The dust continues to settle on the latest Cheltenham Festival. For today’s piece I thought I’d look at the novice hurdlers that impressed during the week and attempt to second-guess future targets.
I covered a little of this in yesterday’s review of the meeting, but I wanted to expand on a few points.
Trainers and owners will have plenty of tough decisions to make and many will get it wrong. Yorkhill appeared the type that would flourish over fences. Indeed, just a year ago he landed a JLT Chase at the Festival. Yet his subsequent demise is undoubtedly down to his loathing of the larger obstacles, with the result that the great Willie Mullins has been left clueless as to what to do with him.
Much the same can be said of Colin Tizzard’s Finian’s Oscar, a horse touted as a future Gold Cup contender. As a novice hurdler he landed a Grade One at Aintree last April, but the switch this winter to fences has proved difficult. He’s looked awkward at his obstacles and at one point his trainer took the decision to send him back over hurdles. That move backfired with the horse pulling up in the Cleeve Hurdle. He was given a wind-op before returning to fences at the Festival, but again disappointed when trailing home fifth in the JLT. His trainer will now be scratching his head as to the direction to take.
Both horses were top class and their faltering careers are testament to the importance of that decision-making process. Are they bred for chasing? Do they possess the desired size and scope for the task? Having been schooled, do they look a natural fit? Such questions will be asked and of course a leap of faith is often required.
The Supreme Novices’ runner-up, Kalashnikov, looks the perfect type to make the grade over fences. He’s a sizeable unit with plenty of scope and makes the right sort of shape over his hurdles. He’s out of an Old Vic mare and I’d be surprised if he didn’t make a talented chaser, though I fancy he’ll need to go up in trip to make an impact.
Summerville Boy lacks both size and scope and though some horses jump a fence better than a hurdle, I’d be surprised if this fella becomes a natural over the larger obstacles. We may well see him spend another season over hurdles, though I fancy he’ll need to go up in trip if he’s to progress. He’s out of a Carroll House mare (a source off mud-lovers) though his apparent liking for testing ground may be more a result of his lack of gears. I can’t see him living with the best two-milers and if he does remain a hurdler he may well end the next campaign at three rather than two miles.
Mengli Khan is a big beefy sort and particularly tall. Though don’t be fooled by his size. Gigginstown love their chasers, but I’m convinced that this fella will make a top-class two-mile hurdler. He travelled better than any in the Supreme, despite the testing ground. Highly rated on the flat, there’s plenty more to come from this youngster. He’s 33/1 for next season’s Champion Hurdle and I’d much rather take that than the 20/1 available on Summerville Boy.
Henry De Bromhead has a habit of uncovering two-mile chasers and in Paloma Blue he may have another. By Stowaway out of a Supreme Leader mare, the pedigree suggests he’ll stay further, but he is a keen going type. He certainly has the size and scope for fences and is under the same ownership as Ordinary World, himself placed in an Arkle Chase.
Samcro has undoubtedly become the season’s star novice and was hugely impressive in winning the Ballymore. He’d previously hammered Paloma Blue at Leopardstown, suggesting he’d have won the Supreme had connections fancied the shorter option. He’s athletic rather than large and scopey, though connections have said all along that he’s a staying chaser in the making. He’d probably go close in a Champion Hurdle and the same could be said of the Arkle, the JLT and the RSA. The likelihood is that connections will not ‘waste time’ in staying over hurdles and will instead target the Arkle Chase. That could change depending on decisions over Mengli Khan. Samcro looks more adaptable and is without doubt the more talented.
Black Op got closest in the Ballymore and looks sure to go chasing next term. He’s similar in stature to Kalashnikov and should prove an ideal sort for the larger obstacles. He certainly jumped his hurdles like a chaser and looks a JLT or RSA contender in the making.
Next Destination flew late-on in the Ballymore and looks sure to become a decent staying chaser. He’s out of a Flemensfirth mare and though by no means huge, he attacked his hurdles like a chaser. I’m also a fan of another Mullins youngster, Duc Des Genievres. Just a five-year-old, this son of Buck’s Boum (sire of Al Boum Photo) has plenty of scope for a fence and should strip stronger with another summer on his back. I’m uncertain as to how far he’ll stay, though the JLT and RSA seem the most likely options.
The Albert Bartlett is usually a breeding ground for decent staying chasers and in Santini we look to have a potentially high-class one. Nicky Henderson’s six-year-old is a gorgeous looking son of Milan, out of a Sleeping Car mare. He’s only run three times under rules and looks sure to progress when sent chasing. I’m far from certain that he’ll make an out-and-out stayer and am more inclined to think that his optimum may rest at around two-and-a-half miles. He looks a classy sort.
Kilbricken Storm landed the Albert Bartlett and looks a four-mile chaser in the making. It was noticeable that he leapt the last with feet to spare whilst others battled wearily through the Cheltenham mud. He’s not huge, but looks big enough to make his mark.
Henderson’s OK Corral has proved difficult to keep right and that may have a bearing on the decision-making process. He’s a lovely big horse and his pedigree suggests that fences will prove ideal. Out of a Flemensfirth mare, this was only the fourth run over hurdles for the eight-year-old. He’s clearly talented and if kept right should make a lovely chaser.
I’ll also be interested to see if Topofthegame and William Henry are sent over fences. Second and fourth in the Coral Cup, the former is a huge son of Flemensfirth, whilst the latter is a more athletic type by Kings Theatre out of a Bob Back mare. Topofthegame has continued to improve throughout the season, seemingly strengthening as he’s filled that huge frame. Paul Nicholls will be hoping he can take high order.
There’s plenty of decisions to be made by excited connections over the coming months. Many will take the right course and go on to bigger and better things. For some the inevitable disappointment of huge potential sadly never fulfilled.