It's the start of September and that is always a major milestone for fans of National Hunt Racing. The nights are starting to draw in and that means the main part of the Jumps season is about to get under-way with the stars of the sport back in training and being prepared for the long road to Cheltenham.
There are countless 'Horses To Follow' lists doing the rounds at the moment and www.jumpsracing.co.uk is no different as I (@seanraymond) jump merrily onto the bandwagon. I have been researching and re-watching races all summer and have managed to come up with ten horses to follow this winter that will hopefully be of interest. Some of these will be more well-known than others but all have improvement to come and let's hope we can have some success and fun following their progress.
There is no claim that these are the ten best horses in training, or even the ten best young horses, but they are ten horses with plenty of potential and all should have bundles of improvement to come. Here goes.............
Aux Ptits Soins - (Novice Chaser) - Age 5
Trainer - Paul Nicholls
No 'Horses To Follow' list this season is complete without Aux Ptits Soins on it and we are no different with the Paul Nicholls horse potentially a real star. The French import made his first start for the Ditcheat handler, after a 181 day absence, in the Coral Cup and duly won in impressive and battling fashion. It remains to be seen if he was off of a low mark that day but either way, given his inexperience and lay-off, it was a truly remarkable debut from a horse who might be anything (cliche alert).
Paul Nicholls waxed lyrical about the work this horse was producing at home before his debut and on first look at the Festival he looked to be every bit as good as they think he is. Aux Ptit Soins looks set to go chasing straight away with stamina likely to be his forte as he showed in winning the 2m5f Coral Cup which should point towards an RSA Chase based campaign this winter, although he does clearly have a bit of speed as well. The Champion Trainer is of course famous for his staying chasers and he along with owner John Hales, they will be hoping that Aux Ptit Soins is the next superstar off of the now famous Ditcheat conveyor belt.
N.B. - We should mention that Aux Ptit Soins will not be seen until the new year having suffered sinus and foot problems over the summer.
Barters Hill - (Novice Hurdler) Age - 5
Trainer - Ben Pauling
Hard not to be impressed by this horse last season as he won four bumpers from four starts to mark himself out as a potential star. A son of Kalanisi, who was the sire of Katchit, Barters Hill won the Grade 1 Bumper at Aintree back in April fair and square from the very highly rated Willie Mullins trained Bellshill, who himself has a very lofty reputation. Barters Hill made all the running that day before holding on gamely when asked to tough it out, while the front two pulled a long way clear of the rest of the field, which looks like another positive for the form.
You have to think that this horse would be far more talked about it if he were trained by a Nicholls or a Mullins but he is a cracking advert for Ben Pauling and the young handler may have something special on his hands. His pedigree, coupled with the way he ran at Aintree, points to Barters Hill being a 3m chaser at some point soon but a novice hurdling career awaits in the mean time and I would not be surprised one bit if he was to make a major impression in the Albert Bartlett division this winter.
Beggars Cross - (Hurdler) Age - 5
Trainer - Jonjo O'Neill
We head to Jackdaws Castle for our next horse to follow this season with the interesting Beggars Cross one who i'm expecting to make up into a very nice type. He was scribbled down in the notebook back in March when he won a Bumper at Huntingdon in very decent fashion on good ground and he could be a strong stayer in time. He was a little out paced and green on his debut at Huntingdon but he stayed on really well before pulling comfortably clear of Monkhouse, who himself won a decent bumper at Bangor on his next start.
A son of Presenting (sire to Denman, War Of Attrition and Ballabriggs to name three), Beggars Cross is a half-brother to Call The Cops, who won the Pertemps Final at the Festival last season. With that in mind, there is no doubt that Beggars Cross will need a trip and fences in time but we can expect a successful novice hurdling campaign first if connections decide to start off over the smaller obstacles. It is early days yet, but owner Trevor Hemmings will be hoping to add the name of Beggars Cross to the list of his famous staying chasers which includes the already mentioned Ballabriggs, Hedgehunter and Many Clouds to name just a few.
Champers On Ice - (Novice Hurdler) Age - 5
Trainer - David Pipe
This horse made a major impression when winning a bumper at the Punchestown Festival last term for the same owners of Moon Racer and Un Temps Pour Tout. He was a big money purchase into the David Pipe yard after a 3m point-to-point win and comes from the same sire that produced Vautour, Sir Des Champs and Quevega. The front two pulled well clear that day at Punchestown with the second, First Figaro, franking that form recently with an impressive win on the flat during the Galway Festival for Dermot Weld.
There is plenty of stamina in the family of Champers On Ice with Sir Des Champs proof of that so we can expect him to get a trip as a novice hurdler this season. That Punchestown bumper win came over 2m2f on decent ground but he did score over 3m on soft ground when a P2P horse so an Albert Bartlett campaign is potentially well within the compass of this hugely exciting David Pipe in-mate.
Limini - (Novice Hurdler) Age - 4
Trainer - Willie Mullins
Willie Mullins will of course have an army of new stars to go to war with once again this season and one that I definitely like the look of is the exciting Limini. Another big priced recruit from France for Rich Ricci, Limini impressed on her only start last season when she won a 2m Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown back in May. The second horse that day, Sandymount Duke, has since won four of his five starts over the summer to frank that form and we are expecting big season from Limini with that in mind.
There would certainly have been a broad smile on the faces of Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci when it was announced there would be a new Mares Novices Hurdle at the Festival with Limini looking like an ideal type for that contest at this early stage. Her jumping was perhaps a little iffy as you would expect during that Maiden win on good ground at Punchestown but that should improve with experience this winter and that coupled with plenty of class ensures she makes our ten to follow list this season.
Minella Rocco (Novice Chaser) Age - 5
Trainer - Jonjo O'Neill
Next up is the excellent Minella Rocco who looks set to be a very nice horse indeed for Jonjo O'Neill and the team at Jackdaws Castle. Looked all over a chaser when winning two novice hurdles last season and was wisely kept away from Cheltenham with a career in fences in mind. By Shirocco, from the family of dual Arc winner Alleged, Minella Rocco is well bred and looked every inch the star last term, albeit in two relatively low key novice hurdle races.
Minella Rocco galloped all over the decent Royal Vacation on his last start at Newbury down at 2m4f but looks all over a 3m chaser for JP McManus and Jonjo O'Neill with the RSA likely to be his spring aim if the season goes well. The way he travelled and jumped that day was visually very impressive and he is surely going to be perfectly suited to fences this winter. Barry Geraghty will be itching to get on this lad as he settles into his new job this winter and he should give the jockey some cracking rides.
Peace And Co - (Hurdler) - Age 5
Trainer - Nicky Henderson
Peace And Co is a horse that made plenty of headlines last season and he is sure to be on plenty of lists as a result this term. The Nicky Henderson trained hurdler won all three of his starts as a juvenile, including the Triumph Hurdle, last season and he looks a very classy animal for the Seven Barrows handler. The way he won at Doncaster on debut back in December was simply sensational as he pulled 19 lengths clear of a decent field without even breaking a sweat. That really looked like the performance of a very special horse indeed and he duly followed that up with two wins at Cheltenham to complete his season.
His two wins at Cheltenham were less impressive on the eye perhaps, but both wins came in deep fields and on soft ground which should be taken into account. He held off Top Notch in the Triumph Hurdle to win by a neck after finding trouble in running in a performance that showed plenty of heart as well as a decent engine. The front two pulled well clear of the rest of the field that day and on the face of it, the Triumph looked a very decent race last season. A Champion Hurdle campaign awaits for the horse and just maybe, he will be the only horse anywhere near to Faugheen if they meet in March.
Very few five-year-olds win a Champion Hurdle (Only one since 1985) which is a negative but Peace And Co should have masses of improvement to come and should win plenty of prize money this winter.
Tycoon Prince - (Novice Hurdler) Age - 5
Trainer - Gordon Elliott
Next up we go to Ireland and to the yard of Gordon Elliott to take a closer look at the hugely exciting Tycoon Prince. The Gigginstown Stud Owned horse went straight in my notebook following his bumper win at Naas back in February and he has stayed there ever since. It was a minor upset that day as Tycoon Prince turned over the odds on favourite trained by Willie Mullins, Up For Review, who himself is likely to turn into a more than decent horse which made the winner look even better.
Elliott was quick to say after that race that Tycoon Prince would be put away for the season and that is exactly what he did with big things surely expected as a result this term. Finished 4th on his first start, in a race won by Moon Racer incidentally, but Tycoon Prince has won all three since over 2m and we should see him even better over further with the Albert Bartlett perhaps the most likely aim. Wouldn't be surprised if owner and trainer are already dreaming of running this in a Gold Cup a few years down the line.
Vroum Vroum Mag - (Chaser) Age - 6
Trainer - Willie Mullins
Vroum Vroum Mag will be a name familiar to many jump racing fans after her exploits last season but with her potential limitless at this stage, she more than deserves her place on our list. The Rich Ricci owned mare won all five of her starts last season without coming off the bridle and although she was only kept to her own sex, it was impossible not to be impressed with the way she progressed. Her five winning distances last season totalled a remarkable 61 lengths and she was versatile in terms of trip with triumphs coming anything between 2m1f and 2m6f.
The main problem for Messrs Ricci and Mullins this season will be where to place her with the yard brimming with potential opponents. She looks like a 3m chaser in the making which could bring in a run in the Gold Cup although with Vautour also lurking dangerously for the same connections (not to mention Don Poli for the same trainer trainer), it could be that the Ryanair Chase is more likely to be the spring aim as she steps up to take on the boys for the first time this winter.
Yorkhill - (Novice Hurdler) Age - 5
Trainer - Willie Mullins
As we know, Willie Mullins has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to potential high class novice hurdles this season but one we have to pick out is Yorkhill. Owned by the Wylie Family, Yorkhill was a very eye catching young horse last season as he won three races on the spin, two bumpers and a P2P, and connections are surely very excited about this son of Presenting going all the way to the top.
Yorkhill was hugely impressive when winning a Bumper at the Punchestown Festival back at the end of April in what could turn out to be a very good race. He was comfortably clear of a potentially very good one from the Nicky Henderson yard after he quickened up in decent style and that is likely to be a sign of the future for punters backing Yorkhill.
The 5-year-old is certainly bred to get further as he gets older and that would point to either a Neptune or perhaps more likely, an Albert Bartlett tilt in the spring. He won a P2P race over 3m last December when there is cut in the ground which tells you about his stamina and is likely to be even happier on a sounder surface. Exciting.