With the National Hunt campaign really getting into top gear, we get our man to flag ten chasers to follow for the 2015/16 season. These horses are ones to keep on your side at the big festivals and in the big races of the season.
BetBright Established Chasers to Follow
Despite being the reigning Champion Chaser, Dodging Bullets doesn’t get the juices flowing of most National Hunt racing fans, but, for us, he is a dependable type who may have further scope for improvement.
Paul Nicholls‘ charge has always had a good level of ability, but came up short at the top-level more times than you’d like in his early days. A multiple Grade 2 winner going into last season, the son of Dubawi had his best campaign ever in 2014/15 winning three Grade 1 chases in open company.
The Tingle Creek, Clarence House and the Queen Mother Champion Chase were all notched down on his CV in the last 12 months and given he still remains seven going on eight, there is a good chance he can improve another five pounds or so.
His current official rating of 171 flatters him, he is realistically more of a mid-160s animal, but he may improve on our view of him and if that’s the case, he will be difficult to beat wherever he goes this year.
Even if he didn’t improve we are not sure there are many horses around in the two mile division capable of reaching his level. There are plenty young guns coming through – as there are every year – but they’ll will need to be proper Grade 1 types to turn Dodging Bullets.
Effective on good ground we feel he is best with cut. A really underestimated part of his game, his jumping, is pretty faultless – and in a division where there is little room for error – this will stand to him. His age suggests he can improve and in the care of Paul Nicholls we wouldn’t bet against this consistent type having another good winter and early spring.
A horse we can’t leave out on the basis of rude health. Don Cossack had always threatened to be a top-class horse – and for the majority of his career operated at the top level – but presently he is starting to look the complete National Hunt racecourse.
Now eight-years-old, Gordon Elliot‘s stable-star is thriving. A tall skinny and underdeveloped-like teenager in the early days, the son of Sholokhov is currently a strong, robust man. Already a five-time Grade 1 winner, the thought of more to come is exciting.
Last season was his breakthrough year, winning eight of his nine races – the only defeat, sadly coming on the biggest stage of all at the Cheltenham Festival where a mixture of poor jumping and bad luck cost him.
Although having a tough race in the Ryanair, Don Cossack showed how durable and tough he was by winning at Aintree and Punchestown. Slamming Cue Card by a massive 26 lengths in the Grade 1 Melling Chase on Merseyside was followed by a first ‘proper’ success over three miles plus at Punchestown.
There he beat Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam by seven lengths and had a further six-and-a-half back to the Blue Riband third, Road To Riches. A horse with a fair bit of natural pace for a stayer, Don Cossack should be effective from two-and-a-half to three miles.
In what could be the most pivotal year in his career, Gigginstown have a horse that may well give them another Cheltenham Gold Cup (8/1).
A horse that we have had plenty of faith in since his novice chase days, Djakadam proved the early faith people had in him to be accurate last year. At the tender age of six, this French bred manged to finish runner-up in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The only horse to beat him in that Blue Riband event was Coneygree, an animal two years his elder. In the end, Djakadam went down by a gallant length-and-a-half and in the process, came two lengths clear of third – Road To Riches – and had a further six back to the fourth horse, Holywell.
All the aforementioned equines are now eight years old and we see no reason why those in behind should reverse the form. They are still young enough to improve, and of course, there is a certain bold element to that statement, but you’d have to think this son of Saints Des Saints has more scope to progress.
As well as still being six, 13 career starts in total suggest there should be more to come. His classy pedigree gives further hope as do his top connections. Owned by Rich Ricci and more importantly trained by Willie Mullins, this smooth travelling, sound jumping and versatile bay has it in his locker to go one place better in National Hunt’s Holy Grail, the Gold Cup (10/1). In the interim he should be respected in all top-level staying chases this season.
A horse owned by JP McManus, Gilgamboa has already shown a pretty high standard of form, both over hurdles and last season in his novice chase campaign.
We remember his effort in the 2014 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle well. Pre-race, we felt the son of Westerner was biting off more than he could chew, stepping into Grade 1 company for the first time, but he proved us wrong with a fine run.
In the end he was beaten 16 lengths by Vautour, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Seemingly still travelling well under Tony McCoy, the seven-year-old made a brutal blunder two out and that put paid to any chance he had of winning – or more realistically – hitting the frame.
With his trainer Enda Bolger always considering him a chasing type, Gilgamboa had shown plenty over the smaller obstacles to suggest he could compete to a high level over fences. He went unbeaten in his opening two chase starts before finding the brilliant Un De Sceaux too hot to handle over two miles in the Irish Arkle.
He flopped next time out before winning the Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in April. The step back up to an intermediate trip seemed to suit and he hung on to score by a half-length.
With just ten career starts to his name and still appearing to be unexposed over two-and-a-half miles plus, he may have more to offer this season. Although a Grade 1 winner over fences, that contest was a weak affair so, he will need to improve. However, he still surely has more to come and over intermediate trips on soft ground is a horse to follow.
Quite possibly had one or two races too many by the time he reached last season’s Cheltenham Festival. Paul Nicholls’ horse was fancied to run well in the JLT Novices’ Chase behind the likes of Vautour, but could only manage fifth – beaten over 18 lengths.
Sent off an 11/2 shot, more was obviously expected, but he just didn’t fire. The long season and quickish ground probably found him out and he is best judged on some of his early season form.
The son of Great Pretender won his first four chase starts convincingly and even bagged a Cheltenham Grade 2 in style on New Year’s Day. Such was the authority of his win Paul Nicholls felt him ready to take on open-aged horses in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase.
A fall at the ninth obstacle ended his race prematurely, however. As well as being a disappointment on the day, this was his Cheltenham Festival prep run and it was hardly ideal going to Prestbury Park under such circumstances.
With Ptit Zig’s second half of the season being a near write-off, we still are still willing to persist with the six-year-old this season. Paul Nicholls has a lot to do with his inclusion and we are hoping the Master of Ditcheat can work his magic.
To our eye, he looks tailor-made for races over intermediate trips and the Ryanair (16/1) at Cheltenham in March looks an obvious target.
Saphir Du Rheu
Another young chaser based with Paul Nicholls that we feel is in for a big season is Saphir Du Rheu. The six-year-old has been based at Ditcheat since his juvenile hurdle days and is a horse that has always been held in high regard.
Sent off favourite for the 2013 Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on the back of an impressive novice hurdle win, it’s clear this grey has had talent from the early days.
The 2013/14 season was the year we saw just how good the son of Al Namix was. Starting the campaign rated 130 Saphir Du Rheu climbed the hurdling ranks and reached a rating of 165. Given Paul Nicholls felt he’d always be a top chaser, an official mar of 165 over hurdles is a top-class base going over larger obstacles.
Sent novice chasing last season, it started with disaster – the Andy Stewart-owned gelding reverted to hurdles having unseated and fallen in two of his opening three races. A tidy win the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle followed before a gallant second in last season’s World Hurdle, despite the ground probably being a touch too quick or him.
His chase career got back on track at Aintree in April when switched back to fences. He made no mistakes here winning by 15 lengths and setting himself up nicely for this season coming.
With plenty to like and trained by one of the best, we feel Saphir Du Rheu is worth following this season.
Henry De Bromhead has a nice bunch of two mile chasers this season and Special Tiara could easily have made this list instead of Sizing Granite, but it’s the latter’s versatility in terms of handling softer ground and being a year younger that secured his inclusion.
This son of Milan is already a Grade 1-winning chaser after just nine career starts and you’d have to think there is more improvement to come. Beating God’s Own – the Arkle runner-up – at Aintree looks solid Grade 1 form.
The raw read of the race possibly flatters him a touch given he went into the contest a much fresher horse than the runner-up, but he beat him nicely and appeared to be idling once hitting the front. Connections then resisted the temptation of heading to Punchestown meaning there will be little excuses for a big season this campaign.
Currently rated 154, you’d like to think there is at least five-six pounds improvement having only raced nine times. Hopefully the patience will be rewarded this season and while he can be competitive on soft ground, spring terrain will show the very best of Sizing Granite.
A horse that appeared to go under the radar for much of last season and is possibly still under coming into the current campaign. Housed at Gary Moore’s yard, Traffic Fluide’s unfashionable, but proven trainer is one such reason he still remains in the outer realms.
The trainer factor along with a fairly low-key 2014/15 season, means he still appears underrated in some quarters, but this will suit the perennial underdog Gary Moore and we feel he has a horse that will help him compete in the big Saturday afternoon races.
Bought at the French Arqana sales for €90,000 in November of last season, Traffic Fluide settled into his new surroundings quickly with aplomb – the different life in England appearing not to faze the gelding in the slightest.
Five runs he’d have last season. After connections aimed him too high on debut in an Ascot Grade 2, the son of Astarabad found his level in handicap novice chases, posting form figures of 2113.
The third came at the 2015 Grand National meeting when finishing on the heels of Sizing Granite and God’s Own in a Grade 1 novice chase. Five years old at the time, and considering all the above circumstances, Traffic Fluide had come a long way quickly and didn’t at all look out of place at the top tier.
He may well compete at that level this season. It’s certainly not hard to envisage, but he will need to improve now he goes into open company. His slick jumping will be a huge asset, as will his ability to travel sweetly.
A young horse with few miles on the clock, we feel he is a darker name for the list that should be up to winning races. Now the trainer knows him better, hopefully he can improve him further.
Probably the most exciting novice stepping into open company this season is Vautour. No doubt a horse most National Hunt racing fans will already know, he is impossible to leave off this list for those possibly just getting into jumps racing.
Vautour is already a two-time Cheltenham Festival winner. In 2014 he was devastating in winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle by six lengths. In 2014, his performance in winning the JLT Novices’ Chase by 15 lengths was breath-taking, literally.
The whole way through his formbook is decorated with two numbers, ones and twos. In 11 races he has won eight and since being moved to Willie Mullins’ yard has only tasted defeat once. That loss came last year where a bad mistake in a Grade 1 race on soft ground cost him any chance.
That may be Vautour’s only weakness, very soft or heavy ground. While he copes fine with wet terrain, there is no doubt it blunts his true ability and class. Last season at Cheltenham on good ground, he may well have beaten any horse in training over that intermediate trip on the surface, which was quick.
With this ground concern, we could see the Rich Ricci-owned gelding being campaigned in Great Britain in the hope of racing on nicer terrain. Long term the Gold Cup at Cheltenham is said to be his ultimate aim, but he must prove his stamina for that three miles two-and-a-half furlongs trip. Indeed, he must prove he stays three miles, and possibly have to do it on soft ground.
He is an exciting horse to follow this season especially on good or faster going, but it remains to be seen how he copes over three miles plus if faced with soft terrain. He could end up a Ryanair Chase horse in time if an inability to stay three miles plays out.
Vroum Vroum Mag
A former French-racer who acquired experience in bumpers and over hurdles in France before joining Willie Mullins’ team. Since her arrival in Ireland she has gone unbeaten in five chase starts which all came on right-handed tracks. Four of those were graded events – two Grade 2s and a pair of Grade 3s.
Although a multiple graded winner, connections gave her a relatively quiet time last season. Her winning SPs of 8/11, 1/4, 1/2, 4/11 and 1/4 tell the story. While she hasn’t won many races that have tested her, it’s the style of her victories that have really caught the eye.
A mare who travels and jumps well, this six-year-old has shown a lovely blend of pace and stamina. It’s also encouraging some of her wins have seen useful speed figures obtained. Given the ease of her wins there is little doubt she can go faster with regards the clock meaning, she rates as a promising chaser this season.
Her pedigree suggests she will stay well. By Voix Du Nord, who has sired the likes of Taquin Du Seuil, Vibrato Valtat and Vaniteux, Vroum Vroum Mag’s dam is a half-sister to Saint Are – last season’s Grand National runner-up.
Rich Ricci will have plenty of fun with this mare over the coming months and a crack at the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury is said to be under review. Officially rated 153, at the time of writing, there is little doubt she is better than that mark. Longer term, the Ryanair Chase (14/1) and Cheltenham Gold Cup (33/1) are races we could see her run in. There is an awful lot to like.