What does the 2017/18 National Hunt season have in store for us – The dark side…

Image result for paul ferguson jumpers to follow 2017/18

 

I’ve been soaked to the bone every day for the past week on the morning dog walk, like proper drenched from head to toe…

I’m desperately trying to find a ‘dry window’ to get the hedge cut one last time before the autumn/winter weather properly sets in…

A couple more clicks on the boiler timer switch have been activated as Mrs NTF and I see how long we can hold out before switching the heating back on to full…

My sister just sent me a picture of my niece and nephew as they return to school after their summer break…

Yep, you got it, it’s my checklist for the countdown to the start of the National Hunt season!! And with all the above happening in the past seven days or so I reckon the countdown is in full swing!!

The National Hunt yards are throwing away the summer attire, pulling the big boys back in off their holidays and getting ready to gun it full blast towards the 2017/18 National Hunt season.

In all corners of the country the hurdles are being straightened, the fences are being trimmed and National Hunt fans up and down the land are dusting off their tweed jackets and brightly coloured chinos in preparation for another fantastic season of jumping action.

Just think of what is sitting waiting for us around the corner…

The Charlie Hall Chase, The Paddy Power Gold Cup, The Hennessy Gold Cup, The Betfair Chase, The King George, The Welsh National, Cheltenham Trials day, The Betfair Hurdle, The Cheltenham Festival, The Aintree Grand National meeting, The Scottish National, Punchestown…

*I’m sticking with the traditional names, or names I’m used to anyway, of some of those races, I lose track of the name changes if I’m honest!!

Imagine how miserable life in this country would be if we didn’t have National Hunt racing!! I mean it really doesn’t bare thinking about, does it!

Personally I’m chomping at the bit to get going with the jumping game again.

As that annoying little pr!ck Scrappy Doo famously said… Lemme at ’em! Lemme at ’em!

I cannot wait to take dead aim at The National Hunt season 2017/18 and crank NTF back up to full speed. It’s what keeps me going. I simply can’t wait to get stuck into the proper stuff. It’s been too long. I’VE MISSED YOU OLD PAL!!!

I’m currently working away behind the scenes on a number of free guides for NTF readers (that’s you!) and I’ll be drip feeding them to you throughout the next couple of months. Building you all up to a climax before unleashing you upon the wonderful winter game we call jumps racing!

But lets settle back down a bit. None of us are Denman or Coneygree. We are all getting older. We can’t just set off like an unstoppable tank, batting away challengers and finishing even stronger than we started. We need to pace ourselves. We need to be gently warmed up. We need to loosen the mind, get it back in gear and ready to focus fully for the next seven or so months. We want to be full of running by the time ‘the Festival’ comes around, not limping up the hill because we shot our bolts before Charlie Hall Chase day!

And I’ve just the man to get the National Hunt fires lit.

To ease us all back in to the jumping game I’ve once again enlisted the help of a racing aficionado whose opinion I massively respect; the man behind the excellent racing publication Jumpers to Follow, Paul Ferguson.

This is the fifth year in a row that Paul has kick-started the NTF blog with his seasonal overview (fifth year!? where has the time gone!!) and if I’m honest it’s one of my highlights of the year. The moment his guest post drops in my inbox (usually followed by the latest edition of his book dropping through my letter-box) is as clear a sign as any that I need to grab NTF by the collar and shake him out of ‘resting mode’, whilst at the same time getting the National Hunt part of my brain in full focus mode.

So here it is. Anything else you’ve got planned today can wait. Sit back and immerse yourself in a bit of National Hunt ‘dark horse’ action from the master that is Paul Ferguson…

What does the 2017/18 National Hunt season have in store for us – The dark side…

Previously in this feature, I have provided an overview of the season and what I’m most looking forward, but more in keeping with what Jumpers To Follow is all about, I thought I would nominate several lesser-exposed horses to follow as opposed to focusing on the more established horses. 

The exciting Finian’s Oscar dons the front cover of this year’s publication and he is expected to take high rank among this season’s crop of novice chasers.  He would have been a somewhat obvious selection – Ben requested ‘dark horses’ for his NTF readers – so instead, first on the list is the same connections’ Vision des Flos who won the Goffs Land Rover Bumper at the Punchestown Festival, for trainer Robert Tyner.

A four-year-old by Balko – his dam is a half-sister to Galway Plate winner Balko des Flos – he was a shade keen in the early exchanges and raced wide throughout, but he moved smoothly and made stylish headway into the home straight.  He knuckled down well once challenged, showing a fine attitude to make a pleasing winning racecourse debut.  Two days later, he was purchased by Tom Malone (on behalf of Alan Potts) and he can be expected to make up into a smart novice hurdler for Colin Tizzard. 

Gigginstown House Stud looks to hold a strong hand in the novice hurdle division, with the exciting Samcro likely to prove top of the pecking order for the Michael O’Leary-owned operation.  He has recently been joined in the Gordon Elliott stable by dual AQPS winner Dortmund Park who looks a really exciting prospect and could easily make up into a high-class 2m-novice.

Purcahsed at the Arqana sale during the summer, the imposing son of Great Pretender created a lasting impression when making it two from two in the Grand Prix des AQPS at Nantes, finishing full of running in what was the French equivalent of the Champion Bumper.  Clearly not short of speed, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to take high rank over the minimum trip. 

Trainer Harry Fry suffered the shattering blow of losing the potentially top-class Neon Wolf during August and, though it clearly won’t come as any sort of consolation, it would be nice if a new star were to emerge from his Seaborough stable. 

Minella Awards and Acting Lass should be winning races in novice chases for the yard this winter, while Bullionaire should be high up among his novice hurdle prospects, given the manner of his victory in Newbury’s valuable Goffs UK Spring Sales Bumper in March.  The Gold Well four-year-old travelled purposefully throughout and took control of the race when hitting the front on the turn for home.  Held together by Noel Fehily, he ran out a very taking winner, despite showing signs of greenness in the closing stages and he looks like he will relish an extra half-mile over hurdles.  

Graeme McPherson wouldn’t be a trainer renowned for saddling winners in bumpers, so the fact that Captain McGarry was able to win at Kempton on debut bodes extremely well for his future.  A good-looking son of Oscar, he was ridden close to the pace and, having been allowed to stride on as the field turned in, he was doing his best work in the closing stages, appearing to cross the line with plenty left in the tank.

It might not have been the strongest bumper by Kempton standards, but the runner-up did give the form a boost when winning a weak Southwell contest by 26 lengths next time, and there was a lot to like about the way the winner went about his business.  Given both his pedigree and how strongly he finished at Kempton, he might well need 2m4f or thereabouts once sent hurdling. 

The Worlds End won the bumper that concluded Chepstow’s card on Aintree Grand National day in 2016 and 24 hours after he landed the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle (April this year), trainer Tom George saddled the winner of both divisions of the same Chepstow bumper.  The second division looked the stronger event on paper and it was won in taking fashion by Truckers Lodge who looks capable of making up into a smart staying novice hurdler this winter.

The five-year-old Westerner gelding dead-heated with Empire Burleque – a bumper winner for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud in February – on his second start in the Irish Point-to-Point sphere and he would have appreciated a stronger gallop at Chepstow, as he took a keen hold throughout.  Asked to pick up with half-a-mile to run, he showed a lovely attitude when challenged by the smooth-travelling runner-up and he scored by 9 lengths in the end.  There is plenty of stamina in his pedigree, so he might want a trip as the season unfolds. 

To wrap things up, I thought I would highlight a further trio of four-year-olds that I think capable of winning a bumper in the early part of the season – all three shaped with considerable promise without winning on debut last term – starting with Mont des Avaloirs who chased home Truckers Lodge at Chepstow.  A full-brother to stable-mate Le Prezien, he moved extremely well and was eventually outstayed by a really promising horse, who is a year older and had the advantage of having run in a couple of Irish points.  Paul Nicholls’ son of Blue Bresil looks one to note in the coming weeks and could be one for the bumper at Chepstow’s two-day fixture in mid-October, a race the stable won with Coastal Tiep 12 months ago.

Jonjo O’Neill had Counter Shy entered up at Worcester in early-September and, while he didn’t take up the engagement, it shows that the horse is ready to run, so should be expected to line up somewhere fairly soon.  The Galileo gelding is the first foal of a Flemensfirth half-sister to Gold Cup winner Synchronised, so he is likely to need a trip in time, but he showed more than enough at Market Rasen to suggest he can win a bumper before he goes hurdling.  Beaten just a neck in a tight three-way finish – the trio some 22 lengths clear of the fourth – at the hands of the well-bred Who’s My Jockey, he might be better suited by a more galloping track.

Finally, The Butcher Said who finished runner-up at the Punchestown Festival for Emmet and Patrick Mullins, and has since joined Warren Greatrex and the McNeill Family.  A son of Robin des Champs out of a King’s Theatre mare, he travelled powerfully into the straight and looked the most likely winner when asked to quicken, only for Roaring Bull to fly home under Lisa O’Neill.  The third and fourth – both trained by Joseph O’Brien – subsequently advertised the form by winning three bumpers between them and The Butcher Said looks more capable of winning one himself, should his new connections opt to start off down that route. 

There are plenty more names lurking among the 112 pages of Jumpers To Follow including horses to follow from leading jockeys Jamie Codd, Noel Fehily, Jeremiah McGrath, Nick Scholfield and Harry Skelton.  To purchase a copy direct from the publishers Weatherbys, visit www.bettrendsshop.co.uk with the book costing £10.95 plus P&P. 

Enjoy the season and good luck, Paul.

Can’t beat a bit of dark horse action! Cheers Paul, superb as always.

I’ll also be adding plenty of my own thoughts between now and the start of the season via various articles, analysis and free NTF guides, including…

Full Trends Analysis for the Kerry National (13th Sept)

NTF Jockeywatch – The new breed

Six well-handicapped horses you NEED on your side

The NTF alternative 20 to follow

October 90+ day trainers guide

How to profit from the Paul Nicholls string

And much, much more…

But in the meantime…

What do you guys think?

What are you most looking forward to in the 2017/18 National Hunt season?

Is SIZING JOHN a multiple Gold Cup winner in waiting?

Does CONEYGREE still have Grade 1’s in him and more importantly will they ever take that cotton wool off?

Will THISTLECRACK return in the same form and has his Gold Cup chance passed him by?

Can a Dan Skelton or even a Colin Tizzard stop Paul Nicholls & Nicky Henderson from dominating the trainers championship?

Is Harry Skelton v Richard Johnson a serious prospect in the jockeys championship (only 8 winners separate them at present) or will Johnson simply pull away once the season proper gets going?

Which of last season’s novices’ are you most looking forward to this time round?

Who do you fancy from an ante-post perspective?

Let me know YOUR thoughts by dropping a comment below.

The NTF readership is the lifeblood of this blog and I’m always interested to read your views and opinions.

I know a lot of you take the summer off, steering clear of the flat game, but resting time is over guys, it’s time to get back in the game! Wake yourselves up, dust yourselves down, slap yourself about the chops!! Do what ever it takes to get back in the land of the living!! The National Hunt stuff is almost here!!!

If you are new to NTF then pop along here and grab some FREE NTF (and BDH) guides >> Join the NTF Community

Finally I would like to give Paul a huge thanks for his time and expertise and I for one hugely recommend his excellent Jumpers To Follow publication, it’s simply a must have for any and ALL National Hunt fans.

Ben (NTF)

2 Comments

  • Ian Dykes

    Reply Reply September 11, 2017

    I’ve been pulling out the form from last Spring and reviewing the races again with a fresh eye – it is remarkable what you see when you haven’t a financial interest in a race. I think I’ve found a potential Hennessey – sorry, Ladbrokes Gold Cup – winner, and the first of my antepost vouchers is tucked in the wallet.
    I think if Sizing John is to win another Cheltenham Gold Cup then we wont be seeing him at Haydock in November, but he certainly looks capable as I’m not sure that I can see any of last season’s novice chasers stepping-up to the challenge.
    However, what I really look forward to is finding the 2nd-season chasers that the handicapper has overlooked – is there another Wakanda out there about to run-up a sequence of long-odds wins?

    • Ben Aitken

      Reply Reply September 12, 2017

      Morning Ian

      Totally agree, once you let the dust settle and re-watch a race you spot so many things you missed when watching it live and naturally following the horse(s) you’ve backed. Often some of my best future bets are found whilst watching the replays.

      They seem keen to go for the million bonus with Sizing John but I can see them getting the wobbles if Haydock turns up a mudbath for the Betfair Chase, which could easily happen. Would love to see him chase the bonus though, although not at the expense of a second Gold Cup…

      Again I’m 100% with you on the spotting well-handicapped second season chasers, I’ve already been digging through last seasons novice form/ratings looking for likely candidates, hopefully have them up on here in the next couple weeks…

      Best of luck for the season ahead mate

      Ben (NTF)

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