Samantha Martin’s 20 To Watch 2022/23

Picture Copyright JTW Equine Images

By Samantha Martin

This is my fifth annual 20 To Watch article. The four previous lists have all seen at least one Cheltenham Festival winner and multiple graded winners. 

I relish the challenge of finding obscure horses – they might not end up as superstars, but they should win races. It is important to appreciate the day-to-day of racing and I’m hoping the research I have done will pay off. It is very easy to just put up the classy novices from last season, but I think this list will contain horses that won’t be included in other people’s horse to follow blogs.

Only one horse included this year has won a grade one so far and there are many unexposed types included. Twenty different yards are represented; they vary in size and are located in all four corners of Britain and Ireland. The horses are owned by nineteen different owners, who I believe should have a very good season with their pinpointed horses. 

Without further ado, here are the twenty horses I think will be very successful during the 2022/23 National Hunt season…

No 1- Halibut

5yo Black Gelding (Balko x A Merveille (Network))

Trainer – Emmett Mullins

Owner – Chris Jones

Breeder – M Francois-Marie Cottin

The first horse on the list comes from the stable of Grand National-winning trainer Emmett Mullins. Halibut was bought by George Mullins from the Osarus Maison-Laffite Sale in 2017, when he was a foal, for €30,000. He was later withdrawn from the Tattersalls August National Hunt Sale in 2020 and, by this point, he was already broken in. Balko has consistently produced lovely stock and Halibut is the first progeny of A Merveille, a hurdle winner over two miles two in France who placed twice over fences. She is a half sister to two-mile chaser Editeur De Gite. Halibut made his debut as a five-year-old in the concluding race of the 2021/22 season at Punchestown, wearing George Mullins’ colours. They went dawdling through the early stages and he made easy progress, going wide around the field under a motionless jockey. When push came to shove, he hung right on onto the rail and finished third. His next outing was in the race that exciting Walk In The Park gelding Demandrivingdouvan made his debut and both horses were buried amongst runners. Halibut travelled well through the race and was faced with a wall of horses but battled on well for third. He is a raw horse and two winners have come out of each of his races. He will no doubt improve for an obstacle in front of him and is an interesting prospect for a shrewd training operation.

No2 – Life In The Park

5yo Bay Gelding (Walk In The Park x Jeanquiri (Masonnien))

Trainer – Henry De Bromhead

Owner – Barry Maloney

Breeder – Minch Bloodstock & AV Bloodstock

Life In The Park is, you guessed it, by Walk In The Park, a sire who produces versatile stock – from two-mile chaser Douvan to Grand National-placed Walk In The Mill. Life In The Park sits comfortably in the middle in terms of trip and, after being bought for €28,000 from the 2020 Land Rover NH Sale by Rob James and Eamon Doyle, he made his debut in a three mile point-to-point at Fairyhouse in April 2021. He hunted down the long-time leader and was going well turning in, but he took a Galopin Des Champs-esque fall with less than a furlong to go. He reappeared in November under the care of Henry De Bromhead and put in a good run to be third behind Freedom To Dream, who has placed in graded company and finished fourth in the Martin Pipe since. Life In The Park chased down Hunters Yarn to be third and this is a horse I am keen on, which is how I found this Walk In The Park gelding. He ran again shortly after and something was amiss as he finished sixth and the vet reported he was blowing hard post-race. After 103 days off, he made all to be a pleasing winner at Tramore, leading to a tilt at the opening handicap on day two of the Punchestown Festival. He shared second and third with a rival throughout and, once he hit the front, the other horse couldn’t get past him. He won by one and three-quarter lengths under a peach from Mark O’Connor. The horse jumped superbly and it is hard to believe he fell in his point judging by that. Life In The Park made his debut for this season on 21st September, unfortunately before this list was published. Making his debut over fences, he won over two miles six by four and a half lengths. He is an exciting recruit to the chasing ranks, but his rating of 129 over hurdles looks like something worth taking advantage of in the upcoming year. 

Persian Time at home at Nicky Henderson’s yard.

No3 – Persian Time

4yo Bay Gelding (Califet x Persian Forest (Presenting))

Trainer – Nicky Henderson

Owner – The McNeill Family and Prodec Networks Ltd

Breeder – Clarendon Farm Ltd

I am extremely excited to see what Persian Time can do. A son of Califet, he went unsold at the January Foal Sale in 2019, before being bought for €31,000 from the Goffs Land Rover Sale two years later by Monbeg Stables. He raced in a point-to-point for Sean Thomas Doyle where he led before four out. He got in deep to three out, landed a bit short at the second last and made a sprawling jump at the last, but held onto second place. The winner, Peaky Boy, has been sold since for £240,000. Persian Time’s jumping will need to be slicker, but natural progression and tutelage at Henderson’s yard are on his side. He will have learnt plenty from his point-to-point experience because he had to get himself out of a few scary moments. The McNeill Family have since purchased him and he was in Henderson’s yard by mid-April, after the point-to-point in March. They also own Persian Time’s full brother, Restandbethankful, who won a bumper and three races over hurdles. A win over fences is looking highly likely. Their dam, Persian Forest, is a full sibling to a graded-winning chaser, Our Ben, and she is a half sister to Countess Camilla (by Bob’s Return), a producer of black-type winning National Hunt horses. She is out of a dual winning hurdler and Presenting as a damsire has resulted in the likes of Might Bite, Paisley Park and Somerby. Persian Time looks set to have a successful novice hurdle campaign this term.

No4 – Red Rookie

7yo Chestnut Gelding (Black Sam Bellamy x Auction Belle (Auction House))

Trainer – Emma Lavelle

Owner – The hawk Inn syndicate 3

Breeder – R P Phillips

After a fairly successful novice chase campaign, Red Rookie has scope to be a smart two-mile handicap chaser for the Lavelle team. He had been sold for £50,000 after finishing third in a point-to-point, where he jumped well and wasn’t given an overly hard time. He was beaten by Broken Halo, who sold for £140,000 at the same sale. Red Rookie won two bumpers and had three starts over hurdles with one win, but it seems as though he was always going to be a chaser. The form of his first start over fences is incredible with the eleven horses behind him winning sixteen races between them and the winner, Witness Protection, has not ran since. Next time, he was 2/1 favourite for a class three novices’ handicap chase at Ascot, but he took a long stride and fell. When back on the racecourse, he ballooned the first, but got into a good rhythm after. The two leaders didn’t do themselves any favours by going so quick and Red Rookie hunted them down under a patient Tom Bellamy. He had to work hard to assert, but won comfortably in the end. Connections then pitted him into the Arkle for which he was an 80/1 shot. Bellamy let him get a good sight at his fences whilst on the outside and he would’ve been fifth if not for making a similar mistake as the incident at Ascot. If he stays on his feet this season, he will be very competitive in two-mile races.

No5 – Flooring Porter

7yo Bay Gelding (Yeats x Lillymile (Revoque))

Trainer – Gavin Cromwell

Owner – Flooring Porter Syndicate

Breeder – Sean Murphy

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I absolutely adore Flooring Porter. With hindsight, the fact he was bought for £6000 as a foal in 2015 and unsold at the Goffs Land Rover Sale 2018 is unbelievable. He was a good racehorse in the early part of his career, but really suggested he would be capable of ascending to the upper echelons of the staying ranks with his demolition job in a fiercely competitive field at Navan in December 2020. That performance earned him a spot in the grade one Christmas Hurdle. He was ahead by a clear margin before the first hurdle and did hang left after the last, but he won impressively. It was straight to the Stayers Hurdle, where he repelled all rivals and, albeit hanging right, won by three and a quarter lengths. Punchestown next time was a non-event and he was gassy and fresh at Navan on seasonal reappearance. This led him to take a stride out at the second last and hit the deck. His jumping has never been spotless and he is quirky. The start became the problem at Christmas, as he attempted to defend his title, when Paul Townsend and Klassical Dream seized the opportunity and gathered a massive lead. This meant that Flooring Porter was constantly playing catch-up to a horse in a rhythm and hanging into the rail did not help his chances of passing the Mullins horse in the closing stages. In the Stayers Hurdle, Flooring Porter put all of that behind him to win under a masterful Danny Mullins. It cannot be underestimated how much strength is required to keep Flooring Porter straight and balanced. However, at Aintree, a flat-footed jump at the last handed Sire De Berlais the advantage and he could not regain the ground, especially when he was impeded. It is worth remembering that Flooring Porter is only seven years old and has much more to give.

No6 – Viva Lavilla

6yo Brown Gelding (Getaway x Viva Forever (Lando))

Trainer – Dan Skelton

Owner – Darren & Annaley Yates

Breeder – Grove View Stud Limited

After being bought for €8500 as a foal, Viva Lavilla ran in a four-year-old maiden point-to-point at Lingstown, the one Shishkin won in 2018. Viva Lavilla’s winning time was the fastest of the day and he really dug deep to prevail. Six of the eight runners in behind have won races since. He was withdrawn from the Tattersalls December Cheltenham Sale in 2020 and reappeared for Dan Skelton in the Yates colours at Lingfield almost a year later. His jumping won the day and, kept up to his work, he took the last like it was a chase fence. He is a massive horse and his peak stride length during that race was 24.35 feet (Shishkin and Energumene’s are in the region of 22 feet). Viva Lavilla’s next task was a grade two at Sandown and he changed leads to challenge, but the eventual winner, Lossiemouth, knocked the hurdle down in front of him, which would have put him off. The form has worked out and, next time at Warwick, he began to take closer order after the seventh, travelling beautifully. He didn’t have the turn of foot to stay with the ex-flat winner and was eventually fourth, but he beat home Aintree handicap hurdle winner, Party Business. His most recent run was at Wetherby in February, where he was locked into a battle with the eventual winner, but there was a wide distance between them on the track and that wouldn’t have helped. In behind, the form is good with Mark Walford’s Johnson’s Blue winning four times since. Out of a two-mile hurdle winner, Viva Lavilla looks built to relish fences and he could potentially slip under the radar from a talented string.

No7 – Yes Indeed

5yo Bay Gelding (Martaline x She Hates Me (Hawk Wing))

Trainer – Jonjo O’Neill

Owner – Michael O’Flynn & Roe Hill Farm

Breeder – Marie-Christine Gabeur

Any progeny of Martaline always catches my eye and Yes Indeed is particularly interesting as he is out of a Hawk Wing mare, She Hates Me. This mare placed multiple times over hurdles and on the flat. She has already produced a black type performer in England, Never Adapt, who tragically suffered a fatal injury in the 2020 Betfair Hurdle. She Hates Me is also a half sibling to Top Notch, the sixteen-times winner and grade one scorer, and Never Forget, a group two winner. Yes Indeed began his career in France for owner/breeder Ecurie Gabeur and in the capable hands of training combination Guillme Macaire and Hector de Lageneste. He ran into Quilixios on debut, but it was when he turned four, with four runs at Auteuil, when he began to show his ability. He won over two miles two; finished second in a conditions race; won a two mile six listed chase and was fifth in grade one company, beaten seven and a quarter lengths. Yes Indeed then joined Jonjo O’Neill and he was detached on debut in a class two after an error knocked his momentum. He was given a British handicap mark of 142, which meant he carried 11st3lbs (11st was the most he carried in France) against much older and more experienced rivals. After a break, he was second at Newbury when he travelled superbly, but produced little off the bridle. A pattern of poor jumps has emerged in his three British starts and the most recent outing saw take the final open ditch by its roots and lose a shoe after becoming taken aback by the fast pace. He appears to be the kind of horse who will benefit massively for another summer on his back as he is a big horse and still relatively young for the racing he has had. If everything comes together, his current rating of 137 looks to have scope to allow him to win races.

No8 – Il Etait Temps

4yo grey Gelding (Jukebox Jury x Une Des Sources (Dom Alco))

Trainer – Willie Mullins

Owner – Barnane Stud

Breeder – E Clayeux & S C Ecurie Couderc

Il Etait Temps is another French recruit and was bred by Emmanuel Clayeux, who trained him, in conjunction with the owners he races for in the early part of his career. This grey son of Jukebox Jury ran twice in France in AQPS National Hunt flat races, finishing fifth and second. On both occasions, he seemed to get out-paced at the mile and a half trip. He moved to Willie Mullins’ yard and was thrown in the deep end dramatically, debuting over hurdles at the Dublin Racing Festival in the grade one juvenile hurdle. He was keen at times and travelled well enough on the rail. The field was well-grouped going to the second last with Il Etait Temps on the outside. He was locked in a private battle with The Tide Turns, which he won, meaning he finished third. Next, he headed to the Triumph Hurdle, flattening the first obstacle and running keen. He hung into the second last, but jockey Danny Mullins was riding and he handles Flooring Porter’s quirky moments, so this was no concern. Mullins delivered Il Etait Temps at the last but didn’t have the legs to get up the hill, once again behind Vauban. Il Etait Temps has plenty of right to be sick of his stablemate as, next time, he lined up against the leading juvenile at the Punchestown Festival. Vauban and Fil Dor were given a massive lead by the other four riders, who had absolutely no chance of catching them. Il Etait Temps was outbattled by the colt, HMS Seahorse, and finished fourth. I am not typically a fan of juveniles in their second season hurdling, but the horse is still a novice and these three runs in grade one company will put him in an excellent position, ready for the early season graded races against novices with much less experience. 

Making friends with Butch last year.

No9 – Butch

5yo Bay Gelding (Kayf Tara x Leading On (Presenting))

Trainer – Olly Murphy

Owner – McNeill Family

Breeder – Aiden Murphy

Butch comes from a family of proven National Hunt performers with his dam, Leading On, being a half-sibling to winning chasers King’s Temptation, Princely Player and Bertie’s Desire. She has produced two winners to date – Haraki Gulf won a bumper and has placed over hurdles and Eavesdropping has won two hurdle races and a bumper. The latter is in training with Olly Murphy, like Butch. It is possible that Butch didn’t necessarily debut as early as anticipated as, when I visited Olly Murphy’s yard in October 2021, he said that Butch would run in a bumper “this side of Christmas” and that he already “jumps well”. His debut came on 6th March 2022 at Huntingdon, where he had previously been a non-runner in January. There were a few very green types in the race, but Adrian Heskin kept him out of the scrummaging, settled in a lovely rhythm. The eventual winner, Crambo, switched on and off the bridle throughout, but slip-streamed Butch throughout the race. It was his reluctance to go forward that helped him to win as he managed to take the inside route on the home turn. Butch travelled well into the lead, but, as the commentator said, he was “worried out of it” by Crambo, which can be credited to inexperience and this was Crambo’s second course and distance victory. The winning margin was only a half length and Crambo was later entered in the grade two bumper at Aintree, where he was predicted to be a 14/1 shot. Butch, named after the late The Butcher Said, is a beautiful horse with a massive future over obstacles.

Haute Estime and her owners

No10 – Haute Estime

5yo Bya Mare (Walk In The Park x Terre Haute (Oscar))

Trainer – Lucinda Russell

Owner – Brahms & Liszt

Breeder – Denis Duggan

Haute Estime is from Walk In The Park’s first Irish Crop and out of an unraced Oscar mare, who is a full sibling to three black type performers, including two eight-time winners, and horses who readily stayed three miles five furlongs. Haute Estime was picked up for €12,000 at Tattersalls Ireland November NH Sale in 2017 and returned to the sales ring at Arqana, two years later. She was purchased on behalf of Lucinda Russell for €40,000. On debut, Haute Estime was 50/1 and unlucky to run into Eileendover, who has proved herself to be a classy filly under flat rules. It was clear that Haute Estime’s future was over obstacles and she made an eye-catching start to hurdles, winning at Kelso in early October. She was only four at this point and ran in a listed hurdle at Haydock next time, but two miles proved to be too short against that company. Upped in trip, she returned to Haydock, needing to be brave, clawing back her rival’s lead to prevail by a half-length. She went to the grade two Jane Seymour at Sandown next time on awful ground. She led alongside one of last year’s 20 To Watch horse, Swincombe Fleat, but both fillies faded. Haute Estime was too keen and raced too prominently, which rarely ends well on that kind of ground under a penalty. She went to Aintree for the three-mile novice hurdle and was free through the early stages. With a mile to go, she was one of the back markers and she made a mess of four out. Considering this, she ran an incredible race to finish third, beaten only eight and a half lengths. She was entered over fences at Perth on the 22nd September, but the ground was unsuitable.

No11 – Super Superjack

5yo Chestnut Gelding (Harbour Watch x La Palma (Sinndar))

Trainer – Milton Harris

Owner – L R Turland

Breeder – L R Turland

Super Superjack, named after Jack Grealish, is a bit of a left-field choice. He doesn’t particularly have the pedigree for the National Hunt game with his dam being out of a group two winner for Khalid Abdullah, who herself is a full sibling to Spanish Moon. This five-year-old chestnut has proved himself to be a good flat stayer and has had twenty-three starts with five wins, seven seconds and a third. He was withdrawn from the horses-in-training sale in October 2021 and he has done well for connections since with form figures of 2112326. The victories were clear margin successes at Goodwood and Ascot over two miles. Next time, he was second to Evaluation, who was winning for the third time this season off a mark of 79. Since then, Keith Dalgleish’s horse has won four races in total and is now competing off 93, meaning Super Superjack ran into a very well-handicapped horse. Next time, he was only beaten a half length at Salisbury and by three quarters of a length at Glorious Goodwood, when he had no luck in running. He ran at the Shergar Cup and finished sixth. His actual performance was much better than the number suggests as it was a blanket finish where he was only beaten just over a length. In an interview with ITV Racing at the Shergar Cup meeting, Milton Harris said that Super Superjack could be novice hurdling to a decent standard as he jumps well at home. The yard tasted grade one glory with Knight Salute last season and have flat performers Postmark and Scriptwriter to go to war with this winter. The only concern I have about Super Superjack is his ability to handle soft ground as he has underperformed on heavy ground, but he has won on good to soft at Bath.

No12 – Shakermaker

5yo Grey Gelding (Mastercraftsman x Fine Threads (Barathea))

Trainer – Jamie Snowden

Owner – Sir Chips Keswick

Breeder – Lady Bamford

Shakermaker is an Oasis song, a toy I had as a kid that allowed you to make slushies and a very handsome racehorse. He is a typical grey Mastercraftsman and the stallion has produced a few nice National Hunt horses like Bussleton, Scaramanga and Metier, who all happen to be bays. Shakermaker’s dam won on the flat and is a full sibling to an American grade two winner. The combination of being by Mastercraftsman and out of a Barathea mare has resulted in four horses and three, bar Shakermaker, have won races: jumper Razoul, talented flat horse Soto Sizzler and flat winner Vayner. Shakermaker has already lived at three different training establishments, starting at Ed Walker’s before he was bought by Jeremiah McGrath for 8500gns in August 2020. He went over the Irish Sea to Stuart Crawford, where he ran once, tongue-tied on debut. He settled nicely and travelled supremely around the home turn. The jockey obviously wasn’t concerned as he was looking around, but Naughtinesse swooped late and Shakermaker didn’t really respond to the whip. It was a pleasing debut effort and Tom Malone picked him up for £75,000 at the Cheltenham sale for Jamie Snowden. I look forward to seeing how he gets on in Britain.

No13 – Nells Son

7yo Bay Gelding (Trans Island x Miss Nellie (Presenting))

Trainer – Nicky Richards

Owner – Langdale Bloodstock

Breeder – Langdale Racing & Bloodstock

Nells Son is a homebred and he is out of a mare from the family of Hey Big Spender. She produced three fillies before Nells Son and two of them have won. He is by Trans Island, who has had I Like To Move It as his flag bearer lately. Interestingly, Nells Son was a colt when he was second on debut in a bumper, but he was gelded soon after. When he returned for the 2020/21 season, he won an Ayr bumper by just short of three lengths, travelling strongly, and he followed that up with a win at Kelso under a penalty. His debut over hurdles was in October 2021 and, when Danny McMennamin asked for a jump at three out, he really delivered, repelling all challengers. It was probably the penalty that led to Half Track reversing the form at Ayr as he had been fourth to Nells Son previously. Nells Son’s next task was a grade two at Haydock and he was caught off guard by his rival’s acceleration. He did make ground between the third and fourth last, but finished fourth, probably not appreciating the drop back to two miles in such hot company. In March, Sean O’Keeffe rode him at Kelso in a grade two and stalked his main rival, North Lodge, throughout the race. He challenged wide and it was a tooth-and-nail battle between the two geldings, but Nells Son prevailed by a length. North Lodge reversed that form at Aintree where he was third and Nells Son was fourth. Like at Haydock, he was caught out in the company, but was left in fourth after poor Elle Est Belle collapsed. Nells Son will go chasing and he is an exciting prospect.

No14 – Gaelic Park

6yo Bay Gelding

Trainer – Charlie Longsdon

Owner – Gaelic Park Syndicate

Breeder – M Conaghan

I was extremely taken by Gaelic Park when he made his winning bumper debut at Warwick. The strength of the race is now questionable, but he led with his ears pricked and responded really well for pressure when he was taken on for the lead. He powered clear up the straight to win by two lengths. He was tenacious and the same was seen in his point-to-point ninety-one days before. He did make a mess of three out and eventually regained ground on the leaders. It is a short run-in at Loughbrickland after the last, which he fortunately jumped well, and he became locked in a battle with Hymac, who has won since. Gaelic Park prevailed by a short head and he was in the Tattersalls Cheltenham December Sale shortly after. He didn’t sell for £70,000, but Charlie Longsdon picked him up privately. Judging by how well the form of his point-to-point has worked out, he looks a good purchase, even though his second start under rules was not that good. He ran a bit free and carried a penalty. In the final strides, he lost second, which seemed to suggest he could want a longer trip this season. He is beautifully bred: out of a half sister to a sixteen times winning racemare and from Ocavango’s first crop. His dam has also produced two-time grade one winning chaser Chantry House; grade three winner The Last Day; Sefton Handicap Chase placed Linnel and On The Shannon, a winning chaser. Gaelic Park has an excellent attitude and should make into another nice horse from the family.

No15 – Flash Collonges

7yo Bay Gelding (Saddler Maker x Prouesse Collonges (Apple Tree))

Trainer – Paul Nicholls

Owner – The Gi Gi Syndicate

Breeder – A A E C Delorme Freres

Flash Collonges is an interesting second season novice. This lightly raced son of Saddler Maker definitely seems to have more to offer after only eight starts. Bought for €90,000 in 2018, he made a perfect start for Paul Nicholls on hurdles debut with a win, but he had a terrible fall on his second try. It must not have caused him much concern, though, as he returned less than three weeks later at Newbury, where he was beaten half a length whilst giving weight. He concluded his novice hurdle campaign with wins at Wincanton and Doncaster. He was given a wind op over the winter before his first start over fences in the grade two John Francome Novices Chase. He jumped solidly enough for a first effort, but he stood no chance against Ahoy Senor and was beaten forty-five lengths. Flash Collonges hit the cross fence on his next start at Newbury and was pulled up. The official reason for his poor run was listed as being due to the soft/heavy going. He found himself facing Dusart next time and, when the Henderson horse strode into the lead, Flash Collonges had to be nudged into the bridle. Harry Cobden soon got him upsides and, for the most part, it was like a schooling exercise, keeping to Dusart’s girths until that horse quickened. Flash Collonges had to work hard to finish second after being the first off the bridle. He will relish staying trips this season – his is from the family of Neptune Collonges, after all. 

No16 – The Real Whacker

6yo Bay Gelding (Mahler x Credit Box (Witness Box))

Trainer – Ann Duffied

Owner – Partick Neville, John Twiss

Breeder – Mrs B Keane

Patrick Neville bought The Real Whacker for €21,000 at the 2019 Goffs Land Rover Sale. This son of Mahler is the third produce of a hardy winner over hurdles and fences, Credit Box, but The Real Whacker is her first foal to race. He began his career in training with Neville, beaten twenty-six lengths over hurdles in September 2021. Shortly after, he moved to Ann Duffield’s yard, but Neville retained ownership in partnership with John Twiss and it appear that The Real Whacker alternates between running in Duffield’s colours and theirs. He was impressive on debut for his new stable, other than a bad jump at the fourth last, but he had settled well in-running and asserted to win the race with his ears pricked. He easily put daylight between himself and his rivals. The River Don Novices Hurdle at Doncaster was his next target – he was very keen in the early stages with his head in the air and tail swishing. Harry Skelton kept him far away from his rivals for a significant part of the race. He was travelling best of all amongst horses and could have won, but hanging cost him the race. Judging from videos, he is a light-framed, tall horse and twice now, most critically at the Cheltenham Festival, he has been a non-runner due to a soundness issue. As he is so unexposed, he is a very promising young horse for the Duffield team.

No17 – Blazing Khal

6yo Bay Gelding (Kalanisi x Blazing Sonnet (Oscar))

Trainer – Charles Byrnes

Owner – Byrnes Bloodstock Limited

Breeder – W Austin

When Blazing Khal won his bumper on the fifth attempt in December 2020, I don’t think many people anticipated that he would go on to do what he has done over hurdles in such a short space of time last season. His first start over obstacles was in October 2021 at Galway. They went fast over two miles three and he was nestled amongst the pack before he put the race to bed in the final half furlong to win clearly. Charles Byrnes sent him to Cheltenham for a grade two novices’ hurdle in November. He was held up and began to press forward on the home turn. He did receive a bump from Gelino Bello at two out and wandered greenly at the last, but he asserted impressively in the final stages. Again, Blazing Khal faced off with second-placed Gelino Bello and third placed Current Mood in December over three miles at Cheltenham. Tucked in amongst runners, an error at two out saw him become boxed in before the last, travelling smoothly. He looked around again going into the last, but skipped clear, increasing the winning margin from the last time he encountered Gelino Bello. This rival has since won a grade one at Aintree. Unfortunately, Blazing Khal sustained an injury after the December race, which ruled him out for the rest of the campaign. Over fences in 2022/23 will be the making of him. 

No18 – Firestream

5yo Bay Gelding (Yeats x Swincombe Fleat (Exit To Nowhere))

Trainer – Anthony Honeyball

Owner – Buckingham, Chapman, Langford & Ritzema

Breeder – M C and Mrs Yeo

Firestream is following in the hoof-steps of his full sister, Swincombe Fleat, who featured on my 20 To Watch last season. The dam, Swincombe Flame, was a talented race mare, winning a listed bumper, two hurdle races and consistently placing in graded company. Her start as a broodmare has been faultless with Master Debonair, also by Yeats, landing a listed bumper and grade two hurdle. Swincombe Fleat has won a bumper and a hurdle; she is trained by Anthony Honeyball, who bought Firestream in Summer 2020. Around the same time, Firestream didn’t sell at the June Derby sale held in August. He debuted in a bumper in October 2021 at Ascot. He finished fourth, but wasn’t beaten far and two of his rivals who finished ahead had previous experience. Next time, he was prominent in a field of sixteen runners and was passed by debutant Clifton Bridge in the final furlong. Everything came together eye-catchingly at Exeter next time when Firestream travelled beautifully, only getting lonely when he was ten lengths clear of his rivals. The softer ground probably impeded his attempt to back up that victory at Newbury. Aidan Coleman switched him off on the rail and there was a dawdling pace, which turned into a sprint. He was denied third by a neck, but, over a little bit further with a hurdle in front of him, he will be back in the winners’ enclosure this season.

No19 – Ashington

7yo Bay Gelding (Canford Cliffs x Kadoma (Danehill Dancer))

Trainer – Mark Walford

Owner – URSA Major Racing

Breeder – Springfield Farm Partnership

Ashington joins the URSA Major Racing team for the 2022/23 season. He is the third winning-most horse for Canford Cliffs under National Hunt rules. Out of a half sister to German group winner Karpino, he was sold for 55,000gns at Tattersalls Book Two in 2016, after which he embarked on a career on the flat with Luca Cumani. At a horses-in-training sale in 2018, he was bought for £100,000 to go into training with John Quinn, for whom he won two races. Ashington ran into some smart horses when he started over obstacles during his time with Quinn, including Sebastopol, Tegerek at Cheltenham and Mick Maestro. The owners moved him to Brian Ellison in late 2020, early 2021 and the Scottish County Hurdle was a bit too hot for him on debut for Ellison. Next time, however, he won at Sedgefield, beating Minella Trump and Good Boy Bobby. Minella Trump has subsequently won nine races from ten starts and Good Boy Bobby won a listed and a grade three chase. Ashington won a novice chase in June 2021 and won on his fourth start last season by ten lengths, once again at Sedgefield. His last two starts have been poor, but it does mean he has dropped 2lbs in the handicap. He appreciates better ground and he’s been flying at his new home with Mark Walford, after he was picked up for £14,000 by URSA Major Racing, which looks like a bargain. Shares sold out quickly in this horse, but there are other exciting types to get involved in on their website. Ashington will be targeted at the Go Northern series throughout the season and will be good fun for connections.

Find out more about URSA Major Racing – https://www.ursamajorracing.com/shares-available

No20 – Gentleman De Mai

6yo Bay Gelding (Saddler Maker x Ula De Mai (Passing Sale))

Trainer – Rose Dobbin

Owner – Mr and Mrs Duncan Davidson

Breeder – Nicholas Touzaint & Jean-Yves Touzaint

First, I must establish that I don’t know whether Gentleman de Mai is still in training. I really hope he is. He has a fantastic pedigree: his dam is an unraced Passing Sale half sister to Bristol De Mai, who is by Saddler Maker, like Gentleman de Mai. He was bought for €110,000 as a three-year-old from the Tattersalls Ireland June Derby Sale in 2019. He ran in a point-to-point that November under Jamie Codd for Denis Paul Murphy. The winner was Journey With Me, who has won twice over hurdles and was as short as 5/1 for the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival, but, unfortunately, he fell. The form behind him and Gentleman de Mai is poor, but they were significantly clear. In his debut for current trainer, Rose Dobbin, at Ayr almost a year ago, Gentleman de Mai settled well on the rail. He put in a few big leaps and had two runners to aim at up the straight. Once the penny dropped, he won comfortably by two and a half lengths. The yard has won the Eider Chase and Borders National in the past and hopefully this horse can be a flag bearer.

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