Check out our first list of National Hunt horses to have caught the eye in the last couple of weeks. They’re all well worth following as we head into November.
COURT MINSTREL (WON, Cheltenham Oct 19)
Thanks to plenty of cut in the ground, Prestbury Park staged its best, and most competitive, Showcase Meeting yet, to herald the new jumps season. And one of the most eyecatching performances came from Evan Williams’s well-regarded five-year-old on his hurdling debut. In a terrific race, he travelled and jumped nicely before making easy progress from the rear and quickening to the front at the final flight. The gelding first caught the eye when running well in the big bumper race at Aintree’s Grand National meeting in April. He has the potential to develop into the best horse the Welsh trainer has had.
CAPTAIN SUNSHINE (6TH, Cheltenham Oct 20)
After a successful season as a novice in 2011/12, it is significant that trainer Emma Lavelle is keeping this strong and scopy six-year-old to hurdles this term -- in the belief that he’s on an attractive handicap-mark and can land a decent prize. This promising re-appearance run will have done nothing to dissuade her. After travelling well towards the rear, he made telling progress to hold every chance turning into the home straight before blowing up on the run to the last. He hails from the family of Irish Grand National winner Oulart and finished third to the smart Montbazon in his Bumper season.
CLONDAW KAEMPFER (WON, Aintree Oct 28)
On a day when heavy rain turned the ground so testing that they virtually walked home in a couple of races, it was very revealing to see Donald McCain’s new buy from France sprint home from the last flight on his UK/hurdling bow. The four-year-old, for whom big-name owner Tim Leslie forked out £130,000, had the front two covered throughout and quickened up readily when popped the question. When racing in Ireland, he looked a stayer in the making but here, he displayed lots of pace and quality. Expect him to mature into one of the season’s leading novice hurdlers.
DUKE OF NAVAN (WON, Newcastle Oct 26)
It had to be significant that Davy Russell travelled over from Ireland to ride two of Nicky Richards’s promising novice hurdlers at an undistinguished matinee meeting on a damp and murky day. The first, EDUARD (see below), was beaten. But Russell made no mistake on this four-year-old son of Presenting, who took to hurdles like fish to water. As they turned for home, he ate into the long lead of the pacesetter with consummate ease, quickened to the front and ran on well, merely pushed out. Richards played down the performance afterwards but the gelding looked like the sort to take a step-up in class in his stride.
EMPIRACLE (WON, Huntingdon Oct 17)
It’s not often you see horses complete an entire race on the bridle. But that was the sight to behold with Somerset trainer Jeremy Scott’s five-year-old debutant, who tanked through an albeit modest bumper to bolt up at a canter. From the off, it was clear they weren’t going fast enough for the son of 2003 Derby winner Kris Kin, leaving jockey Nick Scholfield with a real job on his hands just to restrain him. But he was still lobbing all over his rivals at the death, persuading the pilot to declare: “That’s the easiest winner I’ve ever ridden. He’s the whole package.” Connections must now decide whether to switch him to hurdles.
EDUARD (2ND, Newcastle Oct 26)
The first of two horses crack Irish jockey Davy Russell made a special journey to partner for Nicky Richards. And although the four-year-old was just touched off, he did little wrong on his novice hurdling debut and is sure to be winning soon. It’s probably worth remembering that he beat Russell’s other ride, DUKE OF NAVAN (see above), in a bumper last term, and is reputed to be the best young horse in the Cumbrian handler’s stable. He boasts an eyecatching pedigree too -- as a son of Morozov, who was a triple Group winner on the Flat for Andre Fabre, and out of a dam who hails from the family of 2003 Grand National winner Monty’s Pass.
FAR WEST (WON, Chepstow Oct 13)
He might be best known for his exploits with top chasers. But champion trainer Paul Nicholls can also be relied on these days to produce a useful juvenile hurdler or two -- and this French import very much looked the part on his UK debut. He was up against an above-average rival for this time of year, who went on to win a better race at Aintree, but was firmly in control once he’d forged to the front early in the home straight. Jumping very soundly, the three-year-old is now heading for the Open meeting at Cheltenham in mid-November, with Nicholls expecting even more improvement.
FOURJACKS (2ND, Wetherby Oct 17)
Like most horses running in the colours of Grand National-winning owner Trevor Hemmings, this late-developing seven-year-old is likely to mature into a staying chaser. But a terrific comeback performance, after a mammoth absence of 623 days, proved he has lots of raw talent as a novice hurdler too. It was an ordinary heat but he made the favourite pull out all the stops, with the pair drawing a long way clear of the rest. The form from his previous five runs has worked out remarkably well, so it will be fascinating to see how Tim Easterby campaigns him.
FOX RUN (WON, Worcester Oct 24)
I got the impression that Ruby Walsh had to get more serious than ideal with this four-year-old to land what was an ordinary maiden hurdle on his UK bow for Paul Nicholls. But there’s no doubt that once he shook up the gelded son of Shantou, the response was impressive as he quickened to overcome a persistent leader. I also get the impression that he’s well regarded from his time in Ireland. Indeed Nicholls feels he can develop into “a Saturday horse”, even though he’s not the biggest.
I SHOT THE SHERIFF (WON, Wetherby Oct 17)
Owner Malcom Denmark is already reaping the rewards of his decision to switch horses to the leading stable of David Pipe -- most notably via the impressive hurdling debut of this five-year-old. Significantly well backed, he travelled strongly, jumped athletically and needed little encouragement from the saddle to stretch clear in the home straight. OK, it was only an ordinary race but jockey Tom Scudamore felt he did it “without breaking sweat” and expects lots more improvement from the son of 2005 Ascot Gold Cup winner, Westerner.
JENARI (WON, Naas Oct 29)
Market support was negligible for Jessica Harrington’s five-year-old, ahead of his chasing debut. So for him to win with such authority marks him down as a novice to follow in Ireland this season, particularly as it was a good, competitive race for the time of year. A consistent novice hurdler last season, including in graded company, the son of Milan spent most of the contest in rear. But after making smooth progress, jockey Robbie Power found himself going better than anything and punched his mount to victory on the run-in.
MASTERS HILL (WON, Chepstow Oct 27)
Veteran trainer Colin Tizzard admitted he was surprised by the handsome victory of this big, strapping grey on his first start over regulation fences since arriving from Ireland, so improvement can be expected through the winter. Although a bit keen early on, the six-year-old soon settled into a lovely rhythm, jumping excellently, and strode clear from early in the long home straight. Some well respected sorts were left trailing in his wake, leaving connections dreaming of a tilt at the Welsh National two of three years down the line.
REGAL ENCORE (WON, Chepstow Oct 13)
Former jockey Anthony Honeyball is beginning to make a name for himself in the training ranks, and expected to fly the flag for him in the coming years is this exciting son of King’s Theatre. Described by the trainer as “a serious horse”, he went some way towards proving it on his seasonal re-appearance under champion jockey Tony McCoy. I was concerned that he had to shoulder a 7lb penalty, while the demands of Chepstow were very different to those of Southwell, where he’d collected his previous win. But he absolutely sluiced up, leaving Honeyball with the dilemma of switching to hurdles or waiting for the Cheltenham Festival bumper next March.
RULE THE WORLD (WON, Punchestown Oct 18)
It was impossible to gauge how strong this early-season maiden hurdle was. But there was no questioning the authority with which Mouse Morris’s five-year-old son of former Arc hero Sulamani won it on his Rules debut. Owned by Michael O’Leary (of Ryanair fame), under the guise of Gigginstown House Stud, he travelled and jumped before putting the race to bed very comfortably. An imposing sort, held in some regard, he’s a half-brother to the yard’s high-class jumper Venalmar, which makes him even more interesting.
SIRE COLLONGES (WON, Cheltenham Oct 19)
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls hasn’t made the slickest of starts to the new season. What’s more, he warned beforehand that this big, raw grey was a hard horse to get fit at home. Therefore for the six-year-old to defy a 156-day absence and make all to lower the colours of a strongly-fancied favourite with the benefit of a previous run under his belt adds up to a smart performance. The French-bred jumped for fun from fence to fence and found more, despite a minor error at the second last, when his well-backed rival loomed large. Nicholls insists there’s much more to come and even at this early stage of the campaign, Cheltenham Festival plans must be in the pipeline.
SIZING RIO (WON, Fairyhouse Oct 23)
Punters would not hear of defeat for the odds-on favourite Cops And Robbers ahead of this maiden hurdle. But Henry De Bromhead’s four-year-old had other ideas, tracking the pacesetter before taking up the running as they approached the home turn and coasting clear for a bloodless victory. Intriguingly, the time of the race was fully ten seconds faster than that won by the highly-rated Waaheb over the same trip half an hour later. Sizing Rio looks good. A step-up in class to graded company next time will tell us how good.
UN BON P’TIT GARS (WON, Uttoxeter Oct 18)
Eccentric trainer Nick Williams sent out Diamond Harry, no less, to take this often-informative novice hurdle three years ago. So it’s probably significant that the 2012 renewal was won so convincingly by his up-and-coming four-year-old stablemate -- despite lumping a 6lb penalty and giving weight to all his opponents. The gelding made all, travelling strongly, jumping well and killing the race with a visible change of gear before sprinting away. A good-looking gelding with a strong French jumping pedigree, he could be above-average.
HORSES TO FOLLOW SUPPLIED BY SCOOP RACING (RICHARD SILVERWOOD).