It is nearly time for the blue bloods of the flat to depart the racing stage as the winter warriors of the National Hunt scene gear up for their return and we have picked out seven horses to follow this season.
The hardcore jumps fan has been in hibernation through this glorious summer but, as the leaves fall and the temperature drops, thoughts turn to familiar friends back to add new chapters to their careers.
This sentiment applies to no horse more fittingly than Big Bucks. The legendary staying hurdler is due to return with all roads leading to the 2014 World Hurdle. 18 races unbeaten before injury robbed the Paul Nichols inmate of the chance to win an unprecedented 5th World Hurdle in 2013.
Sprinter Sacre and Hurricane Fly are returning champions looking to cement their status as jumping greats. These old hands may dominate the narrative of the 2013/2014 season but new stars will emerge, This list aims to flag some of these up.
My Tent Or Yours: 6yo Bay Gelding
Nicky Henderson, JP McManus
The brilliantly named (by Desert Prince out of Spartan Girl) gelding is no dark horse having produced possibly the most eye popping performance of last season when running away with the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Subsequent performances at the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals confirmed the horses potential. Despite early leanings towards a novice chasing campaign the markets suggest a tilt at the 2014 Champion Hurdle a task the horse should be well up to.
It is my suspicion the Betfair Hurdle was the horses ultimate aim last season, the point where the horse was at the peak of its well-being, the spring festivals were secondary considerations. With a season planned around the Champion Hurdle, a year older and stronger and hopefully mentally able to settle in races better, My Tent Or Yours looks the pick of the British based 2 mile hurdlers. Races like the Christmas Hurdle and Fighting Fifth should be well within the horses compass in the first half of the season.
Following the terrible recent luck Nicky Henderson has endured with potential hurdling stars Darlan and Spirit Son it would be fitting to see My Tent Or Yours take the step up from pretender to the real deal.
Wrath of Titans: 4yo Bay Gelding
Dessie Hughes, Gigginstown House Stud
This impressive Lingstown Point to Point winner made its rules debut for Gordon Elliot in a hot bumper at the Punchestown Festival narrowly failing to catch Willie Mullins Moyle Park. The horse didn't quite have the run of the race that day and looked slightly green but the potential was there for all to see.
Blessed with size and a real engine the sky could be the limit for this horse, whether its this season I don't know? If they push the horse we could easily be looking at a Neptune Investments Hurdle or Albert Bartlett contender. Perhaps a more likely scenario will see the horse well looked after this year with staying chases its ultimate game.
O'Faolains Boy: 6yo Bay Gelding
Rebecca Curtis, C Trembath & R Hyde
Beaten by the stables flag bearer At Fishers Cross in the Albert Barlett at the Cheltenham Festival, this winning Irish pointer looks all stamina and has the size to make a real chaser. The RSA Chase looks a long term target with the horse sure to pick up novice chase victories at the likes of Chepstow and Ffos Las en route.
Faugheen: 5yo Bay Gelding
Willie Mullins, Gigginstown House Stud
This son of Germany, a horse whose progeny are starting to make more of an impact in National Hunt racing, is perhaps the pick of a stellar looking bunch of Willie Mullins novice hurdlers. Another from the Irish pointing fields the horse lived up to pre race hype by winning a bumper at the Punchestown Festival by 22 lengths, the horse showed plenty of speed that day and could be a very early shout for the Supreme Novices Hurdle in March. Willie Mullins embarrassment of riches will cause him headaches when it comes to panning campaigns for the likes of Faugheen, Made in Germany, Briar Hill, Outlander, Sizing Chile and Moyle Park but campaigned in novice hurdles in Ireland between 2 miles and 2 mile s4 expect Faugheen to rack up wins.
Chatterbox: 5yo Bay Gelding
Nicky Henderson, The Not Afraid Partnership 2
The second Nicky Henderson trained horse to make the list is in the same ownership as the reigning Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth, and whilst it is unlikely Chatterbox will scale those heights, the son of Poliglote should make a impact in novice chases next season. Winning a bumper and two novice hurdles almost forced the sporting connections into running the horse in the Neptune Investments novice hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. The horse ran well to finish fourth but was not knocked about and I expect to see improvement over the larger obstacles. Trip wise, the horse may have the speed for 2 miles chases but the now Grade 1 Jewson Chase could be where the horse ends up. Races like the Feltham Chase over 3 miles at Kempton could be on the agenda.
Urubu D'Irlande: 5yo Bay Gelding
Paul Nichols, CR Whittaker and PF Nichols
To say the Paul Nichols stable had a season to forget is an understatement. Stable stars Al Ferof and Big Bucks injured, a public fall out with leading owner Clive Smith, the loss of stable jockey Ruby Walsh and ultimately relinquishing the Trainers Championship to Nicky Henderson. French bred Urubu D'Irlande could give the yard a boost by becoming a leading 2 mile novice hurdler next season. The horse has only ran once, making a winning debut, but the manner of victory and the form of the race flag Urubu D'Irlande up as a potential smart horse. 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th from the Taunton Race have all gone on to win races, 2nd that day was Oscar Rock who beat subsequent Aintree bumper winner Kilyglass amongst others in a listed race at Newbury. If Urubu D'Irlande stays sound and has its ground I expect the horse will take high order amongst the British novice hurdlers.
Un Atout: 5yo Brown Gelding
Willie Mullins, Gigginstown House Stud
Another for Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud. As a novice hurdler this horse absolutely oozed class when sauntering to victory in its first three races. A long striding front runner Un Atout galloped relentlessly cranking up the pace as rivals toiled. Upped in class at Cheltenham and Punchestown the horse didn't lose any reputation in my eyes, at Cheltenham the horse got a good education and at Punchestown it showed real battling qualities to deny the rapidly improving Ubak. It is rather clichéd but anything the horse achieved as a hurdler was a bonus to connections. The Robin Des Champs son was built for chasing. In terms of nominating a target for the horse it is very difficult. A winner over 2miles as a hurdler and sent to the Supreme Novice at the Cheltenham Festival the Arkle could be on the cards yet the market vibes are for the longer races particularly the RSA Chase. If the horse improves for the step up in trip then there is real Grade 1 potential.
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By Rob Clough.