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Ten Horses to Follow for the 2015/16 Season

A Good Skin (IRE)
6 b g Presenting - Trixskin (IRE) (Buckskin (FR))
Trainer: Tom George

The highspot of Tom George's 2014/15 season was Saint Are's second to Many Clouds in the Grand National. Nobody likes to be remembered for being runner-up though, and the handler from Slad in Gloucestershire will be wanting to land a big pot in the new campaign. Here is a horse that would have a good chance of doing that for the yard - improving young chaser A Good Skin, who rounded off his season with two wins. A defeat of established handicap chaser Loose Chips at Ludlow in April off 125 preceded a trip to Cheltenham, and a return to novice company, in a 3m1f110y novices' handicap chase. Under a hold-up ride from Paddy Brennan, he moved through to get in touch by the 17th and, cajoled into contention to an extent, travelled best on the home turn. Leading when steadied into the last, he went left when ridden and put his head in the air, but stayed on well to assert in the last 150 yards and beat Candide by just under three lengths. The Cheltenham race was on good ground, but it was soft at Ludlow, suggesting he's versatile where the ground is concerned. Not out of the first two in four chases and yet to fail to complete a race under Rules, there's more to come from this one.

Audacious Plan (IRE)
6 b g Old Vic - North Star Poly (IRE) (Presenting)
Trainer: Rebecca Curtis

One line gets trotted out by everyone in the build-up to the Welsh National: 'It's about time there was a Welsh-trained winner...' Pembrokeshire's Rebecca Curtis had a good go with Teaforthree, who was beaten half a length by Monbeg Dude in the January 2013-running of the Chepstow centrepiece. Now she has another potential candidate for the Christmas mudfest in Audacious Plan, who'll go with his stamina already proven at the Welsh National-trip. In a busy season he won a handicap hurdle at Ffos Las in October, and went chasing after the turn of the year. On his fourth chase start he won, again at Ffos Las, going best when produced four out and staying on strongly to beat Favoured Nation. Audacious Plan went to the Punchestown Festival to finish his season, and started 18/1 in the 3m6f handicap chase on the last day. He beat all bar ready winner Heathfield, chasing the leaders with four to jump and leading at the second last, but unable to match the winner after the last. Expect Audacious Plan to pay his way in 3m4f+ staying handicap chases this season.

Fletchers Flyer (IRE)
7 b g Winged Love (IRE) - Crystal Chord (IRE) (Accordion)
Trainer: Harry Fry

Chasing type Fletchers Flyer is 140 with me over hurdles and should make up into one of the better three-mile novices over fences in 2015/16. Having won a bumper at the 2014 Punchestown Festival, he took only two runs to win over hurdles but wasn't that impressive when beating Parish Business at Ascot in November, hanging badly right and giving Ruby Walsh a hard time. His follow-up success at Wincanton (heavy and windy) was better, although he still wandered in the straight when beating Aqalim by eight lengths. He matched the form he showed at Wincanton when running a close second to Definitly Red in the Grade 2 3m novice on Haydock's National Trial undercard and was declared for the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival, but was withdrawn on the day and went to the Grade 1 3m novice hurdle at Punchestown. He failed to give his running, racing too freely early and weakening from the fourth last, eventually pulled up. Put a line through that, and look out for Fletchers Flyer in novice chases this season, probably starting at Exeter in the Autumn.

Generous Ransom (IRE)
7 ch g Generous (IRE) - Penneyrose Bay (Karinga Bay)
Trainer: Nick Gifford

I'm thinking 'Paddy Power Gold Cup' for Generous Ransom, who'll start the new season with a BHA rating of 140, but is 148 with me after an excellent effort at the Cheltenham Festival. His jumping didn't impress on his early starts over fences, but he turned a corner in the novices' handicap chase on the Festival Trials card at jumping's headquarters in January. He put in his best round of fencing to date - his only error at the last - and after hanging left, he held on well to beat Astigos by a neck. Generous Ransom took his chance in the Listed novices' handicap in March and, prominent from the 12th, again he hung under pressure but held a chance at the last, unable to do anything about Irish Cavalier but keeping on. He was probably over the top when a well below form-fourth to Cocktails At Dawn at Sandown on the last day of the season. If the November feature doesn't go his way, Generous Ransom will have several other targets at Cheltenham and elsewhere in good 2m4f handicap chases this season.

Iconic Star
5 b m Sixties Icon - Cullen Bay (IRE) (Supreme Leader)
Trainer: Philip Hobbs

The announcement of a new Grade 1 novices' hurdle for mares at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival means that it's probably a good idea for form students to keep a closer eye than before on the growing number of ordinary mares' novice hurdles in the preceding months, and to identify possible contenders. Whether or not Iconic Star will be good enough to go for the new race remains to be seen, but it was evident from her debut in the competitive mares' bumper at the Cheltenham April meeting that there is a whole heap of potential with this one over jumps. She's a stoutly-bred type, so it was no surprise that she was niggled along around halfway. She made a forward move coming down the hill and and tracked the leaders half a mile out, but was outpaced turning in. Although well held, she picked up in the last 300 yards and looked to have plenty of running in her passing the post. finishing fifth beaten 15 lengths by the winner Tobouggaloo. The new Festival race is over 2m1f so might be a bit short for Iconic Star, but she won't go short of opportunities in mares' novice hurdles over 2m4f and more.

Lord Scoundrel (IRE)
6 b g Presenting - Noble Choice (Dahar (USA))
Trainer: Gordon Elliott

With an official Turf Club rating of 126, although Lord Scoundrel hasn't won a lot of races so far I have him rated as high as 138, suggesting that at least one victory is coming his way in the new season. His only win over hurdles was at Punchestown in October on his debut over timber, but he didn't build on it, leading connections to try headgear. Cheekpieces brought about no improvement, but blinkers did in two runs in March. He built on his two-length third to Fletcher at Naas in March when beaten the same amount - coincidentally also finishing third - behind Vedettariat in a Navan novice hurdle a week later. In a race that wasn't a true test at the 2m7f-trip thanks to a slower-than-slow early pace, Lord Scoundrel was the first to come off the bridle when niggled after the fourth last, but stayed on from three out. Aided by good jumps at the last three, he was half a length down starting the run-in but couldn't find more, fading late and losing second. He failed to give his running at Limerick - his third run in March - on what turned out to be his last start of the season. Even though he wears headgear, there's a bit more to come from Lord Scoundrel. He looks a chasing type on TV pictures and if hurdling doesn't work out, he ought to be fine over fences.

Runswick Royal (IRE)
6 b g Excellent Art - Renada (Sinndar (IRE))
Trainer: Ann Hamilton

There seem to be more ex-juvenile hurdlers going chasing than ever before, with the odd one or two proving effective over three miles. Houblon Des Obeaux and Smad Place are two who spring to mind, both of those rated in the 150s, and Runswick Royal might well have joined them come April 2016. His pedigree hardly screams 'staying chaser' - he's out of Renada, a winning juvenile hurdler for Howard Johnson - but on the sixth of his eight chase starts, he was tried over just short of three miles in a Listed chase at Kelso on February 28th and won, admittedly in a sub-standard renewal of the race, but staying on well from the last having come off the bridle at the 11th, and beating Upsilon Bleu two lengths. Runswick Royal went up against Puffin Billy in the 3m1f novices' handicap chase at Ayr on the Scottish National undercard next time and arguably should have won, travelling better than at Kelso and challenging going best approaching the last, but colliding with the eventual winner and falling. He ran once more before his Summer break, off a mark of 146 in the Perth Gold Cup in June, and acquitted himself well when second to Kilbree Kid. A sound-jumping, genuine sort who jumps well, it will be interesting to see how Runswick Royal gets on this season.

San Benedeto (FR)
4 ch g Layman (USA) - Cinco Baidy (FR) (Lure (USA))
Trainer: Paul Nicholls

Paul Nicholls always has strength in depth in the juvenile hurdling division. 2014/15 was no exception, with Qualando taking the Fred Winter and All Yours landing the Anniversary Hurdle - however one four-year-old from the stable that might go under the radar in good handicap hurdles in 2015/16 is San Benedeto, who was highly tried himself once joining the yard. He did well to run second to Bivouac in the good juvenile hurdle at Kempton on December 27th, not settling and allowed to stride on, and jumping left (occasionally markedly so), yet still holding a six-length lead on the home turn, gradually reeled in and headed under pressure close home. Missing the Cheltenham Festival, he landed odds of 1/10 at Wincanton in March then, with Sean Bowen in the saddle, started 2/1 favourite for a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham's April meeting that was confined to riders who'd ridden in pony races. Going well with two to jump, he held every chance disputing the lead till getting in close to the last and stumbling on landing, Bowen easing him down immediately - he'd have been at least second to Hurricane Hollow for that incident. Nick Scholfield was back in the plate at Stratford on May 17th and compensation was gained, San Benedeto making all this time and staying on well having been only a neck up going to the last, beating Set The Trend two lengths. The old Free Handicap Hurdle at Chepstow might be a good place for San Benedeto to start the new season.

The Grey Taylor (IRE)
6 gr g Royal Anthem (USA) - Penny Tan (IRE) (Roselier (FR))
Trainer: Brian Ellison

Cyrus Darius is regarded as the North's top novice chase-prospect this season, but not far behind him in my ratings is The Grey Taylor, a smashing looker who takes ownership of any paddock he steps in. He was certainly head and shoulders above the rest prior to the 2m110y novices' hurdle at Wetherby on the Charlie Hall Chase-undercard on November 1st and made most, jumping soundly and staying on well to beat the useful Chieftain's Choice. After moving from Steve Gollings' yard to Brian Ellison, he went back to Wetherby later in November and won under a penalty, making all again, then failed only by a short-head to defy a double-penalty - albeit partly offset by Kieron Edgar's 5-lb claim - back at Wetherby at Christmas, staying on well when ridden from the home turn, steadied into the last and driven on the run-in, looking as if he might get there 150 yards out but A Boy Named Suzi just holding on. The Grey Taylor was unable to lead when beaten by Some Plan at Muselburgh on February 1st, and found a step up in class too much when a distant third to Days Of Heaven at Kempton later that month, his last run of the season. Having looked more of a staying type in his bumpers, when you think that The Grey Taylor never ran over further than the minimum trip over hurdles, he really could be outstanding when he gets to run over 2m4f or 3m over fences.

Walk To Freedom (IRE)
5 b g Arcadio (GER) - Carryonharriet (IRE) (Norwich)
Trainer: Jessica Harrington

Walk To Freedom started at some big prices on his last three runs last season, but defied odds of 50/1 when winning at the Punchestown Festival and there could be a bit more to come from him this season. Having shown his first sign of ability - above average at that - when eight lengths second to Sempre Medici at Cork in November, he ran badly next time then got his first win over hurdles when going in at Cork on January 3rd, but failed to run to form on his next two outings before falling at the first at Gowran Park on his last run before Punchestown. Taking his chance in the winners-of-one Louis Fitzgerald Hotel Hurdle, he was held up at the back and had only passed one of his 12 rivals before the second last, but when shaken up after jumping it the response was immediate and he passed the rest of the field before leading at the last, carrying his head high and idling at first but staying on well in the last 150 yards and beating Marchese Marconi just over six lengths. A Turf Club-rating of 140 might seem a maximum mark at first glance, but given that he idled at Punchestown he might have a little in hand of the handicapper, and could be just the type for a good handicap hurdle.

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