged 6 and further down the line, he could easily become a National horse. But this season could see him take a strong hand in big 3m handicap chases such as the Troytown or the Paddy Power Chase over Christmas. Our Conor – Dessie Hughes Apart from Sprinter Sacre, this horse gave the performance of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival. The Triumph Hurdle is a tricky race in the best of years but for a horse to take apart two very consistent yardsticks in Far West and Rolling Star in the manner he did was amazing to watch. His slick hurdling with his instant turn of foot was a joy to behold in all of his races last season, not just the Triumph. The only concerns for this season are whether he left that one performance behind last season and that five year olds tend to have a dismal record in the Champion Hurdle. But he wouldn’t need to improve much to be the best two miler over hurdles. He looked in good heart on his return to action when he was fourth on the flat at Naas. Rogue Angel – Mouse Morris Whilst Gigginstown have plenty of top class horses to go to war with in big novice chases, this one has slipped under that radar. I was pointed in this horse’s direction by a good friend of mine who said to keep an eye on him after his last fence fall at Punchestown last week. He won a four year old point to point by a distance although his main rival did fall at the last leaving him clear. He was disqualified and placed second on his only bumper start at Fairyhouse before beginning his novice hurdle career in which he only won once but he is a prime example of one who was bred to be a chaser with everything done over hurdles just building up until he jumps a a fence. Most of his running had been over soft/heavy ground but I felt he handled the better ground nicely at Punchestown and jumped fantastic before unluckily falling at the last behind Bonisland. Whilst he may not feature at Cheltenham this season, he has the potential to win several novice chases in Ireland. What do you make of Adam’s Irish 10 to Follow? Let us know in the Comments below or tweet @JPFestival. Thanks. JP Read British 10 to Follow