20 To Watch 2020/21 Review

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

So, the 2020/21 National Hunt season has come to a close and, with it, my 20 To Watch.

Things didn’t start on an ideal note as both Beakstown and Mulcahys Hill were ruled out for the season. It took thirteen runners for the list to have a winner and there were nine fourth place finishes in between October and November – which got extremely frustrating.

The horses raced a total of 84 times with 50% of their finishing positions being in the top three. There were nineteen winners overall from eighteen individual horses. (The same amount as in 2018/19). They finished second seventeen times (frustrating!) and third six times. None ever fell or unseated.

Monkfish was the winning-most horse with four wins, including three grade ones. The dual winners were Sizable Sam, Domaine De L’Isle, Here Comes McCoy and Evander.

The ‘ride of the season’ goes to 5lbs claimer Kevin Brogan. His ride on Domaine De L’Isle on 20th March at Kempton was absolutely incredible. Brogan is a name to follow next season and has a 100% strike rate riding 20 To Watch horses. Brendan Powell also does after winning twice on Evander.

Seven odds-on winners definitely didn’t help the hypothetical ‘profit’. The list returned £62.58 to a £1 stake, which means a £15.62 loss. This is definitely worse than I would like it to be. I strongly believe that horse racing isn’t just about betting so this doesn’t particularly matter to me personally, but I know individuals have made money when they have backed horses on this list.

I made the first 20 To Watch blog for my own benefit in order to monitor the progress of my tracker horses. The response to this year’s list has been amazing. There have been thousands of views on the article; many people have interacted with my tweets and followed the horses. I really appreciate the support.

Please make sure to check out my Flat Ten To Follow, which is operating at a 50% win strike rate.

No1 – Beakstown

Unfortunately, Beakstown was out injured during this season. He remains an excellent prospect with just nine runs under his belt and he’s still eligible for novice chases.

No2 – Confirmation Bias

It has been a bit of a rollercoaster with Confirmation Bias (CB) this season. I didn’t need to be as disappointed as I was with CB’s debut over hurdles – the winner (who is already on next season’s 20 To Watch) has placed in grade one and two company and the second and third have both won three races since. CB was beaten a head at Taunton next time before being well-beaten at the same track. He was second in an all-weather bumper and dropped out tamely in a conditional jockeys’ race, which saw him get a lot of screen time. (see above tweet) Finally, he managed to win! It was in lovely style at Wincanton and I was so pleased! Last time, he finished second to the smart Casa Loupi and now his future looks like it will lie over fences. A gorgeous big horse, it took a while for everything to come together.

No3 – Sizable Sam

Sizable Sam made a promising start to his hurdles career with a good second behind a talented Nicholls runner. He duly won at Wincanton over two miles four and followed that up with a tough success over one furlong further, when quite green. He went to Newbury next time for his first start over three miles. He raced eagerly and close to the lead despite being unproven at the trip. Only headed at the last, he finished a creditable fifth. His last start was in the three-mile grade one novices’ hurdle at the Aintree Grand National meeting but he pulled up before two out. The clue is in his name that he will inevitably be a chaser and could be another smart runner for Jeremy Scott, who tasted grade one glory with Dashel Drasher this season.

No4 – Monkfish

It’s hard to put into words just how much I’ve loved following Monkfish this season. I have to be grateful to him – I tipped him on chase debut in the Racing TV Tipstars Competition and I got abuse for him being 1/3 so, if he hadn’t won, I would’ve looked like a complete idiot. I’m the proud owner of one of his horseshoes from that win, which the McNeill Family kindly got for me. Monkfish has just been absolutely incredible all season with two grade one victories at Leopardstown. Going to the Cheltenham Festival, I was absolutely convinced that he would win the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase – and he did! It wasn’t without its heart-attack inducing moments though; I screamed when Elkat De Rire jumped across him at the last. At the Punchestown Festival, he was second to the excellent Colreevy and he just seemed to feel the pinch after a full-on season. He was perfectly entitled to and I’m adamant that he will win the Gold Cup. 1/3 wasn’t a bad price after all.

No5 – Politesse

Despite not placing in any of her starts this season, Politesse ran creditably on two of her three outings. The form of her first start, which came in October, has worked out well, with the winner, Skyace, winning a grade one. Politesse was a close up fifth. Something must’ve been amiss when she came over to Newbury and was last of five finishers in November. 154 days later, she ran at the Punchestown Festival, upped a mile in trip. She didn’t disgrace herself by finishing fourth and was priced at 125/1 in places. She’s got a good win in her– disappointing it didn’t happen this season.

No6 – Commander Of Fleet

I was delighted when Commander Of Fleet was entered in a chase but he seemed to hate it, finishing last, which was sad to see. Next time, he didn’t have a chance when held up in a competitive Pertemps Qualifier. It was disappointing and I was starting to think that we weren’t going to see the incredible horse who’d won a grade one and finished second in the Albert Bartlett. I was overjoyed when he manged to win, despite not jumping well, at Thurles by nearly two lengths. The race wasn’t strong but it will have given him a confidence-boost. I don’t know what connections will do with him next season but, regardless, I’d love to see him win more races.

No7 – Real Steel

I’m not going to beat around the bush here – I’m disappointed with Real Steel this season. He was my main ‘horse to follow’ but he has run poorly throughout. He was third behind Imperial Aura and Itchy Feet on debut for the Paul Nicholls team. He got a tongue strap for the King George on Boxing Day but never got into contention. It came to light afterwards that he bled that day and he was a non runner in the Ryanair. At Aintree, he never featured in the Betway Bowl and that was his final start of the campaign. I’m not afraid to admit I was wrong about him. However, he clearly isn’t the most straightforward and the bleeding problem is never ideal. Politologue struggled with a similar thing and Nicholls managed to fix him. Real Steel is only eight. I’m sure he will be seen to better effect soon.

Champagnesuperover At Home (JTW Equine Images)

No8 – Champagnesuperover

Champagnesuperover made his debut at Stratford on 29th October to finish second. Next time, the ground was horrible at Chepstow when he finished fourth, beaten one and a half lengths. He must’ve made some sort of respiratory noise as, when he returned fifty-nine days later, he had had a wind op. It worked wonders and he won by five and a half lengths at Ayr, beating a subsequent winner. Next time, he gave a lot of weight to the winner when finishing second and actually ran a blinder in the Albert Bartlett. He travelled extremely well into the race and the finishing place of seventh doesn’t do the run justice. Unfortunately, he really struggled in the three-mile grade one novices’ hurdle at the Aintree Grand National meeting and pulled up. He’s a lovely big horse who has a bright future over fences.

No9 – Le Richebourg

Sadly, Le Richebourg couldn’t carry on from where he left off in his incredible novice chasing campaign two seasons ago. After 673 days off, he ran in the John Durkan, which was raced in dense fog, and he pulled up. On his only other start this season, he was eighty-two lengths behind Chacun Pour Soi and he was eased down up the run-in. I hope we see him back running competitively in class one company soon.

No10 – Your Darling 

Flinteur Sacre is Sprinter Sacre’s younger brother and he had a lofty reputation even before he was beaten by Your Darling. Going into this season, both horses seemed to have great promise but neither lit up the sport. Flinteur Sacre was far too keen but Your Darling fared better. He had to recover from a lung infection to return to the track and his first start was in October, where he just didn’t finish out his race, ending up third. He weakened very quickly at Sandown in November and he had a wind operation shortly after. In May, he was the penultimate runner for the 20 To Watch and he managed to win at Huntingdon. He made the majority of the running and, crucially, he battled on and galloped through the line off top weight, proving the wind operation worked wonders. Congratulations to the yard as he mustn’t be the easiest.

No11 – Topofthegame 

Topofthegame didn’t run this season for the second one in a row. An RSA winner, he has so much class and connections are going to aim for the 2022 Grand National, which would be a remarkable training performance. 

No12 – O Connell Street 

O Connell Street was brought by Gordon Elliott in the summer for £22,000. For him, this horse finished sixth on Irish debut; last of seven and, when he made his handicap debut, he was tenth. Then, the training license switched to Denise Foster after Gordon Elliott’s disgraceful actions. On his first start for Foster, it was his best run, finishing third at Down Royal at 25/1. He was the final runner for the 20 To Watch and he finished fifth of thirteen in a maiden hurdle. He could be quite well-handicapped for something in the summer. 

No13 – Belle De Manech 

Belle De Manech’s first start over hurdles was on 19th November and she was a good fourth behind three fillies who have ran well since. She got off the mark on her second try over two miles at Wincanton beating the well-regarded Rose Of Arcadia. She raced in the lead and was really enthusiastic, finishing strongly under Rex Dingle, who rode out his claim. Next time, she finished second to Allavina, who went on to win two of her next three races. Belle De Manech pulled up on her next start on horrendous ground upped to two miles four furlongs. She ran well for a long way but just didn’t get home. On her last start of the campaign, she dropped out tamely, finishing fourth out of five off top weight on handicap debut. She’s a smart mare and has such a wonderful attitude.

Mulcahys Hill

No14 – Mulcahys Hill

My favourite boy! It was heart-breaking when he was injured at the start of the season but I can’t wait to see him back next season. He’s got a big future in staying chases. Warren Greatrex’s team have moved to a new yard and will be hoping to send out a lot of winners. 

No15 – Captain Kangaroo 

Well, Captain Kangaroo. This horse beat Kilcruit (twelve length Dublin Racing Festival winner, second in the Champion Bumper and Punchestown Festival grade one winner) on his rules debut. Unfortunately, Captain Kangaroo doesn’t have similarly illustrious CV. Fourth on hurdles bow, he was third and then second twice before running an admirable race, only beaten eight and three quarter lengths in the County Hurdle when eleventh. He still didn’t win at odds of 1/5 when returning to maiden hurdle company. I expected him to win this season but he’s a massive horse and could be crying out for a fence. 

No16 – Gallyhill 

Michael Grech’s Gallyhill had a massive reputation before this season after being purchased for £450,000. He made his debut on heavy ground at Newbury and managed to win by toughing it out in a race that has worked out well. At Ascot in February, he lost a shoe and was only second to a Dan Skelton runner, who was carrying 3lbs more. He bypassed Cheltenham to go to Aintree over three miles and he never got into the race and pulled up before three out. He was reported to have made a respiratory noise and his future does seem to lie over a fence. Connections will be hoping he can pay back some of that hefty price tag. 

No17 – Domaine De L’Isle

Domaine De L’Isle had me questioning whether I’d got things very wrong by putting him in my 20 To Watch – he was fourth, pulled up, eighth, fourth and ninth between October and January. In that time, he actually only managed to drop to 3lbs below his last winning mark over fences. After a break of 56 days, a wind operation and a tongue tie, Kevin Brogan gave him an incredible ride to stalk through the field and grab the lead between the last two obstacles. It was a brilliant win at odds of 14/1. Following him home was 2019/20 20 To Watch horse Manofthemountain. Domaine De L’Isle, stepped up to three miles two at Cheltenham, in the middle of April, and ran so gamely at this longer trip. He led at about the last and, despite hanging, managed to win under Brian Hughes. This horse’s two wins gave me a lot of satisfaction!

No18 – Hand In My Pocket

Hand In My Pocket hasn’t raced since September 2020 and I’m not sure why. She’s a lovely mare so, if she returns to the track, make sure to keep an eye out for her!

No19 – Kepagge

Kepagge stayed over hurdles this season and he didn’t go as well as I expected. He had a wind op over the summer and finished a decent fourth at Cheltenham in November. At the Warwick Classic Chase meeting, he had a torrid passage and some how managed to stay on his feet to grab sixth. Later in February, he was ninth of fifteen in a competitive Ascot handicap hurdle when he weakened from two out. He was very good in novice company but couldn’t quite make his presence felt this season.

No20 – Here Comes McCoy

Here Comes McCoy has been great for his connections, who sponsor the Classic Chase and County Hurdle. He was fourth on hurdles debut when everything probably happened a too quickly over two miles. Faivour came second that day and has won a grade two. Returning to Uttoxeter over a little bit further, he was a great winner and given a really good ride by Paddy Brennan but disappointed behind Sizable Sam (NO3) at Wincanton next time. After seventy days off, he was second, giving 6lbs, at Wetherby. He managed to lead right when it mattered over two miles and two furlongs to land his second race of the campaign. He couldn’t back that up in a competitive Cheltenham handicap hurdle but was only beaten fourteen and a half lengths. He’s a lovely, consistent horse who had been trained extremely well by Olly Murphy.

No21 – Evander

Evander stepped in for Beakstown at the recommendation of Tom Williams (JTW Equine Images). Oliver Greenall’s charge has been very busy this year and will have given a lot of joy to his owners in these strange times. He started out by finishing fourth at Sedgefield and third at Market Rasen. He learnt a lot from those two outings and he won by a massive fourteen lengths at Doncaster in December. In early January, he ran a blinder to be second to the late Capeland, beating grade one winner Slate House. He disappointed at Sandown when he put in a bold showing before a bad error ruined his chances. He was a distant second at Carlisle when his jumping wasn’t necessarily as good as normal. Everything came good when he won amazingly at Ludlow, capping off a great season.

No 22 – The Big Breakaway

The Big Breakaway took the place of Mulcahys Hill and this horse was the first winner for the blog. He won over three miles and half a furlong by ten lengths at Cheltenham and he looked like an exciting prospect. At Exeter next time, he dropped back in trip to two miles three and got beaten when giving 8lbs to Bold Plan. Then, he made a mess of a lot of the obstacles in the grade one Kauto Star Novices Chase. He had a lot to prove after that but managed to be third in the Brown Advisory Novices Chase behind Monkfish, beaten seventeen and a half lengths. He pulled up at Aintree when the jockey said he ran flat. It’s hard to know what to do with him now. The Tizzards have had a horrendous year both on and off the track. I hope things pick up for them next season and The Big Breakaway could be a Welsh National horse.