As National Hunt fans make their first pilgrimage to Cheltenham on Friday, we can be sure that the Jumps season is now well underway.
Sceau Royal, Yanworth, Finian’s Oscar and The New One have already opened their accounts and got our pulses racing. Tizzard, Henderson and Nicholls will be taking the wraps off their stable stars in the coming weeks, as Wetherby, Aintree, Haydock and Newbury all play host to exciting and prestigious meets.
But it’s to Ireland we will go for today’s piece, focusing on several eye-catchers that have already shown ‘star quality’ at this early stage of the campaign.
Petit Mouchoir is hardly a selection from leftfield, indeed he’s already favourite for the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham next March. Nevertheless, it would be remiss of me not to mention his stunning debut over fences at Punchestown last week. This fella was high-class over hurdles, finishing third in the Champion Hurdle and rated in the low 160s. His transition to the larger obstacles was seamless. Slick and virtually foot-perfect throughout, he was never asked a question by Davy Russell as he pulled effortlessly clear of a talented and ‘match-fit’ Brelade, to win by seven-lengths. He has a high cruising speed and makes a lovely shape over his fences. I thought he looked a potential star.
Another Gigginstown inmate who looks sure to have a productive winter is Road To Respect. Trained by Noel Meade, this six-year-old continues on a steep upward curve, and won the Irish Daily Star Chase at Punchestown last week, despite jumping out to his left throughout. Stepping up in trip for the 3m1f contest, he defeated plenty of useful staying chasers including Sub Lieutenant and Minella Rocco. He finished the race powerfully and as a relative youngster, should have a fair amount of improvement to come. It’s always tough to judge just how ‘tuned-up’ these stayers are for their seasonal bow, but nevertheless, this was an impressive performance, and he’s sure to prove more effective going left-handed.
Death Duty is yet another exciting Gigginstown six-year-old, and has already landed a couple of novice chase events despite us only being in October. He had a terrific campaign over hurdles, though ultimately came up just shy of the best. However, he always looked likely to improve when sent chasing and that appears the case. I felt his debut at Tipperary was a scrappy affair, and he looked awkward at several obstacles. However, his second effort at Punchestown was much better, as he tanked along jumping impeccably throughout. That win came at 2m2f, which appears a little short, though he’s a free going sort who loves to get on with things. Two and a half miles may be as far as he needs at this point of his career.
Connections also look to have a very exciting young hurdler in the undefeated five-year-old Samcro. He’s one of the latter crop of youngsters from the National Hunt Stallion Germany (died 2013, also responsible for Faugheen), out of a Saddler’s Hall mare. Yet another trained by Gordon Elliott, he’s a powerful traveller and a beautiful mover. He’s very much in the mould of Faugheen and could prove to be top class. He won his hurdles debut with the minimum of fuss, tanking along throughout, before cruising clear to win by 15 lengths. He looks a beast.
Another youngster that made an eye-catching debut over hurdles was the juvenile Espoir D’Allen. By Voix Du Nord (yet another cracking NH Stallion no longer with us), he’s owned by JP McManus and trained by Gavin Cromwell. The same connections have had a great time with Jer’s Girl, and this ex-French inmate looks another useful recruit. A little untidy at times over his obstacles, he remained full of running through the line and looks to have a bright future. JP McManus farms high-class hurdlers, so this fella needs to be watched.
Finally, a mention for Gordon Elliott’s talented young filly Fayonagh, who tragically lost her life on the gallops yesterday. The Champion Bumper winner had won five of her six career starts, including a pair at Grade One level. Just a couple of weeks back she won her hurdling debut and all looked set for a thrilling campaign. Elliott and his team will be gutted.