It's under SIX months until the tapes go up for the start of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, so we have decided to take an in-depth look at the fast-approaching National Hunt season and our racing writers at www.jumpsracing.co.uk provide their thoughts on what is set to be another enthralling season ot quality jumping action.
In the first instalment of our ante-post focus, editor-in-chief Sean Raymond (@seanraymond) and content writer Steve Chambers (@SteveChambers86) view their opinions on the imminent NH campaign and pick out their four to watch for the Cheltenham Festival Championship races, whilst also picking out a horse, trainer and jockey to follow.
2016 Champion Hurdle winner
Sean - Faugheen was simply far too good for the division last season and it is hard to see any horses being able to match him as long as he stays fit. Peace And Co might be the improver to watch, but very few five-year-old horses win the Champion Hurdle and he needs to find plenty to lay up to Faugheen in March.
Steve - Faugheen lived up to the hype in last season's Champion Hurdle, as the Willie Mullins-trained superstar maintained his unblemished record over timber, and having made it ten from ten at the Punchestown Festival, it's hard to see the Co, Carlow machine being beaten again this season, and he can win the opening day showpiece at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.
2016 Queen Mother Champion Chase winner
Sean - Un De Sceaux is an unoriginal selection, but it is hard to argue with the ability of the Arkle winner. Has pace and stamina on his side and should be the best of a relatively shallow division. Dodging Bullets will be rock solid as always, but Un De Sceaux is the class of the division, as the betting suggests.
Steve - Emphatic Arkle winner Un De Sceaux will step up to the big time this season, but if his jumping stays together then there's nothing in training that live with his cruising speed and at 5/4 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase it's going to be most punter's banker of the Festival, and it will certainly be mine.
2016 Ladbrokes World Hurdle winner
Sean - The three-mile division is yet again wide open this season, with Annie Power one of the market leaders for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, but she could well go down the Mares' Hurdle route, which means I'm happy to look elsewhere. Doubts have to linger about More Of That after a layoff, while it is a massive ask for Jezki to win a Champion Hurdle and World Hurdle. The one I like is Windsor Park. Dermot Weld's gelding won the Neptune very comfortably and with a master trainer on his side, he looks very nice value at 12/1.
Steve - A wide open market, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle is the toughest to assess at such an early stage, but last season's Albert Bartlett winner Martello Tower shaped like a stayer to keep on the right side of and providing he stays over hurdles then he is over-priced at 20/1. His ability to keep galloping is what is needed in a World Hurdle winner and he could well step out of the novice division with aplomb and could be a key figure come March.
2016 Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup winner
Sean - Don Poli looked the ideal Gold Cup horse last season when winning the RSA Chase and can finally give Willie Mullins a Gold Cup win. The Gigginstown House Stud-owned horse gallops and jumps all day long and he could be the best of a potentially brilliant Gold Cup in March.
Steve - Denman, Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere are a classy triumvirate that have used victory in the RSA Chase as a springboard to Cheltenham Gold Cup glory and Don Poli can follow in their hoofprints, as he shaped like he would relish the staying test of the Cheltenham Festival showpiece, and the stamina-laden Irish raide can topple last season's impressive winner Coneygree in a classic.
Horse To Follow For 2015/2016 NH Season
Sean - Jonjo O'Neill's Minella Rocco impressed massively last season when winning two novice hurdles in stunning style, but he should be even better over fences. A big scopey galloper who will stay three miles, and could be an ideal RSA horse, and is part of my Ten To Follow for the National Hunt season.
Steve - Open Eagle was a runaway winner of the 2014 November Handicap for David O'Meara, but things didn't go to plan on his hurdling debut for Willie Mullins, as he was a disappointing third when odds-on at Punchestown. However, don't lose the faith yet with the six-year-old, as Mullins elected to conserve the son of Montjeu's novice status and he could well bag some tidy prizes as he gains experience this season.
Emerging Jockey To Follow
Sean - I'm going to be watching the progress of Nico De Boinville this season. He showed when winning the Gold Cup on Coneygree that he was a man for the big occasion and with no Barry Geraghty at Seven Barrows this season, he is likely to be a major force for the Nicky Henderson yard. He will have to share the rides, but seems to be cool under pressure and can pick up plenty of winners.
Steve - A partnership to follow this season could be that of Dan and Harry Skelton, as the former continues to blossom since departing Paul Nicholls yard, and the emergence of Dan Skelton as a National Hunt trainer has given his brother Harry a lot more chances to shine on the biggest stage and it could be Harry Skelton's year to emerge as one of the leading jump jockeys in the weighing room.
Emerging Trainer To Follow
Sean - It has to be Dan Skelton. The former assistant to Paul Nicholls had a cracking first season with a licence (73 winners) and I expect his star to rise even further this winter. Some nice new horses have come into the Skelton yard over the summer and I wouldn't be surprised if he edged close to 100 winners this term.
Steve - Neil Mulholland bagged his first Cheltenham Festival win with The Druids Nephew last season and the Conkwell Grange-based trainer is a man on the upgrade, as having saddled 31 winners in the 2013-14 season, he then broke the 50-winner mark during the 2014-15 campaign and he can continue on an upward curve this season and is a trainer to watch.