Following on from our Established Chasers to Follow article, we’ve picked out some top-class hurdlers to follow for the coming National Hunt season. Our man clearly feels Willie Mullins is in for a big campaign especially where the two to two-and-a-half mile division is concerned.
Nicky Henderson is another trainer that appears to have a good hurdling team for the upcoming campaign.
BetBright Established Hurdlers to Follow
With the Irish staying hurdle scene looking extremely weak, Annie Power may be able to dominate this season. Jezki and her looked set for an interesting rivalry coming into the campaign, but the former has been ruled out through injury and the division looks at her mercy on home soil.
In fact, she already looks to the fore in the bigger picture; the same division in Great Britain is hardly bursting with talent. The fact she is a mare means Willie Mullins has plenty of options in terms plotting her course to Cheltenham in March.
There are many good races to be won with her at big meetings in the interim, but you feel like connections have a score to settle at Prestbury Park. Two years ago, the seven-year-old was an extremely gallant runner-up in the World Hurdle behind More Of That although you got the feeling the Mullins team couldn’t believe she was beaten.
Last year, Annie Power went down in Cheltenham folklore for all the wrong reasons when falling at the last flight in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle. The race was at her mercy and all she had to do was jump the final obstacle. She didn’t, however, and she and Rub Walsh went crashing to the floor with gasps echoing around the enclosures followed by an eerie silence.
Her fall saved bookies a monster pay out, with many punters placing multiple bets on Willie Mullins’s Day One horses. The Irish champion trainer won the opening three races at last year’s Cheltenham Festival thanks to Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen. If Annie Power won, bookmakers would have lost millions!
Thankfully, she was OK and the daughter of Shirocco finished her season on a positive note winning the Grade 1 Mares’ race at the Punchestown Festival. That was only her second run of the season due niggling injuries keeping her off the track so she comes into 2015/16 a fresh horse.
Rich Ricci’s mare is reportedly in good order for the upcoming campaign and if staying healthy can rule the roost. Hopefully connections see sense and leave her compete in open company. She is a mare of remarkable talent and we’d hate to see her career be dogged by questions of what could have been.
The only horse to come close to giving Faugheen a race last season’s Champion Hurdle was Arctic Fire. Finishing second – and his other stablemate Hurricane Fly, third – behind Faugheen saw Willie Mullins saddle the first three home in National Hunt racing’s hurdling summit.
It was a fair achievement given the six-year-old started the season as a big outsider for the Champion Hurdle. In fact, he was probably totally unconsidered in most quarters, but such were the strides he made, a proper Grade 1 performer developed.
He still has some way to go before reaching the levels Faugheen has set, but he is a year his junior so there is a case to be made for him getting closer. Should the son of Solider Hollow carry on in the same vein – Faugheen or no Faugheen around – there are top-level races to be won.
Now maturing – both physically and mentality – Arctic Fire is finally starting to race more intelligently. In his younger days, a real headstrong trait curbed his finishing prowess. Getting older has also allowed his body and mind to become stronger and thus, he is simply getting better with age.
Trips of two to two-and-a-half miles look ideal. While he has shown a decent level of form on soft ground, winter terrain blunts his class. Ideally, strongly-run events away from slow going will see him at his best.
Aux Ptit Soins
Not a horse that we know an awful lot about, but we can tell you Aux Ptit Soins is already a Cheltenham Festival winner having won the 2015 Coral Cup. That handicap is one of the most competitive races of the National Hunt calendar and this inexperienced grey got the job done last season.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, though, not even close. That run would be Aux Ptit Soins first effort in Great Britain having been bought in France last autumn. Shipped to Paul Nicholls’s Ditcheat yard the son of Saint Des Saints would be given plenty time to acclimatise.
So much so, the five-year-old would have his first run for his new connections in March and win one of the most competitive races of the season, first time out. To overcome his inexperience in a 25-runner top-notch handicap shows the raw talent this horse has.
He is considered a chaser in the making, but connections are leaning to staying over hurdles for the season where a crack at the World Hurdle (10/1) may be undertaken. In a division lacking depth, John Hale’s charge will bring a fresh element of talent to a shallow pool.
With a top-class pedigree – being a close relation to Quel Espirit – and only having four career starts, there is surely more to come from Aux Ptit Soins. Hopefully he stays over hurdles.
A horse that came on to our radar when winning a nice maiden hurdle at Leopardstown’s 2014 Christmas meeting – now a year older – Identity Thief may be able to go on this season.
After winning that race, the son of Kayf Tara proved disappointing on numerous occasions. Interestingly, the pre-race markets of those events suggested all wasn’t right and the five-year-old ran accordingly.
As per with plenty Gigginstown-owned horse, Identity Thief is a future chaser in the making. This may be the reason why he didn’t go on from his promising hurdles start last season. He was probably a touch raw and weak and with another summers grass under, we expect more from him.
We are unsure if he’ll prove good enough for Grade 1 races so hopefully his trainer – Henry De Bromhead – can plot his way around with him. He should be up to winning plenty, though, and may even be the type to bag a valuable handicap somewhere along the line.
Another mare in the care of Willie Mullins, Morning Run is a horse that should be followed when racing against her own sex this coming season. In that kind of company the daughter of King’s Theatre will certainly hold her own.
Unbeaten in six starts – three bumpers and three hurdles – we could even envisage her taking on the boys at Listed or Grade 3 level in time. Because she has yet to taste defeat and has been winning impressively there is a touch of mystery about her in regards of her true ability.
Now, she will obviously need to raise her game, but being in the care of Mullins means she will be given every opportunity to improve and prove herself. Her pedigree adds fuel to potential progress also.
By one of National Hunt racing’s leading sires, her dam has already thrown out a couple of useful performers in Morning Royalty and Morning Supreme, but the feeling we get is this sibling may be the best she has produced yet.
A keen-going type hopefully she can settle down a touch this season and utilise her energy that bit more wisely. Blessed with natural pace, being a calmer individual may open up options in terms of her getting further in trip, where a crack at the Mares’ Hurdle (10/1) at Cheltenham in March may be on the agenda.
For some reason, possibly, this horse appears to be going under the radar despite a brilliant novice hurdle campaign where he represented some of the sport’s leading connections. Owned by Graham Wylie, trained by Willie Mullins and mostly ridden Ruby Walsh, Nichols Canyon is now a leading threat to his stablemate Faugheen’s Champion Hurdle crown.
Formerly a classy flat horse where he achieved a rating of 111, his transition to hurdling wasn’t seamless to begin with. His keen-going and novicey jumping saw his early National Hunt career with small problems, but as the season went on the son of Authorized got better.
He still managed to win the Grade 1 Royal Bond on his second ever hurdling start, but an unseat in another top-level event at 4-6 over Christmas meant there were worries. These doubts were cast aside in his Deloitte Novice Hurdle victory in February, though – a win that would see him go off favourite at the Cheltenham Festival in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle.
He would disappoint at Prestbury Park, however, where his enthusiastic ways along with the wrong tactics employed would see him beaten. Nichols Canyon would bounce back at Aintree and Punchestown winning two Grade 1s bringing his total haul for the season to four top-class successes.
This bounce-back-ability sums up the five-year-old. He is tough, an animal of quality and versatile. We feel he can take on the best hurdlers from two to two-and-half miles and on any ground. He is in for a big season and the main targets would be the Champion Hurdle (16/1) at Cheltenham and Aintree Hurdle at the Grand National meeting.
Peace And Co
Great Britain’s leading hope for Champion Hurdle success appears to be Peace And Co, last season’s Triumph Hurdle hero. Trained by Nicky Henderson, this unbeaten gelding appears to have the world at his feet.
A horse with a mixed pedigree in terms of flat and jumping blood, there is quite a bit of class in his genetic make-up. His dam is closely related to Peace Burg (Group 2 winner on the flat) and from the family of former jumps stallion Pistolet Bleu.
The son of Falco, a stallion who has yet to prove his full National Hunt worth, has the looks, scope and size to match his classy pedigree and physically looks the type to get better with age. This aspect is exciting especially when you consider the level he has already reached.
Peace And Co’s Triumph Hurdle victory and his previous wins at Doncaster and Cheltenham are worth reviewing in your own time. The ease at which his opening wins came were backed up with a classy, but also gritty display at Cheltenham in March – a race that should work out.
In all victories the apparent ease at which he travelled impressed. It seemed like the opposition couldn’t go quick enough for him at times. He looks a horse all about speed, but also stays well. The Champion Hurdle (10/1) will be his long-term aim and the sharpish nature of the Old Course will suit him ideally.
Two worries we’d have, however, are his age – he’s very young and it’s not easy taking on older class horses – and how effective he will be on soft ground, but despite the concerns he easily makes this list. On good or better ground he’ll be exciting to watch.
Probably one of the darker horses on the list is Snow Falcon. While many included here have Grade 1 aspirations for the season, this son of Presenting will need to up his game significantly if connections dream of top-level success.
He is no forlorn hope, however, especially considering the division he will tackle looks weak. Staying is sure to show Noel Meade’s horse at his best. Already a winner over three miles at one of Ireland’s stiffest tracks in Navan, the greater the stamina test the better he’ll be.
Still only five, there should be more to come from Snow Falcon. By a top National Hunt sire in Presenting and out a well-related mare, this lightly-raced type has the profile of an improver. His career best came on decent ground in last season’s Neptune Novices’ Hurdle so it may play out that he’ll be at his best in the spring.
We are not sure if he’ll dine at the top table, but connections may be able to plot their way around the campaign and bag a few nice conditions races. Longer term, he looks a darker horse to note for the World Hurdle (25/1) at Cheltenham in March.
A horse we took a real liking to last year was Top Notch, one of the season’s leading juvenile hurdlers. A French recruit, he has only tasted defeat once and that came at the highest level, on the biggest stage, when runner-up behind classy-looking stablemate Peace And Co in the Triumph Hurdle.
As you’d imagine for a juvenile hurdler he is quite lightly-raced meaning there should be much more to come. Like Peace And Co – who also features on this list – there is an awful lot to like. He’s very much in the same mould although physically unlike his stablemate.
It just so happens this son of Poliglote is owned by the same men as Peace And Co, Simon Munir & Isaac Souede. Their bloodstock advisors did a fantastic job picking up this pair last year and there should be more to come in 2015/16.
Top Notch is another horse with a lovely blend of flat and National Hunt blood in his pedigree. A half-brother to a minor Group 2 winner in Never Forget, his dam also has a fair bit of class in her own pedigree.
While he hasn’t got the size and scope of Peace And Co, Top Notch is a real hurdling type. Another summer’s grass will surely have benefited and in the hands of a top trainer, he is hopefully in for another successful season.
Nicky Henderson’s inmate is pretty versatile in terms of ground – although quick terrain is an unknown – and he’s not a horse to worry about in the depths of winter. It will be a little bit tough for him in terms of winning Grade 1 races given his age, but he’s already at a level where he is deserved of his place at the top-tier. Hopefully his trainer can plot a nice path for him. If he can improve, who knows what he could do.
With many horses injured, some going chasing and plenty not looking good enough, the staying hurdle division looks extremely open this year. The equine that looks to hold leading claims in this category going into the 2015/16 campaign is Whisper.
A horse we felt had the ability to go to the top over fences two seasons ago, it’s somewhat of a shame this embryonic chaser won’t tackle larger obstacles in his career. Solace may be taken in him ruling the hurdling roost, however, and there is a strong possibility of this playing out in Great Britain this season.
Still only seven-years-old, there is every chance there is more to come from Whisper especially when you consider he’s only had 15 lifetime starts. In his short-career he has still managed to bag two Grade 1 victories.
Both have come at Aintree in the Liverpool Hurdle over a trip of three miles. The form of the two top-level successes couldn’t be considered outstanding top-level form, but like we say, Whisper still has scope to improve.
The one worry we would have is he seems to be at his best as this season progresses. Nicky Henderson’s inmate appears to really come to himself in spring. In fact, it took the son of Astarabad an eternity to come right last season having failed to sparkle in the early months of the season.
He may leave some early season targets behind this campaign, should it play out the same as last, although he couldn’t possibly come to hand any slower than he did in 2014/15. It’s encouraging connections report the gelding to be in better shape at this respective juncture last year.
A horse who is effective on most ground, we feel he is in store for a big season.