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Ten Horses to Follow for the 2017/18 Season
5 b g Balko (FR) - Myralienne (FR) (Myrakalu (FR)
Trainer: Alan Fleming
Bakmaj will hopefully make up in to a possible candidate for the Supreme Novices' and other Graded novice hurdles this season. On the first of his three bumpers, he was a promising second to Carter McKay at Leopardstown over Christmas - a performance that must have caught the eye of new owner Barry Connell, who presumably offered a significant sum of money to buy him out of Peter Fahey's yard. His first start for Connell and Alan Fleming was a five-length win at Leopardstown on January 22nd, and then he made the trip to Cheltenham for the Champion Bumper. Barring the slow-starting winner Fayonagh, nobody had as tricky a passage through the race as Bakmaj, who, after holding every chance with three furlongs to run, stumbled approaching the home turn. After that he didn't get a clear run, and had his ground taken a furlong out. His 12/1 SP for the Champion Bumper suggests that he wasn't unfancied, and Bakmaj is likely to prove that whatever he cost was money well spent when he goes jumping.
Burtons Well (IRE)
8 b g Well Chosen - Despute (IRE) (Be My Native (USA))
Trainer: Venetia Williams
When the mud is flying, the lightly-raced, unexposed Burtons Well is one to keep on the right side of. After he was unable to do much about Waiting Patiently at Sedgefield over an inadequate two miles on his chasing debut, he stepped up to two and a half to win a competitive novices' handicap at Uttoxeter on New Year's Eve, ballooning the open ditch on the first circuit and surviving a later error. That race proved stronger than it looked at the time, with six of the field going on to win races (including the third Alcala, the latest Summer Plate winner), but Burtons Well wasn't one of them. He was made too much use of in the good novices' handicap chase at Cheltenham on their Festival Trials-card in late January and, after a couple of mistakes, couldn't go with Royal Vacation with two to jump. His outing in the novices' handicap at the Festival itself came to an end when he fell at the ninth, and that was the end of his season. He's a half-brother to his owner Trevor Hemmings' high-class chaser Burton Port, and is sure to stay three miles.
Enniscoffey Oscar (IRE)
5 b g Oscar (IRE) - Enniscoffey (IRE) (Old Vic)
Trainer: Emma Lavelle
This choice is with staying novice hurdles in mind, having shown abundant promise in his only point-to-point and two bumpers. Enniscoffey Oscar would have been a good second to Searching For Gold (himself subsequently a bumper winner for Charlie Longsdon) but for falling at the last at Ballindenisk in May 2016. Nine months passed before he was seen again, having been sold for £45,000 at the Cheltenham Sales later that month and joined the Emma Lavelle-yard. His breeding is so stamina-laden that you'd think a bumper on Lingfield's Polytrack was the least suitable sort of race for this type, but he won one on February 20th. On his second and final start he took his chance in the Grade 2-bumper at Aintree's Grand National meeting and did really well to be two and a half lengths-second to Lalor, particularly considering he had 12 or 13 horses in front on the home turn; he passed a few rivals then struggled for pace in the last quarter mile, until really picking up in the last 100 yards to take the runner-up spot on the post. The future's bright for this one.
Final Nudge (IRE)
8 b g Kayf Tara - Another Shot (IRE) (Master Willie)
Trainer: David Dennis
I'm interested in this one for a National. Not the Aintree one, but one of the others. Final Nudge won three of his seven chases during a fruitful novice season, at Fakenham in November, Hereford on February 1st and Newbury later that month. At the latter venue he beat Lessons In Milan by just over a length, niggled along but well placed with four to jump, momentarily tapped for toe approaching the last but, having been steadied into it, staying on well on the run-in. On the strength of that Final Nudge looked to have a better chance than his SP of 14/1 suggested in the Midlands Grand National - getting his chance to run in a National early enough considering his lack of chasing experience - at Uttoxeter in March: he travelled nicely up with the pace for the first two and a half circuits, and was looking poised, yet to be shaken up, when falling at the fourth last. Final Nudge ran once more last season, at Ayr in the good novices' handicap on the Scottish Grand National undercard, but struggled for pace over a mile-shorter trip on the prevailing good ground behind Label Des Obeaux. Races like the Welsh Grand National, the Midlands one again, the Warwick Classic Chase and the Eider are all credible targets for Final Nudge.
Keeper Hill (IRE)
6 b g Westerner - You Take Care (IRE) (Definite Article)
Trainer: Warren Greatrex
Torvill and Dean, Ant and Dec, Warren Greatrex and staying hurdlers - winning combinations all. I admired the first of those pairs and am annoyed by the second, but I'm keen on following the latter. Upper Lambourn-based trainer Greatrex is arguably still breaking through, and, in the other half of this pairing Keeper Hill, he has a gelding with the potential to be as good as Cole Harden and One Track Mind, both Grade 1-winning three-mile hurdlers for the yard. The best of three novice hurdle-wins posted by Keeper Hill was in the two-and-a-half-mile Sidney Banks Memorial at Huntingdon, often a significant trial for the Neptune at the Cheltenham Festival, in which he beat Messire Des Obeaux a neck. That winner reversed the form in the Neptune, with Keeper Hill's performance affected by a couple of mistakes; despite that he still passed a few rivals under a hand ride, and was beaten just over 13 lengths behind Willoughby Court. He was beaten further still behind The Worlds End in the Sefton at Aintree, but was probably over the top for the season. He's a half-brother to a point winner and should prove himself over three miles this season, either in a handicap hurdle (well treated off 138) or in novice chases.
Mercian Prince (IRE)
6 b g Midnight Legend - Bongo Fury (FR) (Sillery (USA))
Trainer: Amy Murphy
Formerly assistant trainer at Luca Cumani's yard, having spent time with Gai Waterhouse in Australia before that, it's no surprise that Amy Murphy hit the ground running in her first season as a trainer in her own right. Along with the good mare Kalane, young chaser Mercian Prince was the star of the show. He posted two wins from six chase starts, with his second victory - at Sandown in January - his best performance to date. A minor error at the second was his only blemish, and he stayed on to lead on the run-in and put two lengths between himself and All Together by the post - that runner-up was going well when unseating in the Plate at the Cheltenham Festival subsequently. Mercian Prince was running well when falling himself next time in the good novices' handicap at Cheltenham on their Festival Trials card in late January, niggled along having led four out but still holding a chance against Royal Vacation when departing at the third last. He didn't run to his best on two subsequent starts, although his seven-length third to Max Ward at Kempton in March on his final start wasn't bad. Mercian Prince will start the new season with a handicap mark of 135 and that looks favourable; two and a half miles is his trip.
7 ch g Trans Island - Black Ouzel (IRE) (Taipan (IRE))
Trainer: Brian M McMahon
This versatile racehorse became exposed as a hurdler during the Summer of 2016, but he's shown himself a better chaser and has the potential to win again over fences. After winning at Clonmel on December 8th, having unseated at Thurles on his chasing debut, Powersbomb took his chance in a good handicap chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day over two miles and a furlong, and was in front and looking like going close when falling at the last, Lake Takapuna the beneficiary. He then posted his best performance to date over fences when runner-up to Elusive Ivy in another handicap at Leopardstown in January, but again a jumping error was costly - he was in front when blundering at the second last, losing a few lengths, but to his credit he stayed on and was still challenging at the last, unable to match the winner on the run-in; there's little doubt that the mistake cost him the win. He should arguably have won three - maybe even all four of his chases to date - going in to the novices' handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Under top amateur Jamie Codd, he had many to pass when making a mistake three out, and made significant headway round the field going to the home turn. He went for home from the second last, going a length up, but didn't meet the last on a stride and was headed, losing ground on the first three and beaten just under eight lengths behind Tully East. He was well below form when fifth to Great Field at Punchestown before embarking on a Flat career over the Summer, winning a Roscommon maiden in July. His Turf Club chase rating of 134 looks competitive; he's worth another try at two and a half miles, but may prove better over the minimum trip. If he were mine he'd be going for the Grand Annual.
Redemption Song (IRE)
5 gr m Mastercraftsman (IRE) - Humilis (IRE) (Sadler's Wells (USA))
Trainer: Kevin Frost
Some music fans - not just those like me who are into ska and reggae - think of the acoustic guitar-number Redemption Song, one of the last works by the late, great Bob Marley, as one of the best songs of all time. Maybe Redemption Song the racehorse will go on to be thought of as one of the best mares, and in that regard the start she's made in her three bumpers is most encouraging. A keeping-on fourth behind Dame Rose at Doncaster on January 28th didn't go unnoticed and I gave it a favourable mention on one of my #rwsteeplechasingVLOGs, which she justified in spades with a win at Wetherby on February 21st. Stepped up in grade for her third and final outing of the season, she came up against Dame Rose again in the Grade 2 mares' bumper at Aintree in April. She was fifth to her this time but came out of the race with credit, outpaced three furlongs out and bumped inside the last, but keeping on and closing on the fourth in the last 100 yards. Redemption Song, a half-brother to Starchitect, was a fairly expensive purchase - she cost £65,000 at the Cheltenham Sales held during the Open meeting last November - but there's likely to be more to come from her over hurdles, and she should be well suited by two and a half miles.
Tommy Silver (FR)
5 b g Silver Cross (FR) - Sainte Mante (FR) (Saint Des Saints (FR))
Trainer: Paul Nicholls
The odd juvenile hurdler goes on to do well over fences, and even more occasionally one such horse goes on to do better still. Paul Nicholls won the 2015 Queen Mother Champion Chase with Dodging Bullets, who was fourth in the 2012 Triumph Hurdle, and has another potential ex-juvenile, top two-mile chaser on his hands in Tommy Silver, who looks the part. He didn't show much on his first two runs of last season, but came good at Taunton in February, defeating Bertimont and Top Tug in a Class 2 handicap hurdle. Tommy Silver looked worth stepping up to two and a half miles in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but disappointed, not having a clear run after the second last but weakening going to the last, left alone. He bounced back in the Sussex Champion Hurdle back over two miles at Plumpton over Easter next time, looking the pick of the paddock beforehand. He was tapped for pace for much of the way, the race run at a frantic gallop, but stayed on to chase the leaders from the home turn and drew clear of Song Light from the second last for a decisive success. A creditable sixth to Chesterfield in the Scottish equivalent at Ayr rounded off his season. Tommy Silver is a tallish chasing type, albeit light bodied, and is sure to do well in two-mile novice chases.
8 ch g Sabrehill (USA) - Nobless D'Aron (FR) (Ragmar (FR))
Trainer: Philip Hobbs
This one might be eight going on nine, but he's only had nine races in his life, is unexposed and yet to finish out of the first two over hurdles. Verni only raced four times last season and made a successful seasonal and handicap debut, winning at Newton Abbot in October. After running into the improving Clyne at Haydock in November, Verni was stepped up to two miles three furlongs and continued his progress, taking a Class 3 handicap hurdle for eight-year-olds and upwards, at Taunton in February. To round off his season, Verni posted a best-to-date effort when runner-up in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March. In a race which is traditionally dominated by five- and six-year-olds, he was always prominent and held every chance at the second last, unable to go with Champagne Classic only after the last. The Silver Trophy at Chepstow might be a suitable first target of the season for Verni, who's likely to prove best at two and a half miles.
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