Last week’s focus was rightly on the York Ebor Meeting, and though the ‘Clash of the Summer’ failed to materialize, we still witnessed a terrific few days of top-class action.Though the Flat Racing season still has plenty to offer, I thought today I’d switch codes and take a look at how the summer jumps programme is progressing.
It should come as no surprise to see John Ferguson and his battalion of ex-flat runners setting the pace at the head of the trainers’ championship. A strike rate of around 40% is impressive, and the prize money won is already set to break through the £200,000 barrier. The Newmarket trainer recently moved to strengthen his team further by adding one the most talented young jockey’s.
Aidan Coleman was appointed as Ferguson’s number one at the end of July. The partnership is already flourishing with Coleman lying second in the title chase behind Richard Johnson. He’s set to continue his working relationship with Venetia Williams over the winter as far as possible, and that will be a useful partnership to maintain, with many from Ferguson’s stable better suited by a sounder surface.
Maputo was the latest recruit from the flat to take to hurdles with an impressive win at Perth on Saturday. Trained by Mark Johnston for much of his career, he had been off the track since running third at Meydan in January 2014, and there’s every chance that this five-year-old could take high order among novice hurdlers during the winter. He was a little scrappy over some obstacles on Saturday though that is sure to improve with experience. Parlour Games flew the flag for the yard last winter, I wonder if Maputo could do the same this time round?
The aforementioned Richard Johnson is the man to catch in the race for the jockeys’ title. He’s had a very busy and successful summer to date. Philip Hobbs will supply much of the ammunition during the winter, but for now he will ride for anyone and everyone. At Perth he had the leg-up on Gordon Elliott’s contenders. A winner for Jonjo at Bangor on Friday followed winners for Tim Vaughan and Henry Daly during the week. He’s also struck up relationships with other Irish raiders, including Shark Hanlon, who he rode for at Newton Abbot recently.
In the shade of the great AP McCoy for so long, it seems Johnson is determined to take advantage this season. He couldn’t have got off to a better start.
As is often the case during the summer and early part of the winter campaign, Jonjo O’Neill has plenty of horses in action. A 20% strike rate during the early part of this new campaign is promising, but he’ll be desperate to avoid the winter collapse that befell his yard last year. He’s utilised Richard Johnson as often as possible during the summer months, though that luxury will not be available to him once Mr Hobbs has his team ready and raring to go.
Much will change when Nicholls, Henderson and Hobbs have their charges primed and ready to go. Just how much of an impact Ferguson has on the National Hunt scene will continue to be one of the more interesting narratives during the winter.
He will take great confidence from the performances of Parlour Games and Three Kingdoms last season. He’ll also look to the likes of Windsor Park, a horse with a flat pedigree, who beat him to the Neptune Investment prize. The son of Galileo became one of the outstanding novice hurdlers of 2015. Dodging Bullets is a gelding by Dubawi, yet became the champion chaser at two miles. And Nicky Henderson trained Hargam to a prominent finish in the Triumph Hurdle. He’s a son of Sinndar out of a Galileo mare.
Of course new stallions will continue to have a greater influence on jump racing, that’s simply inevitable. The team of Bloomfields will hope that a Godolphin influence becomes a feature in the coming years.