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THE 2016/17

Roy Waterhouse Steeplechasing - 2016/17 Top Rated Jumpers  


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Who's Top of Roy's 2016/17 National Hunt Ratings?

Here's my own unique take on the Anglo-Irish jump racing classifications.

Starting from January 2015, I am now maintaining my own jump racing handicap for all National Hunt racing in Britain and Ireland. The 'system', if it can be so described, is loosely based on the 0-170 scale used by the British Horseracing Authority to rate steeplechasers and hurdlers.

There are a couple of simple yet important differences between how I do it and how they do it - with me, there's no weight-for-sex and no weight-for-age. Neat figures, then, without any tweaking to make them look good.

Suppose you have a handicap hurdle in December where three horses, all carrying 11st 5lbs, are separated by heads at the finish. One is a five-year-old gelding, one is a three-year-old gelding and one is a seven-year-old mare. I decide that the five-year-old, a solid, reliable yardstick, has run to 120. If that's the case, then so have the three-year-old and the mare in this mythical, virtual triple dead-heat.

With that explained, now read on for my top twenty-rated chasers, novice chasers, hurdlers, older novice hurdlers, juvenile hurdlers, chasing mares and hurdling mares for the 2016/17 season. The 2016 Punchestown Festival, which fell within the 2016/17 British season, has been omitted; rest assured, though, that ratings posted at the 2017 one are included. Race distances given are not always the official distances the races took place over and are rounded up to the nearest furlong. Horses who came out equal twentieth are included in the tables this time (for example in the Top Chasers-list which is up first, there are 23 included).

Click to go to: Chasers | Novice Chasers | Mares' Chasers | Hurdlers | Older Novice Hurdlers | Juvenile Hurdlers | Mares' Hurdlers

Top 20 Chasers

Before Old Father Time appeared to catch up with Cue Card at the latest Cheltenham Festival, he performed to his brilliant best one last time in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November; however he was already well beaten and struggling when falling three out - as he did in 2016 when far from done with against Don Cossack - in the Gold Cup. His runner-up finish to Tea For Two in the Bowl at Aintree (performances not good enough to make my top 20) won't make connections of would-be 2018 Gold Cup-candidates lose any sleep and Colin Tizzard's star will be 12 next March.

Report has it that Sizing John, winner of the latest Cheltenham Gold Cup, will be going for the million-pound bonus for winning the Betfair Chase, King George and Gold Cup in 2017/18. No reason why not, but the performances of Djakadam and, to a lesser extent, the returning Coneygree, in the Punchestown equivalent illustrated that it isn't going to be easy. He's not a country mile in front of the others, he's only just ahead. Djakadam's jumping was better at Punchestown and the latter's tendency to get at least one fence wrong will probably never leave him. The staying types Minella Rocco and Native River - the latter the yardstick, running to his Welsh National-winning form - gave Sizing John the most to do at Cheltenham, and the Punchestown Grade 1 was his best performance.

Team Tizzard may well not have a credible Gold Cup challenger in 2018. Much depends on how Thistlecrack recovers from the injury issue that ended his season after January and that epic contest in the Cotswold Chase against the ill-fated, much-missed Many Clouds. Winning the King George as a novice is a great achievement and the 166-rating that I've given him is, of course, better than most will achieve in their novice campaigns, but it lags his best hurdling performances.

Joining Cue Card on 174 are the top two-milers. It's touch and go whether or not Douvan will appear in 2017/18 after going wrong during the Queen Mother Champion Chase, remembering that the yard's Faugheen was a no-show in 2016/17. The latest champion Special Tiara deserved his finest hour, but he was beaten on merit by the top novice chaser of the season Altior in the Celebration Chase at Sandown, Special Tiara's connections purposefully missing the Boylesports Champion Chase at Punchestown won by the Tizzard stable's Fox Norton, who'll be going over longer distances next season.

The only slim hope for Queen Mother-contenders in 2018 is that Altior didn't bring his best to the table at Cheltenham in the Arkle - more of that in the novice chasers-piece below - but if he can match what he did at Sandown on the last day of the season in the next Queen Mother, there'll be no point in anyone else turning up.

Click to go to: Chasers | Novice Chasers | Mares' Chasers | Hurdlers | Older Novice Hurdlers | Juvenile Hurdlers | Mares' Hurdlers

Top 20 Novice Chasers

Four horses who made an impact outside of novice company head up the novice chasers-ratings for 2016/17; however the best efforts of Altior and Thistlecrack in novice events, before they were asked to take on experienced chasers, would have seen them get on the board. Altior's 153 in the Arkle at Cheltenham lags the 174 he posted in the Celebration Chase (and his 169 in Newbury's Game Spirit Chase) - to me he was clearly below his best, having come off the bridle earlier than expected, whilst Charbel was running his best to date when falling two out, and at the time of his departure it could have gone either way.

Charbel's below-form effort behind the Nicholls-pair San Benedeto and Politologue in the Maghull at Aintree tempers enthusiasm for Charbel's prospects next season as he looked hard work; Politologue looked the most likely winner when unluckily falling at the last, leaving the way clear for his stablemate.

Jessica Harrington's Our Duke, who was widely touted as an RSA Chase candidate but missed Cheltenham, was clearly a Gold Cup horse in disguise in the Irish Grand National, which he took apart - always up with the pace and staying on strongly to go further clear from the last, that after he was one of a group of three to step up the pace from a long way out on the final lap, and racing wide most of the way as well. It could be that Sizing John's main danger in the 2018 running of the Blue Riband is in the same yard.

Road To Respect's performance when taking apart a competitive field in the Plate at the Cheltenham Festival wasn't good enough to get on the board, but his defeat of Yorkhill in the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse very much was, as he brought the improvement that he looked as though he had in him at Cheltenham to the table at the first time of asking. Sure, Yorkhill jumped left at Fairyhouse, but it would be unwise to suggest that Road To Respect had not improved there.

Cloudy Dream and Shantou Village were other novice chasers over around 2m4f to make an impact. The former looked clearly in need of a step up in trip when placed in the Arkle and proved it in the Future Champion at Ayr, whilst the latter posted his best effort at Sandown a week later on the final day - they tend to run Shantou Village at both ends of the season though as he's perceived to need good or faster ground, so we might not see him at the festivals.

Might Bite was easily the best three-mile novice, apart from Thistlecrack, and this despite waiting for Whisper to come to him on the run-in in the RSA Chase. His aggressive burn-them-off run style is unlikely to work in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but after his fall at the last when clear in the Kauto Star at Kempton, an hour before the King George, many speculated as to how he'd have got on against Thistlecrack in the latter.

Singlefarmpayment ran a stormer against Un Temps Pour Tout in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival to earn a place as one of the top novices, but might need leniency from the handicapper in 2017/18.

Click to go to: Chasers | Novice Chasers | Mares' Chasers | Hurdlers | Older Novice Hurdlers | Juvenile Hurdlers | Mares' Hurdlers

Mares' Chasers

The introduction of some new Listed mares' chases in Britain provided more opportunities for good mares to run against their own sex over the larger obstacles, and probably led to an improvement in the standard of mares running in chases. With top Irish mare Vroum Vroum Mag sticking to hurdles last season, the free-going Desert Queen was the best of the bunch, taking a Listed race at Leicester in January.

Indian Stream beat subsequent Grade 3 handicap chase-winner Theatre Guide in a Listed handicap chase at Wetherby before returning to hurdles to run a stormer in the David Nicholson (fourth to Apple's Jade), and another mare to win a handicap against geldings was Baie Des Iles, who's only six, in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown.

It arguably remains the case that most opportunities for mares over fences are still to be found in Ireland, with Westerner Lady winning five chases in the season and Listen Dear three.

Click to go to: Chasers | Novice Chasers | Mares' Chasers | Hurdlers | Older Novice Hurdlers | Juvenile Hurdlers | Mares' Hurdlers

Top 20 Hurdlers

Unowhatimeanharry leads the way with his win at Cheltenham, but that victory wasn't gained at the Festival. He beat Cole Harden in the Cleeve Hurdle in January, but was a little off his game in the Stayers' Hurdle, coming off the bridle earlier than usual, leaving a back-to-form Nichols Canyon to take advantage.

Harry Fry's stable star returned to form in the Champion Stayers' Hurdle at Punchestown, beating Nichols Canyon, with the latter matching his Cheltenham Festival-winning form in an otherwise downbeat renewal, with Stayers Hurdle-second Lil Rockerfeller well below form, as though it was a race too many.

The two-milers lag the three-milers, even though there wasn't a Thistlecrack in the staying hurdling division this time. In the continuing absence of Faugheen, Buveur D'Air came back from novice chasing, in which sphere he seemed to be struggling a little despite winning two out of two, to run out a ready winner of the Champion Hurdle from stable companion My Tent Or Yours, who you can bank on to finish anywhere other than first. They ran one-two again in the Aintree Hurdle, Buveur D'Air bettering his Cheltenham form by a few lbs and The New One, a little below himself at Cheltenham, giving his running at Aintree in third, and then Wicklow Brave beat the Tent in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle.

Yanworth started as a two-miler, blew it in the Champion Hurdle when finding nothing going down the hill, and finished the campaign as a three-miler; however he was every bit as unimpressive in winning the Liverpool Hurdle by a length from Coral Cup winner Supasundae as he had been when winning over two miles. Yanworth's Aintree form was just worse than his two-mile efforts and would have seen him beaten around ten lengths in both the Cheltenham and Punchestown Stayers' Hurdles. Connections of other hurdlers won't have to worry about him in 2017/18 as he reportedly goes chasing.

Click to go to: Chasers | Novice Chasers | Mares' Chasers | Hurdlers | Older Novice Hurdlers | Juvenile Hurdlers | Mares' Hurdlers

Top 20 Older Novice Hurdlers

Whether Labaik has cost you money in the past with one of his frequent refusals to race or you enjoyed a little windfall through backing him in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, it's such a shame that it seems he won't race again following injuries sustained in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, that race Plan B after he didn't fancy it in the Champion Novice Hurdle on the Tuesday of the Punchestown Festival. He wasn't beaten that far behind Wicklow Brave and it's easily the best performance by a novice hurdler of the 2016/17 season.

With Labaik traipsing round a long way behind, beaten 92 lengths in seventh,Cilaos Emery - who didn't turn up in the Supreme Novices' at the Cheltenham Festival behind Labaik - returned to form to defeat Melon, with Top Novices' Hurdle winner (and another Supreme-flop) Pingshou in third after having a lot of use made of him. Melon took him on up front for much of the race and both Melon and, to a greater extent, Pingshou could be better than they showed in that race.

The staying novice hurdlers in 2016/17 could well be making an impact in 2017/18, possibly headed up by the worst horse Michael O'Leary owns. I doubt he thinks that about Champagne Classic any more, but the path he is treading is dangerously similar to that the same owner's Don Poli took - win the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap, then take in a good novice hurdle. Whether Champagne Classic will end up a Grade 1-standard chaser or not time will tell, but he stepped it up at Punchestown when beating Albert Bartlett winner Penhill and wouldn't be out of place in a good staying hurdle in the new season.

There's a chance of Finian's Oscar going up to three miles. He missed the Neptune at the Cheltenham Festival then was off the bit a fair way out when winning the Mildmay at Aintree, and ran Bacardys to a short-head at Punchestown. The latter was off the bit before he was hampered by a faller in the Neptune, but returned to form at Punchestown. Willoughby Court made all in the Neptune, with the going perhaps on the quick side for the head runner-up Neon Wolf, who might be the better prospect of the two.

The best staying hurdling prospect of the lot, if that's the route connections choose, is The Worlds End, who may well have won the Albert Bartlett but for falling two out, but made handsome amends in the Sefton at Aintree, travelling best before idling in front. I like The Worlds End a lot.

Click to go to: Chasers | Novice Chasers | Mares' Chasers | Hurdlers | Older Novice Hurdlers | Juvenile Hurdlers | Mares' Hurdlers

Top 20 Juvenile Hurdlers

Unusually for the 2016/17 season, the top rated performances by four-year-old hurdlers were at the Cheltenham Festival - in all other divisions, they haven't been. Even more unusually, the Triumph Hurdle-winner is matched by a placed horse in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap.

Defi Du Seuil went into the Summer with a perfect record over hurdles, seven out of seven, and having decisively beaten Mega Fortune in the Triumph, beat Divin Bere at levels in the Anniversary at Aintree. He's earned high style marks and is unexposed - progression from him in 2017/18 can't be ruled out, although that isn't usually the case with juvenile hurdlers. Look at Peace And Co.

Divin Bere's performances in the Fred Winter and the Anniversary should arguably be marked up, as the ground wasn't in his favour - I'm convinced he prefers it softer. He's a staying type too, so would be expected to lack the pace to be competitive over two miles next season.

The rest in this division don't really do anything for me, although if I could pick two to take forward I'd suggest ready Adonis Hurdle-winner Master Blueyes, who didn't turn up in the Triumph, and Cliffs Of Dover, who'd won six out of seven hurdle races but was ruled out of the rest of the season with injury after winning the Grade 2 Summit Junior Hurdle at Doncaster in December - hopefully he'll make a recovery.

Click to go to: Chasers | Novice Chasers | Mares' Chasers | Hurdlers | Older Novice Hurdlers | Juvenile Hurdlers | Mares' Hurdlers

Top 20 Mares' Hurdlers

Thanks to some good performances by Apple's Jade, Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag, Annie Power's presence on the racecourse wasn't as missed as it might have been. Their top performances weren't posted at Cheltenham though - Apple's Jade bettered her David Nicholson-winning effort by a couple of lbs when she thumped Airlie Beach by 14 lengths in the Mares' Champion Hurdle at Punchestown and that is the best performance in a mares' hurdle this season.

It isn't the best performance by a mare, however. That honour goes to Vroum Vroum Mag for her second in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in which she was beaten a short head by Apple's Jade, who received an age allowance (still a four-year-old in December and got four lbs from the older mare).

But Vroum Vroum Mag was regressive at the end of the season. She ran to her best in the David Nicholson but, even allowing for her taking part in the wrong race at the Punchestown Festival, going in the Champion Hurdle there, her seventh to Wicklow Brave (her third defeat of the season) was way below her best. If she runs again she'll need to go up to two and a half or three miles to recapture her best.

Limini beat Apple's Jade at Punchestown in February but has probably now levelled out, and while she could win the David Nicholson next year, she won't be up to competing against the best geldings.

Indian Stream posted the best hurdling performance of the season by a British-trained mare when running fourth, after hitting a flat spot, in the David Nicholson - however it remains difficult to see Ireland relinquishing their grip on that race in 2018.

Click to go to: Chasers | Novice Chasers | Mares' Chasers | Hurdlers | Older Novice Hurdlers | Juvenile Hurdlers | Mares' Hurdlers

For more Cheltenham Festival-specific reviews, analysis and ratings, go to #rwsteeplechasingVLOG 22 on YouTube and my complete Cheltenham Festival Analysis-PDF for all 488 runners at the meeting.

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