The Charlie Hall Chase is one of the early National Hunt season highlights. The race itself is named after National Hunt trainer Charlie Hall and his biggest win was in the 1958 Champion Hurdle with a horse named Doorknocker. Also, he won the 1948 Scottish Grand National with Magnetic Fin so, in a way, it is fitting that the 2021 Scottish Grand National Winner, Mighty Thunder, lines up in this grade two chase.
However, favouritism lies with Cyrname for trainer Paul Nicholls, owner Mrs Johnny De La Hay and jockey Harry Cobden. In 2020, Cyrname was a leading player for this race, but all of the discussion beforehand had been about whether he would handle going left-handed. All of his best performances had occurred when he raced at right-handed tracks like Kempton and Ascot. Another weakness Cyrname seemingly had was that he was coming into the race off the back of a nasty fall at Ascot in February 2020. There were no signs of any worries from the horse as he jumped boldly and was full of life. He asserted impressively and Cobden only had to give him as shake of the reins to go and win the race.
However, everything went wrong in Cyrname’s season after that success. In the King George, he over-jumped on a few occasions and, arguably, the front runners went a bit too slow to truly benefit him. He cruised into the race, travelling better than most, but he reached at one of the obstacles and lost ground quickly. Cobden never asked him any serious questions after that and pulled up. The race panned out similarly in the Ascot Chase in February, although they changed tactics and popped him out into the lead. With his exuberant jumping style, he can tend to just have to reach for a fence if the stride he takes off on is too long. One example of this just put him off balance and made him vulnerable to the challenges of the other runners. Dashel Drasher loomed past, Master Tommytucker went with him, Benny’s King got himself into the race but Cyrname began to go backwards. He dragged his hind legs through three out and Cobden dropped his hands, easing him out of the race.
The official reason given was that Cyrname had made a respiratory noise and he has had a wind operation over the summer. Hopefully, this will help him to finish out his race like he didn’t do last season. In 2019 and 2020, he won first time out and he will be fit and raring to go. It is fair to expect that he will be fresh in running and it will be interesting to see how they chose to run him – whether they let him gallop along in front using that lovely big stride of his or they hold him up to ease into the race.
Paul Nicholls vs Nicky Henderson will be one of the main narratives this season, as always, and Henderson is represented by Fusil Raffles, ridden by Daryl Jacob in the double-green of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. After starting out early last season with wins over fences at Uttoxeter and Cheltenham, Fusil Raffles pulled up at the latter track in November with the ground (good to soft but considered softer) to blame. However, he did manage to win on officially soft ground at Cheltenham a month later over two and a half miles so maybe he had an off-day in November.
Fusil Raffles had a break and returned to Cheltenham for the Marsh Novices Chase, where he finished second by three lengths to stablemate Chantry House. At Aintree, he looked like something was amiss when pulled up sharply. He burst a blood vessel, but it was nothing serious as we have already seen him out this season. He went to Newton Abbot on 10th October where he carried 11st6lbs compared to Bravemansgame’s 10st8lbs. He was beaten five and a half lengths by the promising novice. This was over two miles five and it remains to be seen whether he’ll stay three miles. He’s only young and remains a good prospect. If it rains, the ground could go against him.
Dan Skelton is a force to be reckoned with against Henderson and Nicholls this season and I was lucky enough to visit his yard recently. Read about it here – https://reinitinracing.wordpress.com/2021/10/13/dan-skelton-racing-visit/. Shan Blue is Dan’s representative here with his brother Harry on board for owner Colm Donlon. He was one of the flag bearers for the yard last season. Over fences, he has really flourished, winning his first two races over the bigger obstacles by fourteen and sixteen lengths respectively. This earned him favouritism for the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, which he won in smart style. Next time, he ran in the Scilly Isles, which was an odd race and he came second after hanging left up the run-in. In the Marsh, he was fifth, meaning he has eight lengths to make up with Fusil Raffles, who carries 3lbs less in this race. He was twenty more lengths behind Chantry House at Aintree and he was undesirably keen. He will have to settle much better to last the three-mile trip here. He is an exciting young horse moving into open company.
Lucinda Russell’s Mighty Thunder was actually a novice last season but only raced in that company three times, winning two chases at the beginning of the season under Blair Campbell, who has made an excellent partnership with the horse. Unfortunately, it appears as though he’s still injured so Derek Fox, Grand National winning jockey, will ride Mighty Thunder. He had an off day at Kelso in December but absolutely romped in at Musselburgh in the Edinburgh National over four miles and a furlong. On just his fourth start over fences, he had twenty-four fences to negotiate and he won by twenty lengths. Next time, he was only denied a length in the Midlands’ National before putting in a brave performance to keep the Scottish Grand National trophy in Scotland. I get the impression that connections have only just really realised how good he actually is. He’s in my 20 To Watch but I never expected him to run in this race. He’s done a lot of racing but, despite this, he is still unexposed over fences. It is great to see a ‘National’ horse run in this grade two. He could take the race along on the front end and make it a proper stamina test. Most likely, he will be one of the outsiders but he’s a lovely eight-year-old and should put in a bold bid.
Kitty’s Light is just five years old and began his chasing career with a win aged four at Southwell last August. He followed that up by finishing second and winning at Warwick and Exeter before a sensational run in the Badger Beers, finishing like a train. After this, he was third and fourth in two ‘jumpers’ bumpers’ and finished seventh in a handicap hurdle. When returning to fences, he won at Kelso by a neck to Didero Vallis and was second in the bet365 Handicap Chase on the final day of the season in April. At Chepstow a few weeks ago, Didero Vallis reversed the form over three miles, whilst carrying 10lbs less than Kitty’s Light. It was a good weight carrying performance and it should put him spot on for this. By Nathaniel, he is an ultra-consistent performer and good on Christian Williams for running him. This would be the biggest win of the trainer’s career to date. It is a great opportunity for young rider Jack Tudor too.
There are three nine-year-olds in the race and they are the three highest rated. Cyrname obviously tops the group at 168 but Clondaw Castle is next in at 159 and Top Ville Ben at 156. Tom George’s Clondaw Castle was remarkably consistent last season. He started out finishing second to Nuts Well in the Old Roan Chase before winning a competitive Newbury handicap on Ladbrokes Trophy weekend. Subsequently, he was third and second in grade twos. At Kempton after this, he won incredibly well over three miles beating a quality field. Connections tried him in grade one company for his final start of the campaign and he didn’t disgrace himself at all. Even though he was beaten twenty-six lengths by Clan Des Obeaux, he still beat home Native River and Tiger Roll. Tom George hasn’t had many fancied runners of late and Johnny Burke is riding well.
Top Ville Ben completes the field for Philip Kirby and Tommy Dowson, who rode him to win the grade three Rowland Meyrick over course and distance in 2019. He beat Didero Vallis by eight lengths that day, which ties his form in with Kitty’s Light, and he must be such fun to own for the Harbour Rose Partnership. After that win, he was beaten thirty-three lengths by Santini in the Cotswold Chase. After a long absence, he ran in France in the Prix Leon Rambaud, a grade two hurdle, and pulled up, 188 days ago. He was fifth in the Charlie Hall in 2019 and he has raced at Wetherby four times and won two of them. His best run was finishing third, beaten three and a half lengths by Lostintranslation and Topofthegame, in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase of 2019. On that form, he has a good shout, but he has a bit to find.
This is a really competitive seven runner affair. Cyrname is definitely the most likely winner but, in the back of my mind, I’m questioning his reliability. His last two runs were worryingly poor. Wind operations can work wonders and I think by fancying him for this race, you’re relying on it working. I’m going to side with CLONDAW CASTLE as I think he was really impressive last season with his consistency and he won some very smart handicaps. So, races like this are just the logical step in this horse’s progression. I don’t pay much attention to betting odds but he looks a more favourable choice than Cyrname in those terms. Obviously, I’ll be cheering on my 20 To Watch horse Mighty Thunder to be a shock winner as the outsider of the field!
Everyone who knows horse racing knows Dan Skelton. Everyone who knows horse racing knows his stable stars, Allmankind, My Drogo, Protektorat, Shan Blue, Nube Negra and Roksana. However, one thing I think they’d be surprised to discover is that, just eight years ago, one of the leading National Hunt racing establishments in the country was a single barn of stables.
Since then, Dan Skelton Racing has evolved to span three properties – Lodge Hill, where the majority of the 130 horses in training are based; Badbury Hall Farm, which offers a quieter environment for the youngsters, fillies and older horses who need a change of scenery, and Alne Park Stud, where they stand exciting stallion Dink.
On Saturday 9th October, I had the pleasure of visiting Lodge Hill and Alne Park Stud and receiving a tour of the facilities from Dan’s wife Grace. Grace’s background is in Law and she told me that, if someone had told her ten years ago that she would be running a stud, she would’ve thought they were insane. This down-to-earth honesty paired with a strong sense of humour and fun made the tour fly by all too quickly. Grace’s inspiring and often hilarious stories, such as how their new dog Dave became a bad influence to their older, more well-behaved dog and caused Grace to have a rather awkward interaction with a rambler, also named Dave, had me in stitches.
Our tour began up on Lodge Hill’s gallops to watch the second lot, containing My Drogo, Elle Est Belle and Rock Legend, canter up the hill gallop. Against the backdrop of the mist clearing over the surrounding Warwickshire countryside, the sight of all the horses galloping was spectacular.
Lodge Hill has some incredible facilities. They have a higher ratio of ground-staff to horses than most yards and a great deal of emphasis is placed on the horses’ welfare. To facilitate this, they have wash-boxes, heat lamps and a water treadmill where saltwater is pumped in at four degrees. This is extremely effective for the horses’ muscles, especially with the heat lamps overhead. Dan’s father Nick used this combination to help Big Star prepare for winning show jumping gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
A particularly interesting piece of equipment that they adopted from show jumping was their Equusir best Box. Horses stand inside of it for twenty minutes (well, not Shan Blue anymore as he’s managed to break it twice) and they are scanned all over with light and UV rays. It pinpoints spots of tension in the horse, which could be a sign of an injury. Roksana is an example of when it has been particularly useful. Grace said that Dan is convinced it has saved horses’ lives.
My favourite horse trained by Dan Skelton is Nube Negra and Grace took me to meet him. She explained that he can sometimes be difficult and have a bit of a temper, which he inherited from his dam, Manly Dream. He was happy enough to have a few pats from me before Heidi, his work rider, got him ready to go out with the third lot. She seemed to have a really great relationship with him. My other favourite horse from Dan’s is Beakstown. I saw him finish fifth at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2020 but he had last season off with an injury. It was brilliant to meet him and find out about his personality from his work rider Andy. He knows Beakstown very well and told me that he can be spooky and silly at times. One of the highlights of my trip was posing for a photo with these two wonderful horses.
After waving Beakstown off with the third lot, we drove over to Alne Park. As well as the stud buildings on this site, there is a one thousand metre deep-sand gallop, an arena, jumping lanes and a grass gallop, which is used limitedly. Beakstown would do fifteen minutes in the arena to warm up and then gallop a loop of the deep sand on each rein.
At the stud, we went straight to meet the man himself – Dink. The two words Grace used to describe him beforehand were “lamb” and “dude”, which completely summed him up! Anyone who knows me, knows how excited I was to be meeting Dink. He was content with munching on his hay as we stood in his stable, occasionally lifting his head for a bit of fuss.
Dink stands at 16.1hh (hands high) exactly and is by high-class sire Poliglote, sire of Politologue, Don Poli and Sire De Berlais as well as 2012 Prix De Le Arc De Triomphe winner Selemia. He raced in Spain and the highlight of his career was finishing third in the Spanish Derby. The yard had already achieved success with Nube Negra and, with a few of his other progeny in the stable, they liked what they saw. Dink was standing at Haras de la Barelière in the south of France but had only covered eight to ten mares each season over the last few years. He wasn’t getting the quantity of mares he deserved there and a plan formed in Grace’s mind. She offered to buy him, completely unseen, and he was soon on the lorry heading over to England. Accompanying him was Manly Dream, Nube Negra’s dam, who has been covered by Walk In The Park this season, and she was the one who misbehaved – Dink was good as gold.
“I suppose Dink came to the party in the middle of the season, really. He was a bit of an unknown to most British breeders at the time,” Grace told me, “He actually didn’t join us until the end of January so, by the time he had been quarantined and did all of the things he does, he was covering.” There was very little time for Grace to put into place any promotion, stallion parades or even talk about him with potential clients. “We had to really hit the ground running with it so it was a steep learning curve but, at the same time, it has been an adventure. We’re really excited about the expansion there has been at the stud this year. Last year, we foaled ten mares and covered fifty-one with this fella [Dink], this absolute gentleman.”
Dink really was a pleasure to be around – calm, even-tempered and gentle. I loved spending time with him. He has a wonderful relationship with Grace. She said how relieved she was that he has been the ultimate professional and has been the perfect stallion to start their stud. He is the most incredible looking horse. He has an excellent physique and he really stamps his progeny with his good looks.
Grace offered us one of Dink’s progeny to look out for, “A lovely filly that I’m really looking forward to coming and seeing up through the ranks is a filly called I Look How I Look and the way she looks is really very nice. She’s young but she’s just like her dad in that she’s correct, she’s got plenty of bone and she’s well-balanced. Obviously, she’s a young filly but she’s exciting. I think she’s really exciting.”
Our final stop on the tour was to meet the rabble of weanling foals. They were so adorable, friendly and well-handled. Amongst them was Duke, Dink’s full brother. He was really inquisitive and Grace said she thought, when he was born, that he’d eventually turn grey, but he currently has a matching dark coat like his sire and brother. There were a couple of gorgeous Highland Reel fillies and they had similar white markings on their forehead to the sire. One was called Blossom, named by Dan and Grace’s daughter. Another foal was called Lumpy and Grace told us the hard-as-nails, don’t-mess-with-me-or-you’ll-be-sorry story about how this colt got his name.
The spring looks like it will be an exciting time for the stud, “We’re looking at foaling, I think we could end up with between thirty-five and fifty mares here. We’ve expanded our foaling facilities. We’ve got an onsite vet here now; we’ve got an onsite lab here now. It’s hugely exciting and I can anticipate his book being even bigger this year. It has been a terrific start and he’s a delight to work with.” The new lab is where the placenta cool box is located and, yes, it is as gross as it sounds!
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Alne Park Stud. It was an honour to meet Dink and I can’t wait to see more of his progeny on the racetrack. He has the most amazing personality and good looks, which get passed down to his offspring. Hopefully, he is very successful in the future. Thank you so much to Grace and the team for the brilliant tour and allowing us to come and see behind the scenes at Dan Skelton Racing. Best of luck for the new season!
For the last two years, 1st October has been an exciting day for me. It is the day when I release my 20 To Watch.
Planning for each season’s list starts in January. I have a ‘note’ on my phone titled ‘Horses To Watch Out For’ – not 20 To Watch just yet, it’s too early for that and my Grandad always advised never to change your mind when picking horses. Once they were in, it would’ve been bad luck to take them out. It was from him that my passion for this great sport stemmed. Sadly, we could never sit and discuss one of my 20 To Watch lists together but they are extremely important to me as I think they’re a written-down embodiment of my passion for National Hunt Racing.
There are two horses who have actually won grade ones in my list because my aim is to find horses who will win races, regardless of the class. A lot of these ‘horses to follow’ blogs have horses who have won good races already and I don’t want mine to have obvious choices.
This season, I have taken a bit of a different approach in hand-picking horses who will run in all different kinds of races. I’ve got more Northern-based yards represented and one very exciting horse off the flat. There are two unraced horses in the list, which I’ve never had before, and the two debutants from my Flat 10 To Follow have both won. If you couldn’t tell already, I have put a lot of thought into this!
I have made three targets for this season’s list – have a Cheltenham Festival winner, return a profit and have at least 20 winners.
So, I’ll stop rambling because here, in no particular order, is my 20 To Watch for the 2021/22 season.
NO1 – Do Your Job
7yo Bay Gelding (Fame And Glory x Full Of Birds (Epervier Bleu))
Trainer – Michael Scudamore
Owner – Mark Dunphy
Breeder – Mrs C J Berry
Do Your Job began his career in a three-mile point-to-point at Castletown-Geoghegan for Colin Bowe. His five-length win created a good impression as Mark Dunphy and Derek O’Connor purchased this son of Fame And Glory for £150,000 eighteen days later from the Goffs Autumn HIT Sale. He made his debut for Claire Dyson shortly after and finished fifth of seven. When he ran again, in February 2020, he was in the care of Michael Scudamore and put in a much better effort, finishing second. He won two races in October 2020, before running admirably in a Haydock listed race and finishing fourth in the Tolworth. Connections chose to give him a wind-op and he wore a tongue-strap when running a brilliant race to be second to My Drogo. They bypassed Cheltenham in favour of the two-mile Aintree grade one hurdle, where he was an excellent, staying-on second. Do Your Job’s future lies over fences and, hopefully, it’ll be a bright one.
Target – Manifesto Novices’ Chase
NO2 – Mighty Thunder
8yo Bay Gelding (Malinas x Cool Island (Turtle Island))
Trainer – Lucinda Russell
Owner -Allson Sparkle Ltd
Breeder – C and Mrs Wilson
Mighty Thunder was one of the first horses into my 20 To Watch when he absolutely romped home over four miles one and twenty-four fences at Musselburgh in February. I thought instantly that he was a ‘National horse’. He was agonisingly beaten a length by Time To Get Up in the Midlands Grand National on just his fifth start over fences. He came good in the Scottish Grand National with a thrilling win under Tom Scudamore as regular rider Blair Campbell was injured. He’s quite exposed having ran twenty-six times and won a total of eight races. His Scottish National win earned him a handicap mark of 151 (up 7lbs) and trainer Lucinda Russell won the Grand National in 2017 with One For Arthur off 148. Mighty Thunder should be another live contender for the Scottish-based trainer.
Target – Grand National
NO3 – Zinc White
3yo Grey Gelding (Vadamos x Chinese White (Dalakhani))
Trainer – Oliver Greenall
Owner – S Beetham
Breeder – Skymarc Farm
Zinc White was an extremely expensive (£300,000) purchase from the Goffs London Sale. After racing three times as a two-year-old for Ralph Beckett with no success, he was gelded over the winter and reappeared with a ready win at Wetherby in May. He has a really nice way of moving and he appreciated the soft ground again at Sandown, winning by an eased down seven and a half lengths. He looks like he’ll relish a juvenile hurdle campaign and there’s so much quality in his pedigree. He’s a half-brother to multiple winners Misty Grey, The Trader and Best Effort. Their dam, Chinese White, won the Pretty Polly Stakes amongst six class-one victories. Her dam Chiang Mai won a group three and is a half-sister to the dam of Invincible Spirit, Kodiac and the granddam of Mishriff. Vadamos is having his first National Hunt runners this season and Zinc White should be one of the flag-bearers for the sire and Oliver Greenall’s yard, who had Evander in my list last season.
Target – Triumph Hurdle
NO4 – Champagnesuperover
6yo Bay Gelding (Jeremy x Meldrum Hall (Saddler’s Hall))
Trainer – Olly Murphy
Owner – McNeill Family & Patrick & Scott Bryceland
Breeder – Thomas F Hannon
I had the pleasure of meeting Champagnesuperover at Olly Murphy’s yard in September. He’s a stunning horse, moves beautifully and has a lovely temperament. This horse won his first lifetime start and placed in a listed bumper. Last season, he was in my 20 To Watch and it took him three attempts and a wind-op to finally win over hurdles but he did so in pleasing style at Ayr over two and a half miles. Next time, he was second at Ffos Las after losing a shoe and I thought he ran an absolute blinder to be seventh in the Albert Bartlett. At Aintree, he ran an uncharacteristically poor race, pulling up behind Ahoy Senor (NO8). Champagnesuperover’s sire is the much-missed Jeremy, who sired talented horses like Our Conor, Mister Fisher, Appreciate It and Black Tears. Fences beckon Champagnesuperover and I can’t wait to see him fly over the larger obstacles.
Target – Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase
NO5 – Fishcake
4yo Chestnut Filly (Mahler x Martovic (Old Vic))
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Owner – ?
Breeder – ?
With Monkfish ruled out for the season, I absolutely had to include his little sister, Fishcake, by Mahler in my list. She was consigned by Ennel Bloodstock to the 2020 Land Rover Sale Part One and was purchased by Peel Bloodstock to race for them and, eventually, become a broodmare. With this being before Monkfish’s novice chasing campaign, she could be a bargain as they only spent €25,000 on her. Hopefully, this filly, who is very well-named, will be just as good as her brother. She’s by Mahler, the sire of some lovely mares like Ms Parfois, Annie Mc and If You Say Run. Her dam Martovic placed four times for Kim Bailey and she’s the daughter of grade two winning chaser Martomik. Fishcake is also a half-sister to Looks Like Power, who is five from forty-three in his career. A lot of pressure is often put on these siblings of top-class racehorse but I’m confident Fishcake can be very good.
Target – Mares’ Novice Hurdle (Cheltenham) or Mares’ Bumper (Aintree)
NO6 – Castlebawn West
8yo Bay Gelding (Westerner x Cooksgrave Lady (Anshan))
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Owner – Mrs R Boyd, Mrs M J Armstrong & Exors of the late J B Anderson
Breeder – Thomas Mahler
Castlebawn West split his pastern (the part of his leg between the fetlock and top of the hoof) last season so it’s not certain that we will see him this season. He’s lightly-raced for an eight-year-old with only eleven outings under his belt. He had won a bumper, one hurdle and a novice chase before going into last season. First time out, he probably needed the run and was unsuited to the two-mile three-and-a-half-furlong trip. Despite this, he was a good third behind subsequent winner Daly Tiger and grade one-placed Tornado Flyer. However, the strong form comes on his next start when he was an incredibly gutsy, front-running winner of a Grade B handicap chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. He had six winners behind him, including Grand National winner Minella Times, who was carrying almost a stone less than Castlebawn West. It was an incredible weight-carrying performance and he’s in the best possible hands with Willie Mullins. He should be very competitive in the top staying chases.
Target – Grand National
NO7 – Flooring Porter
6yo Bay Gelding (Yeats x Lilymile (Revoque))
Trainer – Gavin Cromwell
Owner – Flooring Porter Syndicate
Breeder – Sean Murphy
Flooring Porter is a wonderful little horse and seems to have a lot of character. He first came onto my radar after he won at Navan in early December, making most of the running and surviving a bad error at the last. Over the summer, he had been rising through handicap company up to graded level and he went right to the top with a bold, front-running display, absolutely romping home in the Christmas Hurdle, despite running around after the last. I sang his praises far and wide before the Stayers Hurdle and I was completely ecstatic when he won – he was completely the best horse in the race and still only six! Unfortunately, everything went wrong at Punchestown for the track’s Stayers Hurdle. He was keen to post; dwelt at the start; had to be rallied into the lead; hung badly left and pulled up. Something must’ve unsettled him. However, he’s better than this and has a big future ahead of him.
Target – Stayers Hurdle
NO8 – Ahoy Senor
6yo Bay Gelding (Dylan Thomas x Dara Supreme (Darazari))
Trainer – Lucinda Russell
Owner – Mrs C Wymer & Pjs Russell
Breeder – D P Constable
Ahoy Senor only joined Lucinda Russell’s yard relatively recently. He started out in point-to-points but he unseated on his first try in March 2020, and returned in the November with a thirty-length win at Kimble over two miles four. Five days later, he changed hands for £50,000 at the Yorton Sale. His first start for Russell was in January in a NH flat race, which he probably wasn’t suited to. Next time, he went up in trip by half a mile over hurdles and won well, making all. Three subsequent winners were in that race. Connections viewed Ahoy Senor good enough to compete in the grade one Sefton Novices Hurdle. It looked a strong race and he was 66/1, but Derek Fox rode him positively as if he was the best horse there. He travelled incredibly well and jumped fluently before putting the race to bed comfortably. I’m confident that this grade one victory wasn’t a fluke and he’s a promising novice chaser!
Target – Mildmay Novices’ Chase (Aintree)
NO9 – Swincombe Fleat
5yo Bay Mare (Yeats x Swincombe Flame (Exit To Nowhere))
Trainer – Anthony Honeyball
Owner – Yeo Racing Partnership
Breeder – M C And Mrs Yeo
Swincombe Fleat is a gorgeous mare and I’m very excited to see her over a hurdle. She’s by Yeats and out of Swincombe Flame, a listed bumper winner and three times winner over hurdles for the Yeo Racing Partnership. Her first foal was Master Debonair, a full sibling to Swincombe Fleat, and he’s a listed bumper winner and grade two-winning hurdler. Swincombe Fleat was fourth on debut when favourite and managed to get off the mark next time out at Fontwell. She showed a wonderful attitude and it earned her a spot in the listed bumper that her dam won in 2011. She led them along in tough conditions and finished a creditable fourth behind fillies who were further back in running. Last time, she ran at Aintree in the mares’ bumper but finished last. However, I think she would’ve run a better race if there was softer ground. She remains an interesting type and I’m sure she’s got a few races in her.
NO10 – Diamant Sur Canapé
3yo Bay Gelding (Diamond Boy x Belledonne (Ultimately Lucky))
Trainer – Mark Walford
Owner – URSA Major Racing
Some of you may not be too familiar with trainer Mark Walford but I have two of his horses in my list this year. I have seen a lot of behind-the-scenes from the stable through my involvement in URSA Major Racing. This racing club offers incredible transparency and the horses seem happy and loved. This is reflected in Mark’s stats for last season – 18 winners from 86 runners gave him a 21% strike rate and profit of £94.71 to a £1 stake. He has had a quiet summer but has a good team to go to war with this winter, including horse NO19 and Diamant Sur Canape. URSA Major Racing bought this horse from the Goffs Spring Store Sale in May for £18,000. He’s a well-bred sort and could be a bit of a bargain. He’s by Diamond Boy, who is unique in that he was a very smart flat horse but also a full-brother to three times grade one winning chaser Golden Silver. He’s made a good impression with progeny like Grand Sancy and Monsieur Lecoq. Diamant Sur Canape’s dam, Belledonne, is unraced but her four-year-old daughter placed over hurdles in France last year. Connections won’t be rushing this gelding so we might not see him until late in the season but he’s an exciting bumper horse.
Target – Champion Standard Open NH Flat Race (Aintree)
NO11 – Mulcahys Hill
9yo Bay Gelding (Brian Boru x Belsalsa (Kingsalsa))
Trainer – Warren Greatrex
Owner – Jim And Claire Limited
Breeder – Ned Morris
Mulcahys Hill is my most favourite horse in training – I absolutely adore him! He suffered a nasty injury which ruled him out of last season, but he’s back in training and the yard have done an amazing job with him as he’s far from straight forward. He placed in a grade one novice hurdle, only beaten a nose, all the way back in December 2017. Then, he had a full season of chasing and the highlight was probably following in Defi Du Seuil, Lostintranslation and Vinndication in the Scilly Isles. He returned in the 2019/20 season with a wonderful win at Cheltenham’s opening meeting. He jumped incredibly well and battled on bravely to defy Wholestone by a neck. Next time, he was pulled up over national fences and didn’t seem to be enjoying it with the ground said to be to blame. He was beaten by Aye Right in a two-runner race and the form of that has worked out well with Aye Right placing in the Ladbrokes Trophy and at the Festival. I was there when Mully ran in the Ultima Handicap Chase in 2020 and did very well to be twelfth. He’s a very talented horse and I’m sure he’s got another win in him this season. The main thing is that he stays safe and sound.
Target – Ultima Handicap Chase
NO12 – Saint Dalina
7yo Bay Mare (Saint Des Saints x Dalina (Trempoline))
Trainer – Charlie Longsdon
Owner – Alan Halsall
Breeder – Mme Josette Lasseur
Saint Dalina is a really interesting mare. She’s by Saint Des Saints and out of Dalina, a three times winning mare. Her oldest foal is nine-year-old Mon Lino, who has won three hurdles and a chase. Saint Dalina can boast the same record over hurdles. She never had any success in NH Flat races and it took her five starts to win over hurdles, which was on her first try at two miles four. On her first start last season, she was unlucky to be beaten a neck when her jockey Tom Buckley lost his irons and did well to even stay on. Everything went right at Uttoxeter next time over three miles. She won by thirteen lengths and, apart from a blip at the third last, she was very professional. Next time, she was beaten three lengths by Mr Harp over the same course and distance, just on heavy ground. That form was confirmed at Warwick in a Pertemps qualifier when he was three- and three-quarter lengths ahead in second when Saint Dalina was fourth. She went to Ascot for a competitive handicap hurdle, where she was a good third. On Midlands National Day, she was a really gutsy winner, leading from three out and then holding on to win by a neck. Tom Buckley mentioned that day that she’d appreciate a fence and I look forward to seeing how she does this season.
Target – Mares’ Chase
NO13 – Butch
4yo Bay Gelding (Kayf Tara x Leading On (Presenting))
Trainer – Olly Murphy
Owner – McNeill Family
Breeder – Aiden Murphy
I saw a video of Butch, who is named after the late great The Butcher Said, on the McNeill Family’s Instagram and I decided I really liked the look of him. I fell in love with him when I met him at Olly Murphy’s and saw his gorgeous looks and gentle personality. I stood with him in the stable whilst he was eating his breakfast and he was only too happy to let me stroke his neck and face. He’s a full sibling to Eavesdropping, a winner for Olly in May. She had been second on her first start and looks a smart prospect. Follow That is their other sibling and he’s yet to win but has gone close on his last two starts, also for Olly. Their dam was unraced but she’s a half sibling to nine-times winner Princely Prayer, the talented Kings Temptation and three other winners. Butch is a very exciting horse and here’s what Olly had to say about him –
“He’s a lovely son of Kayf Tara, owned by Max McNeill. We’ll start of in a bumper this side of Christmas. Does everything very nicely, jumps really well and he’s a lovely horse for the future.”
Target – Champion Bumper
NO14 – Confirmation Bias
6yo Bay Gelding (Presenting x Bonnie Parker (Un Desperado))
Trainer – Paul Nicholls
Owner -Colm Donlon
Breeder – Knocktartan House Stud
Confirmation Bias is one of my (many) cliff horses but I have a particular soft spot for this lad. He won a bumper on debut beating Sizable Sam, who won two races for the 20 To Watch last season, and, next time, was second, beaten fourteen lengths. On his first start over hurdles, he was beaten thirty-seven lengths by Do Your Job (NO1) and then he was only denied by a head at Taunton. He ran terribly at the same track in December and returned with a front-running second place in a race that has worked out brilliantly. Next, he went to Newbury in March and ran appallingly, but he got a lot of screen time because his rider and the winning jockey had a heated exchange after the race. Confirmation Bias received cheekpieces for his next start and they worked wonders, helping him to finally get his head in front. He was still green and carried more weight than all his rivals. They queued up to challenge but none could pass. Next time, he was second to the talented four-year-old Casa Loupi with the other runners extremely strung out. His family have a reputation for being quirky and difficult – he’s no exception. He’s built to enjoy chasing and I can’t wait to see him back out this season.
Target – Maghull Novices’ Chase (Aintree)
NO15 – Berkshire Royal
6yo Bay Gelding (Sir Percy x Forest Express (Kaaptive Edition))
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Owner – Andy Bell & Fergus Lyon
Breeder – Churchill Bloodstock Investments LTD
Berkshire Royal has fascinated me since his first start over hurdles in the Supreme off a 515-day break. He’s by Derby winner Sir Percy and his dam ran twice in Australia. As a foal, he went through the ring at Tattersalls for £27,000 and Andrew Balding bought him for £60,000 as a yearling. He never won as a two-year-old and was gelded during the following winter. He won three of his nine starts as a three-year-old. Then, he dropped off the radar until the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, running for Willie Mullins. In the Supreme, he couldn’t land a blow but didn’t disgrace himself. I get the impression he’s difficult to keep sound because he didn’t run again for 430 days. (In the meantime, he was entered in the novice hurdles at Cheltenham.) On 14th May, he went to Kilbeggan over two miles three and a half and he was keen but dominated for a clear victory. I assume he’ll stay over hurdles this season and there are some good prizes in him.
Target – Coral Cup
NO16 – Phoenix Way
8yo Bay Gelding (Stowaway x Arcuate (Arch))
Trainer – Harry Fry
Owner – J P McManus
Breeder – Eugene McDermott
Even though Phoenix Way is an eight-year-old, he has only raced seven times under rules after winning a point to point in January 2018. For Harry Fry, he finished fifth over two miles, and, next time out, he was second, beaten five lengths, in a race that contained Hold The Note, Greaneteen and Zanza. Next time, he relished being upped half a mile in trip and beat grade two winner Third Wind. He had a wind-op before the 2019/20 season when he ran once, winning by a head. He won first time out over fences, but he then burst a blood vessel in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase and we didn’t see him again for 124 days. In the Manifesto Novices Chase, he was detached as they turned for home, but he made eye-catching headway before a shuddering mistake. He was a non-runner at Galway over the summer due to the ground. This is Phoenix Way’s second season over fences and he doesn’t look like he has reached his full potential yet.
Target – Ryanair Chase
NO17 – Blue Lord
6yo Bay Gelding (Blue Bresil x Lorette (Cachet Noir))
Blue Lord raced three times in France as a four-year-old, winning one race before moving to Willie Mullins. He showed a great will-to-win at Punchestown on stable debut and made a good impression. Next time, he was upped in trip to two miles four and was second to Bob Olinger in a grade one. He was third to Appreciate It and Ballyadam at Leopardstown before contesting the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Disaster struck when Blue Lord was running a mighty race for second but crumbled on landing after the last. It was a nasty fall but he showed no ill-effects when running prominently at Punchestown next time. Arguably, he got too high at the last, which emphasised Echoes In Rain’s advantage, and he looked tired when Colonel Mustard nabbed second. Blue Lord could stay over hurdles or join the likes of Appreciate It and Bob Olinger for a novice chase campaign. It will be interesting to see what Willie Mullins choses to do with this admirably consistent horse.
Target – Champion Hurdle / Marsh Novices Chase
NO18 – Nube Negra
7yo Brown Gelding (Dink x Manly Dream (Highest Honor))
Trainer – Dan Skelton
Owner – T Spraggett
Breeder – Cuadra Intermorte
Nube Negra is a fascinating horse. By French-bred stallion Dink, who was third in the Spanish Derby, and out of French-bred mare Manly Dream, whose sole race threw up two group one winners, Nube Negra is officially a Spanish-bred racehorse and, along with his parents, lives in Warwickshire with Dan Skelton. He was relatively successful as a hurdler but chasing is where he has flourished. He won at Warwick and Fakenham in October 2019 before finishing second in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase and the Kingmaker. We didn’t see him again for 323 days until he won the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton, beating Altior. He travelled insanely well and jumped boldly throughout, bar a chancy jump at the last. It was after this that I really delved into his pedigree. In the Champion Chase, Nube Negra was then a close second and he would, arguably, have won if not carrying more weight than Put The Kettle On. At Punchestown, he was beaten over twenty lengths by Chacun Pour Soi and Allaho. He’ll no doubt face them again this year but he’s an excellent two-miler.
Target – Champion Chase
NO19 – Orkan
7yo Bay Gelding (Shirocco x Zefooha (Lomitas))
Trainer – Mark Walford
Owner – C J Grindal & J A Scarrow
Breeder – Mrs G B Walford
Orkan is the second of the two Mark Walford runners and I’ve heard positive things from the yard. I was extremely taken with this son of Shirocco after he won at Warwick in February. He took a while to actually win a race and it happened in March 2020 at Newcastle, where he raced freely and grabbed the lead in the closing stages. He was a well-beaten fourth of nineteen in October at Carlisle before he finished second, beaten by the capable Dancewiththewind. At Wetherby over Christmas, Orkan won in gutsy style and, then, he was really impressive to make most of the running and win by six lengths at Warwick. He went to Kelso for the class two Morebattle Hurdle, where he finished ninth, but the form is very strong and the ground was probably not ideal. The same can be said for last time out when he was fifth, but only beaten four lengths. I can wait to see Orkan over a fence this season.
Target – Red Rum Handicap Chase (Aintree)
NO20 – Limestone Rock
5yo Bay Gelding (Leading Light x Accordian Royale (Accordian))
Trainer – Mouse Morris
Owner – Michael O’Flynn & John F O’Flynn
Breeder – J F Mernagh
Limestone Rock concludes the list and I was very keen on this horse at the start of the year. He was second on debut in a NH Flat race, but Mouse Morris quickly put him over hurdles and, on his first start over obstacles, he was third to a subsequent grade three winner and one of my cliff horses Captain Kangaroo. The trip was probably on the short side for Limestone Rock as he managed to win at Naas on heavy ground over two miles three in really taking style. Next time, he went to Thurles for a grade three but ran no race and pulled up coughing, before four out. This horse looks to have a bright future and Morris knows how to handle these good horses. Limestone Rock has an interesting pedigree: he’s one of Leading Light’s first crop and he’s the second-best progeny of the sire. His dam was unraced but she’s a full sister to grade one winner Accordian Etoile and multiple graded winner French Accordian. I’m hoping Limestone Rock can win some of those kind of races like his uncles!