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.

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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.

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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.

Punchestown Festival – Day One

Arguably there is only festival in the world that comes close to matching the Cheltenham Festival for it’s raucous atmosphere, and that is the Punchestown Festival. Fortunately for us, it is that time of year once again and the countdown is nearing it’s end, as action gets underway on Tuesday afternoon.

After a record-break 2013 festival, Willie Mullins will be hoping to go close to matching his 13 winner figure, and his best chance of doing that on day one looks set to be with Faugheen.

The high-class gelding managed to keep his unbeaten record in tact despite noticeable jumping errors in the Neptune at Cheltenham, and came away from the week as one for the notebook. He showed his massive engine when powering away from the field by four-and-a-half lengths, and he is going to be extremely hard to beat on Tuesday afternoon.

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He looks a magnificent prospect for the future, and should he win impressively his price will shorten for next year’s Cheltenham Festival, as in 2013, this race was won by this year’s Champion Hurdle winner Jezki.

He is bidding for back-to-back Grade One glory, and already has course form, having beaten Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up Josses Hill by a mammoth 22-lengths on his debut at the track last year. This form has been franked plenty of times, and he should take all the beating back in Ireland.

His 4/5 price seems very fair, and he is more than likely to go off around the 4/7 mark, with the Irish punters backing Mullins from the very start. However, it is another one of his runners that could go very close to matching Faugheen, in the shape of Wicklow Brave. We need to forgive his last run where he went out like a light, but earlier on in his career he had threatened to be a high-class hurdler, before fading away in his last two runs. He is an interesting contender, and should definitely be considered to make the placings at 14/1.

The Boylesports.com Champion Chase looks a very hot race, with Hidden Cyclone topping the market at 4/1. He has finished in the placings on his last six starts, including a valiant second behind Dynaste in the Ryanair Chase on his last visit to the track. He should go extremely close, but just seems to lack the required quality to get a win at the top level, consistently falling just short.

This means, we should side with Module, with Tom George’s runner bypassing Aintree when well-fancied, to have a crack at the Punchestown feature. He has been in great form this season, landing the Game Spirit Chase in tremendous fashion, before finishing a fair third behind the highly-rated Sire De Grugy at Cheltenham, in the Champion Chase.

A repeat of that run should see him go extremely close, and the decision to pull him out of his engagement on the day, at Aintree, suggests he holds high hopes of a big effort here at Punchestown. The in-form Barry Geraghty takes over from Paddy Brennan, and his mount should go extremely well in the flat track in Ireland, with the current 5/1 looking more than fair.

The final Grade One of the day could well make it a double for connections of Faugheen, with Djakadam looking set to hold a real chance.

He was travelling extremely well in the JLT Novices’ Chase, before coming down four from home, and he will be out to atone for that error on Tuesday. It is significant that Ruby has opted for Djakadam over RSA Chase favourite Ballycasey, as he must be performing with some vigor at home.

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The five-year-old receives nine pounds off his rivals, and this could be the difference between him and favourite Morning Assembly who comes into the race off a respectable third in the RSA. He is a high-class chaser in his own right, and is the worthy favourite if we’re going on form in the book. However Djakadam looks open to vast improvement, and the master handler Mullins should go extremely close to notching another winner, should his mount be none-the-worse for his Cheltenham fall.

The last selection of day one, is The Game Changer for Gigginstown Stud, whose runners have been in fine form of late.

The five-year-old was traveling extremely well before being hampered two out, behind the highly-rated Josses Hill in a Grade Two at Aintree. He ended up finishing well down the field after failing to recover from the mishap, but you can guarantee if he had managed to get a clear run, the result would have been a lot different and he would not be 16/1 for Tuesday’s handicap hurdle.

Davy Russell takes over the reigns, and should the gelding manage to settle early on, he will be able to mount a real challenge in what looks a very open race. The trip and ground look no bother to him, and with a clear run this time around, he should go very close at an attractive price.

Selections;

Win Patent: 42.2/1

4:20 Punch: Faugheen  @ 4/5 (Boylesports) 

5:30 Punch: Module @ 5/1 (Various)

6:40 Punch: Djakadam @ 3/1 (Boylesports)

 

E.W Singles & Double: 254/1

4.20 Punch: Wicklow Brave @ 14/1 (Betfred)

6:05 Punch: The Game Changer @ 16/1 (Bet365)