As the nights start to close in and the thought of cold frosty mornings are looming, awarm glow soon passes through, with the realisation the Jumps Season is just days away.
Every year we wonder if this one will be as good as the last. It as a lot to live up to but every year a star is born. A handicapper surprises us all and improves beyond believe.
Mullins or Nicholls?
If I had written this two weeks ago before the news that Gigginstown had removed around 60 horses from Willie Mullins then I’m sure we would have seen a real battle for the title again this year. But with that news, I can’t see the trainer bringing as many horses over until the big festivals in the spring. His first priority is the trainer’s title in Ireland. I’m pretty sure this is only a temporary thing, as judging by last season I do feel the title over in England will be very much back on the agenda once the boxes have been filled again. It’s a shame for racing as it was a really exciting few weeks after Aintree last season. Watching the two biggest stables either side of the water do battle.
In a year or two’s time, the landscape could have changed, as every year Dan Skelton’s team seems to be growing and the former assistant to Paul Nicholls could soon be trying to wrestle the title from his mentor.
Paul Nicholls seems to have invested a lot in the last couple of seasons and while he has old favourites like Silviniaco Conti and Dodging Bullets you do get the feeling it’s going to be a big year for him with his newer recruits. Second season four-year-old hurdler Adrien Du Pont was the yards sole group one winner over hurdles last year. While I felt Zubayr had a rushed preparation for the Cheltenham Festival and we will see him in a better light this year.
The big guns
In the Novice Chase ranks, the two names that stand out are Altior the winner of last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle and Thistlecrack who won all his five starts last season. All of those wins coming in Grade One and Two races. He looks an exciting prospect in the 3m chase ranks this season. Another exciting recruit to the chase ranks that as just been announced is The New One. Just in those three horses alone there is huge talent and plenty to look forward to this coming season.
On to the hurdler’s, and what a pair Rich Ricci has in Faugheen and Annie Power, the former is on the comeback trail from injury this season and there has been talk that he might step up in trip this season. However, surely you have to go back to Cheltenham in March lining up in the Champion Hurdle do you not? If not, what a replacement the owner has in Annie Power, the current Champion Hurdle winner.
Sprinter Sacre for me was the highlight of last season. You don’t see many horses come back from that condition let alone win a Champion Chase, what a training performance. How could you write him off again this year? However, he looks to have much stiffer competition in the shape of Douvan who has never been beaten in six chase starts and landed last year’s Arkle with ease. Barring injury, this looks another exciting clash of the reigning champ versus last year’s Arkle winner come March.
The Gold Cup
Let’s more onto the pinnacle of the Cheltenham Festival – the Gold Cup contenders. This race for me is the most intriguing as we have Coneygree, the first Novice chase winner since Captain Christy in 1974 to win the Gold Cup, on the comeback trail from injury. All the early reports seem positive and once the rain comes and the ground eases we will be seeing him. On the other side of the water, we have the reigning Gold Cup winner Don Cossack who also met with an injury setback having sustained a tendon injury when being prepared for the Punchestown Gold Cup in April. The reports on him are on a more day by day basis, there was talk of retirement but he is going back into training with Gordon Elliot sometime soon. Cue Card was so unlucky last year having won the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the King George on Boxing day. He was on for the three timer and in line to scooping the £1m Triple crown bonus when coming to grief at the third last when still in with every chance. Coneygree and Don Cossack, due to injury, may not be the same horses and that could make way for another name to be added to cup this year.
When does it all start?
The Jumps Season for many starts Saturday 8th October at Chepstow with a two-day meeting. The big race on day one is the Totepool Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle a Grade 3 contest. The Sunday sees the Persian War Novices Hurdle a Grade 2 contest. A nice way to ease us into the Jumps Season. If we fast forward two weeks we have our first meeting at the home of jumps racing the two-day Showcase meeting at Cheltenham.
The thought of what’s to come over the next few months soon gets rid of those winter blues.
The Jumps Punter.