Progress report on horses to follow for 2013/14 jumps season

At the start of the current jumps season, I nominated 22 horses to follow.

Thursday, 6th February 2014, 8:37 am
KING FOR A DAY -- Silviniaco Conti jumps the last, ahead of Cue Card and Al Ferof, on his way to victory in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day. (PHOTO BY: Steve Parsons?PA Wire)
KING FOR A DAY -- Silviniaco Conti jumps the last, ahead of Cue Card and Al Ferof, on his way to victory in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day. (PHOTO BY: Steve Parsons?PA Wire)

Now that we have reached the halfway point of the campaign, with the big spring festivals just around the corner, it’s an ideal time to check on their progress and give you an update.

Here are the original 22, 14 of whom have already won at least once this term.


2m4f/3m chaser

Form so far: 13

After a pleasing victory at Ascot to mark his comeback from a long absence, Paul Nicholls’s grey was well beaten in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day. The feeling is that he was inconvenienced more by the testing ground than the 3m trip, and connections are still holding out hopes that he will make the Cheltenham Gold Cup. They will give a final decision after a run at Newbury next month but, to my mind, the Ryanair Chase is a more suitable Festival target.


2m/2m4f hurdler

Form so far: 11

Willie Mullins’s exciting mare remains unbeaten after claiming the scalp of Zarkandar in a couple of high-class 2m4f hurdle races. Now the big question is whether she will drop in trip to go for the 2m Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival or go up in trip for the 3m World Hurdle instead. In actual fact, the race she is tailormade for is the 2m4f Grade One Aintree Hurdle in April. But wherever she goes, I suspect she will need plenty of juice in the ground to be competitive against the best at the minimum trip.


3m+ handicap chaser

Form so far: F276

Original plans to go for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury were shelved -- and two subsequent performances suggest trainer David Pipe made the right call. Even on his favoured testing ground, the eight-year-old has not made the anticipated progress from last season. The only positive to be gleaned is that his handicap mark isn’t suffering for when the time comes to tackle 4m-plus, which he’s looking in need of.


2m4f handicap chaser

Form so far: 1R1

It was hugely satisfying to see Paul Nicholls’s eight-year-old produce a smooth winning performance at Ascot last Saturday -- and at a tasty price. The £100,000 purchase had blotted his copybook when refusing to start on his previous outing, but the application of a hood seems to have contained his quirks. At his best, he oozes class and remains lightly-raced, but Nicholls hints that he might miss Cheltenham to stay on right-handed tracks.


2m/2m4f novice hurdler

Form so far: 12

Alan King’s stable has been under such a cloud that he shut down completely earlier this month, which might go some way towards explaining why this rangy youngster was beaten at odds of 1/8 at Ascot on his second start over hurdles. King is unlikely to rush him back, given that he is viewed as a chaser, long term. But there is little doubt that he will be good one day.


2m4f/3m handicap hurdler

Form so far: 93

Given that Donald McCain believed this six-year-old to be well handicapped at the start of the season, he must have been very disappointed by his two performances so far -- particularly at Aintree in December when he was heavily backed. Mind you, the yard has been quiet all season and for a horse who has still raced only six times, he might need more experience. It is worth reiterating that he beat The Liquidator (hot favourite for a Grade One earlier this month) on his debut in Ireland.


2m/2m4f novice hurdler

Form so far: 131

As mentioned above, Donald McCain’s stable has yet to fire on all cylinders this term, so it is probably to the credit of this six-year-old that he has successfully made the transition from Bumpers to novice hurdles. In fact, he would still be unbeaten but for a bluinder at the last flight at Bangor last month. His next appearance, up in grade, will inform us whether he’s capable of lining up at Cheltenham and/or Aintree.


3m chaser

Form so far: 25

David Pipe’s stable star made a brilliant return to action when runner-up to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, which was his first appearance stepping up from novice company. So it was a massive letdown when he flopped in the King George a month later, especially on a track and on ground that seemed sure to suit. It’s worth drawing a line through that effort, but whether Pipe can now get him back to his best for Cheltenham and Aintree is another matter.


2m/2m4f handicap hurdler

Form so far: 64

Cumbrian trainer Nicky Richards has not been able to resist trying to turn his six-year-old into a Champion Hurdle candidate after the immense promise he showed as a novice last season. But the gelding has fallen short in both the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, so it will be interesting to see if he now goes down the handicap route (where he would still be fairly treated) or waits for fences next season.


2m novice chaser

Form so far: 11

Paul Nicholls’s six-year-old chaser, whom he has likened to the great Azertyuiop, did this list a grand favour when winning a Grade One at Sandown in December at 13/2. The triumph established him as one of the best 2m novices in the country and put him firmly on track for a tilt at the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival. His speed, class and jumping ability make him a force to be reckoned with.


2m4f/3m novice chaser

Form so far: 121

The RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival is the big target for Oliver Sherwood’s game, consistent and genuine novice -- and on what we have seen so far this season, he won’t be far away. Even the form of his sole defeat, behind Paul Nicholls’s Black Thunder at Haydock, has worked out really well, and he himself returned to winning ways in most emphatic fashion at Wetherby over Christmas. What’s more, he’s still improving.


2m hurdler

Form so far: 151

I was astonished to hear trainer Jeremy Scott tell the Press the other day that he might bypass the Champion Hurdle with his eight-year--old stable star because he would prefer Soft ground. Astonished because, earlier in his career, Scott insisted he wanted better going. And astonished because, days earlier, he had returned from an injury absence to produce a polished winning display at Haydock, even though he wasn’t 100% sharp. In my humble view, the Cheltenham showpiece should be firmly in his sights because he holds an outstanding each/way chance.


2m/2m4f novice hurdler

Form so far: 117

Having looked a young horse of considerable potential in his first two outings over hurdles, including in a Grade Three contest, Eddie Harty’s five-year-old, owned by JP McManus, rather fluffed his lines when stepped up in class at Fairyhouse two months ago. He has not been since, so Harty might be freshening up for the spring or biding his time while the horse strengthens up. Bought for big bucks, I’m sure he’s useful.


2m hurdler

Form so far: 3

How connections must be regretting messing about with a run on the Flat towards the end of October with their brilliant 2013 Triumph Hurdle winner. It meant that he was pitched into a full-blown Grade One event against the likes of champion Hurricane Fly for his first taste of hurdles outside novice company -- and badly needed the run, refusing to settle properly for a long way. In the circumstances, he fared OK, and you are sure to see a better horse next time. But time is short if he is to win a Champion Hurdle this term.


3m+ chaser

Form so far: 31

When this list was first published, we spoke of the “deadly blend of speed and stamina” that Paul Nicholls’s chaser possesses. The eight-year-old travels and jumps, but also stays -- as we saw to outstanding effect in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day. The extra 2f of the Cheltenham Gold Cup will be right up his street and as things stand, he is the horse most likely to serve it up to reigning champion Bobs Worth. It’s not easy to forget that he was bang there on the premises when coming down at the third last in last year’s Blue Riband.


2m chaser

Form so far: P

One of the saddest sights of the National Hunt season so far was that of Nicky Henderson’s majestic champion chaser being pulled up on his seasonal bow at Kempton over Christmas. He was found to have a heart problem which, experts say, has now corrected itself. But huge question marks will hover over his return to the track, which is most likely to be at Newbury next month. If that goes to plan, he should be able to defend his Cheltenham crown in March. If not, stablemate Captain Conan is waiting in the wings to take advantage.


2m/2m4f novice chaser

Form so far: 25F

A powerful, imposing bull of a horse, David Pipe’s looked certain to make his mark in novice chases this term, especially after a promising seasonal debut at Uttoxeter. But he took a heavy tumble at Newbury last time and has not been seen since the backend of November. Given that he is best on soft winter ground, that has to be a worry. Let’s hope that Pipe, who describes the eight-year-old as “star quality”, can get him back in action soon.


2m/2m4f novice chaser

Form so far: 11321

Jonjo O’Neill’s seven-year-old has made the transition from novice hurdles to novice chases with aplomb, rattling off three wins, plus two other fine performances behind top-class rivals Hinterland and Oscar Whisky. A proven Grade One performer, he is likely to go for the 2m5f contest at the Cheltenham Festival, rather than the 2m Arkle -- unless the ground comes up testing. Significantly, he has banked invaluable experience of the track and its fences.


2m hurdler

Form so far: 112

After power-packed victories at Kempton and then Cheltenham, I became convinced that Nigel Twiston-Davies’s was the horse they all had to beat in the Champion Hurdle. But I must confess I was a shade disappointed to see him beaten by My Tent Or Yours at Kempton over Christmas. I’m not too sure it was the right contest for him, especially as they had to give him such a hard race, tactically, to try and draw the sting out of his rival. Therefore the jury is out now on whether he can repeat his superb success at the 2012 Festival when he landed the Neptune for novices.


2m4f/3m handicap hurdler

From so far: 261

After a most promising seasonal return at Cheltenham in November, David Pipe’s big, lengthy six-year-old looked capable of picking up a handicap hurdle or too. But after disappointing next time, Pipe sensibly wasted no time in switching him to fences, for which he was bought. He unshipped his rider and got loose on the day of his intended chase bow. Indeed that rider, Tom Scudamore, now refers to him as “a fruit-loop”. But he behaved himself next time and made all to make no mistake. He’s a lovely, honest galloper.


2m4f/3m novice chaser

Form so far: 1112

I’ve not seen a classier chaser in training this season than Paul Nicholls’s six-year-old. He reeled off an impressive hat-trick of early-season victories and lost nothing in defeat when almost succeeding in giving the top-class Oscar Whisky 8lbs at Cheltenham last time. I’m a little worried that Nicholls now plans to send him straight to the Cheltenham Festival without another run, but I am already on record as saying I will eat my hat if the gelding doesn’t win the Ryanair Chase.


2m/2m4f handicap hurdler

Form so far: 20

Although John Ferguson introduces many a decent, well-bred animal from the Flat to the jumping game, too many of them fail to progress from their initial success in novice company. I hope this seven-year-old does not fall into the same category because, this time last year, the 2011 November Handicap winner looked a serious prospect over timber and began this term seemingly well handicapped. Sadly, he ran too badly to be true at Haydock in November and has not been out since.

IF I could add to the list at this stage, these would be the top ten to follow from now until the end of the season -- BOSTON BOB, CALIPTO, CAPTAIN CONAN, FELIX YONGER, KINGS PALACE, MARITO, MY TENT OR YOURS, ROKCY CREEK, THE PAPARRAZI KID and URANO.