Andy Stephens’ top ten National Hunt horses for the season
Friday 21 October 2016
Andy Stephens selects ten horses who can prove profitable to follow during the 2016-17 National Hunt season.
Aux Ptits Soins: (Saint Des Saints FR - Reflexion Faite FR) - Paul Nicholls:
The grey promises to take high rank over fences this winter and could develop into a leading contender for the JLT Chase, for which he is quoted at 14-1. He is also the same price for the RSA Chase but the shorter race may suit him better. Aux Ptits Soins arrived from France with a big reputation and won the Coral Cup on his debut for the Paul Nicholls yard in 2015 off a mark of 139. That race always takes plenty of winning and, having had only three previous races, he did tremendously to land it regardless of whether he was well-handicapped or not. Last season was something of a write-off because he had a tooth infection that led to other complications and three bouts of surgery. He still shaped with bundles of promise after a year off behind Thistlecrack in the World Hurdle - trading at 100-30 in running (started 16-1) before fading under sympathetic handling. Seems at home on any ground and, while he should be fully effective over 3m, is not short of pace.
Ballybane: (Acambaro GER - Madam Sophie IRE) - Rebecca Curtis:
Rebecca Curtis endured a wretched time last season when her string was under a cloud for much of the time. She had just 24 winners but has hit the deck running this campaign (already 14 winners at a strike-rate of 25 per cent; +£46 to a £1 level stake) and it could that one positive from her travails of last term is that she has got plenty of well-handicapped horses in her team. Ballybane, who has had only three runs under Rules, might easily be among them and should be able to exploit a mark of 121 over hurdles granted soft going. Ballybane finished a close third behind Mister Mayagi (now rated 147) and William H Bonney (136) in a bumper at Stratford in March 2015 and on his second start last term he was a close third to Millanisi Boy in a novices’ hurdle at Chepstow. The runner-up in that race is now rated 130, while the fourth and fifth figure on 127 and 130.
Copain De Classe: (Enrique UK - Toque Rouge FR) - Paul Nicholls:
We are unlikely to see the best of this imposing gelding - he is almost 17 hands - before he goes over fences probably a year from now but he should pay his way over hurdles this term. Winner of a French bumper in May 2015, he started 9-4 favourite for a juvenile hurdle at Newbury at last season’s Hennessy meeting but was already in the retreat when falling at the final flight. Paul Nicholls has since given him plenty of time to fill his frame and at his Open Day this autumn said, “he’s a different animal this year and is one I really like”. He will be able to run in National Hunt novices’ hurdles this winter, where he will not bump into ex-Flat racers. Two miles, galloping tracks and decent ground should be ideal for him in the short term.
Doing Fine: (Presenting UK - Howaya Pet IRE) - Neil Mulholland:
Formerly trained by Rebecca Curtis, Doing Fine has been switched to the yard of Neil Mulholland and might easily thrive. He made little impact last term but I would not pay too much attention to that because, as mentioned earlier, Curtis’s yard was out of sorts for much of the campaign. As a consequence his mark of 126 over fences looks very workable (dropped 8lb during his barren run) and Mulholland might also be tempted to exploit his hurdling rating of 122. The future looked bright for Doing Fine three years ago when he won a novices’ hurdle at Ascot and then beat the useful Carole’s Destrier (now a stablemate) on his chasing bow (off a mark of 126) at Ffos Las. He also ran a lot better than the bare form suggests in last year’s four-miler at Cheltenham. Three miles and more, with at least a bit of dig in the ground, should play to his strengths.
Local Show: (Oscar IRE - Loughaderra Rose IRE) - Ben Pauling:
One to look out for in top staying handicap chases over three miles and farther on softish ground. I am not sure what programme Ben Pauling has in mind but the Hennessy Gold Cup, at Newbury in November (not quoted in many lists) and the Welsh National (available at 33-1) appeal as suitable targets before the turn of the year. The Grand National will probably be a year too soon but, being by Oscar and out of a Roselier mare, he is bred for the job. You will not see a novice jump better than Local Show did when edging out Onenightinvienna over 3m at Kempton in late January and he looked interesting for the four-miler at Cheltenham after that but, while his jumping stood up, he did not have the pace to keep up. Perhaps the going (good according to Timeform) was not ideal. Local Show is rated 146 over fences and a tempting 125 over hurdles if connections want to blow away any cobwebs over the smaller obstacles.
Master Blueyes: (Mastercraftsman IRE - Miss Blueyes IRE) - Alan King:
Alan King has few peers when it comes to training juvenile hurdlers and looks to have another useful recruit in Master Blueyes, a 42,000-guineas purchase in May who has progressed well on the Flat this year. Rated 72 when joining King, he is now up to 88 after fine placed efforts over 1m6f on his past two starts at York. The Mastercraftsman gelding should have no trouble staying 2m over hurdles and has looked at home on fast and slow ground on the level. He also looks to have a good attitude, which will serve him well over the months ahead. King’s previous two Triumph Hurdle winners, Penzance and Katchit, were rated 81 and 84, respectively, when coming off the Flat so Master Blueyes has a similar foundation to work from. Stan James quote 25 horses for the Triumph, at up to 100-1, but he is not among them.
Mount Mews: (Presenting UK - Kneeland Lass IRE) - Malcolm Jefferson:
Should make his mark over hurdles this season - and not just in the North where there should initially be some relatively easy pickings. The Presenting gelding, owned by Trevor Hemmings, is out of a half-sister to Burton Port (rated 166 over fences at his peak) and looked a smashing prospect when winning bumpers at Market Rasen and Kelso in the spring. On the latter occasion he gave 11lb and an emphatic ten-length beating to Nicholas T, who has since proved handy on the Flat (rated 80 in midsummer). Mount Mews should stay well but has not looked short of toe. Being by Presenting, you would imagine that he would not want deep winter ground, although it was soft when he won on his debut.
Redhotfillypeppers: (Robin Des Champs FR - Mhuire Na Gale IRE) - Willie Mullins:
It is probably a little early to be thinking of having a punt on the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March but, if you are, this filly should be somewhere near the top of your shortlist. Most firms quote her at 10-1. The daughter of Robin Des Champs looked exciting when winning a well-contested point-to-point on the bridle by ten lengths at Necarne in May. Willie Mullins is familiar with the stock of her sire (Quevega, Vautour and Sir Des Champs alone have won 11 Cheltenham Festival races for him) and he paid £200,000 for her at a Cheltenham Sale later that month - a record sum for a filly from the pointing field. She looked to have plenty of gears on her debut and, if she makes it to Cheltenham, it will be a surprise if she is 10-1 to emulate Limini, who easily won the inaugural running of the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle for Mullins this year.
Vautour: (Robin Des Champs FR - Gazelle De Mai FR) - Willie Mullins:
The Gold Cup is the one big race to have eluded Willie Mullins and, having saddled the runner-up in it on six occasions, he must be wondering whether he will ever win it. The 176-rated Vautour, quoted at 8-1 by bet365, Stan James and 32Red, looks the horse who can finally fill the void. He has been electric at the Festival for the past three years, winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, JLT and Ryanair by an aggregate of 27 lengths. The stumbling block, of course, could be stamina but he would surely have won last season’s King George VI Chase had he not persistently jumped right and Robin Des Champs, his sire, stamps his stock with speed and stamina. Quevega is a typical example - she won the 2m4f Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival six times in succession but that did not stop her landing the 3m hurdle at the Punchestown Festival on four occasions, a couple of times on attritional ground. I would love to see Vautour aimed at the Jockey Club Triple Crown - Ladbrokes go 40-1 about him landing the £1 million bonus - but Mullins has been non-committal. William Hill make Vautour 7-2 to win any race at the Festival in March, which is big when you consider some firms make him 5-2 to win another Ryanair.
Vieux Lion Rouge: (Sabiango GER - Indecise FR) - David Pipe:
Winner of nine of his 19 races, Vieux Lion Rouge has already proved a profitable horse to follow but there could still be more to come this term. He ended up running over extreme trips as a novice at the end of last term - finishing sixth in the four-miler at the Cheltenham Festival and then seventh in the Grand National - and each time looked betrayed by a lack of stamina. On the first occasion, for instance, he traded at evens in-running on Betfair before wilting. The upside is that he has been dropped 4lb for the start of this campaign and I am convinced he has a big handicap chase in him somewhere down the line at up to 3m2f. The Becher Chase, back at Aintree, appeals as a suitable target. Vieux Lion Rouge is 5-5 on heavy going but seems versatile with regard to ground and track requirements. He is a sound jumper.