Five To Follow – National Hunt 16/17

It’s that time of the season, when the horses to follow lists come out and horses are jotted into trackers and notebooks across the land.

The National Hunt sphere sees old favourite come back year on year, so my particular five to follow are fairly young (majority are novices’), so that there may be value in following them progress.

Hopefully the sextet can see us build up to the big days with plenty of profit already banked!

EDWULF (7-y-o gelding – Joseph O’Brien – JP McManus)

Another to keep an eye on as the season progresses is the potentially useful Edwulf. He’s in the capable hands of fledgling trainer Joseph O’Brien after moving from father Aidan’s yard after his switch from Ben Pauling.

He ran three times for Aidan last season and there was three promising, yet very frustrating runs. Despite being sent off a big price on his chasing debut, he looked to have the race in the bag as he powered clear before the last only to come to grief at the final obstacle.

A drop down to hurdles followed after being purchased by JP McManus and despite sketchy jumping as the tempo increased, he battled on well to hold the very useful Haymount at bay. A Grade 2 beckoned next and again, he was running a big race before coming down at the third last.

Of course, jumping is clearly an issue but having spent a summer schooling with Joseph and his team, he is sure to have learned a lot. It looks as though the plan is to return to Novices’ Chases and he could progress into a very useful horse, should his jumping hold up.


BATTLE OF SHILOH (7-y-o gelding – Tom George – Paul and Clare Rooney)

Tom George and Paddy Brennan have enjoyed a superb partnership over the years, so it was somewhat of a surprise to see the pair part ways, as Adrian Heskin arrives from Ireland to become retained rider for George.

They have started well and surprisingly and they look to have plenty of solid horses to go to war with this season, with one of the most interesting, the still unbeaten Battle Of Shiloh.

Having won twice in the P2P sphere, he scored gamely on both hurdles starts last season. He rallied strongly on both occasions and it appears he has tremendous courage to go with his eye-catching ability.

It looked as though his unbeaten run was going to come to an abrupt end after some shoddy jumping on his chasing debut earlier this season and after a mistake at the last seen him a fair few lengths behind Jimmy The Jetplane, it looked as though he was to succumb to defeat.

However after a couple of reminders he picked up smartly and in the end, went past Jimmy The Jetplane to win smartly going away in the shadows of the post.

He is sure to have learned plenty from that run and with many sure to take the run on its bare form, the manner of the win suggests he could be a fair few pounds ahead of the handicapper. He has improvement to come and he is one who could be worth keeping on side as the season progresses.

WESTEND STORY (5-y-o gelding – Phillip Hobbs – Mick Fitzgerald Racing Club)

Phillip Hobbs and Richard Johnson often team up with great success and one of their more likely types this season looks to be the exciting Westend Story.

He made a fairly innocuous start to racing life, falling twice in P2P’s, before a switch to bumpers – and the Phillip Hobbs stable – seemed to work some magic. He made his debut on Boxing Day at Huntingdon, in what looked a decent enough bumper, before being backed into odds-on, winning by a cosy six-lengths.

It was a very pleasing performance for connections and they wouldn’t have to wait too long before tasting success again, as he broke the heart of his rivals on Valentine’s Day (I’m sorry), winning a race at Exeter by 18l.

They didn’t turn out to be the strongest of races, which allowed him to be sent off at 20/1 in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival. He travelled nicely into the race before looking set to be outpaced over three furlongs out, as the tempo increased.

He was slightly tapped for toe but he responded well to his rider’s urgings, staying on well without ever having the pace to threaten the leaders. He picked up the pieces to finish fifth and over a longer trip this season, he could be a force to be reckoned with, if schooling at the Hobbs stable has worked.

Of course, that is a slight concern given his P2P efforts but Hobbs is often reliable at readying one for their novice hurdling campaign. He’s currently 33/1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and it will be interesting to see where he aimed.










MARRACUDJA (5-y-o gelding – Paul Nicholls – Ditcheat Racing Club Marracudja)

It wouldn’t be a five (or ten) to follow over the jumps without a Paul Nicholls runner and this year, that coveted nod goes towards Marracudja. He made a rather disappointing start to live over hurdles, flopping behind the very impressive Peace And Co.

He was put away for the rest of the season and when returning fresh, he won two novices’ hurdles at Wincanton in fine style, suggesting he had plenty of ability. He contested a really competitive race at Kempton on Boxing Day, where he ran a fine race to be third behind subsequent Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner, Altior.

He returned for a Grade 2 at Kempton at the end of February and he battled on well, only just failing to get the better of the well-regarded Winter Escape. He was a no-show in a Grade 1 at Aintree but he showed no ill-effects of that race, as he embarked on a chasing career earlier this month.

It always looked as though he would develop into a chaser and if he progresses from his hurdles form, he will be a force to be a reckoned with in the novice division. He could hardly have been more impressive on debut, defying a drift, jumping boldly out in front before moving readily clear of subsequent winner Ballyboley.

He ticked all the boxes as an impressive novice and given his trainer is already nominating targets at Aintree and Punchestown (likely to skip Cheltenham), it suggests he rates him highly. He could be a very nice horse.

CONSUL DE THAIX (4-y-o gelding – Nicky Henderson – JP McManus)

The final member of the five to follow comes from the Nicky Henderson yard, in Consul De Thaix. The JP McManus-owned gelding ran twice in Britain last season for Henderson and it was evident they rated him highly, as he was thrown in at the deep end with a Grade 2 engagement at Cheltenham.

He travelled with enthusiasm for Barry Geraghty and looked to have every chance coming over the last. He battled bravely but couldn’t find what was required to get past the highly-rated Protek De Flos and Clan Des Obeaux.

Subsequently, he was put away until being aimed at the Triumph Hurdle, for which he was sent off at 33/1. He was kept towards the rear of the field and was outpaced when push came to shove but he stayed on once beaten to run a nice enough race.

Considering it was only his second start under rules in this country, it was a fair effort and it would be no surprise to see him aimed at graded races or maybe a top end handicap later in the season.

He has plenty of scope to improve under the handling of Nicky Henderson and he rates as an exciting prospect that perhaps may slip under the radar.

Cheltenham Festival – Day Four Preview

For the second time this week, we return with two good priced places out of three, but still no winner.

Friday looks a good day to end the festival in style, and there is plenty of value flying around.

The Triumph Hurdle looks a typically competitive curtain raiser, and the vote in this goes to the highly rated Calipto. Paul Nicholls hasn’t been in the greatest form, but has talked very highly of his four-year-old who remains unbeaten in Britain, winning twice since coming over from Ireland.

He oozed class when winning at Newbury both times, beating the highly-rated Activial (subsequent Adonis winner), in the process. He looks a likely improver, and should take all the beating according to trainer Paul Nicholls, who seemed rather bullish when describing his geldings chances in the opener.

A nifty hurdler who travels like a dream, should appreciate the stiff finish, and the ground should hold no worries. It is a very open race, but his current price strikes value, especially when there are firms offering money back for second and third placed finishers.

Daryl Jacob was extremely emotive when finishing a nose second behind Fingal Bay on Thursday, and this looks the ideal opportunity to land a big prize to ease the pain of missed chances so far. He will have his fair share of supporters, and the current 9/2 shouldn’t last too long.

Elsewhere on the card, Fingal Bay’s team of Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson team up with the interesting Cheltenian who landed the Champion Bumper back in 2011.

He is lightly races over hurdles, having only had four runs, but he showed he still possesses plenty of ability when finishing a close fourth in the Betfair Hurdle last time out. The form of the race has worked out well with Dell’ Arca and Smashing finishing right in the mix in the Coral Cup.

The eight-year-old is running off a very generous mark of 137 and should go extremely well on his preferred better ground. The 10/1 looks a cracking each-way bet taking all things to account, and he will more than likely go off a single figure price.

Another interesting runner in the Martin Pipe is Don Poli. Willie Mullins five-year-old has improved with each run, which culminated in a smashing victory in a Grade Three at Clonmel.

The trip looks a tad on the sharp side on Friday, but his ability to maintain a solid gallop may be deadly if Fogarty decides to take him from the front.  He looks a likely improver, will be staying on best of all and the vibes from the stable have all been positive, with a big run expected.

He is currently 12/1, which looks a solid each-way bet given the form Mullins has been in so far this week.

The final selection of the day, and meeting looks to be the best of the bunch. Ned Buntline has been a talking horse from the Noel Meade stable from day one.

The six-year-old has solid form in the bag, including finishing a very close runner-up in his maiden behind none other than the Champion Hurdle hero, Jezki.

He has never finished outside of the first three, and has a bold jumping style which looks suited to the obstacles at Cheltenham. He is ridden by his perfect match in the ultra-calm Paul Carberry who has a sixth sense when it comes to producing his mounts at the perfect time.

JP McManus has had a fantastic week so far, and Ned Buntline could round it off in the perfect manner. He is on an extremely generous mark, and if he can replicate his best form, he should go extremely close. The 10/1 with Boylesports will not last long, and he is sure to be one of the biggest gambles of the day, especially if JP’s go well earlier in the day.


Triumph Hurdle: Calipto @ 9/2 (Boylesports or 4/1 with Paddy Power, money back if second or third)

Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle: Cheltenian @ 10/1(Bet365)

Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle: Don Poli @ 14/1 (32Red)

Grand Annual: Ned Buntline @ 10/1 (Boylesports)

Cheltenham Festival – Day Three Preview

It has come to the point in the week, where punters are either chasing losses, or attempting to play up their winners and make it a really good week.

The focal point of the day is undoubtedly the World Hurdle and the clash between the proven Big Buck’s who is aiming for his fifth World Hurdle, and the Irish heroine Annie Power who has swept all before her this season.

Annie Power is a worthy favourite after swerving the Champion Hurdle and potential clash with Quevega in the Mares Hurdle, to take up her entry here, but she will not have it her own way. She exudes class, and the vibes in Ireland are all extremely positive, so you can guarentee she will be a very warm favourite (potentially around the Evens mark, once the Irish support arrives), and this offers very little value.

Big Buck’s returned to the track after 420 days off, to put in a stellar performance when looking the likely winner everywhere apart from the line in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January. He will come on for the run, and if he has retained his level of form from previous years, he surely has to go close and 3/1 seems very fair.

However the value lies with the JP McManus pair, who will be hoping to continue JP’s run of good fortune, after his 1-2 in the Champion Hurdle.

More of That has ran out an impressive winner on his last three starts, and with Jonjo having his bunch in great form, he should run well at 10/1. However preference is for At Fishers Cross, who Tony McCoy has opted for, after having the choice of the pair.

Rebecca Curtis trains At Fishers Cross, and she is in fantastic form, having already trained a winner at the Festival this week (O’Faolain’s Boy). The seven-year-old bounded away to land the Albert Bartlett at last year’s meeting, to announce himself as a serious staying hurdler. He confirmed the promise when landing a Grade One at Aintree in impressive fashion, on similar ground that he will encounter on Thursday.

He started the season a short-price for the race, but he has progressively drifted (8/1 now) after jumping worries and two poor performances led many to believe he wouldn’t turn up for the race. Yet, a very positive run when returning to somewhere near his best form, finishing second (ahead of Big Buck’s in third), at Cheltenham in January. The ground will be no worries, and he’s returning to a track where he has ran four times, winning three of those, and finishing second in one. All things point to a big run, and the in-form duo of Curtis and McManus could be celebrating once more.

Elsewhere, there are two other decent-priced runners that are of interest. The first is Wonderful Charm in the JLT Novices’ Chase. He has performed well all season, taking to fences like the proverbial duck to water. A strong traveling speed, bold jumping style and the fact he arrives fresh are three very big positives for Paul Nicholls’ runner.

His only defeat over fences came at the hands of Oscar Whiskey (who re-appears tomorrow), but he was giving away eight pounds to the winner, and only went down by half-a-length. He acts well around Cheltenham, and should be able to reverse the form.

His biggest challenger looks to be Felix Yonger, who was second in the Irish Arkle last time out. He looks a big danger, but is prone to throwing in a dodgy jump from time-to-time, and it may pay to stay with the stronger jumper, in Wonderful Charm, currently an 11/2 chance.

The final selection of the day comes in the lucky last, another McManus owned gelding, in the shape of Cause of Causes, who seems to thrive in big fields. He has finished second in his last two starts, and has been laid out for the Cheltenham Festival, having been entered in a whole host of races. The fact he takes this engagement, is telling and although he faces still opposition, especially in the shape of the well-fancied Indian Castle, he should be able to throw down a big challenge.

The six-year-old looks to have a big future, and has a positive jockey booking in the shape of Nina Carberry, whose experience around Cheltenham, may pay dividends. The former Ladbroke winner is extremely consistent, a solid jumper, and you are sure to be guaranteed a solid run for your money, at a very tempting 7/1.


JLT Novices’ Chase: Wonderful Charm @ 11/2

World Hurdle: At Fishers Cross @ 8/1

Kim Muir Challenge Cup: Cause of Causes @ 7/1

E.W Patent @ 467/1